Twins Advice (Part I)

December 21st, 2010 by matt

One of the pleasures of parenting multiples is getting to help ease other twin parents into the new world that awaits them. We’ve been honored to be asked for advice by a number of expecting parents, and we certainly hope that our experience has been helpful to them. Recently another friend discovered (at 20 weeks!) that she’s expecting twins, and we also got to travel back in time 21 months and baby-sit a pair of adorable three-month-old twins for an afternoon.

I thought it would be fun and potentially useful to put in writing some of our opinions about what twin parents do and don’t need. (And I imagine some of this will be useful to new parents, no matter how many babies will be arriving.)

Twin-Specific Stuff

There are really very few “twin-specific” pieces of parenting gear that we found to be useful. This is probably because there are really very few “twin-specific” pieces of parenting gear. Still, there are a few things worth mentioning:

If you’re going to be attempting to tandem-nurse two babies, a double nursing pillow will probably be helpful. We had an EZ-2-Nurse pillow which we never ended up using, but lent out to someone who thought it was effective. Also, it has a really stupid name.

Everyone except us loves a Double Snap-N-Go. If it works for you, it’s a great way to cart around two infants: just snap in the car seats, and away you go. We found its length to be really awkward. If you’re trying to cross the street, for instance, the far baby is essentially in traffic before you can see around the parked cars. Or maybe that’s only a problem in our neighborhood?

A good double stroller is probably going to be your biggest purchase (unless you’re getting gold-plated cribs) and is almost certainly worth spending a little extra to get a model that you’re really going to be happy with. It should be comfortable, foldable, maneuverable, and ideally weigh less than your car. (I could probably write a whole separate post just about strollers.)

That’s really it, in terms of double items. With everything else it’s a question of buying two (or more).

Other Stuff

Sleeping: Our twins slept together in a co-sleeper until they were two months old. (At that point, together they weighed enough that they caused the mattress to bend and in the middle of the night we’d find them kind of tumbled up against one another in a corner.) From there, we moved them into their own room where they shared a crib until they were about four months old. We found that they could share as long as they were short enough to fit side-by-side in the crib in landscape (as opposed to portrait) orientation (that is, perpendicular to the way you expect a baby to lie in a crib). Frankly, I liked having them in the same crib both because it made life a little easier for us (there they both were!) and because they seemed to be happier when they were next to each other. Awww. Once they lengthened out a bit, we put them into adjacent cribs.

Quantity: There are certain items that you’ll use and dirty often enough that it really is worth it (from the point of view of maintaining your sanity) to just buy way, way more of them than you think is sensible. Trust me; when your baby drops her pacifier on the floor for the fifth time, you’ll be much happier to just grab a clean one from the drawer rather then wash it off. You really almost cannot have too many burp cloths, bibs, bottles, pacifiers, and receiving blankets.

Docking stations: We tried to arrange our house so that there were “baby docking stations” close to hand wherever we were. Upstairs, downstairs, bedroom, living room: there needs to be someplace to safely park at least one baby so you can deal with the rest of your life (or your other child) for thirty seconds. The memories are hazy now, but I’m pretty sure we had a total of three bouncers, one travel swing, one cradle swing, two pack and plays, two cribs, two Bumbos, two playmats, two Boppies, an Exersaucer, a Jumperoo, and often a relative or two. (Not all at once.) Still, it’s probably worth it to map out your house and come up with a plan for where you’re going to stash Baby A when Baby B spits up down your shirt.

Speaking of bouncy seats, you will definitely want at least two of these. We had the best luck with the kind on a metal frame, like this. Why? Because you can put one baby in the seat, rest your foot on the frame, and gently bounce them no-handed while you attend to their twin sibling. This was a lifesaver for us. If the bouncer makes horrible noises while flashing obnoxious light and waving brightly colored plastic animals about, all the better.

Monitor: In general, I think the idea of a video monitor is overkill, but I do admit there were times it would have been useful. With one baby, when you hear noise over the monitor, you know that the baby is awake. With twins, you hear noise, and you might not know who is awake, or if both are awake, or if one is awake and the other is still asleep so you might actually have a chance of yanking the awake one out of the room and letting the other one sleep, or if they’re both awake so you’re better off just letting them work it out for themselves for a bit because once you go in, it’s all over. We spent a lot of time hovering around the audio monitor going, “Oh, Eloise is up. No, wait, that’s Julian. Wait, is it Julian? Nope, sorry, it’s Eloise, but I can hear Julian doing his kicky leg thing against the mattress. Or wait, is it just Julian kicking and making noise, and Eloise is asleep?” Point is, it would have been nice to be able to see. We had, roughly, this monitor, and it served us very well for two good long years until it suddenly stopped working while we were on vacation.

Diaper bag: We have, I think, three diaper bags at this particular point in time, and the one we use most often is the Skip Hop Duo Double Diaper Bag. It’s roomy (even for cloth diaper supplies), it fits on a double stroller, and it’s nicely unisex. However, for a recent trip we suddenly realized that a backpack would be even better: and it was! We just bought a regular backpack (as opposed to a backpack that was officially a diaper bag) and it was really helpful. (Of course, we had this brainstorm right as we were getting ready to start potty training.)

OK, that’s a lot of words. And I have more to say! I think I’ll save it for another post, where I’ll talk about the systems, as opposed to the stuff, that we found especially helpful.

Month 26

December 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 26

Fall 2010

November 27th, 2010 by matt

So, I think it’s pretty obvious that we’ve entirely failed at keeping a regular parenting blog. I think part of the reason is that we built up the expectation (for ourselves!) that each post would have to be a kind of a production. I’ve decided to just go ahead and give in and use the blog as a place to record memories of things that I might otherwise forget. It’s my blog, and I’ll self-indulge if I want to.

And so, without further ado, here are some cute things the kids have done over the past few months:

Having kids who are learning to talk really makes you aware of the things you unconsciously say all the time. For example, whenever we Julian’s on the changing table and we open his diaper, he says, “Oh my goodness!” He also has adopted “how about…” as his very own verbal tic. As in: “Julian, do you want grapes or apples?” “How about grapes!” Or: “Julian, which book do you want to read?” “How about this one!” Or: “Julian, it’s not your turn now, it’s Eloise’s turn.” “How about Julian!”

We apparently also are constantly asking them if they remember things. “Do you remember when Aunt Lauren and Aunt Morgan came to visit?” “Do you remember when we went to the doctor’s office?” And so on. They both now will, unsolicited, point to books, food, toys, people, whatever, and say, “I remember that!” It’s kind of adorable.

There’s something particularly adorable about a toddler describing her emotions in complete sentences. Eloise delights me with “I’m excited about it!” or “I a little scared,” or “I had a boo-boo but I feel better.” (Really, her peppy little “I’m excited about it!” just kills me. Kills me.) She will also, if she’s having a particular good meal, or being particularly patient during a diaper change, or something like that, will occasionally bust out with, “I doing a great job.”

The other day Julian was standing at his play kitchen, clearly hard at work “making” something, so I asked him what he was cooking. “I makin’ chocolate chip cookies!” he replied. “Oh?” I said, “I love chocolate chip cookies. How are you making them? What are the ingredients?” “Um…,” he said, “chocolate… and cookies!”

They both love making up nonsense words. About 15 percent of the time if you ask Eloise a question, she’ll pause for a second and then say “… Odo!” Julian will sometimes get in a phase where he’ll say nothing but, “Dee!” and then collapse giggling. Eloise in particular seems to have extended this into a talent for nicknaming. For a long time she couldn’t pronounce Julian’s name as another other than “Dee-dee” which she then extrapolated into the especially cute “Dee-deedle-ee.” Most recently she turned “Mama” into “Mommy” into “Monamee” into “Pondapee.” She now pretty consistently refers to Rachel as Pondapee. It’s… unique.

As much as I love that they’re growing up and learning more words and so on, I’m going to miss their adorable toddler mispronunciations. Julian still has his pronouns reversed (he’ll hold up his arms and demand, “Pick you up!” or “Sit on my lap!”). Eloise turns many of her “r”s into “l”s, so, for example, there’s a conversation every night about which book she’ll be allowed to bling into bed with her (“I bling dis one!”) and in the mornings, she’ll often insist on having oatmeal for bleakfast.

There’s so much more I could write! But I’ll take a bleak here. Er, a break.

Month 25

November 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 25

Month 24

October 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 24

Eating

September 20th, 2010 by matt

This post originally appeared on the Bellani Maternity blog.

I had such big plans. My children were going to eat nothing but healthy, organic, locally-sourced, homemade food. And exciting food, too: they were going to love exotic noodle dishes, cheeses of all sorts, chiles, olives, and all of the things I love that I never ate as a kid. I was going to spend my evenings and weekends happily cooking, filling our freezer and pantry with meals and snacks, and all of our friends would marvel how well it was all going.

Ha.

Ha, ha. Ha.

I am led to understand that there are people out there—food people—people with a love of food, and cooking, and eating, who have children, and manage to stay food people, who have adventurous, agreeable children with big, broad appetites, who make every mealtime a pleasurable and laughter-filled experience for the whole family. We do not have these children. If you do have these children, I am beyond happy for you, but I’m afraid I have to ask you to please, if you wouldn’t mind terribly, shut up about it.

There are days they eat almost nothing. Or days that they’ll only eat pasta. Again. Days when the food they’d happily tucked into only days ago is now emphatically and tearfully rejected. Days when I want to throw my hands up and never set foot in the kitchen again.

At our lowest moments (kids screaming, food everywhere, my head in my arms on the table) my wife reminds me of the advice our pediatrician gave us at their first birthday: “At one year, you can reasonably expect one good meal a day. At two, expect one good meal every other day.” These are, to be sure, low expectations, but they’ve become our mantra. If they don’t eat dinner, we remind ourselves that they ate lunch. Or vice versa. Or that they ate all of their oatmeal at breakfast. And that we’ll try again tomorrow.

There are victories, though. There are only a few parenting moments more proud than sitting across from my wife at dinner and watching both children gleefully shovel mujadarra or chana masala into their faces. Or hearing Julian urgently ask for “more more black beans!” Or having to remind Eloise to chew, chew, chew, and swallow before putting more chicken in her mouth.

Now that they can express their preferences, some meals are a little easier. At breakfast, I can ask, “What do you want for breakfast?” and get answers. Usually the same answers, but answers, nonetheless. (Julian: “Bagel!” Eloise: “Oatmeal!”)

With the understanding that eating is still a work in progress, and that we have a success rate far below 100 percent, here are the guidelines we try to stick to. These are inspired by Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine, which I have not yet managed to read in its entirety. Still, the capsule version that I liked was this: “Parents decide what, when, and where to eat. Kids decide whether, and how much.”

What’s for dinner is what’s for dinner. I’m going to make one meal for the family each night, not two, not three, not four. The twins are going to eat what we eat… mostly.

There’s at least one thing they reliably like on their plates. Their dinner plates will have our dinner on them, but I try to design each meal so that there’s at least one component they recognize and have eaten before. Sometimes that’s as simple as making sure there’s broccoli or green peas or corn on the cob on the side. If dinner is especially adventurous (say, a delicious potato and fontina cake that Rachel and I really enjoy) I might put out some chicken bites or something. But the key to this rule, for me, is not going back into the kitchen for something new. Ever. Almost ever.

No seconds until you’ve tried everything on your place. The danger of having something they like on their plates is that they can tend to focus on that to the exclusion of everything else. It’s great that you like the pasta, Julian, but if you want more (and I’m happy to bring you more) you have to at least try the meatball. This has led to a lot of comical putting one molecule of food in their mouth and spitting it out ostentatiously. That counts. They might not eat the new food this time, but maybe it will be a little less unfamiliar next time.

Eat as much or as little as you want. My childhood is full of stories of being chased around the house by my father trying to get me to eat just one piece of chicken. I can’t believe that was fun for anyone. If our kids don’t want to eat something, that’s their choice. We try to tell them, “I think you’ll be hungry later,” but if they say they’re all done, and want to go and play, as long as they’ve at least made an effort to put something in their mouths, I don’t want to fight with them.

Keep trying. I’ve heard that to get a child to try, and potentially like, a new food, you have to offer it on at least ten separate occasions, even if they’re going to refuse it nine times. This is exhausting and demoralizing, and it’s the part I have the most trouble with. When they refuse to try (or spit out) the food I’ve lovingly, carefully, painstakingly prepared for them, it’s really hard not to take it personally. But my ever-patient wife reminds me that we’ll try again. And again. And again. And we do.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As much as I want to give them healthy homemade food all the time, it really won’t kill them to eat something from the (gasp!) grocery store freezer. Chicken nuggets, or little pouches of applesauce, goldfish crackers, or even the occasional cookie aren’t going to harm them, and don’t make me a bad parent.

A toddler isn’t going to starve himself. Everyone eats, eventually. Trying to keep our own anxiety levels down helps make meals more pleasant for everyone. And maybe, if we keep this up, in six to twelve months, they’ll be happily helping me cook, and trying our pad thai, and asking for more samosas. Right?

Right?

Month 23

September 20th, 2010 by matt

Judge Not?

September 1st, 2010 by matt

This post originally appeared on the Bellani Maternity blog.

Colleen’s latest post ends up being really timely for me, because it helped to catalyze some sort of vague ideas I had bouncing around in my head. Circumstantial factors helped, too: I happened to see the most recent post pop up on my iPhone while I was sitting in the passenger seat of a DCYF van, riding alongside the Child Protective Services investigator I was shadowing for the day.

We all judge each other, all the time. We rarely say anything about it, of course. If I’m sitting a few tables down from you at a restaurant and see you chewing with your mouth open, I’ll scoff silently. If you see me walking down the street with my shoes untied or my pant cuffs tucked into my socks somehow, you’ll probably experience a little mental snigger. We judge each other’s driving, our choice of romantic partners, our wardrobes, our taste in music, our Facebook posts, our writing, our singing, our posture, and, of course, we judge each other’s parenting.

How often have I caught myself thinking less of someone for making a different parenting choice than I did? More often than I’d like. Cloth diapers vs. disposables. Plastic toys vs. wood. Plastic bottles vs. glass. Sleep training vs. co-sleeping. Strollers vs. baby-wearing. Breast milk vs. formula. Midwives vs. OB-GYNs. Nannies vs. day care. Staying home vs. returning to work. Pacifiers. Junk food. Discipline. Clothing.

(I want to emphasize quickly that although this post has coalesced as something of a response to Colleen’s post (or perhaps it’s simpler to say that it’s inspired by what Colleen wrote) it’s not at all intended as a criticism of anything she said or did. I wholeheartedly agree that, yes, babies belong in car seats, and I applaud her decision to notify the police that this family was being so obviously unsafe. I wish I could say with confidence that I’d have done the same thing. Parenting may be mostly shades of gray, but some things are blank and white, and this is pretty clearly one of them.)

A recent blog post at the New York Times shared the experiences of a lawyer who represents parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children. She describes what happens when the instinct to judge another’s parenting is taken to its logical and legal extreme. To be sure, there are parents out there who should be judged. There are parenting choices that are, simply, objectively, better than others, and some that should never be made at all. Still, that impulse to judge, to disapprove, to intervene can become extremely hard to resist when it’s directed at someone who already has a history of making bad decisions.

I can’t tell you anything about the DCYF case that I witnessed, except to say that it involved a family reacting badly to a crisis that I would expect any family to react badly to. It just happened that this family was already in the system, and so warning signs become red flags, and red flags send white vans driving out from Providence. (I do want to say that the investigator I had the privilege of shadowing handled the entire situation with incredible poise, professionalism, and compassion: I was humbled and impressed.)

I think of myself in my worst parenting moments: when I’m at my wits end and snap at my children, or pull them too roughly out of harm’s way, or say something, exasperated, forgetting that they can understand. I wouldn’t want anyone to witness these moments; I can imagine how they’d look through the eyes of an average, judgmental parent-on-the-street, much less through the eyes of someone bearing the card of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

And look at me: even in my worst parenting moments, I’m married to the mother of my children, we both work at good-paying jobs that we enjoy, we have family and friends nearby who are able and willing to help, and we can afford food, shelter, clothing, and quality child care. I have every advantage. When I’m driven to the edge and fail to be the parent I want to be, should I be judged for it? Well, maybe. And so should anyone, perhaps. But parenting is fundamentally about compassion: compassion for our children most of all, but also for ourselves and for each other, each struggling to do the best we can for the ones we love most.

I’ll try to remember that the next time I find myself shaking my head in middle-class disapproval at the parent with the shopping cart full of soda, or the kid I think is over- or under-dressed, or the house that’s full of Fisher-Price instead of Melissa and Doug. And I’ll try especially hard to remember it the next time I have the urge to tell another parent that the way I’m doing it is the right way.

(Still, people: kids go in car seats, infants sleep on their backs, and no honey before age one.)

Month 22

August 19th, 2010 by matt

Friends With Children?

August 16th, 2010 by matt

This post originally appeared on the Bellani Maternity blog.

This is a common scene, right? We’re driving home from running some errands and decide as a treat to stop by the playground to kill some time. The four of us roll into Humboldt Park, and the kids proceed to tear it up in the way that kids do.

(As a side note, because we hadn’t exactly planned to go to the playground, and because we sometimes let the kids influence what we dress them in, Eloise was wearing an adorable but completely impractical skirt and brand new white sandals. Just the thing. We must have looked like those parents who dress their daughter in inappropriately dressy girly clothes all the time. We’re not those parents!)

There were a handful of people there, including three mothers, each with a young daughter about the same age, who seemed to be casually acquainted. One of their kids kind of wandered over to where Eloise was playing and so the three of us ended up tossing a ball back and forth. The new kid, Sadie, was adorable, and the small talk with her mother was pleasant, and I thought, “Hey, new friend?”

And then they had to leave and I found myself kind of weakly waving goodbye.

How do new parents connect with one another and schedule these “playdates” that I’ve heard so much about? I’m sure that we’re at something of a disadvantage because both Rachel and I work full time, so we’re not often a part of the weekday kid scene. (Back before I went back to work, I befriended some of the other parents in the delightful classes we took at Bellani, but since I was demoted from “stay-at-home dad” to just “dad” I haven’t had a chance to see any of them.) But even on a weekend, when I do make meaningful eye contact or pleasant chit-chat with another parent hovering by the jungle gym, I have no idea how to seal the deal.

I think it’s so awkward and difficult because it’s essentially like trying to hit on someone you just met; I wasn’t any good at that back when I was single, and I’ve been cozily partnered up for more than a decade. There’s just no way I’m going to be able to successfully pick someone up at a playground.

I often wonder how much of it is gender-related. I see little clutches of moms that seem to gather together as if by some kind of electromagnetic force. Is new parenting secretly a “no boys allowed” club? Or does a guy wandering up to a bunch of women just exacerbate the creepy pick-up vibe? “Hi there. I think our kids are about the same age… laydeez.”

(This reminds me of a YouTube video that’s a couple of years old but is still, I think, funny. There’s probably nothing in it that’s precisely inappropriate for a family-friendly blog like this, but I feel that I should warn you, as Ira Glass occasionally says, that this video does acknowledge the existence of sex.)

I am generally baffled as to how new parents find each other. Most of our pre-kid friends still don’t have kids, and although we’ve met a few new friends with children, our social circle seems pretty narrow. How do you all do it?

No! No Daddy!

August 9th, 2010 by matt

This post originally appeared on the Bellani Maternity blog.

Is there anything less dignified, more damaging to the self-esteem, or more pointless than competing for the attention and affections of a 20-month old child? Apart, obviously, from appearing as a contestant on a reality television program? I don’t think there is.

Everyone tells me it’s completely normal for kids to go through phases of preferring one parent over the other, and it’s true; I’ve seen our two do it. Sometimes they’d switch on and off, so one week Julian would insist that only Mama could give him his bottle before bed, and the next week, it had to be Daddy. Still, knowing that it’s happened before, and knowing that it will end, and knowing that it’s so common doesn’t change how infuriating and, yes, heartbreaking it is when you’re the dispreferred parent.

The past few weeks have been the worst in a while. Both kids have been sick, and they seem to have decided that while Mama generates loving waves of peaceful healing, Daddy is covered in acid-tipped spikes. It’s worse than ever before because now they’re talking. It’s one thing for them to cry and fuss and twist around when I pick them up; it’s something entirely different when they cry and slap and shout, “No! No Daddy!”

As a result, I look for ways to maximize their affection. I’ve started angling to do pick up, rather than drop off, at day care, because they are ecstatic to see whoever’s coming to get them at the end of the day. “That’s right, children. Shower me with your love. Not literally, Eloise. Can I have a tissue, please?”

Most of the time, I have the maturity and presence of mind to take it in stride. I know that they’re basically irrational little beasties whose moods and preferences change by the minute. Sometimes, though, it stings. It’s unpleasantly humbling to have your feelings hurt by your child. There have been times when I’ve sullenly parked both wailing, ungrateful snots on their mother’s lap and stormed off to sulk. Way to go, Daddy.

In another example of my exceptional maturity, the times when they do request me over my wife feel like Olympic-level victories. I may be guilty of actually pumping my fist once after Julian said, “No no mommy!” and crawled into my lap. Ha! In your face, HONEY!

The upside, if you can call it that, is tbecause she’s been sick, Eloise has been waking up in the middle of the night. My attempts to console her have been met with apocalyptic shrieking so I’ve had to regretfully concede middle-of-the night duty to my wife. “I’d totally go and get her, honey, but you know she really wants you. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

The whole thing is karmic payback, of course. My dad never tires of telling the story of when I was about two or three years old, and started crying in the middle of the night, and he walked in and leaned over my bed, and I looked up and said, “Not YOU!” He seems to have gotten over it, so I’m sure I will, too.

The Learning Tower

August 5th, 2010 by matt

This post originally appeared on the Bellani blog.

The Learning Tower is one of those pieces of kid gear that makes parents in the know say, “Oooooh.” It’s a pretty clever idea: an adjustable platform that can act as a sort of combination step stool, activity center, and jungle gym. The standard suggested usage scenario is that it enables kids to reach the counter or sink in your kitchen so they can “help” you cook or at least play with kitchen tools. (The website is full of pictures of adorable moppets in ridiculous chef’s toques.) It’s made of wood, rather than plastic, which is nice. Because we are cheap (er, frugal) we scored one secondhand off of Craigslist and we’ve been very happy with it.

For the first few months that we owned it, we kept our Learning Tower in the kitchen, pushed up against the island where I did most of the cooking and prep. The idea was to get the kids up closer to our level so that we could interact with them while still getting things accomplished. Unfortunately, given the age of the twins, our interactions with them largely consisted of repeatedly urging them to EAT their Cheerios instead of throwing them on the floor. No, seriously, if you throw your food on the floor you’re going to have to–that’s it. Get down.

Then we got the whiteboard/chalkboard attachment, which essentially turns the Learning Tower into sort of a Learning Easel. This seemed awfully promising. It even had a big magnet that could hold up a large piece of paper for coloring. The problem, of course, was that our kids didn’t quite get the concept of only coloring with crayons ON THE PAPER and not all over the tower itself. We had much better luck switching to chalk, but it didn’t take us long to realize that two toddlers sitting constantly underfoot playing with (throwing, eating, and occasionally drawing with) chalk didn’t make for a calm, productive, and clean kitchen. The Learning Tower was banished to the family room, and downgraded to full-time chalkboard status. We pushed it up against the wall next to the couch, and figured they could still practice climbing up and down if the wanted.

And the kids loved it! Still do! The chalkboard is magnetic, and they love sticking alphabet magnets onto it. They love coloring with chalk (they like erasing even more) and Julian will sometimes grab me by the hand, pull me over the chalkboard, and insist that “Daddy draw b’loon.” I’m getting very good at drawing balloons, as it doesn’t really tax my limited artistic abilities. (Although, having seen a drawing of one once, they’re now insisting that I draw hedgehogs. Hedgehogs!)

So, that was that. They draw on the chalkboard, got better and better at climbing onto and off of the tower itself, and enjoyed being up a little higher. Sure, we had to sternly remind them not to violently SHAKE the tower, since that didn’t seem safe, but it seemed like generally good, clean, quiet fun.

Until they realized there was another way off of the tower:

Honestly, this is now their favorite game in the world.

I expect that in 6-12 months, when the twins are a bit older, we’ll be able to get more use out of the Learning Tower in its intended use. They’ll be, hopefully, more interested in being involved in what’s going on in the kitchen and have slightly longer attention spans. Of course, by then they’ll probably be big enough that we’ll need two of the dang things. Sigh.

What Do New Parents Need?

August 1st, 2010 by matt

This post originally appeared on the Bellani Blog.

I found something adorable on the internet the other day.

A mom (who lives in Finland) creates these somewhat elaborate scenes and photographs her napping baby in them. As she says, “While my baby is taking her nap, I try to imagine her dream and capture it.

I find it almost too hipster/whimsical, although of course I wish I’d thought of it. Then again, I would never have dared to pick up my napping child, put them on the ground, take a picture, and put them back to bed, since the chance that the baby might wake up was too terrifying. When ours were sleeping, we tiptoed around the house and forbade anyone from even mentioning the fact that the twins were asleep, because that would jinx it.

But the adorable thing I want to write about isn’t this woman’s hobby; it’s what the government of Finland does to (indirectly) make this woman’s hobby possible.

Here in the United States, we don’t make it particularly easy for working people to have and raise children. We’re one of only five countries—along with Australia, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland—that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave from work. (Most countries offer at least ten weeks of paid leave, although it varies greatly. Many European countries even offer paid paternity leave. Oh, and it looks like Australia will start offering 18 weeks of paid maternity leave in 2011.)

What we do have is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) which requires that employers with more than 50 employees offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave. New parents who work for smaller business, and parents who can’t afford to go without pay for three months are out of luck. (Rhode Island state law actually goes further and requires 13 unpaid weeks, and permits new mothers to collect temporary disability insurance, or TDI.)

My little family was extremely lucky. My wife works for an organization that allowed her to bank up enough sick days and vacation that when added to the state’s TDI benefit added up to some substantial (for this country, anyway) paid time off. I was in graduate school, with all of the scheduling flexibility that entails. Even so, becoming parents was exhausting and expensive; if one of us had needed to return to work much earlier than we did, I’m not sure how we would have made it work. Families who do make it work have my utmost respect and admiration.

This is probably neither the time nor the blog for an extended piece on the economic and social impacts of parental leave policy. Instead, let’s focus on something else totally awesome that Finland does: in addition to financial support during their maternity leave, new mothers receive a maternity package of things a new parent needs.

Check it out! All new mothers get a package containing about 20 outfits, a mattress and bedding, cloth diapers, books, condoms, a rather stylish bib, and my favorite item, a “box (can be used as crib).” I just love the idea that every new parent in Finland gets this stuff, and I’m fascinated at the process that must go in to deciding what makes it into the package each year. It must be so reassuring to know that at least some of your basic “stuff” needs are going to be taken care of.

Month 21

July 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 20

June 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 20

Month 19

May 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 19

Vocabulary

April 27th, 2010 by matt

For a while there, I was a little concerned about whether our kids were a little less verbal than some of their peers. Now that they’re eighteen months old, I thought I’d try to make a list of all of the words they can say. (As it happened, I mentioned the idea to Rachel, and she made a list, but I contributed to it.) Looking at the list, I’m no longer particularly worried.

This post, then, will serve as a little bit of history for later in life, when they won’t shut up.

Here’s all of the words the twins can say that we could think of, with the proper pronunciation in toddler dialect in parentheses. (If only one of them has a word, I tried to mark that as well.)

People

  • Mama (occasionally “mommy”)
  • Daddy
  • Eloise (“Ellie” or “Alwee” or “Owie”)
  • Julian (“Gi-gee” or “Doo-dee”)
  • Grandpa (“Ba-pa”)
  • Wapsy (“Wa-pee”)
  • Grammy (“Ba-bee”)
  • Several friends from school, including Avery (“A-wee”), Hannah (“Na-na”), and Apollo (“Uh-pah”)

Colors

  • red (“ya”)
  • yellow
  • green (“dee”)
  • blue
  • purple (“puh-puh”)
  • pink (“pee”)
  • brown [J] (“bwow”)
  • black (“bla”)
  • white (“wha”)

Body parts

  • nose (“no”)
  • eye
  • ear (“ee”)
  • elbow (“ow-boh”)
  • toe (“doh”)
  • knee
  • neck (“neh”)
  • back (“ba”)
  • leg [J] (“leh”)

Food

  • peas (“peeeeeeez”)
  • broccoli (“buh-la-buh-lee”)
  • apple/applesauce (“a-puh”)
  • Mum-Mum
  • snack (“na”)
  • cheese (“deeee”)
  • water (“wa-wa”)
  • bar (cereal bar) (“ba”)
  • noodles (“noo-noo”)
  • cracker (“kuh kuh”)
  • pasta [J] (“tas-pah”)
  • blueberries (“boo-bwee”)

Miscellaneous nouns

  • balloon (“buh-loo” or “boo”)
  • baboon (“ba-boo”)
  • blocks (“blaaaaaaaaaah”)
  • book (“buh”)
  • bottle (“ba-ba”)
  • bubble (“buh-buh”)
  • bowl (“bo”)
  • spoon (“suh-boo”)
  • tree (“dwee”)
  • flower (“fuh-vuh”)
  • park (“pah”)
  • outside (“ow-ee” [E] or “uh-tzuh” [J])
  • window (E) (“wi-woh”)
  • bus [E] (“buh”)
  • truck [J] (“dwah”)
  • moon (“moo”)
  • star (J) (“daw”)
  • baby
  • ball (“baaaa”)
  • barn (“ba”)
  • iPod (“a-puh”)
  • poop (“a-pu”)
  • shoe [E] (“doo”)
  • giraffe [J] (“doo-wah”)
  • beep beep (“bee bee”)
  • keys (“dee”)

Animals

  • kitty/meow (“diddy”/”mow”)
  • bird/tweet tweet (“buh”/”dzee dzee” or “tuh-wee”)
  • woof woof (“wuh wuh”)
  • quack quack (“kuh kuh”)
  • the sound a monkey makes (“oo-oo”)
  • neigh
  • moo
  • baa

Miscellaneous verbs and prepositions

  • eat (“ee”)
  • walk (“waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”)
  • up
  • down (“dow”)
  • trade [J] (“doo-way”)
  • rock (“wa”)
  • ride [E] (“waaiiii”)
  • sleeping [E] (“pee-pee”)

Miscellaneous miscellany

  • yes (“yeah”)
  • no (“no no”)
  • hi
  • bye
  • please (“buh-lee” [J], “pee” [E])
  • more (“muh”)
  • all done (“ah dah”)
  • uh-oh!
  • oh no!
  • me
  • whee!
  • choo choo (“doo doo”)

It’s worth noting that these are just the words they can say. They understand much, much more, so stay on your toes.

Month 18

April 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 18

Mama’s Got a Brand New iPhone

April 12th, 2010 by rachel

And that iPhone takes video that can be uploaded straight to YouTube! I am semi-addicted.

Eloise’s First Haircut

April 5th, 2010 by rachel

Corona (by mharvey75)

As impressive and fabulous as Eloise is by almost any measure, she has never been an overachiever in the hair department. Yet her mullet was growing completely out of control, even by mullet standards, and we decided that a little trim would, at the very least, not hurt. Her Aunt Rachel and I took her to Kidz Adventure Cuts in Seekonk for the procedure.

At first I almost dared to be pleasantly surprised by how well she was handling it…
Eloise Gets a Haircut: Stage One (by rms519)

…but quickly began to get a sense that my optimism would prove unfounded.
Eloise Gets a Haircut: Stage Two (by rms519)

There’s the Eloise I know and love!
Eloise Gets a Haircut: Stage 3 (by rms519)
(Hmm, looking at this picture I’m thinking we should have double-teamed her with a dentist on the other side.)

In the end they only charged me for the equivalent of a bangs trim, since they only cleaned up the back. (When I brought her in, the “stylist” incredulously burst out, “What are you going to cut, Mom???” I explained that I wanted it tidied up to all one length in the back, she exclaimed with an emotion I would describe as just shy of horror: “But if you do that she’ll look like a BOY!”

Needless to say we went ahead with it, and while the result will not exactly win her a job as the Pantene poster girl, it does look a bit less unruly.
Haircut (by mharvey75)

By the way, Julian got his first haircut back in December (and his second on the same day as Eloise’s first). Let’s just say that his handling of the trauma didn’t do anything to make Eloise look bad.

First Haircut (by mharvey75)

What Happened?

April 4th, 2010 by rachel

Matt and I did not intend to allow sparveys.com to grow dormant, but it just seemed to happen. We were talking tonight about how we can’t possibly be more tired now than we were during the first year, so why is it that we could find time and energy then but we can’t now? Part of it is that the newness of being a family of four has worn off a bit, and with it the compulsion to blog. Another part is that the longer we have gone without posting, the more we’ve felt that to start up again we must create some sort of epic post that sums up all of the last 4-5 months in a way that is funny, insightful, and poignant.

Well, that’s not going to happen, so I’m just going to launch in again with a minor post and hope that I can manage to do that sort of thing with moderate regularity. I hope that those who are interested in such occasional updates will still check in every so often!

Just over a year ago Matt and I took the twins to the playground for the first time. It was a day that stands out in my memory as a particularly enjoyable one during the rough early months. It is also astounding to us that it was just a year ago — it feels like an eternity has passed. And who can blame us for feeling that way, when you look at how far Julian and Eloise have come in that time.

Then:

Now:

v

Month 17

March 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 17

Month 16

February 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 16

Fluster

February 10th, 2010 by matt

In the fall of 1997, Rachel and I (who were not, I believe, technically dating yet) started talking about (me) getting a cat. We happened to have this conversation at a party in a dorm room in earshot of a friend of a friend who was hoping to be a veterinarian and so was interning at the Warwick Animal Hospital. He told us that one of the nurses there had found and rescued a litter of abandoned kittens, and so if we were interested, hey, free kitten. So it was that we found ourselves in the back room of the animal hospital watching three tiny kittens frolic and mew and play, and we decided to take home the one the nurse had named “Stupid.”

I had decided in advance that my cat would be named Fluster.

I seem to recall that we drove home from the animal hospital with Fluster on Rachel’s lap in the backseat, and when we arrived back at my apartment in Providence I raced around to solicitously open the door for her while she gingerly carried Fluster inside. He was five weeks old, and he fit in the palm of your hand.

Fluster, 5 weeks old

Being a responsible person, I’m sure I wouldn’t bring home a tiny new kitten without having all of the necessary things in place, but I seem to remember not having cat food (or, perhaps, not having enough cat food) and so one of Fluster’s very first meals was a small piece of Pizza Pie-er crust. I think we can probably trace his love of baked goods to that moment. It was a rule in our house that one must not ever leave bread, or pizza, or cookies, or cake, or crackers, or really anything made of grain, anyplace that Fluster could reach.

Fluster, 5 weeks old Fluster, 5 weeks old Fluster, October 1997

Fluster started out unbelievably tiny, but he didn’t stay that way. We fed him little cans of Iams cat food, and he just wolfed them down. After he ate, you’d pick him up, and you would be holding a warm ball of mushy cat food with a thin layer of kitten wrapped around it, his little legs dangling off of your palm. I don’t know if it was the food or genetics, but in two short years Fluster went from this:

Little Cat, Big Pumpkin

To this:

Big Cat, Little Pumpkin

R and Fluster

He was a frankly enormous cat: not fat, just long and tall. We used to joke that he was part mountain lion. He was, however, a most un-cat-like cat. He was not shy, or cautious, or graceful. He would gallop into a room, rubbing his face on every available surface or person. No one could visit our house—not friends, not family, not repairmen, not painters—without getting an enthusiastic greeting from Fluster. In 2004, we bought a house and had the kitchen renovated, which involved teams of contractors and workmen in our house for months. The other two cats, as cats will do, spent most of the time cowering under the bed upstairs. Fluster became a part of the workday. They had systems to keep him from dashing out the door; they called him Schmitty.

All of our cats were inside cats, but Fluster wanted nothing more than to get outside. If you left a door open and unwatched for more than a second or two, chances were he’d make a break for it. A very few times in his life we let him outside on purpose: he’d generally find the dirtiest patch of ground and earnestly roll around in it.

Fluster Outside! Fluster Outside!

The classic Fluster story, of course, involves his trip to the emergency vet many years ago for some kind of urinary blockage. He had to stay overnight, and when we picked him up the next day, the report we got included the log of the staff’s attempts to care for him:

Attempted to feed cat. Cat was fractious.
Attempted to give cat medicine. Cat was fractious.

The best quote, though, and the one Fluster was unable to ever live down, was the first notation by the vet who placed his urinary catheter: “Difficult to exteriorize the penis. Small?”

That was when we started calling Fluster our “little guy.”

Fluster had the loudest purr of any cat I’ve ever heard. You could hear him from across a room, just rumbling away like a motorcycle. He was not always the most accommodating cat, but he was sociable, friendly, and occasionally cuddly. He was a happy cat.

When we brought the twins home, I don’t think Fluster knew what hit him.

Uncertain

Like all the cats, Fluster was astoundingly patient with the babies. When we ignored him to take care of the children, he kept on purring. When they tugged his fur and swatted his face, he kept on purring. When we left their food out on the table, he ate it.

Ellie and Uncle Fluster You Gonna Finish That? (Day 165) Fluster Supervises Plotting (Day 190)

Still, while I don’t want to say the babies gave Fluster cancer, they couldn’t have helped his stress level. For about nine months, we gave Fluster his medicine, and hoped he’d hang on. And he did hang on, until one day he couldn’t anymore. He made it easy for us: it was obvious he was in pain, and that he wasn’t really going to be able to be our Fluster anymore. So I held him, and stroked his head, and said goodbye, and now we only have two cats, and it’s totally strange to be able to leave groceries on the counter for 15 minutes without having the bags torn open or to be able to go downstairs in the morning without having to crush up a pill in wet cat food or to be able to leave the door open while ferrying packages from the car.

I won’t deny those things are very convenient, but I’d trade them in a heartbeat for our Fluster.

Fluster Fluster, Illuminated

Month 15

January 19th, 2010 by matt

Month 15

Week 65

January 17th, 2010 by matt

Photos taken between January 11 and 17, 2010. (Click on any picture for a larger version.)

Multitasking (by mharvey75)

Literature (by mharvey75) Jackie and Eloise (by mharvey75)

Eloise Helped Unpack (by mharvey75) Fist Chomp (by mharvey75) Just A Casual Breakfast For Two (by mharvey75)

Week 64

January 10th, 2010 by matt

Photos taken between January 4 and 10, 2010. (Click on any picture for a larger version.)

Chug! Chug! Chug! (by mharvey75)

Strike a Pose (by mharvey75) Eloise Is Ready To Go! (by mharvey75)

Bags Are Packed (by mharvey75) Eloise Loves Her Monkey (by mharvey75) Through The Crib (by mharvey75) The Boy in the Flowered Pajamas (by mharvey75) Contentedly Playing (by mharvey75)

Week 63

January 3rd, 2010 by matt

Photos taken between December 28, 2009 and January 3, 2010. (Click on any picture for a larger version.)

Ready To Go Inside (by mharvey75)

Ready To Play (by mharvey75) Red, White (by mharvey75)

Pink Ball (by mharvey75) Julian, Mama, and Eloise (by mharvey75) Yoga? (by mharvey75) Happy! (by mharvey75) It's Snowing! (by mharvey75)

Week 62

December 27th, 2009 by matt

Photos taken between December 21 and 27, 2009. (Click on any picture for a larger version.)

Merry Christmas! (by mharvey75)

Unwrapping (by mharvey75) Coy (by mharvey75)

Carrie and Eloise (by mharvey75) New Toys (by mharvey75) New Toy (by mharvey75) Nice Hat, Julian! (by mharvey75) Me and the Boy (by mharvey75) Well, At Least One Of Us Is Looking At The Camera (by mharvey75)

Week 61

December 20th, 2009 by matt

Photos taken between December 14 and 20, 2009. (Click on any picture for a larger version.)

Month 14 (Outtake)

Julian and Grammy Eloise and Grammy

Sleepy Boy First Haircut Snow! Snow! Snow!