Coming soon! Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years

I remember that moment.
It was ten years ago and I was in a hospital bed recovering, just hours after giving birth to twins via a double-whammy (a vaginal birth and a c-section).
The pediatrician had arrived to do a quick examination of both boys. He sat on the edge of my bed, reached into the crib they shared and tickled their toes.
“Congratulations on your identical boys,” he said. “They are perfect.”
Identical?
That was a word I was unprepared for.
When we learned I was carrying twins five months into my pregnancy, my doctor assured us they were fraternal. The placentas had implanted on polar opposite sides of the uterus. Identical twins who have their own placentas implant close together, he said. They couldn’t possibly be identical.
I was relieved.
Imagine all the ways parents could screw up identical twins!
Then along comes this hospital pediatrician, telling me our look-alike babies are identical. (Okay, so maybe we had our suspicions after we held them that first time.) Six weeks later, DNA tests proved him right.
That’s alright, I thought.
I’ll just Google some information on raising identical twins or buy a book.
But I found nothing anywhere.
Absolutely nothing.
So at my husband’s urging, I started a blog. I recorded the development of our twins from birth through their sixth birthday, supplementing the posts with research, fun facts and advice from my own experiences and the trials and errors of others.
I felt a bit like a journalist again. It was fun and it was, according to the comments and emails I received, appreciated. I ended the blog on their sixth birthday, figuring they had reached an age where they deserved a new level of privacy.
But the emails didn’t stop.
Several readers suggested I create a book, something they could give to relatives or to other new and expecting parents of identical twins. I toyed with the idea while working on my fiction. Finally, I put the fiction aside for a bit and dove in.
Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years will be released in just a few weeks.
I hope you enjoy it!

  

The Voice: an interview with its youngest fans

My husband and I have never been big fans of reality TV shows.
No Bachelor or Biggest Loser or American Idol for us.
We’re sit-com people.
We strive to escape reality at the end of the day, not live someone else’s.
But, for some reason, we got hooked on The Voice.
It was our own little secret last year, our private indulgence.
We’d record it when it aired and wait until the kids were all in bed.
Then we’d pull out a bottle of wine and enjoy.
It was a wonderful season.
So we were thrilled to return to our routine when the second season began after the Super Bowl. I even saved a good Merlot for the occasion and bought my husband his favorite hefeweizen, anxious to become immersed in the world of Adam, Cee Lo, Christina and Blake.
Then, about halfway through the second night of auditions, the inevitable happened.
One of our 5-year-old identical twins, Jonathan, sneaked down the stairs, unable to sleep and slipped into the recliner with his father.
Minutes later, he was in love with The Voice.
The Voice has since become a family affair with the twins and their older siblings all eager to watch.
Jonathan and his twin, Matthew, are so enamored, they sing the theme song constantly. After listening to it over and over again on the way to preschool and back today, I decided to interview them about their latest passion.
Here it is:

Long Story Short: upholding the oral tradition

Most every journalist, at least the old ones like me, has heard of Studs Terkel.
The man was amazing.
He painted portraits of World War II, the Great Depression, race relations, celebrities, criminals and every day American life and people with words.
But he rarely used words of his own.
Terkel was an artist of oral history.
He knew how to get people to open up — whether for his books, for radio or for television. He knew how to listen intensely and compassionately and how sift through what was said and what was not said for what was true.
He did not simply conduct interviews; He had conversations.
Conversations that brought history alive.
Studs Terkel died in 2008 at age 96, leaving a huge void in the journalism world and in the tradition of oral history. Just that year, I had started working on a nonfiction book in which I tried to emulate his style. I was saddened.
It felt like a huge loss.
So I was pleased today to find a link on my twins blog to the work of Larry Horowitz, owner of Long Story Short, a company that creates video biographies. Someone wanted me to see a video interview he had conducted with 77-year-old identical twins.
The video and the women are amazing.
Horowitz gently guides their conversation, but he does so with few words.
He lets the twins do the rest.
It reminded me of Studs Terkel.
Horowitz spent 20 years as a video and film editor in the advertising business, where he edited commercials for companies such as P&G, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and AT&T. He left the industry to follow his own passion, to create something more intimate, most lasting.
He had uploaded his interview with the twins to YouTube, where it attracted the attention of the folks at Walgreens. The sisters landed a role in a Walgreen’s flu shot commercial. That role led to talk appearances on Dr. Phil and the Rosie O’Donnell show.
All because Larry Horowitz let them speak, honestly, openly and without nervous inhibition. He didn’t have to tell viewers about their bond. He let the two women show it. And the result is powerful. So much like the work of Studs Terkel.
Thank You, Larry Horowitz.

The fourth anniversary of that moment in the Starbucks bathroom

Four years ago today, I woke up feeling pregnant.
I tried to shake it.
It was silly, I thought.
I assumed it was my cynical nature kicking in: I was finally freelancing regularly for a magazine; I had started querying agents for my novel; I was editing a book for a well-respected graduate school; and, in a few months, our youngest would start kindergarten.
Something had to go awry.
But that pregnant feeling only grew stronger by the hour.
By mid-afternoon, I broke down and took a test.
And as I stood there in that Starbucks bathroom, watching that second line grow stronger, I also watched my writing career fade. I was 40 years old and about to have my third child (and my fourth, as it turned out!). I would never get this freelance/novel-writing thing going full force, I thought.
I was ready to surrender.
But my husband, a former journalist/author turned techie, wouldn’t let me. He pushed me right back into the writing battle even though he just as shocked, bewildered, scared as I was. He made sure I was armed with a well-charged laptop. He made me face that Starbucks bathroom, the scene of my perceived defeat, once again.
But not right away.
Tom did allow me a sabbatical of sorts.
He had to.
I was horribly sick and tired that first trimester and beyond. I found out why during my 20-week ultrasound; I was carrying two little guys in there. Two beautiful, perfect and healthy baby boys.
By the time my stomach had improved, my belly was so big, I couldn’t reach the keyboard. My fingers were too swollen to type anyway and I was on partial bed rest with two older kids to care for.
My husband didn’t mention my writing much and neither did it.
The first few months after the twins were born were a sleepless fog of nursing, diaper changing and shuttling the older kids back and forth to half-day and full-day school and their activities. Tom was still traveling frequently then and we had no family here to help us.
It was all we could do to stay awake for another day.
But by that fall, things had started to settle a bit. The twins were sleeping better, my husband’s travel schedule was less hectic, the older kids were both in school for full days. I was getting antsy and, I admit, somewhat depressed. And my husband knew it.
One night in November of 2007, he pulled out my laptop after all the kids had gone to sleep and showed me this site called Blogger. Just start a blog to keep your writing fresh, he said. No big deal, he pushed. Just do it for fun.
And I did.
My first blog, The Boys: Raising Identical Twins, stirred something in me again. That stirring inspired me to pick up the novel and give it a good overhaul. I was surprised by the insight I had gained by being removed from my manuscript for so long. I eliminated major characters, wrote new chapters and deleted others.
I started querying again and one, day, when the twins were two and a half years old, I got the email that led to the happy dance.
I signed with Roger Williams of The Publish or Perish Agency.
Now, four years after that second line appeared in the Starbuck’s bathroom, my novel, Spring Melt, is under submission with major publishing houses; my first short story is due for publication in the fall issue of Aethlon, a journal of sport literature centered at the East Tennessee State University; and my second novel is well underway.
Yes, the twins did affect my writing career, but in a good way. Our entire family dynamic has changed since their birth. The older kids have become more independent and have shown a capacity for love and responsibility that blows my mind. The twins have taught us both to both prioritize and relax. Enjoy life more. (Right now, they are squirting hand soap all over the bathroom. So what? Half an hour of fun for $1.99.)
I have learned to write more efficiently and to concentrate on the projects that are most important to me: no more book editing. I have done all this and they are not even in preschool yet. I am 44 years old, I have three-year-old twins, a 10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, yet I am still writing, and I believe I am writing on a more mature level than I was before The Day of the Stick.
My creativity did not whither the day the twins were born, in part, because my husband encouraged me to nourish it.
So, on this day, on the fourth anniversary of the appearance of those double lines, I thank him.
I thank him for loving me, pushing me and believing in me.
(And I would greatly appreciate it if he would pick up some more hand soap on the way home.)

Good-bye Cincinnati

When my husband and I moved to Arizona almost 11 years ago, it was supposed to be a temporary thing. An adventure.
Our ticket to the life we had always dreamed about.
My husband, a former journalist, had been working from home as a programmer for a media software company based in Scottsdale. His bosses wanted him to move into management to help the company go public. That required a physical move as well.
Two years, they said.
That was all.
The company would pay for our relocation to Arizona and then move us back east when our time was up. We would earn enough from stock options to build a house on his parents’ farm in Pennsylvania, something we’d talked about since we started dating.
I had to give up my newspaper job, but I was sure I would find work in Phoenix.
And, when all this was over, he and I would both be able to work from home while we raised a family.
We weren’t counting on me getting pregnant before we even got there.
We weren’t counting on the company going under.
We weren’t counting on living in Arizona for five years, or in Cincinnati for six years.
But we went where life took us, always believing that things would work out in the end.
And they have.
In seven weeks, we will move to Pennsylvania with our four young children. We bought a house to live in while we build our final home. The house is in a burough of about 700 people, where the nearest mall is 50 miles away and the convenience store has hitching posts for the Amish.
And we can’t wait.
For the first time, we will be near family and that’s far more important than the convenience of 24-hour grocery stores, multiple fast-food restaurants and a selection of wi-fi coffee houses (Okay, so maybe I will miss Starbucks and Panera).
We will be able to help care for his mother as she ages and we will be free to travel to my parents’ house when we have vacation time. My husband’s sister and niece live within walking distance, and two of my sisters and my stepdaughter are only a short drive away.
My husband will keep his job.
His company has been gracious enough to let him work from home.
We will miss all the people we have come to know in Cincinnati, just as we miss those who we left behind in Arizona. Our older children have roots here. This is where they attended preschool, kindergarten and most of elementary school.
But both kids value family tremendously.
They are as excited as we are.
The twins will have few memories of their birthplace, but we will bring them back. We will remind them that  Cincinnati has been good to us. We have plenty of good friends here and lots wonderful memories. Best of all, Cincinnati gave us two healthy young boys.
Arizona was equally good. We left there with a healthy son and daughter; a greater understanding for Mexican/western culture; and an appreciation for a different kind of nature than we were accustomed to. We plan to spend many weeks each year of our retirement there.
And so it is that, with a sense of contentment and fulfillment, that we say this:
Good-bye, Cincinnati.
Good-bye and thank you.

Twin moms and the psychology of rudeness

The irony was too much.
I was reading a post on an online forum for parents of twins when my 3-year-old identical boys started watching Ni Hao Kai Lan. The theme of the children’s show on Nick Jr. was politeness, always finding something nice to say.
The theme of the forum thread was how to avoid unsollicited advice from moms of singletons. Some posters were kind, but frustrated. However, a few expressed in many words that outright rudeness was not only appropriate, but the right of every twin mom.
One poster told of an incident in a department store in which she commented on someone’s twins. The mother replied with, “Yes, they are twins. Now leave us alone.” The poster was forgiving of her because the other mom didn’t know she had twins herself.
When I responded that rudeness is never okay, I was shot down.
So I paid closer attention and this is what I found:
_ Some women enjoy rudeness.
_ Even more so, they enjoy bragging about their rude exploits.
_ Rudeness is addictive.
_ Rude people eventually drive others anyway,
_ Rudeness is like crack-cocaine: it is often practiced by people who are depressed, angry or have low self-esteem. It gives its practitioner an immediate sense of euphoria, but then it brings her crashing down. The only solution is to keep doing it and doing it over and over to re-live that euphoria, knowing that she will eventually self-destruct.
Twins attract a lot of attention, especially when they are babies or infants. So twins offer moms many more opportunities to be rude. Yes, it can be frustrating to walk into a store for a quick errand only to be stopped two or three times by people who oggle your babies, but that’s why you build in “oggle time.”
I always either gave myself a few extra minutes to run errands or reduced my agenda to only the most vital errands. More often, I hired a sitter for the important stuff or waited until evening when my husband was home.
And it helps to try to have some perspective.
Maybe even some sympathy or empathy for those who approach us.
Most are simply struggling to make conversation.
And most are in awe of twins.
That’s a good thing.
I have healthy twins and two healthy older children.
I am forunate.
Very, very fortunate.
And twins seem to make people happy.
Why would I not want to share them with the world?
Why would I want to be rude?
There were times when I was tempted, like when the clerk from Dillard’s kept jumping in front of my stroller and stopping me every time I tried to get around her; or like the time an acquaintance kept calling one twin “the fat one;” or like the time the older gentleman at the mall insisted over and over that my twins were not identical.
But I stopped myself.
What good would it do?
Another clerk finally helped me out of my Dillard’s situation.
I haven’t found a reason to speak with that acquaintance since.
The older gentleman? Well, what do I care what he believes? I smiled, told him I had to get going and walked away.
As for this whole thing about advice from singleton moms, what’s wrong with it? Singleton moms have plenty to share about feeding babies, getting them to sleep, making baby food, the best diapers, milestones, etc. Why can’t those moms just listen and pick and choose the advice that applies to them?
Why be rude?
Those women did not want to hear it when I wrote that rudeness was unacceptable. Perhaps, I took the wrong approach. Maybe what I should have written was, “Turn on your TVs. Ni Hao Kai Lan is on.”