Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Double exposure

I had a mother of a singleton tell me all about how her little one, who attends the same kindy as my two, gets really diabolical when he gets together with a close friend of his.  "It's as though they set out to make mischief," she said to me.  Watching my two boys "sitting" on the mat, "listening" to the teacher (actually, they were sitting almost on top of each other and giving each other surreptitious punches designed to not alert the teacher to their naughty behaviour), I came to the realisation that every day is like that for a mom of twins.  I call it the "Henchman Factor" - the necessity of having a  sidekick for every hero, that associate who forms the perfect foil for the hero's escapades.  

And how much better a henchman could one desire than an identical twin, one who is so similar to you in every possible way?  When the boys were young, people always asked us the inevitable twin questions:  Which one is the leader?  Which one is the follower?  Are their personalities very different?  These are questions every mother of a set of twins gets asked, every time they step out of the house with their two.  I have never found an easy answer to the questions, though.  Of course, if I was clever, I would just answer "I don't know" or "no" to the above, and get out of the supermarket about twice as fast as usual, but I always find myself mulling over the responses and trying to give an honest answer.  

I am not sure if anyone else has experienced the same with their twins, but I have found that the personalities of my two little henchmen are very fluid.  On any given day, the answer to any of the questions will never be the same.  I have come to the conclusion that the twins actually swap roles on a whim.  It's almost as though they discuss it beforehand, perhaps deliberating it over the heads of their stuffed animals in their beds at night.  I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

Sam:  Okay, let's get a status report on the twin syndrome.
Paddy:  Well, for the first quarter of yesterday, I was the leader.  I masterminded the drawing on the trampoline with chalk, and I told you to swing on the sheets on the washing line.
Sam:  Implications of that?
Paddy:  Well, Mama is under the impression that you are the angel child.  
Sam:  Can't have that, now, can we?
Paddy:  Okay, this is the plan:  you can be leader tomorrow and I will play angel child.  
Sam:  Agreed, but I think, just to mix things up a little, let's also swap personalities.  
Paddy:  Explain?
Sam:  Well, you have been whiner for quite a long stretch now.  You have also been the drama king.  Let's shake that up a bit.
Paddy:  Okay.  I'll be the brave little gentleman.  You screech when you see the cat under the dining room table and refuse to walk down the stairs without holding onto Mama's hand.  Better yet, make her carry you!
(They give each other the twin look.  Both laugh diabolically.)

And sure enough, just when I think I have a handle on the differences between them (I usually have told someone a major difference that I have noticed), the little wretches go and mess up my classification system.  The other day, I told the kindy teachers that if they wanted to tell which one was which, it would always be Paddy who would be bound to throw himself dramatically on the floor at the slightest setback.  Only to arrive at kindy the next day to all the teachers calling Sam by the name Paddy, since he had been the most dramatic that day.  

Ahhh, the pleasures of having a trusty sidekick!  

Monday, 27 February 2012

Don't cry over spilled milk...or raisins... or biscuits - eat them off the floor!

I was thinking about how the second child always gets the short end of the stick somehow (in my case, it is technically the third child that gets the leftovers of emotional hype that the first two have not already taken).  I can remember how, as new parents, the Sweetpea and I would literally photograph every instant of our boys lives.  First bath?  Take a photo!  Second bath?  Take a photo!  First time child holds onto stuffed animal? Take a photo!  First time child drops a stuffed animal?  Take a photo!  This also explains how we used up an entire hard-drive of a computer (and no, not a Commodore 64, a real one) just on the photos we took of the first three months of the boy's time on earth.  An unsurprising number of those photos are of the twins either sleeping or eating, however.

Little Miss Snoopy, however, gets in the shot when a number of other prerequisites are fulfilled first.  Like, did we remember to bring the camera? And if we did bring it, is there any space on the card?  And if there is space on the card, do we have the energy to make the required faces to get her to smile?  As a result, we probably have about half of the photos of her in her whole lifetime thus far, as we took in the first three months of the boys'.  Enough to bring on a scenic guilt trip right then and there.

Likewise, feeding was different.  My life in the days and months after the twins birth seemed to consist of nothing else but feeding them (obviously), and sterilising everything else that wasn't a boob.  Bottles, teats, things that fell on the floor, things that hadn't fallen on the floor, but looked as though they could have, hands, floors, you name it.  It went into the steriliser (actually, we didn't own a steriliser.  A friend of ours' sent along a meal after the twins were born, and it came with a handy little gadget that we thought was a steriliser.  It was only after an uncomfortable four months, when they asked for their rice cooker back, that we realised what it was.  But before then, we used it every day to sterilise everything).  If food fell on the floor while they were learning to eat solids, out it went into the rubbish (again, seemingly obviously).  There was no one-second rule in our house.  It was either clean, or it was garbage.

But second time around, with Little Miss Snoopy, I was unprepared for the fact that two-year-old toddlers, by their natures, leave things lying around, and you have no control over it.  It was not uncommon for me to find things lying on the carpet (well-sucked by then) which I knew that I hadn't given to the boys for at least a week previously.  Like toast.  Or biscuits.  Or even old popcorn or sticky, well-chewed raisins (on one dreadful occasion).  And I have a really clean house (normally)!  The one-second rule transmuted to the five minute rule, and then to the rule "if it bears a resemblance to food and doesn't actually bite back when you bite it", it's food. 

And yet, for all of that, Little Miss Snoopy is one of the healthiest children I know.  She never picks up the usual illnesses, has no allergies or asthma's or cradle-caps or anything else that would suggest she has basically picked up other's left-overs and put them in her mouth.  Likewise the boys are just as healthy.  Hmm, now what? We are left with no rules!  Oh well, I am sure there must be someone out there who has some good advice in this instance? 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

All I need to know, I learned in kindergarten (or through kindergarten-ers)

A lot of people have asked how I managed to get myself into the situation of having to finish my doctorate while being pregnant with and then having the Little Miss Snoopy, all while the twins were going through their terrible two's (which were more like terrible one-and-a-half's to terrible three's).  All I can say is that you cannot assume forethought or planning for what mere stupidity and naivety can explain.

I began my doctorate sans children, in the sunny land of South Africa, and, always liking a challenge in those days (as well as being a serial student), thought it would be a fun thing to do.  There seems to be a certain amount of misogynistic pleasure to be gained from working so hard for five years for a piece of paper.  To say nothing of the sadistic pleasure that can be gained through making first your professor, and then three other world-class examiners painstakingly read through your tome of six hundred pages all devoted to the subject of violence (sadly, yes, that was my topic).  So, footloose and fancy-free, with only the Sweetpea in tow, it was the most natural thing in the world to start writing, using my background in the South African Police to aid and provide material for this very weighty subject.

I was unprepared for what a move to a new country, and the subsequent birth of all my kiddies, would do to me.    In a polar opposite, I changed careers to work with children instead, and the writing of a thesis on violence became suddenly very far-removed from me and everything I was now involved in.  Thank God for the amazing professor that I had acquired (though sheer luck on my part), who managed to get me through the whole thing!  But looking back, it is probably not advisable to take a project of this magnitude on when also trying to have three children at the same time.  The boys were two, and Little Miss Snoopy just born, when I decided that five years was long enough and I had to get it finished while I was on "Maternity leave" (which I turned into "study leave").  

I feverishly wrote long into the nights, and during the day while the little ones were having their sleeps, and Little Miss Snoopy, who is a really terrible sleeper at the best of times, spent her days lying across my lap, suckling a boob and sleeping on and off, while I typed on the laptop which was also balanced precariously on my lap.  The Sweetpea gave me what time he could, and I got a chance to write when he took everyone out for an hour or two every so often.  Slowly the chapters mounted up, and before I knew it, it was time for a final run through and sending the massive document off to the printers and binders.  It was done!

Not quite sure what those examiners were thinking, but somehow I managed to make it through, and was amazingly awarded the degree.  

And the funniest thing was that, the first time someone called me by my new title, or I had to put it on a form or something, I felt like a big fraud, and like I hadn't really earned it at all!  

I still feel like that now!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Candid Camping

There is very little summer where we live, so it is best to make hay while the sun shines, if you will forgive the pun.  The typical Kiwi summer involves camping.  And lots of it.  Even if you just go a few miles down the road (which actually works out best for us, because then we can cut and run if it all turns pear-shaped), the point is that you go and spend a lot of time in a small canvas space, eating sand and bugs alternately with your meals and peeing outdoors in the dead of night (no ways am I going to walk through the campsite in the early hours of the morning to the loo - I don't care how good I am at whistling a happy tune! There might be a rabid possum hiding out there in the bushes).  Ahh, the good life!

But what makes camping even better is taking along a number of friends, all with their own kids, who then can form a pack in combination with yours' and roam the park as a group, getting up to nonsense and mayhem and generally having the best time of their lives.  This trip, together with the Sweetpea's Kung-fu buddies, was no exception. 

The pack formed early and was on the prowl before you can say "wild beasts".  The youngest was my Little Miss Snoopy, who will be two in a few months, followed closely by double trouble and then a few older kids and culminating with the height of cool, a young man of about eleven or so, who obviously knew everything and no one else was about to persuade him otherwise.  He was the youngest member of the kung-fu team and obviously had a lot to prove.  He was dressed in the height of fashion (odd for a camping trip, when the point appears to be to get as smelly, dirty and bedraggled as possible) in bright green jeans, so tight they could have been body-painted on, a shocking pink, lime green and sort-of orange sweat shirt, and was accessorised with a bright green watch.  You have to have chutzpah to dress that cool, I thought admiringly.

The sun set over the shrieks of over-excited kiddies, and eventually we put them to bed and retired for the night, accompanied by the usual restive squawks of the bush at night, the three or four outside excursions to “look at the stars”, and the general lack of sleep that goes with any good camping trip.  However, despite the night, when we woke the next morning Paddy was bright and bushy-tailed and scooted out of the tent into the fitful sunshine as though said tail was on fire.  For a few seconds, all was quiet, then we heard the most blood-curdling shrieks coming from outside the tent.  We rushed out to see what the matter was.

There he stood, wailing his disappointment to the mountains.  “What is wrong?” we asked anxiously, running over the possibilities of insect bites/dogs/fearsome creatures in our minds.
“Rainbow boy has disappeared!” he cried dramatically, “and I will never see him again!”  
“Rainbow boy”, who had all this time been having his breakfast out of sight, came sloping around the corner, looking slight worse for wear at his new appellation – after all, he was the height of cool, surely? 
We had a lot of fast talking to do to recover that ground.
“What a cool name for a superhero!” I croaked with my best attempt at sounding admiring.  I shot The Stare at the Sweetpea to back me up.
“Yes," he mumbled, looking uncomfortable – "so cool!”
Rainbow boy (as he will now forever be known in Kung-fu circles), began to perk up a bit, and soon they were all playing as before.  I did notice, however, that he had taken off his “coat of many colours” by the time we left for home.

Thus is a nickname formed for life - I doubt that the kung-fu guys will let him live that one down in a hurry!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Look out Hollywood, here I come!

I almost never get a chance to read gossip mags, but when I do, I really enjoy the antics of all the big names in the movie business - their foibles and messy lives seem to be splashed all over the latest rag.  I was wondering why I enjoy the sordid nonsense that these stars get themselves into (apart from the obvious fact that they have glamorous-looking lives and oodles of money).  Then it dawned on me - I have seen the same antics elsewhere - thinking - thinking - aha!  My kids are uncannily like high-maintenance movie stars.  Here's why:

1.   We expect them to throw tantrums every now and then when they don't get what they want.  Like highly-paid and even higher-strung stars, kids seem to have a God-given right to throw a certain (large) amount of tantrums and still be forgiven for them.  If the water is not still, or not sparkling, or not a particular type sourced by celibate monks deep in the Andes mountains, a star will perform until they get the one that is.  Likewise, if Sam only gets the Bat costume when he really wanted Superman, he will perform until he gets it.  And we put up with it with a shrug.  After all, that's just what they do...

2.  Flowing from the above, we are prepared to make concessions to give them the things they really want.  If a star wants a bigger trailer or their name up in lights, they get it.  Likewise, our kids tend to get much more than what we thought they would from us when we were still childless.  I remember thinking "I would never pander to a child - they should fit in with my life - I am the boss!"  Aah, my misguided, pre-child self! So naive.

3.  Some of their acting is worth an Oscar (note - not all of it!).  Seeing one of mine throw himself (or more often, herself) to the ground, with much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, I have to concede that truly great acting capabilities are worthy of an accolade.  However, as in Andie McDowell's lack-luster performance in Four Weddings and a Funeral (well, in anything actually), sometimes their performances are less convincing than at others

4.  They can make a saga out of the smallest incident.  Just one read of a rag mag can show us that even the smallest doings (like minuscule wardrobe malfunctions, having an innocent lunch with another star, etc.) can get blown up into epic proportions and be reported on from every different angle for an inordinate amount of time.  Likewise, if someone takes something off a child, like a toy, the saga can last long into the day.

5.  They have their own personal stylists, dressers, and dieticians.  What a privilege to have someone running after you as you stride into your day, putting on your socks and brushing your hair!  Never mind picking out your clothing and shoes, accessorising with the right sunhat, and providing nutritious snack packs to suit your every whim (sandwiches with crusts cut off, green bananas never yellow, juice mixed with the exact amount of water, etc). 

6.  It is not considered unusual for them to have about three changes of clothing in a day - one for morning wear, a change for lunch and then another for dinner.  Granted, with kids this is more of a necessity, as the previous outfits are usually unwearable after a few hours in the sandpit at kindy, but the principle remains the same.

7.  Flowing on from this, all the work is done behind the scenes to make them look good, and all they have to do is just show up and look pretty and then steal the show.  And if they have a wardrobe malfunction, no one ever blames the star - it's always the stylist that gets it.

8.  They are intensely aware when another star gets something better than theirs.  It is written into contracts exactly what size lettering is used for each star's name, what size trailer they will use on set, etc.  And Heaven help anyone who messes that one up.  Just try handing one child a slightly bigger piece of anything (no matter that the difference is undetectable to the human eye), and you will see the similarities.

The question remains:  Why do they get away with all of this? The answer is simple:  Because we worship them and life would not be half as entertaining without them.  

And so another few stars are born!

Remember to check out the new page - "These are a few of my favourite things..." above - I like to put snippets of the day's happenings there - a quick pick, if you like!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Hush, little babies, don't say a word...

Wow - the older they get, the harder the questions they ask!  I have to admit to being quite unprepared for the conversation that ensued after the bed-time story last night.  
The Sweetpea had been telling them the story of Samuel, and how God came and stood at his bedside and talked to him.  The boys were clearly not sure about that idea at all.  I think the idea of having God standing beside their beds was a bit daunting for them.

"Wow," I said, trying to rescue the situation, "that would be so cool, if we could speak to God like that and if He called us by our names?"
There was silence - the little minds were ticking over.  
"What kind of eyes does God have?" asked Sam eventually.
Hmmm, I thought, good question.  
"Well," I said slowly, to give myself time to think, "He has eyes that can see the whole world all at the same time."
The boys were quiet for all of two seconds.  
"Well what kind of body does he have then?" asked Paddy.
"I'm not sure," I said (the depths of theology are beyond me), "but I think it must be different to our bodies.  God is spirit."  Yeah right - try explaining that concept to a three-year old.  They seemed to accept my answer, because there were no more questions for a while.  

I put them into their beds, and the Sweetpea did his usual best job of getting them riled up and out of them again. I thought they had forgotten all about the conversation, until I sent Sam to turn off the bathroom light.  As he stumbled back in the dark, the wheels in his mind were obviously turning.  
"If God can see the whole world all at the same time," he asked, "can He also see in the dark?"

"Of course He can," I answered.
"Wow," said Paddy admiringly, "He must have been eating all of His carrots, then!"

There's not really much you can say after that, is there? 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

There's no time like the present...

 Time is a very fluid concept.  I have found that at varying periods in your life, a second can last for an hour, and an hour for a mere instant.  When you have kids, those moments of time become amplified somehow, mutating into unrecognisable intervals.

The most obvious is the bemused feeling you get when your child rushes up to you and gives you a hug, and you realise that their head is touching your ribs.  "Surely just yesterday," you think to yourself, "I was holding this little bundle in my arms, and now here is this person standing, growing taller and more assured, and I don't know when it happened!"  That is three and a half years condensed into a flash.

At other times, the moments seem like they are trapped in amber - slow and viscous, like the time I lost the boys when they went walkabout to the neighbour's place that fateful Halloween.  It felt like they had been gone for about four hours, but, after all the hoopla had died down and they were safe again, I looked at the clock and found they had been missing for exactly two and a half minutes.  Somehow during that time, I had found time to phone the Sweetpea, phone the neighbour, search the entire house and property and managed to run up and down the road carrying a baby, not once, but twice.  Talk about misperception!

To say nothing of the moments leading up to when you first hold a baby in your arms - those nine months of pregnancy are a confusing hodge-podge of time speeding up until you are breathless with it, and then promptly slowing down until you feel like it is barely moving.

However, kids are masters of the art of molding time to suit their purposes.  I am always amused when my lot ask me for a treat.  They always say to me "We haven't had a lolly/jet-plane/sweetie/ice-cream for ages..." looking very forlornly at me.  What amuses me is that they can say this, absolutely deadpan, while still holding the previous treat item (well-chewed, granted, but present, nonetheless), in their grubby little fists.  

"Please give it back to me (the bat or ball or other item that has been used as a weapon against a sibling).  I promise I won't ever ever do that again..."  Not even two seconds later, someone else will have fallen victim to the same weapon if I return it.

"We never go to the park anymore," said in a whiny and whingey voice, when we spent two and a half hours playing in the park this morning.

All of which teaches that the moments of time should be treasured for themselves.  We can't spend time wishing to be in one moment forever, or wishing another to pass us more swiftly, because time is a contrary beast that will do whatever the hell it wants to.  My favourite saying has always been "This too shall pass", and it will - just be careful what you wish for!  You may just get it. 

Rather just sit back - relax, and enjoy the ride!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Daddy's duo (now trio - but who's counting?)

I don't care what men think - according to me, there is a definite difference in the way a dad relates to his kids as opposed to the way a mom does.  It's a curious mix of delicious terror and anticipation, versus immense fun and excitement.  Just watching him with them makes me laugh at times (of course, I never let him know that I am laughing at him - men also have fragile egos, after all.  But that is a story for another time).  In contrast to all the mayhem, I must be very boring, I think.  

To give an example:  my typical night-time routine with the kids consists of the usual bath-teeth-wee-bed thing, and when they are in their beds, I normally sing them a song.  They invariably like the "Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mocking bird" one, and refuse to let me get away without all the verses.  There are about a hundred of these, since the time when the boys were little and I had to make the song as long and as boring as possible in the hopes that they would be bored to sleep (nothing else worked to get them to sleep - it was worth a try).  As such, there are not only mocking birds and looking glasses; dogs, meadow larks, cherry pies, spades and pails, bright blue boats, a lily pad, and also a fat pink pig make their appearance at various moments in the song.  After the customary big kissies, small kissies and fetching of sips of water, bears, toy dogs and pillows, they are finally ready to sleep, and I sneak off to begin my clearing up of the disordered house.

Contrast this scenario with the "routine" (and I use that word in its loosest application) of the Sweetpea as he puts the kids to bed.  He prowls around, approaching their beds with his claws held in the air (he is the Tickle-Monster), and they shriek in delicious anticipation.  Like an animal he sniffs the air and makes growling sounds or snorting noises, and the littlies burrow their heads under the blankets in mock fear and screech with abandon.  He invariably asks them "Do you want shy handies, or tickle handies?"  
"Shy handies," they both yell at the tops of their voices, and somehow (deliberately) he mishears and they get tickle handies instead, as he grabs them both and tickles them until they can hardly breathe for laughing.  Then he sings his version of the mocking bird song.  Obviously, this cannot be as boring or mundane as my version.  For every item, he inserts a different action, snort, growl or weird noise, ending with a "tummy zerbert" (?) where he blows their tummies wildly until they shriek and squirm.   And yet, somehow all the important bits (teeth and wee's) get done in the midst of all of the squawking, squealing, madness, chaos and general mayhem of a dad-run bedtime. 

Then, giving them a firm eye, he tells them it is time for bed - no more noise.  With a last kiss, he promptly sails out of the room and the three are left in peace to settle down (depending on the vigor of the pre-bedtime routine, this has been known to take a while).  When they are finally settled and I go in to have a last kiss on each sleeping child's forehead, I realise that I would really have it no other way.  I love his relationship with them and the way that they laugh.  Any man can be a father.  It takes someone special to be a dad. Perhaps I could be a bit more of a Tickle-Monster sometimes, too?