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It is inevitable to hear comments from strangers when going out with the kids. Some of them are well-meaning, "You've got your hands full!" or "Wow! Are they twins?" Some of them do not make much sense, "Better you than me!" or "You need to find a hobby!" This past week I was going into the grocery store with the toddlers. They are happier riding in the double shopping cart that looks like a race car (nothing like grocery store cookies and steering wheels to keep them happy while I shop!). However, this meant getting them to walk into the store. And, of course, instead of walking, they were holding my hands with one hand and attempting to grab my legs with the other, all while wailing loudly. It was a slow, slow, slow process heading into the store. Eventually one of the toddlers won. I couldn't make it any further with two toddlers holding onto my legs while melting down in the parking lot, so I scooped one of them up and managed to get the other toddler to walk and scream-- but still walk. A woman walking out (wearing a gorgeous tunic top) says to the man candy walking next to her, "I always wanted twins... but now I don't!" And points in my direction. Thanks, lady. I'm glad I cleared up your reproductive crisis!
Another comment I still get all the time-- the toddlers are now two-- is, "You looks so good for having twins-- and all boys!" I feel like this is supposed to be a compliment, but I also feel like I maybe don't look as good as the rest of population? That people without twins look better than me? That moms of girls dress cuter? That the amount of excess skin on my stomach is okay because I had twins? I'm not sure. I like compliments though and so I insist on taking it as a compliment. I always say thank you, but walk away wishing I wasn't wearing capri pants and ballet flats with my hair in a ponytail.
I really think people are well-meaning. I truly, truly do. I don't think people are trying to come across as rudely as they do sometimes. I don't think people always think about what they are saying. I don't think they are always passing deep judgements on my life choices. And, I don't think their opinion matters regardless of whether they are or not.
Before I had twins, I was a military wife of a singleton. My husband was gone all the time. Our son was a breath holder. If you are a parent of a breath holder, you know how challenging that is. He started holding his breath at 6-weeks old during diaper changes and continued holding his breath until he was just over three. He passed out from breath holding and had 2 seizures due to breath holding episodes (all followed up with our doctor). I PCSd with him twice by myself. One of these times, I went to Target to get some groceries and things I needed for the house. He decides at the check out to throw a fit and start breath holding. Thankfully she was almost done ringing me up and I was able to pull my shopping cart to the side while he turned bluer and bluer. I was standing by the cart return and his little body was completely rigid-- almost in a circle with his feet approaching his head. I had a shopping cart loaded with groceries, toilet paper, hand soap, and bath towels, and this man walks over to tell me that back in his day, if a child acted like that, their mothers wouldn't stand around coddling them. My jaw dropped. Really? I had no clever reply, just an overwhelming feeling that he wouldn't have said that if he knew my situation.
And I hear countless comments about being a military family, from "You chose this" to "I don't think military families deserve any special treatment" and "I don't believe in war." The political comments I completely disregard. I am not getting into any political debates with people. How they feel is how they feel and if they want to let a military wife know that they feel her husband's ready and willing sacrifice for the very country they live in is vain, Lord help them. The comments about us receiving special treatment, I sometimes defend. I don't think people always realize what goes into being a military family. Most of the time I don't defend it, especially if it is more of a debate than an inquisitive statement. If they are my friends, in time they will see why places offer a military discount from the sacrifices we make daily. As for the "you chose this" statement, most of the time, this statement is made in love-- friends or family trying to get me to rally when I'm struggling with one hiccup or another. I look at the intention not the statement. I don't know if anyone can fully understand every sacrifice they will have to make of any choices they make-- the choice to go to college, the choice to have children, the choice to take a chance and make friends with the new girl, the choice to fall in love with a sailor. Someone has to make the choice to be in the military. If no one made the choice, the choice would be taken from us and we would have a draft. I am thankful for our troops and the lives they have chosen to defend our freedom. I would make the choice to fall in love with my husband all over again any day-- military or not. I love the man, not the uniform, and I accept the many challenges of his job. (Okay, I do love the uniform-- makes me weak in the knees every time I see it on him!)
I don't think the answer is always people "minding their own business," though they really ought to refrain from making personal comments to strangers. I like talking to people. I get out of the house to have interactions with the outside world. That is why we sit at the park for hours and why I go to the mall or the children's museum or hang out in our front yard. Overly personal remarks don't have to be answered. A worker at a fast food chain once asked me if it "hurt more" to have twins or a singleton; I reported her to the manager. People just trying to be friendly don't have to be given long periods of time to give me their family history, "Do twins run in your family? Twins run in mine. My aunt had twins, my sister had twins, my second cousin's daughter had twins..." I smile and say, "That's wonderful!" before moving on with the stroller I'm pushing with one hand and the shopping cart I'm dragging with the other. From my experience of actually trying to educate people on twinning, I can tell you they really don't care. People will ask if mine are identical or fraternal. I tell them identical and they say identical twins run in their family. Or that their husband is a fraternal twin and they are worried they will have twins. (Read my blog post "Identical or fraternal [updated].") When I start explaining, "Well, your husband being a fraternal twin won't affect your ovulation..." their eyes glass over. Really, they are just making small talk, filling the air with words, making a personal connection on their trip out to the store. I just smile now and say something nice. There is no reason to stay and chat unless I am also enjoying the conversation. I'm usually out with three kids; I couldn't talk long anyways, standing still in an aisle at Target.
And, honestly, parents of multiples aren't above these comments themselves. I'm not above them. I told a mom of triplets that I knew a mom who had an older child and triplets, could she imagine how hard that would be? Doh! I asked two separate women if they had twins-- they were pushing double strollers with two kids about the same size in them-- and they said no. One was a nanny for two different families, one watched her daughter and her best friend's daughter during the week. I've asked many twin moms, "Oh, twins?" and they brush me off. I hear all sorts of misguided statements from moms of multiples that I end up chatting with. One mom told me that she just knew she would have twins because twins run on her husband's side of the family, disregarding that she just told me she did fertility treatments. Lots of multiple moms I bump into jump on the "who's who" game with my identical twins even after we were just talking about how we want our children to be treated as individuals, "I just don't know how you tell them apart! How do you tell them apart?" One mom followed me around the mall play area one time when my mom was visiting, "People always bother me when I'm out with my triplets. I just want to tell them, 'They are triplets! Get over it!' They just won't leave me alone. So they are twins? How old are they? How do you tell them apart?" My mom and I just stared at her.
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Recently I went into a small sandwich shop with my three boys. I planted them at a table while I ordered our food and filled our drinks. I wrangled the toddlers into high chairs and kept a big supply of napkins close. A mom came in with her hubby and almost 3-year old son. She awkwardly held her son while she ordered and filled her drink, and picked him back up again when she went to the counter to get their food even though her husband was sitting at a table. She wiped down their table with Wet Ones, ripped up each bite her son was going to eat, held his drink for him every time he was thirsty, and barely touched her own food. She leans over and whispers loudly to her husband, "Omigosh! Can you even imagine having twins?" and points over at me. While I felt her level of hovering was a little intense for her son and I never reached that extent even when I just had one child, I get where she is coming from. I can't imagine doing what she was doing times two. I wanted to tell her, "Lady, I just don't do any of that." Most moms of multiples realize what is realistic and what is frivolous pretty quickly. There are many things you just can't do with multiples, with more than one child, or a life outside of the home. Motherhood is about balance. (Recommended reading: Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Art of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman.)
I read in a twin publication the other day that having twins isn't harder than having one child, just different. I agree, especially when comparing having your first baby-- motherhood is a transition and constant learning process-- or siblings-- the challenge of having children different ages. I think what these people are saying-- family, friends, and strangers-- is that parenting is hard. Parenting one child is hard and so, from their perspective, parenting twins is that much harder. In some ways, I agree there are things that are harder about having twins-- two newborn feeding schedules, two one-year olds learning to walk, two two-year olds refusing to get in their car seats, two three-year olds resisting potty training, two four-year olds entering preschool. In other ways, especially as they have become more mobile, having twins has been a blessing. While they may both be tearing apart my family room, they are entertaining each other. There was someone to do tummy time with and someone to talk to first thing in the morning when they wake up, giving me an extra minute to brew a cup of coffee. (Read this blog post by "A Beautiful Ruckus," written by a mother to quadruplets, called "5 Things I Don't Know as a Multiples Mom" for other benefits of having multiples.) I can tell you from experience, I have much more conflicts between the different age groups of my children than between the twins, for instance, the preschooler and a toddler compared to the two toddlers.
Some of the comments I hear make me laugh, some because I can't believe a stranger would say that to another stranger or because someone could really think because a second cousin's wife's sister had twins their chance of having twins is somehow higher. Some comments irritate or frustrate me, mostly due to timing. If you see that I have twins and both of them are screaming while my four-year old is attempting to push our shopping cart into the parking lot, why would you think that is a good time to start up a conversation about whether my twins are "natural" or not? Some questions I am tired of, like how we tell them apart. It sounds silly, but I don't see why strangers need to know how we tell them apart-- it isn't like they are going to see us again-- and I don't want the boys hearing every time we go out, "How can you tell who is who?" as if they are a circus act. I don't mind people saying, "Wow! They must be identical?" or "They really are identical, aren't they?" I just don't like when strangers start making a game of not being able to tell apart these two babies that they just met, "Seriously! What's the trick? How do you tell them apart?" I also don't like when people won't go away. My husband and I went to the park the other day and this woman wouldn't let us be. She kept interrupting our conversation to ask twin questions when we were clearly talking to each other and hovered the entire time we were there. We eventually left because we couldn't shake her. (My favorite piece of advice from her: "People tell you it gets easier. Well, it gets so much harder that you will wish for the first year because it just goes downhill from there." Thank you, optimistic stranger!) I also will never understand hurtful and mean comments. I overheard someone loudly and angrily asking a woman to tell her clearly disabled daughter to stop yelling inside (I ran over as quick as I could to help the woman out). A man once told me to take my "poor children" home when both toddlers were throwing tantrums while we waited in line at the check out. But whatever the comments are-- silly, ill-timed, repetitive, or rude-- I don't take them to heart and I make a conscious effort to reply politely. I want my boys to grow up able to gracefully handle whatever situation they find themselves in.
I'm taking the well-meaning comments as a pat on the back. I'm proud of my husband and being a military wife. I'm proud of my three beautiful boys. I'm proud of these two toddlers that have been such a fun blessing in our lives. If strangers feel the need to "open mouth, insert foot" when I walk by with a preschooler and twin toddlers wearing matching patriotic t-shirts, I hope they walk away smiling because meeting my precious children brightened their day.
A blog post about parenting identical twins: "Identical brothers"
A blog post about moms supporting moms: "We are moms"
NOTE FOR OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY: I do not mind you asking who is who! :) I know my boys are identical. When I am talking about the "who is who" game, I'm talking about the strangers-- people we don't know-- approaching us while I'm out in public and getting down in the toddlers faces, looking back and forth, back and forth, before declaring, "Okay! I give up! What's the trick? How do you tell them apart?" I absolutely do not mind when you, people we know, want me to identify who is who.