“Beeeeeep…beep..be..beep,” At first, the sound of the infant heart monitor had woken us with a sense of heightened alarm, but soon it became a sort of reminder, and we woke with a heightened awareness. We went to check on our infant son, knowing that it would probably be a lead that came loose. Thankfully, for us, this was always the case. “You’re the world’s worst alarm clock,” I kissed his little cheek, inhaling those amazing baby pheromones, “You know that, right?” Detaching the little leads, I took him down the hallway to the living room with the tiny wires dangling from his pj’s. It wasn’t long before his twin brother, Max woke with a cry of discomfort. I could hear Lyle talking to him, as I fed Ben. Most of the time, they ate separately. If they were frenzied, I would absolutely feed them at the same time, though. We had no aversion to pacifiers. If it would keep a baby quiet, comforted, and content for even five minutes, I was a fan.
Neither baby slept for longer than two hours, not even during the night. Considering the confined quarters they had shared in-utero, they certainly hadn’t developed any predictable pattern or rhythm for waking and sleeping. So, we settled, instead, for a system. It was more of a crapshoot, really. We each picked a baby before we went to sleep, and whenever the baby you picked for the night woke up, you were on deck. . I was never sorry to see a baby’s face, not even in the middle of the night for the tenth time, but admittedly relieved when it wasn’t my turn to get up. Once either baby was fed, the rest was up to whichever parent was that baby’s caregiver for the night. Our three girls had slept through the night by the time they were two weeks old. We patiently rode out the first two weeks, often passing each other in the hallway in the middle of the night as we each paced with a fussy baby. After a month had passed, it was evident that the predictable pace that their three sisters had set was of no consequence to these two. They were making it known that they were individuals from the get go.
This brings us back to where this whole story started with the first blog entry. There truly are moments in time that stand still and stay preserved as snapshots in our minds. I sat in the recliner nursing my infant twins simultaneously in “football hold”, just as I had learned it from the books I had read in preparation for mothering these babies. A playpen full of clean clothes sat beside us, another trick I had gleaned from my reading. I hadn’t the time for folding, however there were clean clothes at the ready. My three-year old daughter was standing on the counter handing peanut butter and bread down from the cupboard to my eldest daughter, not quite five years old. I felt weary, guilty, and proud as I watched. They would be fine. There was nothing wrong with their independent lunch preparation. Hyper vigilant, I scanned the room, needing to account for one more little chick. Emily, my twenty-one month old baby girl with Down’s syndrome smiled up at me from the kitty dish as she put a handful into her baby mouth. In that moment, I thought “What the hell am I doing? None of this is hurting them, right?” This surely had to be the lowest point in my life as a mother thus far. There would be worse, unfortunately. I will be writing more about that another time.
That is a snapshot. I don’t remember another time that Emily ate kitty food, although she had been trying for a long time to get at that dish. We learned. We moved the kitty dish to the laundry room. We made sure that there were other things for the girls to grab when they were hungry that would stave off hunger until I was free to fix lunch. Breakfast did become a free-for-all, and that was O.K. We also decided that it was acceptable for Maggie and Serrah to take their own baths. Final rinse, though, was always up to Mama or Daddy. “Look WAY up to the sky. OK, close your eyes. Good job. Alright, you’re squeaky clean, so dry off and go get your jammies on.” They were asserting themselves in ways that they had been wanting too. But they were unusually young to bear the responsibilities that they had taken on. The final rinse, cutting the sandwich into four triangles, pouring the milk when the carton was too full, praising them, and even having to get after them when they stepped outside of boundaries, were all ways of affirming to them that they were safe and that we were, ultimately, in charge.
I recently watched some old home videos from back then, and found myself criticizing me from decades ago. I had to stop myself. “Whoa… Give that poor woman a break. Look at her. Stop looking for the things she did and didn’t do. Treat her with the same compassion that you readily give to young mothers whenever you see them today.” So I watched again. I adjusted my viewfinder. I simply allowed myself to go back and enjoy those little ones. I relished the memories. I saw five happy kids with two parents who clearly loved them. I saw commitment on the face of the young man who was my husband, as he watched over and protected his children. I saw a young mom nurturing her kids with tenderness and love. It’s easy to recall yelling at them and losing patience. Of course there were times when we were distressed. Those people were lost in the moment and oblivious to the camera that my dad held. The girls were laughing and playing. Emily was all over the place, eagerly heading to the next shiny noisy game at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Ben and Max were looking around, senses clearly overloaded, eyes wide with wonder at this crazy place. Lyle and I were relaxed, visiting with family, and tending to our children with faces that spoke of patience and joy. It’s easy to look back and criticize the people we used to be. Stop it. Just watch. The truth is evident. Then you get to see what was real. That’s when you get to go back and enjoy what was.