Newborn Twins. Enough Said.

Photo credit Boston Photography

By: Aimee Tafreshi

The fact that I am writing this blog is a miracle in itself. I cannot make any guarantees about proper grammar or a logical progression of thoughts. You see, my husband and I welcomed twins approximately five weeks ago. We were not “trying” for twins, and we did not avail ourselves of the latest medical technology seeking out two bundles of joy. But Mother Nature laughed, thought “I’ll show them,” and here we are with a boy and a girl.

We had a “pleasant” enough hospital experience. We were lucky to be at an excellent medical facility with great nurses and doctors. The nurse anesthetist deserved a gold medal as she seemed to be the face and main brains of the anesthesiology portion, and she also played DJ and took excellent photos post-delivery. I was so excited when she told me that she would play music in the OR, I immediately began thinking of songs for an impromptu playlist before being wheeled in for my c-section. “Sucker for Pain,” Ludacris and Snoop Dog with a touch of the Texas Fight Song seemed like a great soundtrack to welcome these babies into the world. The rap started blasting, and a member of the medical team said, “It’s like we’re in the club.” We were off to a promising start.

And then the spinal block wasn’t quite working one hundred percent, and my blood pressure started tanking. I then threw up on the operating room table. They were ready to put me under general anesthesia, a plan I initially welcomed, but then a part of me thought, I don’t want to miss this, no matter how miserable I feel. They injected some more drugs and voila, my blood pressure stabilized, and the doctor proceeded. He finished sewing me up with some chill Jimmy Buffett playing, his choice, which I appreciated.

I felt like I was on that table forever. My mom paced in the hallway wondering what was taking so long. At 2:33 p.m., we welcomed a beautiful baby girl with a healthy set of lungs, a feisty 5 pounds, 7 ounces bundle of attitude, whom we named Marin Elise. One minute later, we met Rhett Wortham, her younger but larger brother, weighing in at 6 pounds, 5 ounces. I always suspected that Rhett was siphoning all of the food in utero, leaving his sister crumbs. No wonder she seems so angry now and screams incessantly until fed.

I don’t remember too much from the recovery room, other than telling the nurse that I was so happy to be here. “Why?” she asked, clearly confused by my comment. “Because I’m no longer on that operating table,” I replied. They brought the babies in, none of them requiring any NICU time, and Marin latched on right away. Rhett seemed confused but would learn how to nurse with the help of a lactation consultant who was a baby whisperer of sorts. Unlike past lactation consultants at other hospitals, she wasn’t the kind to pressure you to exclusively breastfeed. “Tandem breastfeeding twins by yourself will be very hard,” she said, “especially with other children at home.” Another nurse told me, “Fed is best.” I appreciated them planting these seeds of wisdom in my head, so I would later not be so hard on myself if I couldn’t live up to my own expectations of how feeding twins should go.

Recovery in the hospital was painful, as is typical with a c-section and tubal ligation. I felt massive pain, vomited many times and could barely walk without crying or hunching over in agony. They let me stay an extra night and even offered more time, but by day five, we were ready to split, as ready as new parents can be. On the day of our hospital departure, we loaded the twins into their new baby carriers and tried to take a photo together as they bawled their eyes out.

We were able to get settled in at home before our other three children traveled back from their summer trip to Alaska with my mother- and sister-in-law. It’s hard to predict how siblings will react to a new baby (or babies), but our kiddos were at least excited to meet them. Our daughter was ecstatic to finally get a sister, although she mistakenly believed Marin might be ready to play with toys right away. I explained that babies are a little boring at first; they basically eat, poop and sleep.

There has been an adjustment period for the kids and us parents. My husband had to take over school duties, such as attending the new school year “meet and greets” with the teachers and taking the kids to the bus stop in the mornings. I have felt some guilt about missing out, but then I thought how neat it was that my husband was able to participate in some events that he had missed in the past due to work. We have been fortunate with help from family members and neighbors for rides to activities and hot meals. Eventually we will be on our own, but hopefully by then we will be ready.

Life with newborn twins is not for the faint of heart. We have had our share of hiccups and off-color jokes at 2 a.m. We may have referenced North Korean prison camps and crack houses. (Don’t ask.) We have felt like mistreated livestock kept just enough alive to pass muster before the inevitable slaughter, popping Advil like bovine antibiotics and growth hormones. About two weeks after first meeting the twins, my youngest son looked lovingly at Marin, and sweetly asked, “What is her name again?” Ahh, the pitfalls of a large family. I guess he can simply refer to her as “Twin A.” Just yesterday, I looked at my baby girl and said, “Well that’s a funny face Marilyn.” I then realized I had called her by the wrong name and prayed no one had heard me. In my defense, an HGTV show taking place in Maryland played in the background.

When the day begins to spiral out of control, we have developed different coping strategies. I started watching Outdaughtered on TLC, a show featuring a couple with the only all girl quintuplets in the country. If anyone can make me feel better about having twins, it’s a family that is dealing with five two-year-olds. Plus I have learned some helpful strategies from watching them, and the fact that the parents are still alive and sane is reassuring. We are also thinking of buying stock in Nespresso and Blue Bell Ice Cream, given our massive consumption of their products. I couldn’t survive at this point without a large stockpile of caffeine and refined sugar. Looking for more natural remedies, my mom gifted me a lavender stress ball, which I often squeeze and vigorously inhale like my life depended on it.

My husband made the helpful suggestion a few weeks ago that when our older children act unruly, we should play a song to redirect them and release some tension. I started brainstorming and chimed in, “Oh yeah, we can find some Native American tribal music, grab hands, and run in and out of a circle,” envisioning a kind of spiritual coming together. My other half looked at me amused and said he was thinking more along the lines of Lady Gaga. Regardless I’ve already found a song with a great tribal beat. Sometimes you need to reach out to the universe or a higher power for guidance.

When my husband and I used to hear of someone having twins, we used to caustically remark, “How terrible! Can you imagine?!” Then twins happened to us. It’s called karma. I can confidently say that caring for twins is the hardest thing either of us have ever done. It’s harder than law school, studying for a bar exam, taking a bar exam, practicing law or going on a submarine deployment. I don’t know what would be harder. Oh yes I do—triplets. In a recent nightmare, I dreamed I was tending to three babies, running around the house, trying to stop the crying. The next day I remembered this dream and felt gratitude that there were only two of them. We think it will get easier once they turn three. Until then, I will live vicariously through the Beachfront Bargain hunters on TV and dream of a kids’ club on a cruise. And I will try to pause during the chaos, breathe in their baby smells and memorize their funny expressions before they sprout up into independent big kids.

 

Aimee Tafreshi is a mom of five, freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com.

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When ‘Just One More’ Becomes Two

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By: Aimee Tafreshi

It’s the question that simmers under the surface among friends with kids. Are you done having kids? Will you have one more child? Part benchmark, part sheer curiosity, both close friends and passing acquaintances have murmured this seemingly casual but loaded question at a game night, at a park, in a bar.

My and my husband’s answers were usually similar in response. We already have three children. I didn’t want to go through a pregnancy again for health reasons. When I hold a baby, I don’t feel any strong desire to hold another one of my own. I’m almost 40! I remember meeting a Pilates instructor at a local watering hole on a rowdy night out with friends who seemed especially dialed into other’s feelings. If you don’t know, she said with her wise gaze boring through my soul, then I think you will have another one. I shrugged her words off. Maybe . . . but highly doubtful.

The encounter with the empathetic Pilates instructor was several years ago.  During that time, I merengued into some of the best shape of my life as a Zumba instructor. I was dancing so much that I couldn’t eat enough food to stay full.  I was dancing so much that the annoying pain in my right foot turned into a broken sesamoid bone, which took away my ability to walk for the good part of a year and required surgery to remove the crumbled bone. I hung up my dancing shoes and suddenly had to make an effort to eat healthfully and relearn how to walk so I wouldn’t pack on the pounds.

Post-foot surgery, I discovered two blood clots in my arms, which led to testing to determine the cause. I found out I had a genetic blood clotting disorder and immediately had to end my twenty-year relationship with birth control pills. My husband and I discussed vasectomies, an option I couldn’t quite commit to in the past, because I wasn’t one hundred percent sure. We decided he would undergo the procedure following the holidays, as his work schedule was conducive.

We were in a good place in our lives. Our children were 4, 6 and 8, and all of them slept through the night (mostly), toileted independently and could attend school or daycare while I worked at my new remote desk job. They had activities that required early Saturday mornings and weekday practices, a schedule that is not conducive to a needy newborn. How could I bring a baby to a five-hour swim meet in the Florida heat?  There was something liberating about being “hands-free.” I could fly on a plane with three children or take them to the movies or restaurant solo. Why would I want to disrupt this careful balance we had finally achieved?

It was the height of election season, so crazy was in the air. I got tired of watching CNN as I wanted to hear about anything other than Hillary and Donald.  I’m a news junkie, but this was twenty-four seven saturation. My husband and I threw caution to the wind and figured we’d leave the last few months of his virility to fate, God, whomever. This wasn’t a major effort, as we both strongly felt the pros and cons of adding another child to our family. I was settled into my new job, and we weren’t certain if he would continue on his current career path or make the leap into the private sector. Economics would dictate that we were finished, but our hearts were still open to one more.

In late November, after queasiness from the election began to subside, I started to feel a new sort of queasiness. Other than with my daughter, I was pretty lucky during my pregnancies in the morning sickness department.  But this time I felt different, and I knew that night I should forgo that cherished glass of red and buy a pregnancy test the next day. 

I was actually shocked when the positive test result appeared in a millisecond. Wow, there was no doubt, no faint line to scrutinize, no need for a re-test (though I think I did.) At around four weeks pregnant, there was nothing to do but wait. I didn’t know if this pregnancy would progress or fade away as several had. I didn’t even call the OB until six weeks; I didn’t want to waste my time.

My husband accompanied me to see the doctor at around seven weeks, and he congratulated us but recommended we might want to consider banking sperm in case this pregnancy didn’t work out. We assured the good doctor that we were at peace with our family if this one was not to be; we weren’t looking for a medical intervention.

At this stage, the doctor didn’t try to hear a heartbeat or get a visual image. Instead, I was told I would be giving myself a shot every night to deliver a blood thinner that wouldn’t affect the developing embryo. And as the delivery date got closer, one shot would turn into two daily, and then there would be more needles postpartum, to avoid post-cesarean section blood clots.

It took me until 9:00 that evening to give myself the first shot, after religiously studying the package insert, scouring message boards about injection techniques and telling myself it was a matter of life and death. Many months later I am a confident shot administrator (with the help of my nurse/husband who delivers the burning substance) and would feel comfortable injecting anyone in my family, if needed. The only battle wounds are bruises occasionally left by a needle. Once the shots are a distant memory someday, I will notice that witching hour every night, tucked between a shower and snack, and wonder what I am forgetting and then remember the days of the shot.

At ten weeks pregnant, feeling more confident but not out of the woods, my husband accompanied me to my next doctor’s appointment. The doctor hooked me up to his old ultrasound machine (this was his scaled down “island” office), and the unmistakable image of a small bean of a baby in a sac appeared on the right. My eyes scanned to the left (backwards, I know), and I saw a second sac with another blob inside. “Is that two babies in there???!!!” I exclaimed before the doctor had a chance to get a word in. He confirmed my impression and proceeded to talk as we filled out forms while our heads swam. We were now floating in an alternate, undefined universe. I honestly wasn’t convinced there was a viable baby inside of me until its image flashed up on the screen; never in my wildest dreams did I imagine two life forms sharing space in my womb.

Twins could certainly explain the extreme feelings of nausea and fatigue and the sense that my belly was beginning to show before the second trimester. I was immediately referred to the high-risk obstetrics group on account of the twins, blood clotting disorder and that lovely designation, being of advanced maternal age.

Since that time, my husband and I have made progress. We now accept that we are having twins. We were ecstatic to learn that one is a boy and the other is a girl, and my daughter will finally get the sister she has always wanted. My middle child is psyched that he will be elevated to “oldest son” status. And we have embraced the idea of having two newborns. Every time I see them on an ultrasound, bigger and more baby-like than the previous month, these two blobs become more real to me, taking up residence in my heart, each future version with his or her own dreams, talents and hopes. Still, I won’t completely believe this news until they hand me two crying infants at the hospital.

And while on the topic of twins, here are a few myths I’d like to dispel, in case you are considering adding “just one more” child to your family and think multiples could never happen to you.

First, not every twin birth is a result of a medical intervention like IVF or Clomid. In fact, back in the old days, women had twins well before these medical advances. Secondly, you do not need to have twins in your family to become pregnant with them. And finally, if you are an older mother and have already had multiple pregnancies, you are at a higher risk to have multiples. And if I were a mom who had undergone grueling rounds of IVF, I probably wouldn’t want strangers inquiring about whether my twins were “natural” or not. They’re all human babies, people. Growing and nurturing a life in the womb is pretty miraculous, whether one baby or more, regardless of how they got there.

And finally, if you do find yourself blessed (or cursed, depending on your outlook) with twins someday, many people will react as if you’ve been diagnosed with some incurable form of disease. Some of the reactions we have received are as follows: “Umm, congratulations?”; “I’m so glad it’s you and not me!”; and “Wow, we were going to have one more child, but not anymore!” I don’t take these comments too personally, because this is simply others’ reaction to how they would handle the news of twins. Yes, we are scared. And yes, we will be vastly outnumbered. But am I beyond excited to join the sorority of twin moms? My answer is “Yes” times two.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

Two’s Company, Three’s a Big Mess

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By: Aimee Tafreshi

 

I grew up in an All-American family with two children, spaced an ideal three and a half years apart, complete with a loveable Golden Retriever/lab mix. I had time to bond with my parents and didn’t feel threatened by the arrival of my baby sister (other than hiding my mom’s car keys when she went into labor). I gleefully pushed her as a toddler around the living room in a laundry basket. And I tolerated her creating a “tornado” on the Monopoly board when I was in the lead, ending our game.

Despite our idyllic set-up, I secretly admired my friends with large, boisterous families. Everyone in my extended family limited themselves to a practical one to two children, usually of the same gender. I wondered what it would feel like in a family of three to four kids with multiple cousins running around at holidays, too many to count. During a phase as preteens, my sister and I pretended we had a mysterious older brother. His “room” was my dad’s study. We nearly convinced some friends that he existed. At some point I knew that, one day, I would have three children. I also wanted to answer the eternal question—Do middle children live up to their reputation, as, shall we say, a tad odd?

Fast-forward into my 30s and my prophecy has become reality. I have an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 6 and 4, not so neatly spaced at 21 months apart. The biggest rivalry exists, however, not between the two little boys but between the big sister and middle child. I have learned from my husband’s childhood experience, as well as my current situation, that their 2.5 years spacing is perfectly suited for explosive sibling rivalry and constant one-upmanship.

Do I regret having three children? Absolutely not. Is the middle child really as different as they say? Absolutely. I have no regrets about our family make-up, but there are some things you should know if you are considering taking the plunge into three kid-dom.

First, the middle child is a unique individual. I actually used the word “unique” on a class form to describe my son, because I couldn’t think of a third adjective. Was he funny? Not really. Was he super kind? No. I jotted down as many synonyms as I could think of for smart and then threw in “unique.” This kid is going to work for NASA someday. He will be the guy at the computer with a row of empty soda cans and crumpled candy bar wrappers. We secretly refer to him as Pig Pen because he’s always inexplicably covered in dirt. I don’t know if he will get married or not. He will need a wife who will wait on him hand and foot and who has the talent to cook without taking any time to do so. (Yes, his need for instant gratification is probably my fault; plus I’ll blame Minecraft.)

My middle child has been uniquely challenging since he came out of the womb, but as he gets older, I appreciate him more. As a baby, I would feed him around the clock, and he was always hungry. I would load him up on milk before play dates and would then spend the entire gathering feeding him more as he fussed. I used to think we were very different, but now I realize he is a lot like me. Sometimes the children the most like us drive us the craziest. After all, who would want to parent themselves?!

My conclusion: I can’t speak for other middle children, but mine fits the bill as marching to the beat of his own drum. And I love him for that.

Another point to consider—life in a large household is chaotic. Some parents like to use the term “organized chaos,” but let’s face reality; the chaos is often a free for all. One must employ a triage approach—if no one is profusely bleeding or has a broken bone protruding from his skin, then you can carry on with those dishes. Pick-up time in the afternoon is the worst. The kids yell over each other as I drive, screaming about their day, and crying when I choose to listen to one’s story first. I end up screaming the loudest that I’m going to get in a car accident if they don’t put a cork in it, and by the time we pull into the driveway, everyone’s eyes are stained with tears.

Which brings me to the competitive aspect . . . each child will constantly keep tabs on what the others are getting. I have had to tell them to stop counting M&Ms when I hand them out for a treat. Woe to me if one gets 22 little candies and the other receives a meager 21. At Christmas time, the presents were initially allocated so that Santa happened to bring one child a few more gifts than the other two. “You can’t do that,” I screamed to my husband, “they will count the gifts and think Santa is punishing the other two!” He stared at me in disbelief—Do you really think they will count the presents?—and then helped me reclassify the gift giver of the extra packages. Sure enough, the next morning the kids raced up to the table where St. Nick’s gifts sat and exclaimed, “Why did Santa bring us only two gifts each?” I smiled, satisfied that the question was not, “Why did Santa bring him two more gifts than us?!” Crisis averted.

Fights will often ensue about perceived minor issues, like who gets to sit next to Mommy in the restaurant, or who will push the elevator button (the latter is a big source of contention in two-child families as well, to which my sister can attest.) Simple decisions are fraught with peril and the potential for large scale fights to erupt, so parents must anticipate these conflicts and plan for a peaceful conflict resolution.

Another big issue for large families is logistics. As in, there is no way we are participating in winter swim league, spring soccer and Little League in the same season. I have to be judicious with what activities we commit to each year. My youngest son has yet to do much in the way of organized sports, but I’ve heard there are benefits to delaying team sports until children are seven or eight.

Schedules are a consideration for parents who have visions of raising the next Olympic gymnast or swimmer. Either limit yourself to less children or plan on dragging around the others to a ton of meets and practices. I have found endeavors in the arts (like dance and music lessons, theater camp and art classes) to be more forgiving to busy schedules, as you don’t have an added game or meet every week. We are doing swimming AND soccer this spring, and I am scared. I drew the line at tee-ball. My youngest will have to wait another season or two to begin his Major League baseball training.

The result of these logistical nightmares challenges—parents become better than FedEx at delivering their children from Point A to Point B on time. We have become experts at packing like an Apocalypse is coming—no detail is too trivial—and transforming into drill sergeant mode, adept at delivering orders with military like precision. I’m not here to be my child’s friend; I’m here to deliver him to soccer on time.

Another aspect of logistics is the effect on a parent’s personal schedule. I work, albeit remotely, and there are some weeks where there is literally some type of appointment or school commitment on the calendar every day. I feel for the majority of working parents who have a set work schedule because the parenting world is stacked against having an uninterrupted workday.  Which brings me to sick days. No, not for a parent. We’re not allowed to be sick.

With three children, it’s a darn near miracle if someone isn’t nursing a viral or sinus infection on a given day. I can’t count how many times I’ve said in recent months, with great exasperation, “Oh god, his snot is green again; we have to go back to the pediatrician.” (Big sigh.) I mean, can’t the pediatrician just give me carte blanche to call in a prescription when I need one? We all know when the runny nose just isn’t going to get any better, so let’s stop wasting everyone’s time. Because there is no time!!!

The bigger problem with illness is once someone gets sick, we all fall down like a weak house of cards. And Mom and Dad with our old rusty immune systems usually take the brunt of the evil virus. I won’t forget my trip to the ER for dehydration for a lovely sickness my son passed on to me, only to come home to two more barfing children. There’s nothing like doing laundry all night long with a hospital admission band still on your wrist. (My husband was out of the country, so he had a nearly valid excuse for his absence.) I like to remind him of this story a lot.

And finally, the elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about—money! Children cost a ton of money. Every month we hemorrhage cash like Trump drops Tweets. We try to shop for the deals, but all of a sudden a cute and economically priced $20 fleece jumps to $60.00 plus shipping and handling. A restaurant outing to a casual dining place approaches a Benjamin. (And they don’t like McDonald’s or Burger King—where did I go wrong?!) Think you can score at a Kid’s Eat Free night? Guess again! You will still pay for that third child’s meal. The deck is stacked against us.

Want to travel? Better start saving—parents who want a modicum of privacy in the evening know that hotel suites are the way to go. That reasonably priced hotel quickly exceeds a luxury one when you are scouting out the largest suites on the property. Renting a vacation home is the next logical step, but I want the free hotel breakfast and maid service! (Free breakfasts are a must for large families traveling to avoid racking up a massive food bill each morning for half-eaten Cheerios.)

And finally, the one thing I want to leave you with, perhaps the biggest nuisance of them all—homework. Yes, homework. When the three kids are all small and in diapers, parents will dramatically lament having “three under three” or multiple kids in diapers. The stakes get real, however, when the tikes start elementary school. You will spend hours upon hours each night assisting each one with various stages of learning, including teaching “new math” that you never learned. When deciding whether that third child is the right decision for your family, simply do the math. That is, can you handle 13 years of homework times X number of children (adjusted for overlapping school years and volume of homework)? If you can solve that equation, then you might be ready for number three.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

Ready, set, go!

By: Aimee Tafreshi

img_4345What would you take with you if your house faced destruction and you had limited time and space? Clearly your children—well, most of us would. Dogs, definitely. We faced this conundrum last week. The week started normally enough with viola lessons, soccer practice and STEM night at my daughter’s school. In the background, a hurricane churned in the Atlantic and barreled its way through the Caribbean. The weekend before, I advised my husband to fill up with gas, as you never know. He thought I was paranoid, I’m sure.

On Tuesday, he was supposed to fly out to Virginia for a work trip. By this point, the hurricane “spaghetti” models showed Hurricane Matthew working its way up the East Coast, in some form or fashion. One lone bright pink line diverged from the others and showed a possible path right along the coastline, right near our coastline. It’s just one model, he reasoned with me. Come Tuesday morning, his trip was almost called off, but co-workers had already boarded flights. The outing was now back on. I imagined evacuating the house, kids and dogs by myself. I knew his particular airline would mercilessly cancel all flights mid-week. I am a hurricane virgin. I have never lived through a hurricane nor evacuated because of one. I can do this, I told myself with false confidence.

Lo and behold, divine intervention, fate, common sense, what have you, stepped in and canceled his work trip minutes before he was to board the plane. I was jubilant when he told me the news. This hurricane was coming; I could feel it. Wednesday arrived, and the rain and wind started picking up. We both worked all day, work obligations and deadlines, as I daydreamed about boarding up the house. We didn’t have storm shutters; hurricanes weren’t supposed to come this way. Finally, the mandatory evacuation order came. It was go time.

My husband got home from work, and it was time to pack and prep the house. Our preparations did not include boarding up the house or putting up storm shutters. That ship had sailed. There simply wasn’t time. Instead, I thought about what would probably happen. The front room windows would likely shatter, and water and debris would soak everything in its sight. Unfortunately, the front room is a dining room turned home office, which means it is a staging area for kids’ artwork waiting to be filed, toothy school portraits waiting to be shared and other sentimental papers and musty greeting cards.

I didn’t really care about our beat up furniture—we have two sons—or things like the TV. All of that stuff can be replaced. What I did care about were drawings forged by small hands, endless sheets of imperfectly written preschool letters and scattered photographs.

I remembered that during a devastating fire at my parents’ house, my mother had remarked that the items she had stored in plastic bins had not been touched by the ash and soot that had ruined much of the other stuff. Ah ha! I smartly packed all of the sentimental crafts and papers in a large plastic bin and stored it upstairs, in case of storm surge. Other random things I moved included the kids’ art portfolios from their past school years, three painted glass bottles they had created on a Saturday at the downtown art co-op, and a glass Longhorn Bevo, an homage to my beloved Texas team.

I also pushed my grandmother’s antique chair away from the window, as I knew she would not be pleased if I let her heirloom get ruined by broken glass or an errant tree limb.

The things I couldn’t stand to lose the most were the things that could never be replaced. I later cursed myself for not taking down my daughter’s bulletin boards, covered with her best kindergarten paintings, and mentally pictured the papers disintegrating as the rain blasted through blown out windows.

Now it was time to pack. As the evening wore on, I thought less about packing for a short-term trip and more about packing for months. I initially packed one extra set of disposable contact lenses and then realized I should take the entire pack. My husband reminded me to take any valuable jewelry. I don’t have a ton of fancy baubles, other than a few things I wear everyday, but I decided on an antique watch my dad had gifted me, because it makes me think of him. I also grabbed a roadrunner pin that had belonged to my grandmother—she obsessively collected roadrunners—and a vintage Texas Longhorns brooch my mother had given me.

I told my other half to grab my daughter’s baby book; her younger siblings’ books weren’t quite finished, so what was the point with theirs? We also took the wedding album and some important papers to show proof of our existence.

The next morning we arose at 4:00 a.m., and as usual, I wanted to hit the “snooze” button repeatedly and stay in bed. But then my instincts kicked in, as a monster storm was heading our way, and I had better wake the heck up. We were out the door by 5:15 a.m., three kids, two large dogs, and two tired parents crammed into an SUV. My poor son woke up in the middle of the night, afraid we had evacuated without him. He raced downstairs at 5:00 in the morning, exclaiming that he was “just in time” to leave. Boy was he right.

I was expecting to sit on the interstate for 12 hours and pee in plastic bottles, after seeing many nightmare traffic jams on the news over the years, but the one thing you can count on with an island is that people don’t like to wake up early. We made it to Tallahassee in record time. Our hotel room wasn’t ready until more than six hours later, so we bided our time walking a verdant nature trail, stuffing ourselves at a local diner and playing at an expansive park with fellow “evacuees.”

The next day, the storm track looked ominous. The models showed it shifting west with the eye wall going directly over our small historic town as a Category 4 or worse. At that point, I wanted to cry, not just for us but also for the entire town. I was worried for those who decided to stay and ride out the storm, worried for everyone’s homes and worried that our quaint historical island would be wiped off the map. I fell asleep not knowing what would face us on The Weather Channel the next day.

Promising news beamed in with the sun on Friday. The storm had shifted east, and our town would be spared the eye wall. I’m no meteorologist, but this meant less wind speed and less chance of total devastation. That evening, while the hurricane whipped through Northeast Florida, we attended a friend’s hurricane party, held at her in-laws’ sprawling property. Her mother-in-law had gone all out with homemade salads, a variety of chips and dip, pizza and drinks galore.

As we chatted with new friends, improbably brought together by an unlikely storm, our children played exuberantly on an oversized, outdoor hammock, erupting in laughter each time they tumbled off together onto the soft ground. The kids danced around each other, blowing bubbles and playing hide and seek among the protective trees. The end of the evening was capped off by glow in the dark bands the little ones wore on their necks and limbs as they twirled in the dark. I didn’t know what was happening to our house, but I knew I was happy, and that we had everything we needed. Most of all, I felt grateful and content.

We traveled home Saturday and were amazed that our house was largely unscathed by the storm. Others around us weren’t so lucky, and those in places like Haiti face yet another devastating recovery. I’m not sure why our small town was spared, but through this experience, I realized that we have very little control over nature or even our own lives, at times. I learned that if I had to walk away from my house and give it all up, I think that I could. And also, I plan on investing in some good storm shutters for next hurricane season.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

One Mom’s Return to the Work Force

By: Aimee Tafreshi

ID-100338823Like many moms today, I worked a full-time job when I gave birth to my first child. I remember how hard it was to leave my baby after my 12 weeks of maternity leave were up—a generous policy compared to many work places, yet meager compared to other parts of the world. I blinked back tears as I commuted to my office and felt a huge part of me left behind at home.

I also remember the day I packed up my office for the last time, a few weeks before my little girl’s second birthday. I would miss looking out my wall of windows to behold the Capitol and downtown Austin—I doubted I would ever score such a view again—but I looked forward to my freedom and more time with my growing toddler.

Back then, I was a single mom, sharing custody with my child’s father. I saw my daughter for two hours each weeknight after work and every other weekend. She lived with me, but the practice of law is a jealous mistress. The rest of her time was spent with my devoted, Spanish-speaking nanny or my child’s father. It was probably these circumstances that led me to walk away from the work force at the time, but only after I was engaged to someone able to provide financial support. Single parents have the first and foremost priority of providing a roof over a child’s head, food and health insurance; everything else is secondary.

Fast forward six years later, and I’m a mom of three, happily married and enjoying life as a freelance writer and Zumba instructor. And then life dealt me a broken foot, so teaching the latest Latin moves was out of the question. As I clomped around in my boot, I pondered my next move. I loved my free time with my kids, but in the back of my head I always wondered if I would return to the work force. I knew the longer I stayed out, the harder it would be to return. The corporate world could understand some time off to raise children—women seem to be given this latitude more than men—but how long of an absence was acceptable? Five years? Ten years? Six years had elapsed since my time at a law firm, and I decided it was time to dabble my feet in the water again.

While sidelined, I reactivated my bar license and had fun watching continuing legal education videos about white-collar crime. This may sound fairly boring, but as far as the law is concerned, this is exciting and interesting stuff. I spent a week’s worth of time applying for a few prosecutor positions with the Department of Justice. They happened to be hiring in a nearby big city, and those opportunities don’t pop up everyday. I have no prosecutorial experience, but being in the courtroom going after bad guys has always been a dream of mine. Of course, it may not be the job most compatible with balancing motherhood, but I would worry about those details later.

Fast forward a few months, and the feds hadn’t called yet. As I mentally prepared for my foot surgery, I periodically checked out the online job listings to see if anything fit my requirements and vice versa. Most legal jobs here are out of the question because I am not licensed to practice law in Florida, and there’s no way in heck I’m sitting for another bar exam. One day I saw a listing for a part-time job where I actually understood most of the responsibilities and seemed to meet their hiring criteria. I quickly shot them my resume and a hastily written cover letter, as I didn’t want to waste multiple hours on an application only to hear crickets in response. My surgery was coming up soon, but I figured it would be months until I’d hear a response; after all, the job posting was brand new.

Lo and behold, I received an email requesting a telephone interview. I was floored and realized I hadn’t interviewed for a job since 2006. The timing was interesting. I was scheduled to have surgery the very next day. After much thought, I brilliantly (or stupidly) set up the interview for the following morning, hours before my surgery. I didn’t want to risk fielding questions while under the influence of post-surgery pain meds. I would go through an interview sans caffeine (or anything), as I was about to undergo general anesthesia. I’ve never experienced a job interview without adequate hydration or caffeine coursing through my veins. I told myself this was all mental and that I could do it. I was so nervous about the interview that the impending procedure became an afterthought.

The phone call seemed to go okay. I didn’t really think the interviewer was too impressed, and I figured I did not get the position. To my surprise, I received a job offer at the end of the week, as I floated around in my post-surgery stupor, non-weight-bearing for nearly one month. I was excited but also very scared. I was returning to the world of deadlines, responsibility beyond my family and the billable hour.

Two months into the job, and it is the perfect fit for my life. I work remotely and bill about 30 hours per week. The company is flexible and doesn’t micromanage my time. I can go to work in pajamas with greasy hair and don’t have a commute. The hardest part is the aspect I struggled with years ago—mommy guilt. When I got the gig, we scrambled and had to put all of the kids in full-time care, not an easy feat at times during the summer. Luckily, there were a few day camp options, and my youngest son’s school goes year round and caters to working parents.

A part of me felt guilty at first. As my foot healed and I regained my ability to walk, and could finally fit my deflating big foot in flip-flops, I wondered, shouldn’t I be hauling the kids every day to some cool summer location, like the beach, pool, or the museum? I know the days are long and the years are short, and I don’t take a day for granted with them. But then I thought back to my days as a single, working mother, and I remembered what I did back then to cope.

When I came home from work, I completely switched into “at home” mode. My attention was on my daughter for those two hours before her bedtime. My nanny tried to bathe her but I insisted on having that duty, as I needed every minute with her. I treasured reading to her each night as we rocked. I remember waking up most Saturday mornings to attend a parent and me music class, as we often rushed home afterwards so her father could pick her up for his time.

When you work, you don’t necessarily miss out. You just have to become more present when you are with your kids. Ask them about their day, look them in the eyes, engage them in conversation, put down your phone. For working parents, most of these things are no-brainers because you can’t wait to see your little ones at the end of each day. You are tired, but you find that extra reserve of energy and enthusiasm to share with your greatest work in life: your children.

You also become a weekend warrior. When you have a blank canvas of a week in front of you, Saturday and Sunday don’t seem as crucial to fill with meaningful time. As a family, I feel like we have really lived life lately. We’ve been to the beach, the pool, the zoo, church, brunch, the movies . . . we are exhausted come Sunday evening, and sometimes the solitude on Monday morning after the kids are dropped off is a welcome one.

Whether you work outside of the home, at home or stay at home with your little ones, I can say there is no easy path. You can only choose the best option for your family, and make the most of your precious time together.

Aimee Tafreshi is a freelance writer and attorney who also contributes to Nameberry.com and her own blog once in a blue moon, aimeetafreshi.com. She is also a mother and professional chauffeur to three spirited, young children.

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming…

By: Aimee Tafreshi

FullSizeRender (1)“How will the suffering end?” inquired the earnest man standing at my doorstep.  I chuckled, surprised by the question, and replied, “Well, I might be the right person to ask.” He looked down at my bandaged foot, assessing my knee scooter, and good-naturedly nodded his head. Five minutes earlier, I was parked on the couch, my recovering foot propped up on the ottoman, when I heard a knock on my front door. It must be the neighbors across the street stopping to say goodbye, as I had noticed their moving van earlier. Let’s hope it’s not the unscrupulous tree trimmers “terrorizing” our neighborhood, charging too high prices for shoddy work. Ahh, the perils of suburban life.

This better be good, I thought, as I hoisted myself onto the wheeled apparatus and propelled myself to the front door, accompanied by my protector, Faith the German Shepherd. I peered outside and saw a nice-looking family pushing a baby in a stroller. I hesitantly cracked open the door, Faith making her presence known in case of any mischief, and a man with kind eyes began to speak. After polite hellos, the man launched into his pitch. “How will the suffering end?” he began. Is this a rhetorical question? I wondered. I was beginning to formulate a well-thought out answer, and then stopped myself. “Now what are you selling here?” I asked. He responded that he wasn’t selling anything, so I proceeded to answer the stranger’s question as the smiling baby looked at me. “Faith, hope, determination, patience, resilience, a positive attitude.” He nodded his head with approval, and then chimed in, “Suffering will end through God’s Kingdom,” handing me a brochure for the local Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I smiled at the man and wished them a good afternoon, as his wife complemented me on our potted plants before leaving. In the past, I would have met a solicitor at my door with an eye roll or had simply ignored the knocks, but I found the visit well-timed and perhaps a sign to keep pressing on. Now, I was not about to go join the local Jehovah’s Witness chapter, although I have to admire them for going door to door these days to spread their word, as they are most often greeted with disdain or indifference. But I liked that this encounter forced me to verbalize how I would make it through this chapter of my life.

Earlier that week, I underwent surgery on my right foot to remove a broken bone that had essentially “died” as well. I had been temporarily disabled since early December, when the stressed bone finally fractured. Before the big surgery day, I went into “nesting” mode and took on the mammoth task of decluttering and organizing my daughter’s bedroom. She is a Stage 1 hoarder (like her mother), so this project took about two solid afternoons of focused work. My oldest son was pretty distraught that I didn’t purge his room of old toys before I was rendered useless.

The weekend before the procedure, we celebrated my daughter’s eighth birthday with an outdoor pool party. I clomped around the pool deck on my lame foot in my bulky black boot, disregarding the pain. The following Monday I chaperoned my daughter’s second grade class on a boat excursion to study the local saltwater specimens. We marveled at the multiple dolphin pods we encountered, taking in the majestic creatures feeding, playing and rolling upside down on the water’s surface. I noticed how the sea breeze felt gently grazing my face. I was happy to embrace these moments before the coming weeks of immobility when my usually active life would be on freeze frame.

Post-surgery, I am non-weight bearing for at least four weeks and cannot yet drive a car.  I have fears that when I do put my foot down to take that first step, I will feel immense pain or will not be able to stride normally. My right foot feels weird, like I am missing something. My present finds me lying in bed or sitting on my new perch, the sofa, streaming endless hours of whatever happens to be on TV. I know a lot of us moms dream of being couch potatoes—I have fantasized about watching marathons of HGTV episodes or Dateline while doing nothing else. Well, the dream has turned to reality, and let me tell you, eternal couch-potatoeing is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The first day or so post-surgery, I felt like a newborn baby, alternating between alertness for a few hours followed by sleep, repeated again and again. As the pain lessened and I transitioned off the strong meds to good old Advil, I resolved to remain awake during daytime hours. Five days post-surgery, I have evolved to wearing contacts, getting dressed and maintaining a clean face. I still can’t get the incision wet, so showers are out of the question, but I successfully took a bath a few nights ago, while propping my foot out of the water. I have also become quite adept at knee-scooting on my wheeled device or utilizing the crutches in tight spaces, like the bathroom.

I know I am not the only mother who has faced a health challenge like this. Many parents face more serious health battles, like cancer. I am fortunate because my foot is expected to heal, so daydreams of biking to the beach on a new shiny beach cruiser with a quaint woven basket and walking my dogs around the neighborhood keep me going. Some parents have no guarantee of their return to normal activities, and some fight the illness of their lives. There are many role models to look to when one gets down in the dumps about their current state of health. I think about amputees who returned from war-torn countries, patients undergoing grueling chemotherapy and elite college athletes facing career-ending injuries. If people facing those obstacles can keep their chin up and cling onto hope, then I can feel grateful and optimistic that this temporary hiccup will eventually heal.

There isn’t much I can do without use of my foot, along with strict doctor’s orders to lay low these first few weeks post-surgery. Sometimes sitting in a cool, dark house gets a tad depressing, and House Hunters becomes a little mundane. Yesterday I decided I needed to hobble outside and relax on a lounge chair to feel the warmth of the sun and enjoy our re-mulched garden and blooming spring flowers. My husband and I sat on the deck for nearly an hour as our son seesawed and rode his tricycle. I noticed the little things, like the yellow butterfly that constantly flits around our garden, the cloudless and perfect blue sky, and the paths of the small airplanes dotting the ether. My life might be on pause, but I still need to find and appreciate meaning and beauty in each day we are given here. And also remember to hold onto faith, hope, determination, patience, resilience and a positive attitude.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com.

Reward Charts—From Candy to Corvettes

TafreshiFamily-Sept2015_045By: Aimee Tafreshi

I hazily remember lying in the hospital bed holding my third child, while my 21-month-old son and four-year-old daughter waited at home. The nurse gave me some sage advice about paying attention to the eldest children while caring for a newborn. “Do a responsibility chart for the four-year-old,” she advised. She explained that children that age did well with a sticker chart as positive reinforcement. Knowing I would need maximum resources in my arsenal with three small children, I took the wise nurse’s advice to heart.

Soon after, I ordered a personalized, fancy responsibility chart for my daughter with cutely illustrated tasks or goals on Velcro labels. Examples of such positively reinforced behaviors included “Eat My Veggies,” “Try Not To Whine” (nearly impossible!), and “Say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.’” For parents facing other issues, the kit included blank labels for any other problem areas. We immediately wrote “Listen!” on a blank form. It’s shocking this behavior did not come standard on the chart. We labeled another one “Wildcard” to address any random behaviors that popped up.

At the end of the day, my husband or I would go through the five responsibilities of the week with our daughter, rewarding a gold star for achieving one, or withholding the coveted star if her behavior fell short. Every Sunday, we set a goal for a certain number of stars required to earn the weekly reward. At the beginning of each new week, we jointly decided on a reasonable reward with our daughter’s input. Examples of incentives that came standard with the kit included “Go to a movie or rent a DVD” (easy enough), “Go out for a treat” (another favorite), “A new book” (double bonus, encouraging reading), or “A new pet” (Are you *$%#@*% kidding me?!). Needless to say, we didn’t utilize the new pet option.

Not surprisingly, listening, whining and using good manners were the most difficult stars to earn. We would set the amount of stars needed to earn a reward high enough to require consistently good behavior but reasonable enough to allow occasional slip-ups and off days. Though not perfect, the chart seemed to encourage greater awareness of desired behaviors and nudge our daughter toward picking up her toys or finishing her portion of veggies.

Eventually, our middle child reached the ripe old age of four, and we decided a star chart might be just the ticket to get him in line. His goals overlapped somewhat with our daughter’s but he had some unique objectives as well, like “Don’t use bad language,” a necessity for his potty mouth. A write-in option included “Wipe yourself.” I’m not sure why the star chart makers didn’t include that personal hygiene milestone.

Like our daughter, whining tripped him up often, and he frequently stumbled on “showing respect.” However, he beamed with pride at the end of each week when he usually managed to achieve his goal, and the chart did encourage him to pick up his toys and even the messes made by his little brother.

Creating and maintaining a star chart week-to-week does take a commitment on the part of the parents, and sometimes life gets busy, and the chart falls by the wayside. Toward the end of last year, when my husband became insanely busy at work, the charts entered into a state of neglect. He eventually began traveling for his job, and I didn’t have the time or energy to focus on this extra responsibility. I felt like I deserved a gold star for keeping everyone clothed, fed, alive and relatively clean.

With my husband’s absence, the natives became unruly, knowing they could take advantage of their “good cop” mom. If I was going to survive solo parenting three wild children, I needed to bring in the big guns. I was going to create the mother of all responsibility charts. There was nothing fancy about it—no monogrammed names—all I required was a piece of plain white paper, a Sharpie (different colors if I was feeling creative), a piece of tape, a plastic bucket and a bunch of cheap crap from China. With that in mind, I promptly headed to the local dollar store to buy up their gadgets, trinkets and other goodies to stuff into the bucket (also acquired for a dollar).

Any non-crafty mom can put together this reward chart. Simply write the days of the week across the top row (abbreviate if you are feeling especially lazy), and write in your children’s names or initials along the left-hand side. Create a column for each day and a row for each child, and you are set. This is not a complex chart. I give a single sticker out at the end of each day per child based on the totality of the day’s behaviors. There is no assessing different elements or types of conduct. Bottom-line: was Junior a helper or a huge butthead? Just go with your gut on these determinations.

For a good day, the child will get a sticker of my choosing. Have fun with it—I used St. Patrick’s Day stickers in March. When I run out of stickers, I take my trusty Sharpie and draw on a lopsided looking smiley face. For the child who fails to earn a sticker? He is either left with a blank square for the day, or if I’m having fun, a big diagonal line through the day, or a dramatic sad face.

The chart also ingeniously plays on the children’s natural competiveness with each other. The child with the most stickers will get to draw out of the coveted prize bucket first. Since no reward is alike, there is an incentive to earn the most stickers and choose the first prize. For children tying in their number of smiley faces, we follow a system similar to how college football conferences decide who goes to their championship game. It’s super straightforward and easy to apply our rules. Basically, if you drew first last week, your sibling will draw first this week. Easy peasy!

The appeal of my prize bucket is its immediacy and tangible nature—the children see the potential rewards of their hard work dangling in their faces everyday. So the reward is not some abstract, to-be-determined prize in the stratosphere.

Recently, my daughter wrote down some suggestions for prizes I might purchase for the prize bucket. Her handwritten list went something like this: “makeup to[o],” “I like white tictacs,” “Siance books” (I hope she means “science” and not “séance”), “bath toys,” “stuffed animals” (you can’t ever have enough stuffed animals), and “peppermint ‘gumb’ that says long lasting ‘gumb.’” I appreciated her specific instructions. Mom needs all the help she can get!

Looking down the road, my daughter helpfully brainstormed a list of rewards for the future, things that might entice my children to behave when they are teenagers. The list read as follows, like a ransom note: “$200,” “Birds from Petco,” “our own phone,” “our own car,” and finally, a “trampoline.”

I’m now thinking these reward charts may have an expiration date. Otherwise the responsibilities might need to include a well-paying full-time job.

Aimee Tafreshi is a mother of three young children and former litigator who has also contributed to Nameberry.com, Fé Fit and her own blog, aimeetafreshi.com.