Category Archives: Twins blog

Why Disney World is magic for parents, too

It’s been 10 months since our trip to Disney, and that means it’s finally the perfect time to post my memories from the vacation.

June 5, 2017 10:11 p.m. ET: LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – As we finish our first day at Disney World – a day that began at 6 a.m. with a wake-up call so we could be at Animal Kingdom by 7:30 and one that ended just a few minutes ago as the kids fell into an exhausted slumber – I have one big reflection.

With the kids finishing first grade, I have begun to think, as I so often do, about the regret that they’re getting older and getting one day closer to outgrowing the little kids they are. B and J claim they’re big kids, but they’re not. Not really.

They still wake us up in the middle of the night when they have a bad dream, and they still need us to carry them up to their rooms and brush their teeth when they fall asleep in the car. But someday, their 3 a.m. visits will cease. Some day, they’ll just walk upstairs themselves and go to bed without so much as a good night.

About a week ago I read a story from a mom blogger about how she’s haunted by the thought that one day she’ll put her kid down, and never pick them back up again. I don’t think we’re anywhere near that moment with B and J – they still, after all, love to be carried around – but in the next couple of years, surely that moment will pass without me realizing it until it’s too late.

But on this day, with the kids blasting out a 14-hour day at Animal Kingdom like big kids, I got to feel that moment when a 7-year-old can still be just a little boy.

We were on Expedition Everest, one of the scariest rollercoasters in the place (and one that made me totally nauseous – going backward really fast on a thrill ride is no longer for me). The first part of the ride is relatively tame with not much of a major drop and not much speed, and I convinced J to put his hands in the air as he screamed in delight.

But a minute later, he was frightened, and he reached out with his hands, grasped my arm and pulled it toward him. He was holding on to me like his life depended on it. And it was so cute and so suddenly sweet that, for a second, I forgot that I was getting majorly motion sick.

A few hours later, he did the same thing again on the Dinosaur ride. It’s not that scary, but a couple dinosaurs do jump out at you and make loud roars. J insisted on riding in the seat on the end, even though Mom told him he could sit next to his sister in the middle of the car between her and me. But again, he was frightened, and he said that if he ever went back on the ride, he would want me to sit on the outside.

It was so refreshing. And probably just as comforting to me as it was to him. We’re in a place where a kid can truly be a kid, where the kid shouldn’t want anything more, where a kid should feel all right reaching out for his father’s hand when he’s scared and needs it most. Big kids need that too.

June 7, 3:59 p.m.: While eating a cinnamon roll that was about the size of his head, J had an important declaration to make today. “I think the best vacation in the world is a Disney World vacation.” Really, I asked? But why?

“It has parks and fun rides,” he said.

Disney World is great and all, but it was probably the sugar high talking.

 

June 8, 9:12 p.m.: After we went on Spaceship Earth for the second time today (and as the last attraction before we left Epcot for good), B couldn’t stop talking about the postcard from the future we had made. It featured Daddy and B in the future, living together as we ate breakfast at a pop-up table in the kitchen, got dressed by some kind of algorithm that picked out our outfits and took a hover train to our respective jobs that stopped in front of our house and connected us directly onto the back of a centipede-like train.

Anyway, it was a cute video that we helped select on a kind of choose-your-own adventure screen at the end of the ride. But damn if it didn’t tickle B. The video was about 30 seconds. She literally told and retold the story for about 30 minutes.

June 9, 2:10 p.m.: We had our second character meal of the trip today.

The first occurred at Epcot yesterday when we traveled to Norway to eat brunch with five princesses (Belle, Aurora, Snow White, Cinderella and Arielle). Most importantly, the restaurant served us about 20 pieces of bacon (I ate all of them, and so far, it’s my greatest accomplishment of the year).

The second occurred today at the Contemporary hotel where we had a character brunch with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald. I wondered if these were the last times we’d attend a character meal. Assuming we return to Disney in a couple years, will the kids be too old at, say, 9 or 10 years old to appreciate meeting and taking pictures with big costumed characters?

There’s no telling, but here’s what I know. On this day, B and J believed. B wore her Minnie dress, and she was so pleased that Minnie seemed so excited that B was basically her twin. And when B hugged Minnie and when J wrapped both arms around Pluto, the love was real. B and J hugged with an intensity I didn’t expect, and it was so cool to see, especially if this is the last time we do this.

Goofy and Pluto both twirled B around like she was Minnie Mouse herself. Pluto waited patiently (and pantomimed that he was, in fact, impatient) while J swallowed his Mickey waffle before the photo. And both kids gave all their love and affection to Mickey.

If this was the last time, that’s OK. It was also the best time.

June 9, 9:55 p.m.: As a parent, there are some moments you wish you could bottle forever. Most of those moments, you end up forgetting.

I had one of those moments with J on our final day at Disney.

It had been a tough evening. Seemed like everybody was annoyed with each other. B was cranky. J’s feet hurt. The ice cream had run on people’s fingers and sloshed on people’s clothes. It was time for the trip to be over.

But with one last thing to do, J reminded me why we had taken the trip in the first place. As we began watching the night’s final show – an outlandish video montage broadcast unbelievably on Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom – J wanted me to pick him up because he didn’t have such a good view while sitting in his stroller.

I didn’t really want to have to hold this 50-pound boy for the 15 minutes it would take for the show to finish, but I sucked it up and said OK. Then, as Mrs. Potts and Chip began to tell the story that would glitter across the castle, J leaned his face into mine and rested his cheek on my cheek.

And I was transported back to our bedroom in Cincinnati at 3 a.m. in the first few months of the kids’ lives when we’d have to feed them every three hours and I’d hold them against my face for just a few extra seconds to make the world stop. So I could bottle that moment and let it breathe for only a couple moments.

Tonight, J was initiating the contact. He was putting his face on my face and watching the wonders of Disney, watching the true magic of the world. You wish you could bottle those moments, but you can’t. I write about them, and some day, the kids will read about them. J probably won’t remember this moment. But I hope I will. Because it was the moment that makes everything worth it.

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My son just fell out of bed

crayons1

July 27, 2014 (10:50 p.m.): My son just fell out of bed. That’s the first time that’s happened.

I was sitting at my computer a minute ago, and I heard a small bang. Well, “bang” might be too strong of a word. It was loud enough for me to hear, but soft enough where I didn’t think much of it. I thought maybe a book from one of the kids’ beds had fallen to the ground. Or a squirrel on the roof had tripped while playing a particularly intense game of tag with his sciuridaen buddies.

But then I heard muted whimpers, and I ran upstairs to find my boy sitting on the floor between his slippers and with his stuffed animal, Crayons, hanging on for dear life to the side of the mattress (you can see the dramatic reenactment of Crayons’ harrowing adventure in the photo above).

I asked him if he fell out of bed, and he mumbled a language I didn’t recognize. Didn’t really answer me, because I’m pretty sure he was 1) half-asleep; 2) didn’t know WHY the hell he was on the carpet.

I picked him up and placed him back on the bed, much closer to the center of the mattress than before. I also rescued Crayons from the edge, and my boy immediately spooned his beloved bear. By the time I left his room, he was asleep.

Still, my son, until now, had an impressive run of not falling out of the bed. But then again, aside from an escape or two from the crib, my daughter has only fallen out of bed once as well. Her bang was much louder, but when she fell (I think it was the day I converted her crib into a toddler bed), she landed on a few pillows from a much smaller height than her brother.

She also didn’t make a sound. Because when I found her that night, she was still asleep.

The power of our parenting

When I was a young boy and my parents were punishing me, I used to daydream about the future. About when I parented my own children and the punishment I would rain down on them when they disobeyed. I don’t think it was sadism. It was just an adolescent fantasy about the absolute power a parent possesses over their young children.

I remember those far-off thoughts sometimes when I actually have to discipline my 4-year-old twins. Sometimes, I yell, because, sometimes a parent has to yell. My daughter usually goes about her business, which leaves me unsatisfied. Maybe it is a sadism thing, because when I yell, I want her to react. I want her to know that, GODDAMMIT, I mean it. Usually, she doesn’t, but when the tears start flowing, I feel satisfied. For the briefest of seconds.

Then, I feel like an asshole.

But my son actually gives me what I want when I raise my voice. He gets sad. And the power play is complete. I win because I can yell and I can punish and I can make them do pretty much whatever I want. It’s the power I yearned for when I was a young boy sent to my room for leaving my father’s baseball glove out in the rain or for lying to my mother or for not informing them about the teenage girl my buddy once brought over to our house when nobody else was around.

I wanted that absolute power, and now, I have it.

And so, my boy was hopping on his bouncy bull recently a few minutes before bedtime. We told him to avoid the laundry we had folded on the floor, and he barely did so. He was too busy hopping — or as he calls it, “exercising” — to pay much attention. But it’s OK because he’s a kid and he was acting like a kid, and sometimes, you have to let a kid bounce on his favorite toy, even if it’s time to start winding down for bedtime.

But then, he hurt his foot. And he hurt his foot because he was using his bouncy toy as a step ladder, and he fell. We’ve told him not to use that bull as a step stool, and yet, here he was disobeying and he had to be punished.

So, I grabbed his bouncy bull, tossed it down the hall and told him I was locking it up (I immediately thought back to the day when I was about 4, and my parents “locked” all my toys in the closet. Don’t tell me history doesn’t repeat itself.).

And he just looked … so goddamn sad. So goddamn broken-hearted that I wanted to vomit.

“Where are you going to lock up my bouncy bull?” he asked with regret in his voice and his tear ducts glistening. “You don’t need to know that,” I said. “But Daddy, when can I have it back?” Said I, “On Friday.”

It was Tuesday, and with my absolute power, I had taken away one of the biggest sources of happiness in his life. He went to sleep a sad boy. And I went to sleep feeling like I should unlock the bouncy bull right that very instant and return it to his side as he slept.

Sometimes, absolute power absolutely sucks.

***

I got a text message from my father a few days later. “I wanted to let you know last week I officially retired. Yep, no more work for me, now it’s play time. Love, Dad.”

It was a jolt to my system. I’d never known my father not to work. And when I talked to him on the phone later, he said, “Josh, I’ve been working this job for almost 40 years. It’s time.”

He sounded happy. But it made me sad.

And it made me sad, because it’s not only an enormous step in his life as he transitions into the job of getting older. It’s also a step forward in my life. Now, one of my parents is retired, and something around me has been unalterably shifted.

For me, retirement is so far in the future that it’s not even worth thinking about. What do I have? Another 30 years of working? That’s a house mortgage away.

And one day, long ago, my father probably felt the same way. Retirement is too damn far away to even think about. But now, it’s here for him. And then, in our conversation, he talked about when he should take Social Security, what he was going to do with the rest of his life, whether he should think about taking up golf.

He seems pleased. It’s me who’s a little jolted.

He has absolute power as well, but not over the employees who looked to him as a boss or over his adult children. He has power over his own destiny. He doesn’t have to worry that one day he’ll get laid off or that he’ll be demoted or that somebody younger, hungrier and better will hunt him for his job. He can sleep until 10 a.m. now. He can go out photographing whatever he wants for whomever will pay him. He can buy a ticket and travel to the Caribbean next week.

That kind of power, I imagine, is awfully comforting.

***

A few hours after I hung up with my father, I held my baby niece. She’s obviously bigger than the last time I cuddled with her five months ago, and somehow, she’s even cuter.

I held her and kissed her forehead and lifted her high into the sky. She rewarded me with a big smile as my daughter tried to distract me by informing me that she was eating a grilled cheese sandwich.

As we walked from the restaurant to the hotel where my sister-in-law and her mother were staying, I trotted in front of the stroller and noticed just how much my baby niece’s cherubic face looked like my brother’s handsome mug.

Sometimes, my wife asks me, “Can you believe we’re parents?” and sometimes, it’s difficult to imagine that two people in this world count on us for just about everything, that they think of me the same way I think of my folks. But after four years, I often say, “Yeah, I believe I’m a parent.”

But my brother as a parent? To this cute little girl who wants so badly to crawl and squeeze my nose and tug on my goatee? That’s almost unbelievable.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s this: this little baby can make my world sparkle for a moment by grinning her toothless smile and touching my face. There’s real power in that, too.

***

After dropping off the baby at the hotel, I drove a mile north to catch a concert by a band called MewithoutYou. I was probably one of the older patrons there, and even though they were playing one of their albums, front to back and all the way through, from a decade ago, I’ve never heard an audience chant the lyrics back to the singer so loudly.

These kids were in high school (or younger) when this album came into existence in 2004. I had just moved to Cincinnati and was a working man and was three years away from discovering the band even existed.

But as it does, life moves along, and so did the songs on that album as the band shredded on the warm, breezy night.

As my feet began to ache and the tall dude in front of me mirrored any movement I made to see the stage, I began to think about my son and his bouncy bull and my dad and his retirement and my niece and her face.

The band roared into a number called, “My Exit, Unfair,” the ninth song on the album, “Catch For Us the Foxes.”
Mewithoutyou writes many of its tunes about god and what he or she means and what it means to have the faith to believe in such a god. This one is no exception, since it’s partially about a famous story in the bible. And this line — sung with a scream 25 feet away from where my feet hurt and chanted by the sweaty youth who bounced like bulls — caught me in the gut.

“Jonah, where’s that boat going —
Your ship set with eager sails?
There’s a swirling storm soon blowing,
And no use, fishermen, in rowing from the consecrated whale!”

Jonah, where’s that boat going?

We, of course, don’t know. Even if we believe in what the guys in Mewithoutyou believe or you believe in lording your absolute power over your kids or you believe that now’s the time to finish your work for good, nobody can know the answer to that question.

All we know is that we move forward into the great unknown. And we do the best we can. Whether we’re retired, disciplining our kids, or trying to grab the nose in front of our eyes.

Because, really, what’s the alternative? Life moves on. We’re handcuffed to the handrail and we have to move on, too.

Goddamn, we have no power at all.

Snow day, the Olympics and a glass of cranberry juice

Feb. 7, 2014 (2:14 a.m.): Yesterday, my kids, for some reason, wanted a glass of cranberry juice. I’m not sure they’ve ever had cranberry juice before, but they saw their mother drinking it and I guess they wanted to give it a shot. It’s not great cranberry juice. At least not the kind a kid would like. It’s low calorie and low sugar, and every time I fill a small juice glass thinking that I’d enjoy its tanginess, I’m reminded that I don’t care for this particular brand.

Today, school is out. Not because there are eight inches of snow and because black ice dastardly disguises itself against the asphalt, waiting for the next set of rubber tires to appear. No, it’s just cold in Austin with maybe a few slick roads here and there. But the kids should be in school and I should be hacking away at my long list of chores. But they’re not, so I’m not. It’s a day to curl up on the couch and not worry so much about the outside world.

Later today, the Sochi Olympics opening Cceremony will be shown via tape delay on NBC. Proud flag-bearers will lead proud contingents of athletes from countries around the globe. Some believe Sochi will be a disastrous Olympic games, with fears of security, black widows, bathrooms that don’t work, and showers that don’t contain the water that might be too dangerous to use on your face anyway. Others believe the Olympic spirit will triumph, the same as it always does.

Four years ago, my wife poured herself a glass of cranberry juice and walked her 27-week pregnant belly over to the couch. It was cold outside; we were snowed inside our Cincinnati townhouse. We had nothing to do but to turn on the TV, fire up the DVR, curl up together on the couch. And watch the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympic games.

Soon after we settled in, she went into labor. The comfort of the house would soon be replaced by freezing temperatures and a cold hospital. The images of those smiling, happy athletes would disappear from my screen, never to be played again on that TV. The cranberry juice would sit by itself on a coaster in the living room for the next 24 hours.

I was on my way to bed late last night when those three points of the triangle presented themselves to me — the cranberry juice, the icy roads and the Winter Olympics.

Life doesn’t get much more helpless than that moment four years ago. When labor begins and you have to slalom yourself on icy roads, praying to god that nobody is on the blind side of that intersection because red light or nto, you’re speeding through it like a bobsledding gold medal depends on it.

The babies came 2 1/2 months early that week, and life forever changed.

There must have been some point four years ago when, as a father, flushed with worry about the health and well-being of my premature twins, I allowed myself to drift into the future. “I wonder where we’ll be the next time the Winter Olympics begin,” I vaguely remember asking myself. “Will we be safe and happy? Will the scary moments of February 2010 be a distant dream that somehow ceases to seem real? What will life be like?”

Maybe one day I’ll talk to my children about my emotions. Or maybe they’ll just read the writings I’ve produced for them every so often in the past 48 months that described my fears and hopes for them and the dreams and anxieties I felt for myself.

Like my wife so many moments ago, my daughter didn’t finish her cranberry juice last night either. She spilled most of it on the floor, and like parents do, we muttered to ourselves and procured a paper towel to clean it up before the stain could set. My son asked for more, and I poured him another round.

Eventually, the preschool announced that classes had been canceled and I grumbled to myself because I, originally, had set aside today as time for running errands and paying taxes and filing papers and changing light bulbs.
But I know how very lucky we are, and I know that the past four years, we’ve built memories I couldn’t have dreamed about before I knew what it was to be a father.

My son didn’t finish his second serving of cranberry juice either. As my wife got the children ready for bed last night, I finished cleaning the kitchen from dinner. I put all the plates in the dishwasher, wiped off the counters, vacuumed up all the crumbs. Before I went upstairs, though, I spied his unfinished cranberry juice.
I doubled back to collect the plastic cup, and without thinking about it, I took the juice and poured it down the drain.

Moving into big-kid beds and embracing what it means

11-20-13 (1:47 p.m.): We had our first parent-teacher meeting of the year with our kids’ preschool teacher, and everything went well. The kids got glowing reviews.

Great news, obviously. But Ms. RM also mentioned that we might want to split up the twins into different classrooms next year when they start pre-K. It’ll be better for them, she said, and she nodded her head solemnly when she declared her opinion.

It might be the best move indeed, and if we follow that route, it’s just another sign that the kids are growing up, away from us as parents and away from each other toward individuality. A step toward their own sense of freedom, where they can open their arms wide to embrace all that’s ahead.

Coincidentally, today is the day the twins’ full-size beds were delivered. One white bed and dresser for Stella in her purple-walled room. One brown bed and dresser for Noah in his blue-painted dwelling.

I spent the late morning disassembling their cribs/toddler beds — a sadder activity than I might have originally thought — and the movers just left. In their wake, they’ve left behind the beds that the kids might use until they leave us for college.

The kids will leave their shared room after 3 1/2 year and finally have some semblance of privacy — something they’ve been talking about lately when they have to use the potty. But do they truly want it? During the past few months, we’ve built up Stella’s impending move from their room into what will become her room. They seem excited to think about the future.

But I worry a little about Noah and how he’ll feel when Stella is no longer there. I wonder if Stella will be bothered by the wind howling that occurs outside her window without the comfort of her brother nearby. I worry if they’ll miss each other and want to rewind to the past. Because, throughout their lives, all they’ve done is share space. A bedroom, a bath, a corner in the NICU, a womb.

Will they find their new independence a pleasure? Or will they be pained by the absence of the person to whom they’re the closest?

Sometimes in our rush to get older we forget that it means leaving behind the people who have loved us all along. Even if they’re just a few feet away, behind a closed door, in the next room.

UPDATE 7:40 p.m.: The kids just discovered their new beds. They are ultra-excited, even though Stella admonished Noah from climbing up on hers.

UPDATE 10:12 p.m.: Usually, the twins will emerge from their bed a few times a night, asking for water or for another hug or for snuggles. We’ve tried to put a stop to that for the past few months with varying degrees of success.

Tonight, Noah hopped off his bed once, trotted into the office and said he wanted to kiss me on the cheek. He did and he bounced back into his room. That’s all we heard from them.

I just checked on the two, and both are in the exact same position — on their back and with arms spread wide. No longer are they bound by the width of their toddler bed. Now, they can spread out and embrace the unknown future. They are no longer stifled by their shared space.

They are now toddlers in big-kid beds, and they are free.

The eternal question … answered

The other day, I was changing Noah’s pull-up (his third poopy diaper in a 90-minute span! (when, oh when, will he be fully potty-trained?)), Bella asked Jonah what he wants to be when he grows up.

He quickly said, “Superman.” (It should be noted he wore a Superman shirt that day)

Then, I asked Stella what she wanted to be when he grows up, and she said quite simply, “A baby.”

So, that’s that.

Really, really glad we’ve got that settled, and apparently, she won’t have to go to college after all.

The end of their innocence

(April 15, 2013; 9:12 p.m.): About eight hours ago, the world changed for the worse again. It changed in the way the world changed on 9/11 or during Oklahoma City or during Columbine or during Sandy Hook. The two explosions that occurred more than four hours into the Boston Marathon were world-changers on a planet filled with world-changers. It was a domestic bombing, like 9/11 and Oklahoma City, that has scared and saddened us. The death of a child, like in Columbine and Sandy Hook, has made us weep for the future’s loss and the loss of their future.

Seven hours ago, my 3-year-old children went to bed for their daily nap. I kept the TV off when they were downstairs, but as soon as their bedroom door closed and their turtle night-light flickered to life, I immersed myself in the news coverage. And the anger. And the sadness. And the goddammit-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-this-world of it all.

I seethed and I teared up and I tweeted, and my children slept, blissfully unaware that the world outside our doors had changed once again.

They’re 3, and the world to them is infinitely good. They spend their days playing and learning in preschool and going for walks with mommy and daddy. They love Sesame Street and Toy Story and their baby dolls and looking at the pictures from our recent Disney cruise. They don’t know heartbreak or evil or the goddammit-what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-this-world of life. Their sadness leaks out when a toy is lost. Nothing more and nothing less. I envy them for that.

Four hours ago, after my kids had emerged from their slumber (and the TV had been darkened), my daughter pulled out a pair of my wife’s brown shoes. She traipsed around the kitchen with her oversized footwear, pulled out her orange toy binoculars and declared, “I seeee you, Daddy.” I turned away from the sadness on Twitter and smiled.

Then, I helped her and her brother build a bear circus* out of Lego blocks.

*The other day, we built a caterpillar zoo. Today it was a bear circus. Somehow these things exist in my kids’ minds.

Every parent, I’m sure, ponders their children and the innocence that eventually will disappear forever. The country cries, and soon enough, the kids will cry along with it. But for now, they laugh and they drink their milk and they chase each other around the island in our kitchen.

Two hours ago, a buddy of mine tweeted to me that it was difficult having to explain what had happened in Boston to his 5-year-old son. What was his reaction? I asked. Did he understand?

“He was confused that an explosion could be real,” my buddy wrote.

The world probably changed today for his child, just like it did for all of us. Explosions are real. Evil does exist. A road race can lead to destruction and death.

Ten hours from now, when my kids wake up for a brand new day of sunshine and innocence, they won’t know any better. But they will soon enough, and that’s when our job as parents will change. We will have to be the ones to teach them people are good and that life can be beautiful. And that the loss of innocence can be a blessing. That it teaches us how to survive.

Their world, at some point, will change. Hopefully, we’ll teach them how it can be for the better.