Bringing Up Babies

Ever thought about how hard it would be to raise twins? This guy hadn’t.

I’m sure it will surprise no one to learn that parenting twins in their first year is a monumental task. It turned out to be even tougher than I had imagined, and I already had two other wonderful daughters under my parenting belt. Don’t misunderstand me. My wife, Angie, and I love our twin girls, Mica and Zella. We feel blessed beyond words, and we would do it all over again, even if the first year were five times as tough. Well, three times as tough, anyway. As joyful and, at times, entertaining as twin babies can be, the fact remains that year one is a real kick in the butt. Times two. Thing is, in my case it was often my own foot doing the kicking.

Ironically, these self-administered fits of frustration were born of the desire to make things easier on Angie and me. Even the smallest of attempts to save time or simplify child-rearing are magnified greatly with twins. For example, after going without sleep for nearly two weeks, I suggested to Angie that we hire a nurse to care for the twins a couple of nights a week. “A good night’s sleep now and then will make us better parents during the day,” I reasoned. She wasn’t so crazy about having a stranger care for our babies at night, but the very concept of sleep to the sleep-deprived is so mesmerizing that it can overpower even a new mother’s instincts. Angie agreed to give it a shot.

The day of our night nurse’s first stay-over, I was full of childish anticipation. You would have thought I was expecting a visit from Bono. This nurse, who I will call Stacey, had great referrals, which helped reassure Angie that this was, indeed, a brilliant idea of mine. But when Stacey showed up, my idea immediately began losing IQ points. While I honestly don’t think that Angie and I are shallow people, we were nonetheless stunned to see that Stacey had no teeth, hobbled as she walked with a cane, and spoke with a thick accent of an undetermined origin, one that was further garbled because of her toothlessness. I hid my own discomfort, helped Angie instruct Stacey, and then hurried Angie upstairs to our bedroom. Before I could even shut the door, Angie began to cry. “I can’t do this,” she said over and over while wiping her tears. I held her hand and told her that we should give Stacey a few nights before making any rash decisions. The only hasty thing we needed to do, I suggested, was fall asleep. Which is exactly what I did. Angie, I learned the next morning, not so much.

Two days later, Stacey returned for her second night. Before Angie and I retired she shared a few stories about her ferrets. That was enough to make Angie cry herself to sleep again despite my reasoning that anyone who’s good with ferrets is most likely a loving, trustworthy being, even if she resembled an octogenarian Shrek.

In the wee morning hours, Angie and I were awakened by a storm. The power was out, so we went downstairs to check on Stacey and the twins. The girls were sound asleep but Stacey was in the kitchen on her hands and knees—a position I wasn’t sure she could manage to get out of on her own—fumbling around in the cabinets for a flashlight. Turns out, besides not having teeth, she didn’t have decent vision either. We helped her to her feet, found her a flashlight and told her to take it easy. After the storm passed, we led her to her car, which had empty ferret cages in the backseat. Though only about 2 a.m., we promised to pay her for the entire night, and she drove off. I could tell by the look in Angie’s eyes that there would be no appeal on Stacey’s behalf. She and her abundant, ferret-loving heart would not return. Nor would regular sleep for another four months.

As Mica and Zella put on the pounds and began sleeping through the night, they had ample energy and ever-increasing attention spans. Entertaining one infant with a game of tickle bug or peek-a-boo can be tricky enough, but with twins you have two audiences, each as fickle as the other, and both wanting your full attention. Complicating matters is that their interests were (and remain) very different. Physical comedy, such as tossing a wooden block in the air and letting it hit the ground—or, better still, your head—thrilled Zella. Mica preferred more sophisticated entertainment, such as rubbing a plush animal against her cheek. When my wife and I were both around we could each take a baby and entertain her, then trade off. But when one of us was alone, we faced a divided and competitive audience. So I hatched another plan, one that turned out to be even less successful than Stacey the night nurse.

I drove to Target and bought one of those automated baby swings, one with soft dangling animals for Mica to touch and some hard plastic shapes that Zella could kick. This way, I explained to Angie, whenever one of us was alone with the twins, they could take turns being entertained by the machine or a real live parent. Unlike my night nurse strategy, this plan seemed to make some sense to Angie. The Father of the Year award was back within my grasp. Though not for long.

Even the occasional reader of this column will know that I am I not the least bit handy. So I chose the swing I did because, by all outward appearances, it seemed easy to assemble. Yet when I cut open the box and turned it upside down, enough pieces tumbled out to assemble a working particle accelerator. How the manufacturers of such baby gear expect tired, distracted parents to find the time or patience to build their contraptions is beyond me. One look at the instructions was all I needed to arrive at the conclusion that I didn’t need them. I quickly put the swing together, thinking to myself that too much in life gets needlessly overcomplicated. I even thought of writing the company and describing the easier, faster way I found to put their swing together (while using fewer parts), thereby saving them lots of money, and saving other parents diaper bag loads of frustration.

With Angie looking on, Mica took her maiden voyage on the swing and seemed to enjoy it. Just as I had predicted, Zella got a big bang out of kicking the plastic pieces that dangled in front of her while she rocked back and forth, on a faster setting than Mica’s of course. Seconds later, the swing collapsed and Zella got an even bigger bang right on top of her head. The bump was significant enough, and her screams loud enough, to warrant a trip to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center satellite location in Mason.

I felt absolutely horrible that my creative assembly technique may have hurt our precious Zella. Thankfully, she checked out just fine. There was no concussion or, as I had feared, brain damage. However, when the nurses and doctors heard the story, they shot me looks that could be interpreted only one way: You are an idiot. Under the circumstances, I had to concur. And now I worry that the mechanical and parenting moron in me is a genetic trait I may have passed on to my kids. Only time will tell.

Juggling two babies becomes particularly challenging at bath time. One night, when Angie was out with friends, I had another brainstorm. (Yes, this should have been a warning sign.) I decided that rather than place one kid in the tub atop a soft cushion—made expressly for that purpose—while the other waited her turn in a bouncy seat, I would wash both babies at once. This would not only save me time, I figured, but also make the experience more fun for all.

To help me manage both babies in the tub, I placed each inside a Bumbo, a cushy, Nerf-like, wrap-around seat intended for the floor. This would allow them to sit upright and the snug fit would keep them secure. The babies’ weight, I reasoned, would keep the Bumbos anchored to the tub. I turned out to be wrong on that score. The foamy Bumbos, despite their precious, chubby cargo, floated. Still, they appeared to be relatively stable, so I forged ahead with my plan. The Bumbos wobbled a bit but Mica and Zella giggled and seemed to enjoy this infant-size version of White Water Canyon at Kings Island. What neither they, nor I, knew then was that the real ride was a day away.

Knowing that I would have a chance to demo my exciting new baby bathing technique to Angie the next day, I kept this little discovery to myself. As we prepared to give the twins their evening bath, I unveiled my new approach.

“Look at this,” I said. “I found a cool way to make this easier. The seats are really soft on their skin, and they love it.”

“Those aren’t meant for the tub,” Angie said, clearly uncertain. “I don’t think we should do this.”

“It worked liked a charm yesterday,” I said. I put the Bumbo seats in the tub and Angie watched them float, nonplussed. “Give it a chance,” I said, as I placed one baby, then the other, into their floating seats. They smiled and splashed.

“See,” I said, “this works great!”

As if on cue, Zella tipped so far forward her Bumbo capsized and her head dipped under the water. Angie panicked, and so did I. I picked up Zella so fast that I don’t think she spent more than a half second, at best, upside down, but that was enough for Bumbos to be forever banned from the bathtubs in my house. And from the look on Angie’s face as she dried off Zella while I took Mica out of her Bumbo, I would soon be banished—or waterboarded. Maybe both. The Father of the Year Award was permanently rescinded.

I bathed the twins (sans Bumbos) on the morning of their ?rst birthday last July. Later, friends and family came to our house to celebrate with us. We had a cake for guests and two small ones for each of the babies to make a mess with as they sat in their high chairs. Not surprisingly, Angie would not let me anywhere near the candles and matches. “I want them to see their second birthday,” she said.

“Me, too,” I said, even as I was mentally puzzling out how I was going to tie the brand new wagon the girls had gotten from my brother and sister-in-law to the back of my bike so I could take them for a little spin around the neighborhood.

What—bad idea?

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