Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Truth About Raising Twins

There are a lot of things people like to tell you about having twins.

That the next 18 years will be a chaotic blur.

That you'll always have your hands full.

That you'll never have time to yourself again and you can kiss who you were goodbye.

And for some reason, there's always someone who will delight in telling a twin-mom-to-be about her high school friend who had to be on hospital bed rest for the last 6 months of her twin pregnancy, of her sister's neighbor who gained 100 lbs. while pregnant with twins, or her cousin's friend's sorority sister's twins who were such terrors that their bedrooms were stripped down to nothing but bare mattresses on the floor because of the wanton destruction that would ensue every time the boys were left alone together. These kinds of people also like to add statements like, "Wow, I could never be a mom of twins," or, "Better you than me."

I've heard all this and more in the year since I first found out I was pregnant with twins, and I'll likely keep hearing it for the rest of my days as a Mom of Multiples.

But here's the thing: This isn't the truth. Not really. And that's why I feel the need to tell you, right here and now, the real truth about raising twins:

It's not that bad.


All you skeptics, hear me out. I'm not glossing over the details to give false hope, or to make any mother feel bad because her twins aren't perfect angelic beings. And I'm not saying that having multiples isn't difficult. It is. But it's not the great curse some people seem to think it is. There are reasons to back up my claim — solid reasons, ones you may not be expecting, so stay with me on this.

First, let me tell you about reason #1...

I first found out I was expecting twins when I was 10 weeks along. I was shocked. And delighted. And horrified. And bewildered. And terrified. All that and then some. I'm ever the optimist, but I had heard a million horror stories about life with twins. I just didn't know what to think.

So I did what I always do when confronted with a problem I don't know how to solve: I turned to books.

I went to the library and checked out all the books they had on twin pregnancy and raising twins. Some of them were great, like "Twin Sense: A Sanity-Saving Guide for Raising Twins — From Pregnancy Through the First Year." Some of them were interesting but not super helpful in the practical sense, like "Twins: Pregnancy, Birth, and the First Year of Life."

And then there was "Double Time: How I Survived — And Mostly Thrived — Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins" by Jane Roper. It was just what I had been looking for: a glimpse at the future, a look at what day-to-day life might be like once my girls were finally here.

It was nicely written, and at first I could really identify with Jane. She was (is) a writer, and like me she was quite shocked about being pregnant with twins. And, she struggled with depression both before and after her babies were born. As the book went on, it taught me something very important — something the author didn't intend at all, but something far more meaningful to me than any message she had hoped to convey.

The epiphany came during one chapter in particular about the insanity of having two newly-walking toddlers seeking to destroy anything they can get their pudgy little hands on. The tale was harrowing but silly, really, though it did stress me out to read about one little girl darting toward a vase on the coffee table while the other dove into the dog dish, and then the next thing you know they're both going to blows over a toy piano before wailing at the top of their lungs until being plied with more fishy crackers.

Then there was the anecdote about taking the girls to the park alone for the first time. They were about 16 months, and the experience was no less harrowing: One daughter began stuffing wood chips into her mouth as the other was about to dive off the side of a 5-foot high play structure, and later the first child tumbled head first off the slide while her sister made a break for it and started running out of the park.

Reading this reminded me of the day I first took my son to the park when he was around the same age. And though there was just one of him, the story was much the same — misadventure and frustration at every turn, until I finally packed it in and headed home. We didn't go back to the park for several months, not until he was old enough to not go blindly walking off the jungle gym or get seriously hurt by a little tumble down the slide.

So as I read all this and remembered my own similar tale of woe I caught myself thinking, "Well, that's what you get for taking a child that age to the park."

And that's when it hit me: These problems aren't twin problems. They're just mom problems — and first-time mom problems, at that. I had been through this before, and now I know to have the house baby-proofed long before my girls are walking. I know not to leave anything out that would do any harm if digested, or anything that would take more than 2 minutes to clean up after my children have crashed their way through it. I know that answering screams with crackers only begets more screams when the crackers are gone, and I certainly know now not to take my kids to the park by myself until they're old enough to handle it if I can't be there to catch them.

Suddenly I realized that having twins wasn't going to be that hard. (At least, not as hard as I had first feared.) A lot of it had to do with the fact that I'm not a first-timer anymore, but mostly, my big realization was this: Having two (or more) children doesn't automatically make it harder than having one.

No matter how many children you have, you will still have to learn these lessons by trial and error, just like every mother who has ever gone before you. It's not the number of children that makes parenting difficult. Being a parent just IS difficult. Period. But we all get through it and come out wiser in the end.

That was the moment I stopped being afraid. After all, I had survived my son's baby and toddler years, and billions of other mothers before me have, as well. Not only that, I learned from all the drama and woe and became a much stronger person and a wiser, more patient mother. Whatever my twins could throw at me, I could handle. If not at first, eventually. And we would all be that much better for it.

Now, reason #2 takes us back to the beginning, about all those awful twin stories that keep circling around. If I led you to believe that those little anecdotes I shared weren't true, I'm sorry ... because they are. The woman on hospital bed rest for 6 months, the mom who gained 100 lbs., and the holy terror twins with nothing but mattresses and light bulbs in their room are all real people that I know. What I mean to say is, even these real-life events aren't the whole truth about life with twins.

Each of these things, though dramatic and unpleasant, represent just a moment in time. They are preceded by highs and perhaps followed by more lows, but they are not constant and they don't last forever. Those brave women went on to have healthy babies and get their bodies back. I'm sorry to say that those rambunctious boys are still in that phase today, but they weren't always like this, and they won't be forever. The destructive phase will end and they will turn their energy to other things, like taking apart appliances to see how they work — maybe only slightly less frustrating, but perhaps the beginning of a brilliant engineering career. And after surviving this, I have no doubt that there's nothing their parents can't handle. Take it from me, whose first child screamed like a banshee the whole first year of his life. Now, almost 3 years later, I'm like a zen master when it comes to screaming. It barely even fazes me.

Please don't misunderstand me: I don't mean that being a mom of twins isn't hard. It is. And then some, boy howdy. But I don't need pity just because I'm a mom of multiples. It's certainly not the hardest thing I've ever been through; not by a long shot. But that's just life. Sometimes my twins are accidentally beating the daylights out of each other, sometimes screaming like a bag of alleycats while my son is stomping and whining for more TV and more crackers.

But then other times (more often than not), they're smiling and just happy to be with each other and with me.

The point I'm trying to make is, I'm not cursed because I have twins, and my life isn't infinitely harder because I was given two babies at once. I am infinitely blessed because I was given three children, and I get to be their mother.

Yes, having twins comes with its own unique challenges that parents of singletons will never experience. Like I said, sometimes it is just plain crazy. But the challenges we face aren't insurmountable obstacles. And let's not forget this truth: Having one child isn't automatically easier than having two. Take it from me, whose sweet baby girls are 10 times easier together than my wily, determined son ever was, and is. (Seriously, I hit the new-baby jackpot with these girls.) But we get through it, and my son has made me the mom I am. Together the three of them will keep testing my patience and increasing my compassion, forever changing my heart and making me far better than anyone I could hope to be on my own.

So Mothers of Multiples, MoMs-to-be, and parents everywhere take heart. Things aren't always as bad as they seem. Who knows; they could be better than you ever thought possible. So smile, grit your teeth if you have to, and cherish this remarkable opportunity to become the mother you never knew you could be.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Emergency kits for families — on the cheap

If you're a lifelong Utahn, you've heard the oft-repeated advice to be prepared for a natural disaster. (If you're a Mormon, like I am, you've heard it even more.) Living along the Wasatch Front, we've been told by experts that "The Big One" — a devastating earthquake that could decimate everything in the Salt Lake Valley and beyond — is long overdue. 

Enter the emergency kit.

You know you should have at least some food and water and a few basic necessities to tide you over should disaster strike. Still, it's intimidating to get started. Just looking at a list of recommended items for a 72-hour emergency kit can send you into a cold sweat as you try to calculate what it will cost. 

While you could spend hundreds of dollars getting every high-quality item on your long wish list, you don't have to. Most of the items you will already have on hand. What you don't have you can get for dirt cheap, and even for free. 

Here's how I put together five emergency kits for my family— two adults, one child, and two babies — quickly and on the cheap.

Keep in mind that I am not an expert, and this is by no means a comprehensive or authoritative list. I am just a mom trying to make sure all will be safely gathered in should disaster strike. So take this for what it is: a little inspiration to help you get your own kits together, and keep a little cash in your pocket while you're at it.

There are a lot of ways to think about 72-hour kits and the emergencies that might necessitate them. I just think of this: If my house were reduced to a pile of rubble and all utilities were down and stores closed, what would I need to get by? With this in mind, there are three main categories I focused on when assembling my kits: Food/water, hygiene, and comfort. Each family member gets one backpack or bag with their own items. Setting aside food for a moment, let's talk about the rest.

Adult Kits

Here's what's packed for Mom and Dad (details to follow):
  • First aid kit
  • Hygiene and toiletry bags
  • Extra outfit 

First, a little comfort mixed with necessity: I included one outfit (a T-shirt, one pair of jeans, and one pair of underwear) as well as a pair of socks and running shoes. I used stuff gathering dust in my closet, but bonus points if you have hiking boots and camping clothes to use, which will be even more useful in a disaster. If you need to purchase any of these items, check your local thrift store. There's no sense spending more than a few dollars on something you probably will never wear, anyway — and if you do need it one day, I guarantee you won't care how you look in it. While I can probably keep wearing the clothes I am in when disaster strikes, you never know what that outfit may entail. I could be coming home from church or lounging around shoeless. You'll want something utilitarian to get you through the first few days post-disaster. 

I spent more effort on the hygiene part of the adult kits, but not very much money. I provided an estimated cost of each component. It's a rough estimate, because many of these items you will already have around the home or you can get them for free or dirt cheap. I just wanted to show that although this looks like a lot of stuff, it didn't cost a lot of money.

One other note: I put all the small items in plastic bags. This is not only to keep them organized, but to protect them from the elements as well as any spills or leaks. 

First, a mini first aid kit. I have a larger, more complete one with the rest of my emergency stuff, but this is made to go in a personal bag.

It contains: 
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Band-aids
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Contact solution
  • Ibuprofen
  • Sunscreen
  • Eye drops
  • Safety pins
  • Bug repellant
  • Prescription medications (we don't have any, but if you need them, be sure to add enough pills for at least 3-7 days)

I had enough items laying around the house to fill this bag because I'm a bit of a hoarder when it comes to toiletry samples. If you don't have them handy, try the dollar store or the travel aisle at the pharmacy. For contact solution, ask your optometrist for a few samples. You can also sometimes get samples of your prescription medications from your doctor. If there are over-the-counter medications that you use frequently, like allergy medication, cough drops, etc., include those as well.

Estimated cost: $0 - $7


Next, a toiletry bag for Dad

It contains:
  • Lotion
  • Shampoo
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Contact case

Again, most of these I had on hand with the exception of deodorant and hand sanitizer, which I bought at the dollar store. To stock up on mini shampoo and the like, take the complementary bottles from your hotel each night the next time you travel or ask your frequent traveler friends to pick you up a few. (They'll give you a new one each day, it's expected, you're not stealing, and you paid for them with the room, for Pete's sake.)

Estimated cost: $0 - $4


Now a toiletry bag for Mom:

The goodies in this bag:
  • Shampoo
  • Lotion
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Contact case
  • Headband
  • Bobby pins
  • Hair clips
  • Mini hair brush
  • Glasses
When packing your toiletries, don't forget about your hair. The goal is not to worry about being pretty, of course; it's about keeping your hair up and out of your face so you can take care of business. If you're like me and wear contacts, pack an old pair of glasses in case you need to live out of your kit for longer than your contacts will last (or in case you lose or damage one).

I also packed a plastic bag full of feminine hygiene products, which I didn't feel the need to photograph. Also, while we're on the delicate subject, pack a supply of birth control pills if you need them (you can usually get a sample from your OB so you don't have to fill an extra prescription). I can think of few things worse than dealing with a major disaster during that special time of the month, so the least we can do is be prepared. 

Estimated cost: $0 - $10


Separate from the toiletries are hygiene bags. A note about these: They are probably not absolutely necessary in a 72-hour kit, as we would survive just fine with unbrushed teeth. But cleanliness can help prevent infection in case anyone is injured, and being able to wash and feel clean can go a long way toward better mental health in the midst of an intense situation.

They contain:
  • 1 washrag
  • 1 bar of soap
  • Q-tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Tissues
  • Lip balm

My local Dollar Tree had these travel dental kits, which came with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and the plastic case. I bought the soap there, too, but everything else I already had. I used old washrags that were headed for the rag pile, but you could also cut up an old towel.  I also packed but did not photograph a towel and one roll of toilet paper per person, also in plastic bags.

Estimated cost: $3 - $6


Kid Kits

Small children don't need as much as you think. While you might pack an entire backpack for a trip to the zoo, when it comes down to it, their needs are really quite simple. In an emergency, you need very little to get by.

My 3-year-old son gets his own kid hygiene and toiletry kit:

  • Washrag
  • Bar of soap
  • Cotton balls
  • Q-tips
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Wet wipes

Again, most of the items we had on hand and the rest were purchased at the dollar store. If you have older daughters, you may want to think about including feminine hygiene items even if they have not yet reached that stage. Better to be over-prepared than under.

Estimated cost: $2 - $5


My son also gets a clothing bag. 

It has one of each the following:
  • Pants
  • T-shirt
  • Pajamas
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Shoes

I pulled these items straight from his closet, but again, the thrift store is a great place to look if you need something else. You can also ask around for hand-me-downs in your child's size or the next size up. Also, be sure to pack for the correct season. This is a summer kit, but in the fall I will switch the clothes for warmer items in a bigger size. Next spring, I'll switch again for cooler items.

Estimated cost: $0 - $4


I also added a few "comfort items" for my son. I figured that if we ever have to use our emergency kits, he will have just gone through a pretty traumatic experience. I packed a small box full of little toys and candies as well as a book of nursery rhymes. This is a good place for a few fast food toys that may be cluttering up the toy box.

Estimated cost: $0


Baby Kits

Packing kits for my 5-month-old twins was most important to me, as they need the most to get by. I started with a feeding kit, since they are bottle fed.

  • Bottles
  • Formula
  • Water
  • Burp rags

Even if you are breastfeeding, I recommend packing a feeding kit since you can't guarantee that your milk supply will hold up under the stress of disaster conditions. The bottles were from Walmart and only cost a few bucks, but you could also pull one or two from your cupboard. The formula pictured here is a collection of all the to-go samples we got from the hospital and in the mail, but I did put a few regular-sized cans of formula with the rest of our emergency items (not pictured). To get a few cans for free, call your pediatrician. Many offices have samples available.

Estimated cost: $5 - $20


Each baby gets a baby clothing bag with the following:

  • 2 pairs of pajamas
  • 2 onesies
  • 1 bib

Again, pay attention to size and season. These kits have summer-weight clothes for size 6 months. In the fall I will replace these with long-sleeved shirts and warm pajamas for size 12 months. You can of course take items from your baby's closet, or you can hit up thrift stores or ask for hand-me-downs, which is where many of these items came from.

Estimated cost: $0 - $5


My girls also get baby hygiene kits:

  • Cotton balls
  • Q-tips
  • Baby shampoo
  • Washrag
  • Lotion

Included here are also the comfort items: 
  • Fleece swaddle blanket
  • Pacifiers
  • Small toy

Estimated cost: $2 - $7


Last but certainly not least, diapers and wipes. It's a good idea to use diapers that are one size larger than those your baby is currently in, not only because they will be "current" longer and because they will be more absorbent.

I also made a crude attempt at cloth diapers, in case we need to survive for longer than this case of diapers holds out.

I included:
  • Bloomers
  • Cloth diaper inserts
  • Safety pins

Estimated cost: $5 - $15


Emergency Food Items

I did not include food items in each bag because we keep our food together in a separate place. While many people like the ease of individual 72-hour kits, I personally like the flexibility of a communal supply. There are lots of different food items you could use for emergency kits, but since I have the storage space, I like to go with mostly canned foods because they have a long shelf life and require no prep — they can be eaten right out of the can. Just be sure to keep a can opener or two with your supply.

Here are some of my favorite canned food items:
  • Fruit (peaches, pears, pineapple)
  • Vegetables (green beans, corn)
  • Beans (pinto, black, kidney)
  • Tuna
  • Spaghetti-O's
  • Chili
  • Soup (not condensed)

For lightweight, easily packed travel foods:
  • Jerky
  • Trail mix
  • Applesauce
  • Granola bars
  • Protein bars 
  • MRE's (meals ready to eat, available at army-navy supply stores and emergency stores)

And a few others to round out the food groups:
  • Crackers
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Peanut butter
  • Ramen noodles

Also, be sure to store lots of water — much more than you think you'll need. Most experts advise one gallon of water per person per day, enough for a minimum of three days (though FEMA recommends enough for a week). You can buy large barrels and water jugs or even used, clean milk gallons or soda bottles and fill with your own tap water, but that water needs to be replaced every few months. I like buying the gallon jugs from the dollar store or grocery store, because they will keep for a bit longer.

Other Emergency Items

As I said before, this is far from a comprehensive emergency preparedness list. But to get your own wheels turning, here are a few other items we have stored:
  • Flashlights
  • Lanterns
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Batteries
  • Candles
  • Matches
  • Garbage bags
  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • Water purifier bottle
  • Camp stove
  • Propane
  • Tent
  • Shovel
Just think of an emergency as a three-day camping trip in the elements. Whatever you might need, pack it or have it accessible. If you have babies and small children, don't forget baby carriers/slings and strollers. You don't have to keep them in your emergency kits, but having them easily accessible could be a life saver in case you need to travel by foot.

Storing Your Emergency Essentials

Your emergency kit should be in a place that's easily accessible and ready to go, like on a hook or shelf in the garage or in the trunk of your car. We like keeping ours in the garage or in our camping trailer, which we try to keep fully stocked. If you have camping gear not in a trailer, keep it in one central spot, like a large Rubbermaid container or two. Add your emergency items as needed and you'll have everything together, ready to go.

Keeping Your Supply Up to Date

For us, the biggest challenge is keeping our items up to date because it's hard enough to gather everything in the first place. But food and water need to be rotated, and if you have growing children, their clothes will need to be updated. A good rule of thumb is to update the clothing twice a year (once in the spring and once in the fall) and the food annually. Try to schedule it around a recurring date, such as a holiday or, for your prepared Mormons out there, every general conference in April and October.

What did I leave out? What are your must-have items, and how do you keep them ready to go?