Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ten Bucks

Now that December is here, it’s impossible for me to think about the holidays without remembering what we went through this year. Last year this time going into labor was the furthest thing from my mind. After all, I wasn’t due until April. But life is funny that way. Four days before Christmas I was admitted to the antepartum unit of our neighborhood hospital and stayed there until the twins were born nine days later—at 25 weeks’ 3 days’ gestation.

Talk about your life-changing experiences. How can you thank someone adequately for saving the lives of your children? And how can you help other Moms who haven’t been through the worst of it?

I don’t know either, but I’m trying to find out. I have become the parent liaison for our hospital’s Partnership Council and our hospital’s Family Advisory Council. From time to time I talk to parents in the NICU or moms in antepartum. Just to do what I can to help.

From time to time my husband still bakes cookies for the NICU nurses, even though the boys got out of the hospital seven months ago. On Thanksgiving he cooked a whole turkey along with gravy, potatoes, and asparagus, and for dessert, fresh pineapple. We brought it to the NICU and Matt carved the turkey for the nurses who were working that day. Just as a small way to say thank you.

I’m not the only one looking for a way to give back. In October of 2008, little Loki Sky was born at 24 weeks’ gestation and weighing 1 pound, 5 ounces. He spent his first Christmas in the NICU. In fact, he spent his first four months of life in the NICU. After he went home, his mother Kat became very involved with parent/hospital relations at our Alta Bates NICU (the role that I now have since Kat and Loki and Dad moved back to the Netherlands in August).

Kat knows what it’s like to spend the holidays in the hospital, so last year she started the Loki Sky and Friends Holiday Gift Drive. She raised over $1500 and put together gift baskets for families who were in the NICU over Christmas. (We just missed this party by a week as the boys were born on Dec 30th). You can read all about it here. And if you’d like to give, she’d love to have your donation. Kat is very organized. The site even takes PayPal!

Moms on hospital bed rest are scared, depressed, bored, and uncomfortable. And if they’re in there over Christmas, even when they try to make the best of it, they’re probably still scared, depressed, bored, and uncomfortable. I know; I’ve been there. If you’re a nurse working on Christmas, yes, you get the holiday pay, but it’s still a drag to work on Christmas.

This is why my twelve-year-old niece and I are starting our own gift drive. She and I won’t be together for Christmas; the twins can’t travel during flu season because of their delicate immune systems. It’s a bit tricky, but my niece and I have selected a hospital in Tampa (she will be spending Christmas with her family and my in-laws there in Florida).

My niece has complete creative control. She’ll buy presents for either: Moms on bed rest during Christmas or nurses working on Christmas day. Our gift drive doesn’t have a name (yet) and right now my niece only has one donor (me), so our budget is significantly less than $1500.

Today, just a month before their first birthday, the twins are happy and healthy and chubby. I know you’ve been following on the blog tracking our progress; you’ve shared the ups and felt the downs. Vicariously, our joys have been your joys; our victories have been your victories. Now let your thanks be part of our thanks. If you’d like to help us give back to the nurses who work during the holidays or help us give to the Moms who will have to spend Christmas in the hospital away from their families, we’d love to have your contributions. After all, you’ve supported us this far. Why stop now?

Drop me a line and I’ll tell you how.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Secrets of the Twin Mom

Here’s a secret: I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to take care of twins that I actually dreaded the day they would be well enough to come home from the hospital. Terrified to the point of tears. But here’s another secret: twins are awesome. Nothing against the rest of you out there, but if you don’t have twins, you are missing out. And being a twin mom is just about the funnest thing I have ever done (next to performing in Piazza Barberini for Italian television or dancing at McKelligon canyon, but that’s a blog post for another day).

First of all, the bar is set really, really low for twin moms. Wearing two matching shoes? Ate breakfast before 2 p.m.? Bathed yourself and all three kids this week? You are an overachiever!

And twin moms who also have a preschooler are on the short list for sainthood. It’s awesome—because it’s much easier than it looks.

Actually, that’s misleading. It’s not that having twin babies and a three-year-old is so easy, it’s that motherhood—parenthood—is SO hard. On a transition scale, going from no kids to one kid is like going from zero to seventy. Going from one kid to three, however, is not as big a leap as people would think. It’s like a seventy-five.

But because everyone who has kids has at least one kid, (duh!) moms are expected to do all kinds of crazy things. They wake up for every feeding. They drop off and pick up their kids from daycare. They buy baby clothes and wash baby clothes and read bedtime stories. They rock their babies and sing them to sleep. They have jobs. And they do it all themselves.*

* OK OK OK! I KNOW there are Dads out there who step it up—who do dishes and fold clothes and make dinner and drop off at daycare and rock their babies and sing them to sleep. But they also have jobs. Two parents who work in tandem is a better deal than the responsibilities of the single parent, but it’s nothing compared to the help and support that is shown to twin moms (and dads).

It’s like Stone Soup. Maybe it’s just my selective Mommy Memory, but we are getting so much help, that having three kids is easier than when we had just Chiara.

For one, back then I was working thirty hours a week, going to school fulltime, and commuting back and forth to school. Matt was working 40+ hours a week and commuting 80 miles a day. Granted, that’s a lot, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. What’s out of the ordinary is that now I am not working and Matt is working from home more so that he can be around for the morning shift and be here when Chiara gets home from daycare. What’s out of the ordinary is that my mom came and stayed with us for five months out of the last ten. So I never had to get up to do every feeding. On Wednesdays one of the moms at daycare picks up Chiara and brings her home. So we don’t have to do every drop off and pick up. On Saturdays, Matt takes the whole brood to Nutcracker rehearsal and one of the moms babysits. For free.

Speaking of free, aside from diapers and formula, to date we have purchased: one teether, one ball toy, six baby spoons, (thank you, IKEA) and two high chair trays. Everything else was given to us. Six bags of boys clothes, ages newborn to one year. Blankets, bibs, Stokke Tripp Trap high chairs (two), a crib, two carseats, two different double strollers, a Moby wrap, a second Ergo. Baby hats, crib sheets, bottles, you name it. Free stuff is awesome, absolutely. Also awesome is never having to take inventory of what we need and figure out how to get it. That’s a lot of saved time.

People open doors for the twin mom with a stroller. When was the last time someone did that for a single stroller? Neighbors we barely knew dropped off food because they knew we had twins. On my first flight with the boys, the pilot deplaned and carried on Wagner’s carseat himself. We were actually able to get special passes from TSA so that my family could escort us to the gate. Crazy – take one baby on a plane and you get a dirty look. Take on two and people buy you a drink because they think you could use it.

So we’ve gotten more help. We’ve gotten more free stuff. We’re cut more slack. All this helps us be more organized and efficient with our time. Which gives us more energy to give back to others. It’s crazy. We’ve actually hosted more playdates (read: babysat someone else’s kid) and sleepovers in the last six months than we have in the three years before that. (We have three babysit/playdates next week alone). And since we’re twin parents, we get even more credit!

As Matt likes to joke, “Set expectations low. Exceed expectations.” Well, let me tell you, expectations are set pretty low for the twin mom. The punch line is, because expectations are so low, people help you out. You exceed expectations, impress everybody, and actually have the time and energy to help them out. Amazing, this non-zero sum stuff.

Next up: why taking care of twin boys is easier than taking care of one Chiara, OR Dancing in Piazza Barberini.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fan Appreciation Day

It’s Nutcracker time. I danced my last Nutcracker in 1996, but my husband Matt is still performing. This is his sixteenth year dancing the Sugarplum Fairy cavalier for Pacific Ballet in Mountain View. He has known some of the ballet students since they were soldiers in the Battle Scene.

Every Saturday from September to December, my husband coaches the girls he will dance with. As an extra bonus for me, he takes our children with him. Our daughter Chiara has been attending Nutcracker rehearsals since she was seven months old. She loves it.

By the time she was a year and ten months, she was able to sit through two-hour dress rehearsals without incident. So I thought nothing of taking her to an actual performance to see Daddy dance.

As soon as she saw him jeté onstage at the beginning of the second act she yelled out, “Dadd-deeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!” Not in a “bravo” kind of voice, but with the voice you use to warn someone that they’re about to be hit by a bus. All the dancers onstage smiled a little wider. One of the candy canes suppressed a giggle.

When Matt exited into the wings, Chiara burst into tears.

“Where Daddy? Where Daddy?”

Poor thing. She must have thought that he fell off the face of the earth.

I explained: first there’s the Spanish variation, then Arabian, Chinese, Russian, Merlitons, Mother Ginger, Waltz of the Flowers, and then Daddy dances again.

After the last flower waltzed away, the lights lowered and the soft music of the Sugarplum Fairy pas de deux began to twinkle.

“Dadd-deeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!” Chiara yelled when she saw her father escort the Sugarplum onto the stage.

“Shhhhhh. . .” from the row behind us. It was the ushers. To us.

In my day, the ushers knew their place. They wouldn’t have dared to shush the guest artist’s entourage. In my day, the ushers could separate the insiders who don’t even need backstage passes from the bottom-feeders, the ticket-holding public. But we aren’t in Berlin anymore. And Matt is a great cavalier, but he isn’t much of a diva. He has actually purchased tickets for us. A ticket means that we enter from the front instead of the back. It means we are nobodies, Chiara and I, because no one knows that we are related to the star. That is, until she yelled it out for all to hear:


An usher hissed at us again.

Maybe he had a point. She was kind of loud.

I scooped my daughter up into my arms hastily exited the theatre. Wiggling with that toddler ninja move that makes them both slippery and brick-like, Chiara broke free and ran to the doors leading back into the theatre.

“Da-dddddddeeeeeee!!!!” She pounded her tiny fists on the door, doing her best Brando from Streetcar.

She was even more hysterical there in the foyer, so we went back in. Even in the dark I could feel the ushers’ steel glares. Would we be asked to leave? It is a kid’s ballet, after all.

Chiara stopped sobbing, but she continued to call out from time to time. On stage my husband gracefully promenaded his lovely partner. He was beaming. He’s dancing for his little girl. Why should we leave?

Every time Chiara called for him, Matt and the Sugarplum smiled a little broader, sharing this inside joke with everyone else in the theatre who had seen our daughter every Saturday sitting at the front of the rehearsal studio next to the mirrors, eating her morning snack and watching her Daddy dance.

Chiara is a fixture at these weekly rehearsals in Mountain View, but the real fixture is my husband. If you are a parent of a kid in this show, you know him. He entertained your daughter backstage when she was an angel in the prologue. He taught her how to do finger turns and supported lifts during pas de deux class. And if your kid is a boy, my husband taught him fart jokes. If you are remotely involved with your child’s pre-professional ballet career, you adore my husband. And you probably know Chiara as well.

So if a little girl crying for her daddy is ruining the show for you, maybe you should lighten up.

Which is more or less what I told those ushers.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A NICU Visit

Today we had our six month follow up appointment with the NICU.  Technically the boys are six months and two-thirds (adjusted) and they are right on track.  They are transferring objects from one hand to another.  Their fine motor skills (scoop and hold) are just what we should expect from 6 2/3 month olds.  They can sit unassisted and rock back and forth on all fours.  They are very social, almost too social to be able to do some of the testing (they paid attention to the doctor doing the testing instead of the test they were supposed to do). 

Their one “fail” was that they don’t attend well to ambient noise.  That means that if there’s a sudden noise, the boys don’t turn to see what it was.  This isn’t uncommon in preemies, as they are used to tuning out noises that they don’t think are important.  It’s something we’ve got to “work on.”  (When we got home, Matt dropped a book behind the boys.  They didn’t flinch.  Then Michael burst into tears and cried for ten minutes.  So I guess that’s good?)

OH - and Michael is CRAWLING.  He's getting to be quite the fidgeter, too.  I think I might have to look for a changing table with a five-point harness.  Wagner just sits there, content to just play with whatever's in front of him.  He'll sit there for an hour, while Michael (literally) crawls circles around him.

Here are some of the latest pics.


Michael (& Matt & Chiara)

Wagner (& Chiara)


Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Teachable Moment

I’m walking the streets around our neighborhood looking for a woman and her dog. I want to reassure her that the scare she had the other day resulted in some invaluable life lessons for my daughter.

Chiara and I were walking with the boys in the bulky double stroller (the double snap-n-go; it’s like pushing a small fleet of shopping carts) and we came upon our neighbor and her dog. I don’t know where she lives, but I see her walking her dog all the time, a little black and white pixie dog. I usually see them on their evening walk when I’m putting out the garbage bins. The dog has this fancy collar that emits a blue light. Very handy in the dark.

We stop and talk and I point out the fancy collar to Chiara. We discuss its uses.

“When it’s nighttime, the collar shines a light and then his mama can see where her dog is.” (I might have called it a “doggy.”)

The owner and I make jokes about the day the twins will be running around and I might need a similar kind of collar for them. We smile and nod see-you-later. My entourage and I turn to left; the owner and her dog keep walking straight ahead.

Halfway down the block, Chiara gets mad about something or other. It doesn’t matter what; something that’s fueled by her empty stomach, in spite of the almonds we brought along to stave off the tantrums. She stomps her foot and takes off running.

Takes off running.

I am 100% sure that she is going to wait for me at the corner. She turns the corner, still running.

Oh no, you didn’t.

I know that even if I could leave the boys and run after her, that would be a mistake. I have to call her bluff and wait for her to come back to me. She’s on the short side of the block right now, the width, not the length. There are no driveways on this part of the block, so I can let her run and still know that she is safe.

I wheel the twins to the corner and stop with my hands on my hips. She is still stomping away. When she sees that I am following her, she turns to me, shakes her fists in the air (this was actually kind of funny) and turns and runs again.

I am 75% sure that she is going to wait for me at the next corner. I am wrong.

Why, you little . . .

Now she is running down the length of the block. I’m hoping to follow as closely as possible without being seen. She stops from time to time to look for me. Then I make a tactical error—I inch forward just enough so that when she turns around, she sees me. She shakes her fists at me some more and takes off running again. Now my heart drops.

Oh my God.

I am 50% certain that she will not try to cross the street by herself, which is to say that I have no idea what she’s going to do next.

The streets in our neighborhood (and this street in particular) are very narrow with speed bumps every 30 feet. We are close to the BART station (subway). It’s the hour before dinner. In other words, this is the time when commuters are walking home from BART, walking to Market Hall, walking their dogs, their strollers. Little people are crossing the street to their ballet class. Big people are trying to fit in a run before dinner. Pedestrians are legion at this hour and the cars creep by to let the walkers have the run of the road. This is probably the safest time of day for a runaway preschooler. I just don’t know where my preschooler is going run.

When I was eight weeks pregnant with Chiara, I thought we were going to lose the baby. I had cramps; there was bleeding. Matt and I were headed on an overseas trip and we stayed up all night worrying about what might happen.

So this is parenthood, I remember thinking. Worrying about another human, knowing that there’s only so much you can do. Trying to find faith and hope in what you can’t control. I’d better get used to this feeling, I thought, because this is my new life.

And so here I am again, worrying about another human, knowing that there’s only so much I can do. I am watching my daughter challenge my authority; she is flaunting her independence in the big wide world of a single city block. From my vantage point, both literally and metaphorically, I can see the world beyond, the other blocks, other possibilities, other dangers. This is my new life: dancing the balance between keeping my daughter safe and close and letting her run free even if it means she falls.

Before Chiara gets to the end of the block, a neighbor I do not know sees her, tries to stop her and ask her where her mommy is. Chiara backs away from the stranger. I’m relieved because it slows her down so I can catch up. Chiara turns the corner AGAIN, but this time the neighbor is keeping an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t run into the street.

The neighbor and I talk. She assumes that Chiara is acting out because of the twins. Chiara is walking very slowly now, watching me, pacing on the sidewalk in front of the corner house. The neighbor and I are on the side of the corner house. We are separated from just enough bushes for Chiara to feel like she’s far away and for me to feel like she’s close.

And then it happens. The woman and her dog are coming back from their walk. The little dog has scampered ahead, very fast. And into the street. A car comes. The woman screams. There are a handful of witnesses in various stages of walking, running, commuting, and chasing children. We all freeze. For a moment I think that Chiara, at the tender age of three, is going to see something that I myself, have never seen.

I try to anticipate what she will see. Will the dog be thrown into the street? Will there be blood?

The car slams on its brakes and the little dog scuttles to safety. The woman runs after her dog. Chiara runs back to me. As fast as she can.

“Mama, Mama! I was so scared!”


Me, too. I tell her. We talk about what happened to the dog who ran away from his Mama. We talk about fear and trust and how next time that Mama will probably put a leash on her dog. It transitions nicely into a discussion of how I was a scared Mama, too. What I might do next time.

Matt joins us a few minutes later, an opportunity to retell the story.

It is suggested that maybe Chiara shouldn’t be allowed to spend the night at her friend’s house tomorrow night. What if she runs away from her friend’s Mama? How do we know she will stay close so the Mama knows she’s safe?

Nooooooooooooooo! Chiara begs us. She points out that she did not try to cross the street by herself.

We decide to give her a second chance: we will walk to the market and back and Chiara will show us how she can stay close.

“I will walk right behind you the whole time!” she promises.

You'd better.

That’s what supposed to happen. You watch your kids; you teach your kids; you give them the tools to stay safe; you hope they use them. And then you let life happen. I can’t shelter her; I can’t keep her on a leash. I can only prepare her, support her, and dance the balance.

As she pouted and pitter-pattered around the block, several ideas had crossed my mind—from yelling at her to running after her to giving her the beating of a lifetime. I had to keep reminding myself: I know my neighborhood. It’s safe. I know my kid. She’s not going to do anything dangerous. Running after her is not the way to teach her to stay close. Rationally, letting her run was the right thing to do. And yet, it felt like a gamble. An irresponsible gamble on my part.

Today Chiara and I talked about the event. She calls it, “When I got lost.” She said she dreamt about it last night—she’d run away from me, run toward me, run away from me, toward me. Over and over. How’s that for metaphorical?

I’m so happy with how everything unfolded. Chiara tested the waters, misbehaved and in the end, redeemed herself. And best of all, she saw firsthand the real reason you stay close to your Mama—because it’s safe. (On second thought, best of all is probably the fact that the doggy made it safely across the street).

I’m so happy, too. Because I don’t know what I would have done if she had tried to cross the street. I don’t know what I would have done if I had gambled and lost.

© 2010 Janine Kovac

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Prayer for M & M

A Prayer for M & M

I know they must wake up each morning with their questions
I pray that their questions become their quest
That the quest opens their eyes to new possibilities and new assurances

I pray that from this comes new encouragement and strengthened resolve

I pray that they bask in the love that is sent from all over,
from our hearts and minds through our keyboards and cell phones

This is what we share together
This is what we own
This is what we give to others

And in turn, this love feeds back into the quest—for each of us

Like sunshine
Or a dancing tree

Prompting us to connect
Inspiring us to nourish our souls
Encouraging us to have faith in our faith
Embracing the whole enchilada

And again, feeding back into the cycle of loving and living and learning


© 2010 Janine Kovac