My sweet but forgetful retiree-next-door has invented names for my littles. For years he has called me “April” and clung to it with persistence despite many subtle but deliberate corrections. This is all part of his pattern: building off the first initial to a substitution, which has extended to “Rosy” and “Ellen,” the newest members of our household. From his driveway to ours, he calls with a hearty laugh, “Are Rosy and Ellen keepin’ you up at night?!” It seems like a good-enough cover for the blog, and so they will henceforth be known, though I think all three of our names are quite a bit more exotic than his alternates.
In our cozy family banter, Rosy is more often known as Roo, like kangaroo. She has dark hair and olive skin with a face full of strikingly large and alert blue eyes that make her so fantastically expressive that some of my favorite moments of motherhood have been stolen morning hours while everyone else is sleeping, when we sing along to YouTube videos, name body parts in three languages, and punctuate with kisses. When she is awake and excited, she balls her hands into tight little fists around her face, locks eyes with me, pants like a woodland creature, and makes happy, squawky bird noises. She is strong and already pushes off with her legs while we cuddle, as if on a trampoline. She seems highly attuned to sound, a girl after her father’s heart. She gets quiet, cocks her head in fascination to music and the sound of running water even when she is mid-tantrum. (Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” is powerful stuff!) She is precocious and passionate with a tendency to go from suckling in her dreams to chainsaw screeching in 15 seconds flat such that we often find ourselves fumbling desperately in a half-sleep stupor with diapers and bottle parts to quell her screams. She has really suffered with the formula as we stumble through the trial-and-error process of finding what works. The juxtaposition of her postprandial pain against the lack thereof with a bottle of the frozen donor breast milk we give when we can really magnifies the stab of the nursing-fail, but I am working hard “to accept the things I cannot change” and savor all the light and tenderness of the newborn stage.
Ellen is commonly known as Smalls, taken from a line in the movie The Sandlot: “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” In the early weeks, when Smalls was still the teeny-tiny in the duo, we would painstakingly rock her to sleep with a full belly and a dry diaper, but as soon as our body heat faded from her pajamas, she would chirp and whimper and, ultimately, wail to be held again, at which point one tired adult or another would mutter with resignation, “You’re killing me, Smalls,” while simultaneously scooping her up from the swing or the co-sleeper. Even in utero, Smalls was a snuggler. While Rosy was stretched transverse from my right ribs to my left hip, Smalls was curled into a little meatball with her head mashed underneath my left rib cage. Even the ultrasound technician commented at her last scan, “Wow, she’s really burrowed up under there.” This hasn’t changed much. If Ellen had her way, she would live out her days in the fetal position, belly-to-belly on one of her parents, ear against heartbeat, lulled into peaceful sleep by the warmth of it. What has changed is that Smalls is no longer the littler twin. She has been guzzling 22-28 ounces of formula a day since week-two, depending on the timing of growth spurts, rocketing her from the 2nd percentile for growth in one doctor’s visit to the 88th four short weeks later. She is now longer and heavier than her sister, who was born almost a full pound ahead of her. Her neck and back muscles are strong, and she can lift her head impressively to make funny pursed-lipped faces at us while she stretches and thrashes about in her sleep. Ellen is also, ironically, quite a bit more rosy than her sister. She is fair like me, her eyelids so translucent she seems to be wearing lavender eye shadow, which is a detail of my own babyhood my mother loves to recall at holidays with nostalgia. Her eyes have remained that steely newborn-gray while Rosy’s have lightened to an ocean’s blue, and it’s fun to wonder where they’ll land. She has definitely been the sleepier twin, but just last week she seemed to wake up all of a sudden, spending more time awake to gaze in mirrors and hone in on my face during feedings and play time. She is a sensitive and sweet-natured baby, more patient than her sister, and when I rescue her from a bout of crying, she buries her face into the valley between my breasts with tiny sighs of palpable relief. Her soft oval face and porcelain skin radiate such trust and innocence that I can’t stand the sight of her across the room if she is awake and alone.
Life really did transform in an instant. The morning of my c-section, I woke up at 2am to furiously grade the last five research papers for my classes and put stamps on thank-you cards for baby shower gifts. Six hours later, I was wheeled into the recovery room with two kids on my chest, and ever since then, my life has revolved around their needs. It has been an existence filled with extremes that swing wildly from the frustration and inadequacy that colors the moments when they descend on me in a coordinated attack and I don’t seem to have enough arms to make either of them happy to the pure bliss of Rosy’s first real smile, which lit up her face and concluded with the hiccuping squeak of a baby’s giggle. It’s not hard, incidentally, in the ways people said. I am showering most days, and my husband and I split the night-shift in half so that each of us gets 4-6 hours of continuous sleep a night. What I have found hard has been the isolation and monotony, the shift from a hectic go-go-go professional existence and interacting with literally 150 people a day to spending long, elastic days repeating three-hour loops of diaper-feed-soothe with my two non-verbal, high-maintenance pets. One day shortly after my husband returned to work, I burst into tears when the door clicked closed because I knew it meant I would not talk to anyone for 8-10 hours. Since then my hormones have leveled some, and I have become braver about taking them into the world. What hasn’t relented is the anxiety that blindsided me as parenthood ushered in. First it was the terrible feelings of failure and foreboding that I was short-changing them on their health and happiness because I could not provide milk. Since then it has spread like a virus. I saw on the news that deer ticks in the New York and New Jersey area are carrying some new possibly deadly disease with no treatment that causes neurological problems, and I am overcome with worry every time my husband lets the dog back in the house. (It doesn’t help that we found a tick crawling on the Rock & Play a few weeks ago.) I worry about the Round Up used to farm the corn used to make the formula. I worry that the ultrasound of their hips after developing in the breech position will reveal some painful malformation. I worry that leaving one to cry because it takes two hands to feed her sister will saddle her with “abandonment issues.” I look at their bellies and their infant chests and worry that I have passed on the shit ovaries and shit breasts that have caused me so much angst. A friend said, “It’s like your heart is now living outside of your body,” so when I cradle Ellen close against my chest and the happy heat of her need spreads like a blush over my whole body, I am also reminded that with great power comes great responsibility. Like most things, motherhood has so far been a mottled experience, but I keep thinking of the line from Lost in Translation, when Bill Murray says of his own children, “They turn out to be the most delightful people you’ve ever met.” They are still just bitty babies, but they are so sweet and beautiful and surprising and fun. I am excited about all that lies in wait. And for now, this – the coos, the dumpling bottoms in my hands, the tiny breath on my neck – it’s everything: