(taken late August, 2013)
“A brother is a friend given by Nature.” —Jean Baptiste Legouve
I’m typing this while sitting on the floor in James and Owen’s bedroom. Every minute or so I look up and look them in the eyes—they’re looking at me, waiting. Waiting for me to spend too long looking at my computer. Waiting for me to get up and help Sophie with something. Waiting for their chance to get out of bed.
I promised them a trip to the library but only if naptime goes well. I’m worried about this, because Sophie deserves a trip to the library regardless of how Owen and James nap. But after yesterday, I had to try something new. Because yesterday, I was ready to quit my job as parent, at least during naptime. (Can you hire someone to do naps for you?)
I used to let Owen and James have whatever they wanted in bed during naptime (rookie move). Now they get one small toy (like a train engine), their stuffed bear and one book.
Yesterday they each lost all of those things, one by one, in about 10 minutes.
And still, they jumped up and down in bed. They got out of bed. While I was “super nanny-ing” one right back into bed the other would get out, run around the room, grab another toy, laugh.
They had turned it into a game.
Short of taking away their sheets and blankets, I wasn’t sure what to do next—until James swiped a toy from the bedroom floor, while I was putting Owen back in bed.
“Next time one of you gets out of bed, I’m taking every single toy out of your room.”
They both got out of bed.
I’m not always great about following through. This time, I did. They watched me, mouths open, as I picked up every single toy in their room and placed everything in the hall—including their tracks on their train table.
Or so I thought.
With all the tracks off the train table, they decided it was the perfect stage to dance on. Cue the jumping out of bed, running to the train table, climbing up on it and dancing. While I was putting one back in bed, the other one got out.
There was no “next time” this time.
We were going on a good 40 minutes at this point and I was beyond frustrated.
I told them it was naptime. I told them they were not listening. I explained (for the upteenth time) the naptime rules. And then I picked up—picked up—the train table and carried it out the door. Adrenaline kicked in, I suppose. The train table is heavy. But I was a mom determined to get my 2-1/2-year-old twin boys to nap.
They were clearly upset. For a moment, I felt successful.
And then I realized I was a fool.
I had no place to put the train table. I couldn’t leave it propped up against a wall, for fear it would fall on someone. And although I carried it out their bedroom door, I certainly couldn’t carry it down the stairs by myself.
My only other option was to carry it back in.
So I sighed.
The boys cheered.
And started jumping up and down on their beds again.
My eyes welled up.
Why can’t I do this? I thought. It shouldn’t be this hard.
The train table game began again.
I took the two boards that cover the train table off, and carried them out to the hall.
And then I gave up. I went outside their room and closed the door.
They can just run, I thought. There was nothing in their room to play with at this point except for their beds and their imaginations.
Well, and the door.
They opened the door. Then they slammed the door. They ran, giggled, repeated.
We don’t have a lock on their door. So I held it shut. I stood in the hall pulling the doorknob from one side while they tried to pull it from the other. My eyes welled up again as I had no idea what to do (and this, certainly, was not something that would be recommended in a parenting book).
I knew from the few books I have read that immediate consequences are best. But I was out of immediate consequences. I had taken everything away. Time-outs weren’t working either (I had tried, multiple times, throughout the hour.) Like their beds, they kept running out of them, laughing, as if it were a game, while I was putting the other one back in.
Out of immediate consequences I took away TV, for the rest of the day.
They didn’t care.
I took away dessert after dinner.
They didn’t care.
I tried a traditional time-out, again.
They didn’t care.
So I grabbed them both, sat down with my legs crossed and put them on my lap. I hugged them to me, their arms pinned down.
“This is your new time-out,” I said. It was the only way I could put them in a timeout together and remain in control of the situation.
They squirmed and couldn’t move. I held on. They got upset. I held on. They squirmed some more and kicked their legs. “No kicking,” I said. I held on. They put up a fight. I held on. I held on and on and on, all the time wondering if this was right, if this was appropriate, if this was OK.
In about two minutes, their bodies relaxed. They calmed down. They asked to go to bed.
I released them from my bear hug.
The effect wasn’t immediate. I had to do bear-hug timeouts several more times before they realized they couldn’t get out of bed without getting a timeout in this new fashion.
I’ve since learned that this bear-hug technique is a real thing and that, for some children, it’s one of the only things that will calm them. Owen and James weren’t out-of-control screaming. They weren’t even throwing tantrums. But they weren’t listening. They were laughing at me, which I find more difficult to deal with than tantrums. And none of the consequences they received for their actions made a difference—except the bear-hug timeout.
Today James quickly lost his toy, book and bear. Owen lost his toy and bear, and then threw his book out of the bed before I had a chance to take it from him (sigh). They’ve both had a couple bear-hug timeouts and they’re still awake, although James is lying down and his eyes are heavy-lidded.
But at least I have another tool. Another technique. It’s not magic, it’s not perfect, but it helps.
An online search revealed little in terms of books on disciplining twin toddlers. If you have one to recommend, or techniques to recommend, I’m all ears.
“I will not play at tug o’ war
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs.” —Shel Silverstein
Now that we’ve moved Owen and James to twin beds, they’re no longer napping—but they still need to nap. And I need for them to nap. They’re exhausted. I’m exhausted. It’s been a fight-back-tears and escape-to-my-bedroom-to-hide-underneath-my-down-comforter-as-soon-as-Andy-gets-home two weeks.
Today, in particular, was tough. James only spoke in whine. At first I tried to ignore it. That only seemed to escalate it. So I addressed it. I told him I wouldn’t respond to his requests unless he asked nicely and talked in a normal voice. He would whine some more. I wouldn’t budge. And then he would throw a mini fit. I’d remind him of what he needed to do. He’d ask nicely—normal voice, with a “please.” Two seconds later? Back to the whine. All.day.long.
This was in between the boys’ fighting, over everything. All.day.long.
Owen, in particular, likes to “dupe” James. He pokes him, anywhere (stomach, head, eye, arm, leg) and says “dupe!” and then giggles. James does not appreciate this. When I scold Owen, he says, “But I have to dupe him! I just have to!”
“OWEN! JAMES! JUST STOP!” I said, completely and totally exasperated, more than once today.
They just stared. Every time. And went back to whining. And duping. And crying about not being able to have a Christmas cookie at 9:30 in the morning.
James, eventually exhausted, fell asleep on the couch, upright, clinging to the crust of some buttered bread, head way back, mouth slightly open. (This was about 4:30pm.) Sophie and Owen were playing grocery store upstairs. I purchased a few things—a Rubik’s cube, a pink plastic princess cell phone and a Wonder Pets figurine—and put them in a plastic, singing, much-too-low-for-me shopping cart. I pushed my purchases into the hallway. Then, I lied. I said that James was asleep on the couch (true) and that I needed to sit next to him to make sure he didn’t fall off (not true).
“Aw, James is sleeping?” Owen said so sweetly, forming his lips into a perfect “o,” his head cocked to one side.
“Yes,” I said, grateful that he was (finally) sleeping and thankful that Sophie and Owen were (finally) playing, happily.
I went downstairs and sat next to James on the couch. No TV, no computer, no book. I just sat. And I wondered how any of us were going to survive these next few weeks without a daily “break,” (for me) and without a daily nap (for them).
I watched James. I watched as the day’s stresses slowly pushed his head to the side, down and down and down until he’d startle and pop it back up. This happened again and again. He seemed calm and peaceful—for the first time today—except for the head bobbing.
So the next time his head popped back up, I scooted next to him. Once again, down his head came. But this time, my shoulder was there. He settled into me and finally, without fight, sunk into a deep sleep.
After a day in which I felt like I was failing him, over and over again, I felt successful. And I felt needed—not for a cup of milk or a too-high toy or another TV show—but for me. Just me. And for the first time today, that was enough.
I hope my shoulder is enough in years to come, as life stresses grow and widen and mature, as things become more complex in a different way. And as my children’s circles grow, I hope they find other shoulders to lean on—friends, colleagues, lovers—shoulders that help bear the weight of this often difficult and trying world. I imagine my shoulder will feel empty, initially. But I also hope they’ll remember it’s there, even as adults, even when Andy and I aren’t the only people they can—and want—to turn to. And I hope, as my children grow, I’ll find new heads for my shoulder to support just as I hope to constantly be finding new places to rest mine.
It’s almost 9pm. Andy strung Christmas lights in the boys’ room, trying to make a, for the most part, unhappy day better. There was initial excitement, wonder, even, but now we’re back to the same-old. No one is sleeping. Every five minutes or so we hear the pad-pad-pad of footed pjs walking around the hallway upstairs. They get out of bed. We put them back in. There are tears. Eventually their pillows will bear the weights of their heads tonight. Eventually. And when that time comes there will be a role reversal and I will be thankful to have someplace to rest mine.
“The burden is light on the shoulder of another.” —Russian Proverb
After finding James perched on his crib rail, much like a bird on a tree limb, we decided it was time to put the boys in their twin beds.
It’s going well.
“Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” —JoJo Jensen
Kudos to the person who came up with the idea of renting baby equipment to vacationing families. We rented two pack-n-plays and a big bin of toys from Visiting Baby and it was worth every penny. In fact, we saved money not having to check two pack-n-plays and the new-to-the-kids bin of toys was most welcome on rainy days.
All of our kids were in one bedroom. Sophie was in a twin bed; Owen and James slept in their own pack-n-plays. The first time I put the boys down for a nap they giggled—for an hour. I thought it was the novelty of vacation, of having flown on a plane, of a new place, of a new sleep environment.
Turns out I left their airplane backpacks within reaching distance. They not only reached them, but they dumped the contents into their pack-n-plays, passed items back and forth and then, after a good hour of this, finally fell asleep on top of everything, covered in stickers, having eaten snacks and dumped out flash cards.
“Yawns are not the only infectious things out there besides germs. Giggles can spread from person to person. So can blushing.” —Vera Nazarian