We’ve been talking a lot about the meaning of words lately. Specific words, words like “tired” and “lonely,” but also words like “love” and “win.” It’s funny, I think one of the phrases we’ve said most often in the last 4 months has been, “and we thought we were tired before…” Because the level of tired we experienced prior to having twins was laughable. I dream of that level of tired, actually, I don’t dream, because I don’t sleep, which is the prerequisite to dreaming. I yearn for that level of tired. The level of tired we experience now is an exhaustion I didn’t know existed. It’s when you’ve gone past the point where you are sensible and deliriously clean bottles at midnight, then pick up the house from the mess you’ve made entertaining two 4 month-olds. It’s past the point when you can have a coherent conversation then you think back to the discussion you had the next morning and wonder what in the hell you were thinking. It’s past the point when you can make any kind of logical decision, so the exact amount you will feed your babies at their dreamfeed and the exact time you will wake up has already been decided upon and will NOT change because any method you use to figure it out will surely lead to confusion and frustration from lack of being able to string together thoughts, much less words.
Aly has likened entertaining babies to being on stage. I don’t disagree. And as someone that didn’t spend any significant amount of time on stage, apart from band concerts, and as a self-proclaimed introvert, this kind of interaction, is particularly draining. We are in a unique time when social isolation, meaning not being able to ask for outside help in addition to having new babies, are the perfect storm for daily battery draining on an otherwise daily recharged person. So, that’s tired. It means bone-tired. It means I need to be shut off for several minutes before, even plugged in, I will turn on again, and even when I do, my apps are slow to start until I have my morning coffee.
Lonely is different in this COVID world. It plagues (no pun intended) us in such a way that individually and as a family, we’ve been unable to adjust to. Working from home, you’d think, would allow us the opportunity to have quality time constantly, but we don’t actually get to bare our souls to each other as often as we’d like. This means that we ruminate alone while we’re “driving the struggle bus,” as Aly likes to say. The conversations wait until we have the time and the mental capacity to have them after we’ve put the babies down for the night. We take walks in the evenings to get a little outside time, you know… like prisoners. I’m joking, obviously, but our walks allow us some time to soak in the sun and breathe air that isn’t circulated by our AC. Aly jokes around with me that all I do is talk about the changes in our neighbors’ lawns or how some people have, “really nice grass,” and we’ve taken to seeking out a young alligator we’ve named, Rita (the reptile), in the lake by our house as our new hobby while we’re out (while obviously keeping a safe distance). But we don’t normally have any deep conversations while we’re on this walk, and contrary to Aly’s personality, she hardly says anything at all.
During a text message conversation we had while we were lying in bed the other day after we had fed the babies and were making sure they weren’t going to stir, and honestly, just recovering from the crap evening we’d had where Benny had been inconsolable, she said she’d figured out why that was: why she doesn’t talk much on those walks, and it’s because after watching the babies’ alone full-time all day, prior to her recent return to work, she’s talked out. She talks all day to the babies. She “performs” for them all day and they soak in every minute of it because she’s amazing at it, but it’s also draining, so I’ll keep talking about lawns and grass and bumper stickers I notice.
She texted to me that something she didn’t expect about parenting is that we would never get a break. We thought we’d be able to call on friends or family to come over for just a couple of hours while we went on a date night and just be a couple and make sure that we maintain and strengthen that identity even though we’re also moms 24/7. We thought we would be encircled by our “tribe” in this new journey we would be on of parenting and do it “as a village,” as they say, but our relative isolation (sometimes lasting almost a month without any help), has been eye opening, not just in testing the limits of how well we can function with the fewest hours of sleep to keep our eyes open, but how well we’ve been able to raise our latkes basically alone for the past several months since we made our journey back to our own home, with no real end in sight. We never expected that.
The loneliness has made us stronger I think, as parents, and perhaps more resilient and aware that we need to be good at communicating even if it’s hard, if for no other reason than we love each other and them an immeasurable amount and too much to become a statistic of parents of twins, which has extraordinarily high divorce rates. So, somedays, we can be sitting right next to each other, resolutely working independently on our laptops, trying our best to be our best at that, all the while ruminating in our own heads on the many things we don’t have the time or the bandwidth to talk about yet and the many things we don’t have the time or bandwidth to do, and we do it all alone until we don’t, and until we reach out and work one-handed while holding each-others.
The love has been the most earth-shattering re-definition. It’s confounding in a way that we wonder at daily. It’s a sick trick that you can love and be exhausted by something so completely and irrevocably. In the moments when one of the babies is inconsolable and I feel like the worst mother in the world because I don’t have the answer or the key to unlock whatever I need to make them feel better, I also love them so much, it hurts. I think that’s why it hurts, because when you can’t fix it, you hurt with them, but they also break you in ways you didn’t know you could be broken. They take the last ounce of energy you have and with a smile build you back up as if it didn’t even happen. They break your spirit when you’ve broken down all of your walls and gotten outside of yourself and your comfort zone, if only just to try to make them laugh and they respond with indifference, but then some unintentional action finally gets one out of them and you realize you didn’t need to try so hard and you learn that lesson over and over again. Love has taken on an entirely different meaning than it had before because it’s grown to a capacity I didn’t know existed, but also turned into an amorphous feeling that underlies every action we take in this home. I thought love was indefinable before our latkes were born because it knocked me off my feet with Aly, but this steal-your-breath, break-your-spirit, break-you-down-only-to-lift-you-up, love is entirely different and entirely as monumental.
I doubt that most of you know, but I’m sure you can guess that keeping twins on even a loose schedule is a challenge. I have no point of comparison because we went from 0 to 2, but putting two entirely different humans with entirely different needs on any modicum of a similar schedule means that one or the other of them will inevitably get the short end of the stick at some point in time, whether it be that we need to have more feedings because Bella has reflux and requires it, but Benny can actually drop a feeding, or we need to have a dream feed because Benny wakes up otherwise, even though Bella can sleep through the night (irrelevant, because she needs the calories, but still, my point is made). So, having portions of days when we see them both thrive despite that we’re trying to fit them into a similarish box, feels like we’re walking on cloud nine. When we’ve managed successful naps and actually taken them on a walk and had smooth bath times and seen them do something new while they’re on tummy time…those are amazing moments. Though all of those “ands” seem far too generous and definitely never happen on the same day, they are amazing moments nonetheless, when they do happen. Because wins are wins and we take them as they come and we don’t question them for the gifts they are.
Before babies, we celebrated things that might seem big like promotions, graduations, work successes, etc. Now, we had a taco night for the first time last week since we had the babies and that was the biggest win we celebrated as a couple because the guac was the freshest thing we’d eaten in months, due to our many microwave-ready Costco-prepped mealtimes. It was so green! I missed green food. Now, when bedtime isn’t meltdown time, because we are struggling to figure out the perfect ratio of naps to wake time to play time during the day, that’s a win too. When we’ve cleaned enough bottles the night before to be able to spend a little extra time together on the next night, that’s a win. We’re living for these wins because they give us life when the days get hard and time feels endless in this COVID vacuum. We yearn for the day when we can stroller our babies through Mainstreet U.S.A., but take that our kids love Disney singalong with mommy as a great sign of things to come.
We can do hard things
This is the Albrecht Household at its crux. It’s full of a crazy amount of love that sometimes it threatens to burst, but loneliness that isolates in a way a pandemic only wishes it could also exists here because parenting twins is super hard. But, we can and do hard things. Every. Day.