As someone who suffered through years of infertility before having my twins, I spent some amount of pre- parenting time fantasizing about what having babies and toddlers would be like. I imagined the best parts of my own childhood - fun with siblings, camping trips, holidays, etc - mixed with the idiosyncracies of my own crazy artist life (kids in the rehearsal hall, at heritage sites in tiny Victorian costume, painting along side me, and so on). I thought about laughing with my kids, travelling with them, showing them the world as I see it and reveling in the world as they see it. And all of this has come true.
I also spent some of my pre-parenting days wondering what the stresses and pressures must be like. I understood that guilt and worry are part of the deal. What I didn't FULLY grasp is just how much society would try so damn hard to tilt the equation in favour of fear and panic.
Since the girls were born I have picked up very few parenthood books, and those I have skimmed through have been tossed aside pretty quickly. For one thing, most parenting books are fully involved with the idea of raising one kid at a time, or at least with raising kids of staggered ages. When I read oh so helpful tips about how to do this or that with your child my automatic query is: "and what should I do with the other one at that moment when I am awesomely following your awesome advice clearly meant for one awesome mom dealing with ONE SINGLE kid?" Also, I find the parenting books stressful. I never imagined parenthood to be like buying a new dishwasher and having to follow the manual to ensure optimal results. I expected to experience the joy and thrill of discovering the world through my children. I expected to rejoice at their achievements. But that is not, it seems, how parenthood is set up these days. These days we are expected to know which milestones should be reached at what ages, and should our children not meet certain goals by a certain time we are expected to intervene, intervene, intervene.
Living in our tiny Town means that our twins are often meeting up with experiences in a different way than the vast majority of kids who are raised in bigger towns and in cities. When we were in our other, bigger hometown recently, wherever we went, people leaned over into the girls' space and cooed: "And how old are YOU?" The girls just looked at them. Most kids, by the age of three, have practiced holding up three fingers, or reciting "I'm fwee" because they know they are supposed to say or do something when this question is asked again. In our Town, no-one EVER asks my girls how old they are because everyone knows how old they are. So they were completely oblivious that this constant "how old are you" sentence expected some sort of response. My kids have trouble understanding that there are people who don't know them. In this Town everyone knows them. When we were in the other town they said: "hi" to every person they encountered. When we passed a lovely same-sex couple out on a walk O. said: "Oh, hi man. Hi man. I love you, I'll miss you..." I find their small town habits so delightful, yet someone recently grew concerned that the girls are not as verbal and appropriately responsive as they should be by this age, and consequently I shame spiraled out of control, called in the experts, and now I have to take them to a speech therapy consult. I don't want to. I don't want to even think about whether or not they are where they should be. I want to delight in where they ARE. I don't want the pure pleasure I get out of listening to them have beautiful twin conversations to turn into me hovering around corners with a clipboard and a checklist and an are-they-or-aren't-they mindset.
A while ago, when we took the girls for their 15 month old shots, J. and I had to fill out forms that were meant to assess where they are in their development. In other words, are they where they should be and do they need intervention? One of the questions was something like: "If you put Cheerios in a bottle, does your child turn the bottle and shake it to try to get the Cheerios out?" W. T. F.????? How the hell would I know? I have spent zero amount of time putting Cheerios in bottles. When I asked another mom about this she was all: "Oh yes, well, I knew to do that, so I did it." How did she know??? Do people just know these things? Sounds like some kind of bizarre marketing on the part of the Cheerios people to me. But of course, I shame spiraled. I am a bad mom as I somehow missed the bottle of Cheerios milestone.*
Today I was sorting through mail that came while I was away and I had another damn checklist sent by the local health authority: "Does your toddler know how to put together a simple puzzle?" Every puzzle they've ever had has seen its bits and pieces morph into part of the mess in the toy box within seconds of being released from its packaging. But now I feel guilty and feel like I need to run into town to buy a damn puzzle and then sit there and evaluate their puzzle progress. Ugh.
In BC we have something called "Strong Start". I had always just thought of it as a nice playgroup type thing (we don't have it in our Town, so I've never been to a session). While I was away I took the girls to a drop in Strong Start and was handed literature explaining: this is a program designed to "prepare your child for success in kindergarten." My kid is expected to succeed in kindergarten? I was just hoping for them to go to kindergarten. Boy, I hope they don't choke on the kindergarten final exams. I hope they come home from kindergarten each day with a clear sense that they have met lofty goals and set themselves up for a lifetime of stress and striving.
So here is what I have decided. I am going to enjoy my children. I am going to love them, and hug and kiss them, and tell them I love them 75 times a day. Minimum. I am going to stop myself from comparing them to any other kids. And when I see other kids, kids who are not my own, I am going to notice all the really cool stuff about those other kids and NONE of that cool stuff will be listed on any checklist of milestones. I will notice the lilt of their laughter, the way they look at their parents with pure adoration, the love in their voices, the music in their souls. And as far as my own kids are concerned, unless I really, really feel there is an issue, I am going to shut off the inner critic that judges them and judges me and just LOVE being their mom.
And I will never put Cheerios in a bottle. Because that's just weird.
*I am not meaning to thwart the work of therapists, because I know how very dedicated and awesome and important these clinicians can be. My sister practiced Speech pathology for years and I know she was a miracle worker to many families.