Family of Five

Family of Five
Drawn by HBB, March 2016

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Identity

Identity. This has always been something I've struggled with.

"What am I, if not ____ (fill in the blank with any number of adjectives/professions/roles here)?"

When I was younger, it was always: "What am I, if not happy?"

This lasted for several years--well into my college life. This is not to say that being happy isn't a fantastic thing - it most certainly is. But what I didn't realize until many years later is that it's also okay to NOT be or feel happy (at least not all the time, anyway). As a kid, I was always awarded "happiest" or "ball of sunshine" on my dance and cheer squad teams. I always wore a smile, even when I didn't really feel like it. I was mortified by my tears, and would hide them away, only to be revealed for times when I knew I was all alone - like in my room, journaling, allowing myself to really be authentically "me".

As I grew older and I began taking on more roles in life, my identity began to shift as well.

"What am I, if not a perfect, model student?"

This began in my younger-years, but lasted well throughout college and even into graduate school.

"What am I, if not the best daughter?"

"What am I, if not the best wife?"

"What am I, if not a perfect mother?"

"What am I, if not someone who never lets others down?"

And so on, and so forth. You catch the drift. As I've gotten older (and hopefully somewhat more mature), I've come to realize two things: my sense of identity has always been steeped in feeling/being/appearing "perfect" (an impossible feat, I realize), and it's also always been "out there"; "out there", as opposed to "in here" -- WITHIN myself.

I know I'm not the only one who struggles with defining herself as something OTHER than her many roles. Shouldn't self-definition come from within? Shouldn't we identity ourselves based on who we are INSIDE - our real, organic self, and not some self we dress up and perform for others?

Why is this so hard?

Why do so many of us care so much about the image -- or identity -- we portray to others? And why is it so hard to remove our masks, and accept who we truly are? Perhaps its because after so much time "portraying", we ourselves come to believe that is exactly who we are, forgetting (or ignoring) the tiny voice inside us screaming to be heard; the voice that is shouting truths about our real passions and inner-workings. Or maybe for some, the mask and the voice DO match? Perhaps those are the happy ones, living congruently, being exactly who they are meant to be?

As I think about this, I realize it's a dilemma - for me, of course, but also for others. My time in the mental health field has also shown me this is true. People suffer from depression and anxiety (I raise my own hand here) when the identity(ies) they portray (and, consequently, life they live) is incongruous with what they think others expect of them, and who they genuinely want to be.

I don't have an answer in this regard, except to remind others--and myself--to say "screw it." Short of being a terrible human who doesn't think about others or society, screw who and what others think you OUGHT to be, and just be. JUST BE. Be you - 100% authentically you.

Today I can't be defined by just one thing: I'm passionate, sensitive, emotional, a ponderer, empathetic. I'm a mama, writer, editor, lover of psychology and mental health. I'm an exercise AND sugar fanatic. I'm this, that and many things in between. I am most definitely a work-in-progress, and I am okay with that.

What about you?  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

One Year



March 10, 2016
Tonight is a bittersweet one. I sit here with tears in my eyes, on the eve of my fraternal twins' first birthday, unable to believe that we have made it through this challenging, exhausting, beautiful, amazing year.

One year ago tonight, I was terrified. Excited, yes, but also tremendously terrified. I had no idea how we would manage with twins and a preschooler. I was so eager to meet my precious two, but I was also scared of how adding them to our family would affect their big sister. I feared she would feel displaced and cast aside, and the thought of that literally broke my whole heart.

On this night one year ago, husband, daughter and I went for our last dinner together as a family of three. I will never forget it. As we ate our meal at our daughter's favorite restaurant, we tried to explain that the next afternoon she would get to meet her two new baby sisters. She was so excited she could hardly stand it. She was ready right then and there. But me? I just wanted to freeze time. I wanted to soak in every last second of our time together as a threesome. Me, her, and my husband. I knew it would never be this way - just us - again.

The next morning we loaded the car, said goodbye to our sweetheart, and drove to the hospital to meet our babies. I wasn't even that nervous, which is strange for me. I was prepped for surgery, and within an hour, walked myself into the operating room. The c-section happened fast. At 10:36 twin A, my feisty yet snuggly cuddle bear, was born. At 10:39, twin B, my sweet yet super sassy-pants arrived. They were placed immediately on my chest, and my heart was full. I thought about my baby - no longer our only, or even remotely a baby - at home, and these two angels huddled together tightly on my chest. Though I had been a ball of anxiety since the day we found out we were pregnant with twins, in this moment, it finally felt right. I knew without a doubt that our family was as it was meant to be; it was complete.

Baby Naming Ceremony

In the year that has passed, so much has happened - more than I could possibly ever articulate. But here's what I can say:

- Our oldest has embraced her role as big sister, and tells us on a daily basis how much she loves her sisters (even though she often runs them over with toys or squeezes them so hard they cry ... oh, siblings!)

- Our twins have exceptionally different personalities: Baby A is feisty, aggressive, and loud, yet also the sweetest, cuddliest baby I've ever encountered; several times a day she crawls into our laps just to snuggle, and does the same with all her stuffed animals. Baby B is shy, sensitive, and wary, yet also a sassy stinker who gets into everything she's not supposed to; and worse yet, she knows how to "cute" her way out of her parents getting upset with her!

- At one year, the babies crawl, Baby B is close to walking and can climb stairs, both say "mama" and "dada", Baby A also says "boo" for "book" and "mmm" for "moo". Both can wave hello and goodbye, sign for "milk", blow kisses, eat all sorts of foods, dance to music, clap, recognize and show love to all the main players in their lives, play (and get into trouble) together, make muscles and show you how big they are (sooo big!)

- Things I have learned: kids are resilient; schedules are important, but so is flexibility; it's important to make family memories; the babies will not break (even when older sister is running them over with toys and squeezing them!); being a mom to multiples is absolutely incredible, but can also be a lonely experience sometimes; I literally could not have gotten through this year (or life!) without my helpers; it's okay to ask for, and accept, help; let the judgements and silly or snide remarks go, it's not worth it; when you go anywhere with three kids in a massive triple stroller, you will look (and feel) like a circus act...it's okay; carve out time for oneself, even if it feels selfish and wrong - a mother who does not feel strong, happy, or healthy cannot help her family feel strong, happy or healthy; even when parenting twins and a preschooler, nourishing your marriage is also crucial; I am way more capable than I ever gave myself credit for...WE ARE ALL way more capable than any of us gives ourselves credit for.

And that's really it. Tomorrow we will celebrate one year - the twins' first birthday, our preschooler's first year as a big sister, and my husband's and my (mostly) successful reign as parents to infant twins. So tonight I will go to bed with a full heart, knowing we've all endured, survived, and perhaps even thrived. And to that, let me just say "cheers".

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Carry On

My father always used to tell me that history repeats itself. He reminded me of this not to scare me, but to educate and prepare me. And also, to urge me to be a change agent in preventing the repeat of some of the atrocities committed in our world's past. 

I would listen to him, and nod. But as a kid, I just didn't get it. I was naive and lived in a bubble. I didn't realize just how much hate and "fear of the other" existed in our world, and how people would do just about anything to terrorize, incite fear into, and eradicate those they deemed "different" (and thus, somehow threatening to their sense of safety and security). 

As I've grown, I've come to realize my dad was right. The bubble I lived in has most certainly popped. I was a senior in college when 9/11 occurred- something that even my wise dad couldn't have predicted would happen. I was friends with several New Yorkers who were personally affected by the attacks, whose parents perished in those Towers on that awful day. After college I moved to New York City, and for the first time ever was surrounded, and invigorated, by tremendous diversity and culture. It was incredible. I felt like I was finally awake and alive, and it inspired my creativity. New York, with all its colorful and varying cultures, was my muse. "How could different ever be bad, or scary?" I would wonder to myself often. Different is what makes the world go round. It's what makes life interesting and exciting. If we were all the exact same, what an incredibly boring, bland place this would be. 

I myself am part of a minority group that has been targeted since the beginning of time, and, sadly, is currently experiencing an uptick in hate crimes. My dad grew up in the US in the 1930's and 1940's and experienced much of what we are dealing with today. He was constantly a target for bullies who accosted him due to his beliefs. I admire so much that he never hid his faith, and refused to back down. He made something big of himself--truly built something from nothing--and is a huge inspiration to me.

I call on his courage and determination and faith now. We are living in uncertain and scary times. I fear, not just for myself, but my family, friends, neighbors, those I don't even know. I have always imagined a world where we "coexist" and learn from each other, and our many unique perspectives, beliefs, and values. Perhaps this makes me an idealist, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I will always wish this for our world. It feels far off now, but perhaps one day we will begin to move closer to this vision. I hope this for everyone - every single person - on the planet. 

In the meantime I will continue to live my life, and try to infuse compassion, hope, positivity, love, and acceptance into the world wherever I can. I will try not to let fear override. I will channel my father, who, in the face of fear, carried on. So too shall I carry on.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Self-Care: Do It!

It can be really difficult to find time for yourself once you become a parent (or frankly, ever!). Though self-care can be tough to implement, it's essential. Read this piece I wrote for Twiniversity about how I learned the importance of putting myself on my own priority list. Then go do something just for you!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Twin Parenting Advice I Couldn't Follow

When my twins, now 11 months, first arrived, I was hell-bent on keeping them on the same schedule. After all, that was the sage advice everyone with multiples gave me: one up, both up; one down, both down. And so I tried. Believe me when I tell you how very hard I tried. I wanted this to work desperately, not just because I am an advice and rule-follower, but because I knew it would make my days easier. If both babies were up, and being fed at the same time, then I wouldn't be spending every single waking hour feeding a baby or trying with all my might to soothe a baby to sleep.

Sometimes this plan worked, and on those days I was punch-drunk giddy. But most days, regardless of my desperate pleas to my baby girls to wake and sleep at the same time, they simply refused. And I cried. Hard. And felt like a total and utter twin parent failure.

This was, after all, THE thing I was supposed to do. Parents of multiples told me so, all the books told me so. How, then, could I not get this down? On rougher days of little sleep and loads of crying (from the kids and myself), I blamed the twins for sabotaging our ability to get on a solid and synchronized sleep and feeding routine. On more sane days (and believe me, there weren't many), I began to realize that though twins, my two babies were just that: two very different, unique and individual babies with their own sets of needs.

In his book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins, Marc Weissbluth, M.D. explains that fraternal twins, which my twins are, can have a more difficult time attuning their schedules than identical twins. My rational brain realizes that this makes perfect sense. The same as my brothers, sister and I are all different human beings who certainly don't eat and sleep at the exact same times every single day, so too are my twins. They are as alike as any two siblings; in fact, twin A seems much more similar to my four-year-old than she does to her twin. Just because they simultaneously shared my womb and a birthday does not necessarily mean they are alike. And believe me when I tell you they are very, very different. Twin A is assertive and knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. Twin B is more passive, quiet and sensitive. They are so dissimilar that at times I am shocked they are even related.

As the months of their first year have rolled on, I have continued to try to synchronize their schedules. Nowadays, they usually nap and eat roughly around the same times, but truly, every day is still kind of a crap shoot. The difference is, now I don't stress (as much) if they aren't synced up. In addition to  reminding myself often that they are individual little girls with their own needs and agendas, I'm starting to view their being on staggered schedules as somewhat of a blessing. Why? Because it allows me something exceptionally precious - something that parents of multiples don't often get: one-on-one time with each child. When one is awake while the other is sleeping, I no longer feel defeated or angry that I am not able to enjoy a break in my day. Rather, my heart explodes with joy that I am able to play and bond with just one baby at a time.

And so to other parents of multiples I say this, don't fret too much if, like me, you are unable to always follow the "one up, both up; one down, both down" rule (or any "rule", for that matter!). It is just not always feasible, and it certainly doesn't make you a failure. All the advice and books are extremely well-meaning, and often very helpful, but if something doesn't work for you, don't angst about it or try to force it into fruition. It is what it is, and your own routine will emerge. Trust me. And in the meantime, find enjoyment where you can, and let the rest go.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dear First Born

Dear First Born,

You amaze me. I meticulously tried to prepare you for the arrival of your twin sisters, now 11 months. I bought all the books. I brought you to ultrasound appointments so you could see the babies swimming around in Mommy’s belly. We took a Big Sibling class where you learned how to play with babies, change diapers, and be a big helper to your floundering parents. I brought you to the hospital so you could see where Mommy would deliver your sisters, so you wouldn't be scared by the sterile hallways and fluorescent lights when you came to visit. I did everything in my power to make their arrival as easy and familiar to you as possible.

I was ready for the worst: potty training regressions, sleep issues, behavior disrupts. And sure, some of that occurred. But on the whole, you handled this “becoming a big sister to baby twins” thing like a champ. Better than I ever could have, by the way.

In one day you went from being our only, to being our oldest of 3. Wow – that's a huge shift. So much comes along with that transformation. Suddenly, you weren't the sole focus of our adoring eyes and attention. Suddenly, we weren't able to give you exactly what you needed, at the exact moment you needed it. This was hard at times, especially at first when you were still getting used to the shake-up. But now? Now you are actively learning the art of patience, and understanding that there are more people in the world aside from just yourself.

All while I was trying to make sure you didn't feel displaced in this new family of ours, what I didn't realize was how giving you twin babies would teach you these life lessons – life lessons you'd learn at 3-years-old, and carry with you for the rest of your life.

In addition to this, you're learning about empathy and compassion; when your sisters cry, you are sure to let me know right away, and want to be the first to comfort them. It surely can't be easy to wait your turn – for hugs, kisses, breakfast, to be tucked in at night – but you consistently blow me away by how well you are learning to do just this.

No, it's not always roses. We all have our moments filled with tears, raised voices, frustrations and big feelings. But overall, this massive overhaul of your life, our family and your place in it, has barely seemed to unsettle you. If anything, I think it has made you stronger, happier, and more confident in your very important roles and abilities in our house, and in the world.


Daddy and I couldn't be prouder of you. You have exceeded our expectations ten-fold. You're four, my love, but wise beyond your few years. And so to you, our First Born, we are endlessly proud of and grateful for you. Being a new big sister to twins is no easy task, and you've handled it with grace, openness and joy. Way to go, Lovebug. We love you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Highly Sensitive

I am an extremely sensitive person. I feel everything. Try as I have throughout my life, I simply cannot put up a strong enough boundary between myself and all the stimuli that comes at me every single moment of every single day. This is part of why, come day's end, I feel I need to retreat. For so many, social gatherings, like going for drinks or dinner, is a great way to unwind. But not for me. Once my kids are in bed, this is "me" time. It's my time to rest, unwind, connect with myself and husband, and enjoy that beverage I've probably been thinking about since 2 p.m.

Nothing pings off me. I feel it all. I feel my own feelings, other people's feelings, my kids' feelings, complete strangers' feelings. I often think I have canine hearing, because - no joke - I hear noises that no else around me ever seems to hear or be bothered by. The slow drip of the faucet two floors below? Yeah, I can hear it. The slight sighing of my baby sleeping down the hall, behind her closed door? I can hear it. The dog barking down the block? I can hear it. But it's not just that I can hear every single subtle (and not so subtle) sound. It's that they infiltrate me. Noises, like all forms of stimulation, seep through my soul and creates clutter and chaos in my brain and body.

For a highly sensitive person such as myself, I am often overwhelmed by the world. I have a hard time watching violent and bloody movies, I often have to ask others to turn down the music or television because the decibel is just too much to bear (particularly after a long day), and I find myself increasingly anxious and horrified by the seemingly daily hateful and atrocious incidents happening all over our world. I am a person who needs breaks. Lots of them. I crave quiet, solitude and nature. And all of this is hard to come by in this noisy world...in my noisy house. I often just want to retreat into a calm, safe space, to rest, relax and rejuvenate.

As one can imagine, all of this makes parenting hard. When my kids cry, I am heartbroken. When they are sick, I feel sick. When they endure something painful or scary, I die a little bit inside. Last week, my sweet, innocent child was in a swimming pool when a bomb threat was phoned into the building. "Mommy, it was a loud siren," She explained to me later that day. "I didn't like the noise...it was too loud for my ears." From one sensitive soul to another, I could certainly relate. The incredible staff rushed all the children out of the pool, threw whatever clothes and robes happened to be around over the kids, and everyone nearby grabbed a child and carried him/her outside, about a mile and a half, to a safe place.

I was at the gym when all this occurred. My husband called me. "Don't panic," he said, as he told me the dreadful news. And in all honesty, at first I didn't panic. I went into overdrive, racing out of the gym as fast as I could and speeding to get my little girl. I wanted to calm and comfort her, and tell her that everything was going to be okay. But then I got lost on my drive to pick her up. And then when I finally found my way, bumper-to-bumper traffic stopped me in my tracks. And that's when the panic and terror set in. I began to bawl. Big, heavy, heaping tears. I started to feel everything - everything! - that I imagined my child, and all the other children, may have been feeling: scared, lost, alone, confused, overwhelmed. Was my little girl safe? Was she wondering where I was? Would her innocence forever be lost? I finally arrived at my destination, parked, and raced inside to find her. There she was, with a huge smile on her face. "Mommy!" she said, "Look! I'm wearing my friend's robe, and baby socks! And it was so silly - I was outside in the snow in my SWIMSUIT! Isn't that so, so, so silly?"

And there it was. Her innocence. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I realized it hadn't been lost at all. And it was that very innocence that allowed for her to find the adventure and, in her words, "silliness" in this out-of-the-ordinary ordeal.

For me, my solace comes in knowing how strongly this incident pulled together a community. Everyone banded together to protect and help each other, and to care for all the kids who didn't have their parents there. I am so grateful to each and every one of those wonderful people. I managed to determine who carried my little girl to safety, and I will forever be indebted to her. When I couldn't be there to comfort my little girl, this amazing woman did.

My child is okay, physically and emotionally. Thank goodness. But me? I am wounded. My overly sensitive self is feeling, well...overly sensitive. We live in tumultuous times, and it's hard for me to send my babies out into this world, every day, with and without me. Everything feels uncertain, and at times, unsafe. I feel this deeply, to my core. Just like I feel everything else. But there's nothing more I, or any of us, can do except for to put one foot in front of the other, and carry on. My dad always used to say that "life is for the living", and so I refuse to let fear, or my great sensitivity, prevent us from living our lives. As for my feelings? I will continue to feel them - feel all of them! - all of the time. This will, at times, continue to cause me great pain, overwhelm and strife, but it is also what enables me to embrace and experience life (with all its good and bad) fully and completely. So yes, I am an exceptionally sensitive person, parent, and soul. And for that, I am grateful.