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Sunday, June 29, 2014

You've Got to Know When to Fold 'Em

This is one of those special moments in a parent's life where they just don't want to forget all the fun details of a unique experience.  My sister tells me I'm long-winded, and this post will prove her right. I could tell this story in a few sentences, but that won't capture the range of emotion I want to convey. Parents will be able to empathize, and those without kids may feel like I'm exaggerating what was probably just a slightly stressful time. To be too honest, I could not care any less about your perception of how this went down. I was there. I know what it felt like.

My parenting risk management skills have really been refined since having twins. I don't get to take them very many places, not because I am a lazy mom, but because it just is not safe to have two toddlers or now 2 year olds out with only one adult to watch them. They are too "full of life" to be trusted in some situations. Sometimes the guilt sets in and I get this heavy sinking feeling in my heart that I'm not giving them the same experiences I gave my others. But I have to remind myself that I am not willing to risk their safety and well-being to achieve a fun "experience". With twins it is just a different parenting game. The rules change. Everything changes. But sometimes I get parent-pressured into breaking the rules, and usually the outcome is not pretty.
You know what parent pressure is, I'm sure. It's how parents can influence the actions or thoughts of other parents, consciously or not. It's when those Pinterest mommies make incredible birthday cakes and then pressure you to make your own. It's those fort-building daddies who whip together treehouses and rocketships out of recycled materials and give the unspoken challenge to you to beat that. It's the parents who go on glamorous vacations with their kids, or without, and make you wish you could do the same. It's the pressure you feel when you see a mom with her jogging stroller and then immediately let your eyes fall to your poochy belly, or the pressure when a parent orders first and picks a salad and now you don't know if you can order your cheeseburger without guilt and resentment. It's the pressure that their two year old is reading, and your two year old can barely string two words together. It's the pressure you feel when a parent who you typically respect is letting their kid go to a sleepover or get a pedicure, or anything else you didn't feel was age appropriate for yours, but you inadvertently start to rethink your decision. It's the pressure you feel when you are a stay at home mom and you are forced to recognize and consider there are beautiful, happy, successful mommies who are working outside the home, or vice versa.
I try to be aware of those moments when I'm being parent-pressured, so I don't make a decision that stems from it.  Just because other parents do something doesn't mean it will work for my family. But this time, in this moment, I was taken by surprise. I was parent-pressured by my very own mother.

She was visiting last week, watching my 2 nieces (7 and 3) and nephew (6) while my sister and her husband were out of town. When my children combine with my sister's children, we have a full-fledged daycare happening. Peace and quiet are always invited to our get-togethers, but they never show, and they are always sorely missed.

While in town, my mom suggested we all go to a splash pad in the next town over--one where I'd never been, but she had been the day before...she said that although there was a pool area attached, and it was a bit crowded when she went, we could do it. It's doable, she said. It will be fun, she said. The twins will love it, she said.
I did the math, the calculations of adult hands to children hands plus water, and swim diapers, and a nursing infant, and floaties, etc...It would be me, my 8yrold, 5yrold, 2 year old twins, and 8 week old baby, along with her three charges: 7, 6, and 3 yr old.  Two adults, 8 children. YOUNG children.

Spoiler alert: It sucked.

So I should have listened to my refined parental risk management thoughts when they were clearly telling me, "Danger. Do Not Attempt.. Guaranteed Stress. Chances of injury and accident: high. Chances of success: low."
But like many times before, the guilt starts to set in. My provoking inner monologue starts to pressure me: "Your mom had 6 kids. She says it'll be doable.  She would know.
Your mom has the patience and willingness to try new and challenging things with your kids, why don't you?Where's your sense of sacrifice of comfort for your kids' sakes?"

I was parent-pressured. I said yes.

And it went like this:
Twins cry the entire drive to the splash pad because we passed their aunt's house and they thought we were headed there.
****stress level manageable but steadily creeping up****
I park the car and start putting swim diapers on the twins, then shorts, then shoes. Next twin, swim diaper, shorts, shoes. Meanwhile I discover my oldest, Mr8, forgot to bring his flipflops when I yelled at him, "Make sure you get your shoes!!" as we left, so he is hopping and yelping that the parking lot is burning his feet. I grab the diaper bag for the baby and twins, pop out the stroller, snap in the baby carrier, and my mother joins us from her car with the cousins, and a big bin full of snacks, towels, and clothes.
Twins still crying.
***stress level increases as I anticipate the worst splashpad experience ever***
Walk/Run into the place, and have to stop at the desk to pay for everyone. I survey the scene, it's much worse than expected. VERY crowded, and more like a mini waterpark than a "splash pad". There are big twisty slides, diving boards in adjacent pools, water shooters, swim lanes, and yes, a "splashpad" area.  Twins see water and start to pull away. Older kids start all talking at once asking if they can go in. I start yelling at everyone different rules and regulations, and we wait as my mother pays the nice man at the desk, counting children and ages and calculating.
Every kid impatient, a few whining/crying, and we wait to pay.
A line is building behind us.
My phone rings, it's my OB calling to give me a pregnancy test result, because, for some unexplained reason, the first two were positive. I was expecting the call for hours.
****stress levels peaking****
Clearly I'm very distracted as I take the call.
Pregnancy result negative, she explains something about false positives due to pregnancy hormones still present, something something I can't hear you there are too many kids screaming around me.
I sigh and pray a silent thank you and tell the woman I told you so and hang up.
***stress levels abate considerably***
I see some of our kids start to walk in ahead of me, but I'm so distracted I think my mother is leading the train, I push the stroller and follow the group toward the water.
Only too late do I notice I've entered the water park without my mom, who was still at the desk paying. Twin A starts charging toward the water. I yell at Mr.8 to go get him, I bend down to start tugging floaties on Twin B, who is screaming crying because I took his shoes off too soon and the cement is burning his feet. When I look up, the 3rd old niece has decided to help TwinA instead of Mr8. She is 3 but is as big as any 5 year old, just not exactly as coordinated. Before I can yell stop she picks him up from behind, loses her balance, and body slams him face forward into the cement. ***stress levels peak again**** He screams and is inconsolable for the next 20 minutes, as blood flows steadily from his nose.

My mother joins us at that point, just in time to see the three year old unintentionally flattening TwinA. I frantically tug floaties on the sobbing and bleeding Twin A and leave him at the stroller with my mom, to rush off to catch Twin B, who has run into the 0 entry pool without me.  He wanders immediately AWAY from the splash zone and into deeper water. As I follow, a lifeguard comes over to me and sweetly points out that I have my hands full, and if I could keep my little ones in the splash area they would love it. I smile. I'm embarrassed.
Thanks. Great suggestion. I'll get right on it.

I watch from the water, keeping Twin B by my side, TwinA still screaming, walking away from the stroller, along at the water's edge. Infant in stroller is now unattended as my mom has to follow Twin A to keep him safe.
Who knows where the 3 year old is? Or any of the others for that matter? Not me. I've got one eye on the stroller, one eye on the fearless twin B who is bobbing along beside me, snickering and trying to move further out, and one eye on TwinA who I can see from a distance still has blood coming from his nose, still sobbing. Wait. I didn't have enough eyes for that. I darted eyes back and forth, scanning, and trying to keep an eye out for our other children a midst the hundred kids splashing, screaming, and laughing around me. To no avail.
My mom brings TwinA back to the stroller several times, only to have him walk away crying each time.
She encourages him to touch and enter the water, to calm down, but he screams more.

10 very long minutes later Twin A finally is willing to take his sister's hand and walks into the pool toward me. Too late do I realize I was better off having him cry at the water's edge than for him to lose his fear and join us in the pool.
******stress increases to off the charts, now definitely outnumbered by the twins**********
I catch my mom out of the corner of my eye start to push the stroller around the park, I'm only assuming the infant has begun to get fussy, otherwise why in the world would she leave me in the pool with 7 children?? Yes there are lifeguards, but there are about 100 children. They are no real comfort to me. And the baby should be due to nurse soon. What will happen when I get out of the pool to nurse him? How is that going to work?!
Trying to keep Twins afloat and happy...the minutes are like hours, I keep checking my watch and wonder how long we have to stay to get her money's worth but also leave without anyone drowning first.

3 year old finds me, comes up to me crying to tell me 5 year old is being mean. "Go find Grandma and tell her, and tell 5 year old to come here."
8 year old finds me, asks if he can slide down the big twisting slide. "NO! ok..yes, whatever, be careful."
5 year old finds me, asks if she can take her floaties off because she says she doesn't really need them. "NO! and stop being mean to your cousin!"
Twins have a conference while I'm not paying attention and decide to split up to really get the anxiety flowing. Twin A starts to climb splash pad play equipment with slide, Twin B starts to wade further out into the water where he can't reach. I choose to stick with Twin B in the open water and hope Twin A can fend for himself among the big kids at the play equipment, hoping he doesn't try the slide because no one is there to catch him at the other end.

Is it true or was I imagining every parent's judging eyes on my back during my disastrous situation?

**********stress remains at uncomfortably high levels************
After about 40 minutes of this I couldn't take any more. I told the twins we were going to the car and they started to scream and pull away from me as I pulled them out of the water. They are big boys, and have floaties on which made it even more difficult to manage them, but I threw one on my hip and gripped the other's wrist, and dragged them out of the pool.  I spotted my mom and the stroller in some shade and headed toward her. With her help, I just needed to get some shoes on them one at a time, without the other one darting back into the pool, so we could walk out to the car without anyone's toes burning off. My mom was willing to keep the other 5 with her at the pool for a little longer, but I couldn't do another minute, and she said it was ok if I left. She offered to help me to the car but then who would watch the other 5 in the pool?
I told her I could walk them and the baby and stroller out by myself... It takes obedience on their part, I need them to cooperate and walk on their own, but ideally we could leave as we came in, I hold a twin's hand on either side of me while I push and steer the stroller with my midsection.
I had bought two big beautiful red lollipops about a year ago, and had hidden them in my diaperbag for such a time as this, a horrendous scene in our lives where I was overwhelmed and out of options. The time had come to pass out the emergency lollipops.
We slowly made it back to the car, sticky red smiling faces, I stripped them naked and put them unceremoniously into their car seats, and drove off, the stress decreasing with every mile I put between myself and the nightmarish splashpad. My heart returned to a regular bpm and I woosahhed all the way home.

I'm sorry for those who read to the end and were being built up for a great climactic end to this story, but thankfully it ended without any more suspense. We were all exhausted. The older 5 were totally unaware of my stresses...they had a great time. My mom managed her five with grace and competency, as only a veteran mother could. But the twins were a game-changer. They may continue to be game-changers for years to come, and I can't be parent-pressured into making decisions that will not work for my boys.

In a previous post I explored the fact that I was sometimes scared to do things with my twins for the wrong reasons. I didn't want to experience failure and embarrassment if they could not be managed. But to be honest, most of the time I'm scared to do things with my twins for the right reasons.  At the splashpad we were always just 3 minutes away from a very scary disastrous accident. And so henceforth I will be careful to trust my momgut. No one knows what I am capable of more than me. Sometimes, yes, challenges are important for growth and learning. But you also have to know when to say no and when to bow out of life's challenges. It's not worth risking the safety and wellbeing of your children.  As the wise gambler says,

"You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run..."

If I could've run out of that splashpad I would've. We won't be going back any time soon--at least not without a few extra adults, or a few less kids, or a whole bag of red lollipops.

What I Was Hoping For:

What It Felt Like:  

What it Really Was: 


  1. These are hard years but you already know that. Things will change when they are four...but then Levi will be two..eek. At least he will just tag along after the twins. What can I say you have a whole lot of great material ahead of you, keep blogging sister and send those twins out with mom's of singlets like me, so you can enjoy a quieter* house from time to time. My dd would love the company.


  2. Ouch. Now I'm laughing at myself for being exactly the helicopter parent that I promise myself everyday I won't be. When Jason and I take Leo to the splashpad, we have two adults watching one child. And man, I watch like my eyes could grasp the edge of his swim trunks. Although I have a reason. The first time he played in the splashpad, he fell down several times by slipping when he ran outside the circle of "sticky paint," once hard enough to crack his head on the pavement and cause us real concern. Right after that, the city closed the splashpad for repairs. Turns out, they widened the circle by about 3 feet, with additional sticky paint. Now he's much less likely to fall. Thankfully, our splashpad is in the city center and nowhere near open water. But on your experience, I'd say I could watch only two kids if I had to. Maybe your mom is selectively remembering. So it's good your writing it down now. :)