When people hear that I have twins, one of the first questions I’m usually asked is, “Do you have family around to help you?”
The answer to that question is like one of the relationship status options on Facebook: It’s complicated.
Although my mother and stepfather live nearby, I haven’t spoken to them since Elby turned two. My mom bought her only grandchild a tricycle at that birthday but she’s never seen her ride it. Since Elby will be five in November, she’s long since grown out of the three-wheeler phase and now has a big girl bike she rides everywhere but her trike still resides in the garage waiting patiently for the twins.
Elby doesn’t know my mother as her grandmother. She must have a vague idea that her mommy has a mommy too, since there are pictures of me as a little girl sitting on my mom’s lap around our house. But when “Gram” calls and wants to talk to her Pumpkin, that means my mother-in-law is on the phone. When a package comes from Gram and Gramps it means Jon’s parents have remembered Elby’s birthday or sent the babies new jammies “just because.”
My mother has never seen my baby girls. I don’t know if she even knows how small Sadie was when she came out or how scared we were in those first months. I do know that she knew I was pregnant with twins because after hearing it through the grapevine, I did get a card wishing me luck. I can’t help but wonder if she worried about how my pregnancy turned out.
When my twins were finally home from the NICU they were insanely colicky and Jon couldn’t come home from work to help me. But my brother, Michael and my sister-in-law, Racquel came over almost every single night. They held babies, refilled my wine, read Elby stories when I couldn’t, and listened to me cry. Jon and I couldn’t have done it without them – which, in retrospect makes you realize even more how important family is in these types of situations.
Last week, Jon’s parents, his sister, and her two kids flew out to visit us from Connecticut. They’d never met the twins and hadn’t seen Elby in way too long, although they talk to her a lot by webcam – oh, yeah, we’re like the Jetsons. Elby had a blast. Although she was a little shy at first, once she warmed up, she constantly asked, “Where are my cousins Annie and Ben?” or “Do we get to have dinner with Gram and Gramps again?” or “Who wants to see me dance?” And, of course, “Can I watch one more episode of the Powerpuff Girls?” That last question really shed an awesome light on my parenting skills, by the way.
I watched Jon’s family (and now mine) soak in our girls and see what we see: gorgeous kids brimming with light and energy, growing before our very eyes. Jon’s family is of the WASPY variety so although they’re not effusive by nature, they took in Sadie’s g-tube button without blinking an eye and their lack of discomfort or shock felt as good as a hug. Jon’s dad acknowledged the chaos of three small children with a few empathetic nods but it still felt like validation and love.
It’s funny and trite and intricate how your view of parental relationships change when you have children. When I was pregnant, I was bursting with ideas of how I would parent differently than I was parented. I knew the good – and fully intended to pass that on, and I knew the bad – and planned to avoid it at all costs. But sometimes the good and bad coexist in ways you can’t know until you’re in the thick of it. A love of reading comes from introducing your child to books early and reading to them relentlessly. But when you love books, it means you also read them and tell your child “just a minute, let me finish this page” too many times because your head is in a book and you can’t be bothered to pay attention to their story.
What I do know is now that I have my kids, I can’t imagine what it would take for me to not speak to them. I’m pretty sure they’d have to kill me first. And even then, I’d come and haunt them. “Sadie, I know you killed me but are they feeding you enough in prison?” “Elby, I may be dead but I still think that jumpsuit looks fantastic on you! Not everyone can do vertical stripes.” “Mattie, no biting!”
I guess my mother and I will never see eye to eye on this. Some people might say, “Well, it’s her loss.” And I used to think it wasn’t, because a real loss seems like something you’d go to any length to regain. I don’t know what she’s thinking: for her – just like me – it must be complicated.
But I look at my three gorgeous girls and my crazy great husband, my brother and sister-in-law and every member of my husband’s extended brood and I realize that I don’t have to look very far to find family – real family who is here because they choose to be. And that is anything but complicated – it’s really pretty darn simple.