“What happened to your stomach, mom?” the kids ask me.
Henry happened, is what I tell them.
Henry was twin B. My stomach became a wrinkled, stretch-marked mess during that twin pregnancy. Tom used the lines as international borders and drew the globe. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law tattooed the universe. Tom drew a sea dragon. The doctor never knew what to expect. The aftershocks are raisin-wrinkles. 95-year old woman wrinkles. There is a six-pack under those wrinkles. A six pack that has been smashed, drunken frat-boy-style, against the forehead.
Henry was delivered by c-section. So my stomach also has an extra side-long flap that hangs down like I’m storing a hot dog for later. I have a scar, hidden by the flapping hot dog.
I gained so much weight I couldn’t wear my wedding ring. I had braces. Braces. Tom came to my first prenatal appointment and the nurse said, “It is so nice when the boyfriends come along.” I was married. I was 21-years old. I was terrified.
Being pregnant with and giving birth to twins pretty much wrecked my stomach. Raising them and loving them pretty much wrecked my life.
On the eve of my twins turning into teenagers, here is a letter to that younger woman with ugly glasses, a terrible haircut, and far too pregnant to care about fashion…
You might not believe me now, but one day you will sleep. All night long and late and with only two people in the bed. The other person in the bed will be your husband, not the sick toddler with whom he traded spaces so the toddler could puke on you and he could sleep. That toddler will learn to aim the puke into a bucket or toilet bowl.
When you don’t sleep in late you will make breakfast, for yourself, sip coffee and read. The children will still be sleeping, or reading in bed, and when they wake they will make breakfast, for themselves. You will not be surprised by the quiet, you will not think that it is too quiet and wonder who is silently finger-painting the living room walls.
One day you will go to the bathroom alone, without needing to lock the door and because you need to pee, not because you want to read Runner’s World without someone spilling cereal milk on it. There will be no tiny person beside you to announce that, oh childhood joy, today you are wearing the same color underwear! There will be no tiny person beside you to wonder whose poo smells the worst, who takes the longest and why. No tiny person beside you to exclaim about the size of the poo or compare it to their own or to wonder what went into making it that particular color. There will be no one in the house who still calls it poo.
They do still love you, even though they let you pee, poo, shower, and pluck alone. Its just that the fascination with why daddy wants a beard and why mommy doesn’t want a beard has faded and there is no longer the need to analyze your chin hair.
You will run again, further than into the street to rescue a bewildered toddler. You will run alone, or maybe with your son but he will be beside you. You will not push him in a stroller and he will challenge you to a race over the last two blocks. That baby you pushed out (or who was sliced out) will push you and he will beat you.
You will not always play Candy Land and you will not always stack the deck so your daughter gets the Queen Frostine card and you get the Jolly gumdrop. Settlers of Catan will be the new game of choice and there will be no mercy. You might win and they won’t cry. They might win and you didn’t let them.
Conversations will no longer be recitations of complicated dinosaur names and facts or about how your daughter wants to be a bunny when she grows up because she can jump really good or about why one twin has a penis and one twin has a vagina. You will talk about farts (which runs the very high risk of being a life-long topic) instead and you will have a pet bunny and you will still talk about penises and vaginas but in a totally different way.
They will no longer ask to put on their swim soups and go in the hot dog. While wearing swim suits (which they put on themselves) and sitting in the hot tub (fully immersed, not just dipping the toes) you will remind them that they used to say this and you will laugh together about how cute they used to be. You will know that they are still exactly as cute as they used to be but you won’t say this out loud.
You will no longer kiss booboos or put bandaids on imaginary, bloodless wounds or kiss the kids on the way to school. You might get away with blowing kisses but they will not blow back. There will still be booboos and now there will be broken hearts and hurt feelings but instead of kissing scraped knees you will hold them (because they still need to be held and always will need to be held) and listen and have a conversation.
They will not smell like baby powder or baby shampoo or the dried and crusty breast milk you forgot to wipe from their neck rolls. They won’t have worm guts caked between their fingers. They will smell like locker rooms and moldy socks and, faintly, of your deodorant.
Your purse will not be filled with hand-sanitizer, random Legos, or graham crackers. You will no longer be able to dig for stray Cheerios if you get hungry at work. You will not have to wonder whether or not you fit inside the PlayLand tunnel at McDonald’s because your son conquered his fear on the way up but can not conquer it to slide down. You will not have to push swings or constantly count children at the playground. Yes, one day, you will bring The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion to the beach and it will not be wishful thinking, you will actually read it.
Your shirts will no longer have circular milk stains around your nipples and your breasts will no longer see the light of day or the light of a shopping mall bathroom. They will stay put, happily, in your bra. And your bra might have lace again. And your breasts might have lift again.
This, I know you do not believe. But they will regain some of their original glory. Your body has been forever changed, there is no doubt of that. But your breasts will not always swing like half-empty Christmas stockings. Nor will they suddenly and alarmingly swell like blowfish. Nor will they leak like the dripping faucet your husband forgets to fix.
You will, one day, lug only your own piece of carry-on luggage and it will not be filled with diapers. You will not board planes early because you are no longer a family with young children. You will not cram an adult and two toddlers into an airplane bathroom designed for less than one human. You will have no excuse, like a barfing child, to stand up while the plane is landing. You will buckle one seat belt, your own. You will not worry about putting on your own oxygen mask before securing the mask of a young child.
You will once again listen to real music with real singers who don’t sound like chipmunks and don’t sing about wheels on busses. You will once again read real books that don’t use words like zizzer-zazzer-zuzz and don’t have cats wearing hats as the main character. You will even share music and books with your children.
You will remember how tired you were but you will also remember, with a fading memory you cling to ferociously, how these babies fit in the palm of your hand. How they fit in the crook of your elbow. How they fit on your lap. How they fit standing, beneath your chin. You will always make room for them to fit.
You will fear you are forever ruining your children by bringing them to Africa. And later you will fear you are forever ruining them when you return to Minnesota. The response to these fears is yes, you are ruining them. Think of it as revenge-ruining for how, in all the best ways possible, they have ruined you.
You will remember that people told you, this too shall pass. And that people told you, it gets better from here. And you wondered why someone would want these years of miniature toes and holding hands to pass. You wondered why someone would want things to get better, how could they get better than snuggles and hot sloppy kisses and rolling down grassy hills?
And you will say to yourself when the babies are born and toddlers and in Kindergarten and biking out of eye sight and going into junior high: remember this, never forget this. This will be hard because it is so beautiful and it will hurt like hell because that’s what life is and you will be thankful for every moment.
Now, as I enter the season of parenting teenagers, I wonder what I will tell myself in seven years, when these teenagers exit at the other end, turn 20. I don’t know. But what I am telling myself now is this:
Being the mother of these two kids (and the one that isn’t a teenager just yet) is one of the best things in your life. You’ve known it from the minute you saw the ultrasound screen and wondered why your baby had two heads. You’ve known it since one was born by ‘natural’ childbirth without pain medication and one was born by c-section with lots of pain medication. They split you open more ways than should be physically possible and, like Humpty-Dumpty (which you will not read again until you have grandchildren), you cannot be put together again.
You don’t want to be.
We’ve made it this far, my lovelies. I think we’re doing pretty good. Happy thirteen.