Monday, January 9, 2017

Twins: Treasure and Trouble

On the last day of winter vacation, I spent a few hours of my time doing what I often do on Sunday afternoons - I drive across the city to give my friend Tracey a hand.

Tracey has twins.

Thanks for letting me use your photos Tracey! (L-R: Owen, "Mommy", Emmett)

Her boys are about 5 1/2 months old now and I try to make a point of popping by a couple of times a month to help out where I can. Don't turn me into any kind of hero or saint for these visits - as I told Tracey today, I get to go home after my stint and get a full nine hours of sleep. She's on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She's the one that gets the medal.

Sometimes when I'm over, Tracey can sneak off for a short nap or a quick shower while Morgan (her husband) and I take the helm. Today, Morgan took their eldest son swimming so it was just Tracey, me, and the babies for a while. If one or both are sleeping, our conversations are muted but still engaging and insightful, which is surprising considering that lately Tracey has been working on about two hours of sleep a night. If that were me, cohesive words strung together as sentences would be near impossible. I asked if it was okay to write about the twins on my blog and Tracey agreed.  See, a lot of what Tracey has said about the twins can apply to caring for a room full of students (minus the diaper changing).

1) You have to forgive yourself.

Fits perfectly with my #oneword2017, and I didn't even plan it that way! Tracey's doctor also has twins and he said to her that if you are giving 100%, that means that each baby's getting 50%. In other words, don't beat yourself up if one has to cry while you are dealing with the other one. Ideally, you want to give your full attention to each and every student in your room, but some may need you more than others - the one having a meltdown, or having an epic struggle understanding a concept, or the one with language processing issues, or other reasons. Don't eat yourself up with guilt for not making every single day a Hallmark card moment.

2) Do what you can, but accept help.

Morgan is a high school teacher, so for most of the day, Tracey is flying solo. She also doesn't drive, so when she has to run errands during the day, she packs up the double stroller and walks. She's become quite adept at handling two babies at once but she does not turn down aid when it's offered. When Morgan is around, he is pulled into service when required. (For instance, during the night, Tracey won't wake Morgan for help unless both babies are up and fussing. Even if that means she puts one to bed and the other wakes up right after, she will handle it because she doesn't want Morgan to be sleep-deprived at work.) When I first broached the idea of coming over to assist, Tracey accepted right away. She doesn't have me change diapers or do laundry - I'm not sure if I'm relieved or disappointed about that - but I will sweep, fix lunch, brush the dog, feed bottles or amuse a baby with toys or songs. I think this was awkward for Morgan at first (if I'm allowed to say that) because he and Tracey were impeccable hosts pre-baby and not accustomed to relying on others. Tracey says "you get over that pretty quick". This should be true for teachers too. We're lucky - help may just be a door away. If you need assistance, there is no shame in asking.

3) Count small accomplishments, day by day.

When one of the boys stayed down for four hours during the night, it was a cause of celebration. Sometimes those celebrations may be inconsistent. Emmett used to be the great napper. Now it's Owen. Instead of despairing over what isn't happening, find joy in what is. For me, getting one of the babies to smile feels huge. On the teacher side of this sage piece of wisdom, it's challenging to promote the positive, especially when it is irregular. (I'm writing report cards right now, so there's a lot of calculating the different sign posts of progress and various assessments and evaluations to try and summarize success, even though the actual results may vary depending on the day, time or mood.)

4) Allow yourself to vent. Humour helps.

Tracey is hilarious, although she says most of her good lines get wasted because the twins don't exactly understand what she's saying. When things are bumpy, she's joked about taking a walk to the orphanage. On a few rough days before Christmas, she said "I hope Santa brings them coal." I remember when my eldest was a baby during her "witching hour", we'd quip about throwing her in the toilet. It sounds cruel, but as long as we don't actually go through with it, that dark humour is a survival strategy. In a way, it's the flip side of #3. Rejoice in the sunny skies and curse the rain clouds. As long as it's done in a respectful manner and in a proper place (i.e. not in front of the students themselves, because students understand your words more than babies) teachers need a safe place to gripe too.

5) It's a hard, hard job ... but you wouldn't trade it for the world.

Taking care of one baby isn't easy. Taking care of two at the same time is extra challenging. Banning TV until they're 2? Ha! If a bit of Thomas the Tank Engine can buy time to finish a task, so be it. When babies outnumber the adults, it's difficult. However, Tracey adores her boys. She admits to getting teary eyed looking at them and realizing that they are alive, safe, healthy, and happy. Hopefully, that's the same feeling for teachers. It's tough. You put in a ton of hours and wonder if you're making a difference. You despair. You cry. Yet, teaching can be the best job ever.

Double smiles - how can you resist?

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