Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve, 12-23-11

These are the photos that make me pity everyone who doesn't have twins.

Even going to the grocery store is a public service these days. The twins are universally cute, smiling, and finally poseable enough to take some really good pictures.

Our house doesn't have a chimney on which to hang our stockings with care, so we make do. Grammy, Grandpa, Mommy, and Daddy have handmade stockings I made years ago, but my kids don't. Even Ally kitty has a stocking with her name on it, but not my kids. In January when all three kids will finally be on an afternoon nap schedule, I'm going to get my act together. I wanted their stockings to all be done for our first Christmas as a family of five, but I spent the three discretionary hours I had last month taking a bath and reading Dare to Discipline.

Our early fears of Devon tipping over the Christmas tree haven't been realized, although he has removed most of the ornaments he can reach. It's pretty much just a lit tree now, a hardy Fraser Fir that sheds needles profusely because it was trucked in from five states away.

Of course, what the area lacks in Christmas Tree Farms it certainly makes up in poinsettias. The one in our entry way is four feet wide. In Lexington I'd spy a nice one and buy it only to have the cold drive home almost kill it. This season I've already bought three and they're all blooming away in the warm weather. When Christmas is over, I'm thinking of planting them outside. Hah!

It's 84 degrees here, and when I complain to my friends about being too hot I get NO sympathy. All our Christmas decorations survived the move, although I spent a month looking for the Caucasian Holy Family. While in high school I received beautiful, fragile, and probably valuable china figurines of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Every year when I set them up I marvel at their blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned perfection, and then wonder why their makers didn't have a creative vision that was, oh, EVEN JUST A BIT MIDDLE EASTERN!!!!! They were a gift from my Grandma Annabelle (yes, as in Carrie Annabelle), the kindest, least prejudiced person, and it was the kind of thing I'd like to pass down someday. I was relieved when Devon came out of the twins' closet one day holding aloft a reindeer tin that contained their intact, bone china selves. Now I need to find an out of reach place where we can safely enjoy their white-as-the-driven-snow radiance.

Our workaday manger scene is getting heavy use these days. It's a Fontanini, a brand I recommend not just because it's reassuringly culturally accurate. The figurines are made out of durable molded plastic, which can be very comforting when Devon rounds the corner with Gaspar in one hand and the camel in the other. Don't worry about the safety of the Baby Jesus; I'm following the Keathley tradition of putting Jesus in the manger for the first time while reading the Luke 2 story on Christmas Eve. Until then, he's enjoying our anticipation from a teacup on a high shelf.

Devon's having fun acting out the Christmas story as Mommy narrates using phrases from the King James. I know that we're all enlightened now and use NASB, NIV, or even the Southern Baptist favorite the Holman Christian Standard, but I prefer to recite the nostalgic words straight from my childhood.

Mommy: Those are the shepherds!

Devon: Sepperds! There! (pointing)

Mommy: They're abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night!

Devon: Seep! (picks up the Lambs to the Slaughter and puts one in his mouth)

Mommy: Lo! An ANGEL OF THE LORD came upon them, and the GLORY OF THE LORD shone around them, and then they were SORE AFRAID!

Devon: (tips over all the shepherds) Oh Noooooooooooooooo!

For weeks Devon would only take the sheep out of the creche; I aptly nicknamed them the Lambs to the Slaughter because their presence protected the peace and tranquility of the rest of the tableau.

No, Ally kitty has not seen his star in the East and come to worship the Baby Jesus. She's always been a little confused by the manger. It started when she was a kitten and we laid towels on the furniture to show here where she could lay so she could shed away on a towel and our couch could be hair-free. Every year we roll out a towel, arrange the creche and figures, and have to shoo Ally away every day or so.

Funny, this year it hasn't been so much of a problem!

Since we barely finished sending the twins' baby announcements out in November, we're probably skipping a picture mailer, but we did take a really nice picture.

For those of you wondering about the unfamiliar person, that's what my brother looks like when he smiles in pictures. Stoic Tim didn't make it this year, thanks to the other new person. He and his girlfriend Bojana Jovanovic were able to come out and spend last weekend with us. Uncle Tim and Auntie Bojana made quite a stir with the small set, taking Devon to Walmart and buying him a dozen balls and a Monster Truck that makes him turn purple and quiver with delight every time you turn it on.

There are many more pictures in this series that didn't make the post. Devon, not one to pass up a chance to perform, thought it was hilarious to lift his shirt and display his "Pufferfish Tummy" every time Daddy set the flash on the tripod and dashed for the picture. Mommy tried to keep him distracted by singing "Father Abraham Had Many Sons", an appropriate song because the "right arm-left arm" motions prevented the tummy shenanigans.

White Christmases, fir trees, chimneys, and reindeer are nice, but they're not spiritually significant. Why did Perry Como have to dream of a "White Christmas"? He lived for years on Jupiter Island, about thirty miles south of Vero Beach.

It's ironic to think that spending our first Christmas in Florida in our shorts and bare feet brings us closer in a way to the very first one. Christians don't know the time of year that Jesus was really born, and the Middle East probably doesn't get many feet of snow and subzero temperatures at any time of year. Baby Jesus came to parents who were hot and tired from travel, surrounded by sand, and far from home, all things we can identify with given our past year.

NOT that I'm comparing us to the Holy Family, but it makes me grateful for their journey and what it means to us. We share their story with our children, mostly too young to understand.

That's okay. There's always next year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Payback: December 14, 2011

I swear I remember this happening, although it may be one of those early memories that constructed themselves in my young mind because my parents told me about it over and over. When I was eighteen months old (around Devon's age now) my parents took me to Minneapolis for the weekend. I was usually a really good sleeper, but something about the drive from Sioux Falls, the hotel room, or the unfamiliar nighttime routine got me riled.

I started to sob loudly and refused to be consoled. My tired and bewildered parents tried holding me, walking me around, and letting me lay down. Hours ticked by as I wailed out my fury with the range and decibels of an ambulance siren and my parents contemplated staying awake during the morning's conference schedule.

Suddenly, in the middle of the night the room was filled with that thrumming, echoing silence that comes when a crying child has just calmed. My dad, lying still and hoping that I wouldn't start up again, felt me crawl on the bed next to him, bend over him, and stroke his forehead.

"Oh, Daddy, you're so tired. Daddy, you need to sleep. Go to sleep, Daddy," I repeated over and over, my face a picture of patience and concern. As you can imagine, my advice was not well received, seeing that I was the only one preventing just that.

Thankfully, my parents are forgiving people and let the retelling of that embarrassing story at family gatherings be its own punishment. Maybe they also looked forward to the day when I would have my own children: Their antics would surely pay me back for whatever shenanigans I made them endure.

Oh, yeah.

Craig and I looked forward to Thanksgiving week all through October and early November. He finally had a job with "real time off" and we'd be able to take a week long road trip to Tennessee to see his family and celebrate. We knew the first time we'd traveled as a family of five could have difficult moments, but didn't see a reason to put it off. We'd never go anywhere with three kids under two if we didn't open ourselves up to being flexible and having a good time no matter what. Knowing I needed to be prepared for anything, I went to Walmart the day before and spent $200, buying new leak-proof sippies, toddler snack-catcher cups, three kinds of crackers, two kinds of M&M's, and those bottled iced coffees that are so much better than the McDonalds drive thru coffees when you need a quick caffeine boost.

We got off to a slightly late start because Craig was up with an upset stomach the night before. I tried to stay calm during the loading the car phase, anxious to get on the road. I was also mentally mapping every mile of our drive to Atlanta, knowing we'd be on the road late if we didn't make early progress. Carrie and Melina napped in their car seats for the first several hours. Every two to three hours we'd park at a rest stop and spring into action like a pit crew: nursing, changing diapers, and letting Devon walk around and pick up things. Devon, the best toddler traveler, sang songs to himself and pointed raptly at cars. At 5 p.m. we crossed the border into Georgia.

I set cruise control to 70 mph and watched the billboards on Highway 75 whiz by. All advertised strip clubs and crisis pregnancy centers, making me wonder if the two businesses were somehow related. Craig and I smiled at each other, enjoying one of those moments where we feel like we have three happy children largely due to our parenting prowess.

Two hours later I sighed, thinking I'd given birth to the three unhappiest children on the planet. Devon's "intrepid adventurer" mood reached the end of its shelf life and he started banging his head rhythmically on the back of his car seat. Melina jerked awake with one of her trademark full body startles, opened her mouth, and wailed the opening bars of The William Tell Overture. Devon, suddenly interested in this new development, looked around the side of his car seat and his eyes fell on the round, green paci perched temptingly in sleeping Carrie's mouth. "A BALL!" he said wonderingly, and reached over to pull it out. Carrie's cries added the tympani part to Melina's soprano, achieving an effect exclusive to a pair of crying twins. Unsettled by all the noise, instigator Devon then decided to join in.

We tried stopping to nurse, Craig holding each in turn while I tried to use "the universal pacifiers" to get the twins calm again. Devon, upset at not being allowed to get out and run, fussed.

"Devon," I said in the perfectly calm voice that Dr. Dobson recommends for parental discipline. The face of innocence peeped out at me from around the car seat, lips fixed in the pouty smile of a Hummel figurine.

"Give Mommy the paci, honey," I cooed. I took the offered paci in my one free hand. When we were finally able to start up again, I took the driver's seat and sighed, mentally calculating the number of hours it would take to get to Atlanta, still 180 miles away.

"I don't feel so good," said Craig, holding his stomach. "I hope I'm not coming down with something."

The girls started crying again, apparently not impressed by the extra nursing stop as a show of my good faith. Devon fussed and begged for new car toys only to pitch them over his seat and whine for more. Craig grew sicker by the minute, sipping Coke weakly and grimacing. I concentrated on the road and tried to focus on the miles, not the hours, as the evening crept along.

When we finally reached Atlanta, Craig tried to read the map and my copied-from-Yahoo directions as I scanned road signs looking for the corresponding streets. This division of labor that usually serves us well failed miserably. Three lanes of traffic sprouted up on my right. I was unable to dart across all three without killing us, so I couldn't make our exit. Craig mumbled directions I wouldn't have been able to hear over the din even if he had a bullhorn. I got off at the next exit and found a place to ask for directions. Scantily clad women in high heels and drug dealers in hoodies turned to watch our minivan go by, I'm sure thinking we seemed out of place. I stopped at a gas station and was given competent directions by a clean cut Indian gentleman that also seemed out of place in the 'hood. I'm not given to Hallmark Channel flights of fancy, but I'm not sure he wasn't an angel sent to save us from our predicament (cue backlighting).

Fifteen minutes later we were in our hotel room and things were finally peaceful, except for the sound of my three children crying and my husband being violently ill in the bathroom. The room was not the two-room suite I had reserved, so we would all have to quiet down and sleep in the same room. As I rushed around setting up the pack-and-plays and getting out pajamas, I muttered an incoherent monologue as a nightly prayer:

Lord, I didn't think you were given to sarcasm, but when you said in the Bible that women are "the weaker vessels" you couldn't possibly have had this evening in mind. What about Pastor's flowery, feel-good sermon of a few months ago about a woman being like a piece of fine china, delicate because we're set aside for a special purpose? Right now I don't even feel like a piece of earthenware. Try styrofoam! Pish tosh!!!

We expected our first road trip as a family of five to have some awkward moments, but nothing could've prepared us for that first night. It was my payback for that night in Minneapolis when I cried and cried so my parents couldn't get any sleep. I don't think I was truly capable of understanding how awful that night was for them until now. Children do have a way of making you look at your own memories with renewed perspective.

The rest of the trip went remarkably well considering the rough start. We enjoyed a recovery day at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Craig looks peaked in the pictures, but we still had a good time as a family.

My mom and dad arrived to spend the holidays last night. Before the kids and I drove to pick them up in Orlando, I tried to give Devon his second haircut. Devon, suspicious of everything from the plastic drape to the barber shears, refused to let me get anywhere near his head. He craned his neck around, presenting his face instead every time I tried to get a snip of hair. I gave up after fifteen minutes, resigning myself to Devon seeing Grammy and Grandpa for the first time in four months looking like a Hobbit.

I've GOT to cut Devon's hair soon. If it gets any longer, he's going to look like Justin Bieber. I think distracting Devon while I cut his hair is going to be Grandpa's job.

What Devon doesn't know is that Grandpa didn't like having his hair cut either when he was a little boy. I've seen a picture of a tearful two-year-old Jerry getting his first haircut. It took four of his much older brothers and sisters to distract him by talking to him and bouncing him on a bicycle seat.

I think it's time for some payback.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Our First Family Picture, Thanksgiving 2011

Want to see our first family picture?

On Thanksgiving 2010, Devon was eight months old. We spent the holiday in Nashville with Craig's family and took photos together just after dinner. I like to think that sometime that day, perhaps between the stuffing and the pumpkin pie, a few cells split off the tiny embryo I didn't even know I was carrying and Carrie Melina Keathley became Carrie and Melina Keathley.

Of course, that single baby probably wouldn't have been named Carrie OR Melina. I had the name Verity picked out for a girl. We decided that since it meant "truth" it wouldn't work well for a twin. If one girl's name means that she's truthful, does the other one get to be a liar? What if the twin named Verity wasn't particularly truthful? Irony?

On the drive home from Nashville, I felt a twinge of nausea contemplating the turkey and cranberry sandwich my mother-in-law had packed for me. The next clue that I might be pregnant came almost a month later when the belt on the dress I had bought for a Christmas party was mysteriously tighter and I was in a serious romantic relationship with The Gingerbread Man.

Now I'm spending the day with three times as many kids as I thought I had back then. If you've wondered why I haven't posted in a while, it's because sometimes I can either be a parent or write about being a parent. I can't do both at once.

This has been a busy time for me because the girls are starting to take a little cereal twice a day. Like any parenting decision, this one was difficult, particularly because the Breastfeeding Mafia recommends ebf (exclusively breastfed) from birth to at least six months.

I caved at four months. I love nursing, but it was taking over my life. One night I was eating a bowl of Raisin Bran at 9:30 and realized that I had skipped dinner every night that week. What did I do instead? Tandem nurse, and not just at 6 pm, but every hour all day except for a short break in the afternoon. Tandem nursing was closing in on showering, taking care of Devon, eating three meals a day, keeping up with the laundry, and checking in with my patient and neglected husband.

The worst thing about spending so much time on the couch is not the backaches. It's that I had hours a day to surf the Internet with my one free hand and learn about all the things I should be doing for my kids. Making my own vegan organic formula from ingredients I buy from a health food store in New Zealand. Pureeing my own cereal from whole grains I cook myself. Wearing my babies on my body until they're old enough to drive a car.

Oh well. Twice a day the twins get 15 ml. of liquid cereal mixed with formula dropped into their mouths with a supplementing syringe. We'll transition to a spoon as soon as they get a little more practice moving a little squirt of cereal from the front of their mouths to the back. Right now it's cute to watch them stick out their tongues as if for a communion wafer, swallow, smile, and open for more. The cereal comes from a box with a smiling baby on it. The formula comes from a canister. The Breastfeeding Mafia says that you might as well feed the packing materials to the baby for all the nutrition they're getting, but the Mythbusters debunked that suburban legend last year before they turned their attention to sending cannonballs through peaceful Dublin homes.

I feel a little like I've gone over to the dark side, but the girls don't. They take a good morning nap, a good afternoon nap, and still nurse 6-8 times a day. What matters most is that they're much happier now...

...which means Mommy is, too.

The girls enjoy spending time in the "baby gym", which works better than a bouncy seat because they can lay side-by-side, or enjoy some tummy time. Melina just dropped her head, twitched her right leg, and became the first twin with a confirmed front-to-back rollover!

Last Saturday morning, we read in the paper about the Vero Beach Christmas Parade. "How quaint! A small-town parade. Let's go!" we cried, and packed up the kids for a rare evening outing.

As it turns out, five thousand people line Ocean Drive (a stone's throw from the coast) to watch handcrafted floats covered in Christmas lights amble down the street. It was part Main Street Electrical Parade, part Almond Blossom Festival, and the event of Devon's young life. When he was handed a flag by a passing walker, he gripped it firmly and waved it for two hours.

On the way back to the car, we ignored passing strangers who ironically hummed "Everyone Loves A Parade" while watching us file by with the twins in the double stroller and Devon still waving his flag in the single. I heard a voice call after us: "Wow, you guys make THAT look easy!"

It's NOT always easy, as you can imagine, but there are other words I would use to describe it: fun, exciting, rewarding. Of course, it's also time consuming. Why shouldn't it be?

It's the one thing in my life that, more than anything, I want to do well.

And blog about it if I have the time.