The Best Part of Waking Up

When you dream of having children, you imagine sleepy Sunday mornings full of cuddles, with everyone snuggled up in bed, talking and giggling as you all decide what kind of pancakes you are going to make from scratch for breakfast, and what kind of great adventures you will have that day.  In your head it looks something like this:

Don't they look happy and cozy?

Don’t they look happy and cozy?

And sometimes, it really is that great.  I mean it.  Sometimes the sun is shining and the birds are singing and everyone wakes up happy.  Sometimes the girls climb up in our bed and we all snuggle and talk before going downstairs, where I make gluten free blueberry pancakes for everyone.  And it is wonderful.

Today was not one of those days.

Today started with Laurel crawling into our bed at around 5:30am.  Ellie was already in between us, as she usually is, because she woke up in the middle of the night and I was too tired to put her back in her own bed.  (This is called co-sleeping through laziness, by the way.)  Luckily, Laurel wanted to lay in front of Chev, on the edge of the bed, so Chev wrapped her up in her arms and we all went back to sleep for a bid.  A very little bit.  At around 5:45am Laurel decided she wanted to sleep in the middle of the bed.  The problem, of course, is that Ellie was already there, and unlike so many of my friends’ twins, our girls do not co-exist in a sleeping state.  This is what followed:

Laurel wiggles down between Chev and Ellie, trying to push Ellie out of the way.  Ellie wakes up and whimpers, then sticks her feet against her sister and her back against me and SHOVES.
Laurel:  No Ellie!  No kick-a me!
Ellie kicks her.
Laurel kicks her back.
Laurel:  Sissy, NO!  I no likes it!
Ellie grabs one of Laurel’s “buddies” (Did I mention that Laurel sleeps with an entourage of four stuffed animals?) and tosses it of f of the bed.
Laurel: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!  Dat’s my Merida!
Laurel smacks Ellie and climbs over Chev (who has actually been asleep up to this point), to retrieve her Merida.
Ellie stretches out with a contented sigh.
Laurel climbs back on the bed and body slams her sister.
Laurel:  ELLIE DAT’S MY SPOT!!!!!!!!
Me:  For the love of God, will you two please knock it off??
Ellie sits up and grabs all of Laurel’s buddies and throws them off of the bed.
Laurel starts jumping up and down, screaming incoherently, then manages to fall, knees first, into Chev’s back.
Chev:  AAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!  Oh my God, my back!
Laurel:  hehehehehehehehehe
I sit up and grab Laurel.
Me:  Laurel, that isn’t funny.  You hurt Mommy.  Say you’re sorry.
Laurel:  No!  I can’t!
Me:  Yes, you can.
Laurel:  Stop talking to me.
Ellie crawls over to Chev and gives her big hugs.
Laurel lunges out of my arms, and onto Chev, where she tries to pry Ellie off of her.
Ellie:  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!
Laurel:  MY MOMMY!!
Chev:  Everyone get off of me!
Me:  Oh my God, come on, all of you.
I scoop up both girls and carry them down stairs, where they get cold cereal and gluten free freezer waffles. Chev nurses her wounds before joining us.  I start counting them minutes until I can leave for work.

Happy Sunday, folks!

Ellie is an "H is for Hell" and Laurel is a "Snow Angel."

Ellie is an “H is for Hell” and Laurel is a “Snow Angel.”

Five Effing Minutes

Now that the girls are three, they are learning so many new things.

Laurel likes to sing songs that she makes up her very own words to.  Sure, these songs sound more like annoyingly high-pitched recitations of every toy we have in our house, but the point is that she is using her imagination and creativity to create something new.

Ellie really likes to draw and color.  She likes to color in coloring books, on plain paper, on grocery lists, on the coffee table, on the walls, and on herself.  Does it make more work for me?  Yes.  But as I’m cleaning up the mess (Did you know that baby wipes get Sharpie off of skin?  You do now.), I appreciate that she is expressing herself artistically.

Unfortunately, their creative sides aren’t the only things that have grown over the past few months.  So have their tempers, their senses of independence, and their stubbornness.

Laurel has officially entered the “MINE!” stage.  Everything is hers.  Especially anything that her sister happens to touch.  Even if Laurel hasn’t played with a toy for three weeks, and has probably forgotten its existence, the second Ellie picks it up and is contentedly playing with it, Laurel realizes that her life is empty and meaningless without it.  She has to have it.  She MUST possess it.  She wants it.  So the cry of “NO SISSY, THAT’S MINE!” rings through the house, as she charges across the living room and attempts to rip the toy out of her sister’s hands.

Everything is mine.  Please give it all to me.

Everything is mine. Please give it all to me.

This leads to the next recent development…

Ellie has discovered that she can fight back.  For the first three years of her life, she was very passive and laid back.  She never minded when Laurel took her toys; she would just find something else to play with.  Now, however, she is realizing that she can say no to her sister.  Not with words, but with actions.  If Laurel tries to take her toys now, she latches on with a death grip the likes of which you have never seen.  They yank the toy back and forth until Laurel (who is quite a bit larger) manages to over power Ellie, stealing the toy and often shoving Ellie to the floor.

And now the fight is on.

Ellie, in retaliation, storms over to Laurel, growling like a lion.  She grabs her sister either by the hair or the shirt and tries to knock her down.  Laurel starts swinging like a crazed boxer until she frees herself from Ellie’s grasp.  Then Laurel runs away and climb the cat tree, knowing full well that Ellie can’t catch her or climb after her.  And then….

Ellie angry!  Ellie smash!

Someone isn't happy

Someone isn’t happy

My sweet sunshine girl at this point transforms into the Hulk.  Nothing is safe from her wrath.  Anything in her path gets picked up and thrown across the room while she screams out her frustrations to the sky.  Strawberry Shortcake dolls get lifted by their hair and chucked against walls.  Army men get kicked and stomped, which hurts like hell, angering our little She-Hulk even more.  The doll house gets knocked over, spilling miniature furniture everywhere.  The dog cowers in the corner.  The cats run in fear.  The world trembles.  And Laurel screams.

Torn between the need to keep the toy she has stolen from her sister, and the fact that Ellie is touching all of the other toys, Laurel’s sanity explodes.  Ellie is touching all of the toys.  All of the toys are Laurel’s toys.  But if she gets down to try to take all of the toys from Ellie, she will likely lose the toy she originally stole from her.  What can she do?  How can she cope?  By screaming so loud and at such a high pitch that dogs six blocks away start howling.

This is a mistake, because now Ellie has remembered who has caused her so much angst.

Stomping to the cat tree, Ellie starts throwing anything she can get her hands on at Laurel, who is a sitting duck.  Laurel, unable to contain herself any longer, jumps down off of the cat tree to meet her adversary.  The square off, circling each other, growling and screaming and crying.  Ellie lunges.  Laurel dodges, but NO!  It was just a ploy!  Laurel has forgotten the toy in her hand and dropped it.  Ellie throws herself on top of the toy, squealing with joy, while Laurel, who is thrown off balance, falls to the floor beside her.  Both are crying, laying on the toy-strew floor side by side, exhausted from their efforts.

Suddenly, a voice rings out through the room, “Time for lunch!”

Picture 035

Five minutes, people. Five effing minutes.

Both girls get up and trot to the dining room, all of the toys forgotten in the promise of vanilla yogurt and blueberries, while I am left to wonder how the hell two little girls can make so much noise and so much mess in the five minutes I’ve been in the kitchen.

Loving Ellie

April 047

Ellie with her walker.

Someone asked me the other day, what it’s like to raise a special needs child, especially when I have a “normal” child the same age.  Do I compare them?  Do I treat them the same way?  Do I ever wish that Ellie were more like Laurel?  They wanted me to be honest, but I wasn’t.  I told them it was just like raising any two kids, and of course I don’t compare them or treat them differently or wish one was more like the other.  In other words, I lied out my behind.

Because here’s the thing.  It is hard to raise a special needs child, although not as hard as some people seem to think it is.  I’m no saint.  I’m just a parent, like any other. Yes, Ellie has therapy three times a week (physical, occupational, and speech), but they come to our house and they don’t care if we are all still in our pajamas.  They work with Ellie on a variety of skills, from walking to talking to eating with a spoon.

Ellie also has more doctor appointments than most kids.  She sees a cardiologist, who checks to make sure that the heart defect that she had repaired when she was three months old is still pumping along nicely.  She sees an eye doctor because she is nearsighted and has a head tilt, due to the muscles in her eyes not lining up properly.  (Which she’ll be having surgery next month to fix!)  She has had a sleep study, where neither of us got much sleep, that proved my suspicion of sleep apnea.  Which sent us to a pulminologist, who sent us to an ENT, who removed her tonsils and adenoids, which resulted in her refusing to eat or drink, and that resulted in a week-long hospital stay.  She also gets her hearing, thyroid, and blood levels checked every 6-12 months.  Because there are extra things you need to watch out for when your child has Down syndrome.  Extra things to worry about.

Ellie does not talk, so communication is tough.  She knows how to sign, but she often decides that she doesn’t want to do so.  She’d rather point and cry and grunt at us.  Which is VERY frustrating.  But we’re working on it.  And one day, she’s going to look at me and say “I love you Momma.”  And everything will be worth it.

So, yes, raising a special needs child is hard.  But you know what?  Raising a “normal” toddler is really freaking hard, too.

Laurel has no problem walking or running or climbing the five foot tall cat tree and then trying to jump off of it, onto the couch…which is four feet away.   Or spinning in circles until she falls over, smashing her face in to the wall on the way down.  Or doing a million other things that result in bruises for her and heart attacks for me.

Laurel has been able to talk for a couple years now.  And talk she does.  All. Day. Long.  She keeps up a non-stop narrative of the day, often repeating phrases over and over, like a mini Rain Man.  She also likes to parrot everything Chev and I say.  It’s like an echo in our house.  Especially when one of us lets a curse fly, then it’s “shit shit shit” for at least the next five minutes.  She has NO problem telling us what she wants, or more commonly, what she DOESN’T want.  As in, “NO Momma!  I no want a bagel and cream cheese!  Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!!”  (Usually after she just begged me for the bagel that is already in the toaster.)  So lack of communication isn’t a problem.

The next question was whether or not I compare them.  Of course I do.  But not in the way you may think.  I know that Ellie is over a year behind in some parts of her development, so I compare where she is to where Laurel was a year ago.  When Ellie starts up with some weird new phase, I think back to when Laurel went through the same phase, and if it’s been less than a year….score!

I also play them off of each other.  Again, not the way you may think.  Ellie will stay in her toddler bed all night, no matter what.  Laurel will wake up and try to come in bed with us, after we’ve fallen asleep.  So I point out t0 Laurel that Sissy stays in bed like a big girl; she just lays back down when she wakes up and goes back to sleep.  Or I point out that Ellie tasted everything on her plate, like a big girl.  Doesn’t Laurel want to taste her nice spinach, too?  And you know what?  It works.  Even though the truth of the matter is that Ellie simply can’t get out of her toddler bed because I have a crib bumper tied up along the side so she doesn’t roll out (kid inherited my tossing and turning nature), and that she hasn’t hit the picky eater stage yet, telling Laurel that Sissy is doing these things because she is a big girl encourages her to do them, too.  It really doesn’t work both ways.  Ellie couldn’t care less that Laurel keeps her colored pencils on the paper, and not in her mouth.  Ellie’s still going to eat the pencils.

Do I treat them the same way?  Not really.  Would you treat a three year old and a one year old the same way?  Probably not, and that’s basically what I’ve got.  Ellie is like a one year old, trapped in an almost three year old body.  Laurel is starting to understand cause and effect.  If she throws all of her food on the floor, the dog will eat it, and she won’t have dinner.  So she doesn’t throw her food on the floor anymore.  Ellie still forgets this valuable lesson.  Much to the dog’s delight.  Laurel understands (and hates) time outs.  Ellie thinks it’s fun to sit on the bench for a couple minutes.  She can swing her little legs. It’s awesome.  Laurel’s motor skills are more fully developed, so she gets to help me make lunch.  She can cut up a banana with a butter knife.  Ellie can only help by standing on the chair and watching us.  (and snitching food during the prep phase)  So, no, I don’t treat them the same way.  I’m harder on Laurel, just like you would be harder on a three year old.

Last but not least…..Do I ever wish Ellie was more like Laurel?  Nope.  Really, I’m not kidding.  Ellie is the easiest, happiest kid I know.  She doesn’t talk back or throw massive tantrums if she doesn’t get her own way.  She is just as happy painting as she is watching Marley and Me (a current favorite), but is happiest sitting in my lap while I read a book to her.  I love her just the way she is.  Perfect and content and sweet and adorable.  Laurel, on the other hand…I will admit to occasionally wishing she were more like Ellie.  Especially when I’ve just cooked a big dinner full of healthy foods and the little bugger won’t eat any of it, while Ellie is chowing down on chick peas and avocados.   But for the most part, I’m happy to have them both just the way they are.  I can’t imagine having two kids like Laurel (bless all of you who have “normal” twins, I don’t know how you survived this age), or two kids like Ellie (bless all of you who have more than one special needs child, I don’t know how you have the time and energy!)

What’s it like, raising twins who are so different?  Maybe it’s not so different as you may imagine.  We hug them, love them, play with them, teach them right from wrong, and hope they don’t grow up to be serial killers.  What more is there to parenting?