They say what goes up must come down, but I think it works the other way around too.
Growing up, I used to wait until I knew I could execute perfectly before wanting to step into something new. My mom told me that when I was a young child learning to read, I would never sound out words. I waited until I knew I could say the word perfectly before offering it to someone else.
I learned over the years to make my way through life’s more desperate moments by seeking control of situations around me. That always served me very well. I would take comfort in making everything LOOK controlled even if they didn’t feel controlled. When I was single, my home was impeccably organized, spit-spot and just so. When I bought my first couch, it was white. That’s how confident I am in my ability to keep things looking good. I even kept that couch beautifully white during my first 5 years of raising 2 small children in my home.
And then I got pregnant with twins.
When people hear you’re having twins, a few things happen:
First they ask, “Were you surprised when you found out or do twins run in your family?” These are not mutually exclusive answers. Gary and I were so stunned we were incapable of forming words. For 24 hours we would just look at each other, shake our heads and giggle. So yes, it was a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. After all, my grandfather was brother to a set of twins. And another of his siblings became parent to TWO sets of twins. (But they had ten kids so their odds were higher than most.)
Given that we’d done this a couple of times already, having A baby felt like familiar territory, and so it never-not-ever-not-once crossed my mind as a possibility that we might be expecting TWO.
Thank goodness I had always wanted to have three or four children. It was decided now. We’d have four. We were so happy. But to answer the question: Yes, we were surprised. And yes, twins run in the family.
The second thing people say is: “You’re gonna have your hands full.” Or “I couldn’t do it.” Or “I’m glad I’m not you.” Then they pat your belly and smile and ask you if you’ve picked out names yet.
And after having that exact same conversation every day for 9 months, I began to wonder. Would I be able to do it? I knew how to care for an infant, but I’d never cared for two at once while simultaneously raising a rambunctious 5 year old and 2 year old.
And because people are lovely and helpful, the third thing they do is they offer advice.
“Sleep when the babies sleep!” Which I learned is impossible when there are two older children around.
“Get them on the same schedule” Which I didn’t want to do because then I could never find a single minute to look into the eyes of one baby at a time so that she would know how much I loved her, just her, all-by-herself-her.
“Feed them both together” which I learned to do. But I had no idea how hard tandem nursing would prove to be, and how much I would hate doing it.
And then there was simply the advice “Go down.” Which I didn’t even understand at first.” Go down”, she said. The idea was this: when things feel impossibly difficult, go down. Put the babies on the ground. They’re safe there. You go down, too. Things can’t get any worse from there. I nodded along in understanding, not really understanding at the time.
But then about 6 months in, I heeded her words. It had been a long, lonely, dirty, crying kind of day with my babes, and so I smoothed out the handmade quilt, laid the two babies down so they could cry next to each other and I went down, crying, with them. I thought about how things could only go up from this place. I thought about what it means to be grounded. I reflected on what it felt like to be WITH my babies in their pain, not detached from it, not standing above it, watching it or judging it. But to feel with them what they were feeling. We stayed down together a long time that day. But of course we rose at some point and when we did… I found myself standing a bit taller in my confidence and my ability as a mother of four. Going down INTO the exhaustion, the insecurity, the fear and the helplessness allowed me to see my way through it.
Though my go-to method of seeking control still seemed really tempting… Now with four little ones, I’m realizing that I couldn’t do it anymore. All my old techniques were just not enough. The couch isn’t white anymore. I’d learned to slog my way through 4 or 5 hours of sleep every night, but I couldn’t manage on the two I was getting now. I found myself HATING that I couldn’t easily leave the house. I hated that I couldn’t get more than one thing done per day. The laundry was taking over and I could barely manage to feed myself a healthy meal. I worried that my older children were needing support in ways that I struggled to know how to attend to.
I realized that I had to “go down” in every part of my life. It was beyond not just being able to stand on my own two legs anymore. The systems I’d built in the home weren’t enough to support this big family. The belief system that had propelled me forward for so long wasn’t cutting it anymore. I couldn’t just trudge along by making things look pretty and controlled any more. I didn’t have time to make things pretty. I didn’t have time to make MYSELF pretty any more.
In their gorgeous book The Art of Possibility, Ben and Roz Zander write:
“Being present to the way things are is not the same as accepting things as they are in a resigned way. It doesn’t mean you should drown out your negative feelings or pretend you like what you really can’t stand. It doesn’t mean you should work to achieve some “higher plane of existence” so you can “transcend negativity. “ It simply means, being present without resistance: being present to what is happening and present to your reactions, no matter how intense…
To “go down” means that I lean into all that I’ve been resisting. I face that as long as I need to, and then when I’m ready, I can ask, “What do I want to do from here?”
As I began to discover my answers, things began to move in a new direction.
I hated that I couldn’t make healthy meals, so I bought a lot of healthy snacks. I hated that I was only able to do one thing per day, so I thoughtfully planned out what that one meaningful activity would be.
I reveled in my newfound focus and ability to say no to other people’s invitations and establish boundaries for myself. I learned to ask for help. I stepped into my vulnerability. I reframed my mess at home in a way that allowed me to feel I was alive and real and authentic and letting people in where typically I would want to shut them out. I quit my book club so that instead of reading books other people wanted me to read, I could use that time instead for reading parenting books and taking parenting classes. I engaged with professionals who could help me understand my own children better.
Going down taught me to recognize that’s where the growing lives. The growing lives in the mess.
Going down taught me that I can say yes to work projects even when I know I’ve never done that work before, that I can trust myself to figure it out as I go along.
Now I know that the “experts” aren’t always right. They’re just grown-ups who wrote down their opinions in a book. And that what works for you might not work for me. It means that “perfect” is not the clearly defined position I once thought it to be.
In fact, despite what Pinterest would have me believe, PERFECT isn’t a real thing anyway.
And so I’ve begun the chapter of the un-perfect. The un-perfect me with the messier-than-I’d-like house and the louder-than-I’d like dinners and the stories that reveal perhaps more than they should. And I like to think this newfound authenticity, this willingness to embrace things as they actually are means that my little family has a better shot of enjoying this crazy growing-up ride together. At the very least, when things start to get out of control again, I know we’re all going down together.