Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One year

One year ago I was just waking up in my hospital room at Rigshospitalet in Denmark and getting ready to meet my monoamniotic/monochorionic twins. I was nervous about the c-section and about the babies' health. And I was so excited. When you are going through such a high risk pregnancy, it is common not to allow yourself to visualize the little people you might be creating. I thought about my girls and wanted desperately for them to be ok and to turn out healthy, but I didn't really imagine them. I didn't think much about what having two babies would be like, or how it would be for Riley to have two sisters. I didn't read books about parenting twins - I was too superstitious to do something like that. We chose names, we saw the babies on the ultrasounds (approximately 32 of them) and we prayed. People all over the world prayed with us. We had so much love and support from our friends and family and from people tangentially connected to us who just heard about our story and connected to us somehow. I like to think that Aviva and Violet received prayers in nearly every religion and good thoughts from so many spiritualities. On the morning of March 26, 2013, all those prayers and good wishes paid off when our babies were born.

Now one year later I am the lucky mom of three amazing kids. A proud big brother who is nearly 4 and two sweet, happy, funny little girls who make each day joyful. All the worry of the pregnancy and the NICU has slowly melted away and left in its wake waves of gratitude that could fill an ocean. I think often of the amazing midwives and doctors I met at the hospital and of the pediatric nurses who visited our home and of the friends who visited me at the hospital, or sent care packages or took countdown photos and I say silent thank yous -the kind a mom of infant twins and a 3.5 year old boy has time to say. To all of you, I remain so grateful.

Having twins is tough. Mixing twins with a toddler and then moving countries is insanely tough. But each and every day I get to care for those girls, I know what it truly means to be lucky. I am so blessed to have my little family of five.

Happy birthday Violet and Aviva. Thank you for making it so much fun to be your mommy. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Little Bit Danish

When I was 8 or 9 years old I went to summer camp for the first time. I spent a week in a tree house at the Santa Fe Tree House Camp. It was a remarkable week for many reasons including my newfound independence, my love of nature, the beginning of my love of summer camp, etc. But what I remember most about that week is that I forgot what I looked like. Completely forgot. And at that point where I could no longer remember what I looked like I created a face in my imagination. I suppose this dreamed up image of myself was an accurate reflection of how I thought of myself. The little girl I imagined had my curly frizzy hair and someone else's light brown skin. I remember being shocked when I finally looked in one of the little camp mirrors (apparently my hygiene suffered when away from my parents for the first time) and saw that my skin was creamy white.

This incident stayed with me and I often think of it as a way to describe how I internalized the culture of Northern New Mexico and the Hispanic people who have lived there for hundreds of years. In college I met a friend who had a Hispanic father and a Jewish mother. We had some interesting conversations about identifying with two cultures. I remember thinking that my new friend was a more understandable embodiment of the cultural identity that I adopted as a child in New Mexico. I am ethnically a Jew with family from Russia and Germany, but I internalized the culture of Northern New Mexico and have carried it with me. 

In this same way, I feel that I became a little bit Danish during our 2.5 years in Denmark. No, I did not learn to fluently speak the language and I am not descended for Vikings, but I am longing for the hygge of this time of year. I miss the red hearts and white lights that go up all over Copenhagen to symbolize Christmas. I miss the dark seed-filled rugbrod. I miss biking and walking everywhere and I better understand the Danes' socialized medical system than I do our confusing healthcare. In short, I feel uncomfortable in my own country. The reverse culture shock is worse than the culture shock was. Perhaps I didn't completely fit in in Copenhagen. There I was so clearly An American. But here, I don't feel American enough. 

If it has been hard for me to adjust, it has been even more difficult for my 3.5 year old son to adjust in many ways. He has easily fit into school and loves it, but he still hums the theme song from Rasmus Klump and sleeps with a photo of himself and his daddy standing at the top of the Round Tower to remind himself of Denmark. 

While discussing synonyms with Riley the other day, Riley listed the Danish word as a synonym for something which was both accurate and a little bit heartbreaking. I didn't know that particular word and I told him as much. He said, "That's because you and Daddy are not Danish, right?" 

"Right," I said.

"But I am a little bit Danish, right?" Riley asked.

I thought about myself at summer camp when I forgot what I looked like, and all the little facets of identity I have picked up here and there. I thought about how my son lived in Denmark much longer than he has yet lived in the United States, how he was learning the language in school, how I would prefer a world where we can all be multinational citizens. I thought about how maybe the responsible answer was to say that he was Ameircan, but Riley knows he's American and he knows he is Jewish and apparently, just like I did as a child, he also viewed the culture he grew up in as his own in some way. So I said, "Right, Riley, you are Danish a little bit." 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My dog is dying. As I write this, I am sitting in a chair beside her. She is sprawled in a little blue bed eyes open, taking slow and shallow breaths. Earlier, I came home to find she had fallen on the hard wood floor, feet in every direction, head in a puddle of pee. This is not what we think about when we adopt our pets.

Barbie and her brother Wylie have been our companions for 9 (Wylie) and 9.5 (Barbie) years. They cuddled with me through three moves, a miscarriage, two pregnancies and the birth of three children and many adventures. In October, we made the decision to have Wylie put to sleep. He was in pain, we couldn't hold him and he couldn't hear or see. Even though it seemed to be the right decision, it was heart wrenching. After he died, I went to write about him and found I could not bring myself to. A couple weeks later when his ashes were returned to us, I walked all the way home for the vet, carrying a little box that contained all that was left of my little buddy and sobbed.

This week, we have been faced with an all too familiar situation and so far we have chosen not to euthanize, but tonight it is clear that Barbie is suffering. We sat with her and told her we love her and stroked her tiny body, and there is nothing else we can do. Losing Barbie feels like a double loss in a way. I feel I am losing her brother all over again and losing her as well. I feel guilty because she has received less and less attention as our family has grown and now that we moved to Oregon, she couldn't make it up the stairs to our bedroom and has been sleeping alone downstairs for the first time since we adopted her when she was five.

Losing Barbie is losing a good friend and saying goodbye again to all the chapters of our lives she has accompanied us through.

When I came home to find her sprawled on the wood floor, I quickly scooped her up to help her and to protect my three year old who understands way too much about death and dying already. We have been telling him that our dog is sick and she might go away soon and he remembers that Wylie died and went to heaven so he asked if she would be going there too and when. When Wylie died, our son asked for him and cried for months afterward. After a recent discussion about how everyone dies at some point, Riley turned to me and said, "I hope I stay until my baby sisters are grown up." I had to turn my head to hide the tears that came streaming down my face as I assured him he would live long after his sisters grow up - as if anyone can make that promise to anyone else.

My dog is dying. She suffers from kidney and heart failure and some sort gum or tooth infection that is causing her mouth to bleed. She is dying after 14.5 years of a good life and she is forcing me to remember my own mortality.

I will miss you Barbie.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

26 Hours

It took 26 hours to travel from our apartment on Amagerbrogade in Copenhagen to our new house in Beaverton, Oregon.

26 hours with me, Neil, two five month olds, a three year old, a fourteen year old Maltese dog, cousin Brittany, 13 checked bags and 11 carry on items. 26 hours to a different life.

No matter how you prepare for such a journey, there are bound to be mishaps. I am proud to say that we had adequate snacks, changes of clothes, diapers and toys for all three kids and the grown ups.

The big hitch in our plans occurred when our flight from Copenhagen to JFK didn't take off on time.

We had spent the time in the boarding area bonding with the crew of our airplane. Flight attendants were holding the babies and playing with Riley. Our kids charmed the New York-based flight crew and the crew, in turn, charmed us.

And so, when one of the nice men who had held the babies came on the intercom and said, "well ladies and gentlemen, the reason the plane was a little late getting in is that there is an exterior door that is broken. It isn't going to keep us from flying, but we can't fly at our top speed or the door will come open, so instead of a 7 hour flight to JFK, this will be a 9 hour flight." My first instinct was to want to kill the messenger, but I liked the messenger and realized I couldn't direct my anger at the crew so I resigned myself to our new fate - 9 hours on an airplane and a missed connection in New York.

The flight was ok. Riley slept for only 30 minutes and needed entertainment the rest of the time (for those of you who are not skilled with numbers, that was 8.5 hours of entertainment for the three year old) and the girls slept on and off, but needed to be walked around the plane the rest of the time. This meant that none of the adults slept at all and at least two of us were up walking around the plane most of the time. I got covered in spit up once and did a whole outfit change in a small, dirty airplane bathroom. Neil got covered in spit up, but neglected to bring an extra outfit for himself so he just put water all over his clothes and walked around wet. Otherwise, there were no major mishaps.

Our flight landed in New York and first Neil left Brittany's roller bag on the plane. Once that was retrieved, we promptly forgot Riley's stroller at the gate. (Easy to do when you have 11 carry on items.) This resulted in having our little three year old, who was by this time drunk with exhaustion, walk while towing his suitcase down the seemingly never ending hallway to customs. Brittany and I were carrying babies and bags and Neil was carrying what seemed like the entire world but was really a couple large bags and the dog in her bag. He tried to get Riley to ride on his shoulders, but Riley refused. I tried to get Riley to let me carry his suitcase, but Riley refused. Riley was swerving and stumbling and I struggled to get him to keep up, but several times the passengers from a flight from Israel and another flight that I am guessing came from India got between me and Riley. Because I was completely exhausted and uncomfortable and really upset that I couldn't carry my little guy when he so clearly needed to be carried, I was disproportionately distraught about his drunken stumbling. I imagined him being washed away with the crowds of unfamiliar foreigners, or just wilting and remaining forever in the long hallway between the international gates and
official entry to the US. 

Somehow, we made it through customs. Somehow we got all our 13 bags and got Riley in his stroller and he fell asleep. Which would have been glorious if we didn't have to rush like crazy to catch the last flight to Portland for the night. A kind airline employee took us on and hustled us through rechecking our bags and getting through security. She even held Barbie (the dog) while we went through with all our kids etc. At one point on our way from bag check to the security checkpoint I saw the lady give our three carseats and our insanely expensive double stroller to some male airport employees headed to oversized luggage and she said "make sure these get on the plane, these babies need these to get home tonight". The men disappeared with our stuff into an elevator and she turned to me and said "I hope you get those, if not, you can get carseats for car rental agencies" and then we were off running again. 

When our guardian angle airline employee first approached us to help us get to our flight, Neil was so exhausted and hassled he thought she was trying to prevent us from getting to our flight and started saying, "come on, we just need to get to our flight..." I had to intervene to clarify that she was trying to help, not hinder.

Again, we somehow made it through security and to our flight, we were among the last to board and were seated way in the back of the plane. Neil had to wake Riley and surrender the stroller at the gate. This resulted in our three year old screaming at the top of his lungs. He really couldn't be blamed, our journey was approaching the 19 hour mark and he hadn't slept. By the time we were seated on the plane, all three children were screaming at their top volumes. I thought the babies might be hungry,  but they wanted nothing to do with eating, they were also overtired. I think it took about 15 minutes of complete and utter torture which included all the passengers surrounding us making jokes and complaining about the crying, a flight attendant trying to bribe Riley with a big bag of peanut m&ms and me contorting my body so I could comfort one baby and Riley while Neil held the other baby until everyone, and I mean everyone including myself and Neil, fell asleep. 

The rest of that 6 hour flight was peaceful and when we got to the airport in Portland, more than half a dozen family members were waiting with Danish and American flags and helium balloons and welcome banners. Which was the most over-the-top airport welcome I had ever received, but was also completely appropriate given the marathon we had just completed. 

We got our bags, had lots of help loading them into three cars, took a ride to our new house and walked inside. 26 hours to a different life. 

Friday, August 23, 2013


Departures are so strange and intangible. We have been leaving for several weeks now. We said goodbyes. We watched a team of Swedish movers box up our possessions, load them in a shipping container and drive it away on a semi truck. We have been doing all our lasts. 

Last visit to Magasin. Last trip to our friends' house. Last walk along christianhavn canal. Last paradis ice cream. Some lasts went unnoticed. When was my final visit to my Egyptian friend's delicious restaurant? When was the last time I walked by the round tower? Saw a swan family? Heard the bells on Holmens church chime in a song?

Today, to mark our final day living in Denmark, we went to Tivoli. It was a bit overcast and tourist season is dying down so there weren't many people in line for rides. I was lucky enough to have three sleeping children a d one patient cousin and was able to go up The Golden Tower four times in a row. Once on each side. The ride is one of the simple run you up a tall tower and then drop you in a free fall until you get close to the bottom where you bounce up and down as if you'd gone bungee jumping. Normally I wouldn't want to go on such a ride, but there is something about The Golden Tower. There is a moment at the top where everything is still and you can survey the beautiful old city of Copenhagen. And then you suddenly plummet from the sky back down to earth. 

I surveyed the city I have come to call home, trying to soak in the beauty, to remember how lucky I am to have lived here and then I fell. 

After Tivoli, we took the bus home and put all our belongings in bags. We threw out an embarrassing amount of food, packed an embarrassing number of suitcases and went to sleep for one more night in our echoey, empty apartment. 

I remember leaving our home in Washington DC to move here and feeling much the same way. A sense of profound loss at the life we were leaving and simultaneously thrilled at the new adventure awaiting us. People say you can always return. "You can come back to Denmark," they say. And it is true, you can, and we will - but it will never be the same. We won't live here again and we won't find all of our familiar people and places again on our return. Time will march on, we will change, our neighborhood will change, people will move away, the city will shift and transform. It will not be our Copenhagen in the way it is in this moment and we will not be the way we are in this moment. 

In the morning, we will gather our belongings, make a final sweep of all the rooms, slam the door so it locks and leap - free falling into our next adventure. Here. We. Go...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Farvel Danmark

I don't like leaving, and yet we are all always leaving. We decided at the beginning of August that we are moving back to the United States at the end of the month. There are many things I am looking forward to about moving to my home country, but there are so many things I will miss about this amazing country that I have come to love.

I will miss the friends we have made here, many of whom were instrumental in helping us survive my pregnancy and our early days with the twins. I will miss the bakeries. I will miss their pastries and also their amazing breads. I will miss taking Riley to Lagkagheuset and leaving with his free child's roll in a small brown bag. I will miss taking our huge strollers on busses, walking past the city's canals every day, hearing English spoken with a Danish accent, passing days or afternoons at Tivoli, talking to neighbors in our courtyard while Riley plays in the sandbox or on the pirate ship play structure. I will miss the Danish people who think they are unfriendly but who are actually kind and generous in their own quiet way. There is so much to miss.

Neil jokes that if we had to sum up our time in Denmark in two words those words would be "We reproduced." This is funny to me because on the one hand, it is true, we moved here with a 7 month old and are returning with a 3 year old and two 4 month olds. But children, while perhaps the most important thing to happen to us, were not the only thing to happen. We traveled, oh did we travel. We had my dream European vacation at least four times over. And we became a part of a community here. We learned to live abroad, immersed ourselves in another culture to the point that nothing here seems strange anymore except the language.

I fell in love with Denmark. A friend recently remarked that living here is like being at Disneyland, you can't stay forever. It is true. It's easy to live in Denmark. Sure, there are problems here, but compared to most places, it is utopic. Our experiences with the schools here have been outstanding. I feel it is almost criminal to take Riley out of the fantastic little bornehavn he just started attending in June. My time at the hospital was so positive in so many ways. Our family doctor is outstanding. Our neighbors are nice. We can bike, walk or take public transit everywhere. It just feels good to be here and I am so sad to be leaving this place and the people who make this place special for us.

I look forward to being closer to my family and in the same place as much of Neil's family and I am sure I will enjoy things like understanding other people's conversations, reading signs, going to Target, etc. But right now I am determined to soak in as much Denmark as possible before flying to Oregon with two 4 month olds, a three year old and a 14 year old dog (and Neil and cousin Brittany). You just know that day will make for a good blog post or two.

Movers will come this Thursday and take all our belongings and put them on a boat. As we go through our flat and sort and pack it feels like both yesterday and a lifetime ago that we were doing the same thing in our apartment in Washington, DC in preparation for our Denmark adventure. I hope our next adventure will be just as good as this one has been.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Terrible toddler

For the first two years and eight months of my son Riley's life, I was frequently convinced that Neil and I deserved a medal for outstanding parenting. What else could explain the adorable little person we had created? He was polite, he easily tried new foods, was a dream on airplanes, behaved well at school and at home, loved to snuggle and hug and wasn't nearly as crazy as some of the other little boys we knew.

I remember when his second birthday approached, I was walking around on eggshells waiting for him to become a terrible two year old. It didn't happen. He was two and a half and it still hadn't happened and I took a big sigh of relief. "Our son is so great, we got to skip the Terrible Twos," I thought.

I would look at the parents whose kids were wheeled by in their big Danish strollers while screaming and flailing around and feel immense pity for them while simultaneously thinking, "Thank God my kid doesn't throw tantrums like that."

Perhaps I was too smug? Too sure that Riley's sweetness and compliance were due to my superior parenting skills. But really, I think I was just a silly first-time mom who somehow thought I could skip over a key developmental stage with my kiddo. The technical term for that stage, as I have now learned is, The Do Not Listen To Anything Anyone Says, Lose All Self Control, Throw Tantrums and Perfect Your Ability to Say "NO" in The Most Annoying Way Possible Stage.

I suspect that even if I hadn't disappeared into the hospital for 9.5 weeks and returned home with two baby sisters, Riley would be going through some growing pains right now, but certainly the addition of the babies to his life has complicated things. Riley also changed schools recently and was coaxed into giving up his pacifier for good. Not to mention the rotating cast of characters that have been staying with us to help with our massive increase in children. Just as Riley is comfortable with one grandma,  the other comes and just as he is comfortable with the other grandma, our cousin comes, the kid is having a tough summer. But, he has also turned into a total monster. Don't worry, he is a monster that I desperately love and would defend with my life, but he's exhausting to be around.

In the past 48 hours he has: head-butted one of his sisters and made her cry, hit a sister with a (padded) hockey stick, spent at least 15 minutes in a heap on the living room floor screaming "No, No, No" to no one in particular, drawn on a kitchen chair with crayon, kicked a half-eaten nectarine across the room, thrown a full cup of milk across the kitchen, punched a girl he doesn't know at a birthday party, and dumped 3/4 of a bottle of nail polish remover on my leg and all over the bathroom floor while saying "I know it's not a good thing to do, but I do it anyways."

I have gone from feeling like parent of the year to feeling like I should be sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on. The worst part is that I can see that Riley is hurting on some level and that is probably what a lot of his acting out is about. But I am powerless to help him. He is going to have to get used to having sisters. If it takes much longer, I am going to be the one in a heap on the living room floor throwing a tantrum.

All parenting advice is welcome. We clearly do not know what we are doing.