Friday, December 31, 2010

Fathering Twins

At some point during Christina's pregnancy, I realized that while a book like Mothering Twins is about the simultaneous care and feeding of two little tykes, a book with the title of "Fathering Twins" would inevitably bring to mind the conception rather than parenting. I spent a few moments marveling at the dichotomy between the connotation of the terms "mothering" and "fathering" in our culture, and then went back to panicking about the fact that we were going to have twins.

But now I have the chance to address the issue of "fathering twins" head on. Namely, if you want to father twins, what if anything can you do to increase your chances? The question breaks down separately for fraternal and identical twins.

Fraternal Twins

Most sources agree on what increases the probability of fraternal twins appearing. For example, Twins! Pregnancy, Birth and the First Year of Life lists four relevant factors:
  • Race (A 1999 paper mentions that the highest rates are found in Nigeria; the lowest in Japan.)
  • Mother's Age and Obstetric History (For example, a 1967 study found the rate to more than triple for 40-year-old mothers versus 20-year-old mothers. The same study found the rate to similarly increase in the incidence of twins as the number of a mother's pregnancies increased.)
  • Genetics (This is the source of the common question, "Do twins run in your family?")
  • Infertility Treatments (The implantation of multiple embryos in IVF pushes the fraternal twinning rate as high as 30%; fertility drugs which stimulate ovulation are responsible for, among other things, Jon and Kate Plus 8.)
So if you want to father fraternal twins, find an older Yoruba woman with children and a family history of twins, and get her a prescription for Clomid.

Identical Twins

Many sources agree about what influences the probability of identical twins: nothing. Those sources, however, are wrong. For example, says
The rate for identical, or monozygotic, multiples is random and universal; it's the same in all populations regardless of race, heredity or other factors, and it has remained constant over time. The chances of having identical twins is about 1 in 285.
In fact, there are potential "other factors" that make a difference, although the research is far from settled. There's some evidence that improved nutrition helps. The National Geographic special In the Womb: Identical Twins claims that maternal age plays a role (women who are at either end of their reproductive years are more likely to have identical twins), although I've found this claim in no other source.

One consistent theme seems to be that IVF has a role in increasing the rate of identical twins, although nobody can agree on how much. Liza Mundy in Everything Conceivable claims that
For IVF embryos, the rate of monozygotic twinning is ten times that of naturally conceived pregnancies.
As this was a far higher rate than I had seen claimed elsewhere, I asked Ms. Mundy via e-mail what the source of the data was. It appears that it is either "the NICHD fertility outcomes conference" or the book Iatrogenic Multiple Pregnancy: Clinical Implications. Thanks to Amazon's "search inside" feature, I see a claim in the latter that monozygotic (identical) twinning is 12 times more likely under IVF. In one particular study, 4 out of 85 IVF pregnancies resulted in "MZ" twinning, when the "natural" rate would have been 1/3 of a pregnancy. Hence, 12 times. Unfortunately, the authors of that study do not seem to have been able to use a statistical significance calculator. A quick Google search produces one with the verdict: No.

A more recent study, however, with a larger sample size, found a 2% rate of monozygotic twinning. (Unfortunately, that rate was based on early ultrasounds and did not take into account the sadly high incidence of "vanishing twin syndrome".) Attempts were made to ascribe the increased incidence to various factors related to the IVF process, with mixed success.

Another article looks at the various studies says, Monozygotic twinning occurs more frequently (∼1.5–2.0%) after IVF/ICSI than after natural conception (0.42%) but notes that there have been contradictory studies about more detailed risk factors. That's probably the best we can say for now.

Trying (and failing) to get to the bottom of this took more work than I expected, but here's my advice: if you want to father identical twins, you may or may not want to seek out a younger or older mate, you probably want to look into IVF, but you definitely want to make sure she eats a healthy diet. She's going to need to be in the best shape possible to chase after the twins!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Twins in Popular Culture: Avatar

Avatar (Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition + BD-Live) [Blu-ray]Fun fact: two of the four top-grossing movies of all time are about twins.   (Well, for all I know Titanic could be rife with twins, triplets and quads; I'm still not planning to see it.)

Welcome to what is intended to be a new series of posts about twins in popular culture.  Today we're examining the top-grossing movie of all time, Avatar.

You're forgiven if you don't remember that the protagonist (Jake) is a twin -- his identical twin brother's death is mentioned at the beginning of the movie as a convenient way to establish that Jake has the right DNA but the wrong personality for the scientific mission.  And, then, as far as I recall, the brother is never mentioned again.  But then again, I forgot the main character's name was Jake, so I could have missed it.

The movie is rated PG-13, so my boys aren't allowed to see it until 2023, if then.  Aside from the "intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking” which earned it that rating, there's the borderline racism and the anti-military bias.  But to top that all off, who really wants to show them a movie that begins with a casual, "Oh, yeah, an identical twin died"?

From an entertainment perspective, I'll give it 2.5 stars.  From a twin perspective, however, 1 star.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How much does my credit union really know about me?

I went to log in to my home banking on the credit union web site and was presented with this image.

Though I wasn't there looking for a home loan, they do make a compelling pitch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All Hail the Nine-Banded Armadillo

According to the article Monochorionicity in perspective,
"Indeed, the human and the nine-banded armadillo are the only known mammals that produce monozygotic gestations, although some species occasionally deliver a two-headed or six-legged offspring."
Not content with producing monozygotic ("identical") twins, the nine-banded armadillo's normal means of reproduction is actually identical quadruplets.

Unfortunately, the quote from the article appears to be...what's the word?...wrong.  For example, here is an article (with the impressive title "Monstrous Dolphins") referencing identical twin dolphins.

I'm reading through the scientific literature for an upcoming blog post on factors influencing twinning rates and finding some truly bizarre stuff.

Friday, November 5, 2010

To be sung to the tune of The Chanukkah Song by Adam Sandler

They celebrate twinships in Twinsburg Ohio
Identical twins from one egg, Fraternal from two, right?
Instead of raising one at a time you have crazy days and nights!

When as a twin you're robbed of individual attention
Remember all the famous twins, whom we will now mention:
Scarlett Johansson has a twin brother,
If you’ve ever heard of him I’ll give you a dollar.
We’ve got identical twins Ann Landers and Dear Abby,
BranGelina’s got fraternal twins…not too shabby.
Tiki Barber’s twin—Ronde—plays for the Buccaneers
Tiki’s on Today, making his own bucks and sneers.
Linda Hamilton’s identical twin Leslie played Sarah Connor’s double,
Frat twins Mary Kate and Ashley play off each other’s wardrobes.
Lacy and Lindsey Love star in porn movies,
Alicia and Annie Sorrel write Movie blurbs for Si TV.
The Simpsons have two sets of twins: Sherri and Terri, Selma and Patty.
The Weasleys have George and Fred—twin redheadys.

Quartennary Marriage is when twins marry twins
That’s just weird, you might say
But everybody wins when everyone's twinning.
Bananas in Pyjamas are twins like no others
I can’t tell if they’re sisters, or really close brothers.
Alanis Morrisette's twin is Wade
The Barbi twins look fake
At least they all parade
For those sweet baby seals.

Jeena tried to kill her identical sis,
But Sunny Han survived it
Jeena wanted to steal her identity
Shoulda been easy....

Tom Cruise… not a twin...but claims his next kids will be
It will be a tough on Katie, giving birth naturally.
Actress Jill Hennessy is of Law & Order,
Her twin Jacqueline hosts TV in Toronto.
Kirk had an evil twin, so did Spock and Uhura
Except for the goatees it was like looking in a mirror.
The world’s oldest twins, Raymonde and Lucienne Wattelade
say liquor keeps them youthful, they still drink at ninety-eight….

So drink your tonic and gin
To be a happy, happy twin.
Eat what you like, or stay thin
If you really wanna win,
Be a happy happy happy happy twin!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Crowds

In one of my earliest posts to this site, I said
"Oh, no, people will be coming up to me to say stupid things in a grocery store. I've structured much of my life around not having to talk to strangers."
As the boys' birth approached, taking them out in public continued to be a minor fear of mine.  After three months and a week of twin parenthood, I can say that dealing with their admirers when we go out is...not bad.

I still haven't taken them to the grocery store -- we've been trying to keep them healthy by limiting their interactions with potentially sick members of the unwashed masses.  But we've found some outdoor venues where we don't have to worry about recirculated air, and now that they've made it to the three-month mark, we're beginning to be bolder with taking them out.  To my surprise, I find myself enjoying the reactions of strangers.

Part of it is probably that, at a deep-seated level, we almost all enjoy getting compliments, whether for ourselves or our children.  "Wow, you're really brave to handle taking both of them out."  "What cute babies!"  Part of it is that so far, we've avoided any epically stupid questions.  (The most common one remains, "Are those twins?" followed by, "A boy and a girl?")

But mostly it's just nice to get out of the house.  People assume that it must be a lot of work dragging these two around in public.  They're right.  But, as Christina pointed out to me after a successful trip to the Redskins game, so is staying home with them.  At least when we're out, we get credit for it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Preemie Prism

When we parents of twins think of things to panic about, most of the time, the term "panic" is not meant entirely seriously.  "Ack," we say, how are we going to "..." at exactly the same time?  Fill in the blank with "feed two babies," "chase down two toddlers," or "put two kids through college."   In reality, however, behind our surface panic is an inherent self-satisfaction.  "Heh.  We've got twins.  Awesome."

I think the primary source of true panic for parents of twins is premature labor.  The dangers associated with premature birth are real and scary, and there is a great deal of correlation between multiple birth and premature birth.  Some of the twin books I read just assumed that twins would be born prematurely.  (The rate is actually around 50%.)  We were fortunate enough to end up with "late-term" preemies, so their issues have been relatively minor.

After a long day of twin wrangling on Sunday, I wanted something to read for a few minutes before going to sleep.  I pulled out the Washington Post Magazine, and my eyes fell on the article The Preemie Prism by Tracey A. Reeves.  It was not exactly the light reading I was looking for, but it provided a nice perspective that even with 29-week preemies, things can turn out great.  (Although there are no guarantees.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Needful Things

My neighbor is expecting. Granted, she's "only" having a singleton, but we're very glad for her, and admire her wisdom in easing into parenting with just one starter child. Plus it'll be nice to have another baby on the street come October; we may borrow her baby and pretend to have triplets. But, like many inexperienced mothers (including myself), she had little idea what items were necessities, in what quantity, or when to buy. With twins, this conundrum seems more dire, as twinfants come early and you've less time to plan, let alone shop.

So, here is my list of items I've found absolutely useful in the first month, and just prior. Starting with the most helpful reading materials.

Baby Bargains: Ok, so it costs $18 unless you catch it on sale or at a thrift store, but it claims to save you at least $250 or your money back. I did the math, and lo and behold, can account for at least that much in savings based on direct advice from this Bargain series gem. Of note to twinfant parents: most baby hauses will give you a 10% discount. We bought two cribs at Great Beginnings (a Germantown store recommended by Baby Bargains), which qualified us for 10% off anything and everything else we wanted to purchase there, whenever we felt like driving 20 miles for it. We saved at least that much by visiting Great Beginnings, partly because we encountered a 20% discount over a holiday weekend. So that store recommendation alone brought us to $200. We also amassed savings by not buying many items which BB pooh-poohs as needless, even dangerous. BB is also a ratings book, which ranks and grades most popular baby brands. I bought this book early and lived by its due diligence. My only complaint are the cutesy puns and asides which are more useless than a diaper stacker.
Checklist for your New Baby: Now, this one is out of print. I first read it at my local library, and found a used copy at Amazon. They have several. It's concise, direct, and yes, actually provides checklists of items in different categories (furniture, bath time, etc.). Although it's a good workbook, it is out of print, and a bit out of date (last revision 1998); you'll have to make corrections as you read (think "Internet" instead of "Mail Order"), but the shopping lists are still totally relevant.

Now, just about everyone knows what to get for a baby. Clothes, someplace to sleep, blankets, some bottles with formula) and a few toys or books will get you pretty far into the first month.

1. Clothes for baby. We've done well enough with 25 onesies (12 for a singleton), 6 (3) pairs of socks, a few (3) hats, and about 24 (12) receiving blankets. That's all a newborn baby really needs, and it's enough to keep you from doing laundry more than every other day. Don't overbuy -- babies add about half a pound a week, which means most of those adorable outfits you dithered over won't last two months. Hats and socks don't really get dirty, so again, don't overbuy.

2. Clothes for mom: see prior post on Plus-size motherhood. Add nursing bras, night bras, and nursing tops and PJs as appropriate.

3. A place to sleep. Technically any four-sided, sturdy box with a soft-ish (but not too soft) lining will do. People have used dresser drawers, and if you think that will get you in trouble with Social Services, read pg. BLANK of BOOK. More usually a crib, bassinet, moses basket, or co-sleeper is purchased.

4. Bottles and food. Baby needs only milk (yours) or formula for the first six months. Bottles are purely for the convenience of the breastfeeding mother who wants an occasional afternoon off . Formula-fed babies will need formula, and water with which to mix it (or premixed). I use distilled water and organic powdered formula because that's who I am.

5. Toiletries: Soap/shampoo mixture, diaper cream, and skin lotion are necessary, but don't forget that cute little bag of toiletries and medical supplies, which include hairbrushes (probably not needed) and thermometers (definitely needed). Buy more than one nasal aspirator bulb, though you'll get some from the hospital.

6. Diapering goods. Diapers. Diapers. More Diapers. The average newborn gets a new didy about 14 times a day. Seriously. For our boys we go through at least 20 a day. You'll need wipes, too (on average, two per change), and a surface to change the babies on, whether it be a changing table (IKEA has a decent one for about $60) or a spare bed; even a dresser top will do. Whatever you choose, cover it with something waterproof.

Of course, the baby industry will try to convince you-- using long lists of registry items to accompany their scare tactics-- that you need a plethora of items that your grandma did just fine without. However, here are a few admittedly odd items I do not regret buying for pre or post-partum, which improved my quality of life to the point that I'm listing them on a blog.

A. Multi-purpose cloths: One friend told us you can't have enough baby wash cloths, saying "We use them for everything." Others claimed that muslin cloths or flour-sack towels were the indispensable clean-all. We found that a few Gerber cloth diapers (24( serve various purposes, from burp cloths to "pillows" for the diaper changing station, towels to dry their hair after a bath to, well, emergency diapers. They are thicker in the middle making them great pillows for hard surfaces where you change baby, and dirt cheap.

B. A glider/rocker. Mine got me through the last several months of pregnancy, being a plush recliner as well as a rocker. We'll move it to the nursery as soon as I feel comfortable peeling it away from the TV.

C. A Nifty Nabber. Call it a grabber, a nabber, a senior-citizen utility-picker, a trash plucker, this little claw on a stick helped me clean, straighten, and pick up all those things dropped because of pre-natal carpal tunnel syndrome. After the C-section, it continued to be useful. I'd pet the cat with it if she didn't run when I pick it up. Now that I'm wearing at least one baby, it's earned it's value again.

D. Swaddlers. These shaped swaddling cloths are to receiving blankets as pre-folds are to a diaper square. Buy a couple. Use them when baby gets antsy. (There is no reason not to swaddle a baby, provided you don't do it 100% of the time.) Kiddopotamus is one popular line.

E. Medical-grade pump with properly sized flanges. Multiples often come earlier than your milk, and a stay in the NICU no matter how brief means your babe will undoubtedly be fed by bottle at best, intravenously at worst (our twins had both). A medical-grade pump is covered by insurance if medically necessary (such as your babes are in the NICU), and is certainly a needful item if your milk is slow to develop. You can rent these at some hospitals or breastfeeding centers. Most hospitals with a Lactation department can get you a free pump kit (flanges, tubing, etc.), up to a $50 value, but the standard one-size-fits-all flanges will likely need to be replaced with ones sized to you (about $10 for two flanges).

F. Wubba Nubs. These little stuffed animals with orthodontic pacifiers attached at the mouth are a favorite of NICUs such as Johns Hopkins'. Babies as young as a month can hug the stuffed animal, thereby retaining the paci as well. Because every baby wubs their nubba.

G. Lactation Consultant. Line one up. Ours, Pat Shelley from The Breastfeeding Center in DC, has taught me not only tips for breastfeeding preemies, she's taught me how to really swaddle a child, how to bottle feed for maximum enjoyment (of the babe), and how to wear a baby. Her services as a lactation consultant and baby-care expert are invaluable. You can request a meeting at the hospital if you need help, but if you have real issues breastfeeding (many multiples do) you'll need help fast, as the first 8 weeks are crucial.

H. Party Bulbs. Every night is a reason to celebrate in the nursery! At least at our house the twins party all night, requiring frequent feedings and changes. I spent far too much time vainly searching for something beyond a plug-in mini light (to provide ample light for spectre-like adults at 2 am feedings) mild enough to differentiate night and day for the small fry (not a large lamp) without lighting the room like daylight. I liked the Turtle constellation one, until a book pointed out that electrical appliances should not resemble toys. Finally, in desperation, I got the Tyke Light Jr. in blue and green (to go with the color scheme). Despite being fun and functional, they provide little light to change a poopy diaper by; but they did give me an idea. Instead of a night light, we put a blue bulb in a table lamp we already owned. It provides ample light (you can't read by it, but can clearly see everything in the room) without evoking a daylight atmosphere. In fact, it's quite the lovely nighttime lighting scheme.

I. Boppy and a Nursing Pillow. With twins, you really need two. The EZ Nursing pillow we got as a gift holds two kids, but until you are an experienced feeder you'll need somewhere else to stash a kid awaiting his turn: enter the Boppy. You can use the Boppy as a prop for the child (do not leave child unattended), or as a support around the waist of an in-law or other assistant. If you only have one child, get a Boppy and at least two covers. Do not waste money on a Boppy for Newborns or a Newborn Nurser, as they are quickly outgrown, therefore useless.

J. Rubber Sheeting and Disposable Puppy Pads. Arm & Hammer makes disposable changing pads to include in yor diaper bag. They are also invaluable for late-night changes where you may not want to swab down a plastic table or change a terry cover on your diaper station. We had some puppy pads left over from our Teddy's last days, and they proved useful. Also cheaper. Despite being made by the same corporation (A&H), the baby pads are up to $1 EACH. Puppy pads -- essentially the same plastic-backed, lightly scented pad -- are available for as little as 20 cents each, about the cost of a cheap diaper.

Some sources recommend buying "Dry downs," waterproof pads to lay on your lap, changing table, wherever you need proofing. These are essentially rubber sheeting: rubber between two layers of fleecey cotton. You could spend a fortune on these small squares, or take a coupon to JoAnn's Fabrics and buy it by the yard. ($7 per yard x 36 inches wide, with coupon).

K. Color-coding Gear. If you're having identical multiples, good luck. At first they may not resemble each other at all, but as they grow, they'll grow together. Even if as a parent you can always tell them apart in person and close to hand, some parents of identicals say that even they are flummoxed looking back at photos from a distance of years. And no one wants to deal with the sibling issue of who belongs to what or vice versa. So we decided to color-code our gear. We decided on green and yellow for the boys, but yellow is an unfashionable color just now, so realistically it's more green and blue, or green and not-green, or blue and not-blue. We bought hats and socks in those colors and try to stick to what's who's, especially for photo ops. We also bought some color-coding filing stickers to mark items such as Baby Record books, and a four-way pen to mark things green or blue with less fuss. Later I envision identical backpacks in green and yellow, shoelaces, car seat covers.... the possibilities are limited only by our color choice. Even Target pharmacy has a color-coding system for meds, and we've already signed them up.

So, if you're having identical twins or higher-order multiples, don't fret. Just vow to make your life easier through new technology, because tool use has been making humans great for millenia.

Great Fathers of Twins: Paul Cohen

In my attempt to strike a balance between twin fatherhood and work, I am working from home today catching up on reading math publications.  I started out by reading a fascinating article on Paul Cohen, one of the great 20th century mathematicians.  One of his great accomplishments was showing that two of the major open questions of the time could neither be proved nor disproved from the accepted laws of mathematics.

Partway through the article, I ran across this picture:

Those boys look about the same age. They couldn't be...twins, could they? Yep. This later picture makes it clearer that they're identical:

My wife, Christina, could tell that they were identical from the first picture. I don't know whether her powers of twin motherhood also enable her to tell them apart. She also noticed Paul Cohen's wife's name in the caption.

Of all the distractions of working from home, I did not expect this one.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Which One's The Girl?"

A week after the twins were born, Christina was admitted to the hospital for some testing.  For the first time, I was solely responsible for my sons' well-being.  Crap.

As I wheeled them around the hospital complex in their Double Snap N Go, I was continually hailed by well-wishers with their congratulations and compliments.  When we reached the maternity ward, where Christina had been the previous Friday, many of the nurses recognized us.  I was a bit dumbfounded by the number who asked me, "Which one's the girl?"  "They're both boys," I replied, hopefully not too testily.  I couldn't figure out why they were asking me that, until later Christina explained that they were getting our kids mixed up with the other set of twins born the same day.

The following night we were stumbling around in a sleep-deprived daze trying to keep them both fed and diapered.  At one point the twins woke us up, and Christina, in a fog, said to me, "Which one's the girl?"  I didn't remember the phrase from the previous night, so I said, helpfully, "What?"  She repeated her question, and I said, "What?"  This went back and forth a few times...possibly as many as fifty -- we were very tired.  Finally I said, "We have two boys."

She replied, "No, I mean which one's the girl...the nurse...telling us to feed first?"  She was in the middle of a dream that we were still in the NICU.  Fortunately, I had just exited that dream myself, so although I could relate, I was not in a position to continue the dream.

Around the same time, we borrowed onesies from friends who had twin girls earlier this year.  We avoided taking the boys out when they were wearing any of them, so as to avoid the inevitable psychological scarring.  Still, it did cross our mind that dressing one of them in borrowed clothing would help people answer their own, "Which one's the girl" question.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Babysitting Panic

Since bringing the angels home (three homecomings so far, counting the hotel jaunts), I've been wondering about the 3-month restriction on taking the kids to restaraunts, malls, and other basic first-world locales. Mainly, I've been wondering how not to feel trapped into lugging around a lot of equipment. In short, I've been thinking about babysitters for those special occasions when the in-laws are no longer in-state.

I mean, what babysitter in his/her right mind would take on a set of *twins* at any price? I'm somewhat relieved by a discussion on CAMOM, which we joined shortly before the birth, in which Barbara asks the going rate for babysitting four children, and J. A. recommends her sitter:
"I pay $12/hour for four kids ages 9,9,5,5. I also usually give her a tip."

Kinda puts things in perspective, thus reducing my house-arrest panic.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Twin Panic in the OR

Last Friday at 5:00, Christina woke me with the news that her water had broken, a couple of weeks before her scheduled C-section. So it was off to the hospital for an unscheduled C-section.

We arrived at 6:00, and everything seemed under control. There was another woman in the queue ahead of Christina, but that was OK -- there are three ORs in the maternity ward. One is for normal operation, a second for more urgent cases, and a third reserved for true emergencies. We seemed to be under "normal operation," so we were waiting for the other woman to give birth. At one point, we were reassured that Christina would be wheeled into the operating room by 10.

Well, 10 became 10:30 and by 11, Christina's contractions were getting worse and worse. What had happened with the other woman? Well, she was having twins, which meant even though she was trying to have them the old-fashioned way, she was in the OR in case of complications. What about the idea that they would run two ORs for more urgent cases (which we now were)?

It turns out that the anesthesiology department wasn't comfortable running two ORs when both involved twin births. Since the other twins were taking so long to come out, they weren't willing to move Christina to the OR. So we were being foiled by a different set of twins!

After some pleading by Christina (you haven't seen pleading until you've seen a woman in labor plead), a solution was found. Christina was wheeled into the OR, and I was placed in a holding area. I soon discovered the solution -- in another part of the holding area was the other twin mother, who had been yanked out of the one OR in order so that Christina could go into the other. After some movie-quality pacing, I was ushered into the OR.

Then came the joyous moment of my sons' birth. But this is, and everything there went thankfully smoothly, so that's a story for another time. As Christina was being stitched up, however, some nurses rushed into the OR and asked how close we were to being done. Christina's doctor held up her hands to indicate the amount of stitching left. Now the other woman was ready to go, but they needed Christina's surgery to be done first.

The moral of the story: if you're going to have twins, plan it for a day when nobody else has the same idea.
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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Defeated by the Double Snap-N-Go

As the twins get closer to making their arrival, I expect this site to shift to more personal narratives of panic and frustration.  I wish I didn't have one right now...

Liza Munday, in Everything Conceivable, says
[I]t's easy to see why parents were so grateful when in 2003 Baby Trend came out with a twins version of its popular Snap N Go, a lightweight frame onto which two car seats can be clipped, turning it into an instant, easily assembled twins stroller. The advent of the double Snap N Go meant twins parents no longer had to load the children out of the big bulky car seat and into a big bulky stroller that they had to lug along in the trunk whenever they went anywhere.
To acquire such a coveted object, we decided to be a bit savvy and get one used -- after all, twins parents only need them until their kids are out of the infant car seats, and unlike infant car seats, there's no real safety concern about the provenance of the item.

We advertised on our local twins group for anyone wanting to sell one and, in fact, found a seller offering one for less than half of what one would cost new.  I drove out about an hour out of my way (seemed reasonable for the savings involved) to pick it up.  The woman selling offered to throw in their car seats, but since we already had some, and hers were pretty old (there's that question of provenance), I declined.  In passing, she mentioned that she had trouble getting their Graco car seats to attach to the Snap N Go.  But I knew it was possible to attach Graco car seats to a Double Snap N Go, so I didn't worry too much about this woman's inferior mechanical skills.  (Inferior to my wife's, that is.)

I brought the stroller home, and we stored it in the nursery for a few weeks.  After all, we wouldn't be strolling with the kids until we bring them home from the hospital, so it doesn't have to be figured out until later in the process than, say, the car seats themselves.  But last night, since I was getting the car seats out of their boxes, I figured it would be a good time to make sure the stroller worked, especially since, unlike the car seats, it didn't require going outside.

The first thing I discovered was that simply placing the car seats on the stroller and hoping they snapped was not going to work.  Not even if I fussed with them for a minute.  At this point, Christina downloaded the manual for the Baby Trend 1305TW Double Snap N Go.  The manual had a handy chart showing how to attach the bars to accommodate the Graco seats, so I figured we were in business.  Wait...where were the bars?  There were no signs of the 1" bars required to attach the seats! 

Well, fortunately, Baby Trend has a parts hotline.  Also fortunately, they're located on the West Coast, so I had a hope of getting in touch with them before they left for their 3-day weekend.  My first attempt to call reached a stern warning that I needed to read them my model number, lot number and date of manufacture when someone picked up, followed by what appeared to be a disconnection.  Fortunately, Christina was able to locate the sticker with the information.  Wait a second, we had the 1304TW, manufactured in 2003.  Well, at least it might have some historical value, since it was one of the first ones ever manufactured.

Armed with this information, I called back.  A very helpful woman named Amanda confirmed that the 1304TW in fact could accept the Graco seats, as long as I had the right adapter bars.  She even offered to e-mail me the 1304TW so I could see what the bars looked like and whether they were on the stroller.  They weren't, but I could order an "A1 bar", which the manual said I need to attach the front seat.  The back seat?  That required a "D bar", which...tap tap tap...was out of stock.  And since the 1304TW was a discontinued model, it would never be in stock.

So now we have a double stroller which can only hold one child, at least in the car seats we have.  Fortunately, we had already scheduled a charity pickup for Monday, so we can at least get a tax deduction out of it.  And if I can't get one in-store pre-assembled, Amazon will deliver one to my door by Thursday if I order it by Tuesday.

I've now sworn off trying to save money on anything.

Saturday, June 19, 2010 Interviews Tanya

I recently conducted an interview with Tanya, mother to 7-year-old identical twin boys, a 5-year-old girl, and a 3-year-old boy.  Tanya and I went to elementary and middle school together, and we recently discovered (via Facebook) our mutual interest in twins.  I conducted this interview via e-mail.

Jon: We're getting over the shock a little bit, which is good, because they're due in early August. I can't believe you have twin boys!

Tanya:  It takes a while to get over the shock. I think that I actually cried for 2 weeks!! I love having twin boys and am very glad that they came first because it was a lot of work in the beginning. The good news is that while everyone with singletons is entertaining their kids, yours will be entertaining each other. I think they also help each other sleep through the night. It took the other two a lot longer to sleep through the night. In fact, I am currently bribing my youngest (almost 4) to stay in his own bed at night.  Twin boys, 19 months later a little girl, then just when we thought we might be done, 20 months later another boy. I was trying for another girl! I love having them all really close, but it is exhausting!!!

Jon: I started laughing uncontrollably during the doctor's appointment when we found out about the twins. This is apparently a no-no, since it caused my wife to laugh and prolonged the examination, neither of which were particularly comfortable for her.

Do people stop you whenever you go out to ask questions or fuss over the kids? I've heard this happens, but I've also heard that people walk up to pregnant women to rub their bellies, and I haven't seen that happen to Christina yet (thankfully).

Tanya: YES! People always came and fussed over them and tried to touch them when I had them out in the stroller. I would always try to keep them covered, but people would just pull the blankets off of them. I hated that and would just say that they were sick and asked them not to touch. And yes, people always touched my belly, which didn't bother me, but drove my husband crazy! I think I got sooo large that it started to scare people.

Jon: What sorts of weird questions do you get?

Tanya: I get all kinds of comments when I go out with my kids. Lots of "Do you know how that happens?", a little of "I know what you do with your free time", but mostly, "wow, are they all yours?". My favorite was in the National Gallery a mother said to her daughter, "watch out for the daycare group."

Jon: Did you dress them alike when they were little?

Tanya:  I always dressed them in similar outfits, but never matching. Now that they dress themselves, it drives me crazy when one comes down in polo shirt and khakis and the other in crappy t-shirt and sweats. Mine are identical, though. I may have dressed them the same if they had looked different.

Jon: Are you putting them in the same classroom? This seems to be a big disagreement people have. I guess some of it depends on the kids, but it seems like it might be easier on the parents to have to keep up with one classroom instead of two.

Tanya: The classroom question!! We just spent a month discussing it again this year. You will get tons of advice on this. My advice is to do what you think is best for them. No one else really knows, although it is nice to get feedback from teachers. We keep them together for a lot of reasons. When they were going into pre-k, they didn't know anyone else, and I was afraid that it would be to hard for them to adjust. When they were going into kindergarten, there were only 4 readers in their class and they wanted to group them together. They strongly encouraged us last year and this year to separate them again, but they seem to be very independent of each other within the classroom, and our other 2 will be in school this year too! So, it is just easier and they like it. It is definitely easier to keep them together for us, but lots of twins are extremely dependent and will do better apart.

Jon: How long before you were able to tell them apart? Did you use any tricks, like painting toenails, etc.?

Tanya: I could always tell them apart and actually didn't believe that they were identical. It help most people that Connal had a HUGE hemangioma on the front top of his head. I remember when my dad showed up for their 2nd B-day and looked at me with fear in his eyes and said, "They grew hair!". He couldn't tell them apart at all. We also never dressed them the same. They each get half of a dresser drawer. Connal's clothes go on the right side and Nolan's clothes go on the left side on each drawer. I think they did this though!

Jon:  How do you handle birthdays? I assume they share a party, but do they each get their own cake? Do they get their own presents?

Tanya: They always share a party because it would be the same people invited. I always do a chocolate cake for Connal and a butter (vanilla) cake for Nolan. As for the different gifts: our house rule is if you get an individual gift it is yours for the day. After that anyone can use it and you better not call anything "mine". That rule applies to all four kids.

Jon: I was thinking it would be a good idea to wrap things up and post the interview soon before things get nuts around here. I'm sure I'll have more questions once reality hits, but I appreciate your answering my "preview" questions!

Tanya:  I know things are about to turn upside down at your house and I am very excited for you guys! If you have any twin questions for the boys, let me know. They will answer anything, but don't really understand why we just talk about being twins. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have along the way! Good luck and keep me posted.

Friday, May 28, 2010

You Give Twins a Bad Name

Every year, when the Social Security Administration releases their list of most popular baby names, there's a flurry of coverage.  What flies under the radar, however, is the annual list of most popular twin names.  They confirm my worst suspicions about my fellow Americans.  I may be on shaky ground here...I know that choosing names can be a difficult and personal choice...but I'd like to highlight the two worst sins I see on this list.

#1.  Names that sound too much alike.  Using names that start with the same letter (Jacob and Joshua) is a warning flag.  So is using rhyming names (Gabriella and Isabella).  Those, however, raise the "overly cutesy" warning flag -- people find twins "precious" enough without being given an extra reason.  What seems really problematic is when the names are so close that nobody's ever sure who you're talking to.  "Come over here, Taylor!  No, stay there, Tyler, I said 'Tyler' I mean, Taylor.  Which one are you again?" We were recently looking at the child development section in Raising Twins: What Parents Want to Know (and What Twins Want to Tell Them). Apparently learning to respond to their own name is an important developmental milestone -- why would you want to make that harder for your twins?  Some of the worst offenders:
  • At #42 on the girl/girl names, Haylee and Kaylee.
  • At #20 on the boy/boy names, Christian and Christopher.  "Chris, stop hitting Chris!"
  • The worst ones seem to be the boy/girl names.  Maybe people think there will be less confusion.  The top 3 name pairs are Madison and Mason, Taylor and Tyler, and Addison and Aiden, which all are problematic, but not as much as #36, Landon and London.
#2.  Names that are overly-themed in an obvious way.  I have no problem with more subtle themes -- #19 on the boy/boy list is Gabriel and Michael, which I assume arises from an angel theme.   Themes that only make sense if you know the twins' family tree are also good choices.  But Summer and Autumn?  (From the 2008 list, and thankfully not on the 2009 list.)  You're naming children, not pugs.  And unless you plan on separating them at birth, you open the possibility of a childhood full of teasing as soon as their schoolmates are old enough to get the "joke".  Worst offenders.
  • Here, girl/girl names are the most likely to go wrong.  At #2 is Faith and Hope, and #14 is Faith and Grace.
  • At #7, we have Heaven and Nevaeh.  I was appalled that people would do this just to create palindromes.  I was even more shocked to discover that Nevaeh has been in the top 40 for singletons for the past 3 years!  Also surprising -- Neveah has cracked the top 1000 lately.  I'll give a pass to Aidan and Nadia (#10 on the boy/girl list) because it's slightly more subtle.
  • At #18, London and Paris.  I realize Paris isn't "Adolf", but do you really want to start your daughter down that path?  Also, I missed the memo on when London was no longer a boy's name.

Friday, May 14, 2010

More Dumb Questions than You Can Shake a Stick at

I love hearing stupid questions people ask about twins, and especially possible snappy comebacks.  In a few short months, I'll get to employ these comebacks myself, but until then, I'll have to live vicariously.  This thread on Facebook by TWINS Magazine contains an overflowing number of dumb comments from strangers.  Some are pedestrian, but some are great:
  • How can they be fraternal if they are both girls?
  • Are they both yours?
  • They CANNOT be twins, they are NOT dressed the same.

Saturday, May 8, 2010 Interviews Paul and Rachel

Last Sunday, sat down with Paul and Rachel, parents of newborn identical twin girls.  What follows is a heavily edited and condensed transcript.  In instances where their 18-month-old son, William, was yelling right next to the microphone, I've had to work from memory.

I definitely want to do more interviews with others, but they may be via e-mail, since transcription turns out to be fairly hard work.

Jon: They are how old now?

Paul: Just over three weeks.

Christina: Can you tell them apart?

Rachel: We can right now, because they are different sizes, and one of them has an ear tag, which is a very common piece of skin next to the ear.

Jon: Will it fall off?

Rachel: Hers probably will because it's attached precariously.  But it's useful right now, if you get confused about which baby you're holding.  For instance... [Looks at baby.]


Rachel: This is Cordelia.

Paul: I've been putting on their outfits, so I knew that was Cordelia without checking.

Christina: So are you planning to pierce their ears very young, like Hispanics do?

Rachel: Right now, I think we're going to be able to tell them apart.  If I turn out to be wrong, we'll look more seriously at the ear-piercing option.  But we're going to go with the nail polish.  You can do nail polish on their feet until they can put their feet in their mouth, which I think is around 4-6 months.

Christina: By then, hopefully you can tell them apart.

Paul: And if we can't, then we're just screwed.

Rachel: Teeny-tiny tattoos?

Christina: Rub-on transfer tattoos?

Rachel: I was thinking of just a tattoo of a dot.


Jon: Would you do nail polish on just one of them?

Rachel: Yes.

Christina: And then have the code written down somewhere, like on a clipboard on the wall?

Jon: We also have William here.  How much of a difference have you noticed in terms of bringing them home versus bringing William home?

Rachel: Completely different.

Paul: Oh, yeah.  I think the biggest difference is just that William is here.  It's not that there's two of them, it's that there's a third one.

Rachel: I think for me, the biggest difference is this is harder, because there's two who want to eat, so that stuff is harder.  But I was way more freaked out with him, because it's freaky that there's a baby in your house.  It was freaky when we first got a dog.  But also, every single thing he did, like when he wouldn't sleep, I thought, "He's never going to sleep.  He's never, ever, ever going to sleep."

Paul: She's not kidding.

Rachel:  So I was like, "He's going to be forty, and he's never going to sleep."  And with these, you've seen it all work out once, so there's a kind of, "Eh, they're not sleeping that well tonight, but they probably will tomorrow."  It's harder because there's two, and there's twice as much stuff, but I'm less crazy.  I think.

Paul: We also know better how to get stuff done, like wash a bunch of bottles.  It's not like it's a secret or something, but when you're really tired because you haven't slept and you've got one baby at home, you may not figure it out quite as fast as you could.  At least I didn't.

Christina: So they're preemies, and you were saying you don't have a lot of clothes for them.  Are you expecting to be able to put them in bigger clothes soon?

Rachel: The day after we had the babies, Paul's sister came and she had preemie clothes, newborn clothes, and 0-3 month clothes, 'cause she likes to buy things for the babies.  I looked at the preemie clothes, and I was like, wow, they're already too big for these, aren't they?

Paul: She's not very good at that sort of thing.

Rachel: They looked so small.  I was going into the NICU, and after a few days they started putting the babies in clothes, not just in the little hospital kimono things.  I kept saying, "What sort of clothes are you using?" and they said, "Preemie."  So we have some preemie clothes, and we've been using them, but we're able to start putting them in some newborn clothes now.

Jon: The people who decide on sizing for baby clothes...

Rachel: They're the same people who do sizing for women's clothes...  We've gotten a lot of hand-me-down clothes.  When you say you're having twins, people are like, "You need things.  I'm going to give you things."  We've gotten a lot of hand-me-downs from people who've had girls.  Lots of pink clothes and purple clothes, and it's really very cute.  I separated them by size and put them in 50,000 Pampers boxes.

Paul: 'Cause you have 50,000 Pampers boxes.

Rachel: Right.  So we had to fudge it a little bit, because I know some of the 3-month stuff will fit them before they're 3 months, and some of the 3-6 month stuff won't fit them until they're 6-9 months.

Paul: I don't understand the sizing at all.  It's really stupid.

Christina: So how many diapers do you go through a day, since you were mentioning the 50,000 diaper boxes?

Rachel: We're doing exactly what they were doing in the NICU.

Paul: Eight feedings a day.

Rachel: They fed them every three hours and changed them every time they fed them.

Paul: We go through sixteen diapers, sometimes more.

Rachel: Interesting thing about diaper sizing -- 'cause you don't have any kids yet, so you don't know this -- first of all, Pampers and Huggies, I think they both do this -- they keep changing the name of the diapers, so in different sizes they also sometimes have different names.  So there's Pampers Swaddlers and Pampers This...  So you can't tell whether it's a different level of quality... is it because it's an older child so it's shaped different?  Very difficult to figure out what's going on.  But there's a newborn size that's up to 10 pounds.  Then there's Size 1 that's 8-14 pounds.  This took me like two weeks to figure out with William what was going on and what I was supposed to be buying.  And of course, the two main brands of diapers...

Paul: ...use different sizing.

Rachel: They use different sizing, and one of them that tops out at 15 pounds, your 12 pound kid will be too big for.  And the other one works the other way.

Paul: Yeah, the pound thing is just sort of a suggestion.

Rachel:  They don't know if your kid is short and fat or long and skinny.

Paul: As far as I can tell, the only difference between the newborn and the size 1 diapers is that the newborn diapers usually have a little cutout for the umbilical cord.

Christina: But you could just fold that it down.

Paul: Exactly.

Rachel: All of our babies have been small enough that we needed to fold it down anyway.

Christina: Do they make preemie diapers?

Rachel: They do make preemie diapers, but most places don't sell them.   The NICU doesn't even use the preemie diapers, they just use newborn size and fold them down.  It's important to remember when your hospital that everything in your little bassinet with the baby...or babies in the room with you...

Paul: yours.

Rachel: They won't re-use any of it, so take it all.

Paul: Yes.

Rachel: Take the little blue squeegie thing for sucking stuff out of their noses.  Take the diapers.  Take it all.

Christina: They won't re-use it?  They'll throw it out?

Paul: Yeah, they'll throw it out.  Unless you take it.

Rachel: 'Cause it's outside of its sealed packaging.

Christina: It's no longer sterile.

Rachel: Right.

Jon: And, most importantly, they've already charged you for it.

Paul: The hospitals also get lots of free samples of things, because the formula companies want to get you hooked on them.  Take everything.

Rachel: Breastfeed, don't breastfeed, no judgment from me, but take everything.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Another for my proposed TV show on twin crime...

The St. Petersburg Times reports on the case of a twin brother who stood in for the other in court, and the lawyer who eventually turned them in:
"It put me in a really tough spot," Thomas said later.

Matthew Mauceri was scheduled to begin trial Tuesday on one count of scheming to defraud. The 2007 case involved $160,000 in checks that didn't clear and auto parts that allegedly never got paid for.

On Tuesday morning, when Thomas started having doubts about his purported client, he asked the man if he really was Matthew Mauceri. The man said he was. Thomas doubted it but hadn't seen his client since December.

"The bottom line was, I wasn't 100 percent," he said.

But he was in a dilemma. On the one hand, he is required to defend his client's rights. On the other hand, ethical guidelines prevent him from allowing a "fraud upon the court."

Also, if it was the wrong brother, Thomas was concerned that he would be discussing information meant only for the brother who was actually supposed to be on trial.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Big Beautiful Pregnancy

Plus-sized women face certain challenges shopping for stylish clothes. Though my choices used to be limited to a few mall stores, now competition in this growing market segment has resulted in quality, fashion-forward clothes at various price points. Fashion giants Jones New York Woman and Michael Kors' MICHAEL have raised the bar, improving the choices for high-end and lower-cost retail lines too. Having more choices is a plus for any full-figured woman.

Enter pregnancy.

The expectant plus-sized woman shops at an increased level of difficulty. Pride in the baby bump requires pretty clothes at reasonable prices, a nice change from masking my curves. However, if I try pregnancy again (questionable after twins), maybe I’ll get a year’s wear out of my investment. The temporary wardrobe is an important necessity, especially for employed full-figures, but so is controlling the budget among limited choices.

Plus-sized maternity fashion is a black hole of dissapointment. The best solution I’ve found is to buy larger sizes at stores I usually frequent, but I'm having a harder time finding appropriate -- and appropriately sized -- clothes as my babies expand. At 24 weeks with twins on the way, I already approach the size of a singleton mom's eighth month, but I still have 2 to 3 months to go. In some stores, I'm already at the top of the sizing scale.

Time to Panic! Or make a plan....

Here’s my best advice for the expectant BBW, stores and tactics to help you find decent, comfy, pretty, or professional clothes, because being pregnant is truly the most lovely feeling; wear it with pride.
Game Plan:
When to buy: Make purchases every couple of months, or as-needed for events. Don’t buy too much early, as you’ll risk outgrowing items before you’ve worn them enough to justify the cost.

Budget: Plan to buy everything on sale. Have a budget in mind, but no more than $600 total. Out of my purchases to date, I’ve only bought one pair of pants full-price.

Shopping List: To have enough clothes for a work-week, buy three pairs of dress pants or skirts, two pairs of casual pants, and one dress. Use the wide-cut shirts you already own at first, but plan to have at least seven tops to get you through a week’s wear later. Buy tops and pants that double for work or casual. Natural fabrics are more comfortable; avoid polyester/rayon as your changing body chemistry can manifest odd odors if fabrics don’t breathe.

You’ll need at least 2 day bras and at least 2 sleep bras to keep the girls perky. Medela and other maternity lines sell plus bras, but for +XL sizes you’ll need to go online.

Add a “belly band” and some support hose to your list. Also, a tummy sleeve can help keep your pants up if you unbutton your current ones, or wear overly large pants/skirts.

Cold-weather pregnancies require a coat or jacket, two sweaters, and undershirts for layering.

Later in pregnancy, you may need A-line dresses for comfort and easy fit. Buy maternity dresses to keep the hemline even.

Choose a simple color palette for maximum interactivity. Black, brown, or beige pants pair well with colored tops. A white or cream blouse is a must. Choose a jacket in gray, brown, black, or navy so it goes with everything. That salmon shirt looks cute until you put on the red sweater!

Fit: Buy items to wear for months. Buy pants that go over the belly, up to the ribs for maximum comfort. You may prefer hip-huggers to sit below your baby bump, but shirts will ride up to expose bare skin. Be the belly. Pull those pants up like a little old man in Miami.

Try everything on. Everything.

Choose styles that maximize wearability over the long-haul. Buy A-line shirts and dresses that float away from the body, v-neck tops with ruching, and elastic-waist pants one size larger than you currently need. Avoid empire-waist shirts that bind you in the middle. Beware: some non-maternity shirts ride up in front and stay long in the back, so buy tunic shirts (to the top of your thighs).

Accessorize: Scarves, costume jewelery, wraps, and purses know no size limits. You'll get more out of your limited wardrobe if you spruce it up with items you can use pregnant or not.

Prepare to SHOP!
Find local stores that work for your budget and style. In department stores, the plus-size section will always be hidden in the farthest corner of the store. Wear comfortable shoes, and leave off the makeup so you can try clothes quickly.

Buy pieces you would normally buy, in your color palette. Don't settle for something you dislike just because it fits and is inexpensive; if you don't wear it several times a month, you've wasted the money not matter how cheap it was.

Find a tailor and be prepared for a multi-sized wardrobe. One pair of too-tight thrift-store pants was redeemed when a talented aunt let out the pleats and attached a new waistband; I wore them for months. You might alter some of the 8-month clothes after giving birth. Instead, you may store early purchases on the way up; you'll need them again on the way down! Save pieces you love for your next pregnancy.

Be prepared to buy a few outfits online for those last months. E-tailers have a wider selection, but check the return policy before you buy. Some e-tailers let you return items purchased online to their retail stores, but others have special rules and policies.

The Stores:

Thrift Stores:
Start here. I found four pairs of winter slacks (two of them NWT!) for about $10 each early on. On Mondays, some stores offer a 25% discount, so I got each pair for $7.50. Early on, my bigger shirts still fit, so I just stuck with those over these pants. No returns.

Target: Anything you can buy cheap is money saved. This discounter has a decent selection of maternity wear, but I’ve had better luck purchasing plus-sizes. They carry coats, sweaters, pants, shorts, skirts, and tops. The quality is not what I prefer for my regular wardrobe, but the prices for new clothes that hold up over several months are unbeatable. Stick to the sales racks. Their online store has more choices. It’s also a great place to buy inexpensive unders (to size 12), sports bras to 2XL, and men’s undershirts (to 4XL) for sleepwear. Target online allows some returns to the store, but not others.

Lane Bryant: You’ll likely need new bras before the second trimester ends. (Bra extenders widen the distance between your straps, so bras won’t fit as well.) Catch Cacique bras on sale and save 25% or more. I’ve seen sizes in-store at LB from 38C to 50EEE. Buy a skin-tone and a black with room to grow. Once you outgrow your stash of sports and sleep bras, purchase two soft-cup bras. Browse LB’s sales rack for outerwear while you’re here. If you need work pants, splurge here. LB also owns Catherine’s and Fashion Bug. Can return LB items purchased online to a retail store free.

Motherhood Maternity: Unlike its sister store A Pea in the Pod, MM carries a small selection of plus-size maternity wear, mostly simple cotton tops and casual pants, but to their credit all the plus-sizes are cut from the same styles as their Missy line. You can find a belly band in-store (to 3XL), swimsuits on the rack (to 3XL), pants, tops, and… that’s about it. The bra selection in-store is limited (to 42DD). A friendly atmosphere and online presence validate your visit. Excellent prices. Can return items purchased online to a retail store, restrictions apply.

JC Penney: They have a small plus-size maternity department, but I had better luck in their Woman’s department, where I purchased three pairs of elastic-waist, summer capris on sale (Navy, Brown, Beige). I also found a great deal on cute, 100% cotton knit tops – 2 for $16. Can return items purchased online to a retail store free.

Liz Claiborne: The mother of Dana Buchman and MEXX also offers Liz Claiborne Woman, a line which is regaining its luster since Tim Gunn took over as CCO. I frequent the outlet for upscale casual wear, accessories, and exercise wear. They lack some punch in work wear. Somewhat pricey for a temporary wardrobe, but outlet discounts abound. No online shop; shop LC outlets or other retailers. Coming to JC Penney in Fall 2010.

Talbots: This high-end, pricey store markets its own line of work wear, cocktail, jeans, tops, accessories, and shoes. Talbots stays current with stylish-yet-traditional professional wear and flirty evening choices. Clothes are well-made; fit is excellent. I bought a red party dress ten pounds into my pregnancy, and I'll wear it again next year. It might need a tuck or two to stay in my closet, but it’s worth the hassle. For elegant work wear or an evening outfit, go to Talbots. Can return items purchased online to a retail store free.

In Canada, Addition-Elle is my new favorite store. Think high-end everything sizes 14 to 26. From unders to swimsuits, coats to jackets, jeans to cocktail dresses, and work wear galore, they have everything a plus-sized lady could use and some items she'll just want. The juniors clothing was classy-hip. I nearly went bonkers ogling the LC and JNY clothes, and the items in their own line are fabu. They even have Anne Klein Plus, a collection so rarely seen I thought it was an urban myth. Pricey, with frequent sales and multiples discounts.

Online Only:
Plus Mom Maternity aggregates full-figure maternity clothes and goods. Check out their suggested shopping list. sells more than shoes. Zappos has a shifting inventory of plus-sizes, some of which fit maternity goals. Worth a look. Free shipping both ways. lists a handful of tops, a few dresses, and two pants online in their new maternity plus department. Sizes 16 to 30. Returns by mail $6, exchanges by mail free. sells full-figure maternity only. Swimwear, clothing, and support garments. Many broken links, limited choices, good prices.

Best Book Choice: Big Beautiful and Pregnant

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Book Review: The Art of Parenting Twins

The Art of Parenting Twins: The Unique Joys and Challenges of Raising Twins and Other Multiples by Patricia Maxwell Malmstrom and Janet Poland.

I've quoted from this book in two previous posts, so you know I found it thought-provoking. In fact, it has a lot of good information.  And yet...  I find enough about this book off-putting that I can't give it a whole-hearted recommendation.  For example, the author (who refers to herself in the first person singular, even though there are two listed on the cover) rejects the terms "identical twin" and "fraternal twin".  Why?  Well, "identical twins" aren't completely identical, and "fraternal twins" aren't necessarily brothers.  Accurate, but tedious.  Don't get me wrong -- I like the terms "monozygotic" and "dizygotic" as much as the next parent, but there's no need to get strident about it.

Other annoyances -- use of the term "co-twin" instead of "twin" and frequent references to "Twin Services", an organization she runs.  I know that organization is the source of much of the practical advice in the book, but it feels like an advertisement.

I may be going out on a limb, but I found this part irritating:
But it's awkward to refer to "twins and higher-order multiples" throughout the book, so we'll use the term twins to refer to all multiples.
Why did I find this irritating?  Because after that, there are repeated references to triplets sprinkled throughout the book.  If you're going to go to the trouble of saying you'll call everybody twins, it's really jarring to read the triplet references.  I'll think, "Do I really need to read this part?",  "Shouldn't parents of triplets get their own books?", and "Twins don't seem so bad by comparison."

Most memorable response to a stranger's question: this time the response comes from a twin himself.
"If someone says, 'Are you twins?' I'll say, 'I am, but he's not.'"
Parents of twins can adapt this to, "One of them is identical, and the other's fraternal, but I can never remember which is which."

All in all, there's solid information contained in this book, if you can get past the style.  I couldn't, which is why the Twinometer is stuck at 7/10.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I'm Confused; Tiki Doesn't Have a Goatee...

I was suprised to read in The Art of Parenting Twins that some people take the "evil twin" myth a little too seriously.
I have heard many times since on our counseling services from mothers who believed that all twins are like Esau and Jacob, one "bad" and one "good."
So that's where it comes from!  I was confused; I guess that's my fault from getting my theology from Star Trek.

On the other hand, Tiki Barber shows another way to tell which twin is the evil one.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review: It's Twins

It's Twins!: Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy through AdolescenceOn a recent trip, I read It's Twins!: Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy through Adolescence by Susan Heim.  This book is divided into four parts: Twin Babies, Twin Toddlers and Preschoolers, Twin Kids, and Twin Tweens and Teens.  Each part contains a number of sections, such as "Should Twins Share Everything--Even Spit?", "Do You Have a Dominant Twin?", "The Importance of Family Traditions", and "Spending One-on-One Time with Your Twins."  Each section starts with an introduction, continues with a mini-essay or two (mostly a "Twins Tale" or "Twins Tips" but sometimes "Twins Trivia" and "Intriguing Twins"), and concludes with "Points to Ponder".

"Twins Tale" is the meat of the book, and both its greatest strength and weakness.  These sections consist of essays written by parents of twins.  I appreciated the differing perspectives and the first-person perspective, rather than having everything filtered through the author's voice.  In some of the stories, however, the parent seemed to be venting rather than offering lessons for other parents.  Frankly, hearing how one hospital had stymied a mother's attempt to breastfeed, or how someone else's twin peed on the movie screen on a transpacific flight, just depressed me.

The "Points to Ponder" was mostly filler -- three or four questions about your own twins, followed by large blank spaces for you to write your answer in the book.

Now for what has apparently become a new feature in my book reviews -- most memorable response to a stranger's question.
"A girl and a boy. Oh, you are so lucky; you got the best of both worlds. Are they identical?"
"No, actually, my son was born with a penis and my daughter, thank the Lord, was not."

I did find some parts of the book thought-provoking -- in particular, the list of advantages and disadvantages of putting twins in the same classroom sparked a lively discussion with Christina. Also, the broad scope of the book -- from birth through adolescence -- provided a nice overview at a time when I have no need to focus on one specific age.  Once the twins are actually here, though, I couldn't imagine keeping this book on the shelf for more than a decade waiting to use Part 4.

This book is a nice one to take out of the library, skim through, and return when you're done.

Twinometer: 6/10.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm Imagining an Entire TV Series Devoted to Twin Criminals...

From the Telegraph:
James and John Parr were both arrested after watches worth £10,000 were stolen from a shopping centre.

The only clue at the scene was blood on a piece of glass and detectives traced the 25-year-old identical twins through DNA tests.

But James and John both denied the theft and, because they have identical DNA, it has been impossible to prove if either of them were responsible.

I didn't know that was an option...

I was reading The Art of Parenting Twins last night (more book reviews coming soon) when I came across the following:
In some families I know, the parents don't tell their children they are twins. Although these children generally figure it out when they get to school and learn that not everybody has the same birthday, they may feel that their parents haven't leveld with them or prepared them for all the questions and interest.
It had never occurred to me that you could avoid telling twins that they were, well, twins.  In fact, I'm not quite sure how you would do that.  Avoid introducing the word "twin" to their vocabulary?  I really can't imagine doing that, but maybe I'm just not seeing the big picture here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: Double Duty

Next up, I'm going to review Double Duty: The Parents' Guide to Raising Twins, from Pregnancy Through the School Years by Christina Baglivi Tinglof. I'm going to review the 1998 1st edition, rather than the 2009 2nd edition because, well, that's what I got from the library. I assume the second edition is fairly similar, but with fewer references to VCRs.

At first this book intrigued me. Most books that we've been looking at focus on pregnancy and the first year. While this makes sense for us now, it seemed like it would be neat to "peek ahead" with a book that had a little less about pregnancy, a little more about the first year, and a couple of chapters about life beyond that.

Unfortunately, my interest did not last long. Flipping through the book, I found the advice,
Try not to refer to your children as "the twins".
Really? Most parents I know talk about "the kids", "the boys", "the girls", etc. More to the point, why not? After some discussion, Christina (my wife, not Ms. Baglivi Tinglof) and I decided that it was reasonable to refer to them as "the twins" in the third person -- as in, "We just dropped off the twins with their grandparents, and we're headed for Vegas." It did, however, seem inappropriate to address them as such. ("Twins, get in here!") If we're going to be accused of causing lasting psychological damage to our kids, I'd at least like to know why.

Reading the introduction, I see how the book was constructed. The author interviewed a bunch of parents of twins, and a pediatrician, and compiled the advice she got. The result, unfortunately, is a mix of good and bad advice, with little way to distinguish between the two.

In the first chapter, she tells us,
African races have the highest incidence of twinning (about 20 percent more likely than Caucasian women), followed by Europeans, then Mexicans. Asians have the lowest incidence.
Reading this paragraph aloud provoked a lecture on Mexican racial identity from the Mexican-American in bed next to me. (Summary: It makes about as much sense to call Mexicans a race as it does to refer to the "United States race".)

The author provides numerous Top Five lists. The "Top Five Comebacks to Annoying Questions and Comments" caught our eye, since we're planning to institute a similar feature here at (Preview: "Are they twins?" "No, they're triplets...oh, crap, one's missing again.") We were brought up short by #4:
Question: "Twins? How do you tell them apart?"
Answer: "We had only one twin circumcised."
OK, at least we laughed at that one, but it seemed a little inappropriate.

In short, I can't recommend this book; there are too many other, more carefully written books about twins out there. Even those which are also collections of advice are more explicit about the source of and reasoning behind that advice. This one's going back to the library soon.

Twinometer: 3/10.