My first week of solo paternity leave with twins
“Six weeks? Your company sounds awesome. I wish I could do that.” Yes, I am pretty lucky to work for a company that provides six weeks of paid paternity leave. It’s something I think all companies should offer and already have started seeing benefits. With my wife going back to work after 14 awesome weeks with the boys, it is now my turn to step up and take care of the boys. I set a goal to be present with them, take the time slowly, and get in as much bonding as possible with them. I also wanted to use the time to take a mental break from a fun, frantic, and hectic year of work and work on some side projects I hadn’t had time for recently. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
The worst thing with twins at 3.5 months old is when they gang up on you and start screaming at the same time. They are big enough now that when they start screaming, it gets loud. When both are going at the same time, it sounds a bit like a horde of cats in heat. When they really get upset, it hits this unique piercing register that bores into the back of your skull and just digs in. Due to a poorly planned schedule (read: none) on my first day alone with them, both got hungry at the same time and I had to endure 15 minutes of screaming from Anders while I urged Axel to finish eating. Of course this only resulted in him eating the slowest of his whole life. I’ve now termed this double teaming of screaming, the twin tantrum. When they get going like this, I understand why Darth Vader turned evil, after all Luke and Leia were twins.
During the first twin tantrum, I was not ready for it. We used to have them fairly frequently in the early weeks, but had largely gone away recently, probably because my wife had figured out how to prevent them. With my lack of practice, I didn’t know how to properly schedule them so that it didn’t happen. Since I didn’t expect it, I wasn’t mentally prepared, and got mad at them again. I eventually got them calmed down and recovered composure, but it didn’t feel good to get so upset again. Since then I’ve been practicing taking a mental pause first before reacting and have made it through another four or so tantrums in a state of zen.
If I’ve learned one thing from this, it is that scheduling the day in advance is key. The first question we always get from people when they see the boys is “twins?”, which I’m not sure what else people think they might be since we dress them the same fairly often and they look exactly alike. The second question is typically, “do you have them on the same schedule?” I’m not sure why people think you want that, but in reality you really don’t. Having them on the same schedule means they wake at the same time, start screaming at the same time, need diapers changed at the same time, and want to eat at the same time. Instead, you want a 20–30 minute gap between schedules during the day so that you can handle one first through changing, feeding, and settling before getting to the second. You can then close this gap before bed when you’re both home and can feed simultaneously. In theory this means they should sleep as long as each other as well, though this rarely proves true in practice.
One of my goals during the leave was to get a better handle on running again. I had been doing fairly well with waking up early after the boys woke up to get in a morning run before work for a few weeks, then dropped off as the boys regressed a bit in sleeping. I found it possible to get up and run when they were waking at 5, but not when waking briefly at 2:30 and again at 5:30. On the first day, it seemed like the afternoon nap would be a perfect time. They slept fairly solidly from 1–4 after their feeding. With this break, not only did I get in a 5 mile run on the treadmill with the monitor, but also watched two episodes of Stranger Things. Sadly this pattern has not come back since. Every other day I’ve put them both down and Axel has woken just when I’ve got around 10 minutes left in my run. The first time this happened, I kept going, hoping he might settle himself back down. By the time I finished, he was so worked up it took almost an hour before I got him calmed back down and quietly resting and could hop in the shower. On subsequent days I abandoned the run to go give him his pacifier before he could get worked up again, then resumed the run. I’m hoping it is just a temporary relapse and he gets back into that schedule, because it’s really the only part of the day for daddy time.
Taking care of the boys takes up way more of the day than I thought it would. Between feedings, keeping them occupied when awake and happy, and getting ready for the next feeding, there’s way less time to work on side things like I had hoped. I’m getting through way more TV than I expected as it’s pretty much the only thing I can do with my hands literally full with the boys. I know I’m not supposed to have the TV on when they are around, but without it, I think I would lose my mind. The month free trial of Netflix is the best thing that’s happened for people on leave. I’ve already gone through all of Stranger Things and am running out of the other shows I had intended on watching.
During this week, out of necessity I’ve gotten way better at a few key twin skills. My diaper changing is on par with a Formula One pit crew now. I can change a wet diaper in about 10 seconds and a dirty one in under a minute. I also discovered how to feed them at the same time on their pillow when required by a food tantrum emergency. I learned the hard way that this method, without holding them and burping them after, is nearly guaranteed to result in spewage and clothing changes for both boys and likely daddy. I also determined a method for rocking both rock and plays with my feet while using my phone or computer still.
The one thing I haven’t learned more of are songs to sing to the boys to keep them entertained. They love singing, and don’t seem to mind Bingo or Old MacDonald repeated 100 times even when daddy can only think of a dozen animals. When you start making up the noise an aardvark makes it’s time to find a new song. As part of my bonding goal, I want to socialize with the boys as much as possible, but maybe I need to find a book on activities for infants. Luckily “Where’s Daddy” doesn’t seem to be getting old and they manage to occupy themselves with talking to stuffed animals much of the time.
The best thing my wife found and that I’ve utilized frequently is a nice long walk. Something about the fresh air and movement keeps them calm much longer than sitting inside. An hour walk up and down the street only rarely ends with crying. Plus daddy’s legs are staying in great shape and Hershey is tired and therefore mostly well behaved. This is another good time for getting some things checked off the list like Audiobooks, Podcasts, or checking out new music. It also appears to be the only way to avoid the pre-bedtime meltdown we typically have at home. By the end of the walk the boys are almost always asleep and though the do unfortunately tend to wake up when we bring them inside, they stay quiet for the full hour.
In a week, the time has already been incredible rewarding. I’d always get a smile or two when I got home from the boys, but now I get a few hourly. The boys definitely seem to recognize me much faster and any time I make eye contact I get a huge grin. They also seem to recognize my voice faster now. And my singing, which certainly not exactly soothing, seems to calm them down more so than before. Getting this time in with them is a huge gift and I’m incredibly lucky to have it. I hope other companies begin to realize how valuable this time early in the life of children is and policies are updated accordingly. When you get a smile like this, you’ll understand why.