I am nursing my 7-week-old son as I work my chopsticks around my plate of eggplant with my free hand. My husband is holding our other twin, who is clearly ready for his dinner as well. Meanwhile, our toddler sits next to me, methodically taking the ice out of his drink and putting it on the table.
I’m sweating profusely from a combination of the spicy food, postpartum hormones, having an infant squished up against my skin under my nursing scarf, and the fact that we are being scolded by the manager of the restaurant.
“What were you thinking?” she chastises, after asking if we have family nearby. We don’t. “So who helps you?”
We shrug. Friends… Babysitters… Our parents come in as often as they can. But we’re OK, we reassure her. In fact, the most stressful part of this outing with three children under 3 has been this conversation. We don’t tell her that, of course.
“Does he even know how to change diapers?” she asks, gesturing toward my husband, who of course changes his share. I notice other patrons staring at us, or starting to politely ignore us, and I feel a flush creeping up my neck — which doesn’t help my sweating. I’ve never done well with groups of people staring at me, and now that I’m the mother of newborn twins, that’s exactly what seems to happen whenever we leave the house.
Since growing from a family of three to a family of five almost two months ago, my husband and I have tried our best to be as normal as possible — and a return to normalcy does involve engaging with society. But it is exhausting. Navigating the world with a double stroller and a toddler who has just begun to test boundaries is difficult enough, but, for me, the hardest part is anticipating just how many unwanted conversations I’ll end up having with strangers.
I’m a fairly introverted person, especially when I’m around people I don’t know well. Now that I’m on maternity leave, it’s important for my well-being that I get out into the world with the kids every day. Yet psyching myself up for the inevitable interactions with strangers is a monstrous task — and that’s already on top of all the gear and preparations that are required in order to leave the house with three small people in tow.
I get it: Twins are a curiosity. It’s natural that people are interested in them. But I’m always tired, and I’m rarely operating at 100%. So it boggles my mind why people think a woman managing three young children in public needs a stranger monopolizing her time — but it always happens. I rarely get through an outing without having at least a couple of lengthy conversations with people I don’t know. They almost always ask the same questions: How old are they? Do twins run in your family? Are they identical or fraternal? How does big brother feel about all of this? Were you trying for twins? (Why do people think this is an appropriate question for a stranger?)
It’s lovely that people want to wish me well. And, really, that’s what most of them are doing — though I could do without those who comment upon “how hard it must be.” Of course it’s hard, and I certainly don’t need to rehash it with a stranger in the frozen aisle at Publix. It’s all too easy to resent these well-meaning people whom I don’t know. They mean no harm, but they leave me feeling like a freakish attraction when all I want is to feel like myself, and who make it even more difficult for me to leave my house when fresh air is what I need the most.
There are, of course, happy exceptions, when I am pleasantly surprised by the people who stop me to chat. The man stocking the shelf at the grocery store, who tells me that his own twins are now teenagers and possess a bond that goes beyond best friends. The pharmacist, who I haven’t seen in months — and who I didn’t realize even remembered me — who rushes out from behind the counter, genuinely thrilled that we’ve expanded our family. And the hostess at the coffee shop — the one that always leaves me feeling old and uncool — who beams at me as I’m on the way back from the bathroom with my toddler and tells me I’m an amazing mom.
I don’t love talking to strangers, but these moments, when people share their stories with me, are encouraging. These heartfelt conversations help me remember that I’m experiencing something that so much of humanity has shared, and they also remind me that, trite though it may sound, we are all in this together. That while it’s more peaceful to glide through my day in my own bubble, in the long run, maybe letting others in will make this whole thing a little easier.
And then there are times like tonight, at the restaurant, when I feel very much on display. But then, finally, the manager stops her rapid-fire interrogation. She stops shaking her head at us, and instead gestures at my husband to hand over the baby. He does as he’s told, and the manager walks around the dining room with our infant, jiggling him gently, making his tiny hand wave at the other customers, and stopping to laugh with the waitstaff as they fuss over him and caress his chubby cheeks.
My husband and I smile at each other, and he shrugs. What are you going to do?
I put down my other infant, now fed and content. I finally finish my meal, this time with both hands free.