How my toddlers’ tantrums expose my own

Twin toddlers. Whew. Really it’s a whole new ball game, but then I think I’ve felt like that about every stage of having twins. The exhaustion never recedes completely, just shifts from one stage to the next. The good thing about this age is that they sleep really well and very predictably 95% of the time. Twelve hours at night; two-hour afternoon naps (at the same time). So I should be more physically rested. And I think I am most days. They’re also independent, so getting places is much easier now. They can walk down the stairs to the car; they can each crawl up into their car seats; they (usually) hold my hand when heading through a parking lot. The only things I have to remember to bring with us are diapers and lots of snacks. They eat on their own, so I place their food in front of them, and voila – anything that they are going to eat, they do on their own. No more of me feeding them. All of that is doubtless easier than the first six months when I remember days when I didn’t know how to find time to take a shower, much less anything else. It was survival mode.

But. The emotional drain of toddler twins is not to be underestimated. One tantrum at a time is bad enough, but two of them at the same time? Exhausting. And even if they’re not simultaneous, with two there is just more possibility that a tantrum will erupt at any given time. Yesterday when I was shopping at Bj’s Wholesale Club (my favorite store because they have grocery carts that fit two in, which are easy to navigate), I was looking through the yogurts trying to find one with an expiration date later than tomorrow. (I kid you not – there were none!) While I had my head in the cooler, I was interrupted by a shriek of pain from one twin and turned to see a familiar sight of the other twin clamping down on her arm. Yikes! What do you do then? One needed comfort; the other needed discipline; and we were in public and I was at the start of my shopping trip. So I forewent discipline (a topic for another time) and separated them, putting the victimized twin in the cart as a treat – with all of the other groceries. As you can imagine, this arrangement didn’t last very long since the twin in the cart was enjoying trying to open all of the familiar packages. “Nanas!” “Boo-berries!” “Crackers!” Whew … thankfully, this particular story ends well. I put them both next to each other; gave them another snack in hopes that they would eat that instead of biting one another; and we made it out without any further incidents. I feel like my days are characterized by what feels like endless moments such as this one.

Then I add my own frustration and anger to the mix, and it is not pretty. I remember moments when they were babies and were both crying and I would join in with my own tears. I feel like at this stage, it’s way too easy for me to join in with my adult tantrum as they tantrum. My tantrum looks much different. More socially acceptable (usually). I yell; I tell them to stop; I make empty threats hoping they’ll change; I pout until I get a break and count down the minutes until nap time, or Daddy’s arrival home, or bed time. Then I collapse in guilt and exhaustion and get angry at God for arranging days that feel like too much for me to handle. The truth is that these days are exactly what God’s arranged, and they are too much for me to handle. I need grace. I need grace to pray in the moment instead of getting angry. Grace to exercise Spirit-infused self-control instead of joining in their out-of-control tantrums. Grace to know when I need help and to ask for it. I’m learning; we’re learning; and I am glad for a community of friends and family to support all of us as we go through these days.

Life After Paci & Good Friday

Look at this big girl! You would never know that merely 15 days ago, we were bidding farewell to her beloved pacifier(s). It went so differently than I expected. The actual “paci-release party” turned out not quite as I envisioned it, as so many things in life. Instead of the poetic balloon release, the paci actually weighed down the balloon too much. And so the balloon floated down the stairs of our deck onto the sidewalk, where a few neighborhood dogs were circling for the kill – before I rescued the paci and told the neighborhood kids that no, now was not a good time to come over to play. We only lost one of the helium balloons, and the girls did not escape down the stairs of our back deck in all the chaos (though there were several near misses). We brought everyone and their balloons and paci inside, and Seth very unceremoniously threw away both pacifiers in the kitchen garbage can, telling Lucia that they were going “bye-bye” and she was a big girl now. I think she understood. At least until it was time to go to bed and she kept searching for one. That was the hardest part for me as her mom. I added a lengthy period of rocking instead, and she actually fell asleep without a fuss. Same with naps the next day. I was astounded.

But we have noticed the absence of our beloved pacifier in other, unexpected ways. Like the severity and frequency of tantrums in the week after its absence. Pretty unbelievable, and more than once, I wished along with Lucia that we had her favorite comfort object to help soothe her. She’s having to learn a new way to soothe herself, and so are we. I actually began to count the number of tantrums the girls have been having lately, because it seemed like a lot. And I wanted data to prove to myself that it really wasn’t a lot, or that maybe it was. Yesterday, the total was a very unimpressive 7. But today, we had a two-dozen tantrum day (and that doesn’t count the 2 hours I was at lunch with a friend). Yes, TWENTY-FOUR tantrums between the two girls. No wonder the days feel long sometimes. I was quite thankful for Seth’s presence at home with us today. We all needed him.

No coincidence that it’s Good Friday. I was hourly (no, more frequently) reminded that I need Jesus. I am not the good mom I want to be. I lose my patience when they lose their tempers. My emotions are not sanctified but reveal the many places of false refuge I go to rather than God. I lose it because I “need” peace and quiet, routine, space to think, predictability. I “deserve” all of this … and more. I choose not to follow the Spirit’s leading towards self-control, peace, love, but to indulge the flesh – the part of me that still wants to rebel against God. I pull it together in public. Just like my daughters, who were perfect angels at nursery tonight. The Savior they need is the Savior I need. The one whose death we remember today and whose death we feel in each little “death” to the flesh, each time we choose to die to what I want & think I deserve in order to live to God, to live to the Spirit in me. As I was reminded at our women’s retreat last weekend, we are united to Christ in his death, so it should be no surprise that there are times when resisting sin will feel like dying, too. If only I could attach my sin to a helium balloon and send it away forever. Oh, wait. It got nailed to a cross, taken on by the only innocent One, God’s beloved Son, and it is gone forever. Sin/death/the devil will NOT have the last word. We will celebrate that on Sunday. Praise God that Friday is Good and that Friday is not the end of The Story. Resurrection life is coming.

An open letter to a beloved friend, soon to be gone

Dear Paci (or Binky, or “Bo-bo,” or whatever Lucia’s special name for you is – which we don’t know because she has YOU in her mouth when she says it),
I am realizing as the hour approaches when we are going to say good-bye how much I value you. I know that your primary attachment is to Lucia, and her to you, but I think I might have a secondary codependency with you. I encourage my daughter’s codependency with you because you have helped her sleep on nights when I was weary, quieted her during screaming fests that felt unbearable to me, in short, you have been there for her when I could not be. And that has made me happy while allowing you and Lucia to have a special, comforting relationship.

But now it’s time for you to go. As all “great” codependent relationships go, there comes a time when their harm becomes unavoidably obvious. And the irony is that the earlier a codependent relationship is broken, the easier it will be to extricate yourself from it. So now that Lucia is solidly attached to you, it is time for you to leave her – to leave us – to leave our family. We will send you away in a beautiful way, that honors your role (short as it has been) in our family yet also sets you free of each other forever.  You will be attached to a brilliant helium-filled balloon, and will be released by Lucia to soar into the clear blue sky. Perhaps “paci heaven”? I’m not sure how Lucia will respond initially, but I am sure she will go through withdrawal. Sleep might be more difficult for all of us. I will likely cry for your return alongside my daughter.

But, alas, you will be gone forever. We will have memories and many pictures to acknowledge your presence in our family’s lives. And we will mark your passing with grief. Yet it will be mixed with relief – relief that your impact on our daughter’s speech will be over and that any mark you left on her dental framework can begin to be reversed.

So I guess it’s good-bye, farewell, sayonara, adios. Enjoy your trip to the heavenlies, and think of us fondly…

Heather, for all of us

Love is …

For this Valentine’s post, I thought it would be celebratory to meditate on LOVE (what else on this day of hearts?). Here goes –

L O V E  is …

  • A spontaneous hug around the legs from an adoring daughter
  • A wet and sloppy kiss from her twin sister
  • Bright smiles to greet you in the morning (even when you quite frankly don’t feel so bright and cheery)
  • A bouquet of yellow roses blooming into orange
  • A friend’s understanding words and listening ear on a hard day
  • The unexpected beauty of a sunset over the river as the day fades, sea gulls’ silhouettes flying into the light
  • A heartfelt note from my husband
  • Dinner shared with friends and family, rich with feasting and conversation
  • A date at Luna Maya while friends watched the girls as part of a baby swap
  • Uninterrupted conversation
  • Conversation interrupted by little hands tugging for your attention
  • Heart-shaped sugar cookies to savor
  • Lavender hot chocolate at my new favorite coffee shop, Stella’s Cafe
  • Timeless words written by God to assure his people of his undying, steadfast, never-giving-up love for them
  • A cross on a hill in Jerusalem where the innocent died for the guilty
  • THE story of love  from where all other love derives its meaning and truest expression
  • My husband’s offer to feed the girls dinner so that I could have a break from a long day that felt rather loveless, not because of him or my daughters but just because it was an extraordinarily hard “ordinary” day of tantrums, fussing, and short naps.
  • Choosing not to write more so that I help him in this “witching hour” before bedtime …

2011 in review

As long as January isn’t quite over, then I think there’s still time enough for letting January be a time of reflection and resolutions. Without further ado, here’s my review of 2011 – in the format of a Christmas letter (which we did not send out this year).


What a year for the Nelson family, full of headlines and milestones as we completed our first year with our twin daughters, Lucia and Alethia, and became increasingly rooted in Norfolk, Virginia, at Trinity Presbyterian Church. A few of these, in chronological order:

  • Lucia and Alethia learn how to roll over
  • Heather returns to work as a part-time counselor at Trinity Presbyterian Church after an 8 month maternity leave
  • Seth turns 30 (without the fanfare Heather sought to give him, his request)
  • Reverend Seth Nelson baptizes his daughters, Lucia Elizabeth and Alethia Sarah
  • Lucia and Alethia begin solid foods – pureed peas and bananas are the favorites
  • Trinity Presbyterian Church votes as a congregation to promote Seth to “Associate Pastor”
  • Davis Family Kiawah Week 2011 introduces the twins to the beach; their favorite activity: eating sand
  • Lucia and Alethia learn how to crawl
  • Seth and Heather baby-proof their home, finally giving in and moving all valuables up a few shelves and moving toys into the living room
  • Seth and the other assistant pastor at Trinity “hold down the fort” while our senior minister takes an 8-week sabbatical during July and August
  • Seth and Heather celebrate their 5th anniversary with a brief overnight getaway to the Chesapeake Bay, while Hurricane Irene makes its way toward Norfolk
  • The Nelson family evacuates Norfolk for Aunt Maryann and Uncle Glenn’s house in Raleigh, NC, as Hurricane Irene is predicted to make a direct impact
  • Their home and neighborhood are spared; however their 11-year-old car breaks down – they purchase a newer one with much needed extra space 
  • Lucia and Alethia turn one with a ladybug birthday party; Lucia loves her cake – Alethia does not
  • Alethia takes her first steps and begins walking
  • Heather returns to Wheaton College for her 10 year reunion – leaving the girls (and Seth) for the first weekend since their birth
  • Lucia takes her first steps and begins walking
  • Alethia and Lucia begin talking – favorite words are “ball,” “dog,” “baby,” “bath,” and “door”
  • The Nelsons travel to New Jersey for the girls’ first Christmas with Grandma & Grandpa Nelson; then they travel to South Carolina for New Year’s with Gigi & Pops

This captures the events of our year – and what a year! – yet falls far short of describing the fullness of our days. How I (Heather) am learning how to embrace my new calling of full-time mom without losing my sanity (which involves lots of prayer to a God who is always near, many great friends with similarly aged children, “Mrs. Becky” who watches the girls biweekly, a husband who takes my calls and rescues me when I’m really desperate, weekly women’s Bible study and baby music class). How Seth’s gifts continue to be grown and developed through his responsibilities training teachers, developing Sunday school curriculum, leading community group ministry and our missions team. How we are both learning the how’s and why’s of disciplining infants-turning-into-toddlers whose wills are exerting themselves strongly. The books we have been enjoying this year: The Help, One Thousand Gifts, Loving the Little Years, The Foundations Trilogy, East of Eden, among many others. One thing the girls are already showing is a shared love for books and “reading” like their two bookworm parents. They will often sit and just flip through board books for 10-15 minutes at a time (an eternity for 15-month-olds!). Then there’s the growing delight in Lucia and Alethia as their personalities continue to emerge, like Lucia who giggles often, waves to strangers while shopping and gives a “cheesy smile” upon request and Alethia who calls every stuffed animal “baby,” stays close to mommy in new situations and enjoys learning new skills like walking backwards (her latest greatest).

Although it’s an often quoted cliché, we are finding it to be quite true for this stage of our lives: the days are long, but the years are short. We find it hard to believe how big our girls are, increasingly thankful that these 5 week premature babies eat sooo much and are in 50th – 70th percentile for weight and 90th – 98th percentile for height. It is a gift to watch them grow and to be their parents. And it is a gift to be in a community, both locally and long distance, of ones who love us and them so much. Thank you for being part of this community!


parenting princesses

 It shouldn’t take even the casual observer long to notice the princesses in this picture. At the moment this photo was captured, they are both occupied with attempting to take off their *distasteful headbands* [read in a British accent] that aren’t quite to their liking at the moment. But, my, aren’t they pretty in them?! I only wish they would keep them on for longer than two seconds.

It’s a small picture of life in our home these days. This trivial matter didn’t cause much fuss on that Sunday morning, probably because both sets of grandparents and an aunt and uncle were visiting and kept them otherwise distracted. And, really, having the girls keep their adorable headbands on isn’t a battle I’m going to fight every day. (at least not in my sane moments) As babies-turning-toddlers, however, there are many more “princess” moments that we are (ahem) dealing with right now. Like the 10 second delay between me putting her in her high chair and then moving into the kitchen to get the food to place on her tray. Or their propensity to explore the world and find the off-limits areas especially appealing (tall floor lamps, electrical outlets, and the dishwasher dial among their favorite). It never ceases to amaze me, in a frustrating way, how they can have a nursery full of toys but be inextricably drawn back to the nightlight in the corner or the diaper pail that seems tasty.

Seth and I are in a whole new world of parenting. Some days it feels like sink or swim, and many days we think we missed those swimming lessons we needed. Where is the instruction manual that should come with a baby?!? We are eager to learn and are finding these resources immensely helpful for this stage of parenting, as our need to discipline and instruct moves more into the foreground, replacing the “let’s just survive” days of early infancy. Perhaps this is a strange blog post after over a month without writing, but I had to start somewhere and this is where I’m living these days … welcome! So – those resources are:

Paul David Tripp’s “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” DVD series – we are loving this series from one of our professors we had during seminary days. I love how gospel-focused he is.





“The Obedient Child: A Practical Guide for Training Young Children in Confidence, Character, and Love of God” by Ken Wilson – My mom shared this now out-of-print book with me, and I’m finding it immensely practical for dealing with the younger years.

“Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches” by Rachel Jankovic – My mom gave this one to me as well. It’s a recently published book that really “gets it” as far as how to encourage moms through her short 3-5 page chapters that are both witty and challenging.

“One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp – This memoir is not just for mothers by any means. She beautifully invites all of us into a life transformed by “eucharisteo” so that mundane becomes glorious. I am savoring each page of this gift given to me by my best friend.


And one last thought about parenting princesses. When I see their tenacity to return to what we are clearly instructing them is dangerous (they will often shake their head “no” as they approach the very task we have told them not to do) or their impatience with our momentary delay in meeting what must feel to them like an immediate need, I am reminded of the very first princess in whose footsteps I follow daily. Eve, who bit of the forbidden fruit though she was in fact surrounded by Paradise itself. And I see in them a mirror of my own desire for what’s beyond my reach and my impatient demands  to have right now what my good Father will provide in the future. He loves princesses like them … and me!

Parenting book reviews

As promised awhile ago, here is my review of parenting and pregnancy books I’ve read so far:


Product Details

“Pregnancy: The Ultimate Week-by-Week Pregnancy Guide”by Dr. Laura Riley – As she takes you into your pregnancy week-by-week, she has a clear format with interesting and applicable facts for each week. I actually haven’t read any other pregnancy book in detail besides this one. I’ve enjoyed being able to read each week’s information about baby’s growth, my body’s changes, emotional changes, with questions & answers. She includes helpful info for husbands throughout the book as well. 

I did browse a friend’s copy of “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy” which looked pretty hilarious – a nice balance to the intensity of some of the “what to expect” books on the market.


With twins, we know that we’ll be diving into the deep end of trying to figure out how to care for TWO infants from day one and so I spent most of my self-educational reading in this category.

“Dr. Turtle’s Babies” by Dr. William John Turtle is an “oldie, but goodie.” My grandmother gave this book to my mom to read when she was pregnant with me – and then she gave it to my brother & sister-in-law, who then passed it along to us. One day when I was reading it while waiting for my OB, she told me that she also read it when she was pregnant. If you can get past the fact that he calls mothers “girls” and refers to the baby as “it,” there is some good basic info about infant care, sleeping, and feeding that still holds true. With a few caveats – review it with your doctor! My doctor said, for instance, to disregard what he said about feeding babies sugar water in between feedings.

“On Becoming Baby-Wise: Giving your Infant the Gift of Night-time Sleep” by Ezzo/Buckman is one that I was admittedly wary of beginning because I had heard it was rather harsh. I was pleasantly surprised. I especially liked that he began by saying that what’s crucial to your baby’s well-being is your healthy marriage – that even babies can pick up on the affection and love between their parents and this is what makes them feel secure. He goes on from there to talk about how to put your baby on a schedule that works for your family. With twins, we really have no other option than to schedule them – and that suits our “type-A” personalities anyway!

Healthy sleep habits, happy child [Book]“Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Dr. Marc Weissbluth also talks about the importance of sleep and setting a routine for your baby. I found it helpful the way he discussed how to look for signs of sleepiness and seek to put your child to sleep before she becomes overly tired. Another motto that sums up his philosophy is “sleep begets more sleep” as he discussed the importance of day-time napping for a baby to be able to go to sleep at night. It generally makes sense, and I especially love that he has an edition specifically for twins that came out last year – this was perfect for us.


Ok – if you’re like me, you probably had no idea that there were so many books on twins out there. All of these were extremely helpful, and I’ll try to categorize these as “best for …” in order to differentiate between them.

When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets or QuadsBest for twin pregnancy, labor & delivery (includes sections on bed rest, a recipe collection at the back of the book, specific weight gain goals, what to expect if your babies spend time in the NICU):“When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads” by Dr. Barbara Luke and Tamara Eberlein

Best for practical tips and advice for pregnancy through year one of twins “Twinspiration: Real Life Advice from Pregnancy Through the First Year” by Cheryl Lage – by a mother of twins with lots of humor thrown in to make you laugh as you think about how in the world you’ll make it through … !

Juggling Twins Best for practical tips and advice from newborn to toddler phase of twins by a mother of twins who is also quite humorous. My mother-in-law read this book and she said she found it very helpful – that it covers everything and gives specific ideas. “Juggling Twins” by Meghan Regan-Loomis

Product DetailsBest balance of medical advice and practical wisdom for the first 5 years of twins by a mother who’s also a pediatrician. She is straight-forward with helpful advice and not a lot of “fluff,” but her style is readable and practical – like she goes into specifics about how to actually transport twins from your house to the car when they’re still infants. “Raising Twins: From Pregnancy to Preschool” by Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais

Product Details

Best for very specific sleeping schedule and feeding advice for the first year of twins with some British English “translation” required – such as deciphering that “dummy” refers to pacifier/etc. It’s a combination book, written primarily by a British nanny who’s an expert on child-rearing with introductions to each chapter by a twin mom: “A Contented House With Twins” by Gina Ford and Alice Beer

Not worth buying or reading: There’s just one in this category that I just didn’t find very helpful – “Twins! Pregnancy, Birth, and the First Year of Life” by Agnew, Klein, and Ganon


“A Mother’s Heart: A Look at Values, Vision, and Character for the Christian Mother” by Jean Fleming reminded me of the beautiful and high calling that it is to be a mom. I loved her mix of practical and pastoral teaching on being a mother. She is balanced, biblical, and grace-infused in her approach. I found it very easy to read, and I think it will be a book to return to in years to come. She gives specific ideas and focuses of how to pray for your children, including praying for creativity in connecting with them.

“Parenting by the Book: Biblical Wisdom for Raising Your Child” by John Rosemond offers some practical wisdom and exposes our culture’s current tendency toward “child-centered” parenting and homes. He gives a good initial corrective to this, but I did not find that he talked enough (or at all) about grace and reaching a child’s heart instead of merely producing good behavior. I did like the section where he discusses seasons of parenting, and this is a good starting point, but for a book claiming to be founded on Biblical wisdom, I didn’t find his approach very Christ-centered.

“Don’t Make Me Count to Three: A Mom’s Look at Heart-Oriented Discipline” by Ginger Plowman is a book I read during a “Counseling Children” course at Westminster/CCEF. I am sure that I will return to this book as my girls approach their toddler years for her gospel-centered approach in how to highlight the heart of the matter in your child’s misbehavior. She takes the approach and philosophy of Tedd Tripp’s book, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” and makes it very practical.

“How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family” by Dan Allender is the one I am currently reading. I have enjoyed it immensely, as he turns the focus to what purpose children serve in a parent’s life — that having children is part of God’s journey and story for me as a parent and it will be a large way that God sanctifies me in the midst of the parenting process. His central idea is that we as parents are to reflect God’s mercy and strength to our children by answering the two questions they are asking: “Am I loved?” [YES!!!!] and “Can I get my own way?” [No]

 Here’s a quote as he talks about our dreams for our children – and a fitting end to this blog post:

It is our privilege to dream far bigger dreams than that good things happen and bad things don’t happen to our children. We are to dream and pray and desire and speak to the possibilities that pain and tragedy and pleasure and glory will weave our children into beings who hunger to touch the face of God. … To dream for our children is to lean into the quiet cries of the Holy Spirit that call out the true, God-given name of our child.