When I was pregnant with my twins, having already had a toddler, the usual reaction I got from people, including other moms and twin moms, was “OMG” and “You’re going to have your hands full,” yadda yadda. Then I met Elizabeth Morrison through the Charlotte Mothers of Multiples club. Well, technically my mom met her first at the post office one day where they struck up a conversation about the three little blondies she had with her. Long story short, Elizabeth and I figured out that she’d already e-mailed me as the leader of my CMOMs district. I had recently joined looking for advice and support from veteran twin moms. In the course of our e-mailing about her chance meeting with my mom and about my soon-to-be life as a twin mom, Elizabeth wrote something I’ll always remember. She said, “You can totally do this!”
I dug up that e-mail and thought I’d share what she wrote here: “The news is a shock, and it takes a while to wrap your brain around it and then the babies come and you’re in survival mode for almost a year. But although it’s tough, that first year will be over EVENTUALLY and then it starts getting really fun.”
Those positive vibes were exactly what I needed to hear, and after getting to know her and seeing her in action with her kids, I realized Elizabeth Morrison is the kind of mom I aspire to be. So I couldn’t – and thankfully didn’t have to – think of a better person to write about in my first “Smarty Mom” feature.
Elizabeth is a former captain in the Army who has served two combat tours. She is a badass in life, not just as a twin mom.
My oldest won Wade, now 2, and I had a playdate with her and her three – Claire, now 7, and twins Sarah and Sean, now 5, at the pool at Harris Y while I was still pregnant with my twins (now 7 months). First of all, she was really nice to want to do a playdate when our kids weren’t the same age, and secondly she was so cool. I remember watching all three of her kiddos draped around her shoulders in the pool and marveling at how she managed a) to stay afloat and b) to share such affection with so many little beings intertwined around her at once. I wanted to be that mom. Still do.
I “interviewed” Elizabeth over dinner recently on the patio at Cantina 1511, while we left our three young kids with the hubbies, and it was so fun. Really I just talked to her with a tape recorder going. Thanks to technology and her openness, I’m hoping this Q and A reads like y’all were sitting next to us at dinner. Get to know her, Smarties. You’ll be inspired!
Name: Elizabeth Morrison, stay-at-home mom and volunteer extraordinaire (co-leader of CMOMs District 4 and future PTA president for Cotswold Elementary.)
Husband: Matt Morrison, attorney for McGuireWoods
Children: Claire (7), Sarah (5) and Sean (5)
Hometown: She’s an Army brat who was born in Rhode Island while her dad was stationed at Fort Devins in Massachusetts. She moved to Kentucky, Texas, Georgia, New York, Washington state, California and Germany. Her parents are originally from Rhode Island and now live in Durham.
Lived in Charlotte since: 2008
Favorite restaurant for date night: I love “The Liberty.” It’s a gastropub, so they do their own gourmet takes on non-gourmet meals.
Alma Mater: Loyola University Maryland
Career: She served in the Army as a military intelligence officer for five years, earning the rank of captain, and was deployed on combat tours to both Bosnia and Iraq.
Q. What made you decide to follow in your father’s footsteps and join the Army?
A. When I was a freshman in high school my parents were like a) you have to go to college and b) we’re not paying for it, so start figuring it out. The idea of going into the Army wasn’t scary to me because my dad had been in the Army his whole career and I’d been an Army brat.
Q. Why military intelligence?
A. There was a large percentage of women in it. I felt like a lot of them had paved the way. Not that I was looking for an easy ride, but a lot of women I respected in the Army were in military intelligence already.
Q. Can you explain what it’s all about?
A. In military intelligence, you learn as much as you can about the enemy and then using that knowledge, you can give advice to your commander. That appealed to me. I like challenge. I like being relied upon for things. I like learning something totally different from everybody else. Everybody else in the Army is learning how to do friendly maneuver tactics. How does the Army operate with tanks? How does the Army operate with Bradleys? Instead, I was learning about the bad guys’ equipment. I was learning about AK 47s and not M16s. I was learning about T-85 tanks instead of Abrams tanks.
Q. Your husband was in military intelligence too?
A. Yes, that’s how we met. He graduated from West Point a year after I graduated from Loyola, and we both became military intelligence officers….He was sent to Fort Stewart (where I’d been stationed) when I was in Bosnia. He had joined our intelligence battalion in my absence. So when I came back, we were like, “Oh fresh meat. Who’s new here?” I got to know him and we started dating. It got pretty serious pretty quickly. Then 9/11 happened and we knew there was going to be a war, and it was probably going to be us because of the part of the world it was.
Q. What was it like being over there in Iraq together?
A. It worked out well because my job supporting the division as a whole was receiving reports (from outlying areas.) It was Matt’s voice on the radio calling in those reports to me, so I could keep tabs on him. When I would hear a report that there had been a skirmish in this area, I could look at the map and go “Matt’s OK; that’s not his area” or “That is his area, I’m going to be listening for more reports.” Every once in a while Matt’s commander would send somebody back to division headquarters to pick somebody up or get more supplies and it was almost always Matt because he knew I was there. So we got to see each other occasionally. My unit set up headquarters at the Baghdad airport. That’s where I was for most of the time. Matt’s unit occupied the Ministry of the Interior, about a 20 to 40 minute drive depending on [she paused here] traffic.
Q. So from talking to you, I know you’re not afraid to admit that your husband freaked out when you found out you were pregnant with twins when Sarah was just seven months old. (Heck, what twin dad – or mom – doesn’t freak to some degree?) What was that like?
A. His euphemism is “he was in a very dark place” for most of my pregnancy. He would come up to me and say things like, “Did you know that parents of twins have twice the divorce rate of parents without twins?” I’m like, “Did you Google that? What is wrong with you? OK, but those marriages aren’t our marriage, so who cares what happens to other people? I don’t care if there’s a 99 percent chance of divorce, this is us.” One time when the twins were 15 or 18 months old, he looked at me and said, “This isn’t so bad?” and I was like “Welcome back!”
Q. What in your military training helps you as a twin mom?
A. A lot. I think being calm under pressure, not freaking out when things go wrong. Knowing that no matter what, lives are not on the line, is a big part of it. It helps me keep perspective.
Q. What’s an example of some of the chaos you face?
A. I feel like every day is complete chaos, but one day when Sarah and Sean were 1, I was trying to get them to bed and all hell was breaking loose, which is what happens when you’re trying to put twins to bed. All of a sudden Claire, who was 2 at the time, comes running in the room and says, “Cleaner tastes bad” and sticks her tongue out. I realized she’d eaten Oxiclean. I’m trying to put (the twins) somewhere safely and not just leave them on the changing table. And I run and try to Google “toddler ate Oxiclean” to figure out what to do. Thanks to Google, I learned that Oxiclean in very small amounts is not toxic. Thank goodness it is very bitter tasting, so she did not eat a lot of it. She put just a tiny bit on her tongue and was like “ew!” and fortunately came and told me.
Q. Was there a time you weren’t as lucky?
A. There was the time that Sarah and Sean were toddling around and falling all over each other and Claire comes riding a riding toy in and falls off and her two teeth went through her front lip. She busted her chin, and I could see the bone through it. I’m not a person who really freaks out. My mode when (stuff) happens is to get super calm, icy calm, like “Let’s figure this out.” So there was blood everywhere and I’m putting pressure on it and Sarah and Sean are screaming and crying and it’s time for them to go to bed. I told my husband, “You need to put them to bed because I need to deal with this blood situation.” After half an hour of putting pressure on it, it was still bleeding everywhere. I’m not an idiot. I knew she needed stitches. My husband comes back downstairs and I said, “I’m going to have to take her to urgent care to get stitches.” This is 8 o’clock at night. He’s like, “I think you might be jumping the gun a little bit.” I said, “No I can see the bone.” Nothing ever happens at a convenient time, however he was home at least. He was able to put them to bed and stay with them while I took her. It could have been worse.
Q. What are your multi-tasking super powers? How do you take care of so many people at once?
A. I feel like kids can do a lot more than you give them credit for, even at their young ages. I’ve always felt strongly that my 1-year-old can entertain herself for 40 minutes while I get dinner ready or fold laundry. Even from the time Claire was little and certainly by the time the twins came, it was just expected that after they ate breakfast they’d play by themselves while I clean up the kitchen, empty the dishwasher from the night before, put in a load of laundry. And that allowed me to get a lot of stuff done, even prep dinner for that night while they played. I don’t really know how that happened, but I’m glad it happened. I know a lot of moms really struggle with finding time to get stuff done when their kids are awake, but I just believe really strongly in I’m their mom and I love them very much and I take very good care of them, but I’m not their entertainer. It’s not my job to entertain them 24/7. We do a lot of periods of structured play where when I’m done with what I need to do I’ll say, “Guys, let’s all go outside and play for a while” or “let’s go for a walk” or “let’s do this art project” or “get out these toys and let’s play with them,” but I don’t do that their every waking minute. I feel like that’s not good for me and it’s not good for them.
Q. I love it. What other words of wisdom have you got?
A. Another thing that has helped me a lot that I tell every Mom I know is that when their kids outgrow naps to continue putting them in their rooms during nap time. Mine are 5 and 7. Claire is in first grade, so she’s in school all day, but on the weekends she still goes down for quiet time after lunch for two hours. It’s obviously really good for me because I get some down time. I can get some stuff done without having to also take care of children. But I feel like it’s even almost better for them because they can do so much when they’re by themselves. Families are busy when you have three kids. They love playing together, and they love playing with us. But it’s also really good for them to have some time to play by themselves. I can watch on the monitor and listen to them. Their imaginations develop. And it’s a really good time for them to process what we’ve been doing lately. And I can be a better mom because when they get up from their quiet time, I’m ready to go, like “let’s do something fun.” My kids are old enough now they’ll say “Can we skip naps today?” and we do sometimes. We were with my family for Easter. I didn’t put them down for naps at their grandparents’ house. But we definitely did (after we got home) because after a long weekend they all needed some downtime and I did too.
Q. I know you’re good about making time for you and your husband too, right?
A. That’s another thing that really helps when you’re in the trenches with young kids is getting some dedicated time for your spouse. At least once a month and sometimes twice a month we’ll get a sitter and go out for a date night. Sometimes we see movies, but we try not to because I like spending time talking. One of my favorite things to do is our own version of a progressive dinner. We’ll go uptown or to South End or even sometimes just Phillips Place where there’s a lot of good restaurants in a small area and we’ll go to one for an appetizer and another one for an entrée and another one for a dessert. Or we’ll do our own version of tapas and go to four in a row just getting appetizers at each place.
Q. What’s some of the best parenting advice you’ve taken to heart?
A. The two main axioms I live by: one is everything in moderation. I’m not a diehard stickler for anything. We hardly ever watch TV but is it going to kill my kids to watch a movie? No. We try to eat organic and lots of vegetables but over Easter weekend when we were with family, I let my kids just subsist on chocolate. They’re fine. The other big thing is to pick your battles. And both of those things apply to husbands as well as children. Is this something I’m really going to get into a fight over with a 3-year-old?
Q. What do you love about being a twin mom?
A. Every kid is special, but I do love that it’s a little bit different that they’re twins and people are going to ask you lots of questions. But on the other hand, my kids were all born so close I almost feel like – I don’t want to say it’s as if I have triplets, because the challenges that triplet moms go through I will never understand – but I kind of think of them as a trio. They’re all so close in age and they’re so into the same things. They’ve always been on the same schedule. I love that they are so close and I hope that they always are. Right now they are a little inseparable trio. Sometimes they fight like cats and dogs like all brothers and sisters but for the most part they get along really well. I love when I see them doing little spontaneous affectionate things with each other. They’re all on the same soccer team and baseball team, and they take the same swim lessons. Recently they were at soccer practice and Sean scored a goal. Even though Sarah was on the other team, she ran over and gave him a big hug in the middle of the field. All of the other moms were like “Oh that’s so cute!” and I was like, “Yes it is, isn’t it?” I just love it..
Q. Between making time for your kids, your husband and occasionally yourself, what has to give? Where have you had to compromise?
A. The yard. Up until I was 8 ½ months pregnant with the twins, I mowed the lawn. In fact, when I was 8 ½ months pregnant with the twins, I was out working in the yard and my husband took a picture of me – he didn’t help me – but he took a picture of me with his phone and put it on Facebook, and wrote “Look at my badass wife doing yardwork when she’s 8 ½ months pregnant with twins.” Word actually got back to my OB and the next week when I went in he said, “I really wouldn’t recommend you do yardwork.” Obviously I was fine. But I didn’t mind mowing the lawn or any of those things. My husband convinced me of the time value of money. When the twins came, he said, “I would rather you not be spending your time out there mowing, and I would rather not be doing that on weekends, so let’s just go ahead and pay somebody $25 a week to mow our lawn so we can spend that time together as a family. I’m glad he convinced me of that.
Q. Maybe Sean will be cutting the grass in a few years, right? Or maybe Claire?
A. Absolutely. A couple of months ago Claire was at school and Sarah and Sean had the day off, and we were running errands when my tire blew. I limped the car into the gas station, got Sarah and Sean out of the car, showed them how to jack up the car, got the donut out, swapped the tire. They helped me crank up the jack, crank down the jack. Then Easter weekend when I was driving to my parents’ house – we didn’t have school Friday so we drove and my husband worked and then took the train Friday night to come join us in Durham – my low-oil light came on. I got off the highway, went to a gas station and added oil to the car. I said to Matt afterwards, “I’m really glad that my kids, my son and my daughters, see a woman doing these things.” I’m glad that they have strong women role models. I feel like that should start with me.