May-June 2019

Two of Everything

For parents of multiples, life can be doubly—or triply—exhausting

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The Silver Spring couple, pictured with Oliver, Amelia and their 3-year-old son, Emerson, was shocked when they found out they were having twins. Photo by Liz Lynch.


Three wriggling, wet kids are playing in the tub at Christine Riley and Toby Conlon’s Silver Spring home, splashing water everywhere. It’s bath time for the couple’s year-old twins, Amelia and Oliver, and their 3-year-old brother, Emerson. Riley, a nurse practitioner in cardiac care at D.C.’s Children’s National Medical Center, demonstrates the smart low-tech system she’s devised to accomplish this nightly task.

She lifts the twins, one at a time, and moves them to a white laundry basket that’s submerged in the partially-filled bathtub. It’s a plastic corral that allows the toddlers to sit upright and still leaves space for their older brother to bathe next to them. In a sweet gesture, Emerson leans over to help wet his sister’s hair for her shampoo.


Riley came up with a low-tech system—using a laundry basket-—to bathe the babies at night. Photo by Liz Lynch.


Downstairs, Conlon, an administrator at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, is preparing the bottles that help calm his children after the excitement of the bath. The family’s aging black mutt, Mr. Darcy, pads around on a first floor now decorated with high chairs, toy boxes and baby gates.

“We had to figure out a way to get three toddlers in and out of the bathtub in one operation,” says Riley, 37. “Invention is the byword around here.”

Problem-solving skills, endurance, and family and friends have helped Riley and Conlon navigate their first year as parents of multiples. Twins run in Riley’s family—a pair of aunts on her father’s side are twins; so are two great-uncles on her mother’s side. Still, the couple was stunned when their obstetrician told them that two more babies would be joining their then 1-year-old son.


Christine Riley and Toby Conlon at home with twins Oliver (left) and Amelia. Photo by Liz Lynch.


“I’ll never forget that ultrasound,” Riley says. “All the color drained from my husband’s face.”

The demands of twins require an army of extra hands, even with a part-time nanny. During the early months, Riley’s mother, Jo Anne Zujewski, and her husband came over all the time. Her sister, who lives in England, stayed with her for three weeks. An aunt visited from North Carolina, and her father traveled from Washington state. Her mother’s college roommate even flew in from Florida. Most of these baby minders come back regularly to help. Riley, who recently traveled to Malaysia to train nurses, maps out weekly child care schedules around the couple’s jobs and Emerson’s part-time day care.


Photo by Liz Lynch.


“You have to clean and cook when they go down for a nap,” says Conlon, 40. “To get our groceries, I use Instacart to have them delivered every three days. We’re up to 4 to 5 gallons of milk for the week.”

Zujewski, a Bethesda oncologist, likens it to a basketball defense. “We try not to ever have three on one, although we’ve done it. A two-babies-to-one-adult pattern means we can all somewhat keep up with the demands.”

Riley says one twin is always crying—that’s just the norm. “I once looked at the living room rug and said, ‘I’m going to lie down and just die of exhaustion.’ ”

At one point her father told her, “Welcome to motherhood, the world’s most competitive sport.” But she’s happily lowered her expectations of motherhood in order to stay sane. “I’ve been able to opt out of all that,” she says. “Here’s my take: Oh, you have your 2-year-old child in Mandarin classes? I have three kids under 3 and they’re all breathing.”