- Matthew Thorsen
Dad: Ryan Fitzgerald, 35, paraeducator at Albert D. Lawson Intermediate School in Essex and part-time cleaner for Community Health Partners
Mom: Nadeth Fitzgerald, 39, program and operations auditor at Department of Vermont Health Access
Sons: Dawson, 19 (not pictured); Nyal, 4
Daughters: Shante, 14; Naya, 4
Smiles and laughter are abundant in the Fitzgerald family's small but cozy house, tucked away in a neighborhood off of Shelburne Road in South Burlington. Nadeth and Ryan — her second husband and the father of twins Nyal and Naya — have complementary personalities. His steady, calm disposition balances her high-intensity one. His patience is a balm for her temperamental moments.
Their schedules also work well together. Ryan drops off the twins at Trinity Children's Center in Burlington before work. The older kids take the bus to school; Dawson is a senior at South Burlington High School, and Shante is in eighth grade at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School.
Nadeth, who works from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Williston, does school pickup. Most evenings, Ryan goes to his second job as a cleaner from around 6 to 9 p.m., after Nadeth makes dinner.
Raised by her grandmother in Panama, in a big extended family, Nadeth learned to cook and clean at a young age. She still spends a lot of time in the kitchen, using it as a stress reliever. Four-year-old twins Nyal and Naya love to help.
Fourteen-year-old Shante spends every other weekend with her father in Westford, while Dawson stays in South Burlington with Nadeth and Ryan, close to his part-time job as a manager at Market 32 by Price Chopper.
Nadeth speaks to the twins in her native Spanish, and Nyal and Naya are fluent in the language. While the teenagers understand Spanish (especially, jokes Nadeth, when she's angry with them), they don't often speak it. Ryan, an Essex native, speaks to the twins in English but is fluent in Spanish after a stint in the Peace Corps in Ecuador from 2007 to 2009. The couple dreams of relocating to Panama one day, but for now they are happy to call Vermont home.
On missing grandmothers:
Ryan: We don't have grandparents to help. My dad is around, but he raised us, and he thought he did enough — and he did! There aren't grandmothers around, and I think that would really change the game for us if we did [have them].
Nadeth: But I am very grateful for my sister (who lives in Williston). Even last minute, she has taken time off of her job to help us out. If Ryan is out of town, or he can't get out of work and I can't, she'll leave her job and come take the kids to school or pick them up or stay with them. She is somebody that I can count on, for sure.
On life with multiples:
Ryan: I compare our life with twins to those without multiples, and I don't think it's necessarily that much harder, but it's just uniquely challenging.
Nadeth: I remember breastfeeding them both, and I would be feeding Nyal, and you would have the other one ready to hand me—
Ryan: That's easy! I'm doing the easy work there.
Nadeth: (laughing) I imagine him, like, "OK, I don't have to breastfeed; I can go back to sleep!" But he's there the whole time; the whole night he was so involved. I am like, "Oh, my God, I can't do this anymore!" I couldn't have gotten through it without him.
Ryan: I wanted to be involved. I wanted to steal those moments. I always had dreams of being a parent.
On taking breaks:
Nadeth: I don't think I would have been able to do this without Ryan, to be honest. And that's because he is so calm. I lose it sometimes, and he's the one holding it together. There were times when I wanted to run away! And Ryan wouldn't say anything. And then I would walk out the door, go to my car, then turn around and come back in, and everything's normal. His personality is so different than mine! (They both laugh.)
Ryan: I saw my mom storm out when she needed a breather. You know, sometimes Mom needs some fresh air! It's OK.
On creating systems:
Nadeth: Ryan packs the twins homemade, super good, healthy lunches every day that the teachers are jealous of. I couldn't do it. It's too much work!
Ryan: We are both making huge sacrifices when it comes to lunches. You always cook something the night before so I can pack it in the morning. But I think we can attribute our success to consistency and systems. Like planning a weekly menu. So now we are, like, militaristic: "We are going to get this done on Sunday. We're going to get this done the night before."
Nadeth: And keeping bedtimes and the routines the same — we are a team with that. "You brush their teeth, I'll do this, you do that..."
Ryan: I mean, it kind of sucks the fun out of life sometimes when you have to be so strict, but it alleviates the stress, and that actually makes life more enjoyable.