Ask Sam Wallace what he wants for Christmas and for once, the talkative radio DJ is at a loss for words.
"No idea," he says after a moment of contemplation. "I haven't even thought about it – Christmas is not about us any more now that we've got three kids under three. It's all about them."
His fiancée Sarah Bowman, however, has no hesitation in mentioning what she'd ask for if Santa was able to grant her a wish. "Sleep," says the mum of Brando, two, and 10-month-old twins Sienna and Cosette.
"Oh, yeah, sleep," agrees Sam. "Eight hours. Unbroken. Oh, yeah."
The Coast FM presenter pauses for a moment, savouring the thought of a full night's shut-eye. It's been a while – he can almost remember what it's like. But sleep aside, there's nothing he wants because as far as he and Sarah are concerned, they've already had the greatest gift of all, in the form of their thriving, healthy, happy children.
And even though it's been an incredibly tough year, due to juggling the challenges of having a toddler and two newborns with being locked down thanks to Covid, the Auckland couple have plenty to celebrate.
"For us, this Christmas is probably the biggest one of our lives," tells Sam. "We can go, 'Wow, we got through this year. The hardest work is done.' It will definitely be one to remember."
The pair knew they were in for an exciting but testing year when the twins were born on January 21, which was just over three weeks after Brando turned two, and, coincidentally, Sarah's 38th birthday.
"People tell you twins are hard work, plus we had a toddler, but you don't realise just how tough it is until you actually go through it," confides Sarah.
"Then when you add being in lockdown for three months… It's bloody hard," adds Sam.
"Thankfully, we've been able to have my mum in our bubble, and Sam's mum has helped out, too. That's really made a difference," says Sarah. "And as the girls get older, it is getting easier."
"We know that we're lucky," continues Sam. "We are in some groups on Facebook with other parents of twins and I don't know how the single mothers do it. They deserve a medal. How are they still functioning?"
He's also in awe of how Sarah keeps going, knowing how little sleep she manages on. "She's amazing. Sometimes I think, 'How does she keep standing?'" says Sam. "Between them, the kids have about seven bottles a night – Brando has gone back to having one – between about 10pm and 4am, and Sarah does the bulk of the work.
"I'll get to the point where I'm thinking I can't deal with the crying any more and she just gets on with it with a smile. She'll have been surviving on three hours of sleep a night for days, but she can still smile. She has such a strong resolve."
"You just have to keep going and you know it will get easier," explains Sarah. "Having the help of our families throughout the year has really been wonderful, and for me, exercise has been my saving grace. The physical benefits are a bonus, but it's more about mental health and having energy for your children."
Sarah does a workout of around 25 minutes every morning while the girls are having a sleep. Brando will often join in with her or play while she's exercising. She does a Kiwi programme called Move It Mama, which delivers live workouts online via Facebook Live. The combination of HIIT (high intensity interval training), strength training and stretching doesn't require any equipment, and Sarah says the added bonus of the Christchurch-based programme is that there's also an online community of Kiwi mums to talk to.
"There's always someone there to chat, so you don't feel so alone. It's run by Lisa Fong, who is just lovely, and so are her twin sisters Jess and Char, who also take some of the workouts," tells Sarah.
Char is married to Olympic gold medal-winning rower Emma Twigg, who also takes some of the sessions. "So I get to say, 'Oh, I'm just working out with an Olympic champion'," smiles Sarah. "But honestly, the exercise and having this online community has really kept my sanity intact."
Sam's also a fan of exercise, but hasn't managed to get into a routine this year. "We have a gym in the garage, but it is covered in cobwebs," he admits. "I try to cycle when I can, but it's hard to find the time. So I am a bit rotund at the moment."
"No, you're not!" protests Sarah.
"Well, I'm not Celebrity Treasure Island Sam," he says, recalling how he was in top physical shape two years ago when he took part in the reality show, which he won.
"I'm Dad Sam now. But that's okay, my time will come. At the moment, our little guys are the priority and it is about making sure they are cool."
But he does joke that he's aged so much since the twins arrived that he's confused his phone. "Every three months it thinks somebody else is using it. It keeps saying, 'Your face ID needs to be updated.' I'm ageing faster than Apple can keep up with."
Sam has been working throughout lockdown, which means getting up around 4.30am to go to the studio for the breakfast show on Coast FM with co-hosts Toni Street and Jason Reeves.
"To be honest, it is a blessing to go into work and hang out with my two good friends, having fun. I'm very lucky that for some reason we are considered essential. Hopefully, we provide a little bit of cheer for people in the morning because they really need it.
"Toni and Jase have been my solace in what has been a pretty trying year, and it doesn't feel like work. Meanwhile, Sarah gets absolutely no break from the house or the kids."
But as much as he's enjoyed going to work, it's lovely to come home to three little beings who are very happy to see him. "It's really exciting when I walk in the door and all three try to cuddle me at once. I run out of arms, but it's a magical feeling."
Brando has adapted well to having the twins in his life and every morning greets them with, "Good morning, sisters!" tells Sarah.
"He's pretty amazing. There are some things he doesn't want to share with them, which is understandable, but most of the time he is really loving and caring."
To start with, Brando was the best at telling his identical sisters apart (Cosette was bigger than Sienna). Now, Sienna has caught up and even surpassed her sister in size, but there are no issues any more of knowing who's who.
"To us, they look completely different, even though they are identical," says Sam. "We can see it in their eyes, their cheeks, their hair… They don't look alike at all."
"I think that helps us to treat them as the individuals they are," adds Sarah. "Before they were born, people asked if we would dress them the same and for a while we did. But we don't usually because they're quite individual.
"I don't have a problem with dressing them the same," says Sam. "People say you should dress them differently so they can find their own personalities. But they are so vastly different that dressing them the same is a bit of fun and symbolic of the fact they're twins. I don't think we will have a problem with them forging their identities."
Their personalities are already shining through. Sienna is the more serious of the two, a real thinker. "She can look right into your soul," tells Sam. "Whereas Cosette is warmth, joy, fun and smiles. They are both amazing."
The couple love seeing their daughters grow and change every day, and achieving milestones like waving and clapping. "Waving was a big one for me because it was them really connecting with us," says Sam. "I loved it."
There's one skill both girls, who are able to scoot across the floor on their tummies, have developed that keeps their parents on their toes.
"If they have one talent at this stage it is their ability to pick anything tiny off the floor and eat it," tells Sam. "They're so fast, before you realise it, it's in their mouth. So once we get our Christmas tree, the pine needles are going to be a bit of a challenge."
Sam and Sarah have always gone big on Christmas with lots of decorations and seasonal traditions, and they're looking forward to it more than ever this year.
"Now Brando is a bit older, he's excited about it and we're getting into that zone of the joy and magic it brings kids," tells Sam. "And I can safely say, this year Santa won't just be getting a single beer and a biscuit when he drops stuff off at our house – he's going to have a whole packet of biscuits and a sixer of beer. I think he's going to be at our place for quite a while on Christmas Eve!"
December 25 will be spent opening presents with the kids in the morning, before spending the rest of the day with both sides of the family.
"We all have very busy lives, and this is the one time of year we get to focus on family and cherish everyone. And this year everyone really deserves to be cherished because it has been a tough one," Sam admits.
"We really do feel like we have got so much to celebrate," adds Sarah. "It's been hard, but we are so lucky."
"We thought we'd have two kids and ended up with three, but we couldn't imagine our lives without any of them," enthuses Sam. "They really are the best present we could have asked for."
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