Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year

New Year's Eve has always been a disappointment in my life.  I'm not sure if that's because it's coming after the enormity that is Christmas, or if the expectations of the night are just too high. Maybe it's because of the immense pressure to finally make something of yourself this year, as if the changing of the calendar has any bearing on your personal goal system.  The falsity of the core concept of the New Year is about all that rings true.

Or maybe I'm just a little bitter.  There will be no celebration here, no champagne, no party hats, no staying up all night only to get into a brawl with a best friend.  We will put the babies to bed, watch a little TV, and if we're both awake enough, maybe we'll turn Kathy Griffin on (seriously, the best thing to hit CNN in years).

I'm actually looking forward to it.  There's nothing wrong with a quiet New Year's Eve, and after all the excitement of Christmas, it is a welcome change.

And, of course, I have resolutions that will never be followed, but I make them with the best of intentions and will report back.

1) I will completely potty train the babies.

2) I will get them off bottles because at 2.5 years, this is ridiculous.

3) I will take them places in my car.

4) I will socialize them so that they are not bullies.

5) I will teach them basic reading skills.

6) I will teach them to help me clean up after them, hopefully resulting in a less cluttered house.

What are your resolutions this year?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Discovering Priorities

Last night, I saw my mommy-life flash before my eyes.  We were mid-way home from our trip to Connecticut.  It wasn't the plane ride, or the airports, or the unsafe bus, or the fact that we were all exceedingly ill that pushed me over the edge.  It was Bean.

Bean, Dulce's blanket and lovey.

You see that pile of dusty, threadbare pink in the middle?  That's Bean.  Sitting right next to Bear, Natalina's lovey.  Bean watches us eat.  She watches TV with us.  We pretend to feed Bean.  Bean goes potty with us.  Bean definitely sleeps with us.  Bean is the perfect complement to a pointer finger in the mouth in the late hours of the night or the early hours of the morning.  Bean understands Dulce like no one else. 

Bean is torn, tattered and faded.  In fact, when describing her to a stranger who was doing a last check on the now-vacant bus for us, I said, "Please, sir, can you just check the corners and floor for an old pink rag?"

I felt bad.  Poor Bean.  What an awful description.

Of course, the main point here is that Bean was lost.  We had lost Bean.  Dulce, already strapped in the car and ready for some well-deserved pointer-finger action after a long day of traveling, was calling for her.

"You lost Bean?  How could you lose Bean?  You know better than that.  Really?  Are you sure?  You lost her?"  My husband, beside himself.

"I... I didn't lose her.  The baby must have dropped her."

Oh, okay, sure, Darlena.  Blame the baby.  In my defense, I was reacting in cold fear of the nights and weeks and life ahead of me, should Bean fail to appear.

I saw then where my priorities actually lie these days.  I even thought, 'Oh, I wish I had lost my license, instead.  I wish I had lost a bag.  Anything but Bean.'

That rag, worthless to the common eye, is worth more than spending the day at the DMV to me.  It's worth more than a $200 necklace.  More than an entire week's worth of clothes.  Bean has quietly risen to being one of the most important things in my life.

We were headed back to the airport.  I would scour the grounds, asking the throngs of people if they had seen a faded pink rag.  I would check the trash cans.  I would cry at security if I had to.  I would make them turn that plane back around somehow. 

Then, we found her.  I had stashed her in a bag after Dulce had dropped her for the umpteenth time.  The whole ride home, I was merely thankful Bean was still with us.  I could hardly think of anything else except for what my life would have been like without her.

Turns out, we did leave a bag.  Now, I'm biased because it's my husband's bag, and I only have a few things in it, but I'm so thankful it's the bag and not Bean that's missing.  And it only further proves how important that scrap of cloth is.  We left his bag at the car lot because we were madly searching for Bean and took off in a cloud of worry, without checking that we had everything.

Don't be like me, parents.  Have a spare.  Someday, this nightmare will be my reality.  Whether we lose her or she disintegrates completely, someday, we will no longer have Bean.  And my life will never be the same.  Buy many, many loveys.  Switch them out frequently when your kids are babies so they get equal use and wear.  You need spare loveys.  Your future depends on it.  Save yourself.

___

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday Intensity

Christmas is for the memories.  Christmas is for the anticipation.  Christmas, at least when you're the parent of two year olds, is not for the day, itself.

On Christmas Eve, I excitedly brought down my horribly wrapped presents and placed them carefully under the tree in the most eye-pleasing manner I could manage.  I stepped back to view my work, envisioning the happy day that was surely awaiting us.

We would wake up to joyous proclamations of Santa! and presents!  Carlos and I would come sleepily downstairs and fix some tea and toast while the babies unstuffed their stockings with care and precision, examining each calmly to get maximum enjoyment before moving onto the next.

Then we'd teach them how to tear the paper from their gifts under the tree, and they'd take turns coming up to us and showing us their new treasures.  They'd play with each before arranging them neatly in a corner and fetching their next present.  We'd put the paper in the bin right away, keeping things neat as we went along.  The day would be a utopia of calm peace and happiness.  What could go wrong?


Wait, what's that?  Tears on Christmas?  Amid piles of presents strewn carelessly about as the grubby paws reach for more, more, more, and quickly!  It cannot be.  Yesterday, they were perfectly satisfied with the toys they already owned.  A new toy should bring nothing but ecstasy!  Somehow, my twins managed to be more discontent as they donned their new Dora watches and necklaces than they were before Santa ever visited.

My husband frazzled and stressed, trying to get the new Christmas coffee maker to make us a few cups, while batting off babies left and right.  Each child clamoring for this to be opened and that to be put on.  I finally made us a pot of coffee using the old coffee maker.  It wasn't enough.

My dreams were dashed.  We were on a tight schedule, needing to leave in a few hours to pick up my car.  Paper was strewn, fights were had, screams filled the apartment.

"Don't hit your sister!  We bought two of those.  Where is yours?"

This is the Christmas I looked forward to?


Another naive first-time mom mistake.

Thankfully, Christmas is also for memories, and even now, just days after the big day, my mind is erasing the bad, hanging onto the good, and memorializing the babies' first cognizant Christmas as a calm, fun-filled day of peace and happiness.

Merry Christmas to all.

___

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Santa Concept

Christmas has been so hectic.  Dragging babies across the country, presents, presents, different foods, different people, presents, a massive snow storm, and, well, presents.


It's amazing how quickly the girls took to the idea of Santa.  We hadn't prepared them for it throughout the season.  We mentioned Christmas.  We told them about presents.  But we never really mentioned Santa until the night before.  As soon as the S-name slipped from my lips, my little one, Natalina, shouted out, "Santa!  Santa!  Presents!  Santa outside!"

She even pretended to sleep as if that would bring him faster.  I'm shocked at how easily they will believe that a strange man will break into the house with the sole purpose of leaving them presents.  Anyway, they are in love.  What could be better than Santa?

Nana, of course.




And once we finally made it to Connecticut, we were further amazed at the babies' ability to understand that not every present was going to be for them.  I see clearly now how the tradition of the children handing out the presents comes to be.  Even at two years old, the babies took delight in taking a present from the tree, finding out to whom it belonged, and bringing it to the correct recipient.  They even generously helped that person unwrap.




Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fake Christmas

We had our immediate family Christmas celebration today, complete with a billion-hour drive to get me a car!

I leave you with a picture, and I hope to have a legitimate post for you tomorrow evening.



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Think About What You Say

After two intense weeks of tantrums, screaming, flopping, crying and whining, my kids have finally had a language breakthrough.  For the past four days or so, they have not only been pointing at objects and telling me what they are, but they have been connecting abstract ideas together, using adjectives and nouns to specify their meaning, and using verbs and nouns to create basic sentences and to tell me what they are doing.

They've got the command down pat.

"Look, mama."

"Dance with me, mama."

"Wait for me."

"Help mama clean up."

It's hard to explain the enormity of this.  When babies first learn to use their tongues, when they first start speaking, "cookie, book, blocks, bear, dog, duck," everybody is thrilled.  The babies have learned English, so it seems.  But, really, that is only the first of many big breakthroughs.

This next breakthrough - articulation of idea connection - is even bigger, in my opinion.  In the last week, I have seen my second language - baby - completely change and evolve.  And it's not just that the babies can speak better.  It's that they want to speak better.  What I'm witnessing here is not the ability of the human mind to learn.  It is the desire of the human mind to learn more.  And that fills me with joy.

They're connecting numbers to objects - two balls, two eyes, one nose.  They're using colloquialisms that I frequently use - right back, hold on.  But most importantly, they are thinking about what they are saying.  Now, before they speak, I see them consider carefully what it is they are going to say, and what it is going to mean to me.  I have to remember to act immediately (within reason) when they speak to me, so that I can instill in them the power and meaning of words.  And I must adhere to my own words, too.  "In a minute," can no longer mean "when I get around to it and hopefully you'll forget about it by then."  I have to teach my kids that words have meaning, both mine and theirs.

I see them using words and language almost as toys, gauging the effect of each one, combining them like blocks in different orders and marvelling at the effects.  I'm saddened because I know this phase will end soon.  They will cease to think about the meaning of each word as it becomes entrenched in their memory.  They'll speak fast and fluent, overlooking words for sentences and sentences for paragraphs.  Their minds will skip the analyzation of meaning step because it will assume it knows it all.  How precious this stage of communication really is - the stage of thought.

If only more adults could think before they speak, so many world problems would be solved.

___

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Fake Career Woman

A beautiful blogger and great friend of mine wrote a post today about being a fake stay at home mom (during break as a teacher.)  She got a lot of well-deserved hits, and I laughed at myself, saying, "I'm going to post where you post, claiming that SAHM is a career."

But, then, I thought, what the heck, self?  SAHM is a career.

She writes: As a teacher "for several weeks out of the year, you can pretend like you don't have a job and stay home with your kids."

Now, anyone with half a brain knows what she means, but this is the message that society gives stay at home moms every day.  You don't have a job.  You get to stay at home with your kids.

You don't have a job.  You get to stay at home with your kids.

I think it's time to break this down.  Why do people insist on telling stay at home moms that they don't work?

1) They don't get paid.

Okay, you're right, world.  We don't get paid.  But we save money, which is basically the same thing.  By staying home with our children, we save thousands of dollars on daycare or babysitters.  The main reason I am a stay at home mom right now is that the money I'd be able to pull in working a job would be less than the amount I'd have to pay out to have someone watch my two babies.  I'd be working for negative dollars.  Stay at home moms also save on gas money because we have everything we need in our home.  We save on sanity because there's no mad rush in the morning or afternoon to drop off or pick up the kids.  We save face because when our kids are sick, we don't have to call out of work to tend to them.  We are already at work.  Stay at home moms save.

2) They don't have a boss.

Wrong.  I have two bosses.  And they are the most fickle, most demanding, most egotistical bosses I've ever come across.  No logic appeases them.  No project is done soon enough.  No amount of attention paid will sate them.  They ask for, and expect the impossible.  It's up to me to figure out the details.  Even the hardest boss has given me more logical duties than I have now.

3) They stay at home.

True.  We do stay at home.  But since when do you need to leave the home to work?  Several people operate businesses out of their home.  Some use a computer network and work from home, despite having an office job.  I fail to see how location impacts whether or not someone is holding down a job.

4) The work they are doing is not considered "a real job."

Actually, yes, it is.  While the stay at home mom is not getting paid for her duties, she is doing at least two, possibly more, jobs that others would be paid to do.  Childcare is the obvious job.  The next is house cleaning.  Several people get paid to nanny kids or work in a daycare.  Several more get paid to clean people's houses on a weekly basis.  By saying a stay at home mom doesn't do any real job, you are not only insulting the mother, you are insulting those workers who get paid to do what we do.  Who are you to say what job is real?

5) It's easy.

I can only speak for myself here.  There are some women for which, I guess, it is easy.  But for me, it's hard.  I have to teach my kids.  I am a teacher.  I have to teach them English, I have to teach them manners, I have to teach them how to think on their own, I have to teach them concepts like cause and effect.  I am a nurse  I have to keep them from hurting themselves.  I have fix them up when they do manage to hurt themselves.  I have to care for them through sickness that they don't understand.  I am an entertainer.  I have to come up with crafts, activities and games for them.  I have to ensure that through these various forms of entertainment that they are learning and not getting hurt.  I am a janitor.  I have to clean up after them constantly.  I can thoroughly clean and vaccuum a room only to have it torn to shreds moments later by grubby baby hands.  I am all things at all times.  I am an engineer.  It is up to me to fix the various toys, furniture parts, picture frames, and dishware that the babies break.  It's amazing how many things a toddler can break just by looking at them.

Now, this is not to say that working mothers and fathers don't have to do these things, too.  This is only to say that stay at home moms have to do them all the time.  And we have to do them while fighting the societal stigmatism that tells us we're not doing enough.  We have to do them without the perks a normal job comes with.  There is no bonus, no vacation, no time off.  The time that others "get to spend with their kids" we simply continue to spend with our kids, so that if we're sick, we're still working.  If we're on vacation, our work is even harder because we're responsible for keeping everybody in line in a new environment, in a new situation.  Our time off, namely nap time and bed time, we use to complete the other half of our daily work, namely cooking and cleaning.

Being a stay at home mom is a thankless job, but a job nonetheless.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  Now, somebody pass me the bon bons.

___

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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Toys R Us Gift Card Winner:

According to random.org is Kathy Persons!

Thank you, everyone, for participating.  I hope I get a chance to do these more often!

A Letter to Myself in 2006

Dear Self,

I know you are taking time out of your incredibly intense existence to read this.  I know as you look at the page, you aren't able to pensively nibble at the end of your pen as you contemplate the next brilliant phrase to jot down.  I know your air of mystery and sexy aloofness must be put on pause, and that the corner couch of the Starbucks will be wasted on you for these few moments, but I have an important message:  Get over yourself.

Yes, that's right.  Life is not all about you.  Your dreams will come true or not, based not on your image right now, but on the decisions you make that pertain to real life.  And more importantly, I come bearing the message of tolerance.

Do you see that harried mother in line with her three kids in tow?  Of course you see them; they've been bothering you since they walked in.  "Isn't this what Chuck E. Cheese is for?" you asked yourself under your breath.  As her five-year-old ran past you and stepped on your designer heel, you rolled your eyes and glared at her.  Because that's what she needed.  On top of having the great burden (and joy) of having to trot out her entire family just to get a coffee, on top of having to try desperately to keep them in line (literally and figuratively) she needed some strange young thing shooting eye-daggers at her.  I'm here to plead with you, give it a rest.  Karma's a bitch, so they say.

And, by the way, that's not what Chuck E. Cheese is for.  It's what Starbucks is for.  Just as you have the right to sit there pretending you're an artist, that mom has the right to grab her morning coffee.  She'll be gone in a few moments, along with her brood, and, unlike you - whose life will go right back to normal - she will have to trot out her family and keep them in line for the rest of the day, the week, the month.  She is doing an incredibly hard job.  A job about which you know nothing.  I'm asking you, as your future self, please, reserve your judgement until you know something.

You see that frazzled woman trying to wedge herself in through the door with a double stroller in front of her?  Instead of exasperatingly shoving past her to go out for a smoke and avoid her crying babies, why don't you hold the door and help her in?  Babies cry less when they're not being jerked and jostled around.  Instead of stewing outside in the cold about how those little creatures are bringing the entire atmosphere of the place down, why don't you attempt to keep that atmosphere you hold so dear by helping her keep the peace?  Karma is a bitch, so they say.

I know you think that your children will never flop on the floor in public because you'll have taught them better than that.  I know you think you'll never let them crawl around on the dirty floor.  I know you think that as a parent, you will keep your incredibly well-behaved children out of the way of other patrons.  At 23, you know it all.  You know those other parents are doing it wrong.  They're clearly indulging their children to the maximum and then foisting them upon innocent bystanders just trying to live their adult lives.  Obviously, they have no discipline and don't care about their children or the other people watching the shenanigans.  Why aren't they listening to the message you're sending with your eyes? You know the message:  shut your kids up.

They aren't listening to your message because you are an idiot.  In fact, they are pointedly ignoring your message, and possibly laughing a little on the inside, thinking, just you wait, little miss, just you wait.  Because, don't you know?  Karma is a bitch.

So, instead of trying to freeze those mothers and babies out of your consciousness, try helping them, or at least giving them a kind smile.  They don't need you telling them that their children are getting dirty on the floor.  What you don't know is that the mother is helping you.  She's probably been you before.  She's made the choice to allow her children to roam a bit because she knows they'll be quieter that way.  You could have a happy child accidentally step on your foot, or you could have a screaming and miserable child being forced to wait in line.  Or you could have exactly what you want, which is that no mothers or toddlers should ever step foot in a coffee shop again.  But that's not the victory you think it is.  Forcing mothers of toddlers into hiding is a failure.  Who are you to oppress someone else like that?  For all you know, that coffee is the first that mother's had in a week.  And if she doesn't look as well put together as you think she should, save your animosity toward her appearance.  Karma, my dear girl, is a bitch.

Now, as I ready myself to clean jam off the carpet and mentally calculate how I'm going to get my twins to the bank and back with as little collateral damage as possible, I have one last piece of advice for you.  That well-behaved baby you see?  The one staring and smiling at you over his mother's shoulder?  He's lying to you.  That is not what babies are like.  No baby is calm and sweet all of the time.  And just as he falsely represents babies, so, too, do the ones wailing at top volume at the head of the line.  No baby is disgruntled and loud all the time either.  One thing that I know is true, though, is that both sets of parents are trying their darndest to raise happy, involved, curious, well-behaved children.  Would it kill you to help them along?

Those moms may be laughing at you a little bit, but I assure you, no one is laughing at you so hard as I am, the you of 2010.  Really, 2006 me, all I needed to say to you is this:  Karma is a bitch.

But, you know as well as I do, we're too wordy and pretentious for that.  Some things never change.
___

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___
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 18

Inspired by my friend Chelsea:

Ways to trick your baby:

Problem: You've just switched over to the toddler bed (or taken the rail off your now-outlawed crib), and your toddler has discovered he has run of the room.  Instead of sleeping, there's a raucous party going on in there, a party of one (or in my case, two).  You've taken all the toys out of the room, you've made sure it's as boring and calm as it could possibly be, and still, your child has developed an imagination strong enough carry on a conversation with his fingers - child ingenuity at its best and most annoying.

Solution:  First, have patience.  None of these tactics are going to work on the first try.  Keep going in after shorter intervals, putting the child back in bed and explaining to him that it is time to sleep.  He'll ignore you for the most part, but as he gets more tired, he'll eventually nod off, and the message will have been sent to his subconscious for later use - "When mommy puts me in bed, it is time for sleep."  Obviously, this doesn't work overnight.  Something that hastens the process for us is taking the bulbs out of the light.  When the babies find they can't turn the light back on, they lose interest in trying to stay awake a lot more quickly.


Ways your baby tricks you:


Problems:  If your child is not yet tall enough to reach the light switch right now, he soon will be.  Every time you switch off the light, and quietly leave the room, within 30 seconds, you'll see the room lighten and hear the laughter begin again.  By now, it's 10 or 11 p.m.  Somebody really needs to sleep soon.

Solution:  Take the bulbs out of the light.  Or unplug the lamp and put a socket protector in for the night.  Or, if you're lucky, like us, turn the light off manually so that the wall switch no longer works.  The first time we did this, the babies shouted at us, "Oh no!  Light!  Light on, light on!  Mama help!"  After the third night, they realized mama wasn't going to help this time because it was time for bed.  If they're really wound up, they may still try to play for a while, but without the aid of the light, they get bored and tired a lot more quickly, and everybody wins.  If your child is afraid of the dark, invest in a soothing night light.  I've found my kids don't like the ones with shapes or movements, it distracts them at naptime, and during the night, it can actually scare them.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Phantom Noises

The babies are finally asleep.  It's the middle of the day.  Maybe I can squeeze in that shower I've been wanting to take since yesterday morning.

I turn the hot water knob, water sluices toward the wall, the inviting tap tap tap calling to me well before the water is warm enough.  I ready my towel, brush my hair.  I leave the door open, just in case.  Just in case something happens, I'll be able to hear the babies.  Everything should be just fine, right?  They sleep for at least an hour and a half everyday.  There's nothing in their room they could hurt themselves on.  They're not going to wake up.  Are they?  They're fine.  I'm sure they're fine.

And yet, without fail, the moment I step under the hot stream of shower water, my sigh of relief catches in my throat.

What was that?

Is that a baby crying?  No, it can't be.  They're asleep.  They never wake up.

No, that's a shout.  Are my kids shouting for me?  Did something happen?

I mentally calculate how quickly I can jump out of the shower, wrap a towel around myself and sprint downstairs.  This isn't safe.  I shouldn't be taking a shower.  What if something happened?

I strain my ears, as I reach for the soap.  The problem with this tap tap tapping of the water is I just can't hear anything.  Is that a wail of distress?  Is something wrong?  I should check.

I lather up.  I'm sure everything's fine.  Still, any enjoyment I may have gotten out of what should have been a peaceful, baby-free experience is ruined.  I finish as quickly as I can.  I barely towel dry, sloppily throw on some clothes and race downstairs.

Quiet.  All is quiet.  No one had ever stirred.  I had made the whole thing up.  And it's not just showers.  It can happen as I'm just drifting off to sleep, or if I have to step outside for a moment, or if I get a phone call.  Phantom noises haunt me.

To a large extent, I think this is normal for parents.  Of course we're going to worry about our babies.  They come out completely helpless, and every step they take toward being able to care for themselves is also a step they take toward being able to get into dangerous situations.  The fact that my children have enough balance not to fall off a couch is countered by the fact that, given the opportunity, they'll try to balance on the back of said couch.  The fact that my children can walk well enough to climb up and down stairs with ease is countered by the fact that they'll try to do it with their eyes closed, or they'll try to jump down, or they'll try to climb holding every toy they own in their arms as they totter down.  Every measure of safety is counter-balanced by increased danger.

If we didn't worry a little, we'd most likely be visiting the emergency room a lot.  Toddlers do think they're invincible.

But just because they're not invincible does not mean they're always in peril.  If you seem to be over-anxious much of the time, if you can't enjoy a night out, or an hour away from the children, if you worry at every cry or whine, if you can't clean an upstairs room or run downstairs to change the laundry over because you don't trust the baby monitor, you may be experiencing something more serious than what I've described here. 

If fear is dictating your life, call a professional.  Taking care of your babies means taking care of yourself.  Your babies deserve to be safe and sound.  They also deserve a happy and calm mommy.  It's not bad to be worried, just remember to also worry about yourself.


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Artistry

When other people's two year olds draw pictures for their parents, it's scribbling.  Today, I learned for the first time that when mine do it, it's art.

See what I mean?  This is too beautiful for the fridge door.  No magnet should tarnish the composition and subtlety of this masterpiece.  It needs to be framed, nay, it needs to be in a museum.

All joking aside, this piece of paper represents a turning point in Natalina's life.  Her favorite color, obviously, is purple.  She wears purple clothing, paints with purple paint, and as you can see, will only color with the purple crayon.  The difference today is that she has now spent 90 minutes - yes, that's right, an entire hour and a half - sitting contentedly on the floor, shading and reshading this piece.  (This picture was taken at 20 minutes in.)

Previously, both twins would pick a blank sheet, scribble on it for 30 seconds, and flip to the next page.  Natalina is no longer scribbling, at least not in process.  She's putting thought into her strokes and completing a work before moving on.  It's magical to watch.

Dulce is jealous.  She is trying to distract Natalina, to draw her into some form of play that involves both babies.  When that doesn't work, she will try to block Natalina's work, either by stealing her crayon or sitting on her paper.  It's cute, but a little sad.  The artist bug has yet to bite her, I guess.

The contrast between the two really shows the development that is taking place.  A scribble versus a thought-out scribble.  The lazy scrawls versus the disciplined shading attempts.  Not a big difference to the untrained eye, but a huge difference to me.

And lest anyone think Dulce is lacking in creativity, rest assured, she makes up for her disinterest in art in other ways.  Like making hats out of coffee filters.

Two year olds are often tough to handle, but on mornings like these, I just love this age.


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Toys R Us Giveaway Post

I have reached the grand total of $25 from Google AdSense.  Since, clearly, blogging is the most lucrative business ever, and we all must be swimming in dough, I could think of no better way to spend it than to give it back to you.

So, I am having my first giveaway ever for a $25 Toys R Us gift card.   Comments are open as of now, and will close at 2 p.m. on Monday, December 20th when I'll pick a winner using a randomizer.

Here are the rules:

- To enter, leave a comment here telling me about your favorite childhood holiday gift.
- You can enter multiple times, by linking people to this website.
- If you tweet, FB, blog or link to this entry in any way, leave another comment here with the link to your link.  Be sure to do these each separately so that you have multiple entries for multiple links, so that if you tweet it, comment once with the tweet.  If you also Facebook it, comment a separate time with the Facebook link.

Okay, that's it!  Good luck!  And thank you for being here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where the Heck is the Tape?

I am the worst wrapper in the history of present wrapping.  I always start out with such good intentions.  I'm going to cut my lines straight and even.  I'm going to line the corners up and crease my folds.  I'm going to use very little tape so that you can't even see it.  I'm going to put ribbons and bows on every present.  They are going to be beautiful.

These ideals last only until I lose the scissors the first time, which is to say, the first time I put them down.  They're scissors.  They're big and heavy and bright red.  How did I lose them?  I just had them.  I swear, I put them right here!  Ten harried minutes later I find them on the floor, two feet from me, under a bag and two rolls of wrapping paper.  And that would be okay.  If I didn't have to find the tape next that I swore I placed right on top of that present.  Ten harried minutes after that, I find the tape underneath an unwrapped present half stuck to a label.  Which would be fine if after I did my taping and tried to move on to the next present I didn't have to find the freaking scissors again.  Are you kidding me?  My patience wears thin, and I'm only one present in.

Not to mention, that present that was going to be so pristine looks like this in spite of my best effort.

So, now, I'm frazzled.  The straight sleek scissor cuts look instead like lightning bolts, and that's when the paper doesn't rip haphazardly.  And it seems no matter how much paper I use - I swear, I could use the whole roll - it's always just a centimeter too small for the present I need to wrap.  What do I do?  Do I cut another inch strip and tape it over the whole way? Do I leave a slice of present open to the eyes?  So much for my glorious presentation.  I usually end up using the old grinder-roll technique where I stretch the paper corners diagonally over the width of the present.  While that normally does the trick, it's less than pretty.  Man, I hate wrapping.

And if I do happen to cut enough paper for the present's width, invariably there is way too much left over on either end.  And since I've already taped it over the middle, at this point, I'm jaggedly jabbing at the tangled mess with the scissors to cut it down to size.  The lightning-bolt cuts become a mountain range of zig-zags.  Fantastic.

And what is with the bubbling of the flaps once I fold them into place?  You could hand me the easiest, most square-shaped present in the world, and the middle seam would flare up as I pressed the edges.  I straighten the seam and the edges flop out everywhere.  And why must the white back of the paper always show its unwanted face?  Wrapping is the hardest thing ever.  My solution, of course, is tape.  Lots and lots and lots of tape.  I will tape you into submission, you wiley present!  That is, I would, if I could find the blasted tape!  Where is it?  I swear I just put it right here a second ago!

And after an hour of hard work, I get a pile of presents all looking like this.

All the bows and ribbons in the world won't fix this mess, so I give up.  It's the thought that counts, right?


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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Third Time is the Charm

A few months ago, I defended my decision to stop potty training by saying that quitting and failing are not the same thing.  Turns out, I was right.

We are now on day five of potty training, for the third time.  At 17 months, my kids did not even understand what the potty was.  They pushed them around as toys and tried to take them apart and put them back together like puzzles.  At 24 months, they understood that mommy would like them to urinate in this small chair, instead of in their diapers, on the floor, on the couch, behind the stroller.  They understood, but they didn't care.  Four months ago, my role changed from stay at home mom to stay at home pee-pee picker-upper.  Not very glamorous.  Not very good for the back or the self esteem either.

I would ask them, "Do you have to go shee shee?"

"No," they would lie.  Then I'd inevitably find the puddle ten minutes later.  It was spirit breaking.

After an entire month of this torture for both me and them, I packed it in.  The potties went back into the bathroom from whence they came.  I never mentioned them again, and neither did the babies after a few days.  They happily went back to diapers, and I happily went back to pee-free life.  Until last week.

I took the potties out of hiding and left them in the living room (that's where we train - apparently nothing is so satisfying as pooping while watching Dora).  I didn't say anything about them.  The babies ignored them.  After a few days of that, I started mentioning the potties off-handedly every once in a while.

"Oh, you went shee shee?  Do you want to try on your potty?"

"No!"

The answer was always no.  Until it was yes.   Five days ago, the answer was yes, and we haven't looked back since.  There have been no accidents.  Not one.  I'm still reeling from the fact that I've not had to clean up any unsanitary messes since the start of this new bout of potty training.

I've kept it low key this time.  The babies sleep, both at night and during naptime, in diapers.  When they wake up, I change their diapers.  I do not leave them pantless.  When they are ready, they will tell me, and we take the diapers off.  This way, if they forget about using the potty, they're pee protected.  At this point, they completely understand that they don't have to be wet and will demand I take their diapers off after they go.  Then they refuse to wear a diaper again until they've gone in the potty.  If I try to put a diaper back on, they tell me they have to shee shee first.

Potty training does not have to be painful.  Apparently, it doesn't even have to be messy.  Don't try before your child is ready.  They'll get it when the time is right for them.  Trying to conform to society's ideal will only make the process miserable.  If your kid is trained at 18 months, congratulations!  You will be able to brag to your friends and family, and you clearly have a genius baby (in that one area).  If your children aren't trained until 28 months, like mine, or three, or even four, congratulations!  You have an awesome kid who knows when he is ready to move on to the next stage of life and learning.  There are so many avenues in which to be proud of your child.  If early potty training isn't one of them, I'm betting your child has dozens of other traits and talents that make him the special snowflake you deserve.

The biggest lesson I've learned is not to define my children based on only one area of development.  Where one is lagging, another is soaring.  Concentrate on the success.

Of course, while the training has marketedly improved this time around, the potties have not.  You can't win them all, I guess.

___

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Monday, December 13, 2010

An Early Christmas Gift for a Stay at Home Mom

The diner was well lit and cheery.  The orange tiles reminded me of my own childhood days and delighted the babies as they scampered about.  The outside wall was lined with windows at baby height, so that as we struggled to get from the parking lot inside, the babies falsely thought we'd made it before we reached the door.

"Uh, oh!" they said, tapping on the windows.  "Locked, locked.  Key!  Ope!  Ope door!"

We hurried along to get out of the wind.  Once inside, we had to wait for a table.  The place was buzzing with activity.  Couples, friends and families all came together for a late breakfast on this cold Monday morning.  The layout was baby friendly.  A large aisle behind the breakfast bar stools with chairs lined up against the windows allowed them to run around and sit and play without hurting or annoying anyone.

A waitress came out and pushed a button on the jukebox that sat on the far wall near the restrooms.  Christmas music started playing.  I showed the babies the Christmas tree, and they behaved well, not tearing down all the bulbs and lights.  A seat opened up.

We all sat down, Dulce facing me, Natalina on my side.  Coats and scarves littered the bench toward the wall in a haphazard fashion.  The waitress took our order:  two chocolate milks and a coffee.  Two older women looked at me as we sat down. 

"Their little hands were all over the floor, you know."

Truth is, I hadn't thought of it.  I braced myself for the worst, for the judgement, for the looks, as I gathered the kids up to take them to the restroom.  There was no reason for me to bristle, but by now, it's ingrained within me.  Those who don't know will judge.

The bathroom had a blow dryer for the hands, and that greatly amused the babies.  Our drinks were waiting for us as we got back to the table, and I ordered us the waffles.  It was the Waffle House, after all.  The babies had great fun drinking out of their big girl cups with no straws while we waited.

The food came quickly, and I tore up their waffles into bite sized pieces using my hands.  I dipped them in the maple syrup to show the babies how to do it.  The sat and ate for almost five whole minutes before I had to change my battle plan.

Dulce started it.  She got up and started wandering around.  One adult to two babies is always a hard ratio to overcome.  She was sweet though, happily exploring things, staying out of the other diners' way.  I had a choice.  I could force her back into her seat and make her eat like a real person eats at a restaurant.  I could try to bribe her back to her seat and embarrass myself when it didn't work.  Or I could let her be.  I let her be.  She wasn't harming anything. 

At this point, I was no longer sitting down either, but standing at the edge of the table, keeping one eye on my happy wanderer, and the other eye on my girl sitting there, eating her waffle.  I snuck sips of coffee here and there.  To make sure Dulce got enough to eat, I would leave Natalina at the table to bring Dulce her food, bite by bite.

This doesn't sound ideal, I know, but, really, it was.  The diners that paid them any attention were charmed, there were no tantrums or screaming, and everybody was eating.  This was a success.

Finally, enough became enough, and I really had to get Dulce to sit back down, or I risked becoming "that lady" at the restaurant.  You know that lady.  The one who lets her kids run wild and does nothing to control or contain them.  As we approached that point, I used one of the diner's colorful menus as baby bait.

Miracle of miracles, it worked.  The two babies crowded around me, and I asked them to identify the letters on the plastic menu.

"What letter is this?"

"... S!"

"S!  That's right!  And this one?"

"M!"

"M!  Good job!  Okay, now point to the A... very good, babies!  That's the A!"

The woman who had alerted me to their germy hands glanced over.

"They know all their letters already?"

"Yes, actually.  Somehow, they've managed to learn all of them."

"How old are they?"

"Just shy of two and a half."

"That's amazing!"

"Well, what they lack in discipline, they make up for in intelligence."  A gentle, self-berating acknowledgment of my parenting prowess thus far.

"Are they in preschool?"

"No, I stay home with them."

And her face lit up.  She beamed at me.

"You are doing a great job.  They are getting the best start, and it's thanks to you.  I am so impressed."

Before the two women left, they had the babies recite their numbers for them.  Then the babies gave an impromptu dance routine to one of the Christmas carols.  Finally, as the women turned to go, Dulce shouted out.

"No!"

Dulce looked at me hesitantly.  The woman who had given me the compliments turned around.

"Do you want to give her a hug, Dulce?  You can give her a hug."

And she took off as fast as her little feet would carry her and threw her arms around the woman's knees.  I wish I could have done the same.

Thank you, kind stranger, for being a bright spot on this dreary December day.  Stay at home moms rarely feel appreciated, and it is a great gift that you have given me.

___

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 17

Ways you can trick your baby:

Problem:  Naptime disappears in the blink of an eye, and all those things you were going to get done are somehow still looming on your to-do list.  But now you have spritely toddlers in the way, bent on nothing but stopping you from doing your duties.

Solution:  I already showed you some toddler-friendly chores.  But what about craft time?  As your kids get older, they might enjoy helping you guss up the place a bit, or feed into your hobbies.  One toddler friendly activity is painting.  Cover the area completely, and make sure the paper on which they'll paint is large.  Then you can paint whatever you need to paint (in my case, letters that I will eventually - read 2015 probably - hang up on my wall) and they will paint along with you without hampering your style!




Ways your baby can trick you:

Problem:  When they're two years old, nothing will make them happy for long, not even painting.  If you're not soon dealing with paint all over your walls, you'll be dealing with tears and boredom.  Why?  Because nothing can keep them content for long.


Solution:  Keep all activities to 30 minutes, tops.  Even if you think they're doing well and can handle a longer time period, start with 30 minutes.  It's much easier to get a child to transition before they get bored than after they're already showing signs of fatigue.  Once they take a step toward Tantrum Lane, it's a lot harder to distract them.  The key is to catch them well before they have reason to be discontent.


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Friday, December 10, 2010

SHH - This is the Library

I have a proposed change for the library.  Move the kids' corner.  It needs to be near the door - right next to the door, in fact.  Is there any good reason why the kids' section is always in some far off corner toward the back?  I understand wanting to keep it as far from the real library as possible, but making toddlers walk through endless aisles of books and movies and manuever their way past kiosks and study desks just to get to the cardboard-paged picture books?  It seems counter-productive to me.

Sure, it's all smiles and giggles and "aren't they so cute!" on the way there.  Those love-filled looks from the other patrons slowly simmer down, though, as the twins talk just a little to loud, throw just one too many books, and grab just one too many CDs out of the bin that shouldn't be there in the first place.  My heart melts when I hear them reciting the alphabet using the cues from the letter rug under their feet.  Other people, seated far too close, are less enchanted.

But the real reason the section should not be in the back corner is the knock-down, drag-out tantrums that occur whenever we try to leave.  I'm sure there are many parents who have little angels that love to leave a fun place.  I am not one of those lucky parents.  Whether they're yelling about who gets to hold the new Dora DVD, or freaking out about who's sticker is bigger, or simply flopping around and running away so that we magically don't have to leave, the five minutes it takes me to physically wrench them into the parking lot never fail to be the most humiliating of my week. 

Until you've carried two screaming, wriggling, 30-pound, two year olds - one under each arm - through miles and miles of aisles filled with books and "Be Quiet" signs, while what seems like thousands of other library patrons stare at you, mouths agape in horror, you haven't lived.

I'm not kidding when I tell you that often librarians descend upon me, as if to lend a helping hand.  The hand never helps though.  Now I just get to make my football-hold trek with an audience of three helpless adults staring on, wishing I'd never entered their sacred space - and that's in addition to the flustered patrons.

Simply put, having the kids' section in the back corner is not practical.  If the section were near the door, I would be able to do my business and leave with minimal fuss.  The checkout desk would be right there.  The babies wouldn't even notice as I slipped the librarian our books and videos one at a time and then hid them in my purse.  If anyone got too loud, I could guide them outside, not in a frenzied, embarrassed rush, but as part of a game.

"Look babies!  Let's check out the sidewalk cracks!"  And off we'd go, whether or not we returned depending on their mood.

The only reason I can see for not doing this is that parents who perhaps have children a bit older than mine may want to peruse the library's stock on their own while their children play in their own little area.  It's safer in that case to have the section in the back.  Still, if one has a child who is likely to wander outside if left alone, perhaps that kid is not ready to be left alone after all.

All I know is that based on my experiences having the kids' area in the back of the library only ends in tears - for everybody there.


___

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Never Too Young to be a Consumer

As we approach the Christmas season, I'm noticing more commercial time in between Dora and Diego.  So are my kids.  They've been able to resist the pull of flashy pink Barbie houses and shiny Big Wheels thus far.  I can only imagine what next Christmas will bring.  Christmas lists filled with glittery junk that they'll never use because those little actors looked so happy playing with their jiggly brain slime.  Is the laboratory and lightning strike included?  How about the spooky music and voice-over laugh?

Luckily for me, at two and a half, my girls have yet to discover that they can want things they've never had.  Still, imagine my surprise this morning when, as I'm getting breakfast ready, one of my little ones yanks on my robe.

"Choc."

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Choc, mama.  Choc.  Mama.  Choooooooooooc."

She points to the cabinet.

"My choc."

At this point, I'm down on my haunches, looking her square in the face, trying to read her lips or her eyes, trying to get some indication of what she could possibly be asking for at 8:30 a.m.

"Choc."

She is persistent.  I realize that a large part of my ability to understand my children is my knowledge of their routine, of what they would normally want at any given time.  With a littany of items to choose from this morning, I am at a complete loss.

Until I hear the TV.

"Give her what she wants this season, a decadent treat of smooth, creamy chocolate."

"Oh," I say, laughing and taking her by the shoulders, "Chocolate?  You want chocolate?"

She gives a big smiling nod.

"After breakfast."

She turns off the charm and stomps out of the room.  This, apparently, is an outrage.

The funniest part is that my daughter doesn't even really like chocolate.  She consistently turns it down as a treat.  The power of suggestion is finally starting to take hold.  My babies are growing up.  They will soon be fine, upstanding, young consumers.

She doesn't even like chocolate.


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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas with Toddlers



That right there is exactly what it looks like.  A sorry and sad, three-foot tall, fake Christmas tree with half of the lights blown out and only plastic bulbs for decoration.  It has only been up for two days.  It is beautiful.

Each morning, the babies run to the tree yelling, "Lights!  Lights!"  I sense a trip to buy more Christmas lights in my immediate future.

It's not the tree of my childhood, and it's not the tree of my dreams, and it falls far short of the warm, Christmas memories I hold dear, but it's ours, and only ours, and I love it.

Take that, Charlie Brown.

Christmas is held up to be a time of peace, joy and happiness.  In reality, it's a time of stress, broken things and frustration, at least until the big pay off.  But no matter how much cookie dough ends up in my carpets, no matter how many strings of lights I have to buy, no matter how many times I have to pick that piece of plastic up off the floor, unruffle its tendrils of fake green, and fluff it back up, no matter if those bulbs lose all of their tacky glitter to gluttonous toddler hands, this tree is a symbol.

It is the Christmas spirit.  It will bend and break.  It will lose what little polish it had.  It will continue to stand proud, though, as I will continue to prop it back up.  During the Christmas season, we would do well to remember that.  The peace and joy that could be ours is in our own grasp.  It is up to us to make Christmas or whatever holiday we celebrate this time of year special. 

Our kids won't remember the broken glass or the tantrums.  They'll remember the warmth of their parents carefully setting back up the spirit of Christmas after each new pitfall.


___
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

WHAT DO YOU WANT?!

Every morning here, it's the same story.

"Hi, mama!  Wake up, mama!"  Giggling, happy babies race down the stairs.

By the time they get to their room, though, the tide has turned.  Somehow, in between my getting up and getting everyone's breakfast ready, the tears switch on - the whining, the crying, the repetitions of half-words half-wails that I just cannot understand.  And nothing will pacify, nothing will soothe.  I simply want the happy babies I had less than 15 minutes ago to frolic and play while I heat the milk.  Is that too much to ask?

Yes.

I know that all I can do is desperately hang on and wait for this phase to end.  They understand me now.  They know I'm willing to get them what they want (within reason), and, yet, they still find reason to cry at any given moment.  Any action has a 50 percent chance of instigating crocodile tears.

The most frustrating tantrums of the bunch happen when I have just given them what they were asking for.  It's mind-boggling.  Here is a two year old, railing on and on about chocolate milk, and when I hand her the sippy of milk, she throws it on the ground and cries some more.  I just want to ask her, what do you want?  What do you want?

The problem is they are starting to face what we all have faced and will face again throughout our adult lives.  They don't know what they want.  At two years old, they only know that they are unhappy.  Like any person would, they look to things that have provided them with happiness in the past to fill the void.  Chocolate milk, for instance.  The baby thinks, "Chocolate milk!  That's it!  I love chocolate milk.  I must be unhappy due to my unjust lack of chocolate milk!  I bet if I get some chocolate milk, I will no longer feel sad!"

But when they get the chocolate milk, they are still sad.  This compounds the outrage.  Now, not only are they sad, but their trusted friend, chocolate milk, has betrayed them.  It sits idly by in a puddle on the floor while these angsty feelings continue to simmer within them.  It does nothing to help them out of their discontentment.

"I know!" they think.  "A lollipop.  Surely a lollipop will help!"

But it doesn't help.  Nor does the lovey, or the video, or the Raffi song, or the balloon.  All of their friends are betraying them, and their mother worst of all because she is allowing this unhappiness to go on.

At this point, I must sadly admit, that the babies usually end up so frazzled that the hug they rejected the first time around eventually does comfort them.  They reach the point where nothing but physical touch can reassure them that whatever it is that they wanted is unimportant.

I'm riding out the waves of this now, hoping that this phase will soon pass.  I try to remember that just because the twins can now communicate doesn't mean they understand emotional action.

Even I, at 28, don't understand it.

Sometimes, your baby will want to be happy and will look for things to make him happy.  When those things fail, he will be understandably even more upset than he was before.  But if we can take a step back from the fire, we will realize that what is happening is glorious.  Our babies are trying to figure out the world on their own terms.  They may fail at two, or three, or 15, or 28, but maybe someday they'll figure it out.  At the very least, they'll find their own peace - a peace which right now, as their parents, we must give to them, screaming and crying aside.

Of course, it could just be teething, right?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Women Stay

Women stay.  Not all women, of course, there are some who break away, who take off despite the risks, who take the first step in liberating themselves from a violent situation and bettering their lives.  But the fact remains that too many (even one is too many, but we're talking thousands, millions, of women) stay in abusive relationships.

Many see no alternative, or the alternative they do see seems even worse than where they are.  Those who have children are in an even more precarious position.  They fear for their children's wellbeing, both while they remain in their relationship and even moreso should they choose to leave.

When you are a parent, your decisions directly affect your children.  For me, that means dealing with excess whining as we board a plane home for the Christmas holiday.  For others, it means being painted into a corner with no way out.

How will a woman with no car, no income, no friends or family, and no shelter be able to provide for her children out on her own?  How will that woman be able to survive in hiding, should her partner choose to look for her, find her, bring her back?  Will her children bear part of 'her punishment' for leaving?  How will she be able to feed them, clothe them, care for them if she's on the run?

It's easy to type this from my warm living room on my laptop as my babies sleep.  When I'm done with this piece, I'll start dinner in the crock pot.  I'll set up our Christmas tree.

Easier still would be for me to simply write: make the call.  Call a shelter, an ambulance, the police, your mother.  Call someone.  Act.  Get out.  This message, while best intended, is completely lacking in empathy.  Women in violent situations cannot just make a call.  Something that seems innocuous - simple - to someone like me, can be a matter of life or death to a woman surrounded by such volatility.

For all I know, that woman's phone is tapped or her computer is keylogged.  Even reading this post could set off a chain reaction of abuse.  And that's assuming she even has access to a phone or a computer.  One doesn't need to be locked in the basement to be held prisoner.

Remember that.  If you are in a violent situation, and you think that it's not bad enough to attempt to get out, if you worry that the consequences of your attempt will make life worse for you and your kids, remember: one doesn't need to be locked in the basement to be held prisoner.

Abuse is rarely as concrete as basement walls.  It permeates.  If you are being abused, it sullies every pocket of every safe space you think you might have in your mind.  Do you think you are good?  Do you think you are good enough?  Do you think he is right?  Do you think you deserve better?  These are the important questions.

More important still:  Do you think your children deserve better?  Because they are worth that shot in the dark.  You are worth that shot in the dark.

And maybe it's not so dark after all.  Of course, that is my entitlement speaking.  It is that dark.  But it is still worth it.  This essay is worthless.  It is rhetoric, it is lip service.  Pretty words on a page do not dial phones.

What we need to do in the face of violence against women is act, not speak.  Speaking is useful only in its capacity to bring about action.  The readers here don't have to donate money, they don't have to hold signs in rallies to promote awareness, they don't have to change their Facebook pictures.  They simply have to think.  If each of us thinks hard enough, I bet we'll each come up with at least one person we know, personally, who is suffering some kind of abuse. We cannot sit idly by and callously tell them to call the people.  We must show them that it can be done.  We must personally illuminate the path for them.  Not for all of them - that is daunting, that is impossible.  For that one person we know.  For her kids.  We must act, not speak.  We must be there for her.  We must help her emerge from the trap of her own esteem and thinking.

One hand outstretched in the darkness is worth a million words on this computer screen.  Call your friend.  Stop by for a visit.  Help her.  She needs you.



(This post is in participation with the One Wee Voice Violence Against Women Campaign.  Please visit Life - Inspired by the Wee Man for more information and links on this issue.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 16

Ways to trick your baby:

Problem:  Your toddler won't do what you want.

Solution:  Entice them with something that they weren't expecting.  For instance, if you use lollipops usually to "positively reinforce good behavior," and you would like to lessen their pop intake or you have, heaven forbid, run out of pops, or they are plain sick of pops, try something completely different, like cheese. 

We've also used pretzel sticks, yogurt juice and other more healthy items as bribery.  The great thing about having toddlers is they don't yet know what is good for them and what is a bad-for-them treat.



Ways your baby tricks you: 

Problem:  Your kids don't want anymore food.  You cannot dangle anything delicious in front of them to get them to do what you want because they're not buying it.  Or you need them to do something where a food treat would set you back a few steps, like get dressed for bed or brush their teeth.

Solution:  Train your kid to think of the chore as the reward.  It's easier than you would think, and the younger you start the easier it is.  For instance, I can get my kids to do almost anything they need to do by promising to let them brush their teeth or wash their hands afterward.  They love getting dressed for bed because they get to pick out their own pajamas.  How about this one?  If you pick up your toys, mommy will give you a bath.  Works every time.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Feeding Babies for the Win

I had the honor of guest blogging for Fearless Formula Feeder today about my decision to formula feed.  It was a tough decision, never once made easier by societal pressures, but I'm glad I did it, and I hope my story can help others who feel down on themselves.
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It’s 3 p.m.  My month-old twins are crying, but they are so tiny - their lungs so weak - that their little cries sound like a few quiet ducks quacking in the distance.  They are hungry, of course.  They are always hungry. 
For some reason, they missed the memo on how babies are supposed to eat.  That memo probably comes out at 36 weeks, to give the unborn some quality reading before they make their way out into the world.  With a whole month to digest the information, maybe babies born at 40 weeks have properly studied the technique and are sucking geniuses right off the bat.  That’s all conjecture, of course; I could be totally off base. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's Teething. Trust me.

My husband laughs at me.  My babies are teething.  That's no laughing matter, of course, as anyone who has dealt with a teething baby can tell you.  He laughs at me because, in my opinion, my babies are always teething.  My babies have been teething since day one, or at least since month three.  As soon as the experts gave me a ready-made, go-to excuse for their seemingly uncalled for tears and distress, I took it and ran.

Crying because they don't want to eat?   Teething.  Crying because they're overtired?  Teething.  Crying because they can't communicate?  They must be oversensitive because they're teething.  Most importantly, though, when they cry for no discernible reason, it's definitely teething.

As they've gotten older, it's become much easier for me to tell why they are crying.  The communication issues are clearing up, they eat more or less on a schedule, and I make sure they take a nap for everyone's sanity.  Yet, there are still days when the whimpering, whiny, crying, 24-7-hug-needing baby appears.  I have nowhere else to turn.  It must be teething.



I will never understand why, as babies, when there is so much other growth and learning to overwhelm and scare us, we would have evolved to suffer sharp hard points shreading our gums for the entirety of the first two years of our existence.  Is there not some easier way for teeth to appear in our mouths?  And if poking through sealed membrane is the only answer, must it be so drawn out?  If the pain must be constantly present, why not make it last a more reasonable amount of time, say, three weeks.  This throbbing and pulsing until the relief of a breakthrough teases the baby into a feeling of security that the pain is over, only to have it start again, and even worse this time, because the molars are coming in.  The gradual crescendo of pain, with each tooth supposedly being harder on the child than the last, can hardly be good for that child's mental state.

Using teething as a catch-all crank-maker is helpful to parents who might otherwise be at the end of their rope.  Even if the reason behind the crying is not always teething, for the most part, it is something that will pass relatively quickly.  I have on many occasions blamed teething for fussiness, only to have that fussiness resolve itself with no tooth in sight.

"That's great!" I tell myself with a pat on the back. "I guess it stopped bothering her."

The only question remaining is what I am going to do once these final molars pop through.  I'll finally be left with no one to blame but myself and the universe at large.

Until then, though, it's teething.  Trust me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Atmospheric Pressure

Taking two babies anywhere is a hassle.  Taking them out to dinner is usually a disaster.  In a restaurant, your attention is divided.  You can only dote upon your children while you're not choosing something to eat from the menu, speaking to the waiter, or accepting and clearing dishes.  God forbid you actually try to eat anything.  The minute your eyes drift to your plate and your lips close around the fork, your kids may or may not be dumping out the salt, sliding off their boosters, tearing open the sugar packets, knocking over your beer, or, worst of all, preparing for a public screamfest.

Even if they're not in the mood to destroy the restaurant, you'll almost never get a relaxing dinner.  Candle light is out, booze is - for some reason - frowned upon, and even if you've made it to the ordering stage with nothing being broken, you've still had to interrupt yourself to pick up dropped crayons just over one million times in the past 15 minutes.

While your experience is hardly ever going to be perfect, there is a trend I've noticed that may help you anticipate and mentally prepare for just how rowdy your kids will be on any particular outing.

In addition to worrying about all the factors that play into behavior anywhere you are, like whether or not somebody is teething, sick, tired or hungry, you might want to take the atmosphere of the restaurant you are visiting into consideration.

When we take our kids to Ruby Tuesday's, for example, they are usually more riled up because they know they are in the mall, and why would we want to do something so boring as feed ourselves when we could be pushing them around in mall cars and taking them to the Playland?  Their behavior improves dramatically if we manage to get a seat away from the mall entrance.  Taking them to a family restaurant results in moderately well-behaved babies, but the excitement and the noise of the place usually sets the tone for our evening.  If it's loud, they will be loud.  If other children are acting up, they will see it and take their cues accordingly.  The saving grace of places such as Red Lobster and The Cheesecake Factory is that raucous behavior from children is something that most diners and waitstaff have come to expect.  Your kids don't have to be on their best behavior there, they just have to be better than the worst behaved.

One of our worst experiences was at a Texas Roadhouse.  The lighting was dim, the music was blaring, the floor was covered in peanut shells and the babies were out of their minds.  Too many new experiences for them, combined with the decibel level in the place made them scared, cranky and more likely to act out, which they did.

One of our best experiences occurred just recently at an Indian restaurant.  The place was clearly not prepared for young children.  They didn't have crayons, or paper, or even booster seats.  They didn't have a distracting television or any music playing.  They didn't sell chocolate milk or juice, and they didn't have plastic cups with straws.  The waiters were distracted with other patrons and did not give us special attention to accommodate the twins.  We mentally steeled ourselves for the worst.

And we were rewarded with the best.  Since the atmosphere of the place was calm, the babies were able to take their time and explore the decor at their leisure, make discoveries and share them with us, calmly.  It was quiet so they could hear us and they listened to us when we told them not to touch a certain object or not to get down from their chair.  They understood that the cups were not their normal cups and that they needed to be extra careful with them.  The food was exotic to them (no chicken nuggets served at this joint), but they delighted in tasting it.  They could handle all of the changes magnamiously because they still felt secure.  They felt secure because the atmosphere around them was soothing.  Without a million different things assaulting their consciousness at every turn and making a power-play for their attention at each moment, they felt comfortable enough to slowly take everything in, one object at a time.  They knew the other things would still be there when they were ready to turn to them.

A baby will always be a baby and will always need special attention during any outing.  But a baby can also reflect the mood of the place in which they find themselves, matching severity to severity and tranquility to tranquility.

All that being said, I don't expect you to be able to take your toddler to a five-star restaurant and have a relaxing experience.  I'm just wondering if maybe everyone would be a little calmer if we took a moment to place some of the blame for outbursts on the places we visit and take some of that blame off ourselves and our children.



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