Monday, January 31, 2011

Life Lessons Dora-style

My kids watch Dora the Explorer every morning.  I know, I know, but seriously, I need to make breakfast, and they need to not be in the kitchen when I do it.

Anyway, one of their favorite games is to pretend they are Boots and Dora (sidenote: Natalina chose to be the sidekick, Boots, before Dulce chose to be Dora.  My husband and I are both Diego.)  They go on adventures as the characters, making stuff up as they go along, putting toddler rules in place.  It's really quite magical to watch.

The other day we were at Wendy's eating lunch.  I know, I know, but seriously, it was a weekend and we had just been running around at the park.  I stand by the decision - it was worth it.

Anyway, the babies were eating their burger when Natalina got a sly look in her eye.  She eased down from her chair, stealthily made her way over to my husband and I, slid in between us, and grabbed his keys from the tabletop with a huge grin on her face.

She proudly carried her winnings back to her seat, and looked at us, beaming.  I said offhandedly to her, "Oh, Boots...wait, that doesn't look like something Boots would do.  That's something Swiper would do!"

The look of surprise and abject horror on her little face was priceless.  Swiper?  How could she be Swiper?  Oh, no, oh, no, this wouldn't do at all.

In a flash, she jumped back off her chair and returned the keys to their rightful place on the table.  She got back to her seat, very seriously.  She sat and looked at me, then her father, then the keys.  She stuck out her hand in a stop motion.

"No fiping!  No fiping!  Fiper, no fiping!"



I'm still laughing about this today.

But all laughing aside, this shows an important part to the television, if you use it right.  Television can't be used to teach your kids for you, but it can help teach your kids in addition to you.

For instance, swiping things - taking them or stealing them - hasn't really come up yet, in the moral sense.  Sure, I can tell one twin not to take the other one's toy, but my words don't really mean anything to them because they don't understand the effect their actions are having.  My punishments don't really help them stop doing it because they don't understand how the two are connected.  So that even if they did stop taking each other's things, they would be doing so only out of fear of punishment, and not because they understood how taking something from someone else made that person feel.

When a cartoon fox takes something from Dora or Boots (characters in whom my kids have invested their imagination) the characters get upset.  They slowly and thoroughly explain the problem to the viewer, and then they take action to get their stuff back.

This teaches my kids that taking things is wrong because it makes people feel bad.  It further teaches them that you can try to stop people from taking things from you by talking to them about it first.  It further teaches them that if the person takes your stuff anyway, you need to figure out a way to get it back without exacting revenge upon the person who did the taking.  It teaches correct protocol and reasoning, and shows the babies why you should or shouldn't do certain things.

Would I have eventually taught them this myself?  Absolutely.  Would my adult mind have been able to get all of those concepts through to them in one coherent repetitive message?  No.  At least not until they were older.  Dora has expanded upon a lesson I've been trying to get through to them since they were infants.  Dora has correctly instilled that message in them months before I would have been able to do it without the aid of the cartoon.

So, no, the TV does not teach kids everything they need to know, but I feel like if you use it correctly, it can enhance the lessons you may be trying (and failing) to instill in your kids at a young age.

Maybe Dora isn't so bad after all.  Or maybe I'm just rationalizing my TV usage.  Either way, I got a very cute moment out of it.


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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Toddler Tricks - 24

Ways to Trick your Baby:

Problem: Your kids throw a fit over whatever outift you pick out for them in the morning.  They will resist you, whine, cry, and run away.  If you have twins, they'll most often want whatever the other one has while simultaneously clinging to their own outfit.  But they can't wear two outfits.  Their demands are illogical.  You simply cannot wear two shirts, three socks and no pants.  How do you start the day right?

Solution:  Give them choices, but not too many choices.  This should be easier with a singleton because you won't have to deal with outfit envy as you're only dressing on child.  Give them two pairs of pants to choose from, two shirts, two socks, that's it.  Yesterday, in fact, the outfits I picked out were insufficient on their own.  In order to truly shine, one twin had to wear the pants of one, and the other the shirt.


Ways your Baby Can Trick You:

Problem:  No matter what choices you give your kids, it's not good enough.  They demand to go into their closet and ruin it while picking out three shirts and a hat.  Then they demand you find a way to help them wear all three shirts and the hat...on their arm.  Then they're mad at you because you won't let them go outside without pants.  It's an interesting world we live in here.

Solution:  Don't do it.  If they refuse to accept their clothing choices, it's time for a little tough love.  Because giving in to them here will only cause crazy mornings and forever unsatisfied babies.  They just don't know what they want.  So, what I do is compromise, like I did above, mixing and matching, so that no one twin feels like they got the short end of the stick.  If they're still upset, I repeat to them over and over how they'll have something different tomorrow.  If they mention a specific piece of clothing, I do not give it to them that morning (I've found they'll only change their minds).  I tell them I will pick it out for them to wear tomorrow.  This usually gets us out of the bedroom in a fairly good mood with no one feeling particularly slighted.



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Friday, January 28, 2011

I Just Know

My kids are only two and a half, and already I find myself saying "I just know" on a daily basis.  But not to the kids.  To the other adults around me.

It's a strange phenomenon, knowing something is going to go wrong, but being unable to specifically pin down what it is.  The babies will be doing something obstensibly harmless.  I have no reason that I can find to forbid them from doing it, but I often try anyway.  I just know.  The other adults around me will argue against my decision, rightfully so.  I can't tell them why I've decided against the action.  I usually end up giving in, in fact.  But I just know.  I just know.

There are two examples I can give from this last week.  The first when we were eating pizza for dinner and the babies kept trying to reach into the box like my husband and I were doing, to get their own pieces themselves.

"Don't do that, babies!" I said. "Stop reaching into the box.  Mommy doesn't want you reaching into the box.  Eat from your plates only."

My husband didn't say anything to back me up, and the babies kept trying.  Finally, I turned to him, saying "Please, I don't want them reaching into the box."

"Why?" he asked.

I had no good reason to give him.  I just knew.  But I let them continue to reach because I had no specifics to back me up, and I figured I was just being silly.

Two minutes later, a wine glass was toppled from the table, landing on the carpet.  It was mostly empty, thank goodness, but it happened.  I just knew.  I didn't know what.  I didn't know why.  I just knew.

Then, again, yesterday.  My parents and I had taken the babies to the playground (it was a balmy 46 degrees here, okay?).  The babies had a ball sliding down the little slide, running down the hill, and chasing bubbles.  My stepdad wanted to help them onto the big-kid slide.  You know the one.  It's twisty and enclosed like a tunnel.

"I don't think so," I said.  "I'd rather them just stay on the little slide.  They're perfectly happy there."

But I could come up with no good reason as to why they shouldn't play on the big slide, especially with three of us there, keeping watch.  I continued discussing it with my mom, still on the fence about letting them slide down.  Meanwhile, the babies were playing on the rather too large wooden steps that lead up to the tunnel slide.  Before I'd even finished a sentence to my mom, little Dulce slipped off the first wooden step and spun around the pole to which she was clutching with one hand, to stop herself from falling.  She hit the pole with her eye before I could reach her, but she didn't fall, again, thank goodness.

After that, we left the big slide alone, and went back to the little one.  I just knew.  I didn't know why.  I didn't know what.  I just knew.


The injury is not a big deal at all.  Just a slight bruising above her eye, so no harm done.  In fact, all of these "I just know" incidents are small.  Still, it amazes me that I know.

I just know.


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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Being a Mother is Easy

Being a mother is easy.  That's what this comedian tells me, and he would know.

(Bill Burr on being a mother.  Caution - adult language.)

I admit, I laughed out loud at this bit.  It's true, in many ways, mothers have it easy.  When we stay at home, we do have the option of staying in our pajamas.  We can put in a DVD and give ourselves (at least a three-minute) break.  We play a lot of hide and seek, and we make many popsicle-stick houses.  In a sense, we are, indeed, living the dream.

And we do pat ourselves on the back, a lot.  We do complain about how difficult our jobs are.  And no one corrects us.  But here's where the fault lies in Burr's argument - no one corrects us not because they want to get laid.  No one corrects us because we are right.

Our jobs as mothers are difficult.  The difficulty lies not in the physical things we have to do, not in the day-to-day tasks we need to achieve, but in all the little things that society does not take into account.  It's difficult to keep kids happy without spoiling them.  It is difficult to teach them how to interact with others.  It is difficult to show them when to respect others and when to stand up for themselves.  Life has so many subtleties that we deal with minute by minute, trained to overcome each tiny obstacle without even thinking about it.  As mothers, we have to go back and study these molehills.  We have to make mountains of them.  We have to dissect each portion of each moment to understand the meaning behind our decisions and impart that reason to our children, so that they do not live life by rote because someone told them to, but they live life with an intense understanding of who they are, how they operate, and why they feel the way they do.  This is difficult.

There is an often-overlooked distinction here, as well.  Perhaps being a mother is not so difficult as it is important.  Society conflates difficulty with importance.  For instance, a miner's job is both difficult and important.  A roofer's job is both difficult and important.  Therefore anything that is difficult must be important.  Anything that is important must be difficult.  And the levels of this difficulty or this importance must be the same.  We fail to see the shades of intensity of each task in the overall picture.

I would argue that a miner's job is more difficult than a mother's, that a roofer's job is more difficult than a mother's.  I would argue that a mother's job is more important, in the big scheme of things, than a roofer's or a miner's.  For each roofer and each miner completes a task of immediate need.  By contrast, each mother must shape a child day in and day out, so that banded together, those children become the world's next roofers and miners and professors and lawyers.  So that as a whole, those children better our society and our planet.  So that individually our children have the inner tools to succeed not only for themselves in each immediate battle, not only to fix each immediate need, but to create a better world for their children after them.  Mothers are shaping the future.  Mothers are changing the world.  While day by day that might not be a difficult task, year by year it is the most important job.

So when Oprah listed off that woman's accomplishments (a hefty list, I might add), and she saved mother for last, describing it as the most difficult job on the planet, the comedian was right to poke fun.  It is far from the most difficult job on the planet.  But the meaning behind Oprah's words rings true.  What Oprah meant was that motherhood is the most important job on the planet. I, for one, agree.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grocery Game-plan

Grocery shopping is always a crap shoot over here.  The babies know they have me captive because when we go to the grocery store, we have things we need to get before we leave. They know I won't leave until I go through the checkout. They have me at their disposal as we walk through aisles and aisles of fun and yummy things that they can't open or play with.  It could easily become a nightmare, and it has been pretty ugly in there at times, but usually, we pull it off flawlessly, thanks to having a game plan in place before we even leave the house.

1) Park close and pick out your cart before you leave the car.  This is probably more important for me than most as I have to find a twin cart, but even if you have a singleton, decide whether or not you are going to use your own infant seat, the infant seat on a specialized cart or if your child is old enough to simply sit in the basket area, or walk alongside you as you shop. When my babies were younger we used the five-point shopping carts, but a few weeks ago we moved to the lap-strapped racing carts. There is only one of these that suit our needs. The others are two small. If that one cart is unavailable, step 2 goes into action.

2) Do not enter the store with a crying baby or a fussing toddler. If your infant is small, stand outside rocking her and comforting her until you can make the transition into the cart.  If you have toddlers like I do, be prepared to garner stares in the parking lot and you stand resolutely to the side, waiting for your children to calm down.  Tell them firmly every once in a while that no one is going anywhere until they stop fussing.  If they're truly upset, cuddle them in the cart, tell them about what you are going to buy, distract them by naming the colors of the cars in the parking lot, etc., until they calm down.  If they're just doing it for show, make sure you've got all day, and just sit tight.

3) In my childless days, if I had to do a full-on shopping run, I'd start from one end of the store and make my way methodically to the other side. These days, I do a modified verision.  I start in the baby aisle, and immediately grab them something to munch on.  Gerber puffs, yogurt bursts, Nutri Grain bars, whichever items catches my fancy at the time. Once the babies are crunching away, I start my real route.

4) Move quickly. Know where everything is, and what you'll need.  Shopping with babies is no time for browsing.  Don't shop when you're hungry.  You'll not have time to investigate each possible item for purchase. If you're looking for bargains, browse the store's catalogue before you leave so that you don't have to waste precious moments comparing prices and products, or finding this week's specials.

5) Set break points at even intervals.  Use the fruit section, the bakery, the deli, and the section where they hand out the balloons (don't know what I'm talking about?  Click here.) as set points to break up your trip into small intervals, like pit stops.  At each stop, give the babies a treat.  In the fruit section, the babies get a few grapes.  When we move to the deli, they get a slice of cheese.  The coveted bakery stop provides them with a small cookie.  If we are incredibly hard up that day, I'll end the trip with a balloon.  Usually we can skip this step.

6) When the babies inevitably reach out for or ask about one of the untouchable goodies hanging from every section of every aisle, hurry on by.  Tell them you'll come back to look at it later.  If there is an item you need near one of these toys, park the cart a few feet ahead and go back for it without them.

7) If you are having trouble getting from pit stop to pit stop, make a game of it.  Have the babies "help you look" for the grapes, the cookies, or whatever they want next.  If they're repeating with increased urgency, "Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!" Get yourself on their side by saying, "Yeah! Cheese! We have to find the cheese.  Do you see it?  I don't see it. Cheese!  Oh, cheese!  Hello?  Where are you, cheese?"  The babies will most likely join you in your quest, and you can "look for" an item for up to five minutes before the trick begins to wear off.

8) We usually don't have trouble at the checkout, but if your child becomes restless, have them help you put the groceries on the belt.  It gives them something to do, and they're usually amazed that the items move.

If nothing works, and you've got a disgruntled toddler or screaming baby on your hands for the hour in which you shop, take heart.  Remember, when you get home, it's nap time!


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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Circular Journey

It's recently come to light that it will soon be time for me to become part of the workforce again.  You would think this would be great news, since I never really yearned to leave the workforce in the first place.

I remember quitting my job and preparing to move.  When we arrived here, the first month felt like a luxurious vacation, despite the babies' troubles adjusting to our new home.  By the second month, I was restless.  The third month, I was looking for a job.  I found one.  A job that back home would have easily made me $50,000 based on the duties described.  They offered me $9 an hour.  That would even cover half of our daycare costs.  I turned them down, and I stopped looking.  Obviously, there were no jobs for a television journalist in a town that has no TV news.

Month four?  I started this blog, I applied for online journalistic work from home and got it.  I started editing novels for a publisher from home, and I took on freelance work for a local magazine.  I stacked my plate, and I fell apart.  For the next few months I struggled to make all of my projects work, to get things in by deadline, to keep my house clean and my kids entertained.  I often felt like a complete failure.  Not only was I not making any real money, I was letting the housework slide.  I was disorganized and disheveled.  I was trying, but it seemed not enough.

It was only after Christmas that things began to click into place for me.  I started succeeding in the time management that had eluded me for so long.  I am now able to write everything I set out to write, keep the house in a satisfactory manner, and I feel as if I am nurturing my kids to the best of my ability.  Finally, everything lined up for me.

Or maybe I only feel that way because it is a phase of my life soon to end.  It's hard to tell.  I don't know.

What I do know is that as many times as I have complained about this life, as many times as I have struck out into the darkness, wondering who I am and what my purpose was after my career ended, I have enjoyed this phase of life more than any other so far.

I have seen my children grow and flourish.  I have captured fully each development.  I have been able to take responsibility not only for every tantrum, setback and failure, but also for every success, every development, every adventure.

I don't want to leave my kids much as I didn't want to leave the workplace.  What I must remember is that I cannot shove my feelings off on them.  It would be too easy to say that I need to stay home because the kids need me.  They are two and a half now.  There are millions of kids in daycare at their age.  I feel like I need to stay home not because the babies need me, but because I need them.

Yes, I guess it is time to move on.

I am only too thankful that it takes time to look, to find, to apply for, and to get a job.  I will cherish these next months at home.  They may well be my last.


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Monday, January 24, 2011

Farewell, Dear Mama

We are gathered here today, good friends, to lay to rest the beloved, the cherished, "mama."  She truly brought joy to all who encountered her, and gladdened the hearts of the family constantly around her.

I remember the time before "mama."  It was marked with anxious trepidation, as I waited for her to arrive.  Each day, I'd ask the babies, "Mama? Mama? Say mama.  Can you say mama?"

Alas, it was all for naught.  The cursed "dada" was all that could be heard.  The disappointment, as the days and weeks and months flew by, became palpable.  We practiced and practiced.  "Emmmmmm."  "Mmmm."  Mmmaaaa."  "Ma."  "Mama."

Nothing.

The day she made her first appearance, I had all but given up hope; I couldn't believe my ears.  Was it a mistake?  Mama?  Did they say mama?

From that day forward, mama stayed with me, day in and day out, becoming an integral part of my life.  Soon, I couldn't fathom a day without a constant barrage of "mama mama mama mama mama mama mama mama maaaaaaaaaamaaaaaaaa."

I admit, I often took her for granted.  Some days, I would actually be annoyed at her constant utterance.  I would roll my eyes, wondering why I had ever yearned for such a thing.  Now that mama had arrived, it seemed she would never leave.  She certainly would never give me a break.

Mama, I apologize.  So often we take those closest to us for granted, as I did you.  I'm asking you here, please, come back to us.  I'm sorry I didn't treat you right.  I promise I will hold you in the highest regard, treat you with the utmost respect.  If you come back, I promise, I will appreciate you.

But, I fear, it is too late.  The time for mama has passed.  The year or so we spent together meant so much to me.  I may have lost you, but I will never lose the memories you have given me.

As for "mommy," I must tell you, she's not much of a replacement.  She's close enough to you that every time I hear her name, I think of you wistfully, wishing to go back to a simpler time, a time when two of the same syllables repeated was a speech victory.

Still, I know I must learn to appreciate this new "mommy" much as I had appreciated you in the beginning, before I ceased to see the power of happiness you held.  I must embrace her now because although she's only been here a week, I'm already hearing her replacement, here and there.

The dreaded "mom" awaits right on the horizon, and I ask her, where have my babies gone?  And who are these big children calling me mom?


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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Toddler Tricks - 23

Ways to Trick your Baby:

Problem:  It's 10 p.m.  Your kids are playing in their room -- giggling, jumping around, squealing, the whole bit.  They're happy, at least, but they really need to get to sleep.  No matter how many times you settle them back down, they're up again within minutes, running around and playing make-believe games.

Solution:  Surprise them.  Settle them down, close the door, and make as if you walked away, but stay right outside the door.  The moment you hear a rustle, bust back in there and remind them that it's time for bed.  Repeat this.  Sometimes let them rustle for a few seconds before busting in.  You shouldn't have to do this for more than 10 minutes, in my experience.


Ways your Baby Can Trick You:

Problem:  They incorporate your smooth ninja style into their game, and now it's a million times more interesting because a grown up is involved.  At this point, continuing on is useless.  You have to calm them down because they won't be able to do it themselves. 

Solution: I have a pillow in the middle of the room, and I'll lay down, let the babies know I'm there -- not for playing or laughing, but for sleeping.  They are usually grateful for my presence and settle down, occasionally trying to talk to me or request something.  The most important part of this solution is that you must leave while they are still awake.  I have made the mistake of staying in there until both have nodded off, and that sets up a precendent that can keep you prisoner in the nursery for hours each night.  Once your kids are calm and sleep is most likely going to overtake them (it's a tricky timing game) retuck them in and kiss them goodnight, making it clear that you are leaving but you will be back.  Make as if it's the first time you tucked them in for the night.  With any luck, you'll be hearing nothing but silence from that room after you leave it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Hot (Cereal) Mess

Say what you must about the nutrional value of Gerber hot cereal baby mixes, but at least they are easy.  A few scoops of sawdust-like material, a splash of milk, microwaved for a perfect 47 seconds, and you've got yourself a meal.  Add in one of those containers of ready-made Gerber fruit mush that never seem to go bad for some reason (how is that possible, and why does it squick me out?), and your meal is complete.

Of course, there is only so long one can cling to the convenience of whatever the heck that was that I just described.  Now that my twins are almost 2.5, I've been forced to move on to other, more difficult, alternatives.

No problem, right?  I'm a pretty good cook.  I should be able to roll up my sleeves and cook up some hot, delicious cereal with fruit bits and perfect consistency.

Actually, no.

I consistently make the worst cream of wheat I have ever seen.  And this picture?  That's the third attempt.  No matter how much milk I pour in, it's not enough.  On the off-chance it is enough, it boils over, like you see here.  The lumps are unbreakable and stick to the sides of the bowl.  Or it's soupy, and the little kernels haven't expanded properly.

I cannot win with this.

I make the worst hot cereal in the history of hot-cereal-making moms.  I am surprised and grateful that my kids humor me enough to actually eat the stuff.  It's disgraceful.

And it continues to foil me.  Each day I wake up sure that this will be the day.  I just have to use a little more milk.  I just have to microwave in 30-second intervals instead of one-minute sections.  I just need to boil it on the stove instead of using the microwave.  I've even gone so far as to question using the salt they recommend.  Perhaps the salt is the missing magic ingredient that stops lumps and soupiness and overflows.

Today, I have a new game plan.  My kids are going to enjoy their breakfast today, and they deserve it for putting up with my pathetic cereal-making skills for so long.

Today I made muffins.

So, you win, this time, cereal.  But maybe next time you won't be so lucky.  Maybe next time will be my time.  My perfect cereal-making time.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Twilight-Zone Odyssey

It had just started to snow when we packed the twins and some provisions in the car and headed to New Bedford.  The journey took us two hours on a normal day, but the incoming storm hardly impacted our drive time.  The white flakes fell softly over the car and the the only sound to be heard was the gentle swipe of the windshield wipes every once and again.  The babies had thankfully decided that they were meant to be quiet on car rides - a new, but appreciated development.  We were standing on the steps of my mother in law's house two hours later.

"Hi!"  The door opened and we were greeted effusively by our relatives - an aunt, two uncles and a grandfather.  My mother in law was visiting relatives in California, and her presence this Christmas break was sorely missed.

We settled in, and the babies took out their basket of toys.  We sat down to dinner.  Usually we stayed the entire day, but as the snow thickened, it became apparent we would need to make a decision.

"I think we should head out," my husband said.

"Oh, no!  You can't!" said his sister.  "Look at it out there!  You must stay."

I had packed a bag for the babies in case we shouldn't be able to make it back. 

"Well, we'll try it, anyway, and if we can't make it, we'll come back and stay the night," he said.

And off we went, just over two hours after we'd arrived.  The winds had picked up and the snow fell rapidly from the sky, flying in all directions.  The snow on the ground wafted up in circles and waves, covering the car and skewing visibility.  The roads seemed okay as we set off for the highway.

We decided to take the long route, down toward the coast of Rhode Island and then back up through Connecticut.  Surely the highways would be our best bet.  An hour passed.  It began to get dark.  The snow was blinding now.  The babies, still, blissfully silent.

Then, suddenly it seemed, the road disappeared.  The four-lane highway on which we were driving became indistinguishable from the ground on either side.  It was all one white plain.  We could barely see six feet in front of us.  I leaned toward my window, squinting to see street signs as they passed, to be sure we were still travelling forward, and that we were still on the road.

There was one other car up ahead of us.  Every few minutes it would falter, then slow to a halt.

"What is this guy doing?" my husband asked.

"We can only see so well because he's in front of us," I replied.  "He can't see anything at all."

We followed that car closely for a long while.  Finally, we couldn't deny the inevitable any longer.  We had to pull off the highway.  We had to find a place to stay for the night.  We'd been traveling at 10 miles an hour for more than an hour, and we'd been on the road at least three hours.  We were not even halfway home.

At the next exit, we prepared to turn off.  The car in front of us did the same.

"Lodging."

The sign pointed in either direction.  We chose left.  The car in front of us did the same.  We then had to follow streets signs for a few miles and go through multiple turns before we saw the hotel looming before us.  There should be a rule against advertising lodging off the highway if it's more than five miles off the highway.

In order to pull into the driveway, we had to slowly inch down a steep hill, then hit the gas and lurch up an incline.  We pulled into a spot in front.  We had lost the car in front of us.

We opened the doors to bitingly cold gusts of wind, propelling snow into our car and into our sleeping babies' faces.  The gales were so strong they almost knocked me over as I stood by the car in my boot heels, leaning over the seat to unstrap my little one.  We ran with them to the hotel, which was only 15 feet away.  By the time we reached the doors, we were soaked, windblown and freezing.  We set the babies down and went to the desk.

There in front of us stood another family.  A European father, an American mother, and a pair of twins.  Four years old.

A European father, an American mother, and a pair of twins.

It was us.

"Were you the car up ahead of us that whole time?" my husband asked in his English accent.

"Oh, yes, that was us.  You must have been the car right behind?" the other man answered, in his English accent.  "Twins?"

"Yup."

"Us, too."

"I see."

We got a room key and asked about any dinner accommodations.  The young man behind the counter said they didn't provide dinner at the hotel, but they did have a continental breakfast.  He was putting some food out for other families caught in the storm.  Would we care to have some of that?

Less than ten minutes later, we were sitting in front of a spread of muffins, milk, juice, yogurt, bagels and waffles.  The dining room was almost full with other families eating their odd dinner as well.  The babies were having a ball.  A bite of this, a sip of that, more juice, more juice!  It was almost fun.

One of the four-year-old twins spoke to her parents.

"Ooh!  A pool!  Mommy, a pool."

"Yes, but we can't go swimming because we don't have suits."

"Oh...well...we could if we...borrowed suits!"

It was as if looking at my kids in the future.

Back in our hotel room, we took a bath, watched a movie and attempted to sleep on beds far too high off the ground for little ones.

The next day at breakfast, we saw our future selves again.  We headed out before them and waved goodbye.

It just goes to show that two-year-old toddlers can pull off adventure just as well as anyone else.


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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Steamrolling the Chores

Let me tell you about the best $200 I ever spent.  Better yet, let me show you.

That's right.  A Bissell Steam Cleaner.

For a mere $200, and hours upon days of endless toil, I finally have the carpets in the shape that they were when we moved in.  That is no small feat.  I forgot to take a before picture (I was too excited to start steaming!) but just picture a carpet pock-marked with Nutrigrain jam, mushed food stuffs, and darkened spots of various shapes and sizes.  My children ruin things.  That's all there is to it.  They are messy.  If they can spill something, they will.  They could spill a cup of grape juice from 30 feet away.  I'm almost more impressed than exasperated.

A few months back I had heralded the use of Resolve Carpet Cleaner, and true to my word, it really did do the trick.  But it also took time, and the fumes gave me a headache, and it left an invisible residue on the carpet.  Resolve will do in a pinch, for one or two or six stains.  It is too weak to handle the all-over carpet rehaul we needed in this house.

A quick defense before I move on: my carpets were in this state because I allow my toddlers to eat anywhere they want.  They often carry orange juice in little cups to the living room.  Being two, they don't do it very well.  They often eat yogurt (again not very well) while sitting on their potties in front of the television.  I don't necessarily advocate this method.  My mother is a strict you-eat-in-the-kitchen-or-not-at-all believer.  Her house was always much cleaner as a result.  Still, at this point, I'd rather my pickier-than-picky toddlers eat than not, so I don't care where they choose to do so.  I have chosen my battles.

The steam cleaner has a few drawbacks.  It's heavy.  It's a bit hard to manuever.  It runs out of water (a lot, if your carpets are filthy like mine.  I'm embarrased to admit that by the time the first bucketful was used up, I'd forgotten that I would have to clean and refill it (since I'd only done half the dining room), and I spent far too long turning the vacuum upside down and cursing that it had broken already.)  It spits out a dirty lint-like substance sometimes that you have to pick up with your hands (again, perhaps your carpets are not in the state mine are.)  Most annoyingly, it really does take a long time -- at least it does for me.  It can take me an hour to do half a room, depending on the foot traffic and food spills in that area.

But the hours are worth it; the trouble is worth it.  It's not hard on your muscles; it does the work for you.  Now that I have a steam cleaner, I feel my life as a housewife has changed.  I plan on steaming these carpets once a month, and I've a feeling it won't take nearly as long next time.

Results like this are invaluable.




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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Breakthroughs Are Worth the Breakdowns

We are coming up on an entire week of blissful happiness in this house.  For almost seven straight days now, I have been able to talk to my children, to walk them through disappointments and to thwart what previously would have been surefire tantrum starters.  For their part, my babies have been infinitely more patient with me as I struggle to understand their conversation attempts.  They have been more articulate and just all-around more happy.  It is for weeks like these that I live.

Of course, they come at the cost of much struggle and strife.  For the two weeks previous, my babies were nothing short of terrors.  They cried about everything, tantrumed at the drop of a hat.  I had negative five seconds to figure out what they were asking for before full-blown flopping and wailing commenced.  And as always, the babies managed to keep this up for just one day more than I thought I could stand without completely losing my sanity.

These breakdowns occur fairly regularly - once every few months, at least.  And each time, I forget that there were ever good times, that I ever got along with my kids, that my kids even liked me.  It's a stressful and disheartening cycle, but it is worth it.

Because with every week of full-on break-down drive-mom-crazy comes a breakthrough so profound, I cannot help but beam with pride.  A few months ago, it was two-word sentences.  I was on the brink of tears that time, when the tantruming stopped as suddenly as it began.  In its place?  Two-word sentences.  I was amazed.

This time, the tantrum stage lasted longer.  I was just about out of hugs and tears when suddenly I had happy babies again.  And not only are they happy, but they are talking.  I mean, really talking.  They are using correct tenses.  They are using pronouns.  They are describing actions, counting objects, and formulating ideas and opinions on things.  They are becoming people.

And on top of that, their imaginations have taken flight.  They have gone from needing me to lead them in games and distractions, to playing with each other for long periods of time.  We're talking at least 10 minutes at a time!  Whatever one sets about to, the other one soon joins, and they make up rules immediately.  Then they stick to the rules they have together decided upon.  I'm shocked and thrilled.

So, if you are at the end of your rope, cling to it with your nails and teeth if you have to.  Chances are, a major breakthrough is just around the corner, and that breakthrough will be worth all of the breakdowns.

(To see where I was just about a week ago, check out I Will Die on Every Hill.  The babies have also started eating again.  Always remember, what you and your babies are going through is likely a phase, and phases pass.)

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Monday, January 17, 2011

STOP! We're Doing It Wrong.

From this point forward, you all need to start calling your children "garbage" when they disappoint you.  You need to call them "fatty" if you feel they are overweight.  Make them practice an instrument for three hours a day, and if they can't get the music right - at age 7 - take away their meals, throw away their toys, berate them and scream at them for hours until eventually they've no choice but to play the piece correctly.

You'd think this was an exaggeration, but since it was written in an article by Amy Chua detailing her own homelife, I have to take it seriously.  After days of intense piano work with her daughter, during which Amy says she lost her voice yelling, Amy's husband finally said something.  He said that maybe their daughter did not yet have the coordination to play the difficult piece, and that she shouldn't be compared to another child her age because she was her own person, not the other child.

"Oh no, not this," Amy replied. "Everyone is special in their special own way. Even losers are special in their own special way."

To Amy's credit, her daughter eventually played the piece correctly and was proud of herself.  But at what cost?

Let's start at the beginning.  Amy says the difference between Chinese parents and Western parents is that "Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best."

While she makes some paltry excuses for her stereotype usage, I find it hard to believe that a Yale Professor would be unable to come up with her own categories, as opposed to "Chinese" (which she says could be any of a set of immigrant parents, including other Asian ethnicities, Irish and Jamaican) and "Western" (which could be basically any parent at all.)  If we are talking about two different types of parenting methods that cross ethnic and national lines, then perhaps "Chinese" and "Western" were the wrong choices for categorization. 

I'm not trying to start a fight.  I'm just wondering if maybe she should have called herself pathetic and made herself sit at the computer keyboard without eating or going to the bathroom until she came up with more precise terms.

She goes on to say that "tons of studies" show quantifiable differences between the two parenting styles.

Really?  Tons?  Because tons refers to weight, and while I suppose that's useful in its own way, I'd prefer to know the number of studies to which she is referring.  Just a thought as she prepares for her book release.

Amy then goes on to cite one study of 50 "Western" mothers and 48 "Chinese" mothers.  She says in that study, almost 70 percent of "Western" mothers said "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun...By contrast, roughly 0 percent of the Chinese mothers felt the same way."

First of all, one study of less than 100 people does not satisfy me.  If she wants to back up her claims, she'll need to dig deeper than that.  Secondly, the two answers lumped into one answer are too different to even compare.  I would say that parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun, but I would not say stressing academic success is not good for children.  She's creating false numbers, as far as I'm concerned.  Third, roughly zero percent?  Because in a study of 98 people, even one mother answering yes to either of those scenarios would be more than one percent.  So, either no "Chinese" parents answered the question positively, or one of them did.

"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it."

That's a weird thing to say.  My daughter is two and a half.  She loves drawing.  I would even say she has a passion for it.  Is she any good?  Nope.  Well, I mean, I think she's fantastic, but I don't think any museums or art galleries are currently accepting crayon scribbles.  She's certainly having fun, at any rate.

Maybe Amy is talking about older children.  When I was in third grade, I loved soccer.  I sucked at it.  I couldn't kick a ball, couldn't dribble, had no ball control.  By my senior year, I was a top goal-scorer on the varsity team.  Could this be an instance of the rote repetition she mentions, here in a "Western" world?  It absolutely is.  The difference between my improvement in soccer and her daughter's improvement on the piano is that I was allowed to decide how accomplished I wanted to become at my sport.  When I made the decision and became better, I had myself and my own hard work to thank.  My parents didn't need my unending gratitude toward them for forcing me to continue something I didn't yet enjoy.  Just because you decide on something for yourself does not diminish your sense of accomplishment when you achieve your goal.  Who is Amy really trying to impress here?  Her daughter, or herself?  But this example doesn't concern her.  Her daughters will not play sports.

In third grade, I also gave the piano a shot.  I also sucked at it.  I gave it up after a year or two.  Do I wish I could play the piano these days?  Sometimes.  Does it haunt my every waking hour that my parents didn't force me to sit at the instrument and practice for hours on end until I could do it?  No.  Plenty of people can play the piano beautifully.  I leave it to them.  I think no one in my family is worse for the wear, and I got to eat all my meals.  Thank you, Mom.  Thank you, Dad.

It boils down to a child's life not being all about the parents.  What shells of people are we if we must define our own success and failure based on our children's skill sets?  And how dare we foist our own fears, determinations and failures upon those who have yet to do anything wrong?

"Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough."

In addition to my degree in journalism, I also have a degree in science.  I barely passed physics.  I had to take it twice.  I was in the TA's office so often that he asked me if I were a sorority girl (another stereotype for another day.)  I worked hard.  I worked so hard.  I was in the library at all hours, I was memorizing theories and mathematical equations.  I took summer tutoring courses.  I barely pulled in a B-.  But I did it.  I got my grade, I passed my course, and I was proud of myself.  How crushing it would have been, at 19, to have felt I failed, when I had still accomplished my main objective.

Amy says, "Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."

Can we not have both?  Can we not respect our children's individuality, support their choices and nuture them while still preparing them for the future, arming them with skills and inner confidence?  Why is there a line drawn here?  And if a line must be drawn, I must say, I still don't understand how bullying and berating a child builds "an inner confidence that no one can ever take away."

Maybe that's my "Western" reading ability failing me, though.  After all, my parents never made me read Marcel Proust or Joseph Conrad over and over until I understood each sentence and word and meaning.  I did that on my own, as an adult.

I could go on and on, but, right now, I have a couple of children I need to go kiss and tell how beautiful and special they are.  Not because I'm fearful of their self-esteem issues, but because it's true.  And there's nothing wrong with telling the truth to your children.

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Amy Chua needs more hits on her article.  Click this link to see it.  Maybe it will even boost her book sales.  Well played, Amy, well played.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moment of the Week - 22

Natalina plays the dollar-store flute in time with the "I'm So Happy" song on the TV.  Dulce is unimpressed.


video

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Toddler Tricks - 22

Ways to Trick your Baby:

Problem:  You bought a few toys for your children.  You lovingly picked them from the shelf and looked forward to the absolute bliss that would surely encompass their little faces the moment they saw them.  You bring home the presents, crackle open the bag, remove them from their cardboard encasements.  And your children hate them.  I don't know about you, but presents in this house are almost always a letdown.  As if the babies were better off before.

Solution: Give it time.  Don't expect them to be gracious, or thankful, or even happy when they first see a new toy.  They have to figure out what it means, first, and how it plays into their regularly scheduled imaginative playtime.  If you help them see how they can use the toy, or make as if the toy is ridiculously fun even for adults, they may come around sooner.  Either way, before you know it, you'll have some happy kids thrilled with their new toys.



Ways your Baby Can Trick You:

Problem:  If any of your dozens of toys are broken, or their batteries are dead, or they're just simply too annoying for you to handle at any particular moment, that is the moment your children will choose to play with them and become distraught that they don't work, or that mommy or daddy is taking them away.

Solution:  If you start young enough with being honest with your children about fixing toys and eventually giving them back, you can sneak a few in here.  Whether the toy actually needs fixing or not (and most times it really does), at this point, my babies readily accept when I have to take it away as long as I tell them that the toy needs to be fixed, and they can have it back when it's all better.  This has been a lifesaver on multiple occasions.  Of course, my office now looks like a popped balloon graveyard, as I fix each balloon by blowing up another one out of sight.  I'm not sure how much longer that trick will last.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What's Your (New) Sign?

I've never put any stock into horoscopes and star signs.  Born in the early 1980s, I always figured myself beyond all that New Age mumbo jumbo, if that's even what it is.  Until, of course, the internet's hysteria over possible sign changes hit me.

I was fairly distraught.  Am I actually a Gemini?  That doesn't make any sense.  I'm moody, I'm loyal, I'm mothering...all 'signs' point to Cancer.  I don't want to be a Gemini.  And I wasn't alone.  Hundreds of people I know railed in opposition to this new finding.  No one wanted a new sign, and no one wanted to be the new one, Ophiuchus.  Isn't that a transformer, anyway? Ophiuchus Prime?



It turns out, regardless of what kind of lip service people pay the Zodiac, we are somewhat attached to our sign.  Even if we say that we define ourselves, it is apparently too easy to use a few adjectives here and there given to us from above.  It becomes a part of us, regardless of how well it fits.  We take what we like and leave the rest, and do what we can to make the definition of our sign fit us.  We may say it's unimportant, but does anyone not know what their sign is?

If you are wondering and haven't seen this yet, here are the "new" signs.

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11
Pisces: March 11-April 18
Aries: April 18-May 13
Taurus: May 13-June 21
Gemini: June 21-July 20
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23-Nov. 29
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20

But don't panic.  As is more and more frequently the case, a slow news day combined with lightning-fast social media held to no accountability and bored internet-goers, means that an article originally reported by NBC on a debate that's been raging for years now (nothing new about it) from the viewpoint of one (that's right, one) astrologer, has been lended the legitimacy of the news media as more and more outlets and aggrigators pick up the story, eventually leaving the NBC reference in the dust, and forgetting the name (and number) of the astrologer whose theory this was originally about.  So to the average viewer, it looks as if this week we collectively decided to change everybody's star sign.

Not true.  Will we someday have to change our sign, and, therefore, our definition of the traits we have spent years honing?  Maybe.  But that day really needn't be today.

Still, either way, I'm pleased to announce that my babies will be Leos with or without the new sign.


Legend of Ophiuchus The Serpent Holder

Original NBC article: http://www.nbc-2.com/Global/story.asp?S=13828331


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Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Mother's Letter of Explanation

Dear Library Patron,

The other day, as you may recall, my toddlers and I had what I consider to be a very successful trip to the library.  I understand you do not agree.  I know you are far removed from this world in which I live and must think that taking two-year-old twins to the library is a disastrous idea.  I don't necessarily disagree, especially given the tantrums and all-out misbehaving I've experienced there in the past.

However, on this day, my babies were well behaved and happy, truly the best you could ask for out of them when placed in a building with such strict rules.  It's true, they don't yet understand the concept of quiet, but they certainly weren't being purposefully disruptive, nor were they ever at top-volume.  I absolutely understand your need for complete silence as you worked on your brilliant masterpiece, or whatever it was you were doing.  Might I suggest that next time you not sit directly in front of the children's DVD section?

I don't expect everyone to find my children cute, not do I expect them to stop what they are doing to cater to babies.  But the girls should not have been bothering you in any way. They are two.  They forget, sometimes, to whisper.  We were only there for 30 minutes.  If you weren't keen on hearing the alphabet three times during that half hour, you certainly could have moved.  Why would you choose to sit so closely to the kids' section?  In fact, if what you were doing was so important, why did you choose a library with a kids' section at all?

I'm not saying you should go out of your way and make more work for yourself because I'm not willing to bend a little.  I understand your position.  It's not fair to expect you to have to find a library with no kids' section simply because you want to read in peace and quiet, simply because you want to use a library as it was intended.

I'm not saying I'm right, and I don't expect people to change their lives to accommodate me.  I do, however, expect a certain courtesy when I manage to wrangle my twins out of the house, and they manage to behave themselves.

I'm saying that it is impossible to keep two kids of this age completely silent while I pick out some books and videos for them.  Please understand, if it were possible for me to have them be "seen and not heard" I would have done so.  However, to do as you wished would have resulted in screaming, crying, as I bullied them out of the library.  I assure you, that scenario would have been far more disturbing to you than the seldom giggle and the random counts to ten.  To appease a toddler, one must go very slowly and make each move with a strategic game-plan in mind.  I can promise you that from the moment we set foot into that library, my main goal was to get us back out the door.

I was honestly hurt when you came stalking over to us, intending to tell us off.  I was incredibly thankful that I accidentally averted that situation by telling my kids we were going to leave before I saw you.  When you heard that sentence and snarled "YEAH, LEAVE" my heart sank.  And here I'd thought it was a successful journey.

But, really, as I hung my head and hustled my girls out of there, I became more and more indignant.  As if I do not have it hard enough, having to constantly battle the will of two toddlers.  As if I had not kept them completely under control and happy that entire time.  You, sir, would berate me as a mother, would allow your annoyance to get the better of you so as to interrupt what you were doing simply to scold me?  What purpose do you feel that would have served?  Would you have felt better, bullying a mother and her two daughters, when you, yourself, chose to sit immediately to the left of the row of Dora DVDs? 

I guess as much as the twins were a bother to you, they seconded as a help to your cause.  Because had I not been weighed down by two little hands heading toward the parking lot, I'd have turned around and told you about yourself.

The point of this letter is this: mothers and children exist.  We do not expect you to give us special treatment.  We do expect that you make your own life easier and move away from the space designated specifically for us.  Had you been in the reference section, or the literature section, or the computer section, or any other of the half dozen adult sections in that library, we would never have had the misfortune of disgruntling you.  You sat in the children's section.

I owe you no apology.

Sincerely,

The mother of twins you cut down in the library


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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

22-minute Shows Are Worthless

It's 9:07 a.m.  Dora is on to give me a few minutes while I try to make breakfast for everyone.  I manage to clean out the dishwasher and fix my coffee before 9:22 a.m. when I hear "Mama.  Mama!  Glasses!  Oops!  Again!  Oh no!  Mama, mama, mama, hugs!  Hugs!  Green couch!  Mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama."

By 9:23 a.m. I have two toddlers assaulting my legs, pulling on my hands, threatening to cry, needing attention, wanting to play.  I give up my tasks and entertain them best I can for the next seven minutes.  Since they were watching Dora and wanted to see more of the show, I spent much of that time explaining to them that they have to wait for the commercials.



However, by the time 9:30 rolls around, they're immersed in the blocks we are playing with, and they protest when I get up to continue fixing breakfast.  They assault my legs, pull on my hands, threaten to cry and demand more attention.  I turn back from the kitchen where they have followed me and settle on the couch, attempting to get them interested in the television again.

It's 9:37 when they finally become immersed in the show, and I sneak away again.  I put the tea on the boil and the bread in the toaster.  It's now 9:41.  Someone has gone on the potty!  A break while we celebrate and take care of the aftermath.  At 9:46, I'm back in the kitchen.  I butter the toast.  I take the fruit out of the fridge and pour the cereal.  It's 9:50.  Someone else has gone on the potty!  Another break, another celebration.  By the time we're done with that, it's 9:53 a.m., and the commercials are on again.

Good luck trying to put milk in the cereal and care to the now screaming tea kettle.

"Mama, mama!  Blocks!  Mama!  Look!  Mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama."

I sigh as I head back into the living room and distract them for seven more minutes.  By now, thank goodness, it's 10 a.m. and Sesame St. is on.  By 10:06 a.m. the babies are finally getting into Sesame St., and I can usually put them off by telling them to watch it while I fix the tea, make my husband's lunch, set the table, and eat.

I look up in amazement as I'm eating my breakfast.  It's been at least 8 minutes without interruption.  Is that possible?  It is possible. But only because the creators of Sesame St. got it right.  That show is 57 minutes long.



What I'm trying to say is that 30 minutes of one uninterrupted show is worth more than 90 minutes of 22-minute shows.  I'm trying to say that 22-minute shows are absolutely worthless.

When a mother sets her children in front of the television all morning, that's not really the case at all.  Four minutes of television at a time does not a bad mother make.

So, yes, my kids supposedly watch TV for two hours each morning.  And, no, I don't feel bad about it; I don't feel like a careless mother.  Because, really, in sum total, they've watched about 20 scattered minutes of Dora, and a blissful half hour of Sesame St.  (Sesame St. remains on until 11, but I'm done with breakfast and able to better tend to them exclusively at that point.)

It is ridiculously hard to make a breakfast - that would normally only take 15 uninterrupted minutes - in spurts of three and four minutes.  Tasks that should take no time at all can take hours.  What I need is Dora to last an hour.  If it did, my kids would spend less time "in front of the TV," because they'd leave me alone long enough for me to actually do what I need to do, and I'd be able to return to them fully much more quickly.

Twenty-two minute shows are worthless.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Poverty is Our Problem, Too

It was February in Connecticut.  The bitter winds blew over the snow, frozen into icy lumps so that even the force of the gales could not lift it.  Walking over it, my warm boots didn't even make a crunch.  My fingers were frozen; I was holding a microphone.  My lips were chapping and my eyes watering; I had to leave my face uncovered so that I could interview the various people who came my way.

They were lined up in tattered coats, wearing dirty threadbare turtlenecks three sizes too big.  Many pushed strollers ahead of them, little heads sticking out from beneath old blankets, staring wide-eyed into the early winter sunlight.

"Excuse me, miss," I said, "I was wondering if you had time to answer a few questions."

"No hablo ingles," she replied.

I turned to the next in line.

"Excuse me, sir, can you answer a few questions?"

Up ahead, the line shifted.  Another woman was at the front now, struggling to find her ID card with numb fingers sticking out from torn gloves.  Another woman was with her, attending to the carriage on her left with coos and pets.

"I'm sorry, miss," I heard from the door at which the woman was standing.  "We are all out of diapers, and this is our last jar of baby food.  You can have it.  I know it's not enough.  Why don't you try again next week."

The woman's shoulders slumped a little bit as she accepted her small bag of assorted groceries.  I managed to talk with her later.  She said she would make do with the oatmeal and pasta.  The baby could eat that.  She would get here even earlier next week (it was only 9:00 a.m.); the baby goods always ran out first.  She said people just didn't think about children living in poverty.  They'd prefer to pretend it didn't exist rather than help.  Homeless people in America, she said, were thought of as irresponsible burdens on society who'd gotten themselves into their own mess.  Since children don't fit into that definition, they were often overlooked.

"I may be poor, and completely out of luck," she said, "but I do what I can for my child, and she did nothing to deserve this."

She was soft-spoken and well-mannered.  She was kind and thoughtful.  She was struggling.  She was homeless.  Her daughter was beautiful.  They were both freezing, so I let them go on their way.

I was a reporter at the time; my assignment to interview people visiting the food pantry on this winter morning, to talk to the organizers of the pantry, to paint a picture for our viewers of the lack of resources in the area, to show them how much help was needed, to open their hearts.

And I, myself, was so lucky to be there.  Just months before, my husband had lost his job.  I had our twins two weeks later.  We had just bought a house (for more than twice what it is worth now.)  We were soon to lose our health insurance.  I was budgeting down to the penny for groceries.

And I had had it easy.  The state provided for us.  We received unemployment.  They allowed me to sign up for WIC.  We never went a day without food.  We never spent a night without heat.  We worried ourselves sick over our poverty.  We didn't know it at the time, but we weren't poor at all.

Now, after having secured a new job closer to home after my maternity leave ended, I truly saw poverty.  And it was my job to stick a microphone in its face and ask it why it existed.

One child hungry is too many.  One person hungry is too many.  We forget that this is a daily reality as we survey our dirty living rooms and wade through the laundry.  We think, I cannot possibly spare a dime, I'm just as badly off as anyone out there, why, we hardly were able to afford our groceries this week.

But we were able to afford them.  And most of us brought them back to a warm, bright house and set our babies down in their warm, safe cribs while we put them away.

No one should have to suffer in any season, children least of all.  I know each of us cannot do nearly enough to make even the smallest dent in the problem of child poverty that is becoming more and more widespread.  But if you buy an extra package of diapers this week, and I buy three extra packages of wipes, and my neighbor buys a few boxes of baby food, we've all only spent $6.  And we've set up a child living in poverty for an entire week.

In these economic times, no one has anything left to give.  But it is precisely in these economic times that we need to search within ourselves and dig past the lint in our own empty pockets to help a child who otherwise might very well freeze or starve to death.

No mother should have to stand in line at a food pantry for hours in the dark and cold of a February morning only to be told there is nothing left at 9 a.m.

We can make a difference.  We just have to try.

**This post in contribution to the blogshare at Life Inspired by the Wee Man.


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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Sections Need Sections!

A while back, I naively posted about my To-Do List.  Well, this has become a joke since the holidays came and went.  I am so far behind, I don't even know where to start.  Aside from joyously and caringly nurturing my two angels of light and bliss (by which I mean setting them up in front of Word World while I write out this blog), I have about a million side projects going, all with deadlines, as I try to prove my own worth to myself.  Plus, I have to clean this house.

This is a recipe for disaster.

When I look at a list of 30 plus things, I roll up into a ball and cry instead of choosing one of them to tackle.  It's just too much, and I'm too overwhelmed.

The past few weeks, I have been sectioning my day in addition to the list.  So that in the mornings, I catch up on important emails and immediate phone calls, make and feed everyone breakfast and clean the kitchen.  Everyday.  Around 10:30 a.m. I start writing this blog and work on blog related things.

Then I take my kids out.  Anywhere, it doesn't matter what we do, as long as we do something.  Once we've done that (I try to include running errands in our day, here), I put them down for a nap.

Nap time, I've decided, is cleaning time.  I will let no other projects bother me, and I will only clean.  I've managed so far to get my kitchen, dining room, porch and laundry room in tip-top shape.  I start each nap time by doing maintenance cleaning on those rooms, then deep clean the next on the list.

Once the babies wake up, I'm tied up for the rest of the day, either fixing things they destroy, feeding them, or playing with them.  When their dad gets home, it's time to make and eat dinner.  Then we put them to bed.  After bedtime, I do no cleaning.  I only work on deadlined projects, like writing articles, clearing emails, and editing manuscripts.

The next day, I start again, slowly chipping away at this housework and freelance work.  I'm feeling pretty good about it so far.

Really, though, the key thing to remember, is that it is not the chores that overwhelm us.  We overwhelm ourselves.  Keep in mind that nothing is going to explode because you didn't get to wash the kitchen floor today.  That's something you can do tomorrow.  If you feel less stressed out about all the chores you have to do, and you can concentrate on just getting the one thing done at a time, I've found more things actually get done, and I don't feel as cranky, either.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moment of the Week - 21

Musical Twins!

Natalina doesn't quite get how this guitar works:

video

Dulce would rather dance to the music than draw to it:

video

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Toddler Tricks - 21

Ways to Trick your Baby:

Problem:  Your kid, to put it mildly, wakes up on the wrong side of the bed.  It seems no matter what you do, you are going to be graced with a crying jag leftover from sleep.  Nothing appeases, nothing stops it.  She's just cranky when she wakes up.

Solution:  Try to get there right before she wakes up.  This has worked for me about 50 percent of the time.  It's hard to pull off because sometimes the babies will sleep for an hour, other times they'll sleep for 2.5 hours.  But if I can hear them even starting to stir a little bit, I stay close by so that I can sneak in as they begin to open their eyes.  For some reason, them waking up to me in the room sets the tone and gives me more control over the situation.  So that I can smile and hug them playfully and they follow along without question, whereas had I tried to do that after they woke up without me, they wouldn't buy it.


Ways your Baby Tricks You:

Problem:  You're in the room already, and your baby doesn't care.  She's waking up crying, no if ands or buts about it.

Solution:  Stop.  Give her a hug if she'll let you.  Let her know you care however you can in the first minute or so.  Then walk away.  If your toddler is anything like mine, she'll cry for just a bit longer than you can stand before turning off the water works and continuing on with her life as if nothing had happened. (And she's right to do so; nothing happened.)  If you can up your tolerance for baby-crying just a few minutes, you may find that the cranky-pants changes her own tune when left to her own devices.  If she's not getting attention for flopping around for no reason, perhaps she'll reasonably see that the crayons or the video is more interesting than her own salty crocodile tears.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

The Common Denominator

What do teachers and students have in common?  They're all people.  Too often, this similarity is overlooked if not entirely forgotten.  Teachers good and bad fall into their roles, and students, often with some resistance, follow suit.  Ignoring humanity in our school systems does no one any favors, and it only gets worse as the government focuses on test scores and statistics instead of on students.

As I considered who to highlight here, the choices seemed endless.  I could choose the tech teacher, who let me come to class late if I brought him coffee and taught me about being in news.  I could choose the math teacher who specialized in broadening our social consciousness.  I could choose the science teacher who preferred lengthy interesting discussions to papers and multiple choice questions, or the art teacher who was so clearly passionate about her subject.  In my long and illustrious school career, I had dozens of teachers, some good, some bad. But I only had one person.  Mr. St. Peter.

Mr. St. Peter was a short Irish man with a stubbly mustache.  He wore too many turtleneck sweaters and worked in as many bad puns per lesson as possible.  He used the Socratic Method, annoyingly at times, and always made you answer your own question through thinking.  He taught me chemistry.  Then he taught me physics.  It is because of Mr. St. Peter I pursued and completed a degree in Biology, even though I am bad at science.  It is because of Mr. St. Peter I forced myself to retake college physics twice, not giving up.  But these are all things he did as a teacher.  It's what he was as a person that really made him special.

As a kid, I never saw teachers or parents or anyone with any authority as a whole person.  I only thought of them in terms of how they related to me, and since they rarely if ever related to me as if I were a real person, I could never see them as a person, either.  Without that connection, the space that remained between us - teacher and student - was too wide to overcome and learning over the gap was difficult at best.

Mr. St. Peter was a teacher, above all, yes.  But if he was having a bad day, he didn't try to hide it underneath his professionalism.  He didn't bottle it up and take it out on students accidentally.  He explained it to us as if we were people capable of understanding human emotion, and because he did that, we became people capable of understanding human emotion.  Don't misunderstand, it wasn't all about him.  On an off day, he would honestly say at the beginning of class that he was having a rough time that day, and that it had nothing to do with us (he wisely remembered that to students, everything is about them, always).  Then he moved on with a weak pun, and we learned more about electricity or whatever we were learning that day.

When students didn't get it, he took pains to help them.  When students didn't care, he took pains to make them.  He appealed to these students not as a teacher trying to impart invaluable knowledge, but as a person trying to understand where the mental block lay.  More often than not, the student's problem had nothing to do with physics at all, and instead had to do with something personal.  Instead of completely ignoring this (as many teachers do because they don't know how to handle it) he acknowledged it and brought it into the lesson in a general way.  He was gentle when he ought be, playful when it helped, and intuitive always.  He never made a big deal out of the students' lives beyond the classroom; he simply let them know that he understood they existed, and he empathized by showing students that he, too, had a life outside teaching.

This knowledge of humanity - not pushed or promoted, but not ignored out of ignorance, laziness or helplessness - gave Mr. St. Peter a camaraderie with his students rarely achieved in the school system.  Many teachers can manage having a 'pet,' a student they believe in, a student they connect with, a student they view always as human.  Seldom can teachers manage seeing every student they come into contact with on that level.  So, as I write this piece in praise of him, know that it was not just me that he graced with the human elements I actually possessed, but every student in that school.

Even now, as a parent, I look back on Mr. St. Peter as a role model, as I struggle to remember that my two year olds are people, too.  They are not just babies, but people.  When you realize the common denominator, you make your job - and your life - easier.  You earn respect without trying.

Cheers, Mr. St. Peter.  I hope you're not having a rough day today.

**This is in cooperation with the blogshare over at Teaching Ain't For Heroes.  You have until the 12th to join, if you'd like!

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