Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Do You Even Do All Day?

This isn't your typical post about stay at home moms and how hard they work. I won't be going on about how we're teachers, janitors, nurses, etc. Though that's all very true, this post is about my surprise about how hard I actually work now that I don't work. I can't compare myself to anyone else. I'm sure I fall short in the grand scheme of things. There are so many mothers out there, working and not, who are able to accomplish so very much in each short day. No, I can't compare to them. I can only compare my past working self to my current self, and doing that, I can say with absolute certainty that I am working harder now than I ever have in my life.

When I was working for a weekly paycheck, I was being paid for my time. My work was deadline oriented, and I didn't need 40 hours a week to do it. I worked, really worked, for a few hours a day, finding other ways to fill the gaps in between. Perhaps that's why I didn't climb the ladder as fast as I would have liked to.

Having to work for myself this past year has been an eye-opening experience. My deadline work is now paid for by the project, meaning, those six extra hours of money coming in for nothing is gone. The projects usually don't pay so well. The economy is rough now, and after an entire year of networking and expanding my base for freelance jobs, I am just now being paid what I was being paid in 2005 for freelance work, when money flowed more freely.

So, what did I do all day, and what do I do all day?

When I worked, I showed up. I had a cup of coffee. I opened a rundown and  selected news stories to go in that rundown in whichever order I preferred. I stayed on top of reporters to make sure they kept their scripts to length and made their deadline for the show. I wrote the news stories in the blocks, often times simply rewriting earlier stories because not much changes between news casts, believe it or not. I chose graphics, video and sound for my pieces, except for those that were already cut. And that's basically it. I was responsible for a half hour of news a day. I was done in a few hours, to be honest.

My work was given to me, handed to me on  a platter. All I had to do was do it. There was no thinking involved, no networking, no pitching. I didn't have to come up with ideas, I didn't have to play nice, I didn't have to create my own projects to bring in my money. I was paid for my time.

These days, I still get up and have a cup of coffee. But in addition to cooking, cleaning and taking care of the kids, I work. Some days it feels as though I will drown from it all. I pound out article after article, some for hardly any pay, some for reasonable prices. Some for free. I edit book after book after book, barely closing out of one first draft before starting on another. Every moment that my children are sleeping or otherwise occupied, I am typing. Sometimes I take a break to clean.

I think being a stay at home mom has really brought me far as a person. If and when I do go back to the working world, I hope I'll be able to self-motivate the way I have been doing in my year of freelance. It takes time and patience to get the projects, but once they arrive, they come in waves. Then it takes diligence and time-management to get it all done while playing dollhouse, riding trikes, and building castles. My days run together, but that's okay. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

I'm writing this because I often complain about and worry about my new line of work / not work. I feel like I'm missing out on real life by not punching a clock. That I've perhaps sacrificed my career and will never get it back.

I want to remind myself that even if I don't get it back, I haven't been wasting my time here. If anything, I've become a better worker, not a worse one.

This is true, I think, for all stay at home moms, not just freelancers. Even if you stay at home in the true sense of the term, caring for your kids and keeping your house, you are working as you've never worked before. You're efficient and loving and creating your own future in your happy home. You are probably the best worker you've ever been. And since your boss is yourself and your family, you get to reap all the benefits.

And it goes for working moms, too, even moreso. It's no joyride to leave your kids for hours a day, only to come home to cook, clean and care for them after you've worked all day. But, again, you're efficient and loving and creating your own future in your happy home. No matter which road you decide to travel down, you are making the best life for your family through your hard work and tenacity and your love.

Don't ever let anyone tell you differently...especially not yourself.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hygiene Hypothesis, Take Two

Jo has a problem with germs. A big problem. She hates them and has waged full-out war with them, and I, for one, support her cause...at least armchair style.  You see, Jo's motto goes like this: " Avoid What You Can, Deal With What You Can't."

I simply cannot avoid all the germs she can. I have a life.

The other day, Jo wrote about the "Hygiene Hypothesis" (something I hadn't heard by that name, but, of course, knew what it was), using my children's first day at preschool and subsequent immediate illness as an example.

Now, everybody told me my kids were going to be sick all year, from now until at least December, when maybe their unused immune systems would catch up to the rest of the world. They told me this because as a stay at home mom, the babies have seen me and the inside of this house about a million times more than they've seen anything else. They simply haven't been exposed to real-life germs.  According to the hypothesis mentioned above, this means they'll be prime real estate for those Mucinex-commercial guys. I bought into this, especially when the girls did indeed get sick the next afternoon. I referred to our lives as having been in a bubble.

Correctly, Jo informed me, that, no, we do not live in a bubble. She's right. We go to the grocery store. We go to the park. We have playdates, go to the library. We go to the Playland at the mall (shudder). We use public restrooms (my daughter is finally coming back around to big potties after I flipped out about someone leaving a turd in there. Bum bum germs that I can't see? Those don't usually cross my mind. Bum bum germs sitting in log form in the toilet my babies have to use. ACK ACK ACK. My reaction, obviously, made a big impression on the girls.)

Which brings me to my point, my one weapon against the cleaner of the clean. The microcosm of the public restroom experience gives great insight into the mind of a child and that child's relationship with her parents on a subconscious level. Dulce was more than ready to jump on the OMG I'm scared to death of this thing and that thing and this thing, and AHHHHHH! All she needed was a slight push from me. All she needed was to see me bolt from a bathroom one time, see me wrinkle my nose in disgust, see me complain to my husband about the indecency of some turd-leaving adults.

Those ten seconds of her life impacted her thoroughly for the next two months. We must be so careful.

I try never to go over the top with anything in our lives because I don't know how my reactions impact my girls. I want to keep them on an even keel. I'm not saying Jo doesn't, but I know in my family's case (particular to Dulce) they take strong cues from me. Another example is hand-washing. After the babies got sick last week, I implemented an even stronger hand-washing rule. No more was hand-washing just for after bathroom breaks and before meals, and after play. Hand-washing was all the time. Let's get rid of these foul germs, right? Let's wash them away. You can never have too much hand washing, right?

Wrong. At least in my case.

Within a few hours of this new regiment, I had a toddler melting down about not being able to wash her hands 24 hours a day. She washed her hands, then dried them, then wanted to wash them again. And again. And again. She tantrumed for a long time because her hands had dried and I wouldn't let her wash them again. Enough is enough.

Yes, washing your hands is good. Yes, it's clean and I advocate it strongly for everyone. But to the point of compulsion? If I see a compulsive tendency popping up in my kid, taking care of that (provided they don't have a mental block that predisposes them to compulsions in general) trumps hand washing.

Mental health as important as physical health.

I want my kids to be able to experience life to the fullest. I want them to run and play and jump and learn. They can't do that in a sterilized bathroom while they wash their hands over and over again.

So, again, I advocate moderation. My babies know about germs. They know that we are to avoid them. They will repeat endlessly in a public restroom, "don't touch ANYTHING," because that's what I tell them every time we enter.

But they touch grocery carts. The very same grocery carts that another child just wiped his nose all over, I'm sure. They slide down slides at the park and the playland and then, I'm sure, they touch their faces. I had to tell Natalina yesterday to please stop biting the outer wrapper of the goldfish bag. After the cashier and bagger had touched it, and the stocker and any number of children who wanted it before their parents put it back on the shelf.

They really haven't lived in a bubble, and that's okay. I'd rather them be sick sometimes if it allows them to live a little.

As far as the hypothesis goes, I don't really know if I believe in it. I certainly think that the babies will not be able to catch all the germs they need to in preschool in order to be germless for the rest of their lives.

Whatever the case may be, I don't think I'm better or worse than Jo. I do, however, feel pretty positive that we're both better than her "Acid Test" friends. But who knows even that? Maybe in ten years, we'll all succumb to a plague and the Acid Testers will be the only ones to survive because they've rendered themselves immune. Then the hypothesis will be a theory, won't it?

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Recipe Monday - Buffalo Wings Made at Home

There are hot wings and there are hot wings, and these come out smashing if you've got the time to prepare them. I make them for dinner sometimes, but they're best made for the big game, to be honest!



Ingredients:

~1 cups canola oil
~20 chicken wings
salt
pepper
2 tablespoons butter
Hot Sauce
2 teaspoon white wine vinegar (I had red wine vinegar. It worked just as well)


For homemade Blue Cheese dressing:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion (I skipped this, I didn't feel like chopping)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (canned)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (dried: 1/8 of a cup)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (again, red, again, fine)
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (I didn't have blue cheese... so I used grated parmesan. It tasted great, honest)



First thing, heat your oil. Put that sucker on high, and just let it stew while you chop your chicken wings. Chop off the tips of each chicken wing and throw them away. Then cut each wing in half at the joint.

Season the bunch with salt and pepper.

If you are going to make your own Blue Cheese dressing, chop the garlic, onion and parsley while you are waiting for the oil to heat up. (Or don't. With the ingredients I used I didn't have to.)

Fry the wings in the oil until they are golden. Put on T.V. for your kids because they CANNOT be in the kitchen for this one.






It should take about 6 to 8 minutes for each batch to fry. (I found this to be a lie. The first batch takes AT LEAST 15 minutes. After that, they're quicker. Remember, no one likes raw chicken.)

Remove them to a plate covered with a couple of layers of paper towels to drain the oil. Then place them in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. (I used a frying pan because I didn't have a saucepan that was clean). Add the hot sauce and vinegar.

 Add the sauce to the wings in the bowl.




For the Blue Cheese dressing:

In a small bowl, add all the ingredients together. Gently stir together until well mixed.


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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Moment of the Week - 56: Growing up at the Park















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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Toddler Tricks - 56: Count Me Down...Another Leaving Trick

Problem: Your loving toddler cannot even bear the thought of a single moment without you, but you've got to run into the store for 30 seconds, and that 30 seconds would stretch into 15 minutes if you brought her instead of leaving her in the car with her father. Or you forgot something in your home and need to slip back inside to get it for a moment, and that moment wouldn't exist should you drag your toddler with you. So, you leave them outside with your trusted friend for just a mere moment. But, no. Tears, screams, where's mommy, the world is ending.

Solution: This worked for me randomly earlier this summer, and I've been using it since. Tell your kid to count you down. If they know their numbers, even if they don't but they know some numbers they can list randomly, this will give them something to do while you're gone. They can concentrate on counting instead of your absence. Toddlers also tend to think they have control in places they do not. They will firmly believe that it is their counting and not the passage of time that brings you back. Once they feel like they are in control of the situation, they feel more secure.


Problem: You have to drop them off at preschool or daycare, and there's no way they can count to 10 or 20 enough times to bring you back.

Solution: Tell them to count you down anyway. At this point, they are used to you reappearing after this game, and so it's not so much the numbers that are important. Count you down becomes toddler code for, I'm coming back. Don't worry, I'm coming back. I've found it works better than me actually telling them "I'm coming back." Maybe it's the shift of control I mentioned above. I'm coming back gives the control to the adult. Count me down gives it to the toddler. Even though they'll not be counting when you go to pick them back up, I find that my toddler remind me they counted me down so I came back. It's cut down on many tears and turbulence.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Traitors

Lest I ever get an inflated sense of my importance, my babies are always ready to show me how easily their love and favor is dispensed.

Got a piece of candy or a friendly smile? You're in.

As mom, on the other hand, I can smile at them all I want and I'm still a cruel obstacle lying in their path, blocking them from all the fun they could be having should I just let them take over. Why won't I give up that control. Clearly, I'm some sort of meany-pants jerkface, and I can just keep my smile to myself. Bribing them with candy? Well, they'll accept the sweet, but they'll side-eye me, letting me know that the perilous truce we have forged for that day is not solidified by my gift.

Other people though? They've firstly got the huge advantage of not being mom, which in my toddlers' eyes makes them automatically amazing. Obviously these strangers have stepped into our lives bearing sunshine and unicorns and must be treated with affection, trust and respect.

"I love you," Lilly said to her preschool teacher the other day. Haha, one day is all it took.

This weekend, Dulce asked me where her other mommy was when I gave her a juice box. (Tracey, she was talking about you!)

They're constantly asking about their babysitter, their neighbors, my friends that we sometimes see, even the woman with the dog that waves to us from across the community lot.

This doesn't bother me in the slightest, other than forcing me to be on my toes so the kids don't wander off with the first friendly stranger they see, and making sure my toddlers' advances don't make a poor, unsuspecting soul uncomfortable in any way.

I enjoy that even though we've not been the most outgoing of families thus far, my kids are naturally social. And even if I'm labeled the bad guy most of the time, at least their attention to others takes the onus off me for a minute and allows everyone a bit of distraction from their unfair lives.

If the kids want to flirt coyly with the couple eating dinner right behind us at TGI Fridays, that's two fewer minutes I have to spend reprimanding them or redirecting them. Everybody wins.

Except, of course, my poor mistreated toddlers who will likely be forced to go to bed at a reasonable hour after dinner is over. Alas, if only they could be with any one of those lovely strangers they saw on the way to the car. Surely those people would understand.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Welcome to the Cesspool, I mean, Preschool

So, it is Thursday. The babies should be well into their learning and playing at preschool. But no. They're here with me. Watching Sesame St., no less.

This is not because I feel I can do a better job teaching them abstract concepts. It's certainly not because I'm doing such a stellar job socializing them on my own. As much as I complained and worried on Tuesday, I didn't pull them out because I missed them too much or because they were miserable and unable to survive without me. (They actually had a great time, with a few tears thrown in here and there for good measure. When I went to pick them up, they were pretty much leading the class in story time. Heart melted.)

No, I think preschool is going to be good for us. Except for one thing. The germs.

Yes, the babies are home sick today. Yes, they got sick on the first day of preschool. The first day. You could have knocked me over with a feather when they started sneezing yesterday afternoon. I could not believe it. Which, of course, is silly. You can't live in a bubble for the first three years of your life and expect germs not to find their way in when you venture out into the world of snot and grime and sniffle-ridden kids.

But the first day? I admit, I expected them to last longer than that. And, because I'm always so prepared, I had no idea about the school's sick policy. I called to let them know this morning, although I wasn't sure if I needed to. Through that conversation, I learned two very important things:

1) The babies are going to be sick all of the time. The woman was very kind to me and basically laughed at my description of their illness and told me to feel free to drop them off because there was nothing wrong with them. "As long as they're not throwing up and they don't have a fever over 101, you can come on and bring them in, any time."

Oh.

Now, this is great because kids get colds and what are you going to do, right? Viruses are viruses, and I'm sure at this stage, my kids aren't contagious anymore anyway...or something. Plus, most people actually have lives and are busy during the hours their kids are in preschool, making it a huge inconvenience for them to stay home.

Of course, that's not the case for me. The only difference in my life is an hour more of television for the girls while I write this at home on my couch. I'd be here writing this either way.

2) People are going to send sick kids in a lot. Why? The preschool does not give you a switch day, nor does it give you your money back if you don't utilize its services for any reason. I totally understand this, but I had to ask, especially since I figure the babies will be sick more than not. It's not cheap to send twins to preschool. I can't just be having them skip days because I want to coddle them. I mean, I can and I will, I'm sure, but I really can't afford it. I'm doubting any other parent can either.

Welcome to the cesspool. At least they're having fun, right?


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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Plant Killer

I am a plant killer. I cannot keep potted plants. It's beyond a black thumb; it's ridiculous. I mean, how hard can this be? Aren't plants at the bottom of the responsibility totem pole? Like, you tell your kids they can't get a pet hamster until they prove they can care for a plant?

No one should give me a hamster...nevermind the twins I have. I simply cannot keep a plant alive. It should be simple, right? Water it. Put it in a well-lighted area. Yeah, no. I'm clearly missing some important steps in plant maintenance. So, my solution, instead of bettering myself, or trying different things, is to not buy any plants.

Still, this sometimes backfires. For example, for my birthday this year, a mere month and a half ago, my friends bought me a beautiful, yellow-flowering potted plant. This plant, I resolved, would make it. I was older now, more experienced. I was taking care of young children. I could certainly handle a plant.

My regiment, of course, included placing the flowers in a well-seen area and looking at them every once in a while, admiring their beauty. That worked for almost three days.

Then I noticed that they were not looking so good. Shoot! Water them. I watered them. By the next day, they hadn't perked up. Water them some more! Maybe that first time didn't take. The next day they were looking even worse.  Hmm, maybe plant food or something. I mixed up some delicious blue-looking food.  No dice.

Move them. Put them in the sunlight. Water them more. Come on, flowers, come back to healthy life!

Alas, there was nothing I could do to save the poor things from their fate as having me as their owner. They perished despite the water and the food and the sunlight. Maybe I should have started right away instead of waiting like a jerk for the three days where they seemed to be self-sufficient. Or perhaps I shouldn't have drowned them with water to overcompensate. We'll never know.

To Yasmin and Osvaldo...I'm sorry I killed your plant.



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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Dreaded First Day of School

I'm sitting here, listening to the whirring of my kitchen lights because for the first time in the 18 months we've lived here, I can hear them. It's quiet here, now, too quiet. I work from home, so you'd think I'd be knee deep in assignments right now, earning my much-sought-after me time, but instead I'm having trouble not getting sick.

Where is my Natalina, dancing around and clambering on me? Where is Dulce, asking for "prenzuls?" Where are the blocks all over the floor, the Elmo shouting at me from the toy box, the robot saying his ABCs? How can I be expected to work in these peaceful conditions? There isn't even a toddler trying to press buttons on my computer. No one interrupted that last sentence to ask me to get their toy that's sitting just three feet from them, or to get them juice or to help them go to the potty. No one is crying about not being allowed to watch a video.

I just went to the bathroom. Alone. Before noon naptime.

I just don't know if I can handle this. At least I've stopped crying, right? Still, it's turning out to be quite hard to check my anxiety levels. I've had my hand on the phone since I dropped them off.

What if something goes wrong? What if they hate it there? What if they're lonely? What if they're scared? What if they're SCARED? What if those jerk kids hit them or teach them bad behaviors? What if they're the jerk kids and hit someone else or teach him bad behaviors? What if they don't eat? What if they don't sleep? What if they refuse to use the potty? What if they freak out?

The morning started out like any other. I got them up, gave them breakfast. Then they were excited to put on their new backpacks and tote their new lunchboxes. Their dad helped pack them into the car. He paused to snap this picture.


When we got there, I showed the babies their cubbies and I put their things away. Tough Natalina played the part she thought she should with a smile. "Don't leave!" she said, grinning broadly.

Dulce, on the other hand, was serious. She clung to me, crying, desperate for me not to go. The teacher tried to lead her away, but she wrenched free. I walked with them over to the craft table where Dulce continued to cry and freak out.

"You can go at any time," the teacher said, smiling. "We're used to this. We'll take care of it."

I hesitated because I know that the children who do the worst at preschool are the ones whose parents hem and haw and make it seem like a big deal to leave them. But my kid was screaming and clinging to me. I wasn't leaving.

I managed to sit her down at the table and got her engaged in the craft of making paper carrots. All the other kids drew lines on their carrots as a real-life representation. Dulce drew a face. Her first real face, at that! A circle, two eyes, a nose and a smile. Not bad. I helped the babies stuff their carrots with cotton balls (all the other kids were stuffing their own...I perhaps have coddled my kids just a tad too much.) Then I told Dulce gently that I was going to leave, and asked her to count me down (a game we play meaning I'm coming back.) Engaged now, in the activity, I was able to go without tears.

Well, at least without tears on her part. I cried when I got to the car. Driving home, I even exercised my new freedom by putting the window down and blasting the music, something I haven't been able to do in years. It didn't help. I cried when I got home. I cried over breakfast with my husband even as I marveled that we could talk about the fall of Gaddafi without little voices asking us, "Why talk? Why talk?"  I'm a weenie.

I miss my kids, but I know they must be having fun. (They must be having fun, right? Right?!) I'll go and pick them up shortly and thank my good judgment for only putting them in for two days a week so that I don't have to go through this everyday.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Recipe Monday - Fruity Salmon with a Kick

The best thing about fish and steak when you can afford them, is that they consistently provide a gourmet meal for the family, and yet take just ten minutes to cook.

I have tried all kinds of fruity sauces for my salmon, but there was always something missing. This recipe provides that something...just a little kick to bring out the flavors of both the fish and the sauce. So, without further ado...


Pineapple Jalapeno Salmon:




  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 salmon fillets
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 fresh pineapple
  • 1 jalapeno


Directions
  1. Cook the rice according to the package directions.
  2. Whisk together the maple syrup and mustard in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. 
  3. Heat broiler. Place the salmon in a foil-lined 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Season with the salt and pepper.
  4. Cut the pineapple lengthwise into quarters, then cut each quarter into ½-inch-thick triangles. Scatter the pineapple and jalapeƱo around the salmon.
  5. Brush the salmon with the syrup mixture and broil for 5 to 7 minutes or until it flakes easily and is the same color throughout.
  6. Serve the salmon and pineapple with the rice and drizzle with the remaining glaze, if desired.



The peppers offset the pineapple and maple sauce perfectly. This is on our family's favorite list now. Of course, the kids get fish sticks. There's no accounting for taste, I guess.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moment of the Week - 55: ABCs

Most kids would sing the alphabet along with the robot. Mine will cross their eyes trying to see inside the robot and figure out how it is working.

video


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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Toddler Tricks - 55: The Juice Box

Problem: You're going to the park / playground / mall / beach wherever. You'll need portable drinks that won't spill during carry, can be easily manipulated by a toddler, and are less likely to get sand / dirt in their spout or straw. Juice box is the obvious choice, but as soon as your kid gets her grubby little paws on it, half the juice squirts out by accident because she's got no concept of holding something gently. Plus, once kids see that accidental purple spout, you can bet their sticky hands they'll want to do it again. Toddler: 1 Juice Box: 0

Solution: The credit for this goes to the friend I mentioned yesterday. It's so simple and yet I'd never have thought of it myself. Pull the edges of the box folds up so that two triangles of cardboard stick out perpendicular from the box. You're kid isn't interested in holding the box by the fashionable handles you made for him? My friend called them ears, and her children (as well as mine) were delighted to hold their juice box by the ears to drink.  Brilliant.


Problem: Your child only drinks a few sips, then declares himself done. The juice box immediately loses its non-spill portability magic. But you don't want to toss a full juice either.

Solution: Carry scotch tape around. I'm serious. A small roll. You won't even notice it. When your kid is done with his juice for the time being, tape the hole over well. Flip the box over to make sure no juice drips out. This has to be sealed if you're going to put it back in any purse or carrying bag. Tape the straw to the side so that you don't lose it.


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Friday, August 19, 2011

With Toddlers, Sweat the Small Stuff

Living with a toddler is like playing an intricate game of chess where at any time your opponent could render the entire game moot by throwing all the pieces in your face and tossing the board aside before stomping to her room. I admit, I spend a lot of time carefully determining where I put that pawn each day so that eventually my queen gets my toddlers' king in checkmate. Usually, I'm not careful enough and the pieces lie scattered around my feet as I look to the heavens and ask...why?

What I'm trying to say is that every tiny piece of every minor decision you make each day is of paramount importance to a toddler. A difference of 30 seconds, a slightly wrong shade of pink, the lack of or addition of ice to a drink, can throw your whole day out of whack. There is no reasoning here.

And seemingly innocuous decisions I make at the time cause this landslide effect, the worst part of it being that I'll look back on it, see where I went wrong, and understand deep within myself that I never would have known to avoid that particular pitfall and I'll probably do it again.

I'd like to take you to a magical day full of tantrums and aggravation that we had a few weeks ago. We visited a friend of mine at the springs near here. She was camping with her lovely husband and well-behaved children.

In the three years the babies have been alive, I have never seen them so bad. It would have been mortifying, but I'm comfortable with my friend, and I know she cut me some slack out of the kindness of her heart. Looking back, I see three distinct areas where I when oh-so wrong. There was no way I could have seen these at the time, nor will I be able to prevent them in the future. These are the decisions that no adult could foresee would upset a toddler. These are the decisions that go right or wrong by mere luck.

Well, not the first one. That's my fault and I'll not be doing it again. We skipped nap. Cardinal toddler sin. Since I had just skipped nap with them a few weeks before that and everything was fine, I figured, pfffft, we've got this. We don't need a nap.

Yes, we do.

So, they were cranky the whole car ride over there, making the 40 minute drive seem to stretch all day, and setting us all up for the mood that would prevail throughout the event. I will never skip a nap again...until the next time I do, of course.

Next up: I told the babies we were going to the springs. Which was the truth. Of course, the springs we were going to were different from the springs that we usually go to, and in a toddler mind, the term 'the springs' can only apply to one specific place. When we arrived at a different place, it didn't matter that these were also springs. All that mattered was that mommy was a lying liar who lied to them. Blatantly lied to them about our location. Clearly, they couldn't trust this big person, and they would be taking no orders from her in the near future. They were too upset to learn about the concept that different places can have the same name. I still don't think they ever grasped that.

They fought me at every turn from that point out. Here's a great picture of them and my friend's kids. Natalina had been throwing a flopping tantrum in the sand, and she had convinced her kids that Lilly was making sand angels. So here are her kids making sand angels and my kids wondering what just happened to their angsty tantrum time.


Just as the babies were beginning to forgive me for my lies, it was time to change them back into their regular clothes. The clothes they'd worn to the campsite were still at the trailer, so, feeling very accomplished and prepared, I took out their spare clothing.

Now, when we had driven down, Dulce had been wearing a red-checked shirt and jeans. Lilly had been wearing something else, I can't remember what. The important thing is that I had packed Lilly's dark-pink-checked dress as a back up and a flowery dress for Dulce.

Huge mistake. The pink-checked dress was too close to the red-checked shirt and Natalina was convinced I'd put her in Dulce's shirt just to be an extra big jerk. She never recovered from the betrayal that was not a betrayal and wailed away for the remainder of the short-lived trip.

Of course, after we got home, Natalina beamed at me. "Where are my friends, mama? That was really fun!"

Oh, okay. Perception is everything. Sweat the small stuff with a toddler. Not for them, for you.


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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anniversaries Abound

This is a big week for me. The babies turned three on the 10th.

These days, when they're not playing games like "chef"


they're "helping" me clean or do laundry.


And they can often be found perfecting their photography skills by capturing, minute by minute, our captivating home life. Hah.

Photo by Dulce
It's hard to believe that these little cherubs have grown up so much already.



Yesterday was another anniversary. My husband's and mine.  Looking at old videos of the babies last night, I was reminded of how far we've come, how comfortable and lucky we are, and how much in love I am. I couldn't have dreamed up a better life.


And for an entirely different sort of anniversary...the blog turned a year old yesterday. What started out as an angry rant turned into a fun and rewarding project that's kept me busy all year long.  Thank you all for helping and reading.


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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Guest Blog: Blend the Families; Keep the Love

Today, I am lucky enough to have a phenomenal mommy blogger from Accidentally Mommy guest posting for me. She is a happily single mother of two, and she's got some advice on how people can raise a loving blended family.

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Buzz words.  We've heard many new words and phrases pop up over the last decade or so, particularly in the parenting world.  "Lactivist."  "Intactivist." "Babywearer." "CIO." "Bloggers."  They are not all so austere sounding, though.  "Baby Mama Drama."  "Baby Daddy Drama."

Blended families are not a new concept.  So why is there so much focus on them all of a sudden?  What has changed so much to make people dub the negative that goes along with the uniting of two pre-formed halves of a home a "drama?"

There are a lot of theories.  Personally, I go with the conspiracy - they're all Mel Gibson clones.  From Mars.  Because Pluto isn't a planet, it's a dive bar.

I kid, I kid.

Blending families together outside of the KitchenAid in today's American society is uniquely challenging.A resurgence in stay at home parenting has caused many a custody battle, based on the fact that the parent choosing to remain in the home can theoretically provide a more comprehensive and supportive home environment.

In addition to that, the internet era is a blessing and a curse.  Bullying each other via email, besmirching the other half on facebook... even anonymized blog posts pointing out how the evils of the other half have hurt and damaged the family dynamic are commonplace.  (I confess, the last is one I myself am guilty of.)

It's not all bad, though.  Well, not in most cases.

Photographs, videos, even live feeds can be set up to provide a more united front for the children at special events.  Skype enables mom or dad to read bedtime stories when they are the "off" parent.  

Cellphones put the other home, including siblings, at the touch of a button without any fear of denial or disapproval from the "on" parent.

But what can be done to really BLEND families?  How do we make two intricate storybooks that contain all of the best literary devices and more into one cohesive tome?

We don't know.  I don't know.  That is the bittersweet beauty of it all.  The journey is always morphing and changing, revolving around the raw emotions of two to four (or more, for the Poly's out there,) adults, and the raw emotions of the little people we're blessed to have in our lives.

The key to surviving it all for me is a skill that I have instilled in my children since birth: adaptability and an open mind and heart.  Step parents aren't always wicked, and the red-headed step child isn't always covered in cinders.

We recently took our first family vacation with all three children, and none of the ex's.  Just us, the kids, and the beach.  We had our hiccups and our moments of fretful worry, but I did what I've always told my children to do, and it worked.  Faith, Trust, and Beach Pixie Dust made it all worthwhile and enjoyable for everyone, including Blueberry Nights.

Just remember, in times of darkness AND light: Love propagates love.  No matter the drama that may exist between the adults, the love shown to the children will eventually penetrate both homes, softening the stoniest adversaries and reinforcing the already strongly bonded homes.  Like raising them in general, this aspect of parenting doesn't come with a manual.  The best we can do is lay down our own tracks, in directions we hope that our children would be proud to follow should they need to in their day.





You can see more of her family adventures over at Accidentally Mommy. I recommend it!














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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Purses - Then and Now

Remember your old handbags? Remember the days when clutches were an option?



The days when you had the leisure time to match a purse to an outfit? Designs and fabrics and strap length to be determined at your whim?

And all you needed inside that purse? A bit of money, a license, a credit card...maybe. Your keys. Some emergency lipgloss. A travel perfume, perhaps.

The purse is one of those frivolous little privileges you never appreciate or even know you're going to lose when you hit motherhood. These days my purses are all huge. They're glorified diaperbags, really. And it's not just a size issue. 

Remember white purses?  Designer purses?












The days when you could wear one of these without food being splattered on them, or little hands wiping dirt on them, or tearing at them. The days when purses kept their shape and new quality for months, maybe years, because you had the time and the inclination to take care of them and treat them gently?

No more. Since my children were little, I've need my purse for its utility, not for its design. It's become a magical den of tantrum-stoppers, hunger-easers, and cleaner-uppers. I usually even have extra clothes and shoes in there, and an emergency diaper or two...just in case.  Towels, tissues, an extra barrette to replace the one you lost on the playground. A juice box, a cereal bar...wait. An exploded juice box and a smashed cereal bar? Oh for God's sake.

My purse, it's seen better days. I'm not going to take a photo of it. Instead, I'll show you a really ugly (in my opinion) purse that has all the qualities a mother needs. Hopefully you can find a prettier version.

I chose this one because it was actually labeled dog-in-a-purse, so you know it must be pretty big. That's the first requirement. You're going to need a big handbag, if that's the only thing you're going to be lugging around. You'd be amazed at what you "need" to put into it. I need to put everything into it because with both my hands holding baby hands wherever we go, I can't carry anything any more.

Secondly, get a dark color. It's going to get dirty at the park, it's going to get food on it at the restaurant, it's going to be stepped on and thrown about and rifled through during that one second you weren't looking. It needs to be able to camouflage these abuses.

Third, it needs outside pockets that can close and seal. With all the junk in there, you'll need a place for your keys so you can easily find them without ripping the whole thing to shreds. You'll want a place for your cellphone outside of the purse. There is nothing worse than exploded grape juice on a smart phone.

Adjustable straps would be a plus, in case you want to switch shoulders, or you're carrying a toddler or two and need to strap the purse around your back so it doesn't slide off.

Are any of these things pretty? Not particularly. But Mary Poppins' carpet bag was hideous, and she still looked styling. It's all in how you wear it.


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Monday, August 15, 2011

Recipe Monday - The Best Pork Chops You'll Ever Make in Your Life

This recipe is a bit more involved than I usually get, but I'm especially proud of it because I made it up myself. It's also the best way to make pork chops I've ever found. Ever.

Goat cheese pork chops:



2 pork chops
dried sage
mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, diced
goat cheese, one small package
olive oil
12 oz of Pabst Blue Ribbon (because, ew, who's actually going to drink that stuff?)

Directions:

Brown the chops, onion and mushsrooms in a pan with oil.




I roasted my veggies, so while that was browning, I preheated the oven and doused them with oil, salt, pepper and sage and threw them in.



Then simmer chops in a covered pot with 1/2 the beer and a healthy dose of sage, until cooked through - 20 to 40 minutes, depending on chop thickness.



 Then the whole package of goat cheese gets melted in. Pour in the rest of the beer and increase the heat to burn it off. Toss in more sage as well, right before you serve it.

I can't recommend this recipe enough.  It's a huge hit over here.



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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Moment of the Week - 54: Pirate Dora Play

And now my children will re-enact Dora rallying the troops after their treasure chest gets stolen.

video


They take turns playing Dora and the crowd. It's hilarious.


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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Toddler Tricks - 54: The Art of Lying to your Kids

Problem: You need your kids to do something. Right now. Whether it be stop crying, leave a location, or change an activity, you need them to do it five minutes ago. But your toddlers will not budge without some sort of explanation from you, and the truth just isn't cutting it. Either it's too complicated, or it's just not what they want to hear. Regardless, they've asked you why they have to leave or change routine, and the truthful answer has been less than satisfactory, leading to tears and troubles.

Solution: I know I've said previously that I never lie to my kids. Well, I lied. Haha. It turns out, sometimes we really need to get a move on, and they cannot grasp the full truth at the moment of turmoil either because they aren't patient enough to listen to the whole thing, or the concept is complicated and will take a lot of calm brainpower to digest.  Here are two examples:

This morning, the babies woke up to their favorite babysitter being gone. This was unacceptable. They tramped up to my room, demanding, "Mama! Where's Rachel?" In my sleepy haze, I tried to tell them that Rachel had her own home and only came to visit us sometimes. No good, too long, and still led to the fact that Rachel wasn't here for a reason they couldn't understand. So, it being 6:30 a.m. I decided that Rachel was probably still sleeping. I said, "Rachel is sleeping."

Problem solved.

Later in the day, we went to an outing at their new preschool. We had to sign them up for classes and after somehow muscling them away from the playground, we waited in line for 30 minutes before getting in for our 30-minute appt. So, an hour. In that hour, they started deflating the bouncy houses and closing up that area. The babies wanted to go outside and dance, and when I led them out there, they could see the deconstruction. "Look," I said, "It's closed now. School is closed. We'll have to come back when it opens again, okay?"

Was the school closed? No. Was the section they wanted to play in changing? Yes. But the second explanation would not have been acceptable to them as they have trouble compartmentalizing, still. It's all or nothing with them. If the school is closed, that means we have to go home, and that means it's not mommy's fault.

I'll take it.



Problem: You don't want to lie to your kids.

Solution: You're not. After you get them out or get them to do what you need them to do, you can explain the nuances of the situation to your heart's content. They'll be calmer, since they won't be in the thick of it anymore and the problem will seem less urgent to them. In this way, they'll be able to listen and understand better than they would have in the moment.

For instance, after breakfast, I explained to the babies that Rachel had her own home and went to sleep there, and now she's probably awake and eating breakfast, too, and that she'll be back soon to play with them.

Accepted.

And once we were in the car, driving away from school, I explained that the school has different sections, like inside and outside and different rooms, and that some of the rooms were still open, but those were not the ones we wanted, so for us, the place we wanted to be was closed, but not the whole school.

Accepted.

There is always time for the truth. The trick is deciding when that time is.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Self-fixers

Everything is of utmost importance to a toddler. Each experience must never end. Sharing is a monstrosity invented by cruel parents to torment and disgust.  Fun places are not even fun because they know that eventually the fun will end. And that knowledge is enough for them to start crying about it before we even get there.

The energy it must take to be a toddler, I can't even imagine. They have so many *~feelings~*.  How can they even survive with all of these tortures in place to tease and torment them? Adult distraction doesn't work anymore, they're too stubborn for that. Reverse psychology? They learned that game six months ago. Nothing doing. They are going to cry and they are going to cry now and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it because the world is just too much.

But, when our adult tactics fail our children often enough, they adapt. They move to their own solution, often one that we would never have thought of.

Our biggest problem in this house has to do with the incessant movement of time. Nothing can ever end, and, at the same time, nothing can ever begin fast enough. It's a very confusing atmosphere all around. To combat this, the twins will soothe themselves during whatever activity it is that they don't want to end by reassuring themselves that more is coming directly following the completion. They know it's not true, but they ask me to verify their vision of unending candy, videos and playing outside.

Natalina will take one bite of cereal / cheez its / pretzels / ice cream, and immediately say to me, "next you get me more, mama? Next you get me more _______?"

Then I say yes, if she can finish what I've given her in her bowl, I will then immediately get her more, essentially moving that this moment can last forever, and she is satisfied. She rarely finishes the bowl, so I rarely have to get her more. But even when she does, she's uninterested in actually eating the next helping. The device and action was there only to extend the experience in her own mind, to give her the control of ending it when she was ready.

It's actually quite genius. A soothing technique straight out of a self-help book. By attacking the small problems, she takes control of the larger issue, which is, of course, that she would just like a little control in her life.

I'm so glad my twins have started figuring this stuff out on their own because my solutions pale in comparison to their genius self-fixes.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't Hold Them Back

I find in many ways, I'm holding my kids back. Not really on purpose, but either for convenience's sake or just pure cuteness, there are certain things I don't want to end.

Take eating, for example. We just got back from our yearly check up, and the babies are right on task if not ahead of the curve except for one thing. I spoonfeed them like they're infants. Every meal, I can be seen shovelling food into their mouths because they refuse to use silverware by themselves. I don't want them to starve, and I don't have 90 minutes to fight with them over whether or not they're going to use their forks like real people, so I just feed them. It's easier.

The doctor was startled to say the least.

"So," she said, "they're completely potty trained?"

"Yup."

"And they can count to ten?"

"20 at least."

"And they know all their colors and they can peddle a tricycle and they know their names and ages?"

"Yup."

"But you...FEED THEM?"

Apparently this isn't normal. And I can tell you, it sure is a pain in the neck. What parent wants to be spoon feeding their child three times a day? Not me, boy. I'd really like to get back to the life in which I could sit down at the table and eat my own food. Maybe even while it is still at least luke-warm. But the babies are not the problem. I am the problem.

They know how to eat. I've seen it. Give them ice cream, and not a drop makes it to the ground. I don't feed them ice cream because I couldn't care less if they didn't get any of it into their mouths. They know how to use a spoon. They just refuse to. And I give in because I want them to eat. No more, I say. We'll see how hungry they get. They have to learn to eat for school anyway. I mean, they're three. They have to learn to eat, for goodness' sake.

Another way in which I hold them back is language. They say a few things wrong, and within myself, I find it the cutest thing ever. "I dood it with myself" is my favorite example. I could teach them "by myself" in a day, but I'll be sad to see "with myself" go.

Just days ago, they were saying "I need..." to everything. They needed ice cream, or candy, or to go outside, or to play princess.  I corrected them twice by explaining the difference between need and want.

They say "I want" now, correctly. I felt a pang when the incorrect use of "I need" fell away, especially since it left so quickly.

But that shows how ready they are to learn, how eager they are to pick up new and correct ways of doing things. As a parent, I must be careful not to hold them back for my own purposes. They are ready, and I am here thinking, "awww, but I liked that one." Not good enough. Babies grow up. Better they grow up speaking correctly and feeding themselves than not all because I thought it was cute and wanted my babies to be babies forever.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Today You Are Three - How Did We Get Here?

Today the babies are actually three (Actually, it's 9:14 a.m. right now, which happens to be the exact time Dulce was born. Now it's 9:15 a.m., exactly the time Natalina was born. This was totally an accident!!)

Here's some photo evidence of their amazing journey.




Dulce





Natalina



The first time I held them.




Dulce says wut?
Natalina says don't even worry about it.












What? Get out of town!
Never fear! We're on dish duty!















No, seriously, mom. We got this.

















Oh, we're moving? We conveniently fit in one box.
My sister was the party.
Chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting for birthday 2.












You mean we knock and people give us candy?

Hating airports, like everyone else.
And suddenly we're three. How does that even happen?

Happy Birthday, Babies.  I love you.


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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Regular Person Throws a Party

You know those amazing blogs you see where the perfect mom throws a beautifully executed and tastefully decorated party for their little ones where all the adults are sitting back and relaxing while the children run happily around, out of everybody's way? Then everyone sits down to slice into the impeccable cake and partake in the fancy appetizers as the hostess pops the main dish (that she made from scratch) into the oven?

This was not that kind of party.

I wanted it to be. I tried my hardest. Apparently my best efforts can pull off only a marginally organized party, but everyone seemed to have fun, which, in my book, is a success.

We start, of course, with the invitations. Now, what should have happened is that I should have cut each one by hand and pasted little artsy things on them and delivered them with care about a month before the party. What actually happened was that I bought invitations about a week ahead of time, and could only give out half of them as the others wouldn't make their destinations in time. So I facebooked them. Classy. But, hey, it worked. Of course, I told half the people we were going to go to the pool but forgot to tell the other half, so not everyone was prepared and we kept the party in the house.

Then, ideally, I would have organized the day thoroughly, with intent. Games, chit chat, food, cake, and present opening would lead into each other seamlessly. What actually happened was me announcing that, oh, hey, we should do such and such, right now, and here's why. But at least everyone went along with it. Planning ahead of time? Not my forte.

I wanted to have those adorable pictures of themed everything, where the design is apparent and beautiful -- little goodies stashed here and there strategically, decorations and color patterns galore. This is as good as I got:



Not exactly a spread in a home magazine, but I was satisfied. And the food got eaten, which is always a plus.

I randomly decided that we should all eat cake first because the party started at 5 p.m. and I'm enviously aware that most toddlers go to bed at 7 or 8...not 10. Best to get the sugar in and out of their system, right? Everyone was on board. Here's my spectacular, amazing cake. Don't be too jealous.



That's the icing I posted about yesteday, and it was delicious. The cake, though, man, I really need to move on from boxed mixes, I'm telling you. The lettering? You love it, right? Well, here's the thing. I bought a tube of some crap for cake lettering. The tube did not come with the attachment that makes the letters. So I wrote the phrase directly from the tube. Very chic. I also bought ice cream that I forgot to bring out.

The babies tried blowing out their candles. Dulce blew hers out too soon, and Natalina was appalled.



Since I didn't have any games or anything planned (these are two and three year olds...I was at a loss for what games they'd want to play. I'm not particularly creative. I did, however, blow up twenty balloons (as my only decorations) and hoped the babies would bat them around. They did.) and not everyone brought their suits because I didn't tell them to, I moved right on to opening presents. I figured there'd be some good stuff in there to play with.

I had envisioned a calm, poetic, slow opening process where the kids would untape their wrapped gifts, ooh and ahh over them, and hold them up for the camera while I folded the paper and put it gently away, writing the names and gifts down on a little pad for later.

The babies ripped through that stuff so fast I barely had time to grab a pen and the house soon looked like this:


After a half-hearted swipe of a clean up, I needed a break. I, the shining, poised hostess in my mind, looked more like this in reality: (photo courtesy of Dulce).


Hot, tired and in desperate need of more wine.

Finally, the pizza arrived. Yes, I decided that I would not have the time nor the brainpower to pull off a meal for my lovely guests. Domino's? You bet your ass. Come to my party, everyone, I'll feed your kids sugar and the worst pizza known to man. It will be a blast!  Why isn't Good Housekeeping calling me for an interview, yet?

After the super-healthy meal, most of our guests left, but the remainder came outside with us and we all played bubbles. It was hard to see them go.



In fact, the babies teetered on the cliff of full-blown tantrum until we reminded them of their toys. These $1 microphones were their favorite present, I think. Oh, kids.



They helped their dad set up these shoddy tricycles that I bought (that we've since returned for better ones.)


All while I battled this monster:



Then we shoved everyone into bed and called it a day...well, almost. Dulce got one more fingerful of frosting, crafty fox.


So, was it the beautifully stylized, impeccably organized, homemade and crafted, perfectly executed party that you would expect from a mommy blogger? No. But everyone had a good time, and that's good enough for me. Maybe I'll do better next year...


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