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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bye Bye

Toddlers love to show off their newly-learned knowledge, and as they learn to communicate, parents can use this to their advantage.  This is a trick that I'm sure will not last for long, but, right now, it's one of the easiest ways to get my toddlers to mentally let go of something.  I tell them to tell it "bye bye."

Bicycles are entrancing to my babies, right now, and last week my husband and I took them to our town center where everyone had decided to ride their bike that day.  Gainesville is set up to accommodate this with bicycle racks installed every few feet.  Needless to say, the walk around town was long, but we had nowhere to be.  (That's another important part to going out with a toddler.  Make sure you have nowhere to be.)

Every few feet, we stopped.  The babies touched each bicycle.

"Bike!  Bike! Up! Up! Bike!"

But they can't ride a bicycle; they're too small, not to mention these were all other people's property.

"Yes, that's a great bike!  What color is it?"

"... Blue!"

"Yes!  A blue bike!  Say bye bye, bike."

"Bye bye.  Bye bye bike."

And no matter which way we turned, to their delight, there was always another bike around the corner, so they were always willing to say goodbye to the last one.  When we finally decided to go home, they were, of course, disappointed that there would be no more bikes.  They cried, but we hugged, and I explained to them best I could that the bikes would not be gone forever.  They would see a new bike tomorrow, or the next day, maybe in our apartment complex, maybe out on the street.  They got lots of hugs and accepted the love in place of the object, and we went home.

Sometimes it's hard to say goodbye to something you love, something you've worked hard on, something you committed to.  We often try to cling to what remains, even if the current object bears no resemblence to that which it once was, or that which it was supposed to be.  We feel that we can't just give up, that nothing else will ever come our way.

We're wrong.  No matter how old you get, you'll never be able to see the next bike around the corner.  You just have to trust that it will be there and let go of the old bike because it was never really yours to begin with.  And when you get around that corner, if there is no bicycle waiting for you, take a good look around.  I bet there's someone right there waiting to give you a hug and tell you it will be okay.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who's the Boss?

I often joke that my toddlers are my boss, but really it's very true, and, sometimes, I have to use workplace tricks to get anything done at all.  Common phrases in my house include, "I'll do that right now," and "Yes, yes, right now, yes, in a minute, yes, of course."  I'm pretty sure I used those daily in the workplace, and I'm pretty sure they meant the same thing they do now - "No, I'll get to it later," and "I forgot, but I'm babbling at you while I get my stuff together so it looks like I was on top of it all along."

One of the key transferable skills is making the boss think it was their idea.  Whatever it is, it was their idea.  At work, if I came up with a new scheme to intermingle web promotion with video, the only way I could pass it through the big guy was to hint around it during a meeting, wait until he said it, and congratulate him on his wonderful cutting-edge idea.  Dirty trick?  Maybe.  But you do what you have to do.

Last week, I needed to go to the Walgreens.  We don't have a car during the day and a trip to the Walgreens requires a mile-long hike with a double stroller.  It is impossible to accomplish with two screaming writhing children such as I had at the time.  They were tantruming, of course, because by now they've figured out that a mile walk while strapped into a stroller is much more boring than a freedom jaunt outside in the back where they can run and play.

I tried force first because they do usually like going on walks, and I thought maybe once they were in their stroller seats they'd calm down and get the idea.  Nothing doing.  Then I tried giving them hats.  That usually works, but by this point, they were too wound up to care about even their most favorite accessory.  Somehow I was able to convince them to get into their seat, but they both had their loveys with them, and loveys do not leave the house in this family.  Just as I solved one problem, another problem emerged.  They would not let me take their loveys.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Alas, they were perfectly content to wait me out, sitting smugly in their stroller, hugging their beloved blankie and bear.  I went out of sight.  It didn't fool them.  I went outside in front of them and shut the door.  All that did was make them cry and cling to their loveys even harder.  I was at a complete loss and running out of pre-naptime minutes.

Suddenly an idea.

"Boy, I know you two really want to go on this walk, and I'm so sorry I can't take you with the blankie and bear.  What can we do about this?"

Blank stares.

"It was such a good idea you had to go on this walk.  Mommy is so excited to take you.  But bear and blankie are so tired.  So very very tired."

A pause.  Then a question. "Nigh nigh?"

"Oh, that's a great idea!  Would you like me to unstrap you so you can put blankie and bear down for nigh nigh?"

And I unstrapped them and off they went into the bedroom, proudly placing their loveys in bed and giving them kisses.  I didn't have to worry about getting them back in the stroller because now that the walk was their idea, it had turned into a goal, and now that they had taken steps to accomplish that goal, they were willing to go the rest of the way.

Dirty trick?  Maybe.  But you do what you have to do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Race to the Bottom

There is yet another chain message going around the facebook ranks, and this one involves moms.

 "All the unselfish moms out there who traded eyeliner for dark circles,salon haircuts for ponytails ,long showers for quick showers, latenights for early mornings, designer bags for diaper bags, and WOULD NOTchange a thing. Lets see how many moms repost this. Moms who don't care about whatever they gave up, instead...LOVE what they getin return.Repost this if you're a mom and LOVE your KIDS."  (sic)

While I understand, and even support, what I feel the author's intended message is, I don't think that paragraph even closely resembles the thought process behind it, and I'm forced to ask myself - yet again - why facebook is so stupid.

Spelling, grammar and incorrect use of capital letters aside, this message indicates an odd trend in motherhood.  A sort of mommy martyrdom competition.  A race to the bottom.  It implies, accidentally, I assume, that those mothers who have sacrificed every shred of their pre-child personality love their children more than those who haven't.  It sets up a system where mothers can assess their "competition" using false and shallow indicators as measurements of love.

Instead of including all mothers in a supportive group hug as we struggle against losing ourselves, as we struggle to provide and love our children in our own ways, we waste time excluding mothers who do not fit our mold, who don't stand up to our own falsely set standards of what love means.  In my opinion, love and sacrifice are not the same thing.  One mother may have to sacrifice everything for the child she loves; another may sacrifice just a few things for the child she also loves.  Sacrifices vary by time and personality; love is a constant.

By using the things we have given up to show the world how much we love our children, we are feeding into the exact ego that messages like the one above are declaiming.  In one fell swoop that message says to me: 'mothers do not care about their egos, and since I care less about mine than you care about yours, I am a better mother than you.'  And in believing that we are better than other mothers who do things differently, we are feeding the very same ego we just looked down upon.

I believe the intent behind the message is to shore up mothers who may be feeling down, but it fails by excluding most of its core audience.  What about the moms who can still manage to put eyeliner on?  What about the moms who have supportive spouses or family and can take a long shower or two?  What about the moms who do go out on a Friday night once in a while, hiring a babysitter when the kids are asleep?  Do they love their kids any less than the others?  I doubt it.

The last line of the message sums up my view of it nicely.  "Repost this if you are a mom, and you love your kids."

Simply put, it's redundant.  If you are a mom, it's implied that you love your kids.  I don't have to repost a badly written facebook chain letter to prove that, and I can still get my hair cut, to boot.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Don't Mention It

Reading is a magical skill that transports you anywhere you want to go.  The younger children begin to understand the joy of reading, the better, in my opinion.  Many parents have worked reading into their various baby routines, and, in my house, we read two stories before naptime and many other throughout the day.

Some children's books are great in that they teach kids simple concepts and connect those concepts to others.  For instance, children's books are fantastic at showing kids that an object can have a color and still be defined as that object.  "Red shirt, yellow shirt, green shirt, oops!" as the Sandra Boynton book goes.  Those simple words combined with the pictures teach children what a shirt is, that shirts can be different colors and still be shirts, what four different types of animals look like (elephant, bear, moose and turkey), and that a shirt can be put on wrong (if you're a turkey).

But this beloved book has one fatal flaw.  The objects it mentions in two dimensions quickly become objects of desire to my babies in their three-dimensional form.  And sometimes those objects are not readily available or cause too much excitement pre-nap - shoes and hats, particularly.  The mere mention of shoes or hats, or even passing images of them, can turn calm reading time into a frenzied game of get-the-baby-exactly-what-she-wants-right-this-instant.  I combat this best I can, usually by flipping the page, but their minds are no longer in a soothed state, and pictures of ducks, water, beaches, coats, bicycles, keys, anything really, can set naptime back a good half hour.

The best baby books to read before naptime are those that contain objects toddlers like, but have never had or seen.  Trains are a great example for us.  My babies babble in delight at the picture of a train, make the choo choo sound and happily move on as they have no idea that a train actually exists in three dimensions.

Another good baby book before bedtime is a potty training book.  If my toddlers get excited and want the potty, that's great.  If they remain calm and don't want the potty, that's also great.

Thankfully, even the books that contain tantalizing images of pots and pans and spoons and bubbles usually center around one theme - eventually the main characters go to sleep.  This is a genius move on the part of children book writers, and I can never thank them enough.  I am always relieved to get to the last page and see the words "good night."  It makes my transition seamless, and the babies think that their going to bed is natural because that's what happened in the book.  Thank you, writers of children's books for knowing children.  Now if you could only find a way to write only about trains and potties.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 6

Ways to trick your baby:

Problem: Toddlers tend to be too busy running around the house, watching videos or pretending to read books to want to sit down and eat.  If you try to feed them on the go - on their terms - you'll usually end up with a carpet full of scrambled eggs and a couch sopping with juice.

Solution:  Toddlers love attention.  I'm able to get my little ones to sit down in their seats (on top of a blue tarp protecting the carpet) if I line up their stuffed animals to watch them.  Sometimes Elmo even gets a bite!

Ways your baby tricks you:

Problem:  Once you've shown a toddler that a stuffed animal can eat, a toddler will assume that a stuffed animal can eat.  They may also project upon that stuffed animal their illogical love of butter.

Solution:  Do not, under any circumstances, use motorized toys as part of your dinner audience.  Alternately, never use butter again.

Friday, September 24, 2010

When Lives Collide

There are many times when I forget myself, when I fall back into a time without babies, a time of movement, and freedom, and fluidity.  A time of trains, and subways, and coffee shops.  Days of waking up at 10 a.m. and sitting out on the porch drinking coffee and wondering what the afternoon will bring.

These aren't longings, they're fleeting and isolated moments where my brain has somehow shut off.  I've been alive for 28 years, after all, and I've only been a parent for two.

Usually these moments pass unnoticed, unmarked, and unvoiced.  Sometimes, though, especially when my husband and I happen upon an hour or so of baby-less time, I inadvertantly draw attention to them.

About six months ago, my husband and I left the babies with my in-laws and went out for coffee - actually, espressos because I'm chic and trendy and he's European.

The bill came to $4.70, and he'd left his wallet in his car so while he went to get it, I scrounged to see if I had the money. I had four one-dollar bills and a bunch of loose change. He came back to pay.

"I've got it," he said

 "No, I've got it," I replied. "Look, it's all there."

"Oh, okay."

"As long as this is a dollar coin. Is this a dollar coin?"  I often had dollar coins from using the Subway system in New York City or the T in Boston, in a former life.

My husband started laughing out loud.

"No, baby," he said.  "That's a token from Chuck E Cheese."

The moral of the story?  This life may be less glamorous, but it's just as rewarding.  To be honest, I'd rather go to Chuck E Cheese than get on the subway anyway.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Carpet Stains of Doom

I have a raging headache right now.  The cause?  The carpet cleaner I used this afternoon.  I can hardly focus - my head, it pounds.  You know what I am going to do in the next few days, though?

I'm going to buy two more bottles of carpet cleaner and finish the job.  That's how good this stuff is.  See for yourself.

It is called Resolve Deep Clean Powder, and it is such an amazing product that I will gladly put up with a few days of headaches to get my carpets clean.  In this case, the end justifies the means.

My carpets are atrocious.  They get worse and worse by the minute.  I'm not sure at what point during the week my toddlers turn into construction workers who have been digging ditches in mud only to come in and ruin my carpeting, but they can stain a carpet in less time than it takes for me to turn a video on for them so they won't stain the carpet.  Up until this point, nothing worked to get out the food, juice, urine, "washable" crayon stains. 

 I am in a painful heaven.

The powder costs about $7 at the grocery store, and one tin of it covered about half my living room.  It's easy to use.  You shake the cannister, you sprinkle out the damp powder, you rub it in with a scrub brush, you leave it for 20 minutes, and you vaccuum the area.  Make sure to really vaccuum well.  If the particles can do this much damage to me, I can only imagine it would be bad for babies to roll around in.

My amazing internet research (by which I mean a friend) tells me that Resolve works  "because the powder is extremely hygroscopic, meaning it sucks every last bit of moisture out of the dirty goo in the carpet, leaving bits of crud which the vacuum can pick up easily. The powder itself becomes wetter, but the particles are in a shape that doesn't stick to the carpet fibers like random dirt does.  Not only does this type of cleaner work better, but your carpets will stay cleaner afterwards because there is no soap residue, which actually attracts more dirt."

Thank you, Resolve.  I will be buying a facemask and every other product you make as soon as possible.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Letting Go

One of the most touching attributes of toddlers is how quickly they let go of anger.  They are intense in happiness and intense in sadness or frustration, but quick to change from one to the other.  This shows how fleeting our actual emotions, even in our adult lives, are.

So many people hold intellectual grudges.  Sisters don't talk for years.  Children separate themselves from their parents.  Phone numbers are changed, hostilities exchanged at family holidays.  Friends disappear.  Connections are lost.  And for what?

Granted, there are times when such a cut is necessary.  Some things really are unforgivable.  And some things remain emotionally entrenched.  But not all things.  How many schisms could be repaired if only we let go of the mental memory of a feeling that has long since left us?

Toddlers don't yet know to hang on to that memory.  They don't need their anger glorified; they don't need their point agreed with completely.  They don't relish in the emotional release of anger.  They don't cling to it.  They certainly don't let petty arguments stand in the way of a good game or a song and dance.  My toddlers live in a beautiful world.

Last night, as my husband and I were sitting down to dinner, the babies were piping up, wanting juice, wanting water, wanting a video, wanting up, wanting down.  They wanted our attention, and we wanted to eat and maybe have two uninterrupted sentences of adult talk.  After trying to make them happy for 15 minutes by giving in to their demands, I simply gave up and let them tantrum.  My husband, however, started tapping his hands on the table and singing a song, ignoring the babies and their shenanigans entirely.

**tap tap tap**

"Doo, doo, da, di, doo!"

Within seconds, the babies had forgotten their tears and rose up from the floor to dance.  They didn't hold onto the anger that was rocking inside of them just moments before.  Whatever it was they were on about was best forgotten - there was music to dance to, after all.

If we could harness some of that forgetfulness in our own lives, if we could separate what part of our anger is legitimate and what part is fanciful, if we could dance when the music starts, we'd probably be a lot happier.

Sometimes I get so caught up in what I'm teaching my toddlers, I forget how much they're teaching me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Prepare to Look Foolish

When taking toddlers out in public, you have a choice: you can have people laughing at you, or you can have them staring at you in annoyance.  I choose the former, as often as I can.  It's been many months since I've been allowed anonymity anywhere.  Twins tend to attract attention, but even one toddler in an unlikely place will draw curious eyes.

People always start out enamoured (unless we're getting onto an airplane).  It's then my job to keep them that way, and not to let the situation devolve into one where shocked onlookers, unused to toddler antics, are forced to witness two babies being strongarmed out of a place in the football hold.  I'd rather people laugh at me than silently shoot mental daggers at me, so I look absurd a lot of the time.

One morning, the babies and I took a walk to the dumpsters where everyone in the condo complex is to deposit their garbage.  Getting there was easy enough, but the babies knew that naptime awaited them back home, and they were determined not to go back inside.  I walked a bit away, as if I would leave without them.  They laughed at me in their baby way.  I hid behind a truck.  Nothing doing.  Finally, I was able to get them engaged in a game where we had short races.

"Ready? Set? GOOOOOOOOOO!" We all ran and yelled go at the top of our lungs for a few paces, then stopped.

"Ready? Set? GOOOOOOOOOO!"  We did this over and over again all the way back to our townhouse.  We were loud.  We were funny.  My neighbor saw us and laughed at me.  It did not matter.  We got back inside the house.

Later that day, the babies and I went to the community pool.  As we were leaving, two young men sauntered in and laid out on the plastic sunning chairs.  I had already done the dragging-a-screaming-and-writhing-toddler-out-of-the-pool-area the week before, so I was determined to try a new approach.  I tried "ready, set, go" again.  It didn't work, and I have a feeling nothing looks more hilarious than an adult woman making exaggerated running motions while yelling go at the top of her lungs all by herself.  I changed tactics and tried to get them to come with me to the mailboxes.  One of them tentatively started walking toward me, and I lavished her with loud garrish praise.  But when she saw her sister showing no interest, she tottered back to the bushes where they were picking berries.  I was defeated yet again.  I tried making their pool toys extremely interesting.  One took a look, grabbed a toy, and threw it to the ground.  At this point, the men sunning themselves were dissolving into giggles.  Exasperated, I walked across the lot, and to my surprise, the bushes there also had berries.

"Babies, look!  Berries!"

"Balls?" they asked.

"Yes, babies.  Balls.  Lots of balls.  Come over here.  Play with these balls.  My balls are better than your balls, just look!"

I was babbling; I looked ludicrous, but after 30 minutes of trying everything to get those babies to move, I wasn't about to let this golden opportunity slide away - even if it meant I had to loudly praise the glorious attributes of my balls.

I can only imagine the reaction of onlookers because by this time my entire focus was on the twins.  It worked.  They came over.  Each new bush had better balls.  And we made our way back to the house where the best balls of all were waiting.  Acorns.

Before I had children, I would have shuddered at this reality.  I would have considered it a loss of dignity.  I would have said that children of mine would be well-behaved enough to simply listen to me when out in public.  I know now how naive that is.  I consider playing games like these as saving my dignity, in fact.  If people are laughing, they're not judging.  If people are laughing, then my babies' existence is not disrupting their lives in a negative way.  And when a parent is brave enough to go out in public, really, that's all they can hope for.  I'd rather look foolish than desperate.

Monday, September 20, 2010

To-do List 101

I've never been very good at making lists.  When I have been able to convince myself to make a list, it was rare that I was able to follow it - until I became a stay at home mom.  I've found, these days, that without a to-do list, absolutely nothing gets done.  I never know where to start.  I'll clean the same room over and over because when you try to clean a house from top to bottom with toddlers running around, by the time you've finished, the entire place is dirty again.  Cooking, cleaning, and making time for yourself all while being a full-time entertainment center for your kids is a tough job.  Sometimes a list can really help slow down the whirlwind.  Here are some list tips from a person who doesn't do lists.

1) Make a list the night before.  Timing is everything.  If you make your list right before you go to bed, you'll feel more prepared for the morning and ready to go when you wake up.

2) Don't limit your list to jobs.  As a parent, everything you do that doesn't involve immediate childcare is a success.  If you use this philosophy when making your list, it won't be as scary to look at in the morning, and you won't feel so overwhelmed.  Taking a shower is an accomplishment in my house, and if it's been a couple days, I will put shower on my list.  I'll put trips on there like walk to the library.   I'll even put stuff I do in my downtime on there.  It gives my list the well-rounded look it deserves.

3) Use your downtime wisely.  There are two reasons I put downtime activities on my list.  The first being so that I actually do them and take some time to relax and enjoy myself.  The second being so that I use that downtime wisely.  If I have three activities I want to do during naptime, it's easier for me to stop playing on the internet and start scrapbooking if both of those items are on the list.  To be honest, much more time would be wasted surfing the unchanging internet pages I visit if I didn't put other fun activities down to be scratched off.

4) Make the list a rolling list.  You are not going to get everything you write down each night done everyday.  If you try, you will only set yourself up for failure.  If you don't get to some items, simply put them on the list for tomorrow.  In this way, you give yourself a bit of choice each day as well.  I try not to let an item stay on my list for more than three days, but, honestly, clean the bathroom can sit on there for up to a week before I can actually bring myself to do it.

5) Don't scratch off an item until you've done the job completely.  One of my faults is my love of the half-job.  I'll start cleaning the kitchen but get distracted and leave before I wash the cabinets and the floor.  I'll do two loads of laundry, but forget the third in the washer.  By not scratching these jobs off before I finish them completely, I remember to finish them the next day.  And I'm more apt to finish them first because psychologically, I'm already halfway there, as opposed to only half-way done.

Maybe lists still aren't for you, but I know as one who has never made lists in her life that when I do follow this technique, I feel better about my day.  I'm more organized, I get more done, and I see the variety in what would otherwise look like a day the same as yesterday the same as the day before.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Moment of the Week - 5

Natalina would like a video.  Please.

More proof that you only have a few seconds to figure out what a toddler is saying before an emotional explosion.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 5

Ways to trick your baby:

Problem:  If you have toddlers, they are probably tall enough to reach all the drawers in the kitchen (not to mention the oven), and they'll spend endless entertained hours emptying those drawers.  But sometimes the contents of those drawers are dangerous.

Solution:  The obvious solution here is to install a baby safeguard lock, essentially childproofing your drawers and cabinets.  But, read on.

Ways your baby tricks you:

Problem:  In my house, my toddlers have super-strength and easily bent the child safety locks out of position, leaving us with an open drawer full of sharp silverware, complete with a now-broken white plastic hook installed on the front.

Solution:  Get used to putting all sharp and dangerous items far out of baby's reach.  You never know when one of those locks will break, and if you have to lock up the contents of a cabinet, I've learned, you really shouldn't have those objects in the lower cabinets anyway.  Things may look a little messier in your house for a while.  This is our new silverware drawer: the top cabinet over the counter intermingled with the coffee mugs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Parental Preference

For the first 20 months of my children's lives, I worked outside of the home.  I would wake up to the sound of the babies, change them, get their milk ready, feed them, get ready for work, make myself a lunch and head out the door.  Every once in a while one of them would make a fuss about me leaving, which made me feel special but also broke my heart.  I almost preferred it when they didn't notice I was on my way out.
I would then spend an hour driving to work, eight hours at work (missing my babies), and an hour driving home from work.  When I got home, they would usually just be waking up from a nap, and I would change them, feed them dinner, make us dinner, get their milk ready and put them to bed.

With all of those activities packed in to our short time together, I hardly had any time to play with them.  I felt like a failure as a mother.  I felt like I was letting them down.  All of this was compounded every time they chose their father over me.  On top of everything else, I couldn't help but let the actions of a baby hurt my adult feelings.

It's so important, not to mention nearly impossible, to separate our egos from our parenting.  I couldn't do it, but, sometimes, I would be able to catch myself being all about myself and curb the behavior.  I distinctly remember one evening where my husband and I were playing with the babies in the living room, and they wanted him, and I sat on the ottoman in a huff instead of finding a way to make myself interesting to them.  I lost probably ten precious minutes that way before I snapped out of it.

Even though I knew the babies loved me just as much as they loved their father, after my hard days, and my missing them, the child in the back of my own mind wanted them to show me their love.  If they didn't, that child in me threw a tantrum.  Foolishness.

All children are different, and they will all show their love in their own way and in their own time.  It is up to us as adults to remember that our babies love us, even if they act as if they prefer the other parent at crucial moments.  They don't know those moments are crucial.  They don't know that by wanting to play with or be fed by Daddy instead of Mommy, they are making some kind of declaration of love, or lack of love.  They don't know that because that's not what they are doing.

There can be many causes for parental preference, the most bold-faced being routine.  Babies and toddlers are just learning the intricate ways of life around them.  Every minute of their day provides new lessons.  With all of that information coming at them constantly, it is no wonder they cling to what they know, what they've come to understand.  If one parent is the constant caregiver, they will go to that parent when in need, not because they think the other parent is incapable, but because it is not within their realm of understanding to mix the roles.

Now that I am the stay at home parent, I often yearn for the days when the babies would allow their father to do anything for them at all.  They're old enough now to make a big show out of his return from work, and they're used to playing with him after he arrives, but if one of them needs a diaper change?  Mommy.  If one is hungry?  Mommy.  If they need a spoon, want help moving a chair, want to change their shirt?  Mommy, mommy, mommy.

If you are working outside of the home, take heart.  You're not letting your child down, nor are you seeing them love your partner any more than they love you.  As much as each day of your child's life is a momentous occasion for you, they won't even remember these days, much less think of you as abandoning them.

Our lives as parents are hard enough.  We need to live each day knowing that our children love us with an unconditional intensity.  To project our own insecurities on their toddlerhood actions will only make everyone's life harder.  Our children love us.  They don't forget us when we're gone for the day.  They don't resent us.  We shouldn't resent ourselves, either.  After all, putting food on the table is a big part of that love, a part they will understand with time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Elephant Never Forgets

Do you lie to your kids?  I used to, quite a bit, actually.  When my twins were younger babies, it was out of sight, out of mind, so if they started fighting over a toy, I'd hide it.  The toy is gone, I'd say.  And they would accept that and move on almost immediately. 

These days, their memory is excruciatingly detailed and longterm.  Hiding a toy no longer solves a problem, it exacerbates it.  And toy-hiding is just the tip of the falsehood iceberg.  No more can I distract them with something inferior to their wishes in the hopes of having them forget what they were on about.  They're old enough now to understand my new favorite terms - later, hold on, and in a minute.  In fact, Dulce has started mimicking me.  "Lon!" she'll shout if she needs to pick up a toy before doing what I've asked of her.  But if I use these terms, I know that I've set the expectation - an expectation that will not just disappear with the passage of time.  If I tell them we'll go outside after their nap, I hear a chorus of "outside, outside, outside!" when they wake up.  If I say they'll get ice cream in a minute, if they finish their lunch, all I hear is "ice cream, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream," until I get them that special treat.

And their memory doesn't stop at their sense of hearing.  It never ceases to surprise me what will jog a memory for them, and often it takes me more than a few minutes to catch up with their racing thoughts.  For instance, just the other day, I put Dulce in a dress.  "Beach," she said.  "Beach, beach, beach.  Beach?"  I was puzzled.  Why would she be talking about the beach right now?  Her father is at work, we don't have the car, and there's simply no way I would have said anything about it because it's a promise I just can't fulfill.

"Beach?  Beach dress?"

It turns out, the last time we went to the beach, I had put Dulce in that same dress.  I never would have connected the two, but, to her, that dress was her beach-going dress.  She waited patiently for the pay-off, and eventually I was able to convince her that we would go to the beach this weekend, when Daddy was home.  It will be interesting to see if she remembers this when the weekend arrives.  Of course, we'll follow up on the promise.

It's important to follow up on these promises we make because our children are just learning that they have the choice to trust us, or not to trust us.  This is the beginning of the long battle we will have with them as they grow older.  To promote honesty, we have to give it.  They now know when we're letting them down.  If it happens too often, they cease to believe us when we say later - the immediate consequence being that our words lose their value.  If children believe that they can trust their parents, in the short term it makes it easier for them to settle down and wait for what they want while their parents can finish what they're doing.  In the long term, the parents are instilling the value of honesty and building family trust that will last into their children's teenage years.

So, no, I don't tell my children the television is sleeping when it's off, but that's only because they wouldn't believe me, and it would chip away at the trust I'm trying to build.  I've not been above it in the past, but different times call for different measures.  And while I sometimes may wish for the days when simply hiding a toy and telling my kids it was gone solved a problem, I'm heartened to see my little babies growing up and using their minds.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quitting and Failing Are Not the Same Thing

Competitive parenting is the ruin of many a mother's self esteem.  Benchmarks, milestones, highlights plague parents even as they repeat the mantra that every child is different, every one unique. They find themselves wondering if their baby is more advanced than their neighbor's niece.  Their parents start in with the ever-popular "when you were his age..."  Well-meaning mothers meeting at playgroups offer advice while others silently stew, worried about their own child's development.

And there is so much to worry about - weight gain, height, motor skills, walking, talking - the list seems unending.  Every time a child passes one hurdle, the next one looms, and sometimes, as parents, we push too hard.

My twins were born at 34 weeks.  They were in the 3rd percentile for weight and height for longer than I was comfortable with.  You would think, then, that I would be immune to all the talk about developmental victories, having struggled with my own kids in their infancy even to get them onto the charts.  Alas, I am not immune.

It started with sippy cups.  My children, for the longest time, refused to use sippy cups.  They would play with them.  They would try to dump the liquid out.  They would sometimes throw them and laugh at their achievement.  But drinking from one was a concept they could not grasp - not even with patient lessons from mommy.  Eight months passed, nine months - nothing.  What about straw cups, my parent counterparts asked?  What about a gummy spout?  I tried them all.

Then, one day, I stopped trying.  I quit.  And when I introduced the sippies to them once again, probably at 13 months or so, they used them from day one, as if there had never been a problem - as if they'd been using them from eight months old.  Quitting and failing are not the same thing.

Fast forward to the day before yesterday - I've just quit again.  When my babies turned two, we started potty training.  For four intense weeks, I cleaned up spill after spill.  I gave out treats and hugs.  I made a ritual of dumping potty droppings in the adult toilet with the babies.  For their part, they sat on those potties religiously.  They went diaperless (except for during naps and sleep).  They learned what having to go to the bathroom felt like. 

Then things took an odd turn.  They started ignoring that feeling.  They started flooding their diapers during nap and bedtime.  They started rejecting the potty.  We persisted for a week or so after that, until one morning, when I got up to change the babies and start another round of potty-sitting. I entered their room to find them absolutely soaked from head to foot and cold.  We aren't potty training, I realized.  I'm training them to hold their urine until they burst.  Messes I could deal with.  Uncomfortable babies on their way to urinary tract infections?  We needed to quit.

But, quitting and failing are not the same thing.  As I said, the day before yesterday I put them back in diapers.  Yesterday, for the first time in at least a week, Natalina asked for the potty.  She sat on it, and within minutes had gone number two.  Does this mean she's ready for the strict schedule I'd set for us, you know, to keep the pace with other babies?  No.  Today she's in diapers again.  And she's happy.  And she's healthy.  And two months from now, six months from now, a year from now, when she and her sister are actually ready to use the potty on their terms, they'll be trained.  I'm not worried about it.  So what if my mother says I was potty trained at 18 months?  Every baby is different and that doesn't make one any better or any worse than the other.  Plus, I'm starting to think she's remembering that wrong.

So, I say, relax.  When your child turns 10 you won't even remember these battles.  When your child turns 25, you may be the parent who says "well, when you were his age...", and you may also get the memory completely wrong.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Drink's on Me

After nine months of pregnancy - of nausea, of swollen feet, of fatigue, of aches and pains - mothers have certainly earned a drink or two.  But often breastfeeding mothers forego that small pleasure out of fear of passing the alcohol on to their baby.  They feel that if they do imbibe, hours of the dreaded "pump and dump" await them.  I know when I was breastfeeding, milk was too precious to dump down the drain.  Pass me the water, please.

People with infants are already giving up so much.  Should they also give up adult pleasures if they happen to come upon a rare night out?

Passing alcohol to your baby through your breastmilk is a valid concern, but a breastfeeding mother shouldn't feel like she can't ever have a drink.  And each mother should have the right to choose for herself what her limit should be while feeding her child.

There's a new product out there for the nervous among us that can test your breastmilk.  MilkScreen are disposable test strips that indicate the volume of alcohol concentrated in your breastmilk at any given time.  Since alcohol concentration is dependent on the mother's weight, her food consumption at the time of drinking, and the amount of alcohol in her drink, it might ease the minds of many mothers to know for sure how much alcohol they may be passing on to their children.  Mothers can test the milk by saturating a test strip for two minutes. The strip will change colors if more than .02 percent alcohol is found in the milk.

When I was breastfeeding, I hadn't heard of this product, but that didn't stop me from having a glass of wine with dinner every once in a while.  Time is on your side when it comes to alcohol dissipation within your system, and so, instead of pumping and dumping, I would simply wait until the babies were in bed for their first long snooze of the night.  By the time they woke up, any alcohol traces left in my system would be minimal.

Of course, there is a huge difference between one or two drinks and drinking enough to be impaired.  Still, I say, if a mother wants to enjoy an adult evening once in a while, she deserves it.  There's no need to turn to formula, either.  Many women express extra breastmilk to have on hand in case of an emergency.  This is easy to do if you have a pump, but women can hand express, too, if they've got the patience.  If a mother doesn't have the test strips and she's unsure her alcohol level is safe, she can easily dip into her stash to ensure her baby gets the nutrition it deserves, without compromising the party or night out she most definitely deserves.

I'm no expert, but I would advise doing this instead of feeding directly from the breast after drinking.  After all, alcohol can impact an infant's sleeping and eating habits. And consistent doses of alcohol can alter a baby's weight and gross motor development, so always be wary of how your actions can affect your child.

If you choose to use these strips - which I wish I'd known about when I was breastfeeding - know that milk with a .03 alcohol concentration level should be dumped.  MilkScreen isn't cheap.  It costs almost $15 for 12 strips.  But for the cautious mothers among us, it may just be worth it.

Whether you choose to have that drink or not, remember, infancy is not forever.  Even if you breastfeed your babies well into their toddler years, eventually they won't need you continually on tap.  As they transition to whole milk and solids after their first year, and they perhaps only want to nurse in the morning and at night, take comfort in the fact that someday, your fridge, too, could look like this:

Oh, the joys of toddlerhood.

For more information:

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to Score a Free Balloon

I have long said that any tantrum thrown in a supermarket is well-deserved.  The grocery stores are asking for it with their pretty displays of shiny plastic things glittering down every aisle a parent turns. The employees and other patrons of the place must simply be collateral damage in their eyes. 

As if it is not hard enough to strap a child or two into their strange-looking carts and keep them calm during an entire hour of checking the ripeness of melons and the expiration date of hamburger, the advertising committee thought it would be a great idea to put toys and toylike things within arms' reach of those cart seats.  Gone are the days of having an interesting conversation with your child as they sit in rapt attention, pondering whether or not mommy should get full-length or baby carrots.  Now, these babies have bigger fish to fry - fish that look like balls, straws, flashlights, and the dreaded balloon.

I am not buying any of these things.  Perhaps many parents do.  In fact, I'm sure it's a brilliant marketing technique.  But for me, this technique translates into nothing but tears, misery and exasperation.  Even when I do give in, and let the babies hold one of these magical items, it isn't long before another catches their eye - and then, do they want the first one or the second?  Can they somehow hold both?  Does their twin have something better than they do?  Is the cart at a standstill in front of these new toys?  Because if it's not - if mommy has dared to walk down the aisle to the canned goods - pandemonium.

Last week, I brought a friend grocery shopping with me.  She would often stop at their request, handing them toys and objects at their whim.  Each toy, thankfully, was looked at and tossed aside in a matter of minutes as the next adventure came their way until we got to the balloons.  Balloons assaulted us, then, from every angle - orange balloons, blue balloons, alligator balloons, balloons in a bouquet.  And Publix was not joking around.  The price for one of these precious arrangements?  $12.95.

My serene grape-choosing experience soon turned into a game of musical balloons.  Would the baby like this balloon?  No.  Crying.  How about this balloon?  Absolutely not.  She only wants her sister's balloon.  Okay, nobody has any balloons.  That decision was greeted with screams of rage.  My poor friend's eyes darting around, looking for something else - anything else - that might distract them from the dozens of balloons hanging from every corner.  Alas, even a chocolate chip cookie wouldn't do.

We get in line.  The babies are still screaming.  I asked the poor cashier above the yelps of my now-possessed toddlers if I could speak to a manager.  I have never seen a manager appear so quickly before in all my grocery-shopping years.

"Hello, sir, this isn't even a complaint, really, more of a suggestion, but do you see my babies?"

He nodded, wide-eyed.  He saw them.

"Well, I'm sure you have your reasons, but if you don't want something like this to happen, probably all of the time, I would suggest you take down all of these balloons everywhere.  My kids are good kids, but I have no control over their balloon-induced craze.  In the future, you might!"

"Oh, well, I'll speak to the advertising department about that--"

"Thank you!"

"--but in the meantime, we give out free balloons, you know."

And the manager went to the floral department, filled up two Publix balloons with helium, brought them back to us, and we were on our way, quietly and not without more than a little embarrassment on my part.

So, in hopes of sparing you all a story like this - in case I'm not the only person left who didn't know that Publix gives out free balloons to screaming toddlers - I note my embarrassing tale here.  Grocery store warriors unite!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Moment of the Week - 4

Admittedly, this is a bit longer than a moment, but it's so cute and there is an excitement crescendo.  More They Might Be Giants from the house of Cunha.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 4

Ways to trick your baby:

Problem:  My toddlers love to "help" me do chores.  They especially love to help me cook.  With a hot stove, bubbling oil, or a burning oven broiling, this can be really dangerous.

Solution:  Give your kid something related to cooking that's safe.  Let them play with it, figure it out, and then have them hand it to you at a safe moment.  Discovering every aspect of the new object will keep them occupied while you flip the french fries, put the roast in, or boil the water.

Ways your baby can trick you:

Problem: Sometimes, when you give them a simple task, they can misunderstand you, either accidentally, or, in this case - when I asked them to help me set the table by putting the napkins in place - on purpose.

Solution:  When you give them a task that takes them out of the room, keep listening for tell-tale sounds that they may not be doing exactly as you've asked.  Key words include: uh oh!, oh no!, mine!, and - my personal favorite -  shhh!

Alternately, you can just put them in the cupboard for safe keeping.

Just kidding, of course.  Mostly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beating Depression

Postpartum depression - a serious condition that is finally getting the attention it deserves from both doctors and sufferers.  Because of newfound understanding in the medical field, countless mothers have been safeguarded - have been saved - from harming themselves or their children.  Because of newfound understanding in the public eye, mothers need not be afraid of the stigmatism that formerly went along with such a diagnosis, if such a diagnosis was even given.  While this understanding does not lessen the pain or still the symptoms, mothers no longer need feel so alone - bearing their cross, wondering what is wrong with them, feeling like failures.

But what about fathers?

A new study published Monday says in the first year of a baby's life, as many as one-fifth of fathers can suffer from depression.  I think these results could go a long way in helping both mothers and fathers understand the feelings rushing in on them as they struggle to stay afloat during the first few months of their child's existence.

As adults, particularly as parents, we all seem to go just a little hard on ourselves.  Responsibilities continually rush in, finances rise and drop, relationships between spouses, coworkers, and immediate family are close then strained then close again.  Because all of these things are happening to us, we assume they're happening because of us.  We sometimes think we can change all of those variables using only our strong characters and stronger wills.  When we can't, well, we've added more to our pile of stressors.  Now add a baby.

Financially, a baby is, at best, a burden.  Everybody knows that.  During these past few years, however, job stability has spiraled downward, leaving many parents unsure if they'll be employed tomorrow - forcing many more out of the job market entirely.

A baby requires a lot of attention.  Many parents think they're ready for this kind of mind-numbing call-and-response, but even the most well-read, prepared adult can be thrown for a loop if their child has colic or is high-needs.  Even easy babies like mine take all that I have each day - and have been doing so for two years now.  Parents are setting themselves up for failure if they try to live up to the standards they set for themselves before the baby was born.  It's impossible.

The attention that a baby needs not only saps energy from every adult within cry-hearing distance, it also changes the dynamic between partners and between older children.  While this sometimes leads to jealousy or hurt feelings in those to which a new parent is closest, more often it results in just one more thing for that new parent to feel bad about.  They sometimes feel that they're letting the new baby down, letting their other kids down, and letting their spouse down all in one fell swoop.

Change is always hard.  It's harder when you don't take each facet of that change into consideration.  Depression isn't just hormones, it isn't just genetics.  Depression can hit anyone, and many times the triggers occur outside the body.

What I'm trying to say is it's okay to have a bad day.  It's not your fault.  And if you have several bad days, bad weeks, bad months, go to your doctor.  There may be help out there for you.  No one will look down on you, and you might end up feeling a lot better.  New parents, you have a lot on your shoulders - it's okay to get off your back.

**CNN article linked above:

** For more information:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tricks of the Trade

One of the greatest joys of toddlerhood is their ability to see each fraction of each activity with new eyes and no preconceptions.  The innocence a toddler applies to every experience makes each part of that experience special and unique and just as important as every other part.  This can be a huge asset to a savvy parent.

Once, long ago, when the babies and I first went to the mall, I came up with a little game we could play on the ramps on the way to the Playland.  As we approached a ramp, I would look at the kids - one holding each hand - and say, "Ready?  Ready?"  If the ramp inclined, we'd rush up shouting, "Up up up up up up up whee!"  If it was declined, "Down down down down, whee!"  I didn't know it then, but I was setting myself up for long-term success.

For little children, lack of experience places emphasis on everything.  They don't yet know that the Playland is the main event and that everything else pales in comparison.  Since every segment of their life is a new adventure, every anticipated journey provides just as much joy as the last.  If we, as parents, continue to advertise what's coming up next as a new and profound experience, our toddlers will follow suit.  So that when the time came for us to leave the Playland, I no longer had to worry about the tantrums that plagued our walk back to the car the first few times.

"Okay, babies, it's time to leave."

"No, no."

"But the ramps are next.  Don't you want to play the ramp game?"

Yes, they did want to play the ramp game, and off we went.  When we ran out of ramps, of course, another tantrum threatened to break out, but we were at the doors.

"Look, girls!  Puddles!  Don't you want to play in the puddles?"

Yes, they did want to play in the puddles, and off we went.  Getting into the car?  Another possible battle.

"Look, babies!  Rocks!  Pick a rock to take home with you!"

And they picked a rock and off we went.  When we arrived home - home, of course, being a place where they know there's nothing quite as fun and new as what they just experienced - I offered them handwashing in a bathroom they don't normally get to use.  Inside we went.  Then I was able to appeal to their physical needs and offered them water because they were thirsty and a video to watch because they were tired.

In this way, we had a tantrumless transition from Playland to home.

Now, I'd love to take credit for the idea, but, the truth is, it never would have worked if toddler minds were not so open, so trusting and so excitable.  It's important never to forget that the things we adults take for granted as being boring, or being just part of the journey to get to the fun, a toddler will find new and exciting - if we let them.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


My house, one Thursday night, after putting the babies to sleep.  I'm sharing a bottle of wine with my husband when an internet article by a woman who does not know me assaults my way of life. 

Polly Vernon begins her article for Marie Claire by essentially complaining that she has more work to do because a fellow coworker is out on maternity leave.  I understand where she is coming from when she says she bristled and acted in defense when some man who doesn't really know her says, "That's okay. Women hold the fort for each other because you'll be hoping someone will do it for you."

Vernon says it's not okay because she's not going to have children, but she's wrong.  It's still okay.  She may someday need to go on disability.  She may someday have to quit with little or no notice.  She may experience a death in the family, or some emergency she must tend to, forcing her to leave the office for a bit, forcing another person to pick up her slack - male or female.  When someone is out, everybody left should work a bit harder to make up for them.

Still, in many ways, Vernon's article is right.  She should not have be on the defensive over her lifestyle choices.  Too often groups within a society belittle, mock, and make light of those who choose a different route.  But Vernon's bitterness does not give her a carte blanche to attack her fellow women, most of whom are not her enemy.

The brush she's using to paint every mother is an ominous shade.  Women who have children, she says, have "a sense of entitlement that can lead to some profoundly uncivilized behavior — as anyone who has ever been thrown off the pavement by a stampede of unapologetic Bugaboo-pushing mothers would agree."

That's an awfully small segment of society, I would say.  Having children doesn't automatically place me in a Bugaboo herd, just as not having children doesn't automatically make her unsatisfied with her life.

And to say that she accepts that most women don't feel the way she does is an ineffectual disclaimer when juxtaposed against the name calling in her next sentence.  "Still, I think as cultural movements go, this one has veered wildly out of control, consuming huge chunks of airtime, to the detriment of other concerns. Also — shhh — it's kind of boring."

Parenthood, like any lifestyle, has a following of readers and television watchers.  If you are bored by certain topics, it is well within your means to avoid them.  There are any multitude of channels you could surf, and millions of blogs and magazines that cater to world issues.

Also, parenthood is not a cultural movement.  Just because Vernon feels ostracized for her choice does not make parenting a "fad."  She cites celebrity births, lists a few movies in which bearing children is the plotline, and mistakenly involves women who are having trouble conceiving, in her quest to prove this is a "trend."

"Meanwhile," she says, "those trying, and failing, to have babies launch themselves into expensive rounds of fertility treatments, railing against being denied what they consider their absolute right, the one thing that the movies and TV shows and pop songs and celebrities are telling them is their defining opportunity for happiness."

Apparently, in Vernon's view, women who are trying to conceive are doing so because pop songs and celebrities are telling them to do so.  I, who never longed for children, find this one of the most tasteless and insulting paragraphs I have ever read on the internet.  Women who want children perhaps want children for reasons of their own, reasons which I will not attempt to prescribe for them, reasons that, I'm guessing, have nothing to do with pop culture.

Women have been having children since the dawn of human existence.  Looking back through history, one will find times where women, as a group, had upwards of 12 children, and times where women had none.  If she had looked just 50 years back, she would have seen the baby boom.  Simply put: having children is nothing new.

I have, of course, saved what was most personally insulting for last.  How can I not take offense when Vernon says "regular women have taken up the trend. Ubiquitous mommy blogs host heated debates on the relative merits of organic baby food, four-figure strollers, and the latest inventions of "momtrepreneurs.""

A parenting blog makes no claim on anyone's time.  A debate on organic food is heated because there are people out there who care about that sort of thing.  If Vernon is not one of them, might she just leave those women who are alone?  Must she poke at them and make them feel lesser as human beings because what they happen to find important, she finds laughable?  Isn't that exactly what she is fighting against in her own life?  And, who knows, perhaps one day an invention by one of these "momtrepreneurs" will save her life.  Why is a mother's invention any less valid because she is a mother?

Vernon had an opportunity here to meaningfully stand up for her way of life, to shut the doubting mouths of those who would brush her decision aside.  She chose, instead, to instigate a bitter attack against a group of people just trying to get by with one less food stain on their carpet.

Vernon may be childfree.  She may be childless.  She is certainly childish.

Marie Claire article linked at the top:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Parent Your Kid

Have you ever stared down an 18 month old that you've never seen before in your life?  We went to the mall again this weekend.  Playland on a Sunday afternoon; every parent's worst nightmare.

The babies were playing on the slide.

I was standing right there because I'm simply not comfortable sitting all the way over on the side on the adult benches.  I think they are just too far away, and, in this instance, I was right.

A little girl, just two-thirds the height of my kids, walked right up to Dulce, and shoved her.  Dulce looked up at me - shocked - looked back at the little girl - wide-eyed - and back at me again.  By this time, I was on my knees, my arms around my baby, staring at the strange girl.  We locked eyes.

"Don't hit my kid," I said calmly but with a bit of grit, talking to a baby as if she were an adult.  "Don't ever hit my kid."

The strange girl was still looking at me when Dulce decided to tentatively push her back - a weak, ineffectual pat, that, nevertheless, forced me into action.

"Dulce, don't push her.  There is no pushing.  Ever."

At this point, there is a baby stalemate, and so I switch tactics.

"Can you give her a hug?  Let's hug."

The two babies are hugging with great affection by the time the other mother has gotten off the adult bench to take care of her kid.

"Tell her you're sorry," said the other mother.  The baby just looked at her.

"They've already hugged and made up," I said.  "It's okay."  What I meant, of course, was parent your kid so I don't have to parent her for you.

As the babies and I are leaving Playland, I see this girl push and topple over a little boy, and I laughed.  Bullying at 18 months; I couldn't believe it.

The moral of this story?  Always watch your kids closely.  If they're not pushing someone, they're being pushed, and if they're not pushing or being pushed, they're seeing it happen around them.  If we, as parents, don't step in and tell them what behavior is not acceptable, they'll never know.  Parent your kids, and everybody wins.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Don't Show or Tell

There is no sometimes for a toddler.  Conditions are too abstract a concept for them.  Adults seem to forget that to see something new for one moment, and to stand five feet away from it and ooh and ahh and otherwise behave appropriately is too much for a two year old.  In my house, we solve this by never showing them anything that we think they might like if we cannot give it to them 100 percent.  People who do not have two year olds cannot understand.  We just look mean.  But, really, we are being kind.

Parents of toddlers must be forward-thinking.  They must think of every possible future outcome their current decision will have using their best guess at a toddler brain.  Otherwise, about 75 percent of their decisions will end in a tantrum.  Allowances that seem innocent and fun are hardly ever so.

My husband and I took the babies to visit some friends this past weekend.

"Can they eat applesauce?"


"Can I give them applesauce?"

"I wouldn't."

I wouldn't give them applesauce because to give them applesauce means they will want a bowl and a spoon of their own.  Then they will try to balance those bowls properly, while using the spoons and since they are perched precariously on top of three-foot stools there is a good chance they will fall off since they won't be paying attention to their balance - the whole scenario ending in tears and applesauce on your carpet.

"Can they have ice cream?"


"Can I bring them just a little ice cream in there?"

"Oh, you mean in the living room?  I wouldn't."

I wouldn't because this would inevitably lead to a sticky mess in the crevices of your nice leather couches, not to mention the exasperated cries for more, the sticky hands and faces, the ice-creamed hair, and the abject misery of it all.

"Oh, is your daughter bringing her ice cream in there?"


"Okay, I change my answer.  I would."

I would because you can never show a toddler something and then tell them they can't have the exact same thing you are having.

Our hosts decided to have their daughter eat her ice cream in the kitchen, the babies never saw her or the ice cream, and I am eternally grateful.

Later on in the evening, the two musicians in the group decided to play for us some songs on guitar, but before they did this, and before I could stop them, they showed my obviously interested babies the guitars they were going to play.  We then spent the better part of 30 minutes catering to their tantrums as they were told repeatedly that even though they could touch the guitar that one time, they could not touch it again, let alone play with it, shove their fists through the strings, topple it over, or any of the other fun things they had planned for it.  All this stress that could have been avoided had we simply not shown them that guitars are objects that babies are allowed to touch.

Like I said, it's always or never with a toddler.  So, if you're unsure as to whether or not you should show them something, give them something, allow them to do something - don't.  You'll save yourself and everyone around you heartbreak and tears in the long run.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 3

Ways to trick your baby:

Problem: Sometimes your toddler will refuse to believe that eating is necessary for survival.  It's true that if they get hungry enough, they'll eat, but, at least in this family, they get crankier before they get hungrier.

Solution:  To keep a healthy amount of good food in your toddler's tummy, put it on a table or counter that they associate with adults.  It's harder for them to reach (but not impossible) adding a challenge that makes eating a fun game.  Plus, they feel more adult because that's where mommy and daddy eat, too.  Another bonus: they can do it all by themselves.

Ways your baby can trick you:

Problem: Once you teach them this trick, you must be ever-vigilant never to leave anything open on the counter or table again.

In case you are wondering, that's a gallon of milk on the floor that my toddlers are stepping in.  That was also my entire yesterday afternoon.

Solution:  Do not leave any open container on a counter or table top again - seriously.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Your Mama

I don't like when people who don't know me call me "mom."  This happens at the grocery store, at the post office, at the park, and even at restaurants.

Most recently, a waitress, who I assume was trying to be empathetic, continuously called me mom throughout our entire meal.

"Here, mom, here are some more napkins." Or "Did you get a chance to eat yet, mom?"

I smiled politely, but there is nothing more annoying to me than someone completely overlooking my identity due to the fact that I birthed a few children.  As if women don't give up enough of themselves everyday to their children alone, we also have to accept that society no longer sees us for the people we are, but for the role we play.

I know this is not solely a mother irritation.  Many people are defined by the task they perform.  However, it's difficult to peg an executive on the street.  If you see someone wearing a nice suit, you don't automatically address that person as Vice President of Such and Such Hospital because you really don't know why they are wearing that suit, and, furthermore, you usually don't care.  A suit, or a hat, or a Subway uniform hardly even register in the public's eye.  Why should motherhood?  Some people take their smart phones with them on their lunch break to cater to the needs of others - nothing is said.  They are regarded as a person eating lunch, not as an employee making calls.  I take my babies with me on my lunch break, and I am regarded as the mother, and sometimes - more often than not - forgotten as the person.

Now, I don't expect my motherhood to be ignored, especially as I drag two toddlers across town - it is what I am, and I am proud to wear my badge - but there is no need to put me on an entirely different level than your other patrons.  There is no need to coddle me, give me a wink and a nod, or relate to me solely in terms of my job.  I don't refer to you as waitress, after all.

So, to the waitress who so well-meaningly tried to converse with me the other week:  First of all, I'm not your mom. And secondly, you're lucky I was up to my elbows in a milky mess trying to shove a jelly sandwich into my babies' mouths while simultaneously picking up all the crayons they were dropping on the floor and collecting all the napkins they were shredding to pieces, or I would have shown you just how flawless I usually am when I go out to dinner.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quit It

The smoking Indonesian baby made famous by an internet video gone viral has kicked the habit, according to CBS news.  The report then asks, "but will it last?"

I don't think it will.  Once back home, I doubt the parents of two-year-old Aldi Suganda will be able to withstand the epic string of tantrums I'm assuming he's about to commence.  I know I can hardly keep it together when my children want something as simple and non-addictive as a spoon.  I've learned quickly that I have less than five seconds to hear them request something, process their often illogical request, understand the baby-English they're speaking, and retrieve the item before the crying starts.  (I assume, of course, that these situations will lessen as they continue to grow, and I continue to emphasize that bashing one's head into the kitchen cabinet is an inappropriate response to "no, you can't eat that sponge.")  I can only imagine how an additive substance will exacerbate the situation.

On first glance, many might assume that the child will never smoke again.  Being two years old, after all, severely limits access to cigarettes.  Being two years old, in fact, could be tantamount to being in rehab - adults go to rehab to cleanse themselves of harmful toxins and allow their physical addiction to peter out, and the success of rehabilitation facilities are based on the inaccessibility of the sources of addiction.

Another aspect of rehab clinics is professional monitoring.  While Aldi was there, professionals could make sure he did not harm himself.  Being forced to give up something as addictive as two packs of cigarettes a day could turn any adult into a cranky and angry mess.  Add to that a definite lack of understanding as to why one can no longer smoke, a lack of desire to quit, and an age where the wrong kind of grape for a snack can send you spiralling into the depths of inconsolation, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

The child's parents aren't trained for the intensity of distress this will cause in their lives, and - new car or not - with the lackadaisical laws and rules applied to smoking and cigarettes in Indonesia, it may prove to be too much for them to bear.

Will Aldi's parents be able to stand stonily by as he thrashes himself around, bites, throws objects and maybe even hurts himself in an attempt to show them what he wants, or will it just be easier to hand him a cigarette if it will stop the screaming, the crying, the self-abuse?  No one likes to see their baby in pain.  In the height of the situation, will his parents be able to see that the cigarette is even more harmful than his toddler behavior?  I hope so, but I can also see them easily giving in.

Video of Aldi smoking

(You'll notice I haven't touched at all on the fact that the child was smoking in the first place.  I've yet to read an article that covered that to my satisfaction, and I refuse to speculate on it.  My visceral reaction is too strong and negative for me to make any sort of statement on it without more facts to shore me up.)

CBS Article

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Potty Choices - A Bad Review

I am currently soaking two potties in my bathtub with bleach. Usually they look like this:

Today, they look like this:

And I can't think of a better time to go over what every parent should know before setting off to buy their child's first potty.

First, do not let the bells and whistles distract you. The potties I have chosen for my twins are amazing, in theory. They come with a wipe dispenser and a toilet paper roll attachment. They have a pretty sticker chart for when the babies make it in the potty. They have pretty pink lids, like a real potty, so your child can learn to put the lid down early, I would guess. The seats are soft, and sprinkled with the same design as the stickers. Later, they can be flipped over and used as a stepstool.

These are all awful ideas.

First of all, why you would ever want to teach a child to flip over a receptacle that may or may not have excrement in it is beyond me. My carpet is getting more urine stains than I can keep up because the babies will use their potties and flip the things over to stand on them immediately afterward.

The soft seats seem like a good idea - especially since my twins have decided that the potties make excellent mini-couches for watching TV - except that when they get up from the potty, the seat will often stick to their behinds, and splatter off after they've stood and started walking. The sticker decoration on the seats seems cute to an adult. Try explaining to a two year old that even though they used to have stickers that look like the designs on the potty, the designs on the potty will not come off, no matter how much time you spend trying to peel them. Expect massive tantrums when you run out of stickers. In fact, the stickers to begin with, at least in this house, are cause for trauma and pain. Something about stickers turns my two children into raving lunatics. We didn't even run out of those stickers; mommy threw them away.

The pink lids make for awkward handling, plain and simple. I wish they were not there. We've never used the wipe dispenser or the toilet paper roll attachment. My babies would pull all the wipes out and unroll all the toilet paper, making sure to shred it into the tiniest pieces possible. I already know this. We don't need to experiment.

But the absolute worst part of these potties is the reason they're sitting in my bathtub right now. Structurally, they just don't make sense. No matter how well my babies are positioned on their potties, they always manage to get a little extra not only on the rim or the seat, but inside the crack where the chamber pot meets the step stool. If you're a first time parent, and you aren't aware of this phenomenon, about three weeks in, you're in for a less-than-pleasant surprise. Stale urine drippings collecting in the bottom of a step stool - which, by the way, was not engineered to easily come apart - can smell up an entire house. I know from experience. And trying to wrestle that stool apart without getting any of the offensive stuff on your person is near impossible.

So, my advice on buying any potties that have more than one piece for any reason: don't do it.

Your best bet, parents of singletons, is to buy a little potty seat that sits directly on top of your toilet. The baby will get a sense of where the bathroom is, will know that urinating really only need take a minute, not an hour, and will feel more like a big kid. Clean up is minimal.

I can't do that because my twins need to do everything the same at the same time, but if I were to buy another potty set for them, it would look more like this:

One piece, one use, no stickers. If I can leave you with one message from this post it's this: don't do fancy. Your kids won't appreciate all the extras, and you'll come to rue them. I'd give you even more advice, but I have bleachy potties awaiting my return.


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