A Few Of Our Favorite Things

I feel so fortunate to have small children in 2012. We have disposable diapers, washing machines, televisions, microwaves, and air conditioners. Imagine what our foremothers would say about microwaveable mac & cheese (probably, “Awful stuff!”) or about Dora (probably, “Turn that off and go outside to play!”). As with most things in life, there are pros and cons for all of our modern conveniences. However, some of them are absolutely fabulous and make life with kids so much easier! I bet our foremothers would appreciate that. Here are a few of our family’s favorite things:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This juice holder has saved us many a red-stained shirt! It holds boxes and bags secure where little hands can’t squeeze them, and is easy to carry and set down. (http://tinyurl.com/cz8xzd5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first saw this popsicle/ice cream holder at a friend’s house when Big Sister was 1, and ordered 6 of them as soon as we got home. They’ve saved us not only many a sticky shirt, but also hands, feet, elbows, chins, floors, and everywhere else a popsicle or ice cream cone is liable to drip. Plus, kids can finally set down their popsicles to melt somewhere else besides in a parent’s hand! (http://priceproductsllc.com/Dripstik.html)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My kids all started playing computer games at age 2, but we had a hard time finding a mouse small enough for their little hands. We tried an advertised “kid-friendly” mouse that looked like a frog, but the button eyes fell off. The  kids got confused and frustrated by the two buttons anyway, so we then looked for a single-button mouse, and found this from Amazon. It’s small, simple, and has saved Mom and Dad from hearing many a cry of “Help!” after someone accidentally messed up a game with a right click. (http://tinyurl.com/82pld8h)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My toddlers like to go crazy with soap dispensers to see how many bubbles they can make. When you add up all the handwashings in a day from potty training and sandbox expeditions, it equals a lot of soap! These automatic dispensers have solved the problem for us. You control the amount of soap released with a +/- button, and only that amount is released each time a hand is put under the sensor. You do have to be careful to not put anything else under it though. I’ve accidentally flavored my coffee cup with soap when I meant to add water from the faucet! The dispensers require a thin liquid soap. So far, we’ve only used the soap made for these particular dispensers (http://tinyurl.com/7cx38yv) and found that one bag lasts a good month, even with two grownups and three kids. However, you could try any liquid soap. (http://tinyurl.com/7jhomt8)

 

 

 

 

 

We once had a disastrous trip to the zoo with a double stroller and three kids, because I assumed Big Sister would walk. I found out we weren’t ready for two-seat transportation, but we had outgrown the triple stroller and, anyway, I had pushed that monster around long enough! Thank goodness someone had the brilliance to create this wagon “train.” It’s a families-with-multiples dream because up to five cars can be attached and removed as needed. Of course, since we’ve had it, Big Sister has preferred to walk. (http://www.step2.com/p/Complete-Choo-Choo-Train-Combo)

Please post a comment and link for any products that have made your parenting life easier! Our foremothers might be appalled that our kids don’t know how (or why) to darn a sock, or to entertain themselves all day without electronics. But think of how lucky we are, since our modern conveniences save us time and energy that previous generations of parents didn’t have. So throw that load of laundry in your washing machine and head outside with your kids to show them how to whistle with a blade of grass while you look for shapes in the clouds.

Kindergarten and a Vegetable Garden

It’s been too long since I blogged, partly because of the old excuse of being busy, and partly because I’ve been content to just observe. We had birthdays in April, so Big Sister is now 5 and Mr. and Miss Twin are 3. I remember that Big Sister changed exponentially between 3 and 3 ½. There’s a Moment in my memory of watching her swim at age 3 ½, and realizing that there was no more baby or toddler left in her. Her chubby legs had turned muscular, her cute baby swimsuit had given way to a functional Speedo, and her ponytail looked more athletic than Trixie-style. I’ve been curious to find out if the twins will change so dramatically too. With two of them, the caveman stage is accentuated and slower to leave our house entirely, but every week, there are more Moments to prove the twins are on their way. Like when Miss Twin went in her own bathroom stall at the YMCA and decreed, “I do it myself!” And she did. Or when Mr. Twin quietly put on his pants all by himself and showed up ready to go, instead of melting down for any of 101 unknown reasons.

The GeoTrio with the geocache Big Sister found!

We no longer have a toddler and two babies here, or even a preschooler and two toddlers. Big Sister graduated from preschool and is off to all-day, every-day kindergarten in the fall, and the twins will move up to her former preschool. Since our life will be so dramatically different in three short months, I plan to have as much spontaneous fun as possible this summer with my Trio of independent, strong-willed, adventurous kids. We have this glorious Moment when independence meets still wanting to hang out with Mom, and I know that’ll change all too soon. Summer has just started, and we’re already having a blast! We’ve taken up geocaching (http://www.geocaching.com), which is proving how far we’ve come because the entire tribe can tromp through the woods without a stroller. After 5 years of babyhood in our house, which required meticulous planning and packing before we went anywhere, this new ability to be spontaneous with big kids who can walk, talk, and wait 5 minutes for a meal has me feeling like the whole world has opened up and demands to be explored!

We also planted our first garden and were all excited to harvest our first radish and lettuce yesterday. The difference between the tiny seeds we planted and the now perfectly red radish with gorgeous green leaves got me thinking. I did nothing to make it grow except provide food and the right environment. Once those were given, that little seed had the inherent ability within itself to change when I wasn’t even looking. Maybe that’s true for kids too. I marvel at the big kids in my house and wonder how they got here. Life has been more chaos than planned in the past three years, yet somehow three independent, confident people have emerged from the pandemonium. Some days, it felt like my parenting only consisted of feeding them and keeping them from setting the house on fire, yet apparently they were growing even then.

If it feels like you’re running on a hamster wheel with your kids, doing and saying the same things every day, take heart that progress is being made under the dirt, just like our radish. All of a sudden, you’ll see a bit of maturity poking through, and you’ll know that your little radish is ready to venture into bigger gardens. As I’m looking at kindergarten, I acknowledge that change can be bittersweet, but then I sit down with my iced mocha topped with whipped cream during a Moment when no one needs me, and remember that after three years of chaos, THAT’S pure sweetness! 🙂

Post a comment about a Moment when you noticed a big change in your child(ren). Did you do something to make it happen or did it happen by itself?

Reflections On Life With Twins At 3 Months And 3 Years

I have exciting news! Our twins just turned 3, which means we’ve survived the first leg of this crazy, amazing marathon with multiples. I remember sitting in my favorite little coffee shop when they were 3 months old, where I somehow gathered enough sleep-deprived brain cells to write a “Reflections On Life With Twins At 3 Months.” I thought it would be fun to post it again here, with a comparison on life with twins at 3 years, to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Reflections On Life With Twins At 3 Months:

-I’m learning that my children are as worthy of my respect as I am of theirs. They’re influenced by me, but they aren’t clones of me.

-I’m learning that it’s never wrong to ask a question or to validate someone’s feelings and experience, even if that someone is very small.

-I see that there are endless opportunities for activities, personal growth, and childcare. Because of that, there’s no reason for martyrdom.

-I’ve realized that only I can take the initiative for my mental and emotional well being.

-I’m learning that tomorrow really is another day, and the world will continue to turn if I don’t accomplish everything on my to-do list. In fact, I need to give myself credit for accomplishing even one small thing in a day!

-I understand now that my energy is a precious commodity and not endless, thus I’m choosing more wisely how to spend it.

-I’m learning to live in the moment rather than planning so much.

-I’m learning to use the time when my children are awake to focus on them, and to save chores for when they’re asleep.

-However, I’m realizing that I must spend their sleeping time on my needs first, otherwise I miss the opportunity for restoration. There will always be laundry and cleaning to do, but neglecting my needs creates a debt that takes a toll on my well being and my ability to meet my family’s needs.

-My husband has a different role as a father than I do as a mother. We’re a team, but since I’m with the kids 24/7, my time away from them is a necessity, not a luxury.

-I’m learning to listen to my gut when making decisions. It really is always right!

-I’m realizing that I have to let go of my children and let them learn from other people. My role is to be the consistent foundation at home that they can always return to.

-I’m learning how fast childhood goes, and that these few short years are the foundation for the rest of my children’s lives and my relationship with them. My personal sacrifices now are actually very small, yet could reap huge rewards.

-I’m learning that consistency is the key to most things in life: parenting, career success, relationships. It’s much easier to set the rules/boundaries and maintain them, instead of letting them go and having to rebuild them.

-I’m learning that life is beautiful at its core, that there are endless chances for starting over, and that there’s something to learn every day!

Reflections On Life With Twins At 3 Years:

-I’m learning that change is constant, so I might as well grab some coffee and chocolate and go along for the ride.

-I’ve learned that three kids who can walk, talk, and feed themselves are an enormous gift that will still inspire awe in my heart long after they no longer want to be seen walking, talking, or eating with me.

-I’m learning that time does heal all sorts of wounds, and that kids have an amazing ability to forget their wounds and rush headlong into the next adventure.

-I’m learning that whispering is more terrifying than yelling. Now, I need to learn how to do it.

-I’ve learned that one bag of Goldfish crackers will reproduce itself multiple times in my car’s backseat.

-I’ve learned that opposites attract: No matter what I expect, the opposite will happen.

-I’ve learned that nothing makes fighting kids band together faster than a parent who charges into the room and demands to know, “What’s going on?”

-I’ve learned that 3 big kids can play together long enough for me to accomplish one small thing on my to-do list, and I might be able to accomplish one more thing while I wait for them to fight their own battles.

-I’ve learned that kids behave better in public than at home, and to accept that gratefully rather than question it. I’m learning to be grateful that they feel safe expressing themselves at home, although we might work on that being upstairs, in their rooms, with the doors closed.

-I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. I expect at least one spill per child per day. Sometimes, it will be milk, and sometimes, a diaper.

-I’ve learned that there are always adventures to go on, if I just take 5 minutes to locate them, and that kids are quite able to make up their own, if I let them try.

-I’m learning that I need to spend an equal amount of energy finding adventures for myself, because no one else will do it for me, and Mommy’s Time Away benefits all of us. Whoever said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Familiarity breeds contempt” must have been a parent! I’ve learned that my going is sweet, but the coming home is then sweeter.

-I’ve learned that natural consequences are the best discipline. A child who rewards a mommy’s offer to play hide-and-seek by throwing woodchips on her siblings’ heads because she won’t share her hiding space will then watch her siblings take all the stars off her reward chart, see them each get an extra star for longsuffering, and hear a mommy deny her next request to play. But she will still get and give a good night hug, and we’ll all start over the next morning. I’ve learned there’s always a new chance to start over.

-I’ve learned that kids who have the opportunity to put a mommy in timeout for overreacting will not let that mommy serve her sentence in peace. They’ll keep coming back to point at her with delighted grins, and to pretend to take her picture.

-I’ve learned that laughter is the best medicine!

What have you learned during your parenthood? Post it here!

How Going Back To Middle School Helped Me Grow Up

You walk into a lunchroom all by yourself. The tables are mostly filled with people who have already found friends, talking and laughing in the comfort that comes with having found their place. You see an empty seat at the very front of the room, right where you’ll have to walk past everyone else to get there. You squeeze between tables, hoping you don’t trip and dump your tray on someone’s head. The successful journey gives you confidence and you ask your potential tablemates if the seat is open. They nod and smile politely, then turn back to each other, and that’s how quickly you become insignificant. The spotlight you felt while you made the journey turns off, and suddenly, you’d like for it to come back so you’ll be noticed. You want very badly to be part of the group.

Did your stomach clench and your heart race? Mine did two days ago when this happened to me! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m starting to think that we never entirely escape middle school. But let me tell you what happened next. I was at a writing conference. Writers can either be the most generous and welcoming people, or the most grandiose and boorish, and you often can’t predict which by looking at them. My tablemates were magnificent. There was a young girl, about 20, and her mom. It’s easy to assume that a 20 year old hasn’t experienced enough life to write about it, but this young lady has encountered tragedy that most people never will in their lifetime. More stunning, though, is her courage and conviction that she can use her pain to educate and support others. Her mom is equally remarkable in supporting her daughter without fighting the battle for her, and in letting her daughter speak for herself. Now, I understand why I need to say no to my toddlers. Why I do them a disservice if I protect them from disappointment. Three small children all clamoring with their wants can be overwhelming and it’s tempting to give in when I know I shouldn’t. But Life will not be so lenient and may deal them a crushing blow someday when I’m not there to protect them. How much better prepared will they be if they’re already acquainted with disappointment, fear, failure, and loss? I hope my kids will grow up to be as courageous as that young lady, as able to confront their anger and pain, and as able to use the pain to become stronger than their loss.

Another tablemate was an older lady, an angel on earth, who helped save a woman destined for deportation to the Congo, where she had been tortured and was certainly facing death if she returned. This dear lady’s book (“Rescuing Regina: The Battle to Save a Friend from Deportation and Death” by Josephe Marie Flynn SSND: http://tinyurl.com/6nss4xp) about the event was just published last year, and while I knew her story, this was my first chance to talk to her. She’s a quiet, gentle person, not someone who seeks conflict, yet she revealed her iron strength when someone needed to be defended. Although the beginning of that lunch felt like middle school, that beginning became completely insignificant in light of The Stories at the table. And maybe that’s what maturity is all about: We learn that there are so many more things in the world bigger than us, yet just one person can be big enough to make those things change for good.

Everyone has A Story to tell.  Some write it; some use other artistic forms, like music or painting; some are genealogists; some might use quilting to join several stories into one. Find your Story and your way of telling it, and then tell it to your children. Don’t be afraid to include the pain and fear, because those make us human, and often joy and strength can’t be fully understood without them. If your kid rolls his eyes every day when you ask, “How was school?” try this instead. Ask, “What kinds of stories happened today?” Everyone loves a story, and your child just might like to tell one too!

Guest Post: The Worth of a Thousand Words

I’m excited to host my first guest, J.C. Nierad, who blogs about pursuing dreams at http://dream-hour.com/. While that can sometimes be an ambiguous, hard-to-define subject, J.C. does a beautiful job of writing in specifics about how to identify and achieve dreams. She also provides weekly inspiration and methods to track her own and her readers’ progress. In this guest post, J.C. writes about why she started a journal to her daughter, and how you can do it too. I believe in this wholeheartedly, and started journals for each of my kids during pregnancy. My goal has been to write at least once each year on my kids’ birthdays, but J.C. has inspired me to record more of the daily moments too!

The Worth of a Thousand Words

By: J.C. Nierad

When there is a family event, my mom is notorious for taking a couple dozen photos minimum. I use the term “family event” loosely because my mom thinks every time a grandchild is in her presence, it qualifies as a “family event.” Despite the constant flash photography, my mom is only in a small percentage of the resulting photos. She is the picture-taker, the moment-preserver, the woman behind the camera. I love her enthusiasm, but I also want to see more of her in the memories our family preserves.

As a new mom with a husband who wouldn’t notice a Kodak moment if snow was falling in July, in Phoenix, as a baby seal swam in our pool, I worry about becoming the woman behind the camera — present, but not preserved in our family memories. So, I have taken matters into my own hands and started writing a journal for my daughter. I plan to record special and mundane memories as she grows up and give her the journal(s) at some point when she is an adult. It’s not a baby book or a scrap book (much less cutting, pasting, and planning). Just words. Currently, the entries range from detailing the snow balls we threw on Christmas Eve and the experimental vegetarian meal we prepared, to describing a 30 second moment when I watched her walk down our front path carrying reusable bags over her shoulder and holding her dad’s hand as they left for the farmer’s market one Sunday.

While writing a journal for my daughter began as a selfish activity (wanting to be remembered), the journaling has evolved into a much more exciting tool. I hope these journal entries allow her, not only to know her mom in a different way, but also to find value in family, respect for herself, and appreciation for small moments. Through my words, she’ll have clues to my perspective on life and the values I hold. She’ll know some of my dreams, successes and failures, and she’ll know some of the hopes I have for her life.

Any parent can start a journal for his or her child, regardless of the ages of the children. In fact, Mom or Dad, if you’re reading this, your 32-year-old daughter would love to read a journal written by you. Start now and record little memories and milestones, communicate your dreams for your children, and allow your children to know some of your dreams for yourself!

Most importantly, don’t listen to the voices that say “I can’t journal because…”:

  • I’m not a writer: Unimportant! I don’t draft and revise my journal entries. Journal writing is unplanned and absent of any pressure to be “good.” If you write the truth of the moments, it will be a great journal.
  • I’d never keep up with it: Follow my friend’s lead who has a 3-year-old and twin babies. She keeps simple spiral notebooks readily at hand in the kitchen for quick recording sessions. I may write once a week or once a month. I may not even finish an entry sometimes, but recording little thoughts every so often will accumulate into a really special gift for your kids one day.
  • My kids won’t care: We all love the many ways we can easily share photos, and thoughts, and statuses today (thank you picture messaging, email, Facebook, Snapfish, etc…). However, these methods are focused on the immediacy of moment-sharing and not the importance of memory-preserving. I believe our kids will appreciate memory preservation tools that have a little more longevity. I know I do!

While a picture can be worth a thousand words, a thousand words written out of love for a child may just be priceless. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, consider starting a lifelong, unplanned, perfectly unique love letter to your kids in the form of a journal.

You Might Have To Make A Mess To Make A Masterpiece

By: Abby Plambeck

Miss Toddler started helping me in the kitchen when she was 2. Sure, we made some grand messes, but the fun and resulting cookies far outweighed the cleanup afterward. When she turned 3, she asked if she could crack the eggs. My first reaction of “No!” turned into a shrug and a “Why not?” I got the paper towel ready and showed her how. She was a quick learner, and we only had to pick out a little bit of shell and wipe up a drip on the counter. Really? A 3 year old cracking eggs? Who knew?! 

When she turned 4, I left the kitchen for a couple minutes and came back to find her with the refrigerator egg tray on the kitchen table, calmly showing the 2-year-old twins how to crack eggs. My shriek turned into a “Wow.” No shell in the bowl, no drips on the table. Really? A 4 year old cracking eggs better than me? I had a little slice of humble pie.

That day marked the beginning of the twins’ interest in cooking, so I now line up three chairs along the kitchen counter and put everyone to work measuring, pouring, and stirring. The electric mixer is a highlight, though we tend to get more flour all over us than in the bowl when three children fight over who holds it. I feel more like a referree than a chef, helping them count and take turns. I’ve also learned that one mess-maker is cute, whereas three tend to make me hyperventilate!  But when I can remain calm enough to teach, I think the kitchen is a fabulous place to learn life skills. We use the measuring spoons and cups to learn about fractions, we can identify spices by their scent, we know that brown sugar is brown because it has molasses in it. We’re learning why water turns to steam when it’s boiled and what all the gadgets in the kitchen drawer are for. The kids see it as an opportunity to make a mess and sample chocolate chips, but I see math and science. Miss Big Sister  might not remember what a fraction is, but she knows that 1/2 cup  plus 1/2 cup = 1 cup, and that’s a start.

Have you noticed how easy it is to say “No” to our kids? That’s my first reaction when my kids ask to help with an “adult” job. But why? If it’s not dangerous, why not let them try? Knives and the stove are out of bounds in my kitchen, but if a mess is the only consequence, then I try to take a deep breath and let them have at it. Quite often, they surprise me. And I still get to eat cookies!

Until Death Do Us Part

We had a rough past week, with both a death and another severe health crisis in our extended family on the same day. Our phone rang off the hook for two days, and it was hard to explain to our kids why we were so distracted. The 2 year olds had no clue, of course, but 4-year-old Big Sister understood quite a bit. She needed reminding occasionally, since she doesn’t yet understand the permanence of death, but she was capable of more empathy and understanding than I expected. And she asked questions. Some I answered easily, especially since we pass a cemetery on the way to preschool and it’s been a topic of conversation in the car for months. Other times, I found the best answer was, “I don’t know,” and was surprised at how easily she accepted it.

Ironically, death has been on my blogging agenda anyway because we listen to an awful song in the car. You may know it. “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die.” The song ends with the old lady swallowing a horse, so “she’s dead, of course.” I hadn’t heard it before and couldn’t believe it was on a kid’s collection CD! Turns out the song has been a children’s song for years, and a popular version was recorded by Burl Ives in 1953 (http://tinyurl.com/3o9au38).

Despite missing that song, I took part in plenty of other morbid rhymes during my childhood, like the dandelion game where we flicked the flower off the stem and recited, “Mama had a baby and its head popped off.” It was just silly from my child perspective, but my adult mind is a little horrified! And almost every fairy tale and Disney movie has death and horror as main themes. Big Sister and I started watching Snow White recently, but we didn’t make it past the first 10 minutes, when the huntsman takes Snow White into the forest to kill her. It’s well known that Grimm’s Fairy Tales have been toned down for modern sensibilities, but the original folktales the brothers collected are the stuff of horror stories. The Hansel and Gretel story published in 1812 would be an R-rated movie today. The children are deliberately walked into the woods and abandoned by their parents, who can’t afford to feed them, and then they stumble into the enticing gingerbread cottage of a cannabalistic witch. And we worry about what our children are exposed to in the media in 2011!

All this confirms something I’ve long suspected: That children can handle more than adults give them credit for. They have their own coping mechanisms and belief systems to help do this, but those are no less effective than adult methods. Maybe they’re sometimes more effective. Adults tend to deny and rationalize the realities of illness and death because of discomfort in confronting it head on. Children seem to do better at accepting both as part of life, and meanwhile living life to the fullest every day that they can. Halloween is just 2 weeks away, and my kids aren’t fazed by the neighborhood displays of skulls, tombstones, and creepy undead creatures. I wonder if all that is a grownup attempt to thumb our noses at The Grim Reaper and make a joke of the reality. But kids accept it and walk right past it to get the candy and enjoy life.

I think it’s interesting that modern fairy tales and mythology, like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson (and I’m sure you could name many more), are categorized as young adult books, but they’ve attracted an enormous adult following. Neither of those series are childish, but instead prove young people’s courage in confronting suffering, sacrifice, and death. Maybe grownups can learn something from them, as well as from our own children.

My 4 year old understood that I had to go to a funeral this week, and at least once a day since then, she has spontaneously said, “Remember your uncle? “ I smile at the memory of a wonderful man and reflect. Isn’t that what we all hope someone will say about us?

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