These Yoga Pants Don’t Do Yoga

There may be a universal practice among parents of young children. When you spend energy on problems like deciding who’s going to turn on the light with a 2 year old, and negotiating toy sharing with a 4 year old, and learning to read with a 6 year old, and doing “new math” homework with an 8 year old, and driving to daily sports events with a 10 year old, and getting any of them to sleep properly after Daylight Savings, there’s no energy left to deal with uncomfortable clothing. Thus, “activewear” has become the standard, comfortable, wear-everywhere parental uniform.

Forget going to the gym in this activewear. Besides, we’re active enough chasing, driving, and cleaning up all day long, with no energy left at the end of the day to drive ourselves somewhere too. Yoga pants are the perfect bottom to compliment any top, and to flatter any bottom. They’re so comfortable, you forget you’re wearing them, and with 1,001 things on a parent’s mind, being allowed to forget one thing is a blessed relief.

pants1I own eight pairs of yoga pants, and not one of them has ever done yoga. Yet, the knees are worn thin from playing on the floor, the ankles are scuffed from walking through parks, and the waists are stretched out from bending over to talk to small people. These pants define who I am when my kids are with me. I change into grownup clothes when I leave the house without my kids, but change right back when I get home. It’s more than just changing clothes; it’s putting on the role that I’m most comfortable wearing.

It’s funny how I can long for grownup time away, but when I’m there, it’s uncomfortable. My hands are so used to wiping runny noses, holding little hands, and shooing little feet in the right direction, that they don’t know what to do when no one needs them. I’m not sure what to talk about, if the conversation doesn’t include the alphabet, the ladybug crawling up my chair, or where the nearest bathroom is.

There’s another difficulty now, too. Big Sister and Miss Twin are becoming fashion conscious, and are seeing my yoga pants for what they are: Worn out, faded, black pants that I wear EVERYWHERE. They’re starting to comment on it, which makes me self-conscious about my once-comfortable identity, and leaves me wondering about more than just wardrobe, but about what kind of parent I am to be seen in public in such sloppy clothes, and what I’m teaching my daughters about their identities.

pants2My favorite bedtime story has always been “What Was I Scared Of?” by Dr. Seuss (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXblKdxmmfA). It’s about a pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them. Despite being empty, those green pants have an identity, which is misunderstood, at first. The pants and the character they scare both have to grow before the happy ending. Maybe I need to ask the same thing of my yoga pants. What am I scared of? (Shopping with daughters who might, someday, have more fashion sense than I do? Definitely.) In the meantime, am I scared of growing back into my own identity? Of taking risks and sounding silly and making mistakes? (It’s kind of like middle school again.)

Maybe it’s time to grow out of my yoga pants. I’m still discovering what I’m growing into, but I know that I don’t want my pants to be pale green with nobody inside them. I want to inhabit them, be confident in my identity in them, and show my kids how to wear their own pants. After all, they have the first round of middle school coming up too soon.

Three’s A Crowd

I have a lot of children. There are four small bodies (Big Sister, Mr. Twin, Miss Twin, and Little Sister), but they group, and scatter, and regroup into many more combinations. There are The Twins, and The Should’ve-Been-Twins. Big Sister and Mr. Twin have more matching genetics than the actual twins, including both being left-handed (Miss Twin is right-handed), matching dispositions (Miss Twin is opposite), and even a matching hairline and cowlick, according to our kid stylist at the last haircut appointment.

Kid Pinwheel1We have One + Twins, and Twins + One. I can solve the ongoing debate about which order is easier: Twins + One. They already know how to share, and after you’ve held two crying babies, and worked out which non-walker to leave in the car on a cold winter day while you take the other inside, and potty-trained two toddlers, one little body is a plain old piece of cake!

We have a Big Sister who’s as comfortable wrestling in the mud as she is wearing a skirt and playing Barbies, and boy/girl playmates who are happy to oblige either mood. Little Sister is now 2 years old, and eager to join in playtime (or, at least, walk off with the big kids’ stuff), so we have an ebb and flow of 2 + 2, or 3 + 1, or, on really spectacular days, 4 + 0, which means Daddy and I get to sit down to read a book and drink coffee! It might last 5 minutes, but that’s an improvement.

Kid Pinwheel2There was a time when I was thrilled that we had gotten three kids for the price of two, and I thought our family was complete. Then, Little Sister defied every odd and redefined all of us. The miracle combined with the four-year age gap made me wonder if she would be more spoiled than the others. Discipline was easy with them, because it’s survival when you’re outnumbered 3:1! Everyone had the same rules, everyone was told “no” when they asked for things in a store (or, sometimes, “I’ll remember that for Christmas”), and everyone saw everyone else have the same rules. Being outnumbered then created the reward now of being able to take three kids to Toys R Us, and having an enjoyable time shopping for someone else’s birthday present!

Then, bring on one adorable small girl, with a grin and a “pleeeeeaaase” to melt any grownup’s heart, and I thought my resolve might buckle. The first time she tried to work her charm on me, my instinct replied before I could even think about it, “Nope, not today,” and she said, “Ok.”

Wait. What?!

Kid Pinwheel3Maybe parenting is like riding a bike. We get on with no idea how to steer, we wobble, we fall down, we try again, we scrape a knee, we hit a wall, we ride, we go with the flow, it becomes second nature—and when someone shows us a new bike, we find the pedaling isn’t all that different. I also have three big kids keeping me accountable, so being outnumbered still works.

I used to plan my day, my week, my life by the minute. I had charts and to-do lists and expectations as high as the sky. Then, I had three babies in two years, and survival took all my energy. I think Life taught me a lot during that time, but just to make sure I really got it, Life handed me a fourth baby. I’m finally starting to appreciate the ebb and flow. Some days, parents know best. Some days, kids might know best. (Let’s not discount their wisdom just because we have more years on them.) Some days, it feels like Snow White’s Dwarves have moved in, with a Grumpy, a Happy, a Doc (who knows everything), and a Sleepy, and just when I’m used to that, they switch roles. Some days, I’m patient and wise. Some days, I slam doors too loudly and talk too much without listening. Some days, we make a fantastic team, and some, we fail miserably, brush ourselves off, and try again. The great thing about ebb and flow is that it averages out.

I have happy memories of all the fun things I did with my crowd of three, and I assumed that I would do the same things with Little Sister. But, I don’t. The sanity-saving family music class, which got four of us out of the house, is too far to drive for just two of us. The gymnastics classes that burned my preschool crowd’s energy don’t work with my big kids’ activity schedules. Instead, we’re doing new things, like rambling in the woods more, and going out for lunch (it’s possible with one toddler, but not two toddlers + a four year old!), and living spontaneously. I felt like she might be missing the opportunities the other kids had, but, then, I realized that we’re creating different happy memories. Quite often, Little Sister wants her brother and sisters’ help more than she wants mine. In short, I’m not the center of her universe, like I was for my Trio.

20150621-PlambeckFamily-7I’m not always the center of theirs anymore either. Little Sister has taken on the job of waking up the big kids for school. She recently held up her hand to stop me, and said, “No, Mommy. You sit back. I wake up.” She did, and Big Sister reported that she likes it better when Little Sister wakes her up than when I do. I say that’s a win-win. Three’s a crowd, but there’s room for a fourth, and I’m starting to understand the ebb and flow of parents stepping back and kids stepping up. It’s a new journey, on a new bike, but pedaling feels pretty much the same.

Full Circle

photo 1Do you hear that? It’s the sound of this rusty old blog opening up again. The dust covers are coming off with a snap. There’s still dust in the air, but I think it will settle. It’s been 2 ½ years since I wrote. My last entry was a bit of a pout about how life was changing. Oh my, has it changed! Now that my hindsight is 20/20, I’m so grateful. Big Sister, and Mr. and Miss Twin were the stars in the old entries, and we’ve now added a Little Sister, who entered onstage in a pretty dramatic way (https://abbyplambeck.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/a-trio-becomes-a-quartet-but-wheres-the-music/). Now that she’s here, we can’t imagine life any other way.

When I last wrote, Big Sister had just started kindergarten. Now, she’s almost 8 (going on 13). Mr. and Miss Twin were 3 and had just started preschool. Now, they’re in kindergarten. Little Sister was just a grainy, black-and-white photo; a surprise, then an insurgent, then a hope, then a miracle. Now, she’s a toddler, and I’ve come full circle, back to the experiences written about in my previous entries, and needing to consult my own advice!  (In particular, how to get a toddler to eat: https://abbyplambeck.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/dinner-in-a-cupcake-tin/)

I’ve come full circle, but with a new perspective. When I had three children ages 3 and under, I couldn’t imagine life being any harder. Well. Now, I know it can be. Despite twin potty training calamities and applesauce poured down a heat vent, I actually had a lot of control over our life. I determined where they went and when, what they ate, when they went to bed, which art projects they did, and who they played with.

Now, we’re into a new stage, when they’re in school and activities, and out of my sight most of the day. I can no longer see what they eat for lunch, monitor who they play with (and fight with) at recess, and hear what they whisper about in the library. They’re coming home with new ideas, challenging questions, changing bodies, and a whole new social life, which wears out this introverted mom way more than twin toddlers did, because it’s something more than physical exhaustion, it’s mental and emotional too. My to-do list is insane, the phone is always ringing, the emails are always dinging, the papers are always overflowing my counters, and the children are always hungry!

Yet, I keep volunteering. Why? Because I still want to be part of their daily lives. Because I want to know who their friends are. Because I’m fascinated by how my babies are turning into people, with their own dreams and questions and brilliance and mistakes, and I want to watch the process and learn from it too. I used to despair over a messy house. That mess hasn’t changed much, but now we’ve added emotional messiness, and that’s certainly harder to clean up.

Now, when my 2 year old dumps out a bin of toys, or demands chocolate at 7 a.m., or colors on my walls, it’s easier to take it in stride and to set boundaries. I see the results in the older kids, and hindsight has shown me that this innocent stage is short and sweet. Little Sister is already catching up to them way too quickly. I learned with small twins that every stage has its pros and cons, and the grass always seems greener elsewhere. I feel pretty blessed to be able to compare the grass on both sides of the fence now, and to find sweetness on both sides. The applesauce is still in the heat vent, and serves as a reminder that not everything can be cleaned up perfectly, and that’s okay. It also makes great blackmail for Mr. Twin. 😉

A Trio Becomes A Quartet, But Where’s The Music?

Sometimes, I write to figure things out, and, sometimes, I have to figure things out before I write.  The latter is what has been happening with this blog since my last post in June. We received the shock of our lives just before July 4th: We’re having another baby! I had been celebrating Independence Day in all of its aspects, especially the new independence of our Trio of kids, and one tiny strip with two little blue lines changed the course of our family in a moment. The irony and miracle is that we needed fertility treatment to get the other three and then I had my tubes tied. Wait. What??!! Yes, I’m the first person in my doctor’s address book to have this happen. I’ve always been a big fan of Serendipity, but She clearly went overboard this time.

My summer writing plans were replaced with throwing up in the kitchen sink, falling asleep at odd times of day, and making plans to borrow back all the baby gear I had just given away. Then came September, which was a momentous time in our house since Big Sister (now the eldest of two Big Sisters) started all-day kindergarten and Mr. and Miss Twin started preschool. I was not at all prepared for how labor intensive kindergarten would be—for me! The kid is doing great, but I’m still trying to catch up with all the forms to be signed, volunteer hours to be given, nickels and dimes to be spent, gym socks and rest towels to be washed, lunches and snacks to be packed, and library books to be read and returned. The learning curve is smoothing out a bit now that we’re two months in, and I hope this means I’ll be a pro next time when I’ll have two kids starting kindergarten at the same time.

So, after finally catching my breath from all that (which is getting harder with an expanding tummy to tote around), I realized that it had been 5 months since I had blogged. Dear readers, thank you for your patience and for your gentle inquiries about whether there would ever be another update. For this one, I figured I’d just tell it like it is. Simon Cowell would call this post indulgent, but motherhood has so little indulgence in it, that maybe all of us are entitled once in a while. I admit I went through a stage of resentment too, and took a page from my toddlers by having a temper tantrum. I had been looking forward to this new era with older, more independent kids as my time to get back to writing and my grownup goals. (We’re almost done with twin potty training, for goodness sake!) Instead, here we go again with sleepless nights, diapers, and (sigh) more potty training. Therefore, I pouted and decided to not write at all. The great thing about you, wonderful readers, is that you keep me accountable and continually remind me that this babe will just give me more stories to write.

In fact, she already is. I knew from the beginning that it was a girl, which was recently confirmed, and it’s serendipitous that my Trio all said from the start that they wanted a sister. Our dear Mr. Twin is going to grow up to be a very sensitive man! Miss Littlest Sister already has a story to tell about her beginning, and I have a feeling she’s going to burst into the world, not come quietly. There’s obviously a reason for her existence and I can’t wait to see what it is, and how she brings change, balance, and adventure to our family. Stay tuned for the ongoing story, but if the wait here becomes too long, then please join me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/abby.wojahnplambeck?ref=tn_tnmn) for daily updates.

I would love to hear about a time in your life when you thought you had it all figured out and Someone Else changed the plan. How did you cope? Did the change take you down a different path that you otherwise wouldn’t have tried? Is your life more challenging or more meaningful (or both?) because of it?

Top 10 Ways To Survive The Winter Blues (AKA: You Can’t Play Outside and Everyone Is Sick and You’ve Had It Up To Here and What Can You Do With These Children?)

By: Abby Plambeck

10. Read https://abbyplambeck.wordpress.com/other-adventures/adventures-just-for-fun/. 🙂

9. If everyone is home sick and your to-do list is on hold, use the day to sort outgrown toys. One sick day, we brought up four big bins of old toys from the basement and dumped them all over the house. My kids loved making a mess, it kept us occupied all day, and I felt like I got something done. And if your kid pukes on a pile of toys, like my Miss Twin did, well, they need to be sanitized before you can donate them anyway!

8. Soak up sunshine whenever you can. We all feel the effects of too many gray days in a row. Check the weather forecast and plan ahead to get outside or go for a drive in the sunshine. It’ll perk up everyone’s mood!

7.  A drive with the music turned up can revive spirits too. If it’s too cold or kids are too sick to get out of the car, plan a drive-through errand to the bank or to pick up prescriptions or dry-cleaning. (Lollipops are a bonus at the bank, and you’ll feel better having accomplished something on your to-do list.) I’ve always assumed music in the car meant Wheels on the Bus, which does more to kill my spirit than revive it, but I learned recently that my kids are pretty excited about hearing my music too. Score! Our last car ride was spent headbanging to Chris Daughtry, which made us all giggle and restored our goodwill.

6. If your door is closed to visitors because of illness, look at it as a license to make a mess! Get out the fingerpaints and Play-Doh (or Crayola’s window markers: http://www.crayolastore.com/), have a picnic in the living room on fun dishes the kids aren’t usually allowed to use, get out some big boxes and make a train, or let the kids get creative with wrapping paper and duct tape. We’ve found those days are good for tackling our (seemingly endless) garage-full of boxes that need to be broken down and put out for recycling. Again, it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something and keeps the kids occupied at the same time!

5. Have a pajama day and bake lots of decadent cookies and cakes. The aroma of baking makes a house feel cozy and kids love to help in the kitchen. You can even make it educational by teaching them math skills with measuring cups and spoons. My kids all started helping in the kitchen at age 2, and I’m continually amazed by what they can actually do. My 4 year old can crack eggs better than I can some days! For easier baking, keep a few box mixes on hand or use an Easy Bake Oven. We’ve had some pretty good things turn out from ours, although we’ve had better luck with using two packages of mix for thicker cakes. There are also recipes online for Easy Bake recipes from scratch, which taste even better (http://www.eborecipes.com/). The bonus with baking is that you can follow it with a tea party!

4. Go camping inside. If you have a tent, set it up in the living room, or make one with blankets and chairs. Get out sleeping bags, make S’mores in a fireplace or microwave, and tell camping stories by flashlight inside the tent. If you have family camping traditions or special foods, introduce your kids to them now so they’ll be ready for real camping in the summer!

3. Look around your area for unusual places to have fun. Did you know that Home Depot has a free workshop for kids ages 5-12 on the first Saturday of every month? (http://www.homeimproverclub.com/kidsworkshops.aspx) Check with your local Recreation Department, fitness centers, craft stores, libraries, police and fire stations, and music stores/schools. We even have a furniture store in Southeastern Wisconsin (Steinhafels:http://steinhafels.com/), which has an indoor play area, free cookies and coffee, whimsical animal home accessories to look at, and car-shaped strollers that hold two kids. If you can find a reason to shop for furniture or home decorating, it’s a great alternative to McDonald’s playland!

2. This sounds like an awful suggestion, but it can actually be fun. Clean your house! There are always closets to be reorganized, or deep dusting needed behind appliances, or paint touchups, or pictures to hang. My kids might be crazy, but they love to help with those things. My 4 year old tackled giant dust bunnies with me for an hour one day when I got manic enough to pull out the fridge and stove. Mine also like to help measure and draw lines on the walls whenever I hang a picture. It’s a great way to accomplish something and teach your kids math and life skills at the same time. Depending on your house, paint touchups might be a grownup job. We’re lucky to have orange peel-textured walls, which are constantly bumped and scraped. If my kids get messy at slapping the paint back on, it actually looks better with the texture!

Here’s the bottom line to all the above suggestions: Kids love anything out of the ordinary. Even if it feels like work to grownups, kids think it’s special and want to be included. It takes discretion, but instead of feeling annoyed at their pestering to help, consider that they might actually be able to. I bet you’ll be surprised at how much even a toddler can do. I know I’ve been!

1. Do whatever it takes to get some alone time. That’s when you recharge yourself, so you have something to give to your family. Moms are great at being longsuffering, but if we do that too much, we and everyone else will suffer long! I get pretty snarly when I constantly take care of others without addressing my own needs, but just a little time away gives me perspective and I come back eager to give again.

A bubble bath after the kids go to bed is always an option, but sometimes you need more than that and it might take some creativity to find it. If a daddy, babysitter, or grandparent isn’t immediately available, look around your area for any place that offers childcare. That could be a health club, the YMCA, or a Moms-Day-Out meeting (like MOPS: http://www.mops.org/).

My most desperate moment happened one September day when our daycare was closed for 2 weeks due to flooding, our grandparents were away on vacation, our babysitter had gone back to college, and Daddy had to work long hours. Our YMCA has childcare for a couple dollars an hour, so I packed up the kids and a book, stopped at Starbucks on the way, dropped the kids off in the playroom, smiled when the staff told me to have a good workout, and sat in a quiet corner to read for an hour! It was just one hour, but it restored my sanity and made me a much better mom for the rest of that week stuck at home. Of course, guilt tried to creep in, but I kicked it back by remembering that the kids had fun, the YMCA made some money off of us, and we use the Y for its intended purposes often enough to justify that one sanity-saving moment.

Parents use plenty of creativity to keep our kids content. Let’s use it to keep ourselves well balanced too, because happy parents make the happiest kids. Post a comment about how you handle long days at your house, or something outrageous you’ve done to keep your sanity!

Then and Now

A few days ago, I found a big, thick envelope in my mailbox that made my heart lurch. The return address was our local school district and I knew something that big could only be kindergarten registration. After living with three children age 4 and under, this is fabulous. And awful. That surprised me. It’s one thing to wish desperately for something when there’s no chance of it happening, and quite another to suddenly have it handed to you and have to pony up. So, in the spirit of courage, I thought it would be fun to look at Then-and-Now photos to find out where the time has gone, and if we’ve really grown big enough to have a kindergartner and two preschoolers. I’m pretty certain my kids are ready, but I’m not so sure about me!

 

A sweet small princess...

...has become a big princess, who knows how to pose!

 

Sweet sleeping babes...

 

...have become big kids who play hard, then crash on the floor to recover!

 

Our Mommy-powered transportation...

  

...has become kid-powered. Yay!

But our sports haven't changed a bit.

 

 
 

Big Sister's cute clothes...

...now fit Little Sister.

 

But so fun to see small grr-animals...

...grow into big kids who know why they're dressed up.

 

Finally, our reading materials have progressed...

 

...into something that might need further investigation!

 Yes, I think we’re big enough for the next adventure!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dinner In A Cupcake Tin

“Unquiet meals make ill digestions.” ~ William Shakespeare

I’ve given up on having family dinners during this stage of our lives. I know how important they are for raising well-mannered, confident, happy children, but it’s no use. Most nights of the week, our Daddy has to work long past dinnertime. The twin 2 year olds only sit still for 2 minutes, and while I could put my foot down and make them sit longer, I think there’s a reason why timeouts are recommended as one minute per year of age. That’s how long their attention span is! On the nights when Daddy is home, by the time we finish the marathon of dishing out three plates, filling milk cups, cleaning up spills, and filling our own plates, the kids are done and begging for release just as we sit down. We learned quickly that bored toddlers at the table will shriek, jump, spill their milk, bonk their heads when they retrieve their cups, and cry. If they’ve eaten their fair share, quite frankly, we’d rather set them free and have a quieter grownup meal.

The joys and pains of being a stay-at-home mom to three kids age 4 and under mean that we love each other dearly in the morning, we’re still good friends by lunchtime, and by dinnertime, we’ve all had enough of each other! So we adapt. We often have better family meals at lunchtime, and Daddy can still participate when he’s off work. Or, if we’re out-and-about at a fun place, we take a break from playing and talk about our adventure while we eat. More bonding is accomplished during those times than during the war zone of our evening dinner table.

Our favorite adaptation is “the picnic.” Especially on the nights when Daddy works late and I’d like to make a decent grownup meal without the kids careening through my kitchen, I turn to our new blue cupcake tins and a TV show. (Because the metal tins were used so much they got rusty!) Each kid gets their own tray with six food choices, always several healthy ones, but usually a treat too. I think everyone should have the choice occasionally to eat desert first, and my kids do. However, they always eat all the healthy foods as well, and they often quote my advice back to me, “Eat healthy food first and then have a treat.” I hope my kids will have a healthy relationship with food as they grow up, and it seems they’re on their way. Neither binging, nor deprivation, just moderation.

I agree that kids should eat what they’re given and not treat my kitchen like a restaurant. However, with twin 2 year olds who eat the same 4 things every day, but not the same 4 things as each other, I do make room for accommodation to save my sanity and my eardrums. Thus, Mr. Twin gets more fruit and Miss Twin gets more cheese. I’m so glad I have Big Sister to continually remind me that the twins are in a phase and it too shall pass. She eats all kinds of foods now, and while her loves and hates change every day (apparently, the 4-year-old stage), she’s much more open to trying new foods than she was 2 years ago. Since their tastes continually change, I finally learned to not make mealtime a battleground. We have enough other battles in a day!

While we’ve adapted to raising twin cavemen, I see their progress every day toward civilized human beings. That gives me hope that we will one day have family dinner times, and will turn out well-mannered, confident, happy kids–who will then dash off to soccer games, friends, and homework, and Daddy and I will still have our grownup meals. 🙂

“Meals, in the sense in which we understand this word, began with the second age of the human species.” ~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

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