Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Since Fran and "Pierre" exposed us to the flu (we're not bitter... No, really, we're not. Fran reads el blogo, I wouldn't mention it if we were) we decided to avoid our friends with small children and keep our germs to ourselves tonight, which meant missing several family-friendly parties to which we were invited (Tammy, Purity, Jenny - I hope you're having fun without us!! No, really, I mean it, they read the blog, too).

We went to dinner at TGI Friday's, saw my favorite waiter in the world (Kip!), and had a great meal, just the four of us (Bumpa's working). Then we headed across the parking lot to Chuck E. Cheese for some video games (they've expanded, and it sucks a little less). (Jeez, 2009 is shaping up to be the year of the parentheses already...). Came home, got the girlies to bed (see ya next year, babiez!), BJ went out in pursuit of Ben & Jerry's, and when he gets home we're going to watch Tropic Thunder.

We know how to party.

I just wanted to take this minute to wish you a happy 2009! Thanks for spending some of your time with me this year. It means a lot to have so many people interested in our little world, here. I hope that I've made you laugh, and if not, that I've made you think, and if not, that I've at least made you say, "Awww..." at my kids' pictures.

I hope your 2009 is full of playdates and laughter, Goldfish and Koolaid, friends and family, string cheese and chocolate milk, parties and gymnastics and school and politics and opinions and more blessings than your heart can hold.

I just realized that I almost posted this to my mom's blog. Whoops!

And finally, here's one last picture of the girlies in 2008 - taken today, as they were rockin' the extremely cute suits that Aunt Amanda sent, which accidentally got mixed in with a pile of hand-me-downs from my awesome neighbor Chelsea, and which I'm glad I found before the end of the year, because it was seriously tacky of me not to thank her sooner for them. Thanks Amanda! You have excellent taste in Cute Suits!

Aren't they cute? Trust me, they're twice as cute when they're sleeping.

Happy New Year! BJ's home, and he, Ben & Jerry and I are going to curl up with Ben Stiller and Jack Black. It sounds more exciting when I put it that way...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Last Tuesday of 2008

I really find it hard to believe that 2008 is winding to a close. Time flies. I wonder if it's a function of having kids - they grow and change so much in a short amount of time, that the years start to fly by as they get bigger. (The first year, however, lasted at least a decade with both of them).

We put away the crib for the first time since August of 2005. Claire is now in a twin bed (set on the floor so she doesn't roll out and smash herself). The "nursery" - which can no longer technically be called a nursery, it's "the kids' room" - looks very, very weird. When we moved the bookshelf to make way for Claire's new bed, BJ said, "This bookshelf has been here MG's entire life."

It was funny, the first night in the new configuration, Mary Grace noticed that the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling (which have also been there her entire life), made an M over where the crib used to be. She was so surprised. BJ and I just laughed, because that M and that G have been there for 3-1/2 years.

3-1/2 years. It's like the last semester of her senior year of being a baby. She's even got senioritis - refusing to do things (like talk like a big girl) that she mastered a year ago. Skipping class, staying up way too late...

And Claire, our little sophomore. Getting cuter every day. Developing a will, a strong personality, a sense of humor...

Is it wrong to think I might want another baby, just because I don't really like the way the house feels without a crib?

2009. Claire will turn 2 in March. Mary Grace will turn 4 in August. Our business will be 6 years old in February. BJ and I will celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary (so, we've got a masters' in being married!) in May. (Nice and linear - 2-4-6-8 - I like that. What will we start this year, so that two years from now it'll be 2-4-6-8-10?) It wasn't so long ago that celebrating a monthaversary was about as far as I got with anything (jobs, relationships, etc.) and here we are, several years into everything we're doing. You'd think we'd be used to it, this far in, but sometimes I still think, "Really? Have I been a mother this long? Have we had our business this long? Have I been a wife this long? Where'd the time go??"

BJ says that we're in the prime of our lives, and I feel it too. I feel like these are the years we'll re-live through stories when we're old. These are the posts that I'll come back and read over and over, so that I can remember the "best years." Is that pessimistic, that it may be all downhill from here, or optimistic, that these are the "good old days"? My mom says each decade in her life gets better - her 30s were better than her 20s, her 40s were better than her 30s, and her 50s are the best years yet.

I can't help but think about time, this time of year. I don't want it to go by too quickly, but I'm excited about what the future holds. It's time to reflect, time to appreciate, time to make plans, time to look forward with anticipation.

What are you looking back at, and forward to, as we approach New Years?

To anyone in or near Northwest Indiana - I have a friend looking for a pediatric nephrologist up there for her 10 year old. Recommendations would be helpful. E-mail me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Just one thing...

Today is Monday. I mostly did housework, and we bought Bumpa's birthday present. I just have one thing to say today:

How can four people, two of whom are relatively small, produce SO much LAUNDRY?????

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What's Wrong With Education

I come from a long line of teachers. My college degree was in teaching, and my brother and sister are both teachers. Mom majored in ed, too, and taught here and there. Grandma taught. Great-grandma taught, back when a teacher had to be a single woman and she couldn't ride in cars with men other than her brother or father... Both of my in-laws are retired teachers, and their families are similarly peppered with lots and lots of teachers.

And so, when we get together we tend to talk about teaching, especially since Megan and Chuck are teaching now. We got together yesterday for lunch to celebrate Christmas with our dad, and the subject turned (returned) to teaching.

I wanted to put some of my ideas down here... Maybe the right person will come across them, someday. Maybe someone with the power to change things will see what I've written and change things, because things really need to change.

I think the whole problem with education stems from the idea that things must be "fair." For example, Megan was grading ISTEP tests, and a girl had gotten an answer correct, in the written portion of the exam, but had written it in the wrong place. The answer was marked wrong.

I understand the reasoning behind this - if one grader marks it correct, but another marks it incorrect, it's not "fair" so in order to be "fair" all answers must be written on the correct line or they're marked wrong, nevermind whether or not the results are indicative of the child's actual knowledge or ability.

It's right to try to be fair, but there comes a point where being too fair ends up being a disservice to all kids, rather than a service to some.

Hasn't anyone else noticed that our schools have performed inversely with respect to the amount we've relied on standardized tests? In other words, the more and the longer we focus on standardized tests (which are extremely "fair" because all of the answers are either right or wrong), the worse our schools get?

Does it strike anyone else that very few things in life actually have right or wrong answers? That most things worth thinking about come in shades of gray? That we'd be better off teaching our kids how to think, rather than how to memorize, even if one's ability to think is difficult to assess and grade?

Think about it. Facts are everywhere. I can use my cell phone from virtually anywhere to find any fact I'm going to need in a matter of moments. It's virtually useless for me to memorize taxonomy (kingdom, phylum, etc. - which I had to do in Bio 101 in college a few years ago - and now I can't remember a single bit of it), when I can look up whether my cat is a Felis domesticus or not (which I just did, thanks) from anywhere if it comes up. Unless you're planning on making a living by being on Jeopardy, it doesn't much matter. However, teaching kids whether it's more reliable to find that info on wikipedia or on or on Encyclopedia Brittanica's website, teaching them how to think in terms of classifying similar things similarly, maybe giving them a dozen imaginary plants and animals, and having them come up with their own taxonomy for those things based on their characteristics - wouldn't that be more useful to 99% of students (excluding the 1% who are going to go on to be taxonomists, biologists, or maybe veterinarians...)? I think so. But it's harder to make up a dozen creatures/plants and to evaluate a project like that than it is to give a multiple choice (or multiple guess) quiz on the structure of taxonomy, etc. and since taxonomy is part of the state standards at some level, and it's going to be on the ISTEP eventually, the kids have to memorize it, and then promptly forget it a few years later.

We need to let go of this idea of fairness, and allow teachers to subjectively evaluate their students, and to trust them as professionals to give lawmakers and school boards an accurate picture of public education (just as we trust professional doctors to give lawmakers and medical boards an accurate picture of public health) in order for them to do their jobs. Otherwise we end up with generations of kids who are extremely useful for filling in little bubbles with #2 pencils, and not much else.

We need to return to the classical model of education that worked for centuries. We need to teach kids about their culture, through reading the Great Books that Everyone Agrees are Important (Shakespeare et. al.). We need to teach in the Socratic method - through careful questioning and investigation, rather than rote memorization and repetition. We need to teach kids how to THINK instead of how to take tests.

Because since I've been an adult, I've had to think quite a lot, but no one has handed me a #2 pencil and told me to fill in bubbles in a very long time.

We need to teach kids how to write without using text messaging-ese and slang, so that if they ever do have the great good fortune to come up with an original thought, they will then be capable of communicating it to the rest of the world. We need to engage them in a way that makes reading and learning more rewarding than watching TV and playing video games, or surfing the web (and good luck with that).

We need to teach our kids to think scientifically - to look at something, develop a hypothesis, test it, revise the hypothesis based on the results of the test, test it again, revise again, etc. until they come up with a theory that's as close to the truth as we can approximate (remember, gravity is still just a theory...).

We need to teach our kids to be curious. But unfortunately it's hard to grade curiousity, and it's easy to bore them half to death with random facts (many of which are in dispute, anyway, so the schools play it safe by choosing the most boring version possible) which we can then test them on. History, for example, is a necessary pursuit - only when we know our history can we prevent its repetition or something like that, right? Well, I remember studying history in school, and it was BORING. It was usually taught by someone who was much more interested in coaching football than teaching history, and who treated it like a study hall where we read the book aloud to one another and then took quizzes and tests. YAWN. Only as an adult have I realized that there's a lot of good stuff in history - sex and greed and violence, comedy and tragedy, great acts of courage and humanity, coincidences that changed the course of the world... If history had been taught as a fascinating story, rather than a bunch of facts to be memorized, I might have spent less time writing notes to Jenny and more time actually learning.

Most of all, we parents need to realize that until the schools undergo a major sea change, the responsibility for all of this will rest with us, not the teachers.

And we need to go to a full year school curriculum, rather than the archaic agrarian practice of having summers off, so that the teachers don't have to spend the first month and a half of school playing catch up every fall.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kid Wars

To all who have been obsessively hitting "refresh" - I'm still here. I haven't posted since Thursday because I've been spending almost all of my time refereeing fights between my kids. Ah, the gods have senses of humor - just after I post the top 10 parenting rules, my kids have to go and prove to me that I have no freaking idea what I'm doing.

Here's how it went down...

Claire got a really cute Fur Real kitten from her Grandpa Ben for Christmas. It's the one on the left. It meows and purrs and kneads its paws, it is very sweet. Anyway, Mary Grace got about 10,000 presents, so it's not like she got socks and underwear and Claire got everything cool... but of course, MG is obsessed with Claire's kitten.

Claire was playing with it this morning, and MG took it away from her (for the dozenth time). I gave her a time out (again). There was a lot of crying and screaming in the time out (but she was on the step, I guess...). Claire, having the same tender, sweet heart that her daddy has, went over, sat down next to MG, and handed her the kitten... This after a day or three of having stuff taken right out of her hands, of being told, "NOOOOOOOO!!!" when she tried to play with one of the dozen Barbies that MG got, etc.

So what did my darling oldest daughter do when her baby sister handed her the kitty? She stood up, screamed, and hurled it onto the staircase, hitting the vertical part of a step about two feet up. The kitty bounced down the stairs and stopped working.

I went ballistic. I walked over and grabbed her by the arms, turned her around, and shouted at her. I'm not proud of this, but I was honestly livid. "Claire was trying to be NICE, she wanted you to feel better, and she gave you her kitty? And what did you do? You BROKE it! You are acting like a horrible brat, and I am sick. of. it. The next time you take something away from Claire, two princess Barbies are going in the garage, do you HEAR me? And if that kitty is broken, you are going to buy Claire a new one with your own money, now GO TO YOUR ROOM!"

I have never sent her to her room before, but I seriously wanted to tan her hide, and it was safest for both of us that she get as far away from me as possible at that moment.

Fortunately, the kitty wasn't broken. After about 5 minutes I got a very weepy Mary Grace down from her room, and we sat and talked. I told her that I would take her to buy a kitty just like Claire's with her piggy bank money, and that I was sorry I lost my temper. She apologized to me, and to Claire, and was honestly better for most of the rest of the day.

Of course the entire universe is sold out of that kitty, so we had to get one for her online.

It wouldn't be so hard if Claire were giving it back to MG as good as she gets, but Claire doesn't have a mean or selfish bone in her body. She doesn't want to take MG's stuff, she wants to play with her. She wants to be like MG, and liked by MG, and it just breaks my heart when MG spits in her eye instead. It makes that defensive streak that every mom has come out in me, and even though MG is just as much mine as Claire, I want to spank the snot right out of her.

I know it's normal. I know it's abnormal for Claire, at her age, to be capable of playing with MG - she should still be doing "parallel play," but she's socially advanced - probably due to having an older sister. I know it's normal for MG to think "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine..." I know it's normal for siblings to fight - I fought with mine and the three of us are extremely close today. But it makes me nuts. I have a very hard time following my own advice to "stay calm" and "avoid a battle of wills" when it comes to kid vs. kid evilness. Do we have to buy two of everything until they're a certain age?

I think we're strung out (like a broken strand of lights) on the holidays at this point. We're out of our routine, we're strung out on sugar and carbs, we're spoiled with new toys... We're in desperate need of getting back to normal around here, and I know we aren't the only ones. Don't get me wrong, we've had a super Christmas season, with minimal holiday-induced-insanity on my part, and lots of family and friends and food and fun... But I think we've had enough. As with most things, if you have too much merriness eventually it'll make you a little sick.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Blondes have more fun...

This was just the beginning of the Christmas dress-up clothes. For the rest of the day, Mary Grace wore a princess dress, high heels, and a crown.
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The Elmo Tabernacle Choir

By about noon, Claire and the Elmo Tabernacle Choir had about had it, and they passed out in the middle of the living room floor.
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Revisited

Last year I caused more than a little controversy by saying that we weren't going to do the Santa thing.

Those of you who disagreed will be relieved to learn that we ARE going to do the Santa thing this year. Here's why - Mary Grace has developed a belief in Santa all on her own, via the books she reads and the shows she watches, and we had nothing to do with it.

In previous years she has been terrified of Santa. One of the reasons I didn't want to tell her Santa was going to show up at our house in the middle of the night was that I was pretty sure she wouldn't ever sleep again. This year, however, thanks to the influence of Disney and the Muppets and a dozen books, she and Santa are buddies. When we went to the mall she asked me if she could go talk to him (and since there was no one else there, I said, "Sure!") and she and Santa had a nice little chat about God knows what.

We're keeping it low-key. Santa will bring one big gift for the two of them, and stockings. We're not going to do the reindeer "guts" and we're not going to shake sleighbells outside or put reindeer tracks on the roof. We're not going to use the NORAD Santa tracker. We may leave cookies out, if I remember, but Max will probably eat them.

Anyway, I thought that you all might want to know that we have revised our opinions. I know that there will be a great sigh of relief coming at us from several directions. If the girls get mad at us for lying to them when they're older, you know where I'm going to send them!

I hope that you all have more magic and love surrounding you today than your hearts can hold. I hope that you get everything you're wishing for. I hope that you're surrounded by people who love you. And if you're not, come on over, because once again I bought WAY too much food.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Ten Commandments of Toddler Discipline

I just finished reading a post over at Her Bad Mother which was the catalyst I needed to write this post that's been brewing in my head for a while.

If you're a new reader and you've found this post first, you really must read my other post on time outs before proceeding. If you don't, I will have to give you a time out. Click through, then come back.

Just so we're clear on my qualifications, I went to school to be a special ed teacher, so my classes included a lot of child psychology, applied behavioral analysis, etc. I also worked for a couple of years with kids that had mental handicaps and behavioral disorders - the most difficult population to work with, kids who were institutionalized (Dr. Phil says that we "abused" them, but that's another post for another day. Narg...). In addition to my education and work experience, I approached parenthood the way most people approach a Ph.D. I read everything. I read books, I read blogs, I went to a shrink and got parenting advice (the famous Dr. Dave).

Most of all, you don't have to listen to me if you don't want to. I would hate to tell you to do something that goes against your own values as a parent. I wish you could see, though, before you discount my advice, how well behaved and happy my kids are. I wish you could see how my 21 month old gives herself time outs (it's too funny). I wish you could see how well they behave when we're out in the world. I wish I could show you a time lapse of how we've gotten here. But since I can't, you're just going to have to trust me.

And with all of that preamble, here are the 10 Commandments of Toddler Discipline:

1) Transition carefully.
2) Time out correctly.
3) Stay CALM.
4) Aim for 80% consistency.
5) Remember your overarching goals.
6) Don't engage in a battle of wills.
7) Look for the root cause.
8) Define house rules.
9) Be flexible, don't be arbitrary.
10) Be realistic in your expectations.

Let's examine each in excruciating detail...

1) Transition carefully.

Imagine that you're at work. You're working on a project, let's say a report. Suddenly your boss busts in and says, "I want you to work on the financials right NOW!" When you say, "Ok, boss, let me just finish this thought," she says, "No, I said financials, now. You don't listen to me! What's the matter with you? You're fired."

Ok, even if you didn't get fired, would being told to stop what you're doing and start something else immediately or else freak you out? It would freak me out. One of the things you must do as a parent is transition your kids from one activity to another carefully. If we're getting ready to go to the store, and the kids are playing, I'll have them put on their shoes about 5 minutes before it's time to go, then I'll let them return to what they're doing. The shoes show them that we're about to go. I'll say, "Hey, that's a nice Lego wall you've built. You can finish it when we get home, but it's almost time to go to the store. We're leaving in 5 minutes..." That gives them time to finish their thoughts, and it gives me time to get everything ready (so I don't forget as much as I would if I left in a hurry!). By the time we're all ready to leave, we're all ready to leave.

Of course, you can't always do this. If the smoke alarm goes off, if you get a call that your loved one is in the Emergency Room, etc. But for most everyday transitions, it's possible to give warnings before a transition, and I promise it'll make your day much, much smoother if you get in the habit of doing so.

2) Time Out Correctly

I have written about Time Outs in detail, so I won't repeat it here. I would guess that over half of the parents I know are doing time outs wrong. If you're doing time outs wrong, they're not doing you, or your kid, any good. I often hear people complain that time outs don't work, and when we get down to technique it becomes clear that they're doing it wrong. Of course, people don't take kindly to a punk like me saying, "Try doing this instead of that..." instead. That's why I write it here. You all don't know I'm a punk...

3) Stay CALM

One of the biggest mistakes I see my friends make with their kids is that they get visibly pissed off, annoyed, frustrated, etc. with their kids. Think of it in terms of your spouse. Let's say you're disagreeing over what you should have for dinner. If your spouse comes in to the argument yelling, rolling his eyes, sighing heavily, waving his arms, and so on, how do you think that discussion is going to go?

If your kids see you dialing your emotions up a notch, they will dial their emotions up to meet your level. Then you dial yours up even more, then they do, and before you know it everyone's screaming and crying and hysterical.

Don't get yourself into this mess in the first place. When your kids are annoying the snot out of you, take a deep breath. Give YOURSELF a time out. Hand them off to your spouse. Do everything you can to remain even of temperament.

This one is so hard for me, because I naturally run hot and cold (people who know me are saying, "Ya think??") I don't do neutral. But I have done little experiments with my kids, where I get mad and they get madder and then I get even madder, and in the exact same situation the next day, if I stay calm while they get mad, I bring the level of calm back down to neutral. It's hard, but it's worth it and it pays off. Be the adult. Stay calm.

Also, it's safer for your kids if you stay calm. Bad things happen when good parents lose their cool. Remember in the parenting classes when they talked about how even good parents will get sleep deprived and a little nuts and the baby won't stop screaming and that's when shaken babies happen? Well, just because your kids get bigger, that doesn't mean that they're going to be any less crazy-making. Practicing the art of staying calm will keep your kids safer.

4) Aim for 80% Consistency

Dr. Dave gave me this one. I was complaining that I always thought that being consistent would be so easy, before I had kids... Then I had kids and I realized that being consistent is one of the hardest parts of being a mother.

Dr. Dave said that "experts" recognize that consistency isn't easy... And he says that if you aim for 4/5 times, or 80% consistency, you're being consistent enough. So, bedtime is 8:30. If you are out late on Friday night, and they don't get to bed until 10, you've still been "consistent" by getting the kids in bed Monday through Thursday by 8:30.

Recognizing that there's an achievable goal for "consistency" makes it a lot more possible to hit it. It even makes me more willing to try to hit it, actually. If someone told me I had to be 100% consistent, I'd say, "That's impossible," and I wouldn't even try.

Part of being consistent is having a rhythm to your days. Get up around the same time, eat around the same times, be active around the same times, rest around the same time. A routine, which I resisted for a long time with MG, but understand a lot more now that I have two, gives your days a predictable pattern, and kids do better when they can predict what's going to happen next (see above: transitions).

5) Remember your big goals.

My parenting mantra is "I'm not raising children, I'm raising future adults." In other words, some behaviors that are super cute in a nearly-two year old are going to be really obnoxious in a 12 year old or, God forbid, a 22 year old. I parent them with the idea in the back of my head that eventually I'm going to have to put them out into the wide world on their own, and it's going to be sink or swim, and I'm not going to be able to kiss away every boo boo anymore.

So how does my mantra inform my parenting? Well, for one thing, I let them make decisions. Letting them make decisions now will help them learn how to make good decisions, so that later when they're making all their own decisions, they're less likely to screw up. "Should we have corn or peas? Should we go to the park or the museum? Should we take Daddy a coffee or a donut?" I let them make small decisions. Yes, sometimes I let them make big decisions. I remember one day we didn't really have anything going on, and I was in the mood to go somewhere, so I said to Mary Grace, "What would YOU like to do today?" She wanted to go to the book store and the fish store, then get McDonald's for lunch and then go to the park. Sounded great to me! We had a great day (and incidentally, her behavior was awesome that day).

Sit down with your spouse and make a list of 3 or 4 overarching goals that you have for your family, and parent with those big goals in mind.

Also, when you're in a conflict with your kids, think about what you're teaching them. If you are locked in a battle over whether or not they're going to try their liver and onions, what are you teaching? If teaching them to try new things is important to you, as a family, it may make sense for you to require that they try a bite before you make them a PB&J. If you are merely trying to "win," or if you're just in a power struggle, you may decide that it makes sense to give in on this issue. After all, "don't eat things that look and smell foul," isn't the worst lesson you can teach your kids!!

Remember, I said 3 or 4 goals, not 30 or 40. These will change with time, as your kids age and develop into who they are going to become. Revisit them later. See how they're working, and what you're teaching, and maybe revise them to better fit your family and your life.

6) Don't engage in a battle of wills - you are outmatched.

Your kids have a stronger will than you do. If you accept this as a given, it's easier to stay out of battles of will with them.

We have all seen the kid whose parents have told him, "You can't leave the table until you eat your peas!" and he has sat there all night. Was that a TV show? I don't remember, but I remember the kid sitting there stubbornly all night, then being told that it was peas for breakfast, too.

Why bother? They're just peas. And your kid will sit there all night, too. There's no sense in putting yourself or your child into a position where one of you is going to have to give in.

Instead, look at yourselves as a team. Try to work together toward goals. If that goal is to be healthy, maybe say, "Hey, kiddo, peas are good for you, but I understand that you don't like them. Is there another fruit or veggie that you'd eat instead?" And maybe, if they hate peas enough to sit at the table and refuse to eat them all night, maybe it's worth not making peas anymore.

Meals tend to be a source of a lot of discontent in families. I have read in multiple sources that it's only realistic to expect a toddler to eat ONE good meal in a day. They average out their nutrition over a week, and most kids, if left to their own devices, will eat a fairly balanced diet over the course of that week, even though they may only eat bananas on Monday.

We can't force our kids to eat. All we can do is provide healthy foods at regular intervals, and allow them to choose to eat when it suits them. If you find yourself fighting about food a lot, ask yourself if it wouldn't be more sensible to just let it go. Trust your kid and his appetite. After all, we're raising a lot of obese kids in this country. All of this "Clean your Plate" may not be good for them.

When I was growing up, Mom required that we try one "no thank you" bite of each item offered, and if we still hated it, we were free to make ourselves a PB&J. I don't remember eating a whole lot of PB&J as a kid.

I try to make at least one item that I know my kids like for each meal. And we do "no thank you" bites too. Guess what? My kids are pretty good eaters.

One of the "rules" in our house is that we get two stories before bed. Well, sometimes MG asks for a third, and sometimes she has picked two fairly short books, so sometimes I give in. It falls within my 20% wiggle room. I'm still being consistent, but sometimes it's ok to give in. "Just this once," or "You were awfully good today, I guess so..."

What am I teaching them? That we value reading. That we're flexible. That sometimes good behavior is rewarded unexpectedly. And it's all the better if I give in before the whining/bargaining/cajoling phase sets in.

7) Look for the root cause.

A lot of toddler behaviors that drive us nuts (tantrums, whininess, etc.) stem from legitimate needs. If your child is hungry, tired, sick, overwhelmed, overstimulated, or hurt, her behavior isn't going to be as good as if she's well fed, well rested, well, properly whelmed, properly stimulated, and free of injury. If your child is driving you crazy, go through a mental list, "Did she get a good night's sleep? When was the last time she ate?" etc. and make sure that you're not punishing your child for having a need and being unable to effectively communicate it in a non-crazy-making way. It's hard for a three year old to verbalize, "I'm sleepy," but it's easy for her to throw a tantrum. What is she trying to communicate with her behavior? Are you listening?

8) Define house rules.

Kids can really only hold a few rules in their little heads at a time (especially when they're toddlers) so make them good ones.

We don't hurt people (or the pets).
We don't take other peoples' toys.
We use inside voices inside.
We don't jump on the furniture.

That's enough for your average two or three year old to work on. When she's mastered those rules, move on to more subtle rules. Teach your kids the rules, and have them repeat them back to you. (This is one that I honestly need to work harder on).

9) The rules need to make sense to a toddler.

Don't be arbitrary. Don't set house rules just for the sake of setting house rules. Remember that the rules you remember from your own childhood were in effect when you were older than two or three. You don't probably remember being two or three with enough detail to remember what your house rules were (and, incidentally, your parents probably don't either, so take it with a grain of salt when they say, "We always," or "I never let you...") Unless a rule has a deeper value underlying it, it's arbitrary and meaningless. We don't hurt people because we don't want people to hurt us. Basic golden rule. But what's the meaning behind "Don't touch Mommy's Hummels?" If Mommy's Hummels are accessible, Mommy's asking for them to be broken. Put them up until the kids are older. Ok, sure, the meaning might be "we respect other peoples' property," but that's a little too advanced for the age group we're talking about here. Keep things simple, and lead the children not into temptation... Put the breakables, the heirlooms, and the valuables away for now.

10) Be realistic in your expectations.

We're dealing with toddlers, here. Their brains are still forming. They don't have the reasoning skills to think through their actions and see consequences. They're learning that skill, and we need to teach them. Don't expect a two year old to handle any situation the way an older child or an adult would.

I see a lot of my friends treating their kids like miniature adults. This is a huge mistake. It sets you up for failure. They're future adults, sure. But right now they don't have the reasoning ability to understand complicated instructions. Right now, they don't have the self-control to handle boring adult situations. Right now they don't have the foresight to predict consequences. Set your expectations, and your rules, accordingly.

...ok, I just went out to the freezer to get peas, and my freezer is no longer freezing. The only reason anything's cold out there is because it's cold in the garage. SO, that's a project. Leave any questions or criticisms in the comments, and we'll dialogue. :)

I'm going to go hit my freezer with a hammer for a while.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Note to Self

Note to myself, to be read November/December 2009:

Unless you want to a) buy only square or rectangular gifts, or 2) spend the entire holiday season cussing and using entirely too much Scotch tape, don't ever, ever, EVER buy foil gift wrap again.

I know it's pretty and shiny, and it won't give you paper cuts, and it cuts really nicely, but for the love of God woman, step away from the foil. Paper. Paper works just fine. No, even if it's on sale. Don't buy the foil.

Just don't.

I said, "no."

I mean it.

Love & kisses,

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Holy carp is it cold outside! You walk out the door, inhale, and all of your nose hairs immediately freeze. It's insane. Just transferring stuff from my mom's house to our car, and from Mimi's house to my car, and then brushing the snow off of my car - it took me half an hour to warm back up. It's miserable out there.

We went up to Grammaland on Friday to have Christmas with Gramma Susan. Uncle Tim and Aunt Debbie came too, which was a nice treat. We had a lovely dinner, then opened gifts and laughed a lot together.

We spent the night at my mom's with the girlies. Then Saturday morning, after getting my alignment fixed (something I've been procrastinating for about a month, because last time I took the kids to the car dealership, they came out to go over the invoice with me and the kids snuck off and were coloring on the brand new cars with crayons) we left for Chicago. When we arrived BJ was beat, having only slept 12 hours or so since Wednesday (it was Saturday afternoon, remember), so I left him in the hotel room to rest while I did a little quick shopping and looked for a snack. I came very close to buying him a Lego Death Star, because it was 33% off. Unfortunately, it was still $200, even after the discount, and that seemed like an awful lot to spend on a toy. Even a cool toy...

After walking around for about 45 minutes, I returned to the bakery across from the Wyndham and got a couple of sandwiches for us. Of course BJ hadn't really rested at all, but at least I tried, and I managed to get BJ a couple of small gifts while I was out, so it wasn't a complete loss. After he rested, we walked to the department store formerly known as Marshall Fields (no, I won't call it by its new name, thankyouverymuch). On the way there I saw what I thought was a solid piece of slush covered ice. It wasn't. It was a puddle. And I leapt into it, and got soggy up to my ankles. So, I got a nice new pair of faux fur lined boots from TDSFKAMS. That, and a new pair of socks, was the only shopping we had time for. We looked at FAO Schwartz, on the fourth floor, and everything was 50% off (are they going out of business too? I can't find anything online about a current bankruptcy, but found quite a bit about them filing a few years ago...), but we really didn't need a gigantic stuffed dog ($150) or unicorn ($800), so we passed them by.

We missed the tree and didn't even consider the Walnut Room, but it isn't the same anymore, anyway. No Frangos. The era has ended.

We headed back to the hotel for happy hour in Bill and Chris's room, then we all went together to the show (Blue Man Group at the Briar Street Theater). Since there were 14 of us, we rode in this:

HAHHAHAHA! I'm not even kidding - we rode in a totally pimped out white Hummer Limo (Hummo? Hlimo? I don't even know...) It was only $10 per person, and the bellman said that it would be cheaper than taking four cabs. Isn't that funny? We felt like the shiz-nit. Heee!! The driver said that the most famous people he'd driven were Shaq and Miley Cyrus. They also apparently drive a lot for the Cubs and Sox, so he knew all the coaches and a bunch of the players. It was too cool.

We arrived right on time at the theater. The show was very strange (and not only because I'd had 3 or 4 glasses of wine in Bill and Chris's room!). Afterwards we walked (a mile and a half, whoops!) to a restaurant called Vinci where we had an amazing meal.

After dinner, we called the Hummo guy again, but he was busy (or we'd really annoyed him asking him about which famous people he'd transported) so he sent two regular limos to get us instead of the one big ol' limo. You know you've arrived when riding in a "regular" limo just isn't as cool. Kind of like when I worked for my mom and I got sick of prime rib, because I was eating it every weekend at the weddings. Hello, my name is Amy and I am spoiled.

We returned to the hotel and ordered a movie on the pay per view (wink wink). Ok, seriously, it was Get Smart, and we both fell asleep about halfway through. Do we know how to party or what? And what's really sad is that I didn't sleep well at all, because I kept waking up to look for the babies (and I forgot to turn the temperature down in the room, so it was way too warm for sleeping, oh the irony - I spent today freezing my buns off, even inside).

This morning we slept late, took our time getting dressed, and then met Scott and his family for breakfast at the Corner Bakery again. We headed back to Indiana to finish our shopping though - it's a 7% sales tax that will actually benefit us versus an 11.5% tax that benefits other people (people who, I might add, are terrible drivers as a whole). Hmmmm...

We went to the Toys R Us and got the last few things for the kids. I waited in line for years, and finally when it was my turn to check out, I stepped up to the register and the power went out. Remember that ice storm I mentioned the other day? Yeah. I guess the power lines just couldn't take it anymore. It wasn't long, though, before the power came back... Then we just had to wait for all the computers to reboot. That took a while.

After that I was ready to go retrieve my babies, so we headed back to Grammaland. Mary Grace was pretty glad to see us. Claire was asleep. Apparently she spent the night waking up about once an hour to look for us and scream, and wiped herself out. She took a 3 hour nap for Mimi.

Aside from a rough bit of sleep, it sounds like the girlies had big fun with Gramma and Pops and Uncle Chuck and Uncle Trey and Aunt Mimi, though.

We had a little bit of tenseness driving back. The snow was blowing up over the highway quite a lot, and I just kept waiting to hit a patch of ice and go spinning into the northbound lane. I did half the drive and BJ did the second half. Mary Grace slept. Claire watched Cinderella and whined. But we made it.

And it's almost bed time. Hooray!

How was your weekend?

(Confidential to U.D. - happy b-day!)

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Ice Storm Cometh

I'm in the large swath of the United States that is getting hit by an ice storm right now. I checked a little while ago, and it's raining ice outside. There's already a fine crust on all our patio furniture and outdoor toys. Nice.

This is going to put a real wrench in my holiday/weekend plans.

Just a reminder to friends IRL and family - if we lose power we also lose our phones, because we use VOIP (internet phone) so call our cells if you need us. I'm going to make sure I remember to put it on charge before I go to bed.

Don't worry about us - we have enough food to feed the eleventh infantry, wood for the fireplace, lots of blankets and books and toys, and even a clean toy room (!!!). We have candles and flashlights and everything we need. Walmart was an absolute zoo tonight when I stopped on the way home from work (thanks again, Grandpa Bob!!). The biggest concern is that BJ the Workaholic will try to go to work anyway and crash his car (I'm hiding his keys before I go to bed, too), or that we'll both go nuts from lack of internet (I can check my email and blogs from my phone!). Honestly, it would probably be good for both of us to "unplug" for a day or two - which means that it won't happen.

Maybe I should make coffee tonight so that we can heat it up over a candle if there's no power in the morning! One must have one's priorities, after all.

Is it nasty where you are? What are you doing to keep yourself and your kids from going stir crazy? Shoot - we have an electric oven, so if the power goes out we can't even make cookies! Does anyone have a recipe for Christmas cookies baked over an open fire?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bedside Manners

I just found out about a lawsuit in Chicago (via REBIRTH and between a woman who delivered a baby nine months ago and the doctor (Scott Pierce, MD - for my two Chicago readers) who, allegedly, treated her horribly. Click through for the details.

Being in labor makes a woman so vulnerable - you're scared and in pain and it's so hard, even for a woman who normally doesn't take crap from anybody, to be an advocate for herself. You really withdraw from the world, and into yourself, during labor. I am so sorry that this woman's birth was handled so horribly.

And I'm so grateful to my "support person" - BJ - for being such a wonderful advocate for me and for our babies. And I'm grateful that my doctor (if your local I'd be happy to refer you to him - email me) is a compassionate, caring man with very small hands.

I hope Catherine Skol wins her lawsuit and that Pierce is never able to afford malpractice insurance (and therefore can never practice obstetrics) again. I hope that she can send all five of her kids to college on the punitive damages that she wins, and have enough left over for a nice house and a bottle of champagne. Shame on anyone who says, "Healthy mom, healthy baby, what right does she have to sue?? It's going to make insurance rates higher for doctors, which will make care cost more, blah blah blah..." NO ONE deserves to be treated that way, no matter where they are or what they are doing. But to treat a laboring mother that way? Horrifying. Horrifying and sick and he should lose his license, even if only half of her allegations are true.

Together-Mom Revisited

.....and we're back! After talking to every human being who works at IBM, and more than a few computer voice mazes, over the past 36 hours I finally found someone who had a clue. He had me remove my battery, unplug everything, replug everything, and by golly, we have liftoff! Hallelujah, it's a Christmas miracle!

One person at IBM told me that it was going to cost $475+tax to fix this damn thing, so I am THRILLED beyond all sense - especially since I only paid $500 to begin with - that the fix was so simple. HOORAY!

Note to self, back up pictures today.

Anyway, back to the content, I just got this comment on my "Together Mom" post:
Good blog. It helps. Any comments on the "together moms" that appear to have "together kids" and a "together house"? Arrrrgggh! Each of my kids does only ONE activity (lesson, sport or music). My husband likes to see us all at the dinner table and honestly my whole family cherishes our stable family dinners. Plus, we have most Saturdays off to just sit by the pool or whatever. Is this why my kids didn't make the "Gifted Program"? I think they will still get into the local university when the time comes. Any thoughts?
Of course I have thoughts!

First of all, research shows that one of the best things you can do to insulate your kids from future problems (dropping out of school, getting pregnant at 13, using drugs and alcohol, etc.) is to have a meal with them regularly. This comes straight from Dr. Dave (who also informed me that popular ideas about parenting are about 20 years behind current research - we have to find a way to get that information faster! Preferably a way that doesn't require me to stay in therapy so that I can post them all here, because the co-pay went up, folks, and I can't afford Dr. Dave anymore!). The other thing, incidentally, is to teach them from an early age to help. If you have your kids set the table, for example, and say, "You're such a good helper!" that's good stuff. He said that if you only teach your kid one value, teach them the value of being a helper...

I digress. So, firstly, you are already doing something so right by having a family meal. Pat yourself on the back.

Second, there is no proof at all that having your kids in every possible activity will make them gifted. I firmly believe, as a former "gifted" student and someone who went to school to be a teacher, that giftedness is geneticly predetermined. There are things that you can do to give your kids a leg up (read to them, take them to science museums instead of movies, etc.), but your kid has an IQ range that is (probably) pre-set. No matter what you do, most kids are going to fall in the 90 - 110 range (that's why it's the middle - the scale is set up to be a bell curve) and all you can do is help them to achieve their maximum individual pre-set level.

In other words, I believe that everyone is born with a range that is determined by their genes. Environmentally, you can do things to help them achieve their maximum potential, but you're not going to be able to take an average kid and make him gifted, any more than you're going to be able to do something to make a kid with a mental handicap average. You have to work within the realistic boundaries of each child's abilities. You provide the environment, full of books and fun educational activities and opportunities to learn, and help them be the best person, the best student, the smartest kid that they can realistically be.

Also, having a high IQ isn't necessarily predictive of future happiness or success. I was in the gifted program in grade school and I dropped (flunked) out of the state university the first time. I was on the Dean's list when I graduated from the other state university, so I figured it out... It took time, though, and drive, and *I* had to do it - my parents couldn't do it for me. Meanwhile, my husband, who was never identified as "gifted" in school is now an actual rocket scientist. And "gifted" Amy? My maximum income in my life (before I decided to stay home and raise kids) was about $35,000 a year. Husband's starting income was almost double that. So, um... Don't hang your hat on the whole "gifted" thing.

I firmly believe that it's more important to teach your kids the value of helping, the value of hard work, the value of not giving up, and the value of being really good at one thing (instead of a "jack of all trades master of none" like me!), the value of problem solving (and how to do it), the value of scientific thought... than it is to have them be "gifted." All "gifted" really means, in the schools, is "we're going to stick this group of kids in a special class so that they aren't bored to tears in the other class." They're not giving out the keys to the kingdom in the separate class, either. I remember, mostly, doing those puzzles where you have five kids, five colors of hat, and five snacks, and given a few clues you have to figure out which kid has which hat and which snack. I promise that this has never, ever come up in actual life. Calculus, which I wish I knew, actually comes up occasionally. Puzzles? Not so much. Unless I'm doing a puzzle.

It's important for us, as parents, to figure out what our goals are for our children and to do things to help them reach those goals. What goal would be reached by being a 4 sport athlete? A prodigy at violin? A gymnast? A physicist?

Here's how it works in our everyday life for me - I have my kids in gymnastics because I am not someone who enjoys physical activity, and I want them to have a background of feeling good about exercise, feeling competent in activity, before they get to P.E. classes (which are designed to crush your soul and make you hate exercise forever - seriously, those uniforms? Puh-lease). When they're a little bigger, I will encourage them to play an instrument because I enjoyed playing (piano and cello) and it helped me appreciate music as an adult (even though I no longer play). It also helped me learn fractions when I was a kid. BJ is a black belt in ju-jit-su, and he wants to encourage our kids to pursue martial arts, because it is something that shaped his life. He feels that he learned valuable lessons from martial arts that he wants to pass on to our kids.

Will they do all of those things at once? Heck no. If Mary Grace turns out to be an Olympic caliber gymnast, I'll probably drop my plans for her to play an instrument. If it turns out that Claire loves the clarinet, I probably won't keep her in gymnastics. We have to have goals, but we also have to be flexible and allow them to select their own passions. We have a limited amount of time in a week, and we have to use it wisely.

As kids get older, they naturally start selecting their own activities more and more. As the parent of young kids, I'm hopeful that by listening to a lot of music I'll help them love music. I'm hopeful that by taking them to the gym a few times a week to play gymnastics, I'll help them be more coordinated than I am... But I have no illusions that I'm raising the next Mary Lou Retton or Yo Yo Ma, here. I just want them to be happy, interesting, well-rounded people. I feel that it's my duty to expose them to a lot of different activities so that when they're older they have a wide base of interests to choose from.

Plus, it all gets us out of the house.

When I saw Dr. Dave I was concerned that I wasn't a good wife, a good mother, or a good person. He had me list the things I thought a good wife/mother/person was. When I put, "A good mother has healthy kids," he said, "Wait a minute, that's not in your control. Is a mother with a child who has cancer a bad mother?" I said, "Of course not," and revised it to say, "A good mother obtains the best possible medical care for her kids - that's something I can control.

You can't control whether or not your kids are gifted, but you can provide an environment that allows them to maximize their potential. You're already doing this in having family dinners. Free time (as in, unstructured time to select their own activities/play) also helps children develop skills that will aid them as adults. Allowing them to choose one activity will help them learn to use their time wisely and be selective in what they pay attention to. Encouraging them to do well in school, by allowing time in your family schedule for homework, will help them do as well in their classes as they are able. Family activities that encourage exploration and discovery - trips to the science museum, the aquarium, the planetarium, the library - will help them become lifelong learners, and will help them associate learning with recreation.

Honestly, Anonymous, I think you're doing just fine.

As for the together moms with the together kids and the together house - I promise you that it's an illusion. We all get the same number of hours in a day, and as long as our activities are reflective of our values - if we spend that time making and eating a healthy family dinner together instead of running to the fourth activity of the evening and grabbing take out on the way - I think we're doing just fine. Those together moms may not have a healthy relationship with their husbands or their extended families, or they may be in major debt (financing all those activities and the cleaning lady to keep the house perfect!), or they may be on speed... Who knows? We're all doing the best we can, and at the end of the day as long as you are true to your core values - which seem to be family and togetherness - I think you're fine.

In our family, we value togetherness and connection. We value laughter and music. We value learning and science. We value enjoyable physical activity. We value good, healthy food. We value rest and "down time." We spend our time accordingly. Sounds like you do, too.

In my book, that makes you a "together mom" - even if you have dust bunnies under your sofa and your kids are in the "regular" classes. If I were a kid, I'd rather be in your family than some overscheduled family that never gets a chance to sit down and eat and laugh together. If you still feel like you're not measuring up, sit down with your husband and your kids (if they're old enough) and make a list of what your family values... Then figure out how you can structure your time to reflect those values more accurately. Be true to your core values, as a person and as a family, and stop trying to live up to some unattainable "ideal mom/ideal family" illusion. I promise you'll be happier as a result.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For cryin' out loud

I killed ANOTHER computer. Posting from my phone. If I'm out of touch, now you know why.

Survived the trip home from Grammaland last night but it took almost three hours. Skidded out on 2 and gave myself heart failure. Indiana needs heated highways.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reindeer What??

Tonight at gymnastics each child got a little bag of oatmeal mixed with glitter - "reindeer dust" to sprinkle on the lawn for Dasher, Dancer, et. al. to eat when they stop on Christmas Eve.

Mary Grace must have misheard. "Look, Daddy! Reindeer guts!" she screamed.

She was delighted. Either she doesn't know what guts are, or we're raising a future doctor. As having a kid who becomes a doctor is my long-term health insurance plan, this is a Very Good Thing.


"Ayeuuuvvvveeeewwww." It might not look like one of the sweetest sounds any parent could ever hear. It might not, at first glance, make your heart melt and tears gather in your eyes. But that's because you didn't hear Claire say it for the first time last night. I promise you that there are few sweeter sounds in this world.

I love you, too, Claire.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We interrupt this baking...

We interrupt bakefest 2008 to bring you an important bulletin...

A petition is being prepared for President-Elect Obama to establish more breastfeeding-friendly policies from the federal government (including paid maternity leave - something that other countries have months, if not a year, of, while we have 6 weeks, and you're lucky if they're paid). Please take a moment to go here and sign it.

Thanks! We now return you to your regularly scheduled sugar high...

Consuming Mass Quantities

The women of my family have warped me. I can't do Christmas without cookies. Last night I made rocky road bark, buckeyes, gingersnaps, and the dough for Pioneer Woman's awesome cinnamon rolls. Today I made Great Grandma Shank's peanut butter cookies (with Hershey Kisses, so I guess they're "blossoms"), and finished the rolls. I'm waiting on the dishwasher (because literally, I've used every bowl and spoon and cup in my house) so that I can make cappuccino crinkles (BJ's favorite), spritz (for the kids to decorate), some coconut thing I found online (but I'm out of powdered sugar, so those will have to wait until BJ and MG get home with more powdered sugar - who knew I'd need 3 bags??). Dad brought over four new half-sheet pans for me, and helped wrangle the kids (who were up past 11 on a sugar high last night).

I'm starting to feel Christmassy. :)

But seriously, I don't need this many baked goods lying around. It's very dangerous. My whole house smells like cinnamon and sin. Just breathing I'm gaining weight, folks.

I had MG paint some green and red paper with red, green, and white paint, and I'm going to cut those up to make gift tags. They didn't turn out quite how I wanted, but she's 3. I'm trying to dial back the pressure.

What cookies say "Christmas" to you? Most people do decorated sugar cookies, but 1) I hate making rolled cookies, and 2) I suck at the decorating. In the past I've bought them from a baker up in Brookston who makes the most beautiful cookies. They're almost too pretty to eat. Almost. A lot of people do those Russian wedding cakes at Christmas, too. I'm out of powdered sugar, though. Can you make powdered sugar? If I put regular sugar in the blender, would it powder? Aunt Julie makes peanut brittle and English toffee every year. Oh, English toffee... I could make that... As if I need any more projects. Haha! I don't think I have a candy thermometer, either. Would a digital meat thermometer work? Oh, and cream cheese mints! I tried those one year, and they turned out really badly - I couldn't get the molds to work.

My cookies may not be pretty, but they sure taste good. The Rocky Road Bark I made is sinful, and so easy. You just melt a pound and a half of bittersweet chocolate over a double boiler, and then add 6 ounces of marshmallows, a cup of unsalted dry roasted peanuts, and about half a package of chocolate covered mini graham crackers (Keebler), broken into bits. Then you put foil down on a half-sheet pan, spray the crap out of it with Pam, and spread the mixture out evenly. Stick them in the fridge (or the garage) for a couple of hours (while you make more cookies) then break them into pieces. Easy peasy. And they're really good.

Are you getting an idea of how deeply this sickness runs in me? I haven't even showered, today, and it's almost 3 pm. Maybe I should go do that while the dishwasher is finishing. And I could start some laundry.

Nah, I'd rather make cookies!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

BJ vs. Our Third Child

This morning, when I saw BJ for the first time in several days, because he's been working way too much, he mentioned that he needs to leave a comment correcting something I've said repeatedly on Ye Ol' Blog.

Apparently I keep talking about how BJ wants a third child. He says that he always wanted two kids, and that I talked him into having a third, and that's why he suggested it. Apparently he wants to refute the idea that he's pressuring me to have another.

This is true.

Here's the thing, though. I started talking him into it in advance, because I thought it would take a lot longer. He came around way too quickly - before I was actually ready, in fact! So, we're both right. BJ wants another kid, and it was my idea, but I was pre-negotiating, expecting it to take a couple of years. It only took a couple of months, so now I'm the one backing off. And he's all like, "But I thought you wanted another one!" and I'm all like, "I do, but not right now..." and he's like, "but you said..." and I'm like, "but I meant..." and here we are...

...NOT currently pregnant, for those keeping score.

In other news, if I can shake the headache that I woke up with for no reason whatsoever, today is Christmas Cookie Baking Day at the PB house. If I'm going to wake up with a headache (one that has not yet responded to two Excederin and three cups of coffee), I should at least have enjoyed a little wine the night before. Maybe I thought about enjoying a little wine, and my body is punishing me in advance. It would only be fair.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Preschool - Educating Mommy, too

So MG is "Helper of the Day" today, which means that I had to bring snack (Red Bull and Sugar Pops, of course - you should've seen the look on the teacher's face when I said, "They were out of Red Bull juice boxes at the store..." HA! She said, "What a coincidence, we're having snack 'to go' today - we'll send everyone home with it." That teacher, she's quick.) Mary Grace had to bring something for show and tell. And we had to bring in the stable for her nativity scene. Other parents made theirs like, for real, with hay and stars and shit. Ours was made out of Lincoln Logs, by me, at 12 am last night. I was going to go with Lego, but thought that the bright colors were a little irreverant...

Anyway, this morning BJ and I were trying to come up with something for her to take for show and tell. We had nothing. Someone else brought cute, brand new puppies a couple days ago (they had brought the pregnant Mama puppy at the beginning of the year... Awwww...). On MG's last turn, she took our photo book from our trip to DC. But with all the stuff we had to do for school today, I honestly hadn't given show and tell any thought.

"I want to take my ponies!" MG said. Her ponies are two identical plastic unicorns from her Happy Meal on Wednesday. She's been carrying them around everywhere, and frankly it's a wonder that we haven't lost one yet.

"No, honey, let's think of something else..." something more interesting, I thought, as I mentally went through our house, room by room.

BJ made a few suggestions ("How the Grinch Stole Christmas"? The earth from her solar system mobile?) and I thought of a couple of guest speakers (Grandpa Bob in his nurse's uniform, talking about what he does for a living... Or could I come up with a police officer on VERY short notice??).

"I really want to take my ponies, Mommy," MG pleaded.

That's when I realized. Show and tell isn't about me - it's not a referendum on how well I'm parenting my kid. It's about her, and what's important to her. It's about the things that make her who she is, as an independent person. It's not about who she is and how that reflects on us as parents.

"Ok, kiddo. You can take your ponies."

Snack, stable, and ponies were delivered on time, along with the kids, this morning. She may have the first nativity scene to ever include unicorns. I figure, if the teachers think I suck because I couldn't come up with something interesting, cute, fluffy, different, and educational for Mary Grace's Helper of the Day day, well, maybe they won't make me do it again.

Everybody wins. It's hard to find Red Bull in juice boxes, after all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ulterior Motives

I took the kids shopping for playclothes last night. While I'm sure they'll get an outfit or two for Christmas, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to find clothes that fit for everyday wear. I had a coupon for Kohl's (have they ever had a day when the entire store wasn't on sale? Seriously...) so away we went.

We always have the funniest conversations in the car.

Mary Grace: Mommy, what do you think Pops wants for Christmas?
Me: I don't know, honey, what do you think?
MG: I think he wants a house.
Me: A house? What for?
MG: To live in!
Me: Pops lives with Grandma. If Pops lives in a Christmas house, who will live with Grandma?
MG: I will!
Me: But then who will live with me?
MG: Claire!

...and then later, randomly... "My Grandma lives in a white house with a red door." I guess she wants to make sure I can find her when she moves.


I am watching the video of the man who lost his wife, mother in law, and two daughters (15 months and just barely 2 months old) in the accident in San Diego. Here's a link.

The father, Dong Yun Yoon, is utterly graceful in his grief. He asks the audience to pray for the pilot, and says that he harbors him no ill-will, in fact calls him a treasure for our nation. I am so moved by his compassion and his strength.

Can you imagine? You go to work one day, everything's normal, and you come home and your world is torn apart. We are so fragile. And yet, people like Dong Yun Yoon, who are living a nightmare, show such courage and such dignity. In the video of him speaking to the media, I believe he demonstrates the best of humanity - that even in his unbearable grief, he is concerned for others (the pilot, friends whose calls he hasn't returned...). Moments like these, when someone bears up and is genuinely beautiful in the face of horror give me hope for the rest of us. Even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, a regular person like you and me can demonstrate the essential goodness of his character.

I hope this man's community will hold him close. I hope that others will reach out to him in love and give him strength. I hope the military learns something valuable from the jet's failure, so that they can prevent further accidents in the future. I hope the pilot is comforted by the forgiveness that Dong Yun Yoon so nobly offered.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Probably Need Therapy

Friday is Mary Grace's day to bring snack to preschool, and I was trying to think of something to take. Cupcakes and cookies are a bad idea, since it's morning preschool. I was amusing myself, trying to come up with the least-appropriate snack I could possibly bring, without breaking the law. The best I could come up with was Red Bull and Sugar Pops. Oh, if the other mommies knew what evil lurks inside my tiny mind, we'd never be invited to another playdate.

I need help.

In other news, the weaning continues to continue, and I am hopeful that we're past the hardest part (knock on wood).

Wednesdays are our crazy days. Mary Grace's preschool lets out at 11:30 am (and I actually remembered to take her dollar for the Christmas project today - go me!), then we have to grab lunch and get to tap/ballet at 12:30. By the time we get done with ballet at 1:30 or so, Claire is beyond ready for nap. I'm looking forward to changing our schedule - next week is the last week of these classes before we start a new session at the gymnastics/dance place. It's just a little too hectic from 11:15 until 2 around here right now. Allison's schedule will be entirely different next semester, so my work schedule will be entirely different... Everything changes in January. I'm not sure how I'm going to get all my work done at the office this month, since tomorrow is Allison's last day before winter break. Yikes. It'll all work out somehow, but I'm really going to miss having her here over the lunch hour. It's really good for Mommy's sanity to have lunch like a grown up once in a while, even if that lunch is eaten in the warm glow from my monitor at work. The sneaky Allison also worked it out so that the kids will be napping for a good portion of the time she's here. Coincidence?

I need to drag the kids to the mall to get a couple of gifts. I'm really not motivated to do so today, though. I should also start baking, but I'm not motivated to do that, either. Really, I'm motivated to put in a movie and crash on the couch while they zone out. Great Moments in Parenting, huh? It's BJ's fault, I was up late with him watching Batman, the Dark Knight.

What are you procrastinating today?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I went up to Grammaland for a Christmas party on Saturday. BJ stayed at home with the kids, and went to another Christmas party. I decided to wean Claire, since she handles my being gone overnight just fine, and nursing has become more of a habit with her than anything else. A habit that was really annoying me, to be frank.

It's so hard. She cries and cries, "NUR NUR, NUR NUR!" and my hormones are going nuts (nursing surpresses certain bodily activities, and the cessation of nursing causes those to start up again, if you know what I mean) so I'm emotional. And my boobs hurt. A lot. But I haven't nursed her since Saturday afternoon, and it seems to me that we're over the worst of it now. She's doing ok. I'm doing ok. We might live through it.

Many people have said that they dropped a bunch of weight when they quit breastfeeding. Since I nursed MG while I was pregnant with Claire and for 9 months after Claire was born (moo), I never got to see whether or not that was true for me. God, I hope that's true for me. After being pregnant or breastfeeding or both for the last four years, it would sure be nice for my body to reward me by dropping 50 pounds with no effort.

I won't hold my breath...

I really thought I'd be more emotional about it (especially considering the hormones), but I'm fine with the decision. BJ wants to go for a third, and I will not tandem nurse again - it was WAY too hard - so if we're going to have a third, this is a necessary step. And to be honest, I'm ready to have a break for a little while. I'm ready for Claire to grow up a little. I'm not wailing "Mah Baby!" or anything.


But I do have to figure out how I can express a little milk at work. Can't use the bathroom sink - they're communal. Maybe I could aim for the commode in a stall, but I really don't want to get it all over my jeans. I'm not the neatest milk-expresser. I'm alone in the office, but the idea of sitting at my desk and aiming for a coffee mug doesn't do much for me. And how am I going to get rid of it when I'm done?

This is the kind of stuff they really should teach in the parenting prep classes when you're pregnant. Maybe I should write a letter.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Odds and Ends

Does anyone have a clever tip for extremely dry skin? BJ's hands are already cracking, and it's only December. He's cursed with terribly dry skin that plagues him all year, but especially in the winter. My plan is to try olive oil, applied liberally after a thorough hand washing. I just hope he doesn't drop either of the kids! His skin gets so dry that regular lotion burns. I'm hoping that olive oil will be inert enough (no alcohol, no scent...) that it won't hurt. Poor baby!

He's been working a ton lately. Hooray for Grandpa Bob who has been coming over to keep me sane on his nights off. On Thursday he took us out for supper, then we went to Battleground to see the light show I mentioned earlier this week. The kids LOVED it. I was pretty impressed, too. I wonder what the guy's neighbors think!

We have done very little Christmas shopping or decorating - the tree is up, but there are no ornaments on it - mainly because BJ has been working like a crazy person. Unfortunately, he'll probably continue to work like a crazy person until Christmas. We're going to try to squeeze some shopping in today. I was supposed to go to a baby shower, but with this virus I have, I don't want to run the risk of getting the mom-to-be sick. Nothing's worse than being sick when you're pregnant, because you can't take anything! The grandma-to-be had a kidney transplant several years ago, so she has immune system issues too. It just seemed wise to skip it, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to celebrate with the baby's family. She's the first grandchild, and they're SO excited. Before I quit my job to work for BJ full time, I worked for the company where the mom-to-be works, and that her parents own. They're the best bosses I ever had. Such a wonderful, loving family. It was a tough job (I was a staffing supervisor for a temp agency - so I was the one who sent temps out on assignments), but I really loved working for them.

I'm headed up to Grammaland for Mimi's Christmas party tonight. I don't care if I get them sick. Ha ha! I have to be there to advocate for having Christmas at my house this year. It looks like that's how things are going to turn out, but I don't want Uncle Chuck and Mimi and Uncle Trey and Gramma and Pops to get any bright ideas when I'm not there to talk them out of it. Of course, there will be no point to doing Christmas if I don't get some shopping and decorating done. And baking. Lord, do I have baking to do!

This cold/virus/plague thing has come at a really inconvenient time! Couldn't I have gotten it in January?? We're not sick all the time, by the way. I just complain a lot. If I kept my house cleaner, we'd probably be healthier. I need to bust out the Lysol more often, I guess.

I've been getting a lot of questions about sizes, so I thought I'd put the info here. Mary Grace is in a 4T - she's so tall that 3Ts look like flood pants already! Adjustable waists are always good, because she's skinny and I'm not handy with the sewing machine. She could really use warm play clothes - sweatshirts and stretchy pants, etc. Claire is wearing a 12 - 18 month size currently. She also needs warm playclothes. She has a lot more in terms of clothes than MG does, because she can wear all the hand-me-downs. We could use a bunch of hats and gloves, too, because they keep disappearing. I'm searching for at least two hats and three pairs of gloves that I know must be around here somewhere...

Mary Grace loves princesses, ballet and gymnastics, and Dora. Claire loves Charlie and Lola, Mickey Mouse, and cats. They both love books and music. Claire especially likes board books with animals in them (especially cats).

Claire has really achieved maximum cuteness lately. She's learning her animal sounds, and will tell you what a cow says, etc. She has perfected the phrase, "I want some more!" She is also beginning to say "I love you," which just melts my heart. It seems like she comes up with a new word or phrase twice a day. She also loves to sing, and will sing along with the soundtrack to Wicked, which has been playing in my car for the better part of a year. I tried to get them to switch to Les Mis, but they weren't interested. Maybe I'll try Phantom next. No surprise that my little hams would love Broadway musicals...

I've been trying to teach Mary Grace to say, "John, get a close up of this!" for the benefit of people who knew me when I was little. Some kids have imaginary friends, I had an imaginary camera man.

Mary Grace slept over and Uncle Brandon and Aunt Heather's house last night. Reports are that she was very good. It was odd to wake up without her today. The house is so quiet when she's gone.

I think that's all the news that's fit to print.

Friday, December 5, 2008

MG and C's Great-Grandfather

Clyde was my Papa. He died when I was 5.

It's kind of funny that BJ and I work together in the business he owns (rocket science), and my mom and step-dad own a business (the chapel and ballroom where Megan's wedding was), and mom's parents (in the video) started TFT (Stewart is my mom's brother). BJ's grandparents also owned a business together (they built a lot of the apartment buildings and fraternities in town, renovated the courthouse, owned an apartment complex or 12...). A lot of times when we tell people that we work together, we'll hear, "Oh, I could never work with my spouse!" but it's pretty normal for us. Neither of my grandparents enjoyed long lives, Papa was only 52 when he died, and Grandma was 62. I'll bet that they're glad that they spent most of their days working together to build a company and a family.

I know that I'm grateful to spend those working hours with the person I love most in the world. Sure, we bump noses occasionally (especially when I have to arrange travel for him - for some reason, that just drives me bonkers. He and I have very different ideas about how to arrange travel...), but the overwhelming majority of the time, we're working as a team. We've learned a lot of skills at the office that help us at home, and vice versa. Frankly, sometimes I don't know how people who aren't married manage to work together day in and day out!!

Anyway, back to the video, I guess it was on back in October, but I just got the memo. Thanks, Aunt Julie, for the tip!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The "Together Mom" Myth

A friend of mine is struggling. She says she's a horrible wife, a terrible mother, and a worthless person. She sounds just like I did when I had PPD, except her youngest is already in school, so probably not... I was talking to her about the Myth of the Together Mom, and thought I'd share my little mind game with all of you.

See, I used to fall into the trap of thinking that the other moms I saw had it all figured out - that they were pros at this mom thing, and that it was as obvious to everyone else that I was totally faking it as it was to me. Not faking love for my kids, of course I love them, but faking the whole "having it together" thing. I would see other moms, who often had more kids than I have, and they'd have their hand-decorated, home-made, organic, peanut and gluten free cupcakes for the class party, and I'd show up with boxed cookies from Kroger (and I forgot to check the label, and the damn cookies are "made on machines that process foods that contain nuts...." Oops). Or I'd see a mom with three perfectly matchy matched children acting angelic in the mall as I struggled to get my kid away from the money-eating carousel - they looked like the Stepford family, and we looked like the World Wrestling Federation, and I'd think, "How do they do it?!"

I've figured it out - or at least figured out a way to live in the same world with the Stepford moms without losing my mind. Now, when I see those "together moms" I think, "Yeah, she looks all put together, but I'll bet she's got $100,000 worth of credit card debt!" or "Sure, those cupcakes are organic and homemade, but she's operating on 92 minutes of sleep and a whole bunch of speed today..." Of course I never VOICE these opinions to the "together moms" I see... I just smile inside and think, "Yeah, sister, your hair is coiffed and your makeup is perfect, and I could bounce quarters off of your abs even though you have 6 kids, but you've got a secret too..."

Now that I'm a little further down this Mommy Road, it has come to my attention that people see ME as the together mom! HA! HAHAHAHAHA!!! I call my mom or sister at least once a week to tell them that if they don't come down and get these kids, I'm going to put a sign on them that says, "Free to good home" and stick them in the front yard (they rarely show up, and the kids are both still present and accounted for - they understand my hyperbole). I spend entirely too much time on the 'net, and my kids watch WAY too much TV. I have vices, things I feel guilty about, and secrets just like everyone - just like you - but I present my "together face" to the world, just like everyone else. And unless you know me well, or catch me in a vulnerable moment, you'd never see those vices, guilts, and secrets.

Another friend of mine says, "Being a mom isn't hard work, but it's constant." I think that's partially true - it is constant. Kids just never stop needing (even when they're grown, from what I've seen!). It takes a lot of effort to be someone else's caregiver, and when you find yourself in the position of caring for a whole family - running to lessons, wiping noses and butts, dropping off, picking up, three meals and two snacks a day, making little decisions (what's for dinner? snack now or later? fight to get her to nap or give it up?), making big decisions (vaccines on schedule? preschool? work or stay home? vacation or new roof?) all the time, it can really wear you out. When you find yourself in the unenviable position of caring for aging parents and young kids, or caring for yourself or your spouse through a chronic illness, or just trying to spin all thirteen dozen plates in the air without letting anything fall - it gets hard. It's hard for everyone. No one has it easy in this mothering gig. No one.

In our western culture, the mother really is the heart of the family. As the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy." It's a lot of pressure to be "on" all the time, to be "together" all the time, to be "healthy" all the time - and it's easy to bend, it's easy to break, under that pressure.

But we owe it to ourselves, and to our husbands and kids, to be as together as we can. And I really believe that it's necessary to let go of some of the "shoulds" of motherhood - I should make organic, free range, peanut free cookies instead of buying something for school snack, I should make all the kids' Halloween costumes, I should make all their birthday cakes from scratch, I should turn off the damn TV and interact with the little weirdos 24/7, I should...... The only true should-ism is that you should put less pressure on yourself to be Donna Reed and spend more time on the stuff that really fulfills you and makes you happy. Your kids are going to remember that you were content for a lot longer than they're going to remember those perfect cupcakes.

The irony is that once you let up on some of your own pressure on yourself, once you start to give yourself some wiggle room, some grace, you enable yourself to be a better mother.

What do you think? Do people think you have it "all together"? What's your dirty little mommy secret? Leave an anonymous comment if you want - I honestly can't see who's who in the comments when they're anonymous. Help my friend realize that we're all in this together, and that none of us have it easy, by leaving a little confession.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Coolness, Practically In My Backyard

Remember last Christmas, and the one before, when the guy who everyone loved to watch on Youtube but no one would want to live next door to sync'd his Christmas lights up with his stereo system and made a video? A video like this:

Holy crap, it turns out that I don't need to watch this on the 'net, because the house where it actually happens isn't far from here at all (if you're local and want to know where it is, e-mail me). Grandpa Bob found it! How excellent is that? And we're going to take the kids to see the 2008 display sometime this week.

Suck it, Grinches! Hahaha...

In other news, I am totally freezing my rear end off. It is SO cold in my office that I'm actually hanging out in the server room to soak up some of the radiant computer heat.

However, I am a cold person who has dental insurance for the first time in many years (about 11, if I'm remembering correctly) so I'm happy about that recent development (and happy that it came before the kids needed braces!). And I'm a cold person with dental insurance who should have about 30% of her roof re-done when she gets home (just the lower, leaky part) and said roof will have a 6 year warranty on labor, and a 25 year warranty on the shingles... so SCORE.

Things are looking up at the PB house. What's your good news?

Monday, December 1, 2008


There are a lot of things that I didn't understand before I had kids. Perhaps the weirdest is casserole.

I never understood why you'd cook everything once, then put it all together and cook it again. It seemed like a profound waste of time to me, when I was working full time and didn't have babies.

Now that I have children, I totally get it.

Casseroles enable you to cook when it's convenient for you (like during naptime) and still have everything hot and ready to go at suppertime. They also make it possible to hide veggies. And they take some of the pressure off of the evening rush. You can wash all the dishes ahead of time, so that you only have to wash the dinner plates (or use paper if it's a really busy night!) and the casserole dish.

Casseroles make a ton of sense for parents. And they're nice, warm, comfort food for a snowy evening like this one. Tonight I cut up a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked 6 cups of brown rice, and put it all together with a can of broccoli cheese soup and a bit of milk, as well as a package of "Mexican style" (although there is nothing Mexican about them that I can see) mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, corn, bell peppers... Maybe they're Mexican bell peppers). I topped it all with cheese (colby, I think... something orange) and stuck it in what my grandma would've called a "slow oven" - about 325. When BJ and MG get home at 6:15 from gymnastics, it'll be ready to rock. Maybe I'll get real fancy and crumble up some potato chips on top!

I've always said that if they did an "Iron Chef - Midwest" the main ingredients would be cream of... soup, crumbs of potato chip, and Velveeta. I could totally win. Dessert would involve Jello.

I still don't understand Jello.