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Archive for April, 2009

When the boys were newborns, one of the things I hated to hear from twin moms with older twins was how much things get easier when they start playing together. I would ask when that was and they would say, “Oh, close to 3.” Peoples, if you come upon a mom of newborn twins, NEVER tell them things get so much easier THREE YEARS in the future.

But seriously, they were right. It’s as if some switch has been flipped in our house. Nate and Alex, who turn 3 next month, spend countless hours playing together with minimal interference. They talk and laugh and play. They also fight, but they’re getting better about working it out themselves. And they’re old enough now to know if they choose to solve their problems with physical violence, they go to timeout.

It really hit home this weekend when Nate helped Alex. My husband and I had gone out for a date, and the boys were completely fine with us leaving. When they went to bed, Alex started crying for us. The sitter said she walked upstairs to comfort Alex but by the time she got there, Nate had already comforted Alex and calmed him down just by talking to him.

Lightbulb moment: instead of two kids making each other crazy, I’m starting to see glimpses of two kids being brothers to each other. And they’re not even three.

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I always knew I would never be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve always loved math and science, and along with that has come the understanding that I’m a tad different. Looking through my childhood pictures, you will see me standing there as the lone girl on the math team, the junior engineering team, and the science team, to name a few. As an adult, I have a successful software career and I had always planned to continue that after having children. During my maternity leave, I learned something that was hard to admit: I would never make a good stay-at-home mom. I am a much better mother and wife when I work at a job outside the home. And I feel very good that part of my income goes to people who love being around children all day.

We researched two child care options: nanny and group day care. I telecommute full-time so our first preference was to have the kids out of the house. However we had a backup plan to hire a nanny if the boys were born too prematurely. North Carolina has a star rating system for group facilities, so we used this list a starting point to visit and interview 5 star day cares. When visiting facilities, we were astounded at the differences in equipment, facilities, staff, and general environment. When we walked into the center where my kids would end up, it just felt RIGHT. The babies were happy. The staff was friendly and open, chatting with parents as they passed through. They have an indoor gym so they always get exercise no matter the weather. They were willing to let my twins sleep in cribs next to each other. And most importantly, I felt confident in the director, who plays a huge part in how a facility is run.

I’m happy to report my gut instinct was right. We have been incredibly happy with our day care, and have referred six other families to the same facility. It is a place I know my children are loved, well-cared for, well educated, and happy.

What I love about group day care:

* Teaches me to be a better parent. My day care has taught me so much about caring for my kids! They see such a wide variety of kids so they always have a solution to our problems. From getting the boys to nap to getting them on sippy cups to dealing with a biting phase, they have helped me through some tough times.
* Socialization. My kids have a lot of friends they’ve known their entire lives. They get to experience peer relationships outside of the twin dynamic on an ongoing basis. For example, Alex gets to boss other kids around while Nate gets to be bossed around.
* Convenience. It is open almost every day of the year. If a teacher is sick, there’s another teacher to cover. I can be a few minutes late  or early and it’s okay.
* Structured activity. This was very important to us. We wanted our kids to participate in a wide variety of learning experiences. Every day they have structured music time, reading time, circle time, and outside time as well as structured meals and snacks.
* Access to lots of qualified babysitters who know my kids. I’ve gotten bolder about asking people if they babysit on the side. In this economy, the answer is frequently yes.
* Practice for “real” school.  I’ve learned a lot about communicating with teachers and caregivers, how to handle issues when they come up, and when to make a stink about something or let it slide. I’ve also learned how one of my boys will click with a certain teacher and the other will not. And we’ve gotten really good at the morning scramble. I’m taking all this in as practice for “real” school.

What I do not love about group care:
* Germs.
* Germs.
* Germs.

Make no mistake about it, kids in group care get exposed to tons of germs. I can not stress this enough to twin parents considering this option. When I look back at my blog from the first cold and flu season in group care, I’m surprised to see any posts NOT about illness. You name the illness, my boys have had it.

But! This goes back to the science thing. I believe people build an immune system by exposure. This year was my boys’ third cold and flu season in day care and they barely caught anything at all. The first year, I’m not quite sure how we survived. The second year, it was easier as they didn’t catch quite as much. This year, it was incredibly easy. And I feel conflicted about the following fact, but since my kids have had so many colds and illnesses, being sick doesn’t really bother them. They can cough all night and it doesn’t disrupt their sleep. Only fevers and ear infections really seem to disrupt sleep, both of which are cured by some Motrin and getting in bed with mom and dad.

However, a major factor in our ability to deal with illness is our (awesome) jobs. My company allows me to work with a sick kid at home, and my husband’s company has a very liberal sick leave policy. Knowing our kids would miss school with these illnesses at some point anyway, we decided it was better to do it while we both had jobs that fit so well with being working parents.

As for being a working mom, I love it, but I also feel strongly that I have a job that fits a working mom lifestyle. That is why I so very very very rarely talk about my job publicly – I want to keep it as long as possible! Since I don’t commute to work, I say good-bye to the boys at 8:25 and hello again at 5:05. We have at least 4.5 hours a day together as a family, more if someone wakes up early. While it does take significant effort to achieve balance between working, family, friends, chores, and me time, it is the right choice for me and my family.

And I am so very incredibly thankful to all the women in math and science who blazed the trail before me to give me the choice to be a working mom in a career I love.

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The Role of a SAHM

As my husband and I were driving home last night, he asked me how my day was. “It was a really good day,” I said. “After the kids woke up and we all ate breakfast, we headed to the gym (which I call the ‘play place” for the kids’ sake.) They said ‘hi’ to the fish at the entrance and played happily for an hour while I exercised. From there, we said ‘good-bye’ to the fish, headed over to Kohls to make a return, and then over to the pet store. I let the kids walk around holding hands while I pushed the stroller, and we looked at mice, cats, birds, fish and turtles. Back in the stroller, over to Target for some shopping and then when we were done we munched on popcorn and then home for a little play time and nap!”

“After nap, Jonathan and I worked on the laundry, and then they both colored while I cleaned the kitchen and started dinner. They got bored with that pretty quickly, so I got out the playdough set we never opened from Christmas, and they played with that for 45 minutes! It was an enormous mess when it was all said and done, but they had fun and I got some work done.”

By now, my husband is nodding enthusistically, smiling as I tell him little stories about Faith’s new words of the day and Jonathan’s insatiable desire to “help.” Yesterday was a very good day. The kind of day I dreamed about when I was a teenager, wondering what I was going to do with my life. The type of day I idealized when going through infertility. The type of day I hold onto when we go through our six months of winter sickness, crankiness and misery! Yesterday was exactly the opposite of Monday, which I wrote about here.

——————–

In 2003, I moved 50 miles north to Pittsburgh, leaving my job as a Program Director of a large senior center. I really enjoyed my job, and was looking forward to searching for an exciting new job after my November wedding. After our wedding and honeymoon, I moved into my now-husbands house and started changing things. Paint went up, carpets were laid down, boxes unpacked and organized. Everyday I would work from morning ’til night, creating a home for my future family. Eventually, after settling into the area, I began job hunting. I held a bachelors degree in Gerontology, had quite a bit of experience for my age and was willing to try just about any position that would allow me to work with older adults. And yet, door after door of opportunity was closed in my face. I simply could not understand why I wasn’t getting a job. Later, I would come to understand that being a homemaker was the time of preperation God gave me to be a SAHM. (On a side note, do you know how embarrassing it is to be a homemaker in this day and age? I was so thankful when I had the kids…my place at home seemed much more legitimate!)

While I was job hunting, I really wrestled with how to structure my days. I had the option to sleep in, not shower, watch morning tv, etc etc. However, I realized that the less structured my days were, the more depressed I felt. So I began treating my days at home like a regular work day (with perks!) I would get up with my husband, shower, dress in decent clothes, and start on my to-do list. Sometimes I would meet my working friends or my grandma for lunch. Tuesdays and Thursdays I volunteered at the Alzheimer’s Association. Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights were reserved for Bible study…one I led for teenage girls, the other I attended with 10 other women who quickly became my dear friends in this new city.

Fast forward, past a job I had at an assisted living facility, past 19 months of infertility and 39 weeks of a twin pregnancy. Next month my son and daughter will turn two. And I am ever so thankful to have been at home with them for the past two years. I hope to remain at home with them until they begin kindergarden, and then I will look for part-time work.

Over the past 5.5 years of marriage and mommy-hood, I have learned a few tricks that I hope to pass on to other at-home parents. It is very, very easy to feel isolated, lonely, bored, depressed and resentful while staying at home. Here are some of the things I have learned over the years, that allow me to enjoy my job as a MoM, that enable me to stay rooted in my field, fulfilled in my day and growing as a person.

* I wake up at a normal time every day. Then I shower. The only exception would be if I am going to the gym in the morning, and then I shower during nap time. There is something about the routine of getting ready that makes me feel awake, and like a productive member of society.

* I dress as nicely as I can. Often, it is in jeans and a t-shirt, but my clothes are clean, ironed and without stains or holes. I wear makeup every day, too. It is just part of who I am.

* I keep a calendar and to-do list handy at all times. Being a stay-at-home parent offers a lot of flexibilty, but it is very easy to let the hours slip through your fingers without having much to show for it. My main objective every week is to complete my tasks through the week so that our weekends are freed up for fun and family time. Granted, I can’t always accomplish everything (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, car maintenance, yard work, etc.) but I can do a lot.

Utilize outside help. My husband is a corporate attorney. He works a lot of hours, and they are unpredictable. He often is traveling with less than 24 hours notice. His first work trip took place then the kids were 7 weeks old. I quickly had to accept the fact that I could not “rely” on my husband the way some woman can whose husbands work normal hours or who don’t travel for their job. Rather than resenting his commitment to his job (he is very committed to his family, but the job pays the bills!) I decided to train a mothers helper. Mary started with me when the kids were 5 months old. I paid her $5 an hour and she would play with the kids, empty the dishwasher, etc while I pumped, checked email, made phone calls, etc. I now have two neighbor girls (14 and 15 years old) who I can call on to watch the kids for an hour or so at a time. They have been with me for so long, and know the kids so well, that I feel comfortable leaving the house for an hour while the kids are in their care. This came in very handy last week when I needed to be at the hospital with my mother-in-law. At $6 an hour, their help is invaluable to me, even though I only use them 2-3 hours a week. Jay and I also routinely use babysitters (usually family) for date nights or occasional days off. This has provided us with a much needed balance in our roles as Mom and Dad vs. Husband and Wife.

* Stay rooted in your field. I continue to volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association. I have taught community programs, helped at the Memory Walk, co-chair the young-onset support group, and belong to two committees. I probably only spend a total of 5 hours a month volunteering, but it is enough to stay connected to my peers and current in my field. It is also very satisfying to dress up once in a while and head out to my meetings, coffee in hand!

* The last bit of advice might sound a bit odd, coming from a fellow Mom. But do not make your entire day/week revolve around your children. Children are a wonderful addition to our families, but they are a part of our families, not the center of them. I am trying very hard to teach my kids that part of being a family is doing things you may not want to do for the sake of the whole family. Going to the gym day care or church nursery may not be what the kids want to do, but eventually they learn, and the entire family is better off.

Being a stay-home-parent has provided me with ample opportunity to care for my family, my community and myself. Self-discipline and an outward focus are key to making the most of your time. I am not the kind of woman who proclaims from the rooftops that being a SAHM is the only way to go…no, I just simply cannot fathom how MoM’s with two jobs possibly get any sleep!

I enjoy my job (most days) and hope that my family, friends and community benefit from my decision to be a SAHM.

Faith and Jonathan aka "sissy" and "brother."

Faith and Jonathan aka "sissy" and "brother."

What is your trick or tip for making your day at home successful? How do you measure that success?

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Guest post from my husband, Brian, The Superdad.

If you are not familiar with our family, my wife Cynthia and I have four children: a four-year-old daughter Alaina, 20-month-old identical twins sons Aaron and Brady (baby A and baby B, anyone with multiples would get the ultra-sound humor in that decision) and a 6-month-old son Brett. Before Brett was born, we had the three older children in day care full-time. It was a financial stretch. Actually, financial “disaster” would be a better choice of words. Once the baby was born we had no option but to have one of us stop working. Now, Cynthia works full time and I am a stay at home dad. How did we come to that decision? For us it wasn’t that hard.

I own a small Real Estate company. By small I mean just me, (hey the boss is a great guy). As a Realtor most of my hours are nights and weekends anyhow so the decision to be the stay at home parent was easy. We have learned not to depend on my income like we did in the past. The adjustment required giving up many of the luxuries we honestly didn’t need anyway. The life changes we made were tough but in hind site they were the best decision we’ve ever made. Cynthia works for a great company and there is a tremendous opportunity for her professional growth within her company. Besides, her company was our source of health insurance so that had to weigh into our decision.

To be honest with you, I was a little nervous at first. Could I really do it? My wife is an amazing mother and as the father (and as most fathers do) I tended to follow her lead when it came to child rearing.  Like a lot of dads, I was the king of short, extreme play sessions with my kids. I would get down and dirty with them. Rolling around on the ground, rough-housing and tossing them up in the air. It was that little thing that they got only from their daddy and both the kids and I loved it. Sometimes it would last 5 minutes, other times maybe 30 minutes, but it was never for hours on end. The general care of the kids always fell on my wife’s shoulders. I didn’t realize how much she did until it was my responsibility all day, everyday. I have a tremendous appreciation of my wife and everything that she does for this family.

I distinctly remember my first taste of being an at-home dad. When they were about 3-months old, the twins were both out of daycare sick. Cynthia had just returned to work from maternity leave and could not take the day off. I was panic-stricken. I was a very hands-on dad but this was a different ballgame altogether. Only a few hours into the day of non-stop crying, I remember calling my wife at work freaking out that she had to come home. “I can’t do this!” I hollered. I was so used to passing off my own children when things went wrong that I didn’t know what to do when I was completely on my own. Needless to say I survived the day. The boys seemed fine too. But I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home dad after that experience.

So how did I manage it later on? Did the children change? Not one bit. I did. I took on a bigger every day role on the weekends. I stopped relying on my wife to do all the “dirty work” and I am not just talking about changing diapers. This prepared me for the big day when we would take them out of daycare and I was on my own. I am not going to tell you it was easy, or that everything came natural but it was manageable. After a week or two I was an old pro.

The key was routine. Guys, your wife probably preaches this to you every day. I was just like you. The weekend came around and I would take the kids out to do something fun, not caring if it was a little past their nap-time. “They’ll be fine,” I always said. Great call genius! Kids are all about routine. Break that routine and they may be fine for a few hours, but it will bite you in the end. It may not be until the next day but you will regret it. You learn fast on this job.

The second key change for me was patience. You learn quickly that you can’t satisfy all of your kids needs (especially when you have three under two years of age) at once. You have to prioritize. You have to learn to let the screaming bounce off of you. Focus on what you can do to make one of them happy. Move quickly without taking short cuts and move on to the next issue. After awhile you get to know each child’s tendencies and you can get them what they need before they need it. Once you’ve reached this point being an at-home parent is great.

Now don’t misread that. I didn’t say “easy”, I said “great”. It is the most rewarding job (and don’t kid yourself, it is a real job) albeit the toughest one I’ve ever had. Work stress and child caring stress are completely different. I also don’t want to belittle the working parent’s role. It’s a team effort. You should both try to appreciate what the other does.

I could tell you a million stories, but I have a short attention span and this post is already longer than I would voluntarily read. I do have a few parting bits of advice. I sensed a collective cringe when I wrote that. Fear not. I am not going to tell you how to raise your kids. To be honest I wouldn’t have the first clue how to raise someone’s kids. I can, however, give you a few tidbits that have made all the difference our arrangement:

1 – Get out of the house, for your own sanity if nothing else. I take the boys to a local children’s museum a couple times a week. We also go to story hour at the library and a playgroup at an area YMCA. Dig around a little, you can always ask other parents you meet what they do. Getting three little ones out of the house is a daunting task but there is a wonderful reward. Giving them a change of scenery is not only fun, but it always leads to a nice long nap for my kids. Hello “me” time.

2 – Appreciate your spouse. We are a well-oiled machine at this point. We both know what needs to be done each evening so we just do it. Don’t wait for your spouse to ask you to do what you know needs to be done. Just do it and next thing you know the kids will be asleep and you can finally relax. As a side note, everyone has a bad day. My wife and I give the other heads up on those especially tough days. Something as simple as, “just to warn you, it’s been a long day and I’m unusually cranky”. It’s simple yet effective.

3 – Try to create “me” time for each other. Take care of the kids solo so your wife can go out with her friends to lunch, shopping, or a movie. Whatever makes her happy. My wife plans to take half days on Wednesdays this summer so I can play golf. Don’t underestimate the meaning of little gestures.

4 – Get the kids on a schedule and stick to it. They may not like it at first but trust me long term you will all be better for it.

5 –Don’t let the little hiccups get you down. Look, things never go as planned.  If you can appreciate them for their future humor, you will be better for it. Just this morning I woke up sick as a dog to find Brady buck naked in his crib with you guessed it all over the mattress and crib. Was I in the mood to deal with “that” today? No chance. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hilarious. Why not laugh about it then?

6 – Enjoy your kids. Everyone you meet tells you to enjoy your children because they grow up quickly, but it’s true. The next thing you know they are going to be teenagers and want next to nothing to do with their parents. Keeping this in the back of your mind will help with those especially frustrating days. Always remember that they won’t be little forever so enjoy them.

For those out there contemplating being a stay-at-home parent. Do it. Don’t hesitate. In fact, you should jump at the opportunity. The first few weeks might be tough but you’ll find a way. I love that I get to see my kids everyday. My wife would love to be in my shoes (most of the time). Granted I am so tired by the end of the day that I have zero social life, but eventually they’ll grow up and I’ll have plenty of time to do that stuff again. You only get one chance to raise your kids.

I am a better person for it. You can ask any of our friends or family if I have changed and they would say with absolute certainty, yes! They don’t see me as much but when they do they notice that I am more relaxed. The little things that stressed me out before bounce right off me now. Just this past Sunday as we were stuck in traffic with the four kids in the car, instead of freaking out about the guy trying to cut me off, I turned to my wife and said, “I’m really happy. We have a great family, our relationship has never been better… things are great”. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never have said that. I am grateful for my amazing wife and beautiful children and I love them more than you can possibly imagine. Pre-stay-at-home dad would never had written that in a public blog either.

Now if you will excuse me. The boys are all asleep and the Yankees have a day game. Off to the couch I go with a cold beer in one hand and the other hand down my pants. I may have gotten a little softer, but hey, I’m still a dude!

(Mom’s edit: no beers were consumed during the writing of this post. I hope. You can read more about our family on our personal blog.)

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Twin-Care: In Transition

Way back when–before September 5, 2001, to be exact–I was the she-half of a happily thriving D.I.N.K. union. My husband Scott and I had both been in the TV/video post-production business for upwards of a decade; and our salaries were comparable when we decided to throw caution—along with my Tri-Levlen—to the wind and try to have a baby*.  (*Note the singular. Who knew?)

 

Prior to that point, having been asked on more than one occasion by my grandchild-desiring mom, “Are you really happy being just a career girl?” (as if that was such a “bad” thing) beyond the reflexive daughter eye-roll response, I could answer with 100% sincerity, I was.

 

My career required extensive attention to detail, relentless follow-through, keen awareness of deadlines, prioritization skills, the ability to juggle numerous projects all in varying stages of completion with a smile, consistency and upbeat attitude, regardless of my clients’ often elevated stress levels and frequent whining. Sound familiar?  At the risk of immodesty, I was very, very good at my job…except for one glaring aspect: my utter (and occasionally, crippling) inability to delegate. Even though I worked with incredibly gifted people, I always found the “pass off” difficult. Can you see where this is going?

 

Before Scott and I married, we both agreed we wanted to have one parent stay home with our child(-ren) whenever we had them… before we even knew they’d arrive as a “them!” As such, we made all our financial decisions based on single-income feasibility. 

Once I became pregnant, despite my husband’s equal desire to be a stay-at-home/full-time parent (as was his boss’ husband, a triplet dad), the decision was made for me to make the career change to at-home, full-time caregiver…times two!


To bring this back to topic, with the exception of a week of grandparental assistance from each set of grandparents in those first five weeks, the occasional babysitter (I can actually count the times we’ve had a sitter on my kids fingers and toes), other than my incredibly gifted parenting partner/husband, when it comes to child-care for the first seven years of our twins’ lives, it’s been all mom, all the time. Not a martyr, more of a glutton…and a very poor delegater.

 

As the kids got older, I began taking on freelance gigs that could be accomplished at home…starting with some consulting work, then some accounting work, and eventually landing a significant, long-term job as a freelance writer/editor. Working from home can be accomplished without supplemental help, and is fiscally advantageous…but it may not be a viable scenario for everyone. Were it not for a laptop, our kids well-established (and enforced!) bed and waking times, and the understanding support of my husband who tolerated (and still does) extensive evening hours catching up on work uncompleted during daylight twin-focused times, working from home to the degree I did would have been impossible. Note the “did” in the last sentence…
stayathome1
In December, my three+ years as a web copywriter and editor for The Parent Company family of sites sadly concluded with the company’s declaration of bankruptcy. In January, Circuit City, where my husband has worked nearly 15 years as a brand advertising manager, not only declared bankruptcy, but liquidated. No COBRA benefits offered. Immediately, we knew we both had to pursue all occupational options, and as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, in February, I was able to re-enter the arena of TV/video post-production in a part-time, freelance associate producer role. Fortunately, my new employer is a very family friendly environment, where I am working alongside a former co-worker, who’s job sharing as a new mother herself. During the school year, my hours allow me to drop the twins off in their respective first grade classrooms, and pick them up at the final bell. More good news, my husband has also found a long-term, full-time, freelance job. So when summer comes, we’ll be matriculating into day care for the very first time.

As an already admitted poor “sharer,” I’ll be honest; this is a challenging thing for me. As luck would have it, I’d already researched and interviewed area childcare providers extensively for an article written for our local parenting magazine. I know the caliber of the location we’ve selected, and have subsequently ‘auditioned’ during spring break. Still, it’s tough.

 stay2

Whether it’s because I’m rose-colored glasses nostalgic for the daily double stroller jaunts to the mall and various activities about town, because I’ll miss the flexibility to go in at a moment’s notice and be “guest reader” for one class or the other, or because I feel guilty—as if I am “passing off” my progeny, or guilty that I have to admit my days at work are actually rejuvenating, enjoyable—I don’t honestly know. What I do know now, or am on my way to knowing, is that all the roles: stay-at-home-mom, work-from-home-mom and working-out-of-home mom each have their unique benefits—and difficulties. Interestingly enough, at age seven, I feel convinced my twins would declare the same.

 daycare

 

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