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Archive for the ‘Preschoolers’ Category

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Post #1: What Happens After the Stroller? by Jennifer W.

Our story begins with two Aggies meeting on E*Harmony in 2005, and getting married in February 2006.  We started our family early; we had our first child in August 2006. While still getting use to our first son we were pregnant again.  Thinking nothing of it I went to the doctor to find out that we were having spontaneous triplets.  So I carried our triplets for 36 weeks 6 days and had the perfect pregnancy with no complication or limitations put upon me. Four months later we were pregnant again with our last child.  So if you are asking yourself, “I do not think they know how that happens!”  We do and we finally decided that we would have 20 children unless we had surgery to prevent that from happening.  So we are a family of 7 with 5 children under the age of 3.  When our children were small we called them the “zoo” because they were gated in our house.  Now that they are older we call them the “safari” because they roam my house.  You can find our adventures, experiences, and the confessions of a tired mother on our blog: The Wilcoxson’s.

JenW1 

After we found out that we were having triplets there were several things that went through our mind, one of them being that we could not logically escape being a minivan family.  With that dilemma out of the way we had to find a stroller.  We decided that we would get a triplet stroller and still have our single stroller as well.  The nice thing about strollers is that you have some protection from the public and some warning when the grandmother or curious mother gets too close to the stroller.  What happens when the stroller is no longer an option or something that your child dreads?

With our oldest almost 3 and the triplets turning 2 they are at the stage where they no longer want to be strapped into the stroller, but want some of the freedom that comes with being in a family with singletons.  With that want and need for independence my husband and I had to find a way to give that desire to our children.  Independence was not going to come at the cost of safety though.  Holding hands was not an option because my husband and I do not have enough hands.  We like to tell people that we cannot play man-on-man with our children but zone defense.  So the searching began. 

There was an option for leashes, but I could see that in the newspaper: “Mother of 5 decides to walk her children like a dog walker.”  We did not need anymore attention than we already receive when we are in public.  Then one day I was looking at educational toys on the internet and found the solution.  With a little engineering and some common sense we were going to make this work for us.  You see I found a toy for beading animals or cars at One Step Ahead.

14463_2We decided that a rope with 5 animals on it would do the trick.  So my husband and I ordered the beads, got some nylon rope and decided that we were going to put the tractor and the barn at the end so that mommy and daddy could have a bead as well.  Each child gets an animal and then there is a loop for their hand when they get older and do not want to hold onto the animal any longer.

JenW2

After we put our “leash” together we had to try it out before we went into public with it.  For about three weeks we walked to the mail box and around our street to get the kids use to the walking together and the distractions around them.  Then we moved up to using it at church for about a month.  Now my kids will not go anywhere unless they know that the animals are in the bag.  I am so proud of them because they do not let the animal go unless we give them permission and they do not let other people distract them from the “mission” at hand.

I have found that as our children grow older the independence and freedom that their singleton friends have will take some strategic planning on our part to give them the same freedom or a resemblance of that freedom.  No matter if we are in a stroller or walking we will always attract attention and people looking on like we are aliens from another planet because we have more than our normal quota of children in our society. 

Post #2: I Have Two Turning Three, by Alix

Alix is mother to nearly-three-year-old identical twin boys, Nathan and Max.  She spends her time in one of the following ways:  working from home (read: balancing her lap top in one hand while reading Cool Cars for the forty-seventh time while simultaneously microwaving leftovers for dinner), staying up late (read:  loading dishes and folding three hundred size-3T tee shirts), and relaxing (read: actually sitting down while the boys run circles through the house).  Luxurious, it is not.  But fun?  Oh, yeah! Alix works part-time, mostly from home and shares child care with her husband, a university professor.

I found out I was having identical twins at 9 weeks.  Just for the record, this is not a post about the always-humorous but repetitive “I fainted on the ultrasound table!” or “My husband threw up on the ultrasound tech!”.  Or even, “I thought I was having a heart attack!” (O.K., I actually did briefly think I was having one, but that’s for another post).  However, I will say that for the most part, the weeks following this very unexpected news are now a total blur.  One of the few distinct memories I have from that period is of my mother-in-law saying to me, “I’ve gathered that parents of twins say the first three years are the hardest.”  She wasn’t saying this in a patronizing way.  On the contrary, I think she felt a bit of the overwhelming sense of awe and fear that I’m sure I was feeling (but can’t really remember now).  THREE YEARS?? That moment I do remember.  That moment is stamped so clearly in my mind I can actually remember the glare of the fluorescent kitchen light overhead as I tried to absorb this concept (and, of course, failed).  Who can absorb three years??

Fast-forward to May 2009.  My identical twin boys, Max and Nathan, will be turning three in one month.  This is definitely not a post about how everything has suddenly become efficient, peaceful and orderly in our home, nor is it a post about how I pine for those oh-so-difficult-yet-magical early days with two babies (really, I don’t, but again, that is for another post).  Rather, this is a post about the evolution of our family, and the ever-changing challenges of raising two boys born on the same day.

My husband and I spent the first year or so reminding each other that the boys would eventually sleep through the night (they did), they would actually use the bathroom and thus eliminate the need for refrigerator-sized boxes of Costco diapers (again, they did) and would become more independent (still waiting on that but optimistic).  And at every point, we were surprised that the things we waited so eagerly for happened so quickly that we only remembered how eagerly we awaited their arrival after the fact.  I have no idea if this is the same for parents of singletons, but certainly we were so busy and exhausted that all sorts of things in our household were only noticed after the fact (lack of clean laundry, groceries, gasoline in the car, etc.).

The second year of the boys’ lives, the death grip of exhaustion lessened.  I was still nursing, but only in the mornings and before bed, which felt incredibly liberating compared to the hours I’d spent nursing every day during the first year.  The boys were now sleeping, eating regular food, and walking.  Somehow, though, people seemed to think that life must have gotten a lot easier for me than it really had.  People would stop me and say, “Wow, that first year with two must really have been rough, eh?”.  Or, “I bet you feel lucky to have survived that first year!”.  And as I madly chased after two toddling boys incessantly moving from one source of danger to another (and often in opposite directions), I thought to myself, “What the hell??  I’m still just surviving here, people!  Isn’t that obvious?!”  And my mother-in-law’s words came back to haunt me. 

And I knew then, I just had to make it to three.

And here we are.

I decided to host a birthday gathering for the boys, their first big celebration of this sort.  They are really excited to have a party, and I realize that I am, too.  I feel as though this celebration is for all of us.  We have made it this far.  We got to three.  We got to three!!

The boys’ third year will, I know, bring its own round of challenges.  The boys will start preschool in the fall and my husband and I are finding it hard to imagine not having them running through the house trailing laughter and chaos all day long.  This will be a big transition for all of us, one of many.  I remember a parent of twins saying to me, “The days pass so slowly, the months and years, so quickly.”  So true. 

Three, here we come.  I think we’re ready.

Post #3, By Sarah

My name is Sarah and I’m a mid-thirties mother of four.   After a seemingly normal full-term pregnancy, my first baby, Abigail, was born sleeping in June 2006.  In an odd twist of fate, I became pregnant with spontaneous identical triplets a few months after Abigail’s death.  Against the odds, the girls were delivered at 35 weeks, 6 days gestation.  I work full time in the wonderful world of tax and enjoy photography, writing and running in my very limited free time.  I currently blog about our daily craziness at http://thegreatumbrellaheist.blogspot.com/

Today, as I pushed over sixty pounds of toddler in our triple jogging stroller, I thought of that common question asked of parents of multiples everywhere.  When does it get easier?  If you peruse any message board for caregivers of twins, triplets and more, you will see that question asked over and over and the response is usually the same.  It doesn’t get easier.  It just gets different.  So now, as I listen to my three toddlers scream in their cribs because going to bed is such torture, I really do wonder when it will get easier.  My husband, Rich, and I have told ourselves that the magic age will be five.   It seems better than choosing three or four and then being disappointed and I don’t think I can make it to seven or eight. 

We moved into our current home approximately 18 months ago.  The girls, who were 6 months old at the time, began to share a bedroom.  It was a new experience for all of us.  My husband and I debate the room sharing situation on what feels like a daily basis.  We can discuss and theorize all we want – the hard truth is that our standard builder’s special only has 3.5 bedrooms.  The .5 room is an office and seeing as Grammy, my mom, sleeps over quite a bit, we only thought it appropriate to give her a bedroom.  That leaves us with three girls in one room.

I have good friends who are twins and they shared a bedroom until their early 20’s.  I remember being slightly jealous of their camaraderie because I was not lucky enough to have a sister.  I have convinced myself, through a sleep deprived thought process, that once the girls are older, they will enjoy sharing a room.  I expect there to be a lot of comforting going on.  You know what I mean.  One of them wakes up afraid of the dark and her sister will tell her that it’s okay.  Okay, maybe if I believe hard enough, it will happen.

When the girls were about 18 months old, we pushed their three cribs together to form a big square in the middle of the room.  We thought it would be fun for them to share books and dollies during that wind down period prior to falling asleep.  For the most part, this crib configuration worked out.   We experienced a few incidents of book stealing and book tossing.  And by book tossing, I’m referring to a book landing on someone (possibly on the head) while she is sleeping.  It’s not very pleasant – I can assure you.  But then there was the night that I crept into their room to check on them and found Emily and Allie holding hands through the crib slats, asleep.  My heart just about burst open.

We, unfortunately, separated their cribs last month after I caught Allie pulling Anna’s hair.  The girls didn’t complain too much about the new set-up – not that they really could, anyway.  We were hoping that having some space between them would lessen the number of times that they awaken each other.  It hasn’t.

Of course, having the girls share a room means that there is a constant source of entertainment for us when listening in on their conversations.  The latest phase is Allie, the oldest of the three by 30 seconds, telling her sisters to go to sleep.  That’s exactly how she says it.  “Emmy, go to sleep.”  You see, although my girls are genetically identical, their sleep habits are not.  Allie seems to require and/or want more sleep than Emily.  Anna, the middle child, varies.  Allie has decided that the other two should conform to her sleep schedule.  

So back to when does it get easier.  At six o’clock Sunday morning, an alarm went off in the girls’ room.  We keep a sound machine and a Bose CD player in there and apparently, one of the girls accidentally set the alarm while they were “exploring” their room before either nap or bed.  And by alarm, I mean the annoying beeping kind.  Rich ran in there to turn it off and optimistically thought he could sneak out unnoticed.  I listened to events unfold over the monitor from the warmth and comfort of my bed.  Rich picked up Emily, who was the first to spot him, hoping to prevent her from awakening the other two.  Anna started in on one of her uncontrollable crying jags while Allie yelled, “Anna, go to sleep.”

In some sense, life is easier, although different, now.  It is far easier for one adult to care for three toddlers versus three infants.  When mornings such as these occur, my husband and I take turns napping.  I can nap at any point during the day so I always offer Rich the first adult nap slot and I take the next one.

And yes, at almost 26 months old, my girls still sleep in their cribs without crib tents.  I am blissfully unaware of any attempts of crib escape.  Believe me, they will be sleeping in those cribs for as long as possible.

Do your multiples share a room?  If they do share a room and you had the resources, would you separate them? 

Post #4: Best-Laid Plans, by Jen from Diagnosis: Urine

I’m a freelance writer, and mom to a 6-year-old, 4-year-old twin boys, and a 2-year-old. I worked full-time until February 2007, and since then we’ve relocated for a job, lost that job, experienced unemployment, and have lived to tell about it. My blog, diagnosisurine.blogspot.com, is an attempt at entertaining people with my angst over transitioning from breadwinner and go-getter to stay-at-home mom to a tiny quartet of destruction.

Like many others before me, I was at my most knowledgeable during my first pregnancy. I had researched it all. I had a birth plan, an infancy plan, and a toddlerhood plan.

But, alas, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men…” You can guess how long my plans lasted.

Having twins two years later was like my first go-‘round all over again. I relearned everything, from the mechanics of breastfeeding to the mechanics of folding the double stroller. I did it while working full-time, mostly from home, while caring for a 2-year-old as well.

A baby’s cuteness blinds people to the reality of caring for a newborn. “Enjoy every minute of it!” kindly grandmothers admonish in the grocery store, and you smile and nod but fight back tears thinking of how very tired you are, and how the baby only sleeps when you’re out of the house, and how the longest stretch of sleep you’ve had in a week, is 30 minutes.

The baby-blindness goes double for twins. I remember getting a lot of, “Oh! You’re so blessed!” But I didn’t feel especially blessed. My boys were healthy and for that I was grateful, but in all honesty we’d tried for one baby, and we couldn’t afford two. I spent the twins’ first year steeped in guilt for all the times they cried and I could only comfort one of them, for the times I snapped at my daughter, for the way my marriage and the housework were neglected, and for the concessions my employer and coworkers had made for me.

When people saw me out with three kids under three and said, with a chuckle, “It only gets worse!” I wanted to cry or smack them, depending on the day.

I’m here to tell you the truth: It does get better.

My twin boys are four now. My oldest daughter is six, and we even added a fourth – our youngest daughter is two. I work for myself now, so I get to stay home and figure out my own hours. It is worlds easier than our lives were four, three, or two years ago.

Now, because I’m here to tell you the truth, I’ll also admit that it still sucks sometimes. There are speech delays, potty training crises, typical childhood phobias and obsessions that are only magnified by the presence of four children experiencing them simultaneously under one roof. Yes, there are days I hate this.

Today, for example, wasn’t out of the ordinary, but I’m three hours past the deadline for submitting this post. There were fevers and diarrhea and encounters with neighborhood dogs and trampolines, and minor squabbles and tricycle jousting, and that was in the course of about an hour. I do the best I can. Most of us do. Sometimes my best involves a “teachable moment” and a cute blog post with pictures, and other days it turns into me growling at the kids, each word punctuated with brief, terse silence; followed by a blog post lamenting my numerous failures.

So, in case this is the only post of mine you ever read – especially since I am late and will be lucky to be included at all – please know that it does get better. I promise you, what you go through during the newborn and toddler years with your twins is exhausting and punishing and of course it’s worth it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not 18 years away.

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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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This is cross-posted from my personal blog, Laura’s Mommy Journal.

When illnesses went around the boys’ infant day care room, they both seemed to get it at the same time. This is how I became a confirmed “rip the band-aid off” parent. Inevitably they were both going to get sick, so I may as well clean up puke/stay up all night with feverish babies/administer medicine all at once. It also meant the house could be de-germified faster and there was no waiting around for the other kid to get sick.

As they grew into toddlers, they actually… gasp… got immune systems (either that or they caught every possible bug EVER in the first two years of their lives). One kid may get something and the other kid never gets it. 99% of the time, Alex is the one who catches the bug and stays at home sick. This is not surprising to me as he is very tactile, touching everything and then putting it into his mouth.

Nate’s pink eye is the first illness in awhile where he has stayed home alone. While Jon and I make a concentrated effort to get alone time with each boy, it is rarely a full day. After yesterday, Jon and I have an all new appreciation for Alex. Poor Alex, getting bossed around by Nate ALL THE TIME. I love love love Nate but that kid CAN TALK and he will not stop talking until he gets what he wants.

After just one day alone with Nate, I completely understand why Alex has become such a fast runner – he needs to get away from Nate’s talking. I also understand why he’s developed the habit of giving in to Nate’s demands – it might be the only way to shut Nate up. And I also understand why Alex gets so cranky when we give him a lot of commands – yet two more people bossing him around?!

As the boys have gotten older, I’ve started to take for granted how much interaction occurs between the two of them that does not involve us. Having Alex out of the house amplified how much verbal interaction Nate needs and how much of that interaction Alex provides for Nate. It was a good reminder what a special relationship siblings have. And it was a good reminder how twins rule in every way.

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My boys start school in a week.

I found out that two spots had opened up for them last August, but it just didn’t feel like the right time. We had upcoming travel to California. Their nana was moving to town a few weeks later. There was a lot of change in their lives and I didn’t want to push it. After much deliberation, talking to the school administrators, conferring with other moms, we decided they would start with the new year. I marked the calendar. January 5th was the day.

Way back in October, I began my plan to gradually prepare them for this day. We casually talked about school. We regularly looked at a fantastic book called “Wow! School!” that I found at in the dollar bin at the grocery store. We drove past school and waved and marveled at the playground. In November, I scheduled a visit for the boys to meet their teacher and play outside with their classmates. It was a huge success. In December, we had two visits where the the boys and I spent the first hour in the classroom for their day opening activities. We’ve talked about school almost every day.

And now that we are a week away, I’m talking with them specifically about what to expect. That they will stay at school without mommy. That I will drop them off and they will spend time at school without me, like big boys, and they will play and learn and laugh and eat, and then I will be back to pick them up. When we talk about it they are happy and say things like, “school!” and “teetee! (teacher)” and “play!” We started our day today by driving by school and waving and then going to Starbucks across the street for a blueberry muffin. We’ll do this a few more times this week. I feel like they are exhaustively prepared and I’m exhausted just from reiterating all of it!

And yet, I feel completely and utterly unprepared!

How did this sneak up on me like this? I’ve spent almost every single hour of every single day of the past two years with them, and now what? How am I supposed to say goodbye to them? At almost two, are they too young for this? Will they be sick every day for the next six months from all the germs? Where do I get a freaking nap mat and can I get the 1 inch kind or should I spring twenty bucks for the 2 inch thick deluxe version? What the heck do I pack them for lunch? You mean I have to PACK them a lunch every night?!

Emotionally I feel completely ambivalent. On one hand, I feel we are all ready for this. They will strive in a structured Montessori environment. They will learn so much from people who are trained to teach toddlers. They will learn even more from being around their peers. And I know the social interaction is worth its weight in gold. The boys are great around other kids, but I’ve noticed more and more lately how they tend to cling to each other. And define what they are doing by what their brother is doing. I know this is all natural, but I want to give them the tools early on for being socially independent. Or at least giving them an environment where they can choose to be socially independent from one another.

Selfishly, I also crave some social independence. My existence has been crucially tied to them since they were born. I feel such gratitude to my husband, to the universe, for making this possible. But I’ve become increasingly antsy and want to start doing more things for myself. Professional undertakings, health-and-diet improvements, a kitchen remodel – I have goals and lists that make me dizzy. But most important, I want to regain a sense of “me” again. Lastly, the boys are quickly approaching numero dos, which has brought utter joy and hilarity, as well as incredibly intense challenges. Not that I want to cop out, but I’m pretty excited about getting a daily break from this.

But all these very healthy and logical reasons doesn’t stop the ache, the hesitation and the sense of impending loss that has invaded my heart the past few days. More than anything, it’s manifesting me to second guess our choice of school. Our last visit left me wanting. The teacher was running late so the aids were running the class. Things seemed chaotic. An aid grabbed a toy out of a child’s hand without warning. They read the kids an appalling book about a child who does everything wrong at school. I heard a lot of nos and negatives, which isn’t my style of parenting. Kids were coughing all over each other and one girl had green snot spewing out of her nose. I’m freaking out just recalling it. But I also know this is just my brain’s way of trying to flee.

I can’t help but feel a sense of loss in all this. Like this is the last week I’ll spend with my boys. Our last hurrah. Silly, I know. I’ll still see them every morning, every afternoon and every evening. But I think the loss I feel goes deeper. It means I need to let go. Lighten my grip. Allow someone, other than myself, my husband or nana, to care for my boys. I think our last visit freaked me out so much because I had to accept, in some way, an environment that was out of my control. This is a big deal for me. Not because I’m some neurotic control freak. It’s just because I’m a mom. And as a mom I realize that at some point I will have to let go. A little bit at first, a little more later, and a hell-of-a-lot more when they grab the keys to the car and say, “see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!” This is my first time letting them out of my protective wingspread, and truth be told, I’m scared. So much so I actually had a dream a few months back that they died at school. The worst dream I ever had. Maybe I need therapy?

I know I will get through this and in a month or so I will be singing the praises of school. It’s just weighing so heavy, as I’m sure it does for millions of other parents dropping off their babies (no matter how old they are) at school/day care/etc. for the first time. It’s just going to be a tough few first weeks. Or maybe it won’t. But regardless, things will be very different around here.

Amidst the whirlwind of emotions, I am very excited. Thrilled even. To realize that I’ve gotten the boys this far and now they are ready for the next step. To witness what they soak in and learn in this new environment. To realize that I’m going to have a bit of freedom again in my life, an opportunity to re-imagine and re-identify myself. To seize this time I will have for myself, and cherish, perhaps even more deeply, the time I have with my boys.

Completely scary and completely thrilling. Just like parenting always is.

Dropping them off at school for the first time can't be half as scary as watching them climb an eight foot rope ladder at the same time!

Dropping them off at school for the first time can't be half as scary as watching them climb an eight foot rope ladder at the same time!

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A question today from Lyna, which I felt totally compelled to answer (I know, you’re all shocked!):

my twins are 18 mo, and i’m ashamed to admit that i have been relying a lot on my maid in handling them. i even take her along on our outings. yesterday i did something ambitious, i went out with the twins and my elder daughter WITHOUT the maid. it was a stressful experience – i ended up losing my temper on my 4-yo for the littlest reason. i feel so bad and incompetent as a mother.

so how DO you do it? how do you handle outings with 2 toddlers and a rebellious 4-yo without getting all stressed out?

Getting out of the house is more and less challenging at all different ages.  But, more than anything, I think it’s hardest when you simply lack practice.  Don’t beat yourself up, it’s tricky.  Here are some tips:

Choose wisely

When you’re new to solo outings, pick them carefully.  Don’t drag three kids to the grocery store at 5pm.  Pick a time (maybe right after a nap?) when they’re all typically in a good mood.  Pick a destination that isn’t too far away, whether a short walk to the park or a short drive to a friend’s house.  Pick an outing that is manageable and kid-friendly.  If there’s some kind of contained drop-in play space, or a small fenced-in playground (though that can be tricky with the young toddlers), that might be a nice bet. Pick some place that is child-friendly and interesting so that you don’t have to expect them to sit still and be quiet for very long, but also someplace that is small or enclosed enough that you’ll be more able to keep a watchful eye on all of them at once.  Also, consider a class they can all enjoy on their own level, such as a music class (I’ve heard lots of good recommendations for Music Together for multi-aged siblings).  It’s structured, it’s kid-friendly, it’s entertaining, and it’s only an hour.  Make sure you have enough time to get home for the next meal or naptime.

Pack Carefully

Especially at those ages, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you.  But the last thing you want is to be caught without a few diapers and wipes in case of a containment failure.  And snacks.  Don’t ever forget the snacks.  I’m not above using Goldfish crackers as the occasional bribery for good behavior or to avert a meltdown.  Bring snacks and maybe sippy cups with water.  It won’t go bad if you accidentally leave it in the car, but it’s there if you need it.  A hungry child is more likely to be cranky, so make sure everyone’s happy and fed!  Other than that, maybe bring a comfort item if your kids are wary of new situations, but make sure it’s a second-string stuffed animal.  You don’t want to accidentally leave the One True Blanket at the mall.  If you have messy kids, you might leave a change of clothes in the trunk of your car, but no need to drag it all over creation.

Adjust Expectations

Along with choosing your time and location carefully, you need to make adjustments to your own expectations in order to lower your stress level and make you less likely to have a meltdown (and we’ve all done it).  Don’t have a list of things you want to accomplish while you’re out, don’t make your first outings all about errands.  Take it small, and keep it focused on the kids. Make it an outing focused on something fun for them, not to-do list for you.  And then realize that they may not enjoy it as much as you had hoped, and that’s OK.  Realize that sometimes they’re just going to have a bad day and you’ll have to make a quick departure.  And that’s OK.  And, remember, kids are a lot like dogs and horses: they can totally smell fear and tension.  If you’re tense and ready to snap, they’ll pick up on it in a second.  Relax, and put on your “calm and loving mom” face.  You can let out the frustration when you’re home and they’re all down for a nap if you need to.  But as far as they’re concerned, stay cool.

With the older sibling, take a page from LauraC and do some advance preparation.  Talk about what you’ll be doing.  Talk up how much fun music class will be together.  Repeatedly discuss what you’re going to do in detail (“We’ll all get in the car and drive to X.  Then we’ll have music class, and there will be instruments to play and songs to sing, and you can dance if you want to.  When class is over, we’ll come back home and have lunch.”).  Also discuss behavior expectations.  I don’t think there’s a need to focus too much on potential consequences for bad behavior.  Instead, focus on all of the nice things you’re expecting her to do since she’s such a wonderful big girl. Let her know when she’ll have choices (“You don’t have to sing along if you don’t want to.” “You can choose whether we have pretzels or string cheese for snack.”)  And, again, be reasonable.  Don’t expect them to sit quietly somewhere for 45 minutes so you can have a latte and read a magazine.  But do expect the older child to do things like hold hands while walking, use an inside voice, etc.

Practice Makes Perfect

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  Honestly, this is one of those things that only seems more daunting the longer you wait.  And I know a lot of people who get caught in the (somewhat enviable) trap of almost having too much help.  The down side to having a lot of help is that you do become really reliant on it, and you start to believe that you couldn’t possibly get by without it.  But you can, and lots of people do.  So plan ahead, give yourself a pep-talk if you need to (I think I can, I think I can!), and then just go for it.  Even the most “experienced” among us have days when things seem to crash and burn.  But you learn from the experience (shouldn’t have gone to X when they skipped a nap!), and do it better the next time.  Just keep trying, and soon you’ll be an old pro.

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Holidays can be crazy enough when you’re single.  Add in-laws and kids of all ages, and you have the potential for madness!  Following are tips from the HDYDI moms on making it through the big family gatherings with twins in tow.

Respect sleep needs

Whatever stage of daytime sleep your kids are in, do what you can to respect their normal routine.  If you have newborns who will sleep in people’s arms, lucky you!  Just pass them around until people’s arms get tired.  I know last Christmas was difficult with my 4-month-olds, as they were still in the “sleep every few hours” stage, but past the “sleep in anyone’s arms” stage. But the time we violated the “sleep every few hours” rule went very poorly, so, lesson learned.  If your older infants or toddlers have a good nap schedule going, stick to it to whatever degree possible.  Bring a pack & play (or two) if they’re likely to sleep at someone else’s house.  Or, consider doing the hour-long drive right at naptime.  It won’t be perfect, but if you want your kids to do well with lots of new people or places, better that they be well-rested.

At four months old, Daniel was not really into Hannukah last year.  Plus, it was bedtime.

At four months old, Daniel was not really into Hannukah last year. Plus, it was bedtime.

Also, be respectful of bedtime, especially in younger kids. Believe me, a 12-month-old is generally not going to appreciate the “special treat” of staying up well past bedtime.  Instead, you’ll just have a meltdown on your hands.  If you’ll be at someone else’s house and will stay there until bedtime, bring pajamas and change the kids before you get into the car.  That way, if they fall asleep on the way home, it will be one less thing to do when transferring them into their beds.

Consider giving warnings ahead of time, both for the sake of the kids and for your photos-at-the-last-minute family members.  Make it known that you are leaving in 30 minutes… 10… 5.  If your kids are old enough to understand the warning, then even if they still don’t want to go, at least it isn’t a surprise.  And though you may have family members who think you’re being a stick in the mud for leaving “so early,” you know full well what will happen if your overstimulated 18-month-olds stay up too late… it won’t be pretty.  Give everyone warning, try to make sure photos are taken before it’s time to put coats on, and then pack it up and go when you need to.

Pack wisely

Bring comfort items or lovies, but maybe consider bringing the second-string stuffed animal.  God forbid you leave the absolute favorite one at Aunt Judy’s house!  For older infants and toddlers, have a good stash of reliable favorite foods in case of a table full of unsuitable items or picky preschoolers.  There’s a time and a place for enforcing the “I am not a short-order cook” rule, but you’ll have to decide relative to the age and tantrum-prone-ness of your child whether it’s a battle worth fighting at your sister-in-law’s house.  My vote is to make sure you at least have some string cheese and goldfish in your purse, just in case.  If your kids are old enough for most table foods, I’m not saying you should bring a separate meal.  Just have a little bit of backup.

Have cup, will travel.

Have cup, will travel.

If having your toddler’s favorite sippy cups or a strap-on booster seat will make things easier when you’re there, then by all means throw them in the back of the car.  As always, don’t forget standard diaper necessities and maybe an extra shirt.  (Though, hey, a little kid running around in a diaper is always considered adorable at my house.) Really, though, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you.  If your supplies require more trips out to the car than number of kids, you may have packed too much.  It’ll be OK if you don’t bring all of the favorite toys.  A wooden spoon and metal bowl can go a long way.

Advance Prep

If you are going to the home of a close friend or relative, especially one who has an affinity for small ceramic figurines, it might be worth a call ahead to see if some of the low-lying breakables can be put away.  But this works for some hosts better than others, and as both parent and guest, the responsibility is yours to keep your kids from demolishing the joint.  Potentially a pain in your ass?  Yes, but it’s not your house.  So, sometimes we have to suck it up.  Parenting is fun, isn’t it?

Older toddlers and preschoolers may benefit from some preparation of their own.  Especially for those who are wary of new places and new people, start talking it up in advance. [Obviously this advice is a little late for Thanksgiving ’08, but it’s a good time to start prepping for the December holidays, or tuck it away for some other future event.] LauraC makes the great suggestion of getting together pictures of everyone who will be there, and I know some parents even put together their own little photo book of what to expect, inclusive of pictures of the kinds of food that will be served.  Introduce all of the new players, maybe let the kids talk on the phone or Skype with unfamiliar faces whenever possible.  Frequent reminders of who the people are and what you’ll be doing can go a long way towards a smooth adjustment.  Also consider books and stories about the holiday, again to help the kids know what to expect.  Talk about what you say when you meet new people, or about the very special behavior you expect when we all sit at the big table together.

Adjust Expectations

Most importantly, go with the flow.  If you are relaxed, your kids are more likely to be relaxed (that goes for any tension you may have with your in-laws – beware, the kids can and will pick up on it).  Decide ahead of time which rules are most important for you to keep consistent (behavior, bedtime, etc.), and then consider being a little more loose on the rest.  If you never turn on the TV at home, an afternoon of sitting with Uncle Jim and watching the football game is unlikely to do any lasting harm.  If you avoid sweets, having a little dessert is unlikely to be the end of you.  I’m not saying you should let the kids gorge themselves on cookies all day, but pick things that you’re willing to let slide a little bit and just let go.  And have realistic expectations about how long your child can sit at a table, relative to his or her age and attention span.  I know you’d like to sit and chat with Cousin Sal, but it may be better for everyone if you and little Joey get up from the table.

If things crash and burn

… and sometimes they do, take a deep breath.  You’re still the mom, and you’re still in charge.  If your preschooler starts melting down and hitting his brother, and needs a time out, find a way to do it.  If they’re getting overwhelmed, find a quiet room to escape for a little while, or go for a walk around the block.  Fresh air and a change of scenery can work magic.  Remember, they’re just kids, and they aren’t trying to ruin your holiday.  They’re probably in an unfamiliar situation, overstimulated and maybe overtired.

And sometimes, sometimes you just need to cut your losses and pack it up.  It happens to the best of us.  I’m sorry if that means you miss the pie, maybe you can get a slice to go.  But if you can see that you’ve reached the point of no return, say your goodbyes and try again next time.

Readers… any good holiday tricks that have worked for you in the past?  Or mistakes you’d rather not repeat?  Let’s hear ’em!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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I  first read about dyeing rice on The Crafty Crow, who got it from Colorfool. I’ve been meaning to do it for quite some time but when I realized that yesterday was Monday (my usual post day) and that I was late (again) with posting my activity o’ the week, I figured now (yesterday) was the time.

Of course, once I bothered to read the setup directions, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen in one day – you gotta let the rice dry out first. Bummer. But on the good side, once you create your dyed rice then you will be the proud owner of a nice container of dyed rice that can be used/enjoyed for years to come.

Core Activity: Pour or scoop lovely dyed rice from one container to another.

  • Age appropriateness: 15 months & up (whenever you think that your kids won’t just cram the rice into their mouths)
  • Materials needed: a bag of rice (I used regular long grain white rice that I found in the pantry, which happened to be 6 years old – yuck!), food coloring, rubbing alcohol or white distilled vinegar, and a big plastic baggie.
  • Setup: put desired number of drops in the baggie (I ended up using about 10 drops of red and 10 of blue) plus about 2 teaspoons of alcohol or vinegar (brightens up the color) into the baggie and mix together. Then add the rice (I had about 36 ounces ’cause that’s what came in the package I had on hand), MAKE SURE THE BAGGIE IS WELL SEALED, and then shake, shake, shake your booty, ahem, I mean, baggie. Spread it out on a cookie sheet (a jelly roll pan is best ’cause it’s got a rim) and let the rice dry overnight.

Activity: Set a cookie sheet out in front of your kids. Add various random containers, spoons, scoops, cups, whatever you’ve got around. Add the rice. Let the kids pour, scoop, spoon, draw lines with their fingers or pick up individual grains.

I was inspired to do this after reading (too many) blogs written by homeschooling moms and Montessori teachers. The concept of pouring and scooping as activities is not only fun for kids but it teaches some of the Practical Life skills that the Montessori method advocates. (I’m currently half considering homeschooling my kids. Primarily because the public schools in my town aren’t good. At all. And private schools for three kids is waaaaay too e.x.p.e.n.s.i.v.e. But I digress.)

Anyway, Katie seemed to enjoy this quite a bit and I’m glad I have something on hand that I can quickly stick in front of her and get an extra 5-10 minutes of distraction.

Read.

Eat. Well, uh, duh. How about some rice? Some nice sushi anyone? Although I don’t recommend eating the dyed rice. I suppose if you made it with the vinegar it’s probably safe enough. Still, you won’t catch me eating anything my 3-year-old has been playing with for 25 minutes!

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