06 July 2011

Vacationing Mommy

One of the things that I quickly learned when I became a parent is that the word "vacation" will never really apply to me again. Well, at least not for a very long time. I'm not complaining. Much. One of the things that G and I loved to do pre-kids was to travel. We liked to spend months planning our grand adventures. We both have the need to go somewhere we've never been before and do something that we can talk about for years afterward. Sailing through the Bay of Biscay, anyone? How about hiking through native land in Costa Rica?

Even with all the adventure we packed into our vacations, there was still plenty of time for relaxing. We spent hours relaxing over tapas and cervecas in Madrid and a whole day lounging on a deserted beach in Costa Rica. Those days are gone. Our vacations now are not only quite domestic by comparison, but they don't include a lot of relaxation. Its hard to lay on a beach when you're chasing a toddler, after all.

I would be lying to say that I don't miss the relaxation, but vacationing with kids is rewarding in other ways. We're heading off to a little lake in Maine for the second year with the girls. Much of my husband's family will be there and the girls get to enjoy boating and swimming and running around with their aunts and cousins and grandma. Its not an exotic vacation that has all of our friends talking like our Tall Ships sailing adventure, but its something that we look forward to just as much. I love that the girls have a spot to go where they can build memories and summer traditions.

My family used to go camping at the same spot every year and I loved that week or two when my Dad had off work and my mom would make bacon and eggs over a camp stove. We had a campfire every night and we swam in the lake every day. My sister even takes her son there every year continuing the tradition for another generation.

I'm sure my parents were hoping for a little relaxation on those vacations, too. And I'm sure they didn't get it, but I hope they know that thirty years later, I still remember those camping trips fondly and I'm doing my best to give my girls those same kind of memories. And I wouldn't trade a week of laying on the beach for the opportunity to watch the girls' eyes sparkle when they try a new adventure of their own.

30 June 2011

Out of Breath Mommy

I can remember being the "fun" aunt. I used to have endless amounts of energy to toss around my nieces and nephews when I came home for a visit. I could be seen on the floor wrestling and running around the yard in a good game of chase. And in those moments, I thought, what a good mommy I would make some day.

Turns out - parenting seems to take that endless energy and drain it. I now have kids with endless energy. And while I would love to wrestle and run and chase, I know that after I'm done doing that, I still have to do the dishes, the laundry, make dinner, etc. I have to reserve some of my energy for the practical stuff. I'm sure the fact that I'm older probably has something to do with my lack of oomph. But, frankly, parenting is wearing me out long before we get to play time.

I've tried to let the house go to play more and clean less, but there are some basics that have to be done like making lunch, dressing, diapering, teeth brushing, et al. I think the only solution is to find a really "fun" aunt to run around and chase the kids while I sit on the sidelines and catch my breath!

18 June 2011

Going It Alone

I love where we live, but it's biggest downfall is that its not near any of our family. Our nearest relative is five hours and an expensive ferry ride away. While I love my family, this distance never bothered me too much until I had kids. Going home twice a year, spending four or five days with my family at a stretch and keeping in touch throughout the rest of the year via phone and email was working for me. It wasn't ideal, but it was a sacrifice worth making to live in my favorite city. However, throw two kids into the mix and I start to get wistful about what my life would be like if my mom lived down the street.

Most of our friends here are surrounded by family and I have to admit that I'm jealous. The ability to drop your kids off with their grandparents for an afternoon is something I can only day dream about. I imagine calling up my sister and having her ask why I sound so stressed and then offering to come over to entertain the kids in exchange for free dinner. That's my fantasy these days, folks! I haven't even gotten to the free day care. What would I do if one of my closest relatives offered to watch the kids for free so I could go back to work a few days a week? Run to the nearest phone and ask my old boss for a job. That's called having your cake and eating it too in my world.

While free day care and babysitting would be a dream come true, what bothers me the most is worrying that my kids are growing up without really getting to know their grandparents and cousins. EC asks about her grandparents every other day. She wants to know where they live and when she'll see them. Suddenly, twice a year visits seem inadequate. And this past year, our finances were tight and we didn't even get to visit that many times. I have such fond memories of spending time with my grandparents at least weekly when I was young. And I wish that for my kids. G grew up far away from his relatives and he still talks about how wonderful it was to visit his grandparents every summer. He was close to them despite the distance - in fact, LR is named after his grandmother. I can only hope that the kids will be able to form these attachments regardless of the distance. And that all the diversity and experiences that the city has to offer can make up for the lack of cousins living in the next town.

10 June 2011

Imperfect Morning

I sort of pride myself on not being one of "those" mommies whose children get into my fingernail polish and paint the carpet with it. I have most everything out of the reach of small fingers and watch them diligently. You know what they say about pride, don't you? It comes before a fall. Usually a big one.

This morning, G and I were awakened by the cries and shouts of wakefulness by our darling little girls at 5:26 am. Unfortunately, this is normal. We occasionally get to sleep in until 6 am, but 5:30 am is more the norm. And sometimes we try to convince them that its not time to get up yet. This morning they let us know just how foolish and futile that was.

When G crept back to bed, EC got into the top dresser where there is a basket of diaper cream, baby thermometers, and Vaseline. She decided to style LR's hair. I'm sure she had no way of knowing that she was setting the style for days, perhaps even weeks. With no scissors to be had, she glopped on a big ol' pile of Vaseline on top of her head and smeared it around. She added some to her own hair as well, but LR got the most of it.

I headed in a few minutes later and found the scene of the crime. Initially, I couldn't even believe it - what do you do for a head full of Vaseline? Poor LR had no idea what had happened, she was just happy that EC was letting her sit on her bed. After scooping them up and heading into the bathtub for multiple shampoos (useless, by the way), I started to develop some understanding about the situation that I was in. A situation of chagrin for all those times when I passed judgment on another mommy for this exact same thing.

And so, as my penance for being a judgmental mommy, I've got a nice greasy reminder of just how imperfect I am. And now, I'm off to Google how to get Vaseline out of someone's hair. Because the shampoo and dish liquid haven't worked and poor LR is leaving greasy spots everywhere she lays her head.

05 June 2011

Insane Mommy

I have mommy moments when I don't just feel guilty, I feel a little mean. Okay, a lot mean. And defensive. Tonight was one of those nights. The reason for my guilt is that I am currently sitting at a restaurant having dinner solo while G and the girls are fending for themselves at home. After I leave this restaurant where I am being waited on, I will go shopping while G bathes the girls and puts them to bed. I won't be there to kiss them goodnight. Big time mommy guilt. But here is my defense.

G has a deadline on Friday. He worked late several nights last week. He worked all day today which is Sunday. He will probably work late every night this week. I need a break from my little darlings so that tomorrow when EC tells me seventeen times that she wants a cowgirl doll for her birthday, I don't snap.

I love my kids and I want to be excited that EC loves cowgirls, but I have to tell ya. It's hard to sustain my excitement without a break from it all.

And so tonight when I told the girls goodbye and EC cried and pleaded that she wanted her Mommy, I felt mean, but I left anyway. Because I'm pretty sure I'll be meaner tomorrow without some time away.

Candice Barter

Sent from my iPhone, so please forgive my typos!

03 June 2011

Weight Loss Mommy

I was hoping to wait until I had ten pounds off to come and tell you that my attempt at Weight Watchers was a success, but as I slipped into a pair of old jeans this morning, I decided it was time to tout my achievements. This certain pair of jeans is from a shopping trip after I lost weight before getting pregnant with EC. So, while, I haven't quite reached my pre-EC weight, I'm fitting into the clothes and I'll take that!

I have, to date, lost 7 1/2 pounds since I started WW two months ago. On some days, that seems like a small achievement, but then I remind myself that I didn't even think I could stay on the program for two months. And sometimes I hear myself reminding EC that she needs to keep trying and not use the words, "I can't" quite so often. I need to follow my own advice.

One of the things I've always struggled with on diets is that I love to cook. Its a favorite pastime of mine and a love of cooking doesn't usually work well with a diet. So, I found (with a little help from my friends) a website from a like-minded gal who loves to cook and create recipes that are so very tasty and also WW friendly. The site is www.skinnytaste.com. The girls and G are big fans of the food I've made from this site and that is a true testament to the fact that these recipes do not make "diet" food. They make yummy food.

One of our favorite recipes has to be the Chocolate Zucchini Bread. The girls love it because it tastes like they are eating the moistest, richest chocolate cake. I love it because it feels indulgent, but isn't AND because my kids are getting a serving of a green vegetable every time they have a slice!

I'm going to copy the recipe here, but I'm doing so with props to Gina from skinnytaste.com and I encourage all of you to check out her site. The Swedish Meatballs are to die for and I've made a couple of the soups and some great latin fare for Cinco de Mayo, as well. Basically, all the recipes I've tried from her site have been delicious and easy to make. And her photography is pretty amazing too. I'm a girl who likes a good visual aid with her recipes.

So, a pat on the back to me for my 7 1/2 pounds and for finding a way to get zucchini into the diet of a 1 year old!

Chocolate Zucchini Bread courtesy of www.skinnytaste.com
Servings: Makes 16 slices (2 loaves of 8 slices each)
Serving size: 1 slice
Calories: 215

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or 1/2 cup chocolate chips)
2 cups grated zucchini (1 medium)
baking spray

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Spray two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans with cooking spray.

2. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

3. Whisk eggs, sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla and melted chocolate in another large bowl until blended. Add the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in zucchini and walnuts. Pour the batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake the loaves 55 to 60 minutes (my convection oven only requires 45 minutes at this temp), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto rack and cool completely.

5. Enjoy!

31 May 2011

Off to School We Go...

After much laboring over a decision about what kind of transformation our life would take this fall, we finally have a conclusion! It's the compromise that we were hoping for, but not one that we felt was possible in the area that we live in. We found an inexpensive (due to the fact that it is subsidized by the city where we live) half day, three-day-a-week preschool program for EC. It is walking distance from our house and they have a spot for EC in their four-year-old program. We visited last week and spoke with her teacher. The teachers have been there for 5+ years and worked within the city programs for close to twenty years. The classroom was divided up into a music area, art area, and a spot for story time and circle time. They also had several play areas - one set up like a kitchen, one was a wooden playhouse filled with dolls and the last one had every kind of block you could imagine. The kids were a pretty diverse crowd and the teachers were laid back, but in charge. They have the short time scheduled for the kids and they learn from a new theme each week.

EC dove right in, introducing herself to the kids, playing with them on the computer, and making stuff with scissors and paper. She is so ready for a little time to be independent of Mommy and Daddy. And I cannot wait to hear the stories that she has to tell about making new friends and all the exciting new things she learns in school. She's going to have a hard time waiting until September for the start of the new school year. I, on the other hand, am glad that I have a few months to prepare. It will be hard to admit that she's big enough to go to school all on her own, even if its just for a few hours a day.

The best part of this scenario is that I can stay home for one more year. I'll get to spend three mornings a week with little LR and all three of us will have our afternoons and Tuesdays and Thursdays for our normal routine. I am a little disappointed that I won't be going back to work, but I think this is the best option for our little family. And I feel extremely fortunate that we are able to do this for one more year. Now that we have preschool figured out, we have only a few short months before the search for a kindergarten begins!

27 May 2011

A Confession

I'm about to confess something that will probably be met with a collective gasp. I will clarify this admission by saying that I love, love, love my kids. However, I would be lying if I said that I don't sometimes find the prattling of my darling children maddening. I even tell them to stop sometimes. I am aware that this makes me highly imperfect. I am also aware that my incessant chatter has been found annoying on more than one occasion. Pot, meet kettle.

I am a talker. And for those of you who have met me, you might say that this is an understatement. Staying at home and not going out into the adult world every day has made the situation worse. I feel like I can't get the words out fast enough sometimes when I find myself in a conversation with someone whose age ranges in the double digits. Its like a flood gate opens and all those bottled up words just come rushing out. Much to the dismay of my friends, I'm sure. Definitely something that my dear husband is more than tolerant about. Thank you, G.

So, it shouldn't really be a surprise to me that my kids are chatterboxes. And because I am such a chatterbox myself, I should be more tolerant of all the chattering going on around me. Alas, I was given the gift of gab, not the gift of tolerance.

In my defense, its not the actual talking that I find annoying. Its the repetition. EC is at a phase when she will repeat the same phrase over and over and over and.... well, you get my point. Sometimes its a repeated request. Often, she just wants me to acknowledge her and respond. The one that gets me the most is when she sings the same line over and over and over. Its like having a song stuck in your head. I'm aware of how terrible this all sounds. What kind of mother doesn't embrace the creative songwriting of her three-year-old? A terrible one.

I feel as if I can confess this to you, though. And that maybe, just maybe, one or two of you will understand and not read this post with disdain. As you may have figured out by now, patience is not my strong suit. So, there you have it. I'm a mommy who finds her kids annoying at times. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I might be the only one who tells her song-writing toddler to can the music for a minute.

26 May 2011

Shout Out!

Today's post is a shout out to G for passing all his exams and finishing all the requirements for his architectural license. He is officially done and will now have the very important significance of having letters after his name!! The requirements for the license involve lots of paperwork, payments to various organizations who have managed to find a way to make a profit off of the process, fulfilling a certain number of work hours in a bunch of different areas of expertise, and, of course, taking and passing nine (or more!) exams that encompass, not only architecture, but engineering fields associated with the profession. Its tough going. To add to the craziness, the licensing board decided two years ago to re-write the whole exam process and change everything up. G was caught in the middle of this and had to re-take exams.

While, I'm very proud of him for getting his license, I'm even more proud of him for deciding to finish. I know that there was a moment when he found out that he had to re-take exams that he'd already passed, when he really just wanted to quit. Okay, months of moments. And I know that it was hard to commit to go back to studying every night after work and on the weekends, too. But he made the commitment and stuck with it. He plowed through one exam after another until yesterday, we received the final notice that he passed them all! I'm not sure it has completely sunk in yet that he's done! No more nights of studying and weekends spent at the office instead of with the family. He has earned this license and I'm so very happy to share in his celebration. The only other thing I can say is: It's time for a really big party!

24 May 2011

Tiring Out Toddlers

I can sum up this article for you in a single sentence. You cannot tire out toddlers. I could go on to say that trying will only tire yourself out. I tried to write this post yesterday, but I was too worn out from the weekend to pick up my laptop.

The girls have been waking up early and napping terribly for the past week or two. I thought it might be because we'd been spending too much time indoors - the weather has not been very cooperative for outdoor play. I figured they weren't getting enough exercise to tire them out properly and make them sleep well. And so, I decided to team up with G over the weekend on a campaign to wear out our kids and get a nice long nap out of both of them. A nice long nap is usually needed to reset their little inner clocks and get them back into their normal sleep pattern.

On Saturday, we woke up a little hopeful about the weather. The forecast was still not a great one - cloudy with possible showers, but it hinted that it might be warmer than it had been all week. We were hoping it might even hit 60 degrees. And so we packed up the stroller with our two girls and a diaper bag full of essentials and headed for the train. We got off at a stop downtown and let the girls walk, run and wander through one of the many parks. There was grass to play in, rocks to climb on and a merry-go-round. And, to top off a great adventure, the clouds went away and left us with only sunshine and warm temperatures. The girls were thrilled to be running around without their jackets and we were just happy to see them running. Surely, all this running and walking would tire them out and ensure a good, long nap.

After the merry-go-round, we wandered over to find something to eat. The girls were in great spirits and ate quite a lot of food - a sure sign that our plan was working. We finished lunch and decided to take the scenic route back to the train. We walked along the water, breathing in the ocean air. All that fresh air had to be doing something, right?

We made it back to the train where the girls were practically vibrating with the excitement of our day. And they seemed happy to be heading home. When we got home and tucked them into bed for their naps, they fell asleep quickly and, I have to admit, so did I. I was exhausted. Hours of walking around in the fresh air had indeed had the desired effect - on me!

Unfortunately, our plan didn't work. The girls were up and bouncing around long before we were ready for them to be awake. I, on the other hand, was too tired to move. Maybe, the exhaustion will hit them tonight, I thought. Instead, they had trouble falling asleep that night and actually woke up early the next morning. Seriously?

On the other hand, G and I fell into bed at 8:30 pm completely worn out from our day of wearing out the kids. Which would have been worth it had we actually worn them out. I think we're going to have to move on to Plan B - pay someone much younger than ourselves to wear out our children!

19 May 2011

Daddy Talk

Tonight at dinner, I had a realization. I have to share my husband with my daughters. I'm not completely naive. I have known this for years. Ever since EC entered this world head first into his waiting arms. But tonight, I understood it a little more.

During dinner, I was talking around the incessant chatter of little girls, trying in vain to have a conversation with G. Today was an indoor day. Meaning we didn't leave the house. These are the days I dread as a stay at home mom and they are usually the days that push me over the edge. When G gets home on a day like today, I am ready to burst with unspoken words. And usually, I feel a little entitled to some conversation with my husband over dinner. Is that too much to ask?

It occurred to me as I was about to tell EC that it was Mommy's turn to talk, that she would have to wait to ask Daddy her question. She had been waiting all day to talk to him, too. And just like that, I stopped talking and let her take a nice long turn chatting about cowgirls and hats and birthday presents and teeth. Because as much as I miss adult interaction during the day, she misses her Daddy. She might get to spend all day long with Mommy, but Daddy is only around for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening and those two hours are taken up by breakfast and dinner and bath time. Not nearly enough conversation time for a little girl and her Daddy.

So, tomorrow morning, when we're pouring the cereal and making the coffee, I will try to remember that while I am entitled to have a conversation with my husband, it can wait until a little girl has a conversation with her Daddy.

18 May 2011

Best Buddies

Yesterday, while I was getting things ready for us to leave the house, the girls started a game of silliness. I never figured out what the point of the game was, but they were running through the house, shrieking and then falling down on the floor and convulsing into giggles. Whatever it was that they were doing was so ridiculously funny to them that they were laughing until they were breathless. It was quite a site to watch and I was glad that they were entertaining themselves for long enough for me to pack the diaper bag and get myself ready.

What I liked even more was that they were enjoying playing with each other so much. EC can make LR laugh like no one else can. Watching them together, clearly having so much fun was just heartwarming and it really does make up for all the fights over the same toy and pushing matches that I have to intervene in on a regular basis. Just like all those middle of the night feedings and diaper changes are forgotten in that instant when your baby smiles for the first time, watching your kids play together makes you momentarily forget all those sister fights.

Its true when they say that two kids is more than double the work of one. At least it is in the beginning. You not only have to take care of and entertain each kid appropriate for their age level, you have to control their interactions as well. But just as they get older and can do more things for themselves, their interactions as siblings change, too. I know that they will fight over toys until they leave the house and possibly even beyond. But I also know that because there are two of them, they have one more person in this world who's looking out for them and that can only be a good thing!

17 May 2011

Appreciating the Small Stuff

The weather around here (and it sounds like in the rest of the country as well) has been cold and dreary. Usually by the time spring hits, I'm the envy of all my friends. Walking to the park and playing in the sunshine and warm weather with the kids while they are all stuck in their offices wishing they weren't missing their daily dose of vitamin D. This is my reward for making it through the winter months stuck inside with two rambunctious kids.

Not this year. This year, my reward is a few more months stuck inside wishing the rain and cold weather would stop. And I'm having a little trouble coping without the reward part. I'm ready to walk outside and feel the warmth. We've had one or two warm days, but really, its been cold, cold, cold. And the ten day weather forecast has a little raincloud on every day.

All this foul weather has made us a little claustrophobic. The girls are ready to be outside running around and I'm in need of some fresh air too. The apartment is closing in on us! My solution has been to get them out whenever possible - even if it's just to play in the back yard for twenty minutes before the rain or the cold forces us back inside.

Yesterday, the forecast was for steady rain all day. The girls watched television, made paper dolls, had a snack and played with their toys. That got us to 9:30 am. What should we do now?

We played for a while longer, had lunch early and finally, got a break in the weather. And by that, I mean that it stopped raining. It was still cold and wet outside. But it was the best we could expect and the girls were bouncing off the walls. So, we bundled up, put on rain boots and headed outside. I was depressed to note that as I opened the back door, it was so cold that I could see my breath. EC, however, stepped out the back door and said, "My, what a beautiful day it is!"

I had to smile at her reaction. Everyone has been grumbling for weeks or even months about our weather. It is colder and rainier than we're used to, but sometimes kids are able to appreciate things better than us. She must have been happy just to be outside. Of course, twenty minutes later, LR was complaining and heading for the back door. She must take after her mommy.

16 May 2011

Outdoor Adventures

One of the big components of our life before kids was having outdoor adventures - kayaking the ocean, sailing the harbor, hiking the local mountains and biking the trails. While these are definitely things that don't have to stop when you have kids, they certainly slow down. It's difficult to participate in these activities when you're pregnant and even harder with an infant. But now that the kids are getting older, we're starting to look forward to the times when we'll be able to introduce the kids to these activities and do them as a family. Until then, we're making up some toddler-friendly outdoor adventures.

G is quite good at finding a way to incorporate his love of running with his desire to spend time with the girls. He packs the girls into the double jogger and runs from park to park. He gets some running in and the girls get a ride in the stroller and time at the swings. They all love it and come home tired and happy. This weekend, I decided to come along on one of their adventures and it was a pleasant reminder of how much fun we can have as a family.

First, we walked the half a mile to the train station near our house. There is a trolley car from this station that goes a few stops. The girls love this little train and it stops along our local bike path. We got off the train and the girls were able to walk and run along the bike path (which is fenced in on both sides!) without us worrying about there being cars nearby. They raced along the path, stopping to look at the flowers and the murals along the way. After about a half mile on this path, there is a playground that the girls love. Swings and slides and lots of stuff to climb on entertained the girls until it was nearly lunchtime and we decided to head home.

From here, we walked back down the bike path until we got to our neighborhood and then we cut through the streets until we got home. At this point, LR was fast asleep from so much fresh air and exercise, G and I had gotten a few miles of walking in, and EC was ready for lunch! The girls love adventures like this and while they aren't as fast-paced as kayaking through some ocean swells, they are enough to get our hearts racing. We've traded in our extreme adventures for now, but watching the joy on the faces of our two girls racing along the bike path more than makes up for our new slower pace.

13 May 2011

Sleep

Do you remember the time in your life when nap time was mandatory? I can vaguely remember feeling trapped into laying down every day and feeling like it was torture. Of course, now napping is such a luxury that I consider asking for it for my birthday instead of the super expensive shampoo that I love and can no longer justify buying on a regular basis. I have two kids and they couldn't be different when it comes to napping. EC has always loved sleep. Sure, she had her moments in the early weeks when she woke up for night feedings, but I mean weeks literally, she was only six weeks old when she started sleeping eight hours at a stretch. And she got onto a schedule of napping for two hours in the morning and another two in the afternoon. This lasted for quite some time. When all her peers were giving up their morning naps, she clung to hers as if knowing that one day, she'd regret being so frivolous with something so luxurious. It was not, and even now is not, odd for her to nap for three or three and half hours at a stretch. She has always gone to bed at seven p.m. without a struggle.

Compare that with LR who just refuses to sleep as many hours as she needs in a day for more than a few days at a time. She's a sensitive sleeper - waking at small noises and being unable to go back to sleep. It took LR nine months to sleep through the night instead of mere weeks. We considered a sleep specialist, but finally succeeded with sleep training. She also wakes much more easily when she's really tired. This just results in a snowball effect of more tired leading to less sleep and even more tired leading to even less sleep until she's a crying mess and finally naps for three hours to break the cycle.

Don't get me wrong, EC had her share of crying in the crib instead of napping, but these were phases, not a lifestyle. Nap time with her is less fragile. If she falls asleep in the car, waiting an hour before putting her down for a nap is really all it takes to get her rhythm back. If LR falls asleep in the car, even for ten minutes, her body will boycott naps for the rest of the day.

I was listening to a very tired LR crying in her bed yesterday and googling what to do with a toddler who won't nap. And I found an article that was as contradictory as a toddler's sleep rationale on the subject. One of the first things it said was to avoid letting your toddler nap in the stroller, car, etc. Nap time was for beds in quiet, dark rooms. This was quickly followed by a command to be sure not to let your child's nap time rule your life. And another bullet point pointed out that if your child is overtired, they won't be able to fall asleep, but if they are under tired, they won't be able to fall asleep. Somehow, you're supposed to figure out the exact right time to put them down for their nap in their bed in a quiet, dark room - how is that not going to rule your life? Either you have to bring a portable bedroom in your purse, or you have to never leave the house.

Its all confusing and I have to admit that nothing stresses me out more than a toddler screaming in their room for Mommy to let her out (!) when I know that is not even close to what she needs. Its tough to not feel guilty and neglectful when this happens, but what else do you do when he or she needs sleep and the Sandman just isn't coming? I rely heavily on my gut in these instances. What does my mommy intuition tell me? Is LR really just overtired or is she genuinely done with napping for the day?

Right now, my mommy intuition is telling me that nap time will be brief today because someone has decided to jackhammer the street outside our house and I'm sure that my sensitive sleeper won't sleep through this. Its going to be a long afternoon; I wonder if I walk to the park, could get her to fall asleep in the stroller?

10 May 2011

EC Gets Glasses

Taking EC to get her first pair of glasses was fun because she was so excited! She looks so grown up with them on. There's no way I can pretend otherwise, she's a big girl now. No more baby left.

09 May 2011

Mortified Mommy

We all have those most embarrassing moments when our kids do something that makes us just wish we could disappear. When we embarrass ourselves, its one thing, but we truly have no control over when our little ones might choose to do something mortifying. The only thing we can do is figure out how to react.

My most recent mortifying moment came at a birthday part over the weekend. We were at a four-year-old's party and the girls were both playing nicely and being well behaved. I was sitting within inches of EC who was playing with her BFF who happened to be the birthday girl. I was talking to the birthday girl's grandmother and letting EC give me a checkup with a plastic doctor's kit when it happened. And I wasn't the first to notice. Standing right next to me and totally nonplussed, EC was peeing on the living room rug! The birthday girl's grandmother was kind enough to point this out to me without passing any judgment. I looked over, and as if in slow motion, the realization hit me. My daughter, who'd been potty trained for nearly a year, was peeing on someone else's living room floor in the middle of a birthday party. Aaack!

I quickly grabbed EC to head upstairs and grabbed my husband along the way to clean up the mess left behind. I was hoping to further avoid inconveniencing our hosts having to clean up such a mess. And I was completely dumbfounded. How could this happen?

And then I remembered the last time this had happened was at her own birthday party. Seems that there is just too much fun and excitement for a little thing like bladder control to get in the way of. Why would she leave a roomful of screaming kids to do something as mundane as sit on the potty?

I tried to be cool and calm, but I really was embarrassed. And as I pleaded with EC as to why such a thing had happened, she said, "Mommy, I'm really, really sorry." And that was it. She hadn't meant to do it and I really couldn't be too upset with her - she is only three, after all. I'm sure this is not the last time she'll have an accident. And definitely not the last time she'll embarrass her mother! I'm also sure that in a few years, I'll be a source of embarrassment for her as well.

Mother's Day Wishlist

I had a wonderful day yesterday. I was given flowers, treated to lunch and cooked dinner. It doesn't get much better than that. I'm going to have a hard time going back to my normal life after such spoiling.

I was thinking all day long that Mother's Day is a wonderful way to treat moms special for a whole day, but I'm pretty sure that what we really want on Mother's Day are the same things we wish for all year long. I've compiled a list and I'm pretty sure you have items of your own to add:

What We Really Want for Mother's Day (in no particular order):
1. Well behaved children
2. All the toilet seats put down
3. A tidy house
4. A well-protected family
5. Lots of hugs and kisses
6. The trash taken out without any nagging
7. A bathroom that magically cleans itself
8. A good hair day
9. To look 10 lbs lighter in photos
10. A car free of goldfish crackers and raisins
11. The ability to go to the bathroom without anyone knocking on the door or barging in
12. The chance to have an uninterrupted conversation with another adult about something other than children
13. A day free of worrying
14. No dirty diapers

06 May 2011

Spoiling the Kids

Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing my job right. I know, surprise, surprise, this whole blog is about me wondering if I'm doing my job right. I'm not the only one wondering, though. If you look at a copy of a baby handbook that is even ten years old, the guidelines they provide are completely different than a current copy of the same book. One of the topics that they vary greatly on is whether or not its appropriate to coddle your baby. There was a time when coddling had a pretty negative connotation when raising your kids. Coddling was equal to spoiling. That implies that you're somehow ruining your kids before they've even gotten a chance to be a kid.

Now, the books tell you that you can't spoil the baby before six months. That coddling is a good thing. That coddling actually doesn't spoil your baby, but provides them with the security to be independent. There are paragraphs about why this theory is now more accurate than last decade's. Its no wonder I'm constantly wondering if I'm doing my job right - the experts can't even agree and they are, well, experts.

I have definitely been accused of coddling my kids. I followed the ideal that before they are six months old, you should respond to every cry. I tried to teach them that if they needed me, I'd always be there. But what happens after six months? Do I just start letting them wail and wondering why it's no longer working? Independence is a tricky thing to teach. Do it wrong and you're bordering on neglect. How do you teach your kids that when they really need you, you'll be there, unconditionally, but sometimes, they will have to figure things out for themselves?

It's pretty easy to tell if you're doing a good job when you're teaching your kids something concrete like the alphabet - they either recognize the letters or they don't. How do you tell if your child is learning something far more abstract like independence? My girls are very outgoing and friendly. They have their moments of shyness, but usually will go up to just about anyone to say hi or even ask to be held. They have always been this way. According to the books, this is because I coddled them when they were babies and taught them to be secure in the fact that I was always going to be here. Without having to worry about that, they are secure enough to strike out and be outgoing. I'm skeptical though. I think they might just have outgoing personalities. I certainly don't think that shy kids aren't secure. So, maybe my job is just to not mess them up. Maybe I've been entrusted with the care of these two really great people and my job is just to make sure that I don't somehow spoil their greatness.

I think, as a mom, I'm destined to fret over whether or not I'm raising my kids right. I tend to think that if I'm not worrying about it, then I'm not doing a very good job. Parenting wasn't meant to be easy. But then, nothing that's really worth doing ever is.

03 May 2011

A Tribute to Our Mothers

I'm starting the Mother's Day posting a little early this year. I thought a blog about being an imperfect mommy should focus on this holiday for more than just one day. Today is a shout out to all of the mom's out there, but more specifically to the ones who raised G and I. With all my imperfections in raising two daughters, I have to admit to standing in awe of my mom and G's mom who both raised a much bigger brood. I just can't wrap my head around how it could be possible to juggle more than two kids at a time. This imperfect mommy can admit to her limitations. I'm just not cut out for any more multitasking than I currently do, so don't expect any blog posts about a third one on the way!

I sometimes think of our moms when my two little charges are being particularly challenging. How does one keep track of more kids than you have hands to hold onto? Somehow, our moms did it. I come from a blended family, so my mom didn't have six small kids to look after, but when I was eight, she had two teenagers, two preteens, me and a newborn to care for. Yikes! And she babysat up to five others as her job. I can't imagine caring for six kids or babysitting five kids, let alone doing them simultaneously!

G always tells me the story of his mom's ability to remain cool even when, as a child, he walked into the house bleeding profusely from some playtime injury. She calmly cleaned and bandaged him up and sent him on his way. When I think about this story, I wonder if that kind of calm is innate or if it is just a product of your environment. Maybe when you have that many kids, you just can't possibly hover too much and you have no choice but to remain calm when presented with a challenge.

Whatever the reason for our mothers' calm demeanor in the midst of chaos, I am amazed that they could raise so many kids at once and instill a sense of goodness in us all. We weren't just clothed and fed, we were taught values. It's a tough act to follow and some days, I'm struggling just to keep my two girls clothed and fed, never mind teaching them compassion for others. On those days, I take heart in the thought that if it's possible for one mother to turn six kids into good people, then surely, if I am willing to put in the work every day, my girls will be just fine, too!

02 May 2011

To Lunch or Not to Lunch

Ever try to eat in a restaurant with a tired toddler? Its not easy. Sometimes you just have to be willing to admit defeat. G and I made a tactical error yesterday when planning the day. We didn't realize that LR would need a morning nap. She's phasing out of them, but there are some days when they are just unavoidable. Plus, she's had a cold all week, so she's probably more likely to need one. Had we been looking for the signs, we might have avoided having to "not dine and dash."

We got to the restaurant, we had the waitress bring us drinks, only then did we realize that LR wasn't going to make it through an entire meal without hurting herself or others. So we grabbed our stuff (including kids), paid for the drinks and ran out the door. This abrupt change of plan might have been in LR's best interest, but EC met the news with a meltdown of her own. It's very difficult to tell a preschooler that you're having chicken fingers in a restaurant and then inform her that it will be boxed mac and cheese at home instead. Unfortunately, sometimes its necessary for the greater good.

We started the day with plans to go for a family walk in a park near our house that has lots of hills and a great paved path through them where the girls could walk and explore a little. There is also a great playground at the entrance, so we could always fall back to playing there if the kids weren't into the walk - this is known as Plan B. Its very important to have a Plan B when dealing with toddlers, but its not always foolproof. Case in point: there was a bike race going on at the park - which we knew about and even thought we might watch a little of. What we hadn't counted on was them closing the park for it - no paved trail and no playground. So, we parked at the entrance to one of the many hiking trails and just went for our walk there. The terrain proved a little tricky for a 1 1/2 year old, so our walk was short lived, but at least we got some fresh air and a little exercise. Next up - we needed a snack. A farmer's market on the way home provided this - unfortunately, LR was too busy running around to eat her homemade apple cider donut and she had the muddy pants to prove it. From here we went to the playground to swing and slide. LR was fussing on the way to the playground, but she kept saying, "Park!" so we ignored this very obvious sign of fatigue and took it as a sign to hurry to the swingset.

At this point, we should have realized that three outdoor activities was probably overdoing it. Instead, we let the kids run and swing and slide until we had to admit that lunch was in order. On the way home, we decided a restaurant meal would be more fun than heading home. Another error on our part - never make four stops with your un-napped toddler.

This was all clear pretty soon after arriving after the restaurant, but we had two kids to consider. We had to weigh how difficult it was going to be to eat lunch with our crazy toddler versus how loud our preschooler was going to scream if we told her she had to go home. Its a balancing act. At this point, LR was flailing her arms, throwing everything she could get her hands on - which luckily was only menus and napkins. And there was no kids menu, so G and I were trying to figure out what the kids would eat.

Finally, we gave in to the impending meltdown of daughter number two. Scooping up LR and putting on EC's coat, we informed the waitstaff that all their table set up and attempts to take our order had been in vain. We had to leave before the meltdown reached monumental status. Of course, EC started wailing in protest that she wanted to eat at a restaurant. So, we toted two wailing kids out to the car.

Its hard to maintain a sense of decorum during all of this. I felt guilty for inconveniencing the restaurant staff, disappointed that we were heading home where I'd have to fix lunch, and pretty terrible that EC was so upset with the turn of events. As a rule, little kids don't respond well to spontaneity - they like you to give them a five minute warning if the location or plans are going to change. I also wasn't convinced that we'd read the signs right and thought that maybe we were making it all worse by heading home.

Of course, LR fell asleep within a minute of being put into the car. Proving that we'd made the right choice. She didn't even wake up when I took her out of the car and she napped for an hour after we got home before waking up for lunch. Looking back, I can see what went wrong and how we could have avoided it, but I also know that this kind of stuff will still happen even if we do follow all the "rules."

I think the only rule that we really have to remember is to that when parenting toddlers, you have to be willing to go with the flow and let the plans change with the mood of the crowd. Come to think of it, I have friends that I have to follow the same rules with.

30 April 2011

Testing out my mobile posting capabilities. Gotta love technology!

27 April 2011

From Laughter to Love

Kids say the darnedest things, don't they? While leaving Target with our shopping cart filled with $100 worth of diapers, wipes and craft supplies, EC spotted a woman dressed head-to-toe in spandex. She quickly pointed out the woman and said, "Mommy, look she's a superhero!" Not sure if that woman heard her, but I know that the day that something mortifying comes out of her mouth is close at hand and I'm not looking forward to it.

EC pointed out one day that "Mommy has the hugest butt in the whole world!" Its no coincidence that I'm currently struggling my way through Weight Watchers. When she was pretending to be Daddy one day and said in her deep daddy voice that "Daddys don't play toys," G decided it might be important for him to take five minutes each morning to play with the girls before rushing off to work. Kids have an interesting perspective on the world - it is unfiltered and void of political correctness. And as much as I worry about what might come one day, I have to admit that I'm enjoying the humor of it all now. A really good laugh is the perfect antidote to a difficult day and I love having these stories to share with G.

The other thing about EC getting older, more aware of the things around her, and better able to articulate what she's trying to say is that she really gets it when she says, "I love you." She will run up, throw her arms around me and say, "I love you, Mommy!" unprompted. Those moments are even better than the humorous ones. For no matter how challenging the day, it is impossible to be anything other than happy when ambushed by a toddler who just wants to express her love for you.

25 April 2011

Through a Child's Eyes

One of the many ways that my kids pay me back for all the diapers I change and all the toys I step on every day is by allowing me to see all the wonders of the holidays through their eyes. Let's face it, for most of us, the magic of Christmas and the Easter Bunny faded long ago. And while giving gifts and baking cookies are nice, it is hard to regain that magical feeling that you had when you believed that Santa ruled the north pole and the Easter Bunny laid chocolate eggs.

Kids allow us to recapture the holidays of our youth. Yesterday, while the girls were running around the house looking for their hidden baskets and through the yard in search of plastic Easter eggs, I was thinking about how much more fun the holidays are now that we have kids to enjoy them with. Sometimes, I get caught up lamenting all the things I can no longer do because I have kids or focusing on how hard my days are chasing toddlers. And then I have a day like yesterday which was way more fun because there were some little people to share it with.

Yes, G and I have enjoyed many Easter Sundays with family eating too much ham and snoozing on the sofa after dinner. However, watching the girls' faces light up when they realized that it was finally Easter morning and that there were stuffed baskets waiting for them somewhere in the house was magical and the mood was contagious. For a few hours at least, the focus was on chocolate bunnies and happy laughter as the girls tried out their new toys. The sister fights were temporarily on hold as they shared their plastic eggs filled with treats. I smiled, knowing that it would all return to normal soon, but that for one day, I would remember what it was like to be a little girl who believed in holiday magic.

22 April 2011

Single Income, Two Kids

Sometimes, I remember fondly the days when we were DINKs (double income, no kids). They were flush. And I sometimes look back and think of how foolishly money gets spent when you have enough of it. Sailing vacations, dinner eaten out on an all-too-regular basis, rounds of drinks at the bar with your friends and your friends' friends, and all the little splurges that we "need" on a regular basis - daily latte at Starbucks, full price magazines from the drugstore instead of paying a percentage of the cost for a subscription, etc. Where did our money go when we were living with two incomes and no kids to support? It must have gone somewhere, because we've been living on one income for over three years and surviving.

I think the same thing happens with our time. Before we had kids, we had so much time on our hands. Free time! G and I always had plenty of activities to fill our weekends and holidays, but we also had a lot of leisure time. Lazy mornings spent making pancakes and reading the paper were pretty common. Evenings spent on the back porch doing nothing but grilling a couple burgers and talking over a beer. Getting time to go out with our friends wasn't a request that required weeks of advance notice and schedule coordination. You want to go hiking with the guys for the weekend? Fine, I'll let the girls know that we're going out that night.

Its just not like that anymore. Much like our money, our time has to be budgeted pretty carefully. G has a limited amount of time with the girls - an hour before leaving for work and an hour when he gets home. During this two hour window, breakfast is eaten, dinner is served, and baths are taken. It's no wonder that EC pleads every morning for Daddy to play with her.

I try to get most of the errands, like grocery shopping and running to the Red Store (known to everyone else as Target) for diapers and toilet paper, done during the week with the girls to leave our weekends free to do something fun as a family. Even that doesn't always work out and we sometimes spend a sunny day running around to appliance stores to replace a broken dryer.

What happens when G or I want to do something solo - like going out to eat twice a year with the people that we used to spend every Friday night with? Well, that has to be coordinated. Calendars have to be checked and the frequency of these outings is closely monitored. As a stay at home mom, I need to make sure that I'm getting out enough - lack of adult interaction is a liability in my line of work. And G needs to make sure that he's getting out often enough to avoid burnout, but not too often as to add to my already enormous amount of time spent with toddlers. Its a juggling act.

Throwing months of studying for registration exams for G into the mix has been, pardon my French, but hellish. We eat dinner, he puts the kids to bed while I do the dishes and then he is off to his desk to study for the night. Weekends are less fun as a family and more time for G spent at the office studying. Its like he's working six or seven days a week, but only getting paid for five. Its like adding a big expense into an already too tight budget.

I'm not posting this as an exercise in feeling sorry for myself. I know that all of you out there can sympathize. Where does all the time go? I cannot even imagine what will happen to our lives when I go back to work, but I know that so many people juggle even more than we do. I guess its like budgeting the money. You can't spend what you don't have and you have to adjust your needs accordingly.

When I left work, we didn't really know how we'd survive on just one income. We had some money saved, but it still seemed impossible. And every year, we've reevaluated whether or not I needed to go back to work. How could we trim a little here and there to keep from needing a second income?

I think we do the same thing, maybe a little less consciously, with our time. We figure out what the priority is for our time for the month, the weekend, the day and we try not to let fun slip too low on the time budget. Family dinners, couple time, family outings, one on one time with each girl, and time to be outside in the fresh air are all things that we prioritize. But, we also have to consider the current mental status of each family member. Do I need a break from being a mommy today? Does EC need a little extra attention from Daddy? Does G need a study break? While, it always seems like there isn't enough time to get it all done, but we manage.

When G and I were both bringing in a paycheck, I think we didn't appreciate the splurges the way we do now. A latte at Starbucks is a special treat and its relished more. I know that when I have a free afternoon without kids or husband or anyone else to tell me what to do, that time is so precious to me that I remember to enjoy it. Just like a latte, a free afternoon was too easy to come by in my former life and it wasn't treasured like it is now. So, maybe we don't have enough free time or spending money as we used to, but what we do have is spent more wisely and appreciated more.

21 April 2011

Holiday Traditions

Yesterday, we had a mini egg coloring party when a friend and her daughter came over for a playdate. The girls had a blast and especially loved mixing the colors to see what new colors they could make. My friend and I had a good time too helping them. I remembered at the last minute that we had taken no photos, so I grabbed my friend's camera and snapped a few.

I love traditions and I try to make sure that there are traditions that I practice each year with the girls so that they have some associations with the holidays. I can remember that we always colored eggs with my mom every year. It was something we looked forward to and my mom would boil up a whole bunch of eggs in a very large pot. When you have six kids, you need to make a lot of eggs so everyone has some to color!

I have a hard time not turning these traditions into obligations though. I lamented for the rest of the day that I didn't take any photos with my camera even though I know my friend is always good about sending me photos of the girls together. And I wished that I'd boiled more eggs because the girls hadn't wanted to stop coloring. Why couldn't I just enjoy the sweet memory of hearing EC's triumphant voice yelling, "Purple!" when she dipped her pink egg into the blue dye?

I worry sometimes that I'm missing opportunities - was taking them to the Irish bakery for shamrock cookies enough of a celebration on St. Patrick's Day or should I have spent a week doing shamrock crafts and learning about the land of leprechauns?

Holidays, well the lesser ones anyway, have a way of sneaking up on me. As a stay at home mom, I'm lucky if I remember what day of the week it is. Time travels in a different way when you have a schedule that usually only has one or two regularly scheduled items per week. So, when its suddenly Martin Luther King Day and I've planned nothing, I shouldn't really be surprised, but somehow, I always feel a little inadequate.

I know that they don't need some sort of ritual for every little holiday from Arbor Day to Columbus Day, but how much is enough? For Easter, we color eggs every year and this year we made an Easter tree with Shrinky Dink decorations. The girls will put out there baskets on Easter Eve (is there such a thing?) and the Easter Bunny will fill them up with more toys then candy. And we'll spend the afternoon at a friend's house for an egg hunt. These will all make great memories for us and for the girls. So, I wonder why do I feel guilty for the things that I'm not doing?

Maybe this is all just a reflection on my job in general. I've gotten pretty good at keeping the girls entertained throughout the day. Trips to the park, music class, play gym and the occasional playdate are always happening. We also spend a lot of rainy or cold days visiting the toy department at Target or playing on the kids furniture at IKEA. Hey, both are free and the kids love it! But I can't seem to shake the feeling that they should somehow have something to show for the day. If they haven't produced a misshapen piece of clay or unrecognizable painting, was the day in vain?

In times like this, I fall back on the wisdom in the parenting books that I used to have time to read (when I had only one toddler to chase). They all said that teaching opportunities are everywhere. Counting the steps as you leave the house or pointing out colors in the grocery store are fine learning opportunities. And so, I try to turn the everyday into something worthwhile. Playing out back becomes a science experiment when we roll things down the bulkhead to see which rolls faster or not at all. Walking around the produce section of the grocery store is a good time to name all the vegetables for LR. And I try to focus on the big picture - that my kids are smart, well-developed and happy. They are learning things that I don't even realize I'm teaching. And I try to let some of the guilt go, but I have a feeling that this is a feeling that I'm stuck with. I'm pretty sure that the guilt is going to last even when I see them taking care of their own children and I celebrate these same traditions with the next generation.

18 April 2011

One Fish, Two Fish

I must be trying to qualify for Imperfect Mommy of the Year. I don't know how I did it - what I did wrong, but I killed, not one, but two goldfish in 24 hours. EC and LR each had their own fish - my attempt to divert them from the cat that they really wanted. EC had named her little red and white one Fishy and we'd decided to call LR's spotted one Dorothy after Elmo's fish on Sesame Street. G and I had splurged on a full tank with filter, lights and a castle. And the girls and I had gone back the next week for some plastic plants and a nice rock sculpture to provide a place for the fish to "hide."

EC and LR took turns feeding them and reading them stories. When the girls got new boxes of watercolors, they rushed home and held them up to the tank for Dorothy and Fishy to see. The adoration had waned a little bit from the first weeks, but they were still happy to watch them swimming around the tank and LR was sure to remind me to turn on the light for the fishies every morning.

Yesterday, it was time to change the filter. I read the directions carefully, rinsing the new filter with water and inserting it in place of the old one. I don't know what I could have done wrong - not rinsed it long enough? Who knows, but this morning, Fishy was not moving and Dorothy had not much time left in this world.

I couldn't believe that I had to tell the girls that the fish were dead. I told EC first - it was her fish that was dead, after all. I got down and looked her in the eye and just told her that Fishy had died. And she was sad, but I'm not sure she completely understood. When I told her that we could get another one if she wanted, she said, "Okay, I want one that is all red this time." Sadness over.

Dorothy struggled for another hour - I felt horrible not knowing what to do - wondering if she was suffering. I wasn't sure if I should put him out of his misery or just wait. I moved him to a new bowl, wondering if fresh water might be helpful, but alas, soon Dorothy was gone too. And so I told LR. First I said that Dorothy was gone. And she looked in the tank and said, "Oh, no!" And then so as to avoid confusion, I said, "Honey, Dorothy died." And she cried. For five seconds. And then she walked away.

I'll never know how much the kids understood. I'll never know if I handled it correctly. The girls seemed less affected by all of this than me, but it doesn't change the fact that I killed their poor fish! Talk about an imperfect mommy moment.

And so, we clean out the tank, toss out the gravel, set up the tank to filter another batch of tap water and head to the pet store for new fish. Though to some it may seem heartless to just replace one fish with another, I think some new fish swimming happily in the tank is just what this family needs.

15 April 2011

If Only I Could Give Them Away...

One of the things that makes me an imperfect mommy is that I have days when I wonder why I ever had kids. I know, I'm not supposed to admit this. I'm going to admit something even worse... yesterday, my day with the kids was so bad that given an opportunity, I would have paid someone to take them away.

Of course, this feeling is fleeting and I don't really mean that I would give away my kids. Being a parent is hard work pretty much all of the time, but every so often, a day will be so difficult, I start planning my escape. I wonder how many other parents entertain these ideas. I certainly think that there are more perfect mommies out there who never consider giving there kids away. I also think that these people are probably the same ones with the patience to teach kindergarten or to work the toddler room at a day care. Saints, in other words.

As much as I love being home with my kids (most of the time), the thought of working in a roomful of kids all day long is my worst nightmare. And so on the days, like yesterday, when the constant stream of negatives coming out of my mouth is wearing me down, I wonder if I really have the temperament for this stay at home mom gig. Would they be better off with the saint at the day care center who doesn't get rattled even when the room turns to anarchy and she's overthrown by a roomful of paste-eating toddlers?

After a doozy of a day yesterday, which can only be described as a day of fighting - the girls fought with each other over toys, fought with me over what they wanted to do, and eventually fought with G over bathtime and bedtime - I'm back and ready to make today better. I might not be a saint, but I have a lot more invested than a paycheck or a career. I have a personal responsibility to teach my kids how to share, how to compromise, and how to sleep in a big girl bed. I'm sure at some point today, I'll dream of the perfect nanny coming in to take over for the afternoon so I can go somewhere void of screaming kids sitting atop bookcases refusing to nap and little girls whose sole purpose in life is to ensure that her sister does not have a better toy. I'm also sure that some day, I'll see EC share a toy with her sister without being told to do so and LR will go to sleep in her own bed without tormenting her sister for the entire afternoon. And when that happens - no matter how many years it takes to come about - I'll know that it has been worth it.

14 April 2011

Big Girl Bed

LR has been envying her big sister's bed for some time now. She climbs into it at bedtime and crawls under the covers and whines when we put her in her crib instead. At 20 months, she's about 6 weeks shy of when we transitioned EC to a toddler bed, but she has a big sister to emulate, so we thought it might be time to switch. We have a family vacation coming this summer and we're hoping that if we transition her now, she won't have to squeeze her 35" frame into a pack and play.

I ordered a bed to match EC's toddler bed and was so excited when it arrived. I thought that LR would be overjoyed, so I worked through their nap time to assemble it on my own. I couldn't wait to show her the new bed. When she woke up, I walked her into the living room and she was very happy to see it until she realized that she'd have to give up her crib in trade. She started wailing. This was not going according to plan and I was reminded that my kids are very different and will never act the same in a given situation. EC was thrilled with a big girl bed and more than ready to say goodbye to her crib. Good thing, too because we had a little sister on the way that needed it!

There was difficulty transitioning EC, but considering that she was a toddler who really liked to sleep, it was pretty easy overall. I do remember a horrifying story of her getting her fingers caught in the drawer and screaming for half an hour before I realized that she was hurt and not just putting off going to sleep. Bad mommy!

LR, on the other hand, has decided that this new found freedom is really a license to get into all sorts of trouble. She's emptied the diaper pail, taken all the clothes out of her drawers, climbed the bookshelf, and unplugged the fan. This girl is mischief in a way that her sister never was at this age. LR is also intent on making EC her partner in crime when they are put to bed at the same time. Poor EC just wants to go to sleep!

So, they cry and they wail and they make us question whether or not to set the crib back up. However, I know that we have to face this sooner or later. The freedom will be new and exciting whether we transition her now or a year from now. She'll be just as mischievous when she's two or three - maybe more so. For now, I'm stuck listening to the wailing and refolding all the clothes in the dresser several times a day, knowing that what I'm really listening to is my little girl growing up.

13 April 2011

Stubborn, Meet Strong-Willed

I've been called stubborn on more than one occasion. Maybe I should let the laughter die down before I continue. So, I shouldn't really be surprised to have passed this trait along to my kids. To say that my kids are independent is an understatement. Especially little LR. She gives strong-willed a whole new meaning!

Case in point: She hasn't had a drop of milk since I took her bottle away more than two months ago and she had a 2 gallon a week milk habit. To her, milk comes from a bottle. If you take away the bottle, what's the point of drinking the milk. And so she drinks water and eats yogurt. Like I said, strong-willed is an understatement.

Needless to say, our stubborn little girl has been ruling the house lately. She wakes up hungry and demanding and we're supposed to 'guess' what's she's hungry for. One morning it will be string cheese, another it will be a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter topped waffle. All are healthy choices and I don't mind that she's inclined to any of these things, but what she'll eat changes every day. This morning, she might devour the banana and tomorrow morning, spit it out with a resounding, "Blech!"

And its not just happening at breakfast. What LR will eat changes by the hour and we've been stuck trying to figure out what its okay to put on the menu on any given day. Every meal is a challenge and we find ourselves bargaining and coercing her to eat something - anything! Why do we do this, you ask? The answer is because she sets herself wailing until we find the right food. Yes, she's playing us like the violin section of the orchestra, but try starting every day with a wailing toddler and see how quickly you cave.

This morning, I decided that I'd had enough. When she selected a string cheese from the refrigerator drawer, I was a little surprised as it was taken off the menu last week. Blech. But, after asking her again before I opened it, she assured me that she wanted to eat the string cheese. Of course, she changed her mind when it was unwrapped. Blech. And she started wailing. Just as G was bringing over boxes of cereal for her second selection, I put my foot down firmly.

Wailing just wasn't going to persuade me this morning. I knew that this was not the only meal of the day that would be a battle if I gave in. I also knew that there was no way she would actually starve herself and I've seen her inhale a string cheese in seconds, so its pretty likely that she actually LIKES it and is just demonstrating her power.

"No more choices," I said firmly. In other words, if you want to eat breakfast, LR, its going to be string cheese. She immediately wailed to G. She can sense that he's the nicer of the two of us. Even being relegated to the role of mean mommy wasn't going to make me budge this morning. I'm tired of the struggle at every meal. Its no longer about food. Its about control and I decided to take it back.

The wailing went on throughout breakfast with pleas of "Eat, eat!" She signed the word too, just in case we weren't understanding. It was as if she was saying, "You are starving your poor little girl, here! Someone please feed me!" Oh, it was hard, but I just kept reminding myself that it was also worth it.

Again and again, we directed her to the cheese. You have something to eat and you won't get anything else until you eat what you picked out. Finally, I asked her if she wanted me to cut it up for her. I think it was a way for her to save face, because she said yes even though she hasn't wanted it to be cut for her in months. So, I cut it up and one by one, she ate every piece. And then polished off a banana.

I feel like I may have won this round, but she might just be gearing up for a bigger fight tomorrow. Still, I know that its my job to be mean mommy sometimes and that in the end, she'll be happier if we stay in control, no matter how much she fights us on it.

09 April 2011

A Moment of Perfection

Obviously, by the title of my blog, you can tell that I have far more imperfect moments as a parent than perfect ones. I don't strive for perfection, but try very hard to be a 'good enough' mommy. I think trying to be a perfect mommy is futile and bound to land your kids in therapy even faster than being imperfect.

I will admit though, that when someone compliments my parenting, it warms my heart. Its like getting a really great review at work. It just feels good to have your hard work noticed. Good reviews at work usually come around about once a year and, I think, in the world of parenting, they are even rarer. My job review will come when its time for my kids to make it on their own in the world and either realize that their parents have equipped them for success or failure.

The other day, I was out to eat with the girls. It was my "treat" day on my diet and I was splurging my weekly points on a burrito. The girls were happy to accompany me as the "Macamole Store" is one of their favorites - that's toddler speak for Chipotle where they eat guacamole and chips and beans and rice. It had been a difficult morning and EC had been particularly precocious, refusing to get dressed, refusing to brush her teeth, refusing to sit on the potty and then wailing when I tried to comb her hair. My patience had been tried again and again and I wasn't really looking forward to taking this show on the road, but I'd eaten all the fruit in the house and needed to buy more.

So, we headed out, first to the grocery store where they were pretty well behaved, then to the toy store where they climbed the store displays while I tried to order a birthday present for an upcoming party and, finally, to the restaurant. By the time we hit the restaurant, we were doing pretty well and the girls were back to their charming, well-behaved selves. As we sat eating lunch and talking, I was trying to get EC to eat some of her beans. I told her that she would make it into the Good Eaters Club if she tried them because they would make her very strong. And she did try them. Then, I staved off a sister fight over the guacamole by convincing them to take turns dipping. Our lunch was turning out to be a rather pleasant one and then it came - a compliment from a complete stranger.

Usually, these take the form of "your kids are so well behaved," but today, the compliment was for me. The woman at the next table stopped on her way out to say that she appreciated the way that I spoke to my children. I was a little taken aback, but she continued, that she often just barks at her kids to, "Eat!" and that she was inspired to try to talk to them better after listening to me with my children. Inspired? I felt the tears spring to my eyes after I thought about the difficult morning that I'd had with the girls and how, instead of losing my cool, I'd endured until we all got into a better mood. And somehow, we'd all turned a difficult day into a nice memory.

I did assure the woman, that she'd caught me in a good moment and that I barked too, but I couldn't help but be a little proud that I got such a nice compliment. And I also got a reminder that it is such a kindness to stop and talk to a stranger who gives us pause. That woman gave me a little gift in giving me a compliment. She had no idea how difficult my morning had been or how nice her compliment would be for me to hear, but she gave it anyway. She has inspired me to stop the next time I overhear a mom talking to her kids and think, "I could use that line!" Inspired me to let that mom know that I appreciate the way she's raising her kids, because I know just how inspiring such a compliment can be.

08 April 2011

Let's Try Again!

I was listening to EC and LR play and heard EC said, "Let's try again!" I have to admit that this simple statement made me a little emotional. Toddlers are easily frustrated by stuff that they cannot do. Its the basis for a lot of tantrums - whether they can't do it because mommy says no or because their little hands and coordination level prohibit it doesn't matter. They just get frustrated and quickly. I've struggled with this because I pretty much have the patience of a toddler. And I've got the frustration level and the tantrums to prove it. How can I ever teach my kids to be patient when I've never been able to master it in my thirty plus years?

EC can dress herself all on her own, but she frequently claims she "can't" so that I'll pitch in and do it for her. She's especially inclined to use the word 'can't' when putting on shoes and socks. They frustrate her. I get it - the heel ends up on the front of her foot or they are too long and difficult to pull all the way up. Socks are not the easiest article of clothing to put on. She frequently brings me the socks and tells me that she can't put them on, usually, without even trying. So, I tell her that if she gives it three best tries and still can't get them on, I will help her. Getting her to try once isn't too difficult, but the concept of trying again and again until she gets it right is not one that she really wants to grasp.

I get this too - I don't like to keep trying at something that I might still end up failing at. Its quite a difficult skill to master to keep putting yourself out there knowing that if you fail in the end its all on you and not just because you didn't try. To me, this is such an important lesson for her to learn, though. The reward for doing something that you didn't think you could do is far greater than the risk involved. And putting yourself out there is pretty much what living life is all about.

When EC gives her socks three best tries, she doesn't come back to me even more frustrated with her socks in her hands. She gets them on every time and comes over to show me how proud she is that she finished it all on her own without my help. And I ask her every time, "Doesn't it feel good to do something that you didn't think you could do?"

And so, when I overhear EC telling her sister that they should try it again, it makes me smile. She's getting it. Of course, she still comes to me frustrated and she still has to be told to try to put her socks on by herself, but somewhere, she's starting to realize the payoff for trying again. And even better, she's teaching it to her little sister. Maybe, if I listen and watch carefully, she'll be able to teach it to me, too.

06 April 2011

Eating My Words

I've been having trouble finding time to post the past few days and I thought I'd let you in on why. Truth is, I've been counting points. Weight watchers points. Its true. I've become one of THOSE ladies. I swore it would never be me. I have always been the first person to insist that dieting only makes me gain weight and that I could never do it. And I swore even more strongly that I would never be the person standing at the food table at a party mentally calculating the number of points in a tablespoon of dip and a handful of chips. Oh, how we eat our words sometimes. Pardon the pun.

As mommies, no matter how perfect our metabolism or our workout routines, we all have to go on a diet at some point. Whether that just means avoiding mercury-ridden fish and unheated lunch meat when we're pregnant or counting calories to get our pre-baby bodies back, its a fact that mommyhood comes with a price. I've decided its time to pay up.

I love those little girls of mine and would gladly do it all over again, but pregnancy has not been kind to my body. Neither has full day access to a kitchen stocked with kiddie snacks. But I shall not blame the tots. I am truly imperfect in this area. I would much rather bake (and eat) Christmas cookies than go out for a jog. I really thought that trading running around chasing toddlers for sitting at a desk all day would be exercise enough and that the pounds would just melt away. Boy was I wrong!

There - I've admitted my imperfection in black and white for all the world (or at least the six people reading this blog) to see - I am on a diet. So, if you pass me at the food table at a party, reading labels in the supermarket, or in line at Chipotle, please excuse the faraway look in my eye. I'm just trying to figure out how many of my daily points I'm using up and how many minutes I'd have to run to undo eating those chips and dip. You may shake your head at me and think, "Not another one!" What I've realized though is that mommies deserve to take care of themselves too.

I'm really hoping that this imperfect mommy can stick with a diet this time - even if it involves counting points and eating all the fruit in the house instead of a bag of potato chips. Because when it comes to healthy body image, I know that raising girls is tough. And what they see outside the four walls of this house will bombard them with lots of bad ideas about what healthy looks like. I'm hoping to be an image that sticks with them. Not of a skinny mommy, but of a healthy one. I want them to see me exercising and eating fruit and feeling good about the way I look. Because that will speak volumes more than any talk I could have with them.

04 April 2011

Eating What You Preach

Every morning, EC asks for a second bowl of cereal at breakfast time. And every morning we tell her that she has to have a serving of fruit first. She whines and then eats the fruit and sometimes the second bowl of cereal. And every morning I wonder why she whines about the fruit. She likes fruit.

It occurred to me this morning that I might be part of the problem. The girls have "rules" about eating fruits and vegetables before they can have seconds of other foods. They love eating fruit and even some vegetables, so we try to remind them to have some broccoli before filling their bellies with macaroni and cheese. However, I'm not usually following the same rules. I like vegetables, so there is no problem getting me to eat them with dinner, but I rarely eat fruit and don't make sure that I'm having a fruit or veggie with every meal like I do with them.

When sitting down for a snack, I'm not very likely to grab an apple, but I'm always trying to get them to eat one. I've noticed that if I peel an orange, LR toddles right over to have some, but if I just ask her if she wants one, the answer is no. Could my lack of fruit on my plate be affecting them?

Part of this dilemma is financial. I love strawberries and blueberries and blackberries, and I readily buy them for the kids in all but the most expensive months. My produce bill is pretty high without adding enough to fill my plate with.

This imperfect mommy has made a resolution to show the girls that I'm practicing what I'm preaching. I'm adding more fruits and more veggies to my meals and my snacks. And if strawberries aren't in the budget, I'll settle for the less exciting (and less expensive) apples and oranges and bananas. Maybe if I bite into an apple, the girls will be more likely to want one, too. And I'm going to make sure that my lunch has a little more green to it. Because, let's face it - this mommy could stand a few more fruits and vegetables and a few less carbs in her diet!

02 April 2011

Good Eater's Club

Occasionally, this imperfect mommy has a moment of mommy perfection. A moment where I pat myself on the back and think that I might just be good at my job. Granted, that moment is usually fleeting, but I'll take it!

My two darling daughters have turned into quite the picky eaters. Its not that they eat unhealthy things or turn their noses up at any food that isn't white, they have just decided that it will be a fun game to make mommy guess what they like to eat at any given moment. This has proven to be quite a challenge for mommy as what they like to eat changes constantly.

I made homemade pizza for dinner the other night and LR informed me it was, "Blech!" She wouldn't even taste it. She just kept making a spitting noise anytime I offered it to her. For months, pizza has been her favorite food and she usually enjoys more than one slice of my homemade kind. Not today! One day she can't get enough string cheese and the next she refuses to eat even one bite. At lunch today, she might down three plates of macaroni and cheese and next week, she'll refuse it entirely.

EC isn't much better - she's simply decided that she'll fill herself up with milk and then complain that her belly hurts. When we refuse to let her drink milk until she eats something, she sits there whining that she wants something else. Again, it can be her favorite and she will refuse it simply to be disagreeable.

Our dinnertime has turned into a constant battle to get the kids to put food into their mouths. I've tried to let them pick what foods go on their plates, encouraged them to help make dinner or set the table, even offered them a choice between the main entree or fruit and yogurt. Some nights, nothing works. Until last night, I had an epiphany in the middle of dinner.

Instead of convincing EC that she had to eat her spaghetti, I simply told her that if she did, she could be in the Good Eater's Club. LR was already polishing off her dinner, so I inducted her and waited to see what EC's response would be. What do you know? She started eating. So, I added a little more incentive. Anyone inducted into the Good Eater's Club would get an extra story read to them at bedtime! That meant that instead of our usual two books - one for each girl - we could end up with four whole books! The food was practically flying into her mouth at this point.

And before we knew it - EC was holding up a nearly clean plate! Now, I know not to praise the clean plate too highly - I don't want them overeating for the sake of more reading at bedtime, but sometimes they just need a little push to actually put a bite or two in their mouth - a chance to remember that they do in fact like spaghetti or broccoli or string cheese. They really are pretty healthy eaters, if they would just remember that they actually like the food from one day to the next!

31 March 2011

Creatures of Habit

One of the complaints I have about my life after kids is that it has zero spontaneity. None. Zilch. Before we had kids, G and I had settled into a slightly routine life, but nothing like this. I cannot remember the last time that one of my friends called me to ask me what I was doing THAT night. I'm pretty sure that some of them still make last minute plans, but having kids to tuck in at night pretty much guarantees that no one is calling you to see if you want to grab a cocktail after work. Maybe they're afraid I'll show up wearing sweats covered in food.

The routine may be boring to me, but my kids love it. They love going to bed at the same time every night right after Daddy gives them a bath together and they brush their teeth, comb their hair, choose one book each to read and then get tucked in. They love that we keep going back to music class every week. They love that we all sit down to eat dinner together and that there will be a cup of milk waiting for EC and a cup of water for LR. How do I know that they love these things? Well, when the order gets mixed up or the timing is off - if dinner is an hour later than usual and their bedtime gets bumped - they get all wacky. They whine and crank and wake up early, refuse to nap and even throw (gasp) tantrums!

Vacation was a nice change of pace for G and I. We loved being in a new place, not really knowing what was on the schedule for the next day or where we were going to eat dinner that night. And the kids really liked vacation too, but they were obviously happy to get home and back to their routine. LR isn't fighting her naps this week and EC isn't fighting bedtime. And they were oh-so-happy that we went to music class today. Of course, that could have just been because it was ABBA week - my girls are Dancing Queens!

I'm sure that not all kids are creatures of habit like mine. I know plenty of parents who take their kids everywhere with them - keeping their social lives intact post-parenthood in a way that I just haven't. I've seen toddlers snoozing in their stroller at late night restaurants and I sometimes envy those parents whose kids have just adapted to their lives much in the way that I've adapted to my kids lives. But I do enjoy the hour all to myself that I can count on getting every afternoon because my kids have an afternoon nap that they take together. I wouldn't trade family dinner each night when the kids recount the adventures of the day to Daddy for any restaurant experience. And that fresh clean kid scent when I tuck them in and kiss them goodnight is always followed by a few hours that G and I have to ourselves before its our bedtime.

So, I realize that while some spontaneity would be a nice addition to my life, I've grown quite fond of some of our little routines and traditions and I wouldn't trade them for anything. However, I would just like my friends to know that my workday ends at 7 pm. If you're heading out after work around that time, give me a call! I might just be willing to swap my sweats for a sparkly shirt and meet up with you.

30 March 2011

What's Yours is Mine and What's Mine is Mine

What is it about us that makes us want what someone else has? That geeky guy crushing on you in high school science class didn't seem remotely attractive until he started dating someone else. Keeping up with the Joneses is a lifelong ambition for Americans. Guys are always comparing the size of their televisions. We all do it. And I'm discovering that its a phenomenon that starts early.

My two kids are struggling with toy envy. EC will mope around the living room telling me she's bored and that there is NOTHING to play with until LR plucks something from the toy bin and starts playing with it. Suddenly, it is the only thing that EC can think about and she'll risk everything to get her hands on it - timeouts included. This phenomenon is not limited to the older toddler. LR does the same thing. She wants nothing to do with her fleet of matchbox cars until EC has lined them all up and is racing them along the window sill. Then she screams and pitches a fit until they are returned to their rightful owner.

I'm pretty sure that we wouldn't have a financial crisis in this country if someone could find a cure for toy envy in toddlers. What is this need of ours to possess what belongs to another? Is it something biological? It must be something rooted very deep because my kids would sooner see the toy in question taken away and not played with by anyone than to simply wait their turn for a go with it.

I know that some people choose to just buy two of everything and solve the fighting that way, but I feel like that's cheating a little. The girls need to learn to share and they need to learn that sometimes someone else gets to have a cool new toy and we should be happy for them for our turn will come. I want EC and LR to learn that they aren't entitled to everything exactly when they want it - that sometimes in order to play with the really neato new toy that your sister got for her birthday, it will involve being nice, waiting your turn and appreciating the 10 minutes you get with it. Of course, I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to teach this to them, because every time I have dinner with a trendy friend, I leave a little green at the swing of her skirt and the soft leather of her bag. How can I fight biology?

29 March 2011

Are We There Yet?

I would love to know what EC had imagined when I told her two weeks ago that we were going to Vermont for a little vacation. I showed her Vermont on a map puzzle we were putting together. I talked about what we would see while we were there - the place were teddy bears are born and the place where ice cream is made! And I talked about how the hotel where we would stay had a pool to swim in and that there was a lake nearby. Teddy bears + ice cream + swimming pool + lake must have equaled some fantastical amusement park in her young mind, because when we got to Vermont, I quickly realized that she didn't quite grasp the concept of going to another state.

We piled into the minivan for our road trip north - we stopped along the way for pancakes and the girls watched movies on their individual tv screens. They were loving vacation so far. When we crossed from New Hampshire to Vermont, G and I cheered and announced that we'd arrived in Vermont, but EC was a little too engrossed in Veggie Tales to notice. And when we stopped for lunch at Friendly's to kill some time until we could check in at the hotel, EC asked when we were going to get to Vermont.

"We're here," I said, "we're already here - this is Vermont."

"Mommy, this is not Vermont," she said, "this is a restaurant."

I wasn't really sure how to explain it any better. The next morning, we visited the place where teddy bears are born and sped through the tour at Ben and Jerry's. LR was not a fan of factory tours - or perhaps just not a fan of missing her morning nap for them. EC had clearly forgotten all about what Vermont was by the time she was licking her vanilla ice cream cone coated in rainbow sprinkles. I guess maybe she decided that it doesn't really matter where you are as long as they have vanilla ice cream and teddy bears and swimming pools.

23 March 2011

Playing Mommy

The other day, EC told me that when she grows up, she wants to be a Mommy just like me. What a sweet compliment. But then, I'm the person she spends most of her time with and, therefore, the one she's most likely to imitate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Not always, sometimes, I think its the sincerest reminder that you have to watch what you say.

The girls are having nap time now. This means that EC has fallen fast asleep and LR is crying and fighting the urge to close her eyes. However, before EC fell asleep, I overheard the following:

EC: LR, do you want a timeout? You can't do that. You're gonna get a timeout. Is that what you want, a timeout?
LR: Yes.
EC: Okay, you're in timeout.
LR: Okay.
EC: Stop running around your crib, you're in a timeout!

Imitating me giving a timeout is fine, but a little scary when I think of all the words that come out of my mouth in a given day and whether or not I want to hear them from my three-year-old. Not just words, but EC makes an exasperated sound like, "Urrrrgggghhhh!" when she's frustrated. This is a sound that she could only have learned from me. Its harmless enough, but I wince every time I hear it thinking that this is how I've taught her to deal with her frustration.

She picks up on these small things that you think she's too young to notice. Every time she does it, I think of all the stuff that I teach her every day that has nothing to do with letters or shapes or turning dirt into mud and I vow to be a happier, more loving person. Because, that is really what I want her to learn from me - that she is loved and that I want her to be happy.

22 March 2011

Flying Ponytails

I have these moments in the day that remind me - even if only for a moment - why I have the greatest job in the world. I have some days when I feel like this all day long, like those first really warm days of the year when its 70 degrees and fully sunny and everyone is stuck in their office hoping the weekend will be nice and I'm outside soaking it up with the girls. I also have days when I know I must simply be insane to have volunteered for this gig.

This morning, I had one of those "best job in the world" moments. EC and LR got new shoes over the weekend - sparkly, pink and purple, girly shoes. They are over the moon about them, not just because they are girly, but because every kid knows that new shoes make you run faster and jump higher. We were getting ready to head out for the day, so after she was dressed and coifed, EC put on her new shoes and started running from one end of the living room to the other.

"Look at me, mommy, I'm superfast!" she shouted.

I finished up LR's ponytails and she brought me her shoes. She wanted to be superfast too. I put them on her and she took off in her new pink sneakers, racing with her big sister. They ran back and forth, ponytails flying. They were giggling in the way that only sisters and best friends can - laughing as they bounced off each other and the bedroom door. Sprinting back and forth like it was the most fun thing to do in the entire world. They had matching laughs and matching ponytails. And I stood there watching them and thinking that this is the exact reason that we had two - so EC would always and forever have someone to be silly and superfast and giggly with. That whenever she was doing the most fun thing in the entire world, that she could look over and see that she had someone to share it with.