Road-tripping with multiples

We’re gearing up for a major two-day, 600-mile road trip and our backseat will be full of two 2.5 year olds and not much else.

Even our car is not ready for this kind of a trip.

And, for two people who have had trouble going a half-hour to the outlets to shop, a road trip that will span at least six states is a bit of an undertaking.

But, the time is now, and we’re ready. In fact, other than knowing I will not get my usual weekend kid-free breaks, I’m excited for this trip.

What’s that saying? Plan for the worst; hope for the best. That’s my philosophy.

I’ve been reading and researching and thinking about everything. Overthinking, as the husband might argue.

“Did you call and make reservations for Olive Garden?” he asked last night.

“You don’t need reservations for Olive Garden,” I said, not getting his joke.

We’ll do half hour gift bags filled with something new and special, and some other prized possession that should bring a smile or two. (Same for the ride back.)

We’ll have various, very special snacks to offer at certain intervals — things they don’t normally get like a cool mix of cereals, toddler trail mix and fruit roll-ups.

We’ll stop every two to three hours, depending on the mood levels.

We’ll pack lunch, and probably serve it in the car and let them run at rest stops and other open spaces to let them blow off some pent up energy.

We’ll stay over night at a place with a pool so we can wear them out in the water and, hopefully, watch them crash quickly in the hotel.

We’ll have games planned, activities ready and toys and books within reach for those cranky moments, and just to help them let off steam vocally, physically, artistically and by laughing.

And, we’ll have a portable DVD player for the desperate — and much-needed quiet — times as well.

Whatever happens, hopefully it’s not too brutal. After all, it’s supposed to be a vacation away from home. Then again, isn’t there a saying about there is no such thing as a vacation with kids — just trips.

Still, it will be new scenery, a change in the mundane routines — especially bedtime routines — and a time to let go of the stress of only healthy meals and snacks and strict nap times.

In other words, a week to say yes, yes, yes, instead of no, no, no.

Any road trip tips you want to pass along?

Next week, I’ll provide our sample checklist for preparing and packing for a long road trip with twin toddlers along with the activities and toys that worked best for the trip.

Getting things done — Mama style

I have two toddler girls and they couldn’t be more different in personalities. One could easily sit and play with a toy for an hour. Problem is, her sister always wants THAT toy — she’s a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side kind of girl.

Argument ensues; Mama intervenes, and it’s never easy to transition back into quiet-play mode.

But, there are a few activities they both love to do — together. These are the few moments when I have time to cook a meal or wash dishes. I’ve long forgotten what it feels like to want to steal a second for myself (unless it’s to go to the bathroom when I tip-toe up the stairs as lightly as possible hoping for a quiet minute or two).

No, I use those precious, playing nicely together moments to be productive.

Here’s those win-win, lay-low activities:

Cleaning: Wet wash cloths for everyone. Go clean your toys, wash the walls and doors, or the windows. Whatever, but go to it! Works like a charm every single time. My girls have been “cleaning” since they could walk. And, when they show up in the kitchen cleaning their faces, what are you going to do? Just laugh. You can also give them one or two wipes. On the outside of the house, give them a cloth and a spray bottle filled with water. (Actually, just spray bottles works for us outside).

Fuzzy balls and a box: These are the safest toys in the house and they also happen to be pretty darn fun. We use a Skechers box that has weird holes in the sides — perfect enough to fit fuzzy balls of all sizes, craft clothespins and pipe cleaners.

Brightly colored decorations: Anything from Mardi Gras beads to snowflakes that hang from the ceiling have always proven to keep my girls entertained for great periods of time. Even now that those great periods of time are so slim.

Books: Bring out some books they like to flip through. Even magazines. Something you don’t mind getting torn up. Stick them in the corner of the kitchen and let them go to it. As they get older, offer up stickers to put on the pages. (You definitely have to make sure you have read a bunch before this or else they will want you to read to them).

Dishwasher fun: I haven’t done this in a long time, but when they were younger I used to put small amounts of water, soap and food coloring on the door — when it was down — and let them splash around while I did dishes. To clean up, I just moved them up to the sink to help finish up the dishes and later ran the full washer to clean up that mess.

Animals and place mats: If you can find place mats (or anything indestructible and easy to move around — with animals on them, and then find matching small animals you will love this activity before any meal — or anytime. Just bring out the animals and stick them on the table — divide them evenly, if possible. Ask them to match the animals to the ones on the mat. Soon, they’ll have their own game of just putting the animals all over. When that starts to get boring, ask them to see where they can put the animals — like on a windowsill or on a shelf. That should easily give you a little more time.

How about you? What’s your go-to to try and get a minute or two to yourself? For more activity ideas, check out the new The SavvySource.

10 Ways to help Mothers of Multiples (Part 2)

While I do believe it is extremely important for the village to step up and help mothers of all kinds, it is just as important for mothers to care for themselves, especially when they have multiples.

I’d been searching in my head for the longest time for the right way to describe how I’ve felt lately, battling it out daily with two 2 year olds. Then, today, it hit me: By the end of the day I honestly feel beat up, like I’ve been in the ring all day and I’m just ready to fall over for the count. Now, some days are not that way at all, but when things are bad, they are very bad.

That said, until recently, I’ve actually done a great job at taking care of myself, for my daughters’ sake. After all, I didn’t have a village to lean on; I didn’t have a neighbor to chat with. I’ve been on-call 100 percent of the time. It dawned on me two weeks ago that I’d been so busy being the mom that I forgot about the woman — a classic no-no in my world. Let’s blame it on mommy brain and move on to these tips. I’ve done all of them and with the exception of a few rough patches, I’ve managed to stay mostly sane and happy and gracious these last 2.5 years.

10 Ways to help Yourself, MoMs:

  1. Go Away! That’s right. Leave. The. Babies. This is the hardest one for me, I admit. But, it’s always the best remedy for even the worst week. You don’t have to hire a sitter, unless of course, you have to hire a sitter — some situations may require it. But, it’s important to remember to focus on yourself, no matter how busy you feel you are. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, you don’t even need to go far. You just need to take an hour or two away — and by that I do not mean shopping for groceries or children’s clothes.
  2. Treat Yourself: Buy a bag of chocolate, a bottle of wine or crack open a new spa pedicure product. Or, go all out and do all three! Take care of your body, offer it soul food and sustenance on whatever budget you can afford. Make a portion of every day all about you even if it is stealing a piece of chocolate between tantrums or crying jags. The important part of this tip, though, is to enjoy that bliss fully and be awake for it. You can eat a bag of chocolate quickly without thought or you can eat one slowly, enjoying every single tingle on your taste buds.
  3. Walk: I’ve walked for my sanity since about week three — even in the middle of winter. I do believe the first picture of me out with the girls includes going for a walk with snow on the ground. And, I’ve recently found a love for walking for pleasure, too. Walks alone allow me time to clear my head, distance myself from the day’s chaos and helps me put myself and my life back into alignment. Then again, I’m always one to choose fresh air and movement over sitting in a theater or hanging at the mall.
  4. Write or Talk: It’s hard for me to imagine motherhood without writing about it. I can’t even comprehend it, actually. That’s how much writing about it means to me. But, talking about it is just as fun and helpful. Share conversations by e-mail, through message boards or blogging — or, if you are lucky enough, talk with a good friend or two.
  5. Have purpose: This is perhaps the most important thing a new mother of this generation must do, especially if you had a career that you’ve given up to stay home with your babies. No matter your purpose, live it fully and openly so you always have something other than babies to think about, work toward and dream about. It could be a hobby, a lifelong dream, or achieving a goal. It doesn’t matter so long as it works for you.
  6. Do nothing: I only recently figured this step out. I was spending too much time on the computer for my breaks, too much time meal-planning, budget-planning and deal shopping. Even breaks in front of the TV or talking on the phone were too much. I needed to do nothing, in silence, to recover from the party of multiples. We all know there is rarely a moment’s peace and people like me who are true introverts — who need time with themselves to recharge — need that time away from the noise. Laying on a mat in the living room during naps is a great way to reconnect with your thoughts and body. But, you could easily sit and drink tea and look out the window, too.
  7. Join a moms group: Check out a local twins club, but don’t feel that has to be the only club you join. In fact, other moms groups might be able to offer more support, especially in the later years when more kids are the same age.
  8. Take pictures: Our best days seem to always end up on camera. I’m not sure if the days are better because I took pictures or if the day was just so good I thought pictures were necessary. Regardless, i can’t stress this enough: take tons and tons. Cherish the memories, yes, but snap proof that you weren’t always crying or sad or scared. Because, seriously, we do smile more and laugh more than cry, right? Right? Right?
  9. Break your rules: Go ahead, give the kids a cookie for breakfast. Let them watch yet another movie even though you swore they’d never watch any at all. Watch bedtime come and go and smile about it. Maybe not every day. Maybe not even every other day. But now and then a good, solid breaking of the rules can make a Mama feel really, really good.
  10. Relish mornings: Early wake-ups can get a day off on the wrong foot, I know. With twice the kids, it’s bound to happen more than we’d like. Use this time to your advantage. Sit down with a cup of coffee and some magazines and leaf through while the kids play. Take a few minutes and everyone draw together on a piece of paper. Or, snuggle under the covers. Breathe deep. And repeat this mantra: “We’re going to have a great day today.” Repeat as often as needed.

How about you? Are you taking care of yourself? Anything you wish you could do each day? What kind of effort are you going to start making? I’ve read a lot recently about how it takes 30 days to change a habit. Let’s make taking care of ourselves a habit this July — making it a true Independence celebration.

You may read more of my thoughts on motherhood at my blog Between the Lines.

5 Ways to Help Moms of Multiples (Part I)

How do we do it?

Most of us do it without any help at all, but that’s not how most of us want it to be. Most of us thought people were going to come out of the woodwork to help us care for our darling multiple babies. Most of us thought people actually meant it when they said they would help out.

If you’ve read my blog, you know I struggled the last couple weeks with feeling alone, and much like a failing mother because I just couldn’t keep up the energy and stamina and passion for all the hard work mothering twins has been.

The thing is, though, that my husband and I have done it primarily without any outside help for the last 2.5 years. That’s nearly 1,000 days of constant, consistent parenting without extra hands to hold two babies, rock two babies, feed two babies or hug two babies. And yet the rest of life — household chores, running errands, household maintenance — still has to get done as well.

It’s always been a wonder to me why people drop off the planet after just the first month of a child’s birth because the hard work of raising kids, as we’ve all realized, doesn’t end as soon as the babies start sleeping four hours at a stretch — or even eight.

And that leads me to this list. It’s too late for me to get what I needed these last two years, but it might not be too late for those of you new to mothering or who are expecting.

Please be bold enough to pass this list along to a grandparent, cousin, aunt, neighbor, friend or spouse of a mother of twins, triplets, quadruplets, or other higher order multiples under the age of 4 and encourage them to use it frequently for as long as they can do so.

And, in the comments, share some of your own thoughts on what would help you as a mother of multiples.

5 Ways to help Moms of Multiples

  1. Listen AND Empathize: Use kind, caring words to show empathy. Please do not compare your situation to a mother of twins. No two mothers’ situations are ever alike. Our homes, both physically and emotionally, are different. Our children are born with unique personalities and challenges. Consider phrases like this: “I cannot imagine what you are going through, but I do know how hard it is with just one,” or “Parenting is so hard, I can’t imagine what it is like with two (or more).” Do not say things like, “Mine were 16 months apart so it was like having twins” or, the dreaded, “Double trouble.”
  2. Offer specific help: How about bringing her a cup of coffee on your way to work? Going to the store for your own groceries? How about calling or emailing the new MoM in your life and asking her if she needs anything. This goes not just for the first few weeks but for the first few years. Do you know how hard it is to get two or more non-walking or new walkers out of a car and into a store just for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? Picking up your dry cleaning in the local strip mall? How about asking the new MoM in your life if she has any laundry she needs laundered? You could pick it up on your way. No need to go too far out of your way, but your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
  3. Household chores: Can you do dishes? How about sweep floors? What about take out trash or clean bathrooms? If you are capable of doing any of this then that would be a great help to a new mother. You do not need to do it often and you do not need to do it perfectly. Just show up and clean during a regular, scheduled visit.
  4. Bring soul food: I remember very little during those first few weeks other than the crying. But, I remember the oatmeal raisin cookies my mother made and the huge meat and cheese tray my aunt brought one night. We feasted on those sandwiches and cookies for the next several days in those mini-meals we ate a couple times a day. That was the kind of food I wanted – that, and take out. Casseroles are great, but even planning to put them into the oven, eating and cleaning up was too much for us in those first couple months. And, I needed other soul food, too. Chocolate. Flowers. A relaxation CD. A card. I would have loved a card that told me how I was doing a great job and to hang in there.
  5. Put in some time: People are alwayswilling to hold a baby, but sometimes that’s not what is best for a new mom. Parents of multiples are more isolated than most new mothers because it is not easy to just pick up two babies (or more) and go out of the house. Some homes are better laid out for easy outings than others. Two arms are never enough for just one parent with two babies. So, please, offer to go along for doctor visits, offer to go out to lunch, offer to go to a local park, offer to stay in the car while she runs in the store, offer to help her shop for some postnatal clothes. Help her get out of the house and be a part of the world, again. And do this often and for as long as possible. Because there comes a time when her babies will be out of infant carries, but not yet walking. And then, after that, they are new walkers and still need to be carried. And then after that they are runners — going in two different directions.

And it’s all hard. Every last bit of it. So, she needs you. And by mothering the mother, you’re helping her be a better mother.

The anti-schedule for multiples

For my first post last week, I talked about how simple planning can help a day go smoother. I talked about how you need to sit down the night before and just plot out a few activities (or more) to do the next day with your young children or babies.

This, I said, is more for your sanity than for their enrichment.

But, I also added a disclosure that said some days nothing will work.

That was exactly what happened to me the day I posted that first post. Funny enough.

They woke just slightly before 6 a.m. — roughly an hour or more early than usual. I hadn’t even gotten up yet and they were already crying.

And crying is what they did all day. Perhaps it was a virus. Perhaps they were tired. Perhaps they were just off.

But, it was awful.

Friday was only slightly better.

So I did what I have always done when times with twins has gotten deeply, terribly hard:

We changed things up. We did what we never do. We went — gasp! — off schedule.

That’s right, the trick to keeping my sanity during times of insanity has been to throw all caution to the wind, stop being a slave to the schedule and the full bellies and just leave the house.

I’ve been a slave to the schedule since Day One. No, not sticking to a schedule — just always trying to find one that offers a perfect day.

It’s only been until recently when I realized that now that they’re 2 and on a good schedule, I can finally branch out and experiment with late bedtimes, off meals and new experiences. They will survive. They always do. In fact, they are incredibly resilient.

I am, too, surprisingly.

Whether your twins, triplets or more are babies, young toddlers or young children, I believe strongly that doing what you never do is a simple way to get everyone back on the same page.

When my girls were babies, we would put them in the car and drive to either my grandmothers or to nearby attractions.

What did we do for our weekend of anti-schedule? Nothing too crazy. In fact, you’ve probably done it all by now. We went to a carnival (for dinner), a hot air balloon festival (and got rained on) and a family barbecue (for father’s day).

By Monday, I felt we had disrupted Normal enough to get back to Normal. Sometimes, even when money is tight, you have to let go of the daily grind and just splurge to remember what all the hard work is about.

For me it was seeing their little faces slide down on their father’s lap at the carnival, worrying about Jadyn’s fear about jumping in the bouncy house and seeing them pick a lollipop from the lollipop tree. The next night it was seeing them clamor for a chocolate milk shake.

Bedtime didn’t happen until late and, no, they didn’t hardly eat a thing. But they slept all night and they woke up later than usual.

Mission accomplished. And on Monday we were right back on schedule and so happy to be there.

You can read more about trials and tribulations with twins and other stuff on my blog.

An Antidote for Twinsanity

Remember that old saying you heard, oh, let’s see … once, maybe twice, maybe a hundred times? Sweet whispers caressed your pillow night after night and they all went something like this:

It will get easier.

I think I remember throwing a flower pot or something very heavy at someone after they said something like that during one of my sleep-deprived dreams.

But, I’m not going to write about how all ages and stages are hard – because they are and we know that already.

Instead, I’m going to share the Top Secret Tip to Ridding Yourself of Twinsanity – EVERY DAY. Disclosure: This does not include days when they just wake up cranky and miserable no matter what you do or when they are vomiting or have a fever. Only chocolate can help you those days.

It does, however, include all ages and stages the rest of the time.

Here’s the Top Secret:

Plan.

When you finally pick yourself up off the floor and dust off from that shocker, I want you to think back – and if your twins are 2 you’ll need to think way back – to your best days. I’m willing to bet you would agree that they were filled to the brim with activity, with perfect pace and degrees of difficulty and creativity.

Our best days around here are the ones that are planned out almost by the minute. They are ordinary, stay-at-home kind of days that offer less time to, say, knock over the living room lamp or rip open a brand new bag of Seattle’s Best Coffee and dump it all over the brand new rug.

One second without an activity and the next thing you know they’re crying, I’m saying things I regret and the day is a lost cause.

Since I became a stay-at-home mom when my daughters were 10 months old, I kept them busy just about daily with planned extra curricular activities (ie: art, music, physical activity).

Recently, I realized I stopped planning and started winging it once they turned 2. I guess I thought since they were older they should be able to entertain themselves better than they actually do. But, they still need me to help teach them how to play and be creative. Or, I need it, I suppose.

Sure enough, as soon as I started planning out our days again, life got easier and happier and, well, more sane. It ain’t perfect, but I’m not asking for perfect. And, so I’m being clear: planned activities like this are more for a mom’s peace of mind than for trying to raise brilliant children. Though, it would be nice if the latter sort of tagged along with the original goal.

No matter the age of your twins, you too can have a relatively peaceful, calm day that includes more learning and laughter and less crying and fighting – even on the ordinary days. Here’s the trick, Mama.

Preparation: Spend a half hour at your computer or with your activity books (don’t have any you say, well then get to the library FAST!) and a notebook. Think about the downtime your kiddos have and consider their attention spans. Most activities for young children last only a few minutes so you’ll need quite a few. Three in the morning and three in the afternoon is best if you’re home alone with multiples all day. But, even just one morning and one evening activity is enough to make for a good start and end to the day. You could easily just write down one activity for each day on a calendar if one is enough for your family – a great time management tip I found through Preschool Mama.

Themes/subjects: Pick a theme for the day or even the week and try to stick to that to help you minimize the activities you could venture into. Keep them simple for yourself, too. If your theme this week is hot weather, then consider activities that will use all five senses for that topic. In our early days together, we always had music, art and physical activity. Need more ideas? Check out Toddler Toddler’s site for fast and easy activities.

Everything is A Big Deal Activity: Sometimes, just knowing what will come next is the best antidote to a crazy life with young twins. Knowing that after just 15 minutes you can all easily move on to the next thing — maybe it’s brushing teeth, maybe it’s cleaning with wipes or maybe it’s painting the next great piece of living room art. It’s all a big deal to a young child if you make it a big deal. The point is to show up, pay attention and be ready for the next great big thing.

Which leads me to my last point:

Stay Open, Be flexible: Some of our best moments have come directly from my failed activities. I thought it would go one way and they took it a totally different way but as long as they are happy, I am (usually) happy, too. So long as I know what’s on deck next when a meltdown ensues.

And, let me say, it’s great to be here. I love writing and I love twins so this is a perfect venue for my thoughts and ramblings. Two years ago, I would have posted about keeping a schedule and desperate ways to get my girls to sleep through the night. A year ago, I would have been posting about how I honestly thought they were the best age ever (and, I was right!). Now, well, they are 2.5 and … what was I talking about? Yeah. That’s about my brain these days. So, let me try and be coherent on all topics near and dear to my heart related to twins — in between verbal arguments and physical dramatics. And, oh, I have another blog, too.