The Sounds of Imagination

Growing up my childhood hero was Anne of Green Gables. Her emphasis of imagination influenced my own twin sister and me to conjure up whole afternoons, whole summers, of endless games to play. It’s been important to me that my boys (who are granted only nearing 2) are encouraged to do the same. Sometimes this seems harder than it sounds- does anyone else fear that imagination seems a little by the wayside in a world of toys that practically play for you?  After getting the boys pretend cell phones (as they aren’t allowed to play with real ones) I had initial buyers remorse as the phone had one sided conversations with itself and the boys listened, silently mesmerized. Then I realized they enjoyed the phone’s counting and number games, but still used their play kitchen’s bananas, musical maracas, and often just their hands to have “telephone” conversations constantly.

More recently they have a developed a new fascination that has inspired their creativity. We are usually the first ones to reach the playground in the morning and often the park crew is there getting the things ready for the day. This means the boys have met their new childhood hero: the man with the leaf blower.

Hurricane Irene upped the ante when the park crews were constantly using wood chippers, cherry pickers, and those ubiquitous leaf blowers to clear paths and downed trees in the park. The boys were happy viewers of all the excitement and then decided to join in.

While I was sweeping away one day in the kitchen the boys figured out how to remove the handles on the kiddie brooms I had given them. Ren took his handle and started patrolling the living room with the loudest sound I’ve ever heard him emit. Rrrrrreeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhh! Rrrrrrrrehhhrrreeeehhhhhhhhhhh! Sam stood in shock for a few seconds then quickly followed suit. RRRRRRREEEHHHHHHHH times 2. I worried the neighbors might complain, I worried child services might show up to investigate the outrageous sounds coming from our apartment. Were they crying? Was this some kind of whining on steroids? Then I realized they were doing spot on imitations of those men with leaf blowers. Wow.

This game doesn’t seem to get old either. They run for those broom handles right away when they wake up. At 6AM. RRRRRReehhhheeeehhheeehhh. We have put a moratorium on early morning toddler landscaping for obvious reasons. On our recent family trip there were no broom handles around. Sam grabbed our dog’s tennis ball launcher and set in clearing those pesky imaginary leaves off the furniture. Ren found a swiffer mop in a closet that apparently fit the bill, and blew away imaginary debris out from under the coffee table (here is link to my blog with a video of the boys leaf blowing).

I could relax, as imagination is clearly alive and well around here. What have you discovered that sparks your twins’ imaginations?

Table for 3

My husband is an amazing dad and cook, so when he had to work late every night this week I decided to dine out with my 22 month old boys a few times to ease up on kitchen duty.  If we hadn’t spent months perfecting our eating-out strategies, this may have proved trickier than staying in, so here’s what I’ve figured out to make a “table for three” possible:

Pick the right spot: Kid friendly is crucial of course (tablecloths or a line outside are great steer-clear signs). A diner is our #1 destination because their goal is quick service and so is ours! We first  figured out the best diner in our neighborhood, then we made a point to become regulars there with twins in tow. By establishing a relationship we’ve accomplished several perks. We got to know the staff and they got to know us. The boys are now on a high five basis with the servers and our favorite cook comes out of the kitchen to say hello. When they see our double stroller pull up for breakfast they throw a waffle on the iron as they know that’s what the boys are looking forward to. As a former waitress, and having been on the other side of kid-table-clean-up, we also find it important to always tip well.

Choose a good time: Earlier than a rooster in the morning or earlier than the senior set  in the evening. As sleeping in is a luxury of the past, if we are going out to breakfast we go ahead and get there as early as possible. Most folks are not interested in Sunday brunch when the sun is only just up, so this means we often have the place almost to ourselves. Same goes for showing up just before 5 for dinner, when there is absolutely no dinner rush to speak of. This means the food comes out quicker, and if there is screaming or general loudness emitted from our table it is way less embarrassing. One other timing trick is heading out to eat directly from the playground. This way we arrive tuckered out and less likely to treat the restaurant like a jungle gym.

Lower your expectations: Three courses? I think not. I’ve always been a quick eater and this comes in handy when dining solo with the boys. If the actual eating lasts as long as 15 minutes I am impressed. While they are still munching happily I ask in advance for the check or any take home containers- that way if all heck breaks loose  I can load left overs and high tail it out of there quickly. We also know what the boys love on the menu and we stick with that. There is no trying new stuff while dining out. I can go wild on my own order, then if they want to expand their taste buds’ horizons they can have a bite of mine.

What to bring: I bring a few small toys that are not in the regular rotation at home so they seem new and exciting while we wait. When the food arrives I slap on their biggest scoop bibs from home to catch most of the scrambled egg and bacon bits before they hit the floor. Also handy-a huge pack of wipes for small hands and spills, and sippy cups from home to keep huge spills at bay.

Improv 101: Who knew that dinner out on the town with your twins was a chance to participate in your own improv troupe. How many ways can you play with sweetener packets?

“Lets match the colors- here’s a blue Equal pack Sam, can you find another one in the box?”

“Let’s load them into your toy truck Ren, can you dump them out over by the ketchup bottle?”

“Let’s count them up as we stack them higher and higher until they fall over!”

Next it’s craft time, and we make straw snakes. I scrunch the paper on the straw all the way down into a little tight ball.  Then I add a drop of water to the paper wad and we watch it grow into a “snake”. The boys like to slither their snakes around the table hissing with glee. Finally, I launch into a short table-top play starring Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper (complete with french accents just like on Blue Clues). Sure the neighboring tables may think you’re nutty, but as long as there are two gigglers and not grumps at my own table that’s what counts.

I can’t say that dining out with twins is a relaxing experience, and we won’t be sampling the fine delicacies at an “it” spot anytime soon. Still, we’ve found a way to feel like home while we eat out and then return to our own home with nary a dish to wash.

Cleaning? Come On Down!

Hello Twin Mamas! I’m a mom of identical twin boys, as well as a twin myself, as well as an aunt to twins and there are twin cousins on just about every branch of our family tree. Even being a twin, you never guess you’ll end up with a set of your own and over the past 22 months we’ve had a lots of adventures (you can read about it at www.twinmamarama.com). We live in Brooklyn, and while city life can be big, boy is our apartment small. Sometimes that’s a good thing when it comes to cleaning up…

I’ve posted before about cleaning the house with the help of toddlers, but just recently I have been experimenting with getting the boys to help clean up their own messes. As a former enrichment teacher I am very familiar with the clean up song, but that seemed a bit advanced for the under 2 set. As a former seasoned babysitter I’ve employed tricks including siblings competing against one another to fill their bin with the most toys off the floor. I’ve tried race-against-the-clock style cleaning where we see how much we can get done in 60 seconds, and if we’re not done we try to beat our clean up record in a second heat. Again, these seem better for the school-age variety. So instead I invented a few new techniques…

Before the experiment my status quo for cleaning was waiting for the boys to be in bed, then performing a hunched over scurry I’ve perfected to run around tossing the toys that litter the floor (like confetti after New Year’s) into various bins around the apartment.

This evening, however, I rallied the troops to attack the mess: “Guys!” I said in my best Guy Smiley game show voice. “Look at these blocks! I PICK UP the block and I THROW it in the box! Can YOU pick up a block Sam?!” Sam eyes me suspiciously. I demonstrate dramatically how fun this can be and applaud wildly for myself when I score with the block into the box. Sam leaps into action and before I know it he has run a block over to the box and chucked it in. I respond like an entire live studio audience rolled into one. This rallies Ren into the game and as they run back and forth with blocks I call out their moves like a sports caster during a heated playoff. When the boys have finished (and our clapping and jumping for ourselves have concluded), we take it down a notch as we head to the living room and I hand out “really TRICKY tasks.” I give each of them a specific task as if I am a king sending knights off on a Grimm’s fairy tale quest:

“Ren, can YOU take this fire truck into YOUR room, and put it UNDER your crib?” I ask him solemnly. He takes the firetruck and trots off uncertainly. He looks back at me. “Don’t forget Ren, YOUR room, UNDER your crib,” I say as if the world hangs in the balance. I follow him into his room where he is attempting to launch the truck up into his crib. “Remember, not IN, but rather UNDER your crib Ren”. He squats and rolls the truck under the crib where 15 other vehicles are parked. The studio audience immediately returns in full force.

I send Sam off on the wild adventure of putting magnets back on the fridge and am on a roll, when I discover my Achilles’ heel. I ask the boys to pick up the balls that are here, there and everywhere, and bring them all to one shelf. There is immediately a scuffle over who gets the blue bouncy ball, and when I reach the shelf I find no troops behind me. I retreat back to the living room to see them bouncing, kicking, throwing, and rolling all the balls we’ve collected. I try to avert disaster by tacking in a new direction. I bring their attention to a toy box in the corner and ask them to “make a basket” into the toy box with the various balls. Sam pays no attention and continues playing with glee, Ren runs to the toy box and in an attempt to clear it out for his b-ball action, dumps the entire train set inside all over the floor. Ack! We are essentially back to square one. In my head I hear the classic: “wah-wah-wah-waaaaaaaaaaahhhhh”.

As I write this the boys are in bed and I can see from this vantage point: a sippy cup, a beach ball, at least 6 matchbox cars, a popper push toy, that whole train set, a Croc shoe, 2 bean bag chairs, a muffin tin (a muffin tin?!) that I will shortly be taking on in my own game show:  So You Think You Can Dance?  Try this routine: hunch, shuffle, shuffle, grab, toss, shuffle, shuffle, reach, hunch, scurry, dip, and bend.

My goal is to teach the boys the responsibility of cleaning someday, but for now just having them on the “cleaning is fun” bandwagon seems like an accomplishment.