Mommy Vows: Back to School Edition

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Categories Household and Family Management, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, Parenting, School, School-Age, Time Management5 Comments

My twin girls are starting second grade this week.  On the eve of the beginning of their third school year, I realized I was giving myself a bit of a pep talk.  Having two years of school under my belt, I am going to TRY to learn from my hardships and do a few things to give myself an easier time of it.

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The first day of first grade!

1. I will carve out time over the weekend to do some food prep for the upcoming week.

While I would love to spend every ounce of the weekends hanging out with the girlies, it makes my life much simpler to put together some make-ahead recipes on Sunday.

2. I will invite the girls to help me in the kitchen when I do food prep.

I have done a pretty good job of this this summer, but it’s easy to get into “get it done” mode during the school year.  I’ll feel better about “taking away” time from the weekend for food prep if I can count it as quality time with the girls.

3. I will make lunches the night before.

I’m bad at this one.  I get so tired by the end of the day, I often wait until the morning to assemble lunches.  I’ll enjoy more of my mornings if I’m not rushing to peel cucumbers at 5:50am.

4. The girls will clean out their own backpacks each day.

We get busy in the afternoons, and I want to spend down-time with the girls as much as possible.  This often leaves the task of cleaning out the backpacks to me.  I already have an adorable in-box in place.  I’m going to try to break this habit!

5. The girls will load their backpacks for the following day (with the exception of their lunchboxes) before bedtime.

See #5.

6. I will have the girls in the car by 7:30am.

That’s actually a tiny bit more time than we need to get to school at 7:45, but that allows me to run back into the house for whatever it is I forgot that day.  (It’s seemingly inevitable, at least once a week…might as well plan for it.)

7. I will fix the coffee pot before I go to bed.

What a great treat it is to get up in the morning with just one button to press between me and that sweet elixir!

8. I will blog at least once a week.

I feel much better when I sit down, relax, and write.  It’s so easy to get out of the routine, but I feel much more like “me” when I stick to it.  I’m hopeful that I’ll have time in the mornings here and there…since I’m saving myself time on lunches and coffee prep, mornings are going to be a breeze, right???

So here’s my game plan…

A. Get Hubby’s buy-in…

…in the food department.  I don’t exactly need (or want!) his help in the kitchen most of the time, but he can help facilitate the Sunday afternoon schedule for me to do that.

…in the management of backpacks.  He’s home with the girls in the afternoon, and I’ll ask him to help reinforce our new outline.

B. Keep the girls on task with a fancy list…

…to remind them of their backpack chores each afternoon.

…to provide a checklist of their morning duties to give us the greatest chance of success for that 7:30 departure.

C. Cut myself some slack, when necessary…

…to allow for the occasional pizza night or PB&J two days in a row.  Even the best-laid plans don’t always pan out.  We will survive!

What am I missing on my list?  Any tips and tricks you Multiple Mamas can share that make your days run a little more smoothly???  

MandyE is mom to 7 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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The Summer Childcare Quandary

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Categories Childcare, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, School-Age5 Comments

Like most people with full time jobs, my work hours remain the same during the summer when school is out. Like the other 12 million single parents in the US, finding childcare for my children falls solely to me. Technically, the girls’ father has summer visitation privileges, but I need to have a plan in case he doesn’t show up. I also have to choose between missing registration deadlines or forfeiting deposit payments if he does decide to spend time with the children.

Given the enormous variety of summer camps available here in suburban Texas, you might assume that the only challenge for summer childcare for my elementary school children is our custody situation. You’d be very, very wrong.

Most day camps sold as “full day” camps run from 9 am to 3:30 or 4 pm. After-school childcare programs suspend for the summer, so those of us who work fairly typical hours (8 am to 5 pm in the US, plus commute time) are out of luck. Some companies, including mine, can accommodates shorter hours in the office to allow us to work from home to make up the balance. However, that’s not an ideal solution, either. When I’m home with my children, I want to be actively with them, not simply physically present but mentally at work. My daughters aren’t huge outdoors kids, so shooing them out into the Texas heat to play only buys me a few hours per week.

Ever year, starting in March, all the working moms I know begin our summer care hand wringing. It never gets better, though. Given that stay-at-home motherhood is no longer the only norm in our society, I really don’t understand why we haven’t come up with better solutions. Year round school would work. Full day summer camps would be great if their hours mirrored daycare programs for infants and toddlers. After camp care, similar to after school care, including transportation where necessary, would be enormously helpful.

I must acknowledge that most of these options don’t account for how out of reach summer camp costs are for many single parents, often around $150-200 per child per week, more for extended care. I know. This is quite a bit less than infant care, but it’s still a major stressor for families. I know of kids my daughters’ age, 10 years old, who have been staying home along during the summer for years. While that may have worked in past generations, when free range parenting was just called “life”, it not a sustainable way to keep kids out of trouble in 2016.

Childcare for elementary schoolers when school lets out for the summer can be a nightmare for the working parent.

I’m very thankful that we have a full day gymnastics camp only 15 miles out of our way that always makes room for my girls. My boss is open to my leaving an hour early every day to pick the kids up before they close. Neither of my daughters does gymnastics during the school year, but they enjoy the program for the summer. In all honesty, they’d rather attend others, but I can’t meet registration deadlines because of visitation challenges. In a pinch, teacher friends will watch my girls, but I can’t expect that for the 10 weeks school is out.

Any great ideas for fixing our summer childcare culture?

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Travelling With Multiples

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Categories Ask the Readers, Preschoolers, School-Age, Toddlers, Travel3 Comments

Who else has Spring Fever??? So many people have been slammed with snow, us included, that I’m getting slightly tired of it…and it’s only February! Colorado had a rare 70 degree day yesterday and it got me thinking about our travel plans this Spring.

My family lives here in Colorado close to us. Special K’s family lives in Kansas. Google Maps says it takes 5.5 hours door to door.

We have four kids…we know this isn’t true…for us.

All in all, it takes us under 7 hours to get from our house to my in laws in the van. And we’re actually pretty good at handling it…both the kids and the grown ups. Here are some of my road trip survival tips with multiples (or with multiple children):

  1. Start them early.We began doing this trip when each child was about a month old. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it because now they are used to being in the car for long periods of time. You may be thinking, “thanks jerk, my kid is four, this tip is worthless.” Sorry! Read on, I have more up my sleeve. :)
  2. Plan ahead. Before we go on any trip that is longer than an hour, we plan for potty breaks and possible leg stretching breaks. We will alter our route to ensure that there are ample opportunities to walk and pee if necessary. If no one needs the break, we just cruise on by. We also pack snacks, diapers and extra clothes. These may seem like “duh” moments, but a few weeks ago we had a trip to the aquarium, which is just over an hour from our home. I packed snacks just in case, thinking we wouldn’t need them…but there was a HUGE car accident that left us sitting on the highway for about 45 minutes. If I hadn’t packed those snacks, there would have been an uprising! 3 of my kids are in diapers, so this seems like a silly thing to add to the list, but again, I always plan for more than I could possibly need, because I am terrified of running out. If it’s a day trip, I still bring at least one change of clothes because spills happen and diaper leaks happen and no one wants to sit in wet clothes!
  3. Leave right before nap time or bed.The bedtime one might be hard on the grownups if you’re cool like me and go to bed by 10, but it is soooo nice to have a quiet trip the whole way! Typically, we leave right before or right after lunch…that way, there is some activity in the car as a distraction (food), and then the littles have their nap afterwards. This can buy us anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours of silence.
  4. Pack comfort items.This is critical, especially on our long road trips to Gramma and Papas house. H still uses a binky, but we are strict that she only gets it for nap and bed time. The one exception to this rule is long road trips. It’s her way of soothing herself and if it keeps her happy, then we all are happy! M likes her monkey and her blanky…she gets those too. Whatever it is, even if you don’t pull it out unless you are desperate, bring it. It is way better to have it and not need it then to need it and not have it (I’m talking one item per kid…don’t use this logic for the whole toy box!).
  5. Pack activities.My oldest is seven, so she can have things like a book or coloring pages. Sweet Pea also enjoys a folder of coloring pages. For this I simply print up free coloring pages that I find online, hole punch them and put them in a 3-ring binder. Each child also gets their own pencil box with crayons/washable markers. I get some of the free coloring pages from PBS Kids and others from my favorite mom bloggers. Do a little looking on Google and you can find a whole lot of free goodies! As for the Twinkies, I simply pack some toys that they haven’t seen or played with in a while.
  6. Electronics. I know, I know…they are young and electronics are so pervasive, but seriously, it is a seven. hour. car. ride. We have a Kindle Fire, kids version, that has an account for M&M and Sweet Pea, as well as a dual monitor DVD player that the Twinkies use to watch shows and movies. The kids only get such electronics in the car for our long haul trips, which keeps them special…and highly effective.

Now for the fun part. We just booked a trip to visit my Grammy in Florida this May. YAY! Here’s the kicker…we’re flying. The Twinkies are 2, so they need their own tickets now. Okay okay, even if they weren’t two, I would buy them their own seats because who wants to have a wiggly kid on their lap for 6 hours? Not me! Only M&M has been on a plane…my three littles are total newbies.

So what did I do? I read about 3715 blog posts on how to travel with toddlers on airplanes, but none of them really addressed the issue of multiples. Three of my children are under the age of four, and all of them are in diapers. I know that this will be challenging. Thankfully, some of my above tips can be modified for the airplane, but I’m still wondering how to manage this?

Here’s our current plan:

We have two flights with a nearly 2 hour layover in between (the gates are really close together and they are with the same airline, so we didn’t feel the need to factor in more time there).

We are bringing the car seats with us so no need to worry about renting them in Florida.

We will be bringing above mentioned coloring kits, Kindle Fires (we have two) and our laptops. That brings us to one coloring kit and electronic device per child.

I am planning on packing lots of little snacks that they will have to spend time opening (like presents!), and am considering giving them things like mini M&M’s that they don’t normally get.

We are also seriously considering purchasing a Trunki for each child.

10835410-1375201107-272949Have you ever seen such a thing? Have you ever heard of these? There are loads of rave reviews on them, and according to the website, they can handle all four of my children. Well, not at once. But one at a time! The kids can sit on them while we wait in various lines at the airport, and there is a “leash” attachment where we could drag them behind us…or they could drag each other.

If you’ve used these, could you please let me know what you think? We might buy just one and see what we think, before committing to three more.

Okay dear readers:

What have I missed? 

What tips do you have for travelling with multiples? With toddlers? 

Do you have any advice specific to airplane travel?

Happy travelling!

 

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Gifts Even (Twin) Toddlers Can Make!

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Categories Activities, Celebrations, crafts, DIY, Lifestyle, Make-It Mondays, Preschoolers, School-Age, Toddlers1 Comment

Since our girls were about two, I’ve been working to involve them in our holiday gifts, at least in some small way.  I took a quick trip down Memory Lane to find pictures of some of our creations.

gift7Our longest-running tradition is gift tags.  The first one we did was a fingerprint wreath.  The girls finger painted big sheets of green.  I used a scallop punch to make a wreath shape.  I used a hole punch to make “berries”, and the girls glued the wreaths on red card stock for the berries to show through.

[The girls’ involvement has evolved over the years.  “Gluing” with a two-year old, at our house at least, meant that I used a tape runner to apply adhesive to the item to be glued.  I handed a piece at a time to the girls — nestled securely in their highchairs — to place where I pointed.  My girls are almost seven, and I finally (sorta-kinda) trust them with actual glue.]

Since then, we’ve used finger prints (using washable ink pads, which I LOVE!).  At four years old, the girls were old enough to make these reindeer themselves.  I love how different they all turned out!

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The following year the girls made snowmen using non-toxic washable paint.  After the paint dried, they used markers to make the snowman’s features.

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And this year we’re in the process of making penguins.  I love seeing some of our relatives keep these as ornaments year after year.

gift2We’ve also made gift bags.  I cut out the hat and mouth from card stock.  We used buttons for eyes, orange felt for a nose, and a bright rhinestone for the holly berry.  The girls glued everything onto a brown craft bag.  They were so proud to give these to family and friends!

And we’ve been making these gift card holders for a few years now.  I love the personal touch these add to the gift cards we give to the girls’ teachers.

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And in the way of gifts, bookmarks have been big hits at our house.  We’ve done these several different ways.  When the girls were about 18 months old, they did some crayon scribbles, which I cut into strips…put the strips back to back (so they both had representation on the bookmark)…and had them laminated at the office supply store.  I punched a hole and let the girls choose a ribbon and a bead to top it off.  We’ve done similar bookmarks with fingerpaint and water colors.  Most recently, the girls in kindergarten, they wrote notes to each family member.

gift1I love my bookmarks so much.  They’re a great little token of the girls’ art ability, and they’re very functional, too.  Who can’t use a bookmark or two???

The girls look forward to our yearly projects.  I relish the opportunity to involve them in making something from the heart!

I’d love to hear what other mamas have done to involve their kiddos in gift-giving.  This is one of the great joys of my holiday season, for sure!

MandyE is mom to fraternal twin girls who will soon be seven.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

 

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TV is a Tool

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Categories Balance, Feeling Overwhelmed, How Do The Moms Do It, It Gets Different, Making Time for Me, Parenting, Perspective, Preschoolers, SAHM, School-Age, ToddlersTags Leave a comment

I learned a long time ago that I was a much better parent before I actually had kids. I thought picky eaters were the result of indulgent parents. (Guess what! I introduced my duo to the same foods at the same time off the same spoon and one only eats things that are beige and crunchy. He came like that, I didn’t do that to him.) I also thought my kids wouldn’t watch a lot of TV. That one makes me laugh now!

While we are at it, I also sort of thought I would have ONE baby at a time and well, that didn’t happen either.

I am not ashamed to admit thatI use TV as a tool to give myself a break and distract my kids from mayhem. I have been home with them since they were one, and with no family nearby and no babysitters to speak of, I rarely had any time for a break. Not long before my boys turned three I started trying to work from home. I had a small Etsy shop and did custom sewing. I enjoyed the quiet time while they slept and the creative outlet helped me refresh. I was able to use the 2-3 hours they would nap to work on projects and promote my business online.

In contrast, while these two were awake, there was rarely a quiet moment. Here’s a small snapshot of the chaos my duo managed from a very young age. I didn’t include any of the photos where there was blood — and there was blood, more than once. Nor did I include any naked shenanigans, which was also incredibly common. You’re welcome.

HDYDI.com Making Time for Me
HDYDI.com Making Time for Me Teamwork: Trying to remove outlet covers with a pretend screwdriver, escaping through the dog door onto the concrete patio, trashing a closet, using an entire box of tissues to decorate their room, working together to escape their play area and unrolling all the toilet paper.

Remember when I said my kids weren’t going to watch a lot of TV? That didn’t last. They were nearly two before we ever turned on the TV for one single half-hour of something with educational merit each day. But then guess what? They turned 3 and all bets were off. Three, in our house at least, was the worst. Ever.

But before that, when my boys were not even two, they figured out and verbalized to me, “There is one of you and two of us and we want to do this!” when I was home alone with them. Most of every day they worked together to outsmart and out-maneuver anything I did. They overcome any childproofing efforts we made and they were giving up naps.

They gave up their nap long before I gave up their nap.

HDYDI.com Making Time for Me
HDYDI.com Making Time for Me The dresser was moved into the closet, which also had a lock, which did not dissuade them from pulling every stitch of clothing out. They also raided the fridge and the pantry, took a Sharpie to the carpet, and flushed things that should not be flushed.

When they were awake, which quickly became all the time, they were in constant seek-and-destroy mode. BUT, when the TV was on they sat, quietly and slack-jawed and provided me a brief respite. They weren’t trashing toy bins or flooding the bathroom. They weren’t trying to escape baby gates or scale cabinets. They just sat. And it was quiet.

In the beginning, we stuck mostly to educational stuff. They were picking up songs and letters, colors and numbers. And more importantly, they were giving me the break I needed to do crazy indulgent things like shower and cook meals.

At age 5, they still watch mostly stuff with educational merit, but there are more and more mindless shows thrown in there too. By age 4 they could each name 100 superheroes (give or take) and they knew all sorts of crazy phrases and giant words they probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise. They have picked up all sorts of cultural references and they incorporate storylines and theme music into their play.

So there’s the truth: My kids watch too much TV. Way more than they should, for sure. But it helps me get things done and it keeps them from clobbering one another or trashing our house. Judge if you want, but TV in our house keeps the peace. Now that they know how to turn on the TV and navigate around, my work is done and I can retire from Mommyhood.

HDYDI.com Making Time for Me
Look how sweet and well-behaved!

Allow me to share some things I have learned since becoming a Mom who uses TV for distraction to get a little time to myself. (It’s OK, I give you permission* to use TV as a tool to entertain your kids.)

  • Streaming is awesome. Get yourself Netflix or Amazon Prime or something on-demand. My kids have only ever watched on-demand shows either from Netflix or from our own personal video library, which we stream to our TV via AppleTV. They also have channels on the AppleTV you can stream if you do have cable. (We don’t. We canceled it when I was pregnant to cut our monthly bills.) Plus there is a PBS channel my kids love too.
  • Paying for a streaming service means my kids don’t watch commercials, ever. They never have to flip through channels, hoping there is something decent on. They just pick something and watch it. We stayed in a hotel recently and they were so flummoxed not being able to control what was on, but subsequently asked for every single thing each commercial endorsed. That was only about an hour’s worth. I can’t imagine living with that every day. Netflix is less than $10 a month, a fraction of the cost of cable and without the commercials.
  • Making them agree on a show and take turns picking has helped them understand sometimes you do what someone else wants. Is it always peaceful? Nope. But then, neither are kids sometimes.
  • Netflix streaming truly is unlimited. Believe me, we’ve tested it. More than once I have thought, “Gee I am glad we don’t get a monthly usage report showing we watched the same episode of Octonauts 437 times so far.”
  • Use parental controls. I mean, if you are going to plop your kids in front of a neglect-o-magic, at least be a little parental. My kids have their own profile and they are locked into ratings for 8 and under. They can’t accidentally watch Orange is the New Black.
  • Be careful trying to replace paid streaming content with YouTube. It’s crazy easy for kids to click on the next thing YouTube thinks is related and find something you’d really rather not have them seeing.
  • Not everything on TV is terrible. My kids are actually pretty smart and know a lot of things because of TV than they would be otherwise. Sometimes they will start talking about some creature they learned about and will tell me 32 facts about it and I am blown away they retained so much. They also smash things like Hulk so there’s that.
  • Try to quiz them after they’ve watching something to make sure they are actually learning. Tell me something about [whatever] that you didn’t know. It makes them recall what they learned and it creates a dialogue. Even the mindless stuff has morals sometimes. How do you think he felt when that happened? What would you do if that happened? Especially great for kids who might struggle with emotions.
  • When they were in preschool in the afternoons, we had a no-TV-before-school rule, because sometimes it is hard to turn off without a fit. We made the rule and stuck to it. It was disputed the first week or so then they accepted it. Now with them starting Kindergarten we’ve made a no-TV-on-school-days rule so they can stay focused on their schoolwork and activities. They know it’s the rule and it’s non-negotiable. (Exceptions made for sick days.)
  • We do a LOT of stuff that isn’t watching TV, I promise. They are exposed to lots of things in real life too. We try to get out of the house every day and we’ve filled the past 5 years with tons of educational and mind-broadening activities. And a lot of TV.

I know the recommendations of nearly everyone who recommends such things say kids should limit screen time, and TV is not a babysitter and it’s bad for developing brains. All of which is probably true. But in our house, my kids watching TV is essential to MY mental health.

* Permission granted in this instance has zero actual authority and is offered without guarantee or responsibility.

 


Making Time for Me - a series on mothers finding time for themselves in the middle of the insanity of parenting and lifeFrom August 31 to September 4, 2015, How Do You Do It? is running a series on “me time” for mothers: why we need it, how we make it, what we do with it. Find the full list of posts on the theme week page.

Have you blogged about mommy time on your own blog before? Are you inspired to do so now? Link your posts at our theme week link up! We’ll do our best to share them on Facebook,Pinterest, and Twitter with the hashtag #metime.

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SAHM vs Working Mom Me Time

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Categories Balance, Older Children, Parenting, SAHM, School-Age, Working3 Comments

On Monday I wrote about how I (re)imagined “me time” in the midst of twin toddlerhood.  Being a full-time SAHM, I needed that time.  I needed time away from the responsibility of the day-to-day, minute-to-minute needs of my girls.  I needed that time to do something just for me.

Fast-forward a few years, and my girls are 6 1/2.  They’re in school, and I’ve been back to work full-time for about a year now.  They love school (and I [mostly] love my work).  Hubby and I have a great set-up.  I drop them off at school, and he — a high school teacher — picks them up in the afternoons.  He takes them for the occasional ice cream cone or hot chocolate, and homework is usually done by the time I get home at suppertime.

Everything works out great…but I desperately miss spending time with my baby girls.

Our time in the mornings before school and in the evenings after supper is always jam-packed.  On the weekends, I just want to hang out with the girls…but that doesn’t stop me from wanting some “me time”.  I’ve just had to re-imagine “me time” again, this time as a working mom.

working_mom

I take at least one day a week to do something frivolous on my lunch hour.  It might be an errand…a run to Target, perhaps…but I’ll make time to peruse the stationery and take a spin through the Star.bucks drive-thru on the way back to the office.  I might go to the craft store and walk up and down each aisle…alone!  Or I might treat myself to a chocolate chip cookie from the local bakery.

I also get out at night from time to time, after the girlies are in bed.  I recently discovered the nail salon is open until 8pm.  It feels a little rushed…but I can keep up my monthly pedicure without taking time away from the girls.

And on occasion, I still leave the girls at home with Daddy to do something by myself.  It’s hard not to feel guilty…to feel like I’m missing precious time with them…but I think it’s important for them to see me pursue my own interests from time to time.

In some ways, it feels harder to justify “me time” these days…but I know it’s still important.  It’s important for me AND — now that they’re old enough to understand — for my girls, too.

How has your “me time” evolved over the different life stages of your kiddos???

MandyE is mom to 6 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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Make-It Monday: DIY Teacher Gifts

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Categories Activities, crafts, DIY, Make-It Mondays, School-Age1 Comment

School starts here this week.  (I cannot believe summer is OVER already!!!)

I wanted to do something little for the girls’ teachers, so I decided to get my girlies involved to make some fun paperclips.

My girls had a great time going through my button collection and matching their finds to different colored paperclips.

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(I have found the big clips at the craft store, the office supply store, and even at the dollar store before.  And buttons that are flat on the back work best.)

Once the girls had everything positioned, I used a low-heat glue gun to assemble everything.

The girls wrote a little note to their teachers on some brown cardstock, robbed my washi tape collection for a little accent, and viola!  Super-simple!  I hope this makes their teachers smile!

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(Had this been from me, I probably would have attached a cheesy little note [I LOVE cheesy!] along the lines of, “To mark the start of a great school year!”  I resisted the temptation to direct the girls to write that.  :)  )

MandyE is mom to 6 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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Dimensions of Intelligence

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Categories Education, Parenting, Perspective, School-Age, Talking to Kids, Unique needsTags , 3 Comments

My children are smarter than me.

Allow me to define “smart” for my purposes. I am certainly more knowledgeable and experienced than my 9-year-olds. I am better read than they are and more able to find practical solutions to problems, whether academic or everyday. I am far better at explaining complex concepts to people than Misses Giggles and Distractable. My ability to critically examine an argument is currently, at age 36, quite a bit better than J and M’s at age 9.

M and J, however, have always been better at absorbing new concepts than I was at the same age. Their minds work faster and burrow deeper. They see connections and parallels that would have never occurred to me. I have no reason to believe that this general trend won’t continue. As far as I can predict, when they are 36 years old, their brains will process ideas more effectively and deeply than mine does today.

The only milestone I beat them to was reading. According to my mother, I read at age 2. J and M were 3 before they were reading independently.

The fact that my daughters are smarter than me makes me proud. Perhaps if I had fewer academic successes under my belt, I would feel diminished by being outshone by my children. Perhaps if I were less egotistical, I wouldn’t be confident that I am just as smart as I need to be. I’m not in competition with my children. My task is give them the tools, skills, and support to be the best M and the best J they can be. I certainly aim to be the best Sadia I can be.

I am not a trained teacher, but I’m a proud nerd and I love getting others excited about knowledge. When my daughters learn a new concept at school, I often expand on it with them at home. It was while doing this that I confessed to them, for the first time, that they’re both smarter than me.

The children were studying 3D shapes in their regular 3rd grade math class. They told me all they knew about rectangular prisms, pyramids and cylinders. I asked if they knew why they were called 3D shapes.

They didn’t.

A mom explains the third and fourth dimensions to her kids, and is at peace knowing that they learn more easily than she did at their age.

The “D”, I told them, stood for “dimensional”. They could think of a dimension as a direction that exists in a shape.

  • A dot has no dimensions because you can’t move around inside it.
  • A line has one dimension because there’s no room to turn around.
  • A plane, I told them using a piece of paper to illustrate, has two dimensions. You can go back and forward or side to side. By combining those two motions, you can get anywhere on the sheet of paper.
  • If you jump off the sheet of paper, you’re in three dimensions. That’s the world we inhabit. Back and forward. Side to side. Up and down. Ocean creatures experience the three dimensions more fully than we do, being able to move vertically with ease.
  • The fourth dimension, I told my girls, was time. That took a little more convincing.

I still had the 2D piece of paper in hand, so I rolled it up to illustrate.

Sadia uses a rolled up sheet of paper to explain to her daughters why time is the fourth dimension.

Imagine, I told them, that there was an ant walking around on my sheet of paper. His world is two-dimensional. He’s not aware of what’s off the paper. Whether the sheet is flat or curved until opposite edges touch, he’s moving around in two dimensions. Even if I wave the paper through the air, the ant probably doesn’t know that it’s being moved. His entire universe is that 2D sheet of paper.

We are similarly unaware of moving through time. Right now, we’re in the dining room, playing with paper. Count to three, and we’re in the same place in the three dimensions we can navigate, but in a new second in the fourth dimension of time.

How to visualize time as the fourth dimension.

J and M said that made sense. “I’m in a new time now!” exclaimed M. “And now… and now. And I hardly wiggled!”

J took the next logical step. “Is there a fifth dimension, mommy?”

“Yes,” I told her. “I’ve read about theories of physics that argue that there must be a fifth dimension.”

“Show me, mommy!” J demanded. “Explain me the fifth dimension.”

“Little J, I recognize the concept, but I can’t see it in my mind. Without a picture, I have to use words. My best explanation is to say it’s the next logical step in the ant analogy.”

“So the fifth dimension is of the parallel universes, mom!” J realized. “Why didn’t you just say that?”

“I didn’t say it because I didn’t understand it. I can’t see it clearly the way you can right now. I’ll do my best to create a metaphor and picture in my mind, but it’s going to take me some time.”

“Mom! It’s obvious,” J told me, more than slightly irritated.

“Sweetheart, you’re going to run into a lot of people who have a harder time understanding ideas than you. Please be patient.”

“But mom,” J pointed out, “you’re mom.”

“I know sweet girl, but as you get older, you’re going to know and understand more and more things that you’ll have to explain to me instead of the other way around. There’s a lot I don’t know, and a lot it’ll take hard work for me to understand. Some of those things will come really easily to you, and that makes me happy.”

I hope that this confession, made with confidence and without apology, showed J and M that it’s okay to be smart without being smartEST. That was a lesson that I struggled with. It was quite the blow to my ego to realize that I wasn’t the top undergrad at my college. I was “only” in the top 10% based on the very narrow measure of GPA. I’ve since learned that being seen as the smartest person in the room is no measure of success.

Doing my best — that’s how I now measure success, even if that fifth dimension escapes me. And for the moment, I’m doing my best to raise two little girls who are officially smarter than me.

The Dad Network
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How the 1-2-3 Magic Approach Supports Parental Consistency

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Categories Books, Discipline, Parenting, Preschoolers, School-Age, Toddlers44 Comments

I’m a huge believer in parental consistency. When the parent is consistent, it gives each child a feeling of security. In a world in which they have little power and even less context, they can trust that their parents will always follow through on what they say and can be relied on implicitly. By demonstrating self control, we teach them lessons that will last their whole lives. Yes, I know. It doesn’t much seem like they’re learning any self control at all at ages 2 and 3, but they are.

The challenge is that consistency is hard. Being sleep-deprived and pulled in eleven directions at once as a new parent makes it even harder. 1-2-3 Magic is a book by Thomas W. Phelan that provides parents with a practical approach to achieving consistency.

An overview of the 1-2-3 Magic approach to disciplining your kids. Actually, it's more about disciplining yourself to be predictable, which results in better behavior from the kids.

MandyE wrote a review of 1-2-3 Magic that is a good counterpoint to the summary I provide below.

I have to confess that I came to the book late, when my kids were at the tail end of the Terrible Awful Horrible Threes.  What I discovered was that I’d been practicing its tenets already. I had a leg up, though. My baby sister is 10.5 years my junior so got some parental practice as a pre-teen and teen. I also spent a lot of time in therapy before getting pregnant talking through exactly how I wanted to parent, in my attempt to break harmful family patterns. As my former husband put it, 1-2-3 Magic is just a matter of common sense, but it’s common sense spelled out with practical steps for application.

Premise

The basic premise of 1-2-3 Magic is that structure can help parents achieve consistency.

Phelan’s approach also assumes something that child psychologists know well: the ultimate reward any child seeks is attention. If a kiddo gets attention from her parent for bad behaviour, then she’ll continue it. If you withdraw attention for bad and give attention for good, you’ll quickly retrain his expectations.

That’s where time out comes in. Time out is simply the withdrawal of parental attention. It doesn’t have to have special chair, unless that’s what works for you. It certainly doesn’t involve talking or eye contact.

Goal

So, what is consistency? It boils down to two things:

  1. Parents do what we say.
  2. Parents are predictable.

Technique

The 1-2-3 Magic approach is a combination of counting and time out.

First, you set expectations. Tell your children that you are going to count 1, 2, 3 if they’re naughty. At 3, they’ll go to time out. Don’t worry if they don’t understand. They’ll pick it up.

When they do something against the rules, say 1. The next time they do something inappropriate, or if they don’t stop the original behaviour, say 2. At the next infraction, you say 3 and put them in time out.

If they come out of time out, don’t make eye contact. Don’t try to reason with them. Just gently pick them up and place them back in time out. The total time for time out should be one minute per year of age for neurotypical children.

When the time out is over, don’t try to reason with them or tell them what they did wrong. You can go over basic rules at a point when they’re not already upset. Don’t go back over examples of early indiscretions. They’ve already paid for the rule they broke, and listening to a lecture is a second punishment that accomplishes very little.

I’d recommend waiting a few hours, maybe until the next day.

My personal approach — I can’t remember if this is in the book — is to talk about rules when we’re happy and having a good time together. I don’t even bother trying to reason with the kids when they’re upset. I just say to my 9-year-olds, “I love you, but we can’t have a discussion like this. When you feel calm, we can talk if you want to.” What cracks me up is that my girls now use that on each other!

If you stick with the 1-2-3 Magic approach, your kids will know that you’re serious. Don’t let them get away with someone one day and punish them the next (except the day you start implementing 1-2-3 Magic). It gives them a feeling of safety to know what the rules are, and this is far more effective than talking it through. Yes, there’ll be a lot of screaming at first, but they’ll figure out you’re serious.

Personal Example

An overview of the 1-2-3 Magic approach to disciplining your kids. Actually, it's more about disciplining yourself to be predictable, which results in better behavior from the kids.

I haven’t had to count past 1 with my girls in at least 3 years. Seriously. I don’t think they have any idea what would happen if I got to 3. I don’t even know what would happen. My daughters are 9 and are generally reasonable human beings. But when they hear me say, “One,” in an I-am-not-messing-around tone, they straighten right up.

An even better example of effective use of the 1-2-3 Magic philosophy occurred with my nephew. By the time he was two years old, he hadn’t had consistent nutrition, much less consistent discipline. I had to go to London to take care of him for a week while his custody was being determined.

It took 6 hours for him to figure out the system. Six hours.

Sure, I had to pick him up and place him on the chair I designated for timeout 26 times the first time, but he got it. I just picked him up and placed him in a chair, saying the word “time out”. I avoided eye contact. Every time he slipped out of the chair, I gently picked him up and placed back on it. When the fifth time out came around, he didn’t try to escape. He sat there, crying, for 120 seconds. When the time was up, I picked up him up, hugged him, and told him that I loved him. We returned to playing with cars.

At the end of the week, when he saw his mom, he begged to stay with me (which broke my heart, because I couldn’t bring him to the US to live with me because of immigration laws). He didn’t see me as Mean Auntie. He knew that I was predictable, and that predictability made him feel safe.

If you want a much more well written explanation of the whole thing, buy the book. It’s a very quick read.

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The Twin Bond and School

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Categories Health, Parenting Twins, Relationships, School, School-AgeTags Leave a comment

One twin starts to feel sick herself at the prospect of going to school while her sister stays home - and it's not for any lack of love for school! - How Do You Do It?

My daughter M stayed home from school today.

I’m pretty sure her immune system caved in the aftermath of Texas-wide high stakes standardized testing. It appears that M has more in common with me than just our tendency towards perfectionism and gift of the gab. During high school and college, I invariably started running a fever immediately after that last of my final exams, having seemingly exhausted all my immune energies. I did the same after completing my Masters thesis.

The STAAR tests left this bright and high-performing third grader sick from the stress.Even though both my daughters are excellent test-takers, and have aced all their practice tests, the general atmosphere of stress got the better of M. My daughters reported that in the past children have been sent home the day before the tests, after throwing up from the stress. As M wisely noted, when reporting to me that science and social studies were tabled in the run-up to these math and reading tests, “The STAAR is just getting in the way of my learning.” I’ve been looking forward to these tests being over so that the teachers can get back to teaching.

M woke herself up coughing on Saturday morning, following a delightful school field trip we attended the day before. She was most pathetic, but perked up over the next few hours once she had a good breakfast and plenty of fluids. She seemed well enough to attend her best friend’s birthday party that afternoon, but come bedtime, she was warm to the touch and complaining of aching limbs.

On Sunday, the cough continued and was joined by a runny nose. Although the fever stayed away, the headache she complained of in the evening made me decide to keep her home on Monday. Her twin J asked if she could stay home to care for her sister and I responded with a straightforward, “No.” Both J and I had runny noses, although Austin allergies could have very well been to blame. We got into a rather detailed conversation about the nonspecific immune system, which I enjoyed thoroughly. J complained of no other symptoms….

Then morning came. I asked J to get ready for school. She brushed her teeth and then remembered that M would be staying home. I saw the realization dawn on her face and she suddenly got very pale.

“I don’t feel good, Mommy. I have a headache and an everything ache and I think I have a fever.”

I checked J and felt nothing approaching a fever.

“But I’m sick, Mommy. I’m queasy. I don’t think I should go to school.”

I told J that if she continued to feel ill, she could ask to see the school nurse, who would call me if she needed to come home. I was quite certain, though, that her queasiness was more to do with being without her sister than fighting off a microbe. After all, it was she who felt most strongly that she needed to be in the same classroom as her twin.

“But mom,” she explained, quite patiently, “the nurse will only send me home if I have a fever. What if I need to come home with no fever?”

Against the protestations of the usually very reasonable J, I loaded both girls in the car to go to school. M sensibly suggested that we switch their booster locations so that J would be able to exit the car in the school drop-off lane without having to climb over her sister. For entirety of our short drive, J attempted to illustrate how genuinely ill she was, coughing dramatically and clutching her belly. I told her that I was completely convinced that both she and I were fighting off whatever had rendered M unwell, but that our immune systems were up to the task.

I was struck by the contrast between this and M’s reaction to J staying home sick earlier in the school year. M was concerned about her sister, of course, but it never occurred to her to miss school. She certainly didn’t feel ill at the thought.

As soon as we got home, M headed to the bathroom. She washed her hands and opened that door saying, “Hey J! Let’s play Webkinz…. Oh. I forgot.” She was able to laugh at her own forgetfulness. She and I spent much of the morning playing pretend with my “grandchildren”.

Mommy and daughter play pretend.
This is Balance, my grandson. Or perhaps grandcat. He knows he’s a cat and likes to groom and bunny-kick his siblings, but he can talk and is getting lessons in literary analysis from his 8-year-old mother.

M didn’t mention J again until after lunchtime, when she asked how many hours it had been since we dropped her off. When we picked J up from school, I asked her how she’d felt. She said that around 1 pm she had developed a headache and gone to see the nurse, who had told her she had no fever and recommended a good night’s sleep. J’s symptoms could very well be entirely physical, but I suspect a strong emotional component to them.

In the car, on the way home, the girls exchanged notes about their days. J told M that science was back on the menu at school and that they were working on the life cycle. M was disappointed to had missed the lesson. J had picked up M’s homework and was glad to report that they didn’t need to write a reading summary this week. M was disappointed. She loves homework and gave herself some today while she was home with me.

M told J about her day, and noted that she couldn’t find her tiny stuffed hippo, Oliver, anywhere. “Bad parenting!” J responded with a giggle. Oliver was located minutes after our return home, after I insisted that the girls’ dirty clothes make it inside, rather than in the general vicinity of, the laundry basket.

Today reminded me of the time when J, home with an ear infection around 6 months old, cried inconsolably for hours. I was convinced that she’d ruptured her eardrum, but the doctor saw evidence of nothing beyond run-of-the-mill ear infection. As soon as I picked M up from daycare, where I’d taken her to be able to focus on J, J calmed down. She had been missing her sister, not crying from pain.

J is very protective of her sister, at least when they’re not arguing. M adores J, but sees no reason to mother her, instead projecting her maternal instincts on her stuffed toys. Identical they may be, but their relationship isn’t particularly symmetrical. I don’t think it needs to be.

How do your twins react to being apart?

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