Spiral Learning: Permutations for Elementary Students

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Categories Development, Education, From the Mouths of Multiples, Higher-Order Multiples, Identical, Parenting, School-AgeTags , 8 Comments

Permutations for Elementary Students

When I was browsing the lovely photos on MathiasQuads.org yesterday for this morning’s post, my daughter M took great care to read the names in each photo caption. She wanted to be sure to match each face to the right name. As an identical multiple herself, she understood how important it was to see Mary Claire, Anna, Grace and Emily as individuals.

M, aged 7, observed that they were rarely in the same order between photos.

M: There’s 16 ways for them to be lined up.
Me: How did you figure that out?
M: Because there’s 4 sisters and 4 spots and 4 times 4 is 16.
Me: That’s a very good deduction, my mathematician girl, but it’s actually 24. Can I show you how?

Is 7 a little young for combinatorics? Sure, but M showed an interest in it, so I dug back into my 8th grade math memories. I drew her a picture to show her how to think of permutations. She picked the colours for each sister.

Explaining permutations for elementary students. Showing them the first quarter of the pattern allows them to derive the pattern themselves. From hdydi.com

Me: There are 4 sisters who can go in the first spot. I’m just going to draw one of them. Once she’s in her place, there are only 3 sisters left to go second.
M: Then 2, then 1!
Me: Exactly. So there are 6 orders available for each sister who goes in the first spot.
M: And 6 times 4 is 12 and 12 is 24.
Me: Which is also 4 times 3 times 2 times 1.
M: Well, that was easy.

We’ll probably chat about combinations tonight during bath time.

Spiral Learning

I’ve always taken this approach to educating my daughters. If one or both of them is interested in something that illustrates a larger pattern or important skill, I explain it to them at a level that is pertinent, interesting, and within their abilities. Later on, when they’re more intellectually mature, I’ll come back to it. In a couple of years, I’ll show M how to use factorial notation.

My teacher friend Kaylan tells me that the eduspeak term for this is “spiral learning.”

Spiral learning is the practice of returning to a topic over time to build an increasingly sophisticated understanding

What sparks your child’s interest? What’s your approach to teaching?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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What to Expect the First Year – A Book Review

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Categories Book Review Theme Week, Book Reviews, Books, Development, InfantsTags 4 Comments

Mom of twins Sadia reviews this bookWhat to Expect When You’re Expecting is a classic that most moms have heard of even if they haven’t read it. It lays out all aspects of pregnancy (singleton pregnancy, mostly), from what’s happening within your body to possible complications to what will happen at your medical appointments and your childbirth options.

What to Expect the First Year is another book in the same series. It is laid out similarly to its predecessor, but focuses on your child’s first year of life. It’s not the kind of book your read cover to cover. I certainly didn’t! Not with two infants showing up 2 months ahead of schedule, a full-time job, and a husband in Iraq! What it is, in my opinion, is the perfect reference book for that first nail-biting year of motherhood. It was my crutch as I discovered my maternal confidence and faith in my instincts. It was my touchstone, letting me know it was all going to be okay.

A review of What to Expect the First Year

During the period in which I leaned on this book, I hadn’t yet discovered the blogosphere and the kinship of other MoMs. My grandmother, the only member of my family I would have trusted with childrearing advice, had died when I was 19. My in-laws were supportive and loving, but they lived 2000 miles away. My neighbours were wonderful, but their babies were 2 and 6 months younger than mine. I was supposed to be the local expert on babies. Ha! I was cheating, passing off nuggets of wisdom from What to Expect the First Year as my own.

The book isn’t perfect. Its content pertaining to twins was limited, generic, and generally unhelpful. I was completely unprepared for the realities of prematurity and the NICU. What to Expect had failed to warn me about what it was going to mean to have a child with a birth defect or the challenges of getting it diagnosed.

However, What to Expect the First Year covers 90% of parenting. For pregnancies and infants without major complications, it might get close to 99%. I started acting upon the advice in the early chapters of the book while I was still pregnant. Of course, while pregnant, I actually had time to sit down and read the first few chapters.

It hadn’t occurred to me to select a doctor for my babies ahead of time, but when I read that recommendation in What to Expect, it made perfect sense. I lucked out in my search, the first practice I interviewed being The One. I had confidence bringing my 4-pounders home from the NICU knowing that I had a doctor I trusted with their care.

I read through the section on preparing pets for a new baby voraciously, and was more interested than alarmed at our cats’ reactions to their arrival. I was an expert on matters of car seat choices, much to the pride of my husband. When we were registering for a travel system, I was able to show off my knowledge of what LATCH stood for. Yep, I’d read it in the book.

When I heard J’s Apgar score, M was being pulled out of my body. I was grateful to have read that far in the book. I knew that her score of 9 was really, really good, especially for a 33-weeker. I hadn’t, however, prepared myself to have my wrists strapped down or for the doctor to tell me he was going to have to cut, whether or not my epidural had kicked in.

Once the babies were actually in my care, What to Expect turned into the reference document it would serve as for the next year. I quit looking at the table of contents altogether and began relying on the index. (It turns out that after the initial chapters about baby care and preparation, the book describes a baby’s development month by month.)

M has a fever. Do I call the doctor? I check for “fever” in the index and learn that anything over 100.4 °F for my newborn meant a call to the doctor was in order.

J is refusing the breast. What do I do? I read through the entire section on breastfeeding and am inspired again to try contacting La Leche League only to, once again, get no response.

I had crazy food allergies as a kid. What can I do to minimize the chances of my kids suffering as I did? I read through the “thinking about solids” section and come away with an understanding of the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ recommendations. I also google the Great Ormond Street recommendations in a nod to my British heritage.

Review of What to Expect the First YearI looked to the staff at the pediatrician’s office as my real partners in figuring out what to worry about and what to let go. They were very knowledgeable about what to schedule based on my daughters’ age adjusted for prematurity: introducing solid foods, immunizations, watching for developmental milestones. They were the ones who let me know that it was okay to have babies in the first percentile for length and weight as long as their growth curve mirrored the shape of the standard curve. For the everyday questions, though, that didn’t rise to needing to call the doctor, this book was my source of knowledge.

More than once, my friend Sara, her son 14 days younger than my girls, her husband deployed with mine, called me up not to talk to me, but to ask me what “The Book” said about her latest question about infant development, diapers, or puke.

This was nearly 8 years ago. A lot has changed in that time. If I were to have newborns now, I’d be much more likely to turn to the internet. I’d have other mothers to turn to. I’d be more confident in knowing what advice to adopt and what to reject. For a first-time mom with a limited support network, though, What to Expect the First Year was indispensable.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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What I Learned from Parenting My First Child

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Categories Development, Discipline, Independence, Parenting, Parenting Twins, Perspective, Preschoolers, Toddlers1 Comment

Having already parented one child 2.5 years older than my b/g 13.5mo twins, I feel I’m at an advantage knowing somewhat about what to expect with the twins. I’m sure I have much more to learn on this parenting journey, but here are some lessons I’ve learned so far:

During Times of Sickness

Parenting 1st child(1)Never over-coddle a child when he is sick. Even the youngest of children have absurdly brilliant minds and will expect the same exact treatment permanently after recovery. So resist the urge to feel sorry for your poor sniffly baby and snuggle with her in a rocking chair all night because she’s congested… unless doing the exact same thing every night forever sounds good to you. I’ve spent too many nights “re-training” my firstborn to sleep to ever want to experience that again. Now, I give just the right amount of cuddles during daytime only, and consider minor stuffy noses something babies need to learn to deal with on their own.

At Bathtime

Be liberal about pouring water over babies in the bath. Even deliberately splash a little into their eyes. At such a young age, babies have absolutely no fear of the water. In fact, my twins LOVE getting their baths. The water in their faces does not faze them one bit. They kick and splash it into their own faces, while cackling and having a great time. But never, NEVER, allow babies to come into contact with adult soap/shampoo. We had traumatizing moment while traveling in Asia without a baby tub when my eldest had just turned two. In the shower with me, she got a hold of a bar of soap, and before I could get her to wash it off her hands, she wiped her eyes. If you don’t want future swim lessons to break down into hysterical tears, constant requests of face wiping during bathtimes, intense fear of the showerhead spray, beware of over protecting babies’ faces from water in the tub and be extra careful about using only tearless soap/shampoo.

Reading to Kids

Works! Firstborn was a calm baby, so reading a cloth book as part of her bedtime routine started very early on. She’s always loved stories with Mommy, and I believe this is the reason she is such a verbal kid, excels in school, and learned to recognize all her letters and write her name before most other kids. She is also fully bilingual, can seamlessly transition between English and Mandarin, and even translates for those in the family who are monolingual. Her love of stories has also improved her focus, attention span, and ability to analogize. The twins have not yet given up their chewing on whatever they get their hands on, and the two of them makes it logistically difficult to read to both at once, but just as soon as they’re ready, we will be reading together too. These days, a trip to the library occurs regularly, and I hope that the twins will be a part of this routine soon as well. (Just as soon as they stop eating their books.)

On Having Toys

Having the first child it was easy to always put her first and think of her every waking moment. Having two more puts things more into perspective. I used to pick up a little something for her everywhere I went. Grocery shopping? Oh, here’s a little treat for her too. At the dollar store? Buy her a little toy. Little by little added up to quite a lot, and we accumulated an entire playroomful of this and that. We honestly have so many that the kids are not even playing with them. Too many. We now do not buy any toys. Since the twins were born, the only toys they have gotten have not been from me. Actually, on birthdays and Christmas, I try to steer family and friends away from a massive number of toys. We have plenty of toys from our first child to last through our other two children, and then some.

Fostering Independence

This is a parenting philosophy I’ve always embraced because it worked so well when my mom used it to raise me and my brother. And it’s paid off with my firstborn too. At 3.5 now, she openly starts conversations with random strangers, needs no supervision when using the bathroom/washing hands, can dress and undress herself as well as put on/take off shoes. I believe myself to have a controlling personality, so sometimes letting her figure things out on her own takes some willpower. But I do also believe that it’s ok for kids to fall, get dirty, get frustrated, and work out how to share on their own. With twins, they are not only learning from every decision I make with them, but I see them also watching and studying my interactions with the other twin. I think they will learn to rely on themselves even faster than my first, just based on the nature of the fact that Mommy cannot be in two places at once. I’ve already started to notice that they help themselves more to the things that they want: taking from each other, grabbing assertively for food, etc.

Can’t wait to see how my own parenting will evolve as these kids grow older. It’s been a real blast this last year to experience the differences and similarities between all three children.

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Another Divorce

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Categories Co-parenting, Development, Divorce, Parenting, Relationships5 Comments

Silly me. I thought that if I made my life as stable as humanly possible, I would be able to maintain my daughters’ sense of security despite my abrupt divorce nearly a year and a half ago. I thought I had parenting through divorce figured out.

I don’t control my daughters’ world, though. My job as a mother is to give them the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges, not to keep them from experiencing them. It’s so tempting, though, to want to keep them away from heartache, that it’s a good thing that hiding my babies away isn’t a real option.

On the night before Thanksgiving, J and M learned that their father was getting divorced again, this time from the stepmother they’d come to love in the year and a half since she entered their lives. He told M and J that their stepsisters were no longer their sisters. When J countered that we’d already bought their Christmas presents, he told her to tell me to return them. I quickly told her that she and her former stepsisters could continue their relationship regardless of their parents’ marital status. My ex-husband texted me his ex-wife’s address as soon as he got off the phone and we’ll be dropping their gifts in the mail.

As J told me once she was done sobbing, “I feel like Melissa [her stepmother] has one arm and Daddy has one arm and you have one leg and Dustin [a friend of mine J is very close to] has one leg and I’m being pulled apart.”

M had an open conversation with her grandmother. “I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t Melissa want a long-distance relationship? Daddy’s in the army. I have a long-distance relationship with him too. I have a long-distance relationship with you! Mommy and Daddy had a relationship for lots of years!”

I can’t say I agree with my ex’s choice to explain the entirety of his second divorce as being his ex-wife’s choice. While he was the one to leave me, I felt that it was important that my daughters see me take responsibility for my own shortcomings. To each their own, though. Our daughters are smart and observant, and I imagine that it was very hard for him to answer their questions. I’m used to talking to them openly and honestly and it still took a year before J did finally got me to admit that I had agreed to our divorce, but not wanted it.

The girls had practical questions. What had happened to the bunk bed with their names on it at their stepmom’s house? Were stepmom and stepsisters still living in the apartment they’d visited? Would they ever see them again? Why had this happened?

Children always want to know why, and they always think it’s their fault. I reminded my daughters of the book Was It the Chocolate Pudding? and that divorce is never a child’s fault. I didn’t hear them blaming themselves, but I wanted to be sure.

Both girls told me that they didn’t want to tell anyone about Daddy’s second divorce because they were embarrassed. They were both especially concerned about Divorce Club, the school support group for kids of divorce. They wanted to be honest but didn’t want to talk about it and felt torn.

I asked J whether she’d be willing to tell her teacher and she said yes. I called Mrs. H right away, as she celebrated Thanksgiving Eve at her parents’ house. J came away from that conversation feeling much more safe and closer to being ready to talk about the divorce with others. We were all reminded that people don’t have to officially or legally be our mothers to love us as if we were their daughters.

My little girls are 7 and they have been through things that would have broken adults. Their resilience puts me to shame. The day after they had their hearts broken yet again, they threw themselves into a joyous Thanksgiving. We had a genuinely happy day, although Daddy’s most recent divorce did come up in conversation a couple of times.

At bedtime, I reminded the girls to say their prayers.

“Thank you, Lord,” J said, her hands pressed together and her eyes closed, “for my family who loves me. Thank you for all my nice things and for all my yummy food and making the world and everything. I am very grateful.”

“Hey, J,” I prompted, “don’t you want to ask for help during a rough time? Like maybe for understanding or peace or feeling better?”

“Nope,” she responded. “I get that stuff from you.”

I know there will be a day when my child no longer needs me, and the teen years before that when she no longer wants me. For now, though, I’ll fill my role as her stability, strength and guide to the best of my ability. My sweet M doesn’t quite have her sister’s emotional awareness or talent for heart-melting one-liners, but I know she shares J’s strength and sunny outlook. I hope that she also feels that I give her strength and understanding. I do my best, as every mother does.

Have you ever had to discuss someone else’s divorce with your children? How did you approach it?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Toddler Thursday: Anatomy of a Tantrum

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Categories Development, Discipline, Single Parenting, Toddler ThursdayTags 1 Comment

When my twin daughters were 3, I tried to capture in words the horror and glory of toddler tantrums at our house. I’ve reworked that post for How Do You Do It? for this week’s Toddler Thursday.

Anatomy of a Tantrum: What a tantrum really looks like and how to handle it

Full-Body Tantrum (J)

J’s tantrums started when she lost her temper, felt frustrated, or felt that she had been treated unjustly. They could happen anywhere: at home, in the car, at daycare, at the grocery store, at the theatre.

She usually started by sitting hard on the floor or lying on the floor. Early on, she’d throw herself backwards, but learned the hard way that our tile was too hard for that. She refused to get up or move. Her response to my physical attempts to set her upright was to arch her back and twist away.

Next, she started to whine, louder and louder, repeating whatever her complaint was. For a few months, she started prefaced all this by growling. She’d swat with her hand at whatever she could reach: me, the floor, the wall, her sister, her teacher. If she happened to have something in her hand, she’d throw it.

If I hadn’t talked her down by the time we’d reached the swatting stage, J would start to scream. The child was loud. Very, very loud. Finally, tears would pour down her face, she’d accept a hug, and beg for her blankie. She’d sniffle into her blankie and ultimately apologize.

Verbal Tantrum (M)

M’s tantrums usually stemmed from feeling misunderstood. Often, if I said no, she thought it was because I didn’t understand what she was asking for, and then things got ugly. I found it effective to avoid tantrums with M by stating my negative responses like so: “I understand that you want [some completely ridiculous thing] and I am telling you no.”

M tended to start crying first, then escalated to screaming if I couldn’t understand what she was saying through her tears, or thought I couldn’t. She stomped her foot on the ground. She wasn’t as likely to lie (collapse) on the floor as her sister, but she did resort to name-calling, “Mommyhead” being a favourite. She didn’t hit, but she did push at me if I tried to hug her. If I caught it early, distracting her with a snuggle and book worked well. After the snuggle we could discuss her unacceptable behaviour and its source.

M was much less likely to stay in time out during a tantrum than her sister, and it took her much longer (think hours rather than minutes) to calm down once she was fully engaged.

Terrible Twos or Terrible Threes?

Age two wasn’t so bad with my daughters. The threes, on the other hand, were quite horrific at times, although the rewards have been as great. As I’ve mentioned before, age three was, hands down, my least favourite age. My friend April has a theory about why the “terrible” stage increasingly waits until age three. It comes down to parenting styles. Her explanation is that our parents’ generation was less permissive to us at an early age, and less tuned into kids’ pre- and non-verbal communication. By age two, we were ready to explode because we felt misunderstood. Our generation of parents’ responsiveness to infants and toddlers causes our kids to put off acting out until later, when they really begin to realize how powerless they are.

Parental Survival

How did I handle these tantrums without another parent present to back me up, my now ex-husband so often deployed overseas? Obviously, I often didn’t.

I tried to use the same techniques I’ve taught the kids. I did (and do) a lot of deep breathing. I sometimes removed myself from the situation after I’d made sure the culprit is in a safe place. Sometimes, a glass of water and small piece of chocolate helped. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I sat in my room for 2-3 minutes until I felt ready to tackle it again.

My daughters and I often talk about the need to take a break when we start to feel overwhelmed, in order to avoid a tantrum, and all three of us practice this. M reads a book or draws, often putting completely hilarious signs on her door announcing her need for privacy. Jessica snuggles her blankie, and I lie down quietly on my bed, wash dishes or fold laundry, or take a shower.

M and J’s preschool teacher used similar techniques in the classroom. When a child started to “throw a fit”, they were removed from the situation and asked to sit away from the group until they had calmed down. Once they were calm, the teacher discussed whatever the conflict was with them, and made sure that the child understands why their behaviour was unacceptable.

In truly horrendous cases, the director or assistant director would be called in to remove the child from the classroom and had a serious discussion with them. Most tantrums were not reported to the parents, but a pattern of an unusual number of tantrums from any one child resulted in an informal conversation with the parent or a note home if the parents’ schedule and the teacher’s don’t coincide.

What do tantrums look like at your house? How do you handle them? How do you avoid them?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Differences in Spiritual Maturity

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Categories Development, Difference, Parenting TwinsTags , 15 Comments

The HDYDI community is a safe place for MoMs (and DoMs. Come by, dads!!) with different parenting styles, life circumstances and beliefs. It’s hard for mommy bloggers to write about their kids’ religious training without delving into murky waters that reek of judgment or limiting their readership to others of the same faith.

I’m in the uniquely fortunate position to be able to talk about my daughters’ spiritual growth and religious training without coming across as condemning of other faiths. I don’t share the faith in which I’m raising M and J.

I know. I know that sounds crazy. I’ve only met one other mother who’s made this choice, and she was my college roommate’s mom. Like me, the mother is atheist. Like my daughters, my roommate is Christian. Specifically she’s a member of the Religious Society of Friends, colloquially known as Quakers.

Here’s what I wrote about it on my personal blog in April 2008.

I don’t believe in God, but L and I are raising M and J to be practicing Catholics. While I see no conflict in those two facts, I know that many people do. “Hypocrite” is something I’m called often in this context. A close friend of mine recently embarked on a similar journey with her husband and their new baby, so I’d like to take this opportunity to try to explain how I reconcile my own atheism with my family’s religion.

For starters, it may help to know how I came to be atheist.

I was raised in a non-practicing Muslim family in the United Kingdom. I knew that my parents sometimes fasted during Ramadan, and that my Dad sometimes prayed on Fridays. Their moral guidance wasn’t couched in religious terms, though. The values of kindness, generosity and honesty were held to be deeply important, not because God said so, but because they were invaluable to the social order and self-fulfillment. Those values are still my touchstones.

The label “Muslim” meant about as much as “Bengali” when I heard it applied to me – not a whole bunch. I was Scottish, and I wanted to be a good girl, and that’s all that mattered. I didn’t really learn what it meant to be Muslim until my grandmother made a valiant effort once I moved to Bangladesh at age 8. However, by that time, my world view didn’t have room for God.

I went to a Catholic school, and loved it. I received an excellent education. A couple of the teachers at my school weren’t fans of the changes in the Church brought on by Vatican II. These old-school nuns took it upon themselves to inform me that my family was going to hell for their beliefs.

It was in my attempt to reconcile the idea that my Mum was a good person and that I respected my teachers that I happened upon atheism. In my 7 years of life experience, it seemed to me that the religions I knew about – Catholicism, Islam, and Anglicanism – the basic beliefs were the same. You should believe in God and be good, and you’d go to heaven. Heaven was a confusing idea, though. I knew that different things made different people happy. My heaven and my Mum’s would look completely different, but I’d want her in my heaven. If she had to be in my heaven, then she’d be unhappy, making it not-quite-heaven for her. (Hey, I was 7 years old. Cut me some slack!) In Sister Lemon’s heaven, there would be only Catholics.

I reconciled the contradiction thus: Since religion is a person’s most deeply held belief, chances are that at the moment of death, they would imagine their personal heaven and their personal God. Since the moment of death would be their last thought, the person would end up within that thought for their eternity. Every religion, then, was the truth for every person who truly believed it. Since my 7-year-old brain had it all figured out, though, I couldn’t expect myself to pick a religion. I’ve been an atheist ever since. Another aspect of this was that I was a depressed child, and the concept of having to exist forever was too much to bear. I looked forward to death being a real ending.

I still love the idea of organized religion. I value the importance of moral teaching, whether that comes through a church or otherwise. I have tried at various times in my life to find faith in God again, but it doesn’t stick. In a lot of ways, I feel that a number of options are closed to me because of my atheism. Perhaps navigating depression would have been easier with a faith that God would make it okay in the end.

I want my children to have every opportunity, including those offered by religion. Because of that, I want them to be part of the Catholic Church, believe in God, and know the church’s guidance and comfort. When Melody and Jessica are baptized, I will vow with all my being to raise them Catholic in every way I can. All I can do for them now is take them to Mass, read them Bible stories, and model the values of the church in my day-to-day life. (Forgiveness is the one I struggle with the most.) I hope that their father, godparents and grandparents continue to take an active role in their spiritual upbringing. If, after all our best efforts, they choose different paths as a better fit, I will be happy for both my children, because I will know that they made informed decisions in regards to faith.

Before we conceived our daughters J and M, My now-ex-husband and I agreed to raise them within the Catholic faith until they were mature enough to choose for themselves. Since my ex was frequently deployed, religious training and church attendance fell to me. Now that he sees the kids a week or less a year, the religious upbringing falls on me all the more.

At the beginning of this year, my 7-year-olds attended church with a babysitter and decided that they would rather become members of her non-denominational church than continue attending Catholic mass. We’ve been going every Sunday since, except when we’re out of town. We also recently began attending weekday Bible study. I’m “out” at church as an atheist, and people have been extraordinarily welcoming, understanding that I’m seeking an ever-maturing understanding of what my children should be learning and a community of mentors who can provide them what I cannot in the ways of religious training.

Last Sunday, a friend from ballet class invited my daughters to go to church with her. They had a great time and asked me whether they could switch churches. This wasn’t a decision I thought should be made lightly, so I asked them why they wanted to switch. It boiled down to rewards. Their friend’s church’s children’s program gave the kids tokens for good behaviour that could be traded in for toys. The church we attend has no such program.

spiritualMaturity

I challenged my daughters. Church, I reminded them, was to honour and learn about God and Jesus. Were toys really important in that context? J got my point immediately. She was embarrassed, she told me, that she had lost track of what mattered. Of course Jesus and making decisions he would be proud of were more important to her than a cheap toy. I commended her for 1) acknowledging her error 2) discussing her embarrassment with me despite her discomfort and 3) setting her priorities where they belonged.

M wasn’t quite there. She pouted about it, finally agreeing to go along with me and Sissy, but clearly not getting the larger point. J was rather annoyed with her, but I took her aside and let her know that M didn’t share her understanding of religion yet and she needed to be patient. M would come around, in the same way that J would eventually come to share M’s confidence and vocal control when she sang. J was more ready for church. M was more ready for choir. It’s okay to learn things at different times.

A few months ago, I “came out” as atheist to my kids. We had been discussing something, I don’t remember what, that could be looked at from several different perspectives and I’d tried to fairly present them all. J asked me what I believed, and so I told her, explaining that I didn’t believe in God. M was unfazed, but J was truly bothered by my revelation.

The next night, J asked me to stop saying bedtime prayers with her, explaining that she considered it disrespectful. I now tuck the girls into bed, kiss them goodnight, and leave the room after reminding them to say their prayers.

J has had quite a few questions for me about where I stand spiritually, each of which I’ve answered honestly, to the best of my ability. Yes, I respect and try to emulate Jesus, but as an inspirational historical figure, not as the Son of God. Yes, I read the Bible, but as a document of ancient peoples’ best attempt to explain the world around them given their limited experience. No, I don’t find her Christianity to be in conflict with my atheism, and yes, I want her to be the best Christian she can be. I go to church because I made a promise to do my utmost to raise my girls within Catholicism unless they wanted otherwise, and to support their religious training to the best of my ability.

The other day in church, J and M elected to attend the adults’ service with me instead of going the kids’ class. At one point, J asked me whether something in the sermon meant that she was supposed to love God more than she loved her sister. I told her that was correct. She looked at me in horror. She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t possibly love anything more than her sister. I did my best to explain that I thought that she would come to that feeling in time, that her love for M was part of her love of God, but she wasn’t buying it. “You don’t understand,” she wept. “You’re an atheist!” I sent her to the row in front of us to talk to an adult friend whom she’s known since she was 2. They had a long whispered discussion, and J came away from it still a little teary, but at peace.

M doesn’t have J’s level of religious or spiritual maturity. Church is fun for her. She loves reading Bible stories, doing crafts, and memorizing verses. While she does her best to apply the lessons she learns to her life, being a Christian isn’t as core to her sense of self as it is for her sister. She’s only 7. I honestly think that J’s maturity is the anomaly.

It’s been interesting for me to observe these developmental differences in my daughters, given that they are otherwise so evenly matched. They hit developmental milestones in concert. Their academic performance is almost identical, although M gets 100% to J’s 98% in math and J’s analysis of the fiction she reads is a little deeper than M’s.

In what areas do your kids differ in maturity? Do you think that J’s understanding of religion at age 7 is the anomaly, or M’s relative nonchalance?

Twinkly Tuesday
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Twinfant Tuesday: Things We Live By

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Categories Development, Household and Family Management, Lifestyle, Napping, Overnight, Perspective, Routines, Sleep, Twinfant TuesdayTags , 3 Comments

Since we’re still in the midst of Year One, this is not so much a look back as a look at right now. I’ve thought long and hard about how I could write a post to enlighten others with the wisdom I’ve gained through raising my b/g twins to the age of 10 months.But it turns out that other than the fact I have two babies the same age at the same time, I haven’t had too much adversity to really overcome. We’ve been really lucky. There was a month or two when Husband first went back to work that I struggled with coordinating the babies’ sleeping and eating schedules, but to be perfectly honest I feel fortunate every single day. I look at my chubbas and life is good. My babies were full term 38-weekers, have had no health issues, and are inquisitive normally developing crawler/cruisers.

But, for what it’s worth, there are some things we live by, to keep these babies the healthy and happy (and from wreaking havoc).

Sleep

This is BY FAR the most important thing when raising young children, in my opinion. I attribute all my children’s great dispositions to regular, undisrupted sleep. We sacrifice a lot to give them extremely rigid times for sleeping.

When our first was a baby, Husband and I had many arguments about this. I always had to take her home at about 5:30/6:00pm for bath/bedtime. This meant I often took her home by myself while he stayed to finish dinner with his family. So we would either take two separate cars or someone would drop him off when they were done. It got so I earned myself the nickname Sleep Nazi from his family.

But I stuck to my guns and continued to insist on what I believe in. He didn’t really “get it” until he experienced some late afternoon meltdowns firsthand with the twins. Now, with clear results as my proof, no one dares contest my methods. Dinners are scheduled at 5pm with the knowledge that we will bail.

Schedule

It was a challenge getting twin babies on a concurrent schedule, so much that I call those few weeks psychological warfare. But the good thing is that I won, and our whole family is better for it. These babies eat and sleep by the clock. Starting with a daily wake up time: 6:30am. If they wake before that, they know to hang out in their cribs until 6:30 when their older sister is also allowed to get up. Then they’re changed and strapped in the car for the ride to Grandma’s. Bottles are given at 7 when they arrive. On weekends I’ll make french toast or bake some muffins while Daddy dresses them to come sit with us to eat as a family. Nap 8:30-10, meal at 11, nap 12:30-2:15, meal at 2:30, nap 5:45-6:15, bottle 7pm. These times are all very solid, except they’re starting to transition out of that last catnap. Some days they don’t need it, and I just move their bath and bottle up a half hour.

Obviously there are some great advantages to this kind of regularity. Days are predictable for them as well as for me. I know when we can schedule outings, we don’t usually have cranky babies, and all our kids know what is expected of them. All of them are scheduled to take their midday nap at the same time.

However it’s not a foolproof plan. Last summer when our family took a two week trip to Asia, all our schedules were completely thrown off. We discovered that our daughter lacked the ability to adjust quickly. She was pretty miserable for about a month. But that’s a trade off I would easily take for daily predictability. No way we would plan another international trip before the twins are much older anyway.

Space

Independence is a trait I value highly, therefore it shapes a lot of my parenting philosophy. I know “attachment parenting” is trending right now, and many of my friends seem to want to raise their children in that way, but I feel my laissez-faire approach gives my children the self-reliance and self-confidence that they will need early in life, and gives me the peace of mind not to have to worry about them.

My 3.5-year-old rarely throws a tantrum. She will always attempt to solve problems herself first before asking for help. She is fully independent on the potty, can get dressed, does not require assistance going to bed, and always throws her own clothes in the hamper. She is secure in our love for her and has no problems with separation. She’s so self assured I don’t even worry about her being bullied.

This training began when she was a baby, and we are doing the same with her siblings. We don’t jump the second a baby makes a noise. We give them time to try to figure things out. They don’t need to constantly be picked up or held. Our presence is not required for them to go to sleep, or for them to be happy.

Therefore, our 10-month-olds rarely cry. They don’t fuss. If they take a small tumble, they will look to us for reassurance, and then they go right back to playing. When I take them out in their double stroller, they just sit side by side checking things out. They have easy smiles and aren’t afraid of strangers. I am always getting compliments on how well behaved they are.

Luckily our house has the layout to allow us to gate off a playroom for the kids. Space for them to roam and explore. Space to test their limits relatively safely. Space to be confined while Mama does her mama-things.

But the space kids need is much more than physical.

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When Separation Isn’t a Choice

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Categories Behavior, Classroom Placement, Development, Difference, Education, Independence, Individuality, Parenting, School, Special NeedsTags 3 Comments

DSC_0120

If there is one topic that comes up in twin-Mom blogs, forums and groups more than any other, it is whether to separate your twins in school. It’s a hot topic and everyone has their own best answer. There are laws on the books in many states allowing the parents to choose, but in reality it comes down to the principal and teachers’ willingness to do what is best for the kids.  Parents argue, teachers argue, each side cites studies and anecdotes. Before I was a Mom of twins, i probably wouldn’t have put much thought into it. When my boys were born it seemed so far away, and there were so many other, more pressing matters, like sleep.

Fast-forward to age 3-almost-4 and we’re on the precipice of preschool. But the decision to separate was made for me, without any real choice. Whether I could or would choose to put my boys in separate classes in kindergarten and beyond, I know for certain I would not have chosen to separate them at age three. Starting next month my little boys, my babies, will be starting preschool in two different classes, in two different schools in two different parts of town.

We’ve gone back and forth over the past three years whether to even put them into preschool. Long ago, before their second birthday, I quit my job to stay home full time, and had a pretty decent home preschool thing going on with them. We did fun things, they learned a ton. But by their third birthday, one seemed to be really “getting it” with complex language, learning letters and numbers, explaining complicated concepts. The other deferred to his brother for the answers. We started to see problems with behavior, outbursts that were beyond 3-year-old tantrums. He would be agitated, impatient and inflexible.  Early Intervention is available to kids under 3 who show signs of developmental delays, but he and been on track up until his 3rd birthday, so we never had any reason to call. After age 3, those services are provided through the local school district. Between January and May of this year, he went through several screenings at the school district’s preschool program, and they determined his delays sufficient enough to warrant services through the school district. He does not have a diagnosis other than “developmental delay” in the district’s qualifications. He will be starting there four days a week in September (meanwhile we are waiting for an appointment with a developmental specialist as well.)

My other son will be attending a local private preschool, the one we intended for them both to start this year. As luck would have it, some of our closest twin playmates will also be in that class. He will be going only two days a week, one of which overlaps with his brother’s school days. We have been trying to build it up all summer as a great chance to do fun things at school and how amazing it will be to run home and tell your brother. But truly, it kills me to separate them. I know they are very attached to each other. The few times we have split them up to run errands or take them to an appointment, they only worry about the other. One will tell perfect strangers in a store about where his brother is and what he is doing at the time. They speak in plurals “we would like a snack.” and do everything with the other in mind (like swipe two yogurts from the fridge, one for each!) We had a brief separation in swim lessons when one kid moved up to the next level and the other wasn’t quite there. The instructor asked if we preferred to hold the one back until they were both ready, but that didn’t seem fair. The first class they were apart the one who wasn’t quite ready refused to go in the water and cried the entire 30 minutes. He also refused to do the lesson the next three weeks.

So in a few weeks, I am going to load up my 3-year-old with a backpack full of school supplies (My Baby! School Supplies?!?!) and put him on a school bus (which I am told is outfitted with car seats for little guys.) while his brother and I wave from the lawn. On alternate days I will wait for the bus and then take the other kid to school in our not-a-school-bus Minivan. (and if you don’t think that is a Big Thing then you don’t know 3-year-old boys.) They will spend 15 hours a week apart. Neither will have his brother there when the class celebrates their birthday. My heart breaks for them. When we talk about school starting, one will invariably say, “But I will miss my brother!” while I fight back tears. It will be great to finally have one-on-one time with each, but I can’t help but feel the other will be missing out. Or maybe we will be missing out while he is having a blast at school. One of the arguments I have read so often about separate classes for twins is that they are different people and need different experiences, but can find each other at recess or lunch and still maintain their bond. I love how close my boys are to each other. I want them to excel and I want what is best, but I also want them to have each other and not feel like we are taking one away from the other.

Will this be great for both of them? Absolutely. Is it going to be the toughest adjustment we’ve faced so far? Undoubtedly. But I hope we can get each the level of help he needs to excel in school, and we will all work together so that maybe, just maybe, I can exercise my right as a parent to chose whether or not they will be together in Kindergarten after all.

Jen is a stay-at-home Mom of 3-year-old twin boys who have already packed their backpacks several times with favorite toys and random treasures, ready to start preschool next week. Their adventures are (intermittently and mostly in photos) blogged at goteamwood.com.

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When Toddler Became a Preschooler

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Categories Attitude, Behavior, Childcare, Development, Language, Parenting, Preschoolers, SchoolTags 3 Comments

Toddler started preschool on August 1st. Though it wasn’t time yet for me to return to work, I wanted to make sure she got a few days with me nearby just in case. I didn’t know what to expect, especially since she would be napping without me away from home, which was something she’d never done before. Suppose she started to panic and freaked out when it was time to sleep? Suffice it to say that I was anxious.

The only other time she’s been in the care of someone other than her parents or grandparents was briefly about a year ago. Last summer when I was about 5 months pregnant with her siblings, we tried sending her to a daycare/preschool. The thinking then was that I wouldn’t be able to take care of her at home along with infant twins, so she would need to go somewhere else. In case I was to choose to be a permanent SAHM after the twins were born, I wanted to free up my mom to go back to a full time job. We also thought maybe it would be beneficial for her to interact with some other kids. So I decided to try it out for only 3 hours in the mornings. I would get up with her to get her ready, Daddy would drop her off on his way to work at about 7:30am, while I went back to sleep for an hour or two (I was so exhausted all the time), then maybe run some errands before picking her back up at 10:30 to come home and nap at 11.

We only lasted two weeks on this arrangement. The teachers were very loving, everyone spoke Mandarin, all the kids were super well behaved there… but ultimately we still felt our daughter was too young to be without us. My mom agreed, so we brought her back and she’s been home for another year (back with my mom for the 6 weeks of school I taught last year). I didn’t plan for it to be so long, but it turned out that Husband stayed home for 3.5 months after the twins were born (long paternity leave, then a job change) and was a great help. And though twin babies plus Toddler is definitely no joke, with not a whole lot of income or any extra time, I just didn’t get around to figuring out this school thing. But it was great. I got to experience all of Toddler’s age two: I was able to take her to Mommy-and-Me and swim lessons, I got to watch her become her own little person, and I was present to shape a time that I feel is very critical developmentally. I’m so glad that is how things worked out.

But now she’s three, I’m going back to work, and this summer keeping her home was feeling like I was holding her back. She’s ready, has been ready actually for quite a while now, for the more structured environment of school with peers. I was still a little reluctant, because I knew that she would be picking up coughs and runny noses from school, which she would then bring home and give to her baby brother and sister, and of course I would miss her terribly. Even worse, I would no longer have complete control over what she did every minute of every day. But I definitely couldn’t give all three kids to an aging grandmother, much as I wanted to. And mostly, she was ready.

So, I researched and visited many preschools. In fact, I visited her preschool no less than 5 times, at various times of day, and spoke with all of the caregivers. I took her along with me most of those times, so she became pretty familiar with the teachers and layout of the school. Actually, the last couple of times she was reluctant to leave, because she wanted to stay and play.

My biggest concern was the napping. I thought maybe I would ease her into being able to sleep there without me by sending her only half day for a week, staying with her for the first few mornings, and then transition her to full day. I figured since she’s so independent, once she was comfortable and trusted her teachers she would shoo me away. I had a couple of weeks before school started, and I didn’t think it would take that long. But the director of the preschool cautioned me against that plan, and all the teachers advised me against it as well. Apparently kids are much more adaptable than adults, and it is better to just let them figure it out on their own. I didn’t want to unnecessarily prolong her adjustment, so I agreed to full day from the start.

I was careful not to let my anxiety show of course. To her I always discussed the whole school thing with lots of excitement, making a big deal about how she’s such a big girl, and that all her friends from Mommy-and-Me are also going to start going to big kids’ schools. I told her that sleeping at school will be so fun, and she’ll have a little cot just like camping. And she would get to run around, and there would be snacks, and she would make new friends, and when she was tired from playing Mama would come and pick her up. I wasn’t so sure about all of this myself, but I guess I was a pretty good actress because she didn’t show any sign of apprehension.

The first day, I waited until 9:30 to drop her off because I still felt a true full day was a little too harsh. She was excited in the car on the way there, chattering about this and that. We had her blanket and a sheet for her cot, a cup with her name on it, and a change of clothing in a bag. It was pretty bulky, but she carried it out of the car on her shoulder like a big girl. Then she ran ahead of me toward the gate of the school. I followed behind, but before we even got there she turned around and sternly said to me, “Bye Mama! I don’t want you come in.”

Wha??? I really thought she must have meant something else at first, but indeed she wanted me to leave. I told her I had to walk her in so I could sign in and say hi to her teacher, which she then let me do. Upon entering she immediately ran to pick a cubby for herself, placed her bag in it, and then she was off to play. I was barely able to get her back for a hug and kiss before I left. I drove all the way home shaking my head in disbelief, and I still can’t believe that happened.

Since then all mornings are Huggy-huggy-kissy-kissy-loveyou-bye! There were a few days when she was confused why she was going to school every day instead of twice a week like Mommy-and-Me, and a couple of mornings she asked to go with DiDi MeiMei to Grandma’s, kind of teary-eyed. But really she’s done incredibly well. My own transition back to work is still ongoing, but hers has surpassed all my hopes. No behavioral incidents, eating great, fully independent in the potty, and happy all day long. At 4pm I pick her up every day, and she gives me the wildest greetings, yelling Mommy! and taking a running leap to jump into my arms. We recount what Mandarin lesson she’s learned that day on the drive home.

Despite all my earlier trepidation, this was the right move for us.

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What Are They Thinking?

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Categories Behavior, Development, Discipline, Frustration, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, Overnight, Parenting, Perspective, School-Age, Single Parenting, Sleep, Talking to KidsTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment

What are they thinkingHow often do you look at your kids and say, “What are you thinking?” If yours are anything like mine, it’s probably about every 30 seconds.

I know we can’t ascribe reason to our children’s reactions to the world. I know that their brains aren’t fully formed and they don’t have the experiences yet to lead them to good decision-making. I know all that, but still, I’m human, so I ask, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I mostly ask silently, without hope of response, because I really do try to apply humankind’s growing understanding of child development and psychology to my parenting. My kids are too young to know what they’re thinking much of the time.

What’s nice, though, is that my children, at 7, are old enough to be capable of attempting to answer.

We’ve been having a serious issue with 7 year old disobedience of late. (Okay, it’s not that serious. I don’t need an intervention yet. I’ve only yelled once. But it feels like a backslide to age 3. All the great progress of years 4, 5 and 6 has vanished.) As I told my daughters, M and J, on leaving church this morning, their behaviour there having been way out of bounds, I’m not used to being the mommy of kids who don’t listen. I’m used to being the mommy of role models.

We had a family meeting after lunch. I was honest with my J and M. I told them that I felt like perhaps I hadn’t been a very good mommy recently. I had been trying to help them make good decisions, because that is my main job as their mother after making sure they have their needs fulfilled. (A lot of our decision-making comes down to a discussion of needs vs. wants.) I wasn’t seeing good decisions being made consistently.

J was the first to respond. She told me that she thought that I was a very good mommy. She had tears in her voice when she said that the problem was her listening and M’s. I asked if they wanted help going back to being excellent listeners and role models. They said yes.

I asked them how I could help. They didn’t know. They both thought that the consequences we employ are reasonable.

  1. I dock their allowance varying amounts for different transgressions. They get $3 a week, and I reduce it in $0.25 increments for things like leaving their dirty clothes on the floor, chasing the cats or leaving their shoes on the dining table. (What was she thinking?)
  2. I supplement their allowance for good behaviour. If J puts her clean laundry away without my having to hound her, she gets an extra $0.50. If J leaves her dinner plate on the table and M picks it up for her without taunting J about it, she gets $0.25. There’s no set fee schedule.
  3. Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale
    Photo Credit: Dave Dugdale

    I’ve instituted a politeness jar, where we deposit a nickel each whenever we interrupt someone, forget to say “Please,” “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome,” make an inappropriate face, or are intentionally hurtful. I contribute to the jar too, although I haven’t had to put in more than a dime a day so far. I mostly struggle with appending “please” to my commands/requests. We contributed our collection to the local YMCA recently, and our next collection is intended for the food pantry.

  4. Toys that aren’t cleaned up lose their place in the girls’ open access toy collection. They become toys that the children must ask permission to play with. So far, they’ve lost Monopoly, Scrabble, paper dolls and markers.
  5. I wash, dry and fold clothes that are in the laundry basket. I need a 2 day warning if a particular item of clothing is needed and is dirty. If the girls still can’t find what they’re looking for, tough. This meant that J couldn’t fully participate in water play day at summer camp last week. She couldn’t locate a swimsuit. (As it turned out, there were 3 clean ones at the bottom of a very large bin of clean clothes they’d been avoiding dealing with. Natural consequences.)

I suggested that perhaps we start our efforts of behaviour improvement with sleep. It’s very difficult to make good decisions without enough sleep. Especially with school starting in a few weeks, we need to get serious about bedtime. Perhaps a focus on bedtime would be a good step in the right direction.

M and J agreed to try it out. We wrote “Get to bed on time!” in large letters on the mirror in the girls’ bathroom, where we would all see it constantly. We would convene another family meeting after lunch next Sunday and review the effectiveness of our focus on sleep.

The rest of the afternoon went pretty well. J called her grandmother to get her tuna sandwich recipe, insisting that there was no way Grammy’s yummy tuna had mayonnaise in it. “Eww, mommy!” Of course, Grammy’s recipe turned out to the same as mine. We had tuna sandwiches for dinner. With mayonnaise and relish.

Photo Credit: reb
Photo Credit: reb

Then came bath time. The girls were surprisingly non-combative when I told them to put up their things and get ready for bed. If they could be completely ready for bed by 8:00, we could watch 15 minutes of Star Wars before bed.

Things were going fine in the bathtub until I drained the excessively bubbly water to replace it with some clean water for rinsing. I asked both girls to scoot up the tub because the water would start coming out cold and …

J immediately scooted her body down, her legs taking the full force of the water coming out of the faucet.

I looked at her for a full second in disbelief, then lifted her out the tub, still covered in bubbles. I began to dry her as she began to scream. The bubbles were bad, mommy. They would give her eczema. I wasn’t listening, mommy.

I asked her to blow her nose. She screamed. I told her that, on the count of 3, I would take a nasal syringe to her nose. It was either that or blowing her nose. She chose the latter. She was now calm enough to talk.

Me: “Do you know that you did exactly the opposite of what I asked?”
J: Nods
Me: What were you thinking?
J: You were wrong. The water doesn’t come out hot right away.
Me: If you’d have let me finish, you would have heard me saying that the water would come out really cold and then really hot. I didn’t want you to be exposed to either extreme!
J: Oh.
Me: You have to trust me. When I’m telling you to do something, I need you to obey first and argue second. You do know that you did the opposite of what I asked?
J: Yes. I didn’t know you knew it was cold.
Me: Because you didn’t listen. Because you didn’t let me finish.
J: I guess I scooted down because you told me to scoot up.
Me: Seems that way. Can we just talk if we disagree?
J: You didn’t listen when there were bubbles on me.
Me: That’s a fair statement. However, I did listen to what you were saying. I just didn’t think you were capable of hearing my response while you were screaming.
J: Oh.

So that’s what she was thinking. Great. I still don’t know how to deal with it. There’s no magic bullet here. Maybe I can work with the understanding that the girls’ disobedience is part of them realizing that the adults around them are fallible. It’s their way of questioning the status quo. It’s their way of getting closer to being independent adults.

Yeah, I know. Just wait until they’re teenagers.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012 and is usually better able to keep her love of puns out of her writing. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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