We Are Not a Tourist Attraction!

In our past life, as non parents, my husband and I loved to travel.  Now, it is just too hard.  Frankly, it was hard with just one child, but add twins to the mix, and we are staying home a lot more!

But shortly after Christmas, Connecticut had a little heat wave, as in 50 degrees, and on a whim, we took the kids into the city to see the lights.  For someone as OCD as me about planning, this was a huge deal.  Major credit goes to my husband for suggesting we bring a second stroller for our 4 year old.  I do periodic “head counts” and having all three kids in 2 strollers made that so much easier!

The kids all loved the city!  And eventually we made our way to the tree.  Personally, I was not a huge fan.  They have done better.  Just saying…  But that is not the point.  You all know that when you go out with twins (or triples, quads, etc), you attract a lot of attention.  Stares.  I have felt like a circus freak many, many times.  But this was our weirdest yet.  A woman turned away from the tree and decorations to stare at us.  And make all those comments like, “Oh look, twins!”.  And then she took a picture of my kids!  Seriously, I saw her raise the camera and point it at us and click.  And the Rockefeller tree was behind her.  Behind me was traffic.  There is not a doubt in my mind she was photographing my babies.  I was stunned!  To stunned to react really.  I turned the stroller and walked away but inside I was seething.

I am imagining that she is from Kansas (no disrespect to anyone from Kansas, I just decided to imagine Kansas) and in the city on vacation.  I am picturing her showing her friends pictures of her trip and saying, “Look!  I saw twins!”.  Why on earth would she even want a picture of my kids?  I get that they are super cute, especially with those hats, but really, what does she plan to do with that picture?  Will it get put in a scrapbook?  framed?  hung in her wall?

How do you all handle things like this?

Beth is known as mommy by a 4 year old and boy-girl 17 month old twins. She blogs about life, kids, and DIY, at Pickles in my Tea and in my Soup.

Elf on the Shelf: Why We Don’t Participate

   A picture of us, the stick-figure family, at a Christmas light show. 

Growing up, my Decembers were filled with family Christmas parties, Christmas lights,candy canes, homemade glittery sweaters made by my Great-Grandma C, decorating sugar cookies, hand-print paintings of wreaths and reindeer, the Christmas parade down the local boulevard, Christmas trees, homemade tamales by my other Great-Grandma C, singing Christmas carols, attending a Christmas Eve candlelight service, doing gift exchanges, lots of shopping, watching Christmas movies galore, and more. I didn’t have the Elf on the Shelf and, here’s a shocker (or maybe not), neither will my children.

I don’t know much about Elf on the Shelf,  so I had to look up what it was all about and I found on their official website that “The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning.- Elf on the Shelf“.

First off, let me quickly say, that my children are young (I have a 2-1/2 year old little boy and 10 month old twin girls) and right now, they have no idea what Elf on the Shelf is. When they do get old enough, it’s just another thing to take care of when the kids go to bed and… I don’t have time for that.

Most importantly, for me and my home, Jesus is the reason for the season. We know that Jesus forgives our naughty sins when we ask for forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t keep tabs. And quite frankly, I don’t want want to teach my kids that Santa does and then emphasize the Naughty or Nice list.

We try to parent with Jesus in mind, with unconditional love, grace, and mercy. And Elf on the Shelf doesn’t really fall in line with those values.

But, that doesn’t keep me from laughing aloud at the pictures of all the mischievous Elves my friends have “adopted.”

Nadia Cakes

              An elf behind the glass eating a cupcake at a local bakery.

I have a tendency of eating my words. But, this one, I am sure is a “for sure” kind of thing.

(For the record, my children are allowed to believe in Santa as long as they want to. I think it builds their imagination. But, it is mine and my husband’s job, to ensure that our children know that Christmas is about Christ; and that Christ is not just about Christmas.)

Kayla at Chasing a Daredevil and Twins

Kayla is a wife to her best friend and a full-time mother to her two-year-old Daredevil and her ten-month-old twin girls. Kayla draws stick figures and blogs about motherhood and other meaningful life experiences at Chasing a Daredevil and Twins. She also lives on the edge by undertaking new adventures, her latest of which is raising chickens. Connect with Kayla on Facebook and on her blog

The Magic of Santa: All in the Details

The Magic of Santa from hdydi.com

Image modified from original by kevin dooley

Starting Out: Misgivings

I used to feel torn about whether to bring the magic of Santa Claus into our family. After all, I’d committed to raising our children Christian. I worried that the focus on Santa and gifts at Christmas detracted from the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

As an atheist myself, I found it hard to fathom setting up two fantastical myths for the kids to believe in, only to ask them to stop believing one when they were old enough. Santa and God, to my mind, were both white guys with beards who judged the goodness and badness of our behaviour and intentions, one rewarding us with gifts or coal, the other with Heaven or Hell. It didn’t make sense to me that my kids would continue to believe in God when they inevitably would discover that Santa was a communal practical joke.

I raised my concerns with my husband, who was Catholic and the reason we were raising our daughters Christian. He poopooed my concerns. After all, he’d figured out that Santa wasn’t real and his religious faith was none the worse for it. Santa and God were nothing alike. I halfheartedly agreed to “do Santa.”

As with many of the joys of the world, my twin daughters eventually won me over.

The Magic of Christmas from hdydi.com

Suspicious

At age 2.5, J and M were rather suspicious of this strange man who could break into our house at will on Christmas Eve. Here’s what I wrote about that Christmas:

M and J weren’t too sure about Santa Claus. J declared rather early in December that she didn’t want Santa coming to her house. In fact, when we were discussing the girls’ need for new pajamas, [Daddy] suggested that Santa might bring us some. J’s response: “No, Mama Daddy buy it, please.” On Christmas Eve, J finally gave into the idea of presents and begrudgingly said that Santa could visit. M suddenly decided that she no longer wanted Santa around. By bedtime Christmas Eve, though, the idea of setting out muffins and milk for Santa was too exciting to skip. (I was barred from any additional cookie baking, so I, I mean he, got mincemeat mini-muffins with his milk.)

Santa brought the girls two movies (Mary Poppins and a Backyardigans DVD) and the ultimate gift: a bicycle each. Given what a hit the bikes were, I figured that Santa was now a beloved addition to our family.

Not so. This morning, when M couldn’t find one of her dolls, J’s immediate suggestion was that Santa had taken it. We found the doll under M’s covers, but J still considers Santa to be a highly suspicious character.

Children Bring Magic

Every Christmas, my twin daughters, M and J, would receive gifts from both Mommy and Daddy and Santa. We didn’t bother with having Santa have his own wrapping paper or gift tags. The kids loved Christmas and that’s what mattered.

When the girls were about 4, I think, they figured out what was going on. Mommy and Daddy were actually Santa. I confessed, but asked the girls to remember that Santa was the idea of generosity at Christmas. They needed to play Santa too, and keep quiet about their discovery so that their friends could continue to believe in Santa. They did pretty well, but my friend Amanda told me that J had tried to burst her son’s bubble. We had quite the talk.

The following year, M and J had had enough of reality. “I choose to believe in Santa,” M told me, holding my eyes with hers with even more intensity than usual. I got the message loud and clear.The Magic of Christmas from hdydi.com

Keeping Santa Real

Now that I have marching orders from my girls to keep Santa real, I go at it with full gusto.

It seems to be working. The other day, now 7-year-old M told me, “Santa brought us presents even the year we didn’t believe in him. I think it’s because Grammy and Grampy are personal friends.”

It’s all in the details. My daughters are bright and want to believe. Together, we’ve come up with some pretty good rationalizations of Santa.

  • Santa’s gifts are the goody bags from Jesus’ birthday party.
  • Santa doesn’t use his own stationery or gift wrap. His sleigh is intended for gifts only. He uses whatever supplies are provided at the host home.
  • For homes that lack fireplaces and chimneys, Santa has a skeleton key that works only on Christmas Eve. He cannot let himself in any other day, and non-Santa entities can’t make the key work.
  • For divorced families in which kids celebrate Christmas twice, once on Christmas Day and once on another arbitrary date, Santa can make a special visit on a date other than Christmas Eve. He came to our house on December 14 and will be showing up to Grammy and Grampy’s house again on Christmas Eve. To make this work, the parent celebrating the non-traditional Christmas date must write to Santa.

There’s also some behind-the-scenes work I have to do, as well as the occasion for quick thinking.

  • Santa’s correspondence, whether in the kids’ school journals, is consistently in the same ink (brown permanent marker at our house) and in all caps to disguise my handwriting.
  • I make note of at least one toy, book or movie that each child has requested when we’re out and about that I’ve had to deny because of time or budgetary constraints. I make sure that Santa brings one of those things to each child.
  • I do my Christmas shopping online, since there’s no way for me to sneak out to the store without the kids. I don’t have anyone else to watch them without hiring a sitter or arranging a playdate. I suppose I could skip out during work, but my leave hours are rather limited after all the time I take off to attend school events and other extracurriculars.
  • I buy myself a Christmas gift from Santa. This year I/he got myself an Otterbox cover for my iPad. It was something I wanted, needed and saved for, but I could wait a few days to open it alongside the girls’ Christmas gifts.
  • I fill my own stocking. I got myself a book of crosswords from the dollar store, a candy bar and two Christmas DVDs the kids have been dying to see. They don’t need to know that the DVDs are really for them. They get joy from the magic of Mommy getting her own “surprises”.
  • I found a great trampoline for $200 off in October or November and bought it as Santa’s gift to the kids. I didn’t have a great place to hide the massive box, so I just stored it in the garage with the label side turned out of view. After over a month of it hiding in plain sight, M noticed it on December 14, the day before we were to celebrate Christmas. I thought very fast. Santa, I told her, had asked me store it for him because it was taking up too much room in his sleigh. He would come by and put it under the tree that night. J was shocked. “Did you see him?!” No, I told her, he’d just left a note.
  • On the subject of hiding gifts, your car trunk is a great place if you have kids who search for hidden presents. Their own closets are also remarkably effective hiding places.

Do your kids believe in Santa? What are your tricks to keeping the magic alive?

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.

Foodie Friday: Christmas Ornament Cupcakes

My daughters just called me from Seattle to tell me that they’re about to go outside to make a snowman. They’ve clearly gotten over their disappointment at missing pajama day at school and their classroom Christmas party.

Despite J and M not attending their party, I promised their teacher that I would bring in cupcakes. The myriad excuses to play with edible art may be my favourite thing about winter. I usually stick to cookies during the holidays, cookie cutters and royal icing allowing for great flights of imagination, but cupcakes seemed like a fun canvas to work on.

I was inspired by this Duncan Hines/Hello Cupcake idea to try my hand at decorating cupcakes to look like Christmas ornaments. My girls would have loved this project. We may have to repeat it when they’re home. For younger children, I’d recommend prepping the Christmas ornament cupcakes through the step of attaching the “ornament top” before letting your kids loose with candy toppings. I think my 7-year-olds would have happily jumped in at the step of dipping the cupcakes in the coloured sugar. Spreading icing is still frustrating for them, since cupcakes tops need a delicate touch.

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:6]

Decorating the Christmas Tree with Kids

My friend Arleen always has a perfect Christmas tree. The ornaments are always within an elegant colour-scheme and perfectly distributed. I look at her tree and I drool. One day, when I grow up, my Christmas tree will look like Arleen’s. There is no reason her tree should be perfect. She has 3 kids and two dogs and is constantly on the go, but her tree and home are always, always perfect.

My tree is seriously imperfect, but decorating it brings my daughters joy. They don’t know my aversion to clumps of ornaments lumped together on a single branch. They have no idea how badly I want to place my 12 Days of Christmas ornaments in order, spiraling around the tree. They are unaware of the thoughts of seizures that run through my mind at the sight of blinking tree lights; I’d prefer a constant glow. They share with me my disappointment at having to pack away our breakable ornaments for fear of Scout the Destructokitty. (Seriously, his new bird-on-a-string toy lasted 15 minutes before he ripped the string off its stick. Our other cats can play with the same toy for months without breaking it.)

Watching, and even more hearing, my girls decorate the tree makes every imperfection tell a story and bring me happiness.

Why are all the dark blue ornaments up high, where only mommy can reach? Because they’re the night sky, mommy.

Why are do you want blinking lights in only the top half of the tree? Because it’s a snowstorm, mommy, and that’s the lightning. The solid lights beneath are the lights of the city.

Why are the snowflakes all in the front of the tree? Because it’s snowing on the town, mommy. It’s a winter snowstorm miracle!

Why are all the elves hanging on one of two branches at the bottom of the tree? Because they’re having a winter snowstorm miracle party, mommy.

Why is there only one red ornament on the tree this year? Because it’s Rudolph’s nose, mommy. He’s driving Santa (our tree topper).

storytree

*I forgot to take a photo. Oops. Enjoy my clipart!

My kids remind me that I’m a story-teller, not a homemaker, and that’s okay. If I want my kids to see what a beautiful home looks like, I can visit Arleen. If she wants to her kids to get sugar and flour all over them, she can send them to my house.

How does your tree look when you have kids at home?

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.

HDYDI MoM-Approved Toys

It’s that time of year when many of us are thinking about fun and educational things for our little ones.  With so many toys on the market…and SO MANY ADVERTISEMENTS…what things are really worth the money and the space allocation in the play room?

toys

The MoMs of HDYDI have put together a list of some of the tried-and-true toys that have been hits at their houses.  We hope you’ll find this a useful resource as you make your shopping lists!

Infants

Introduce reading without worrying about damaging books!

Cloth books. The best way to instill a love of reading and not go crazy with ripped pages (trust me, pages get torn!) is to get creative. How? Soft books! These come in classics, educational, holiday, and more. We have a few lying around, and not only do they help introduce reading, they make a great chew toy! Getting them by 12/2 will also help benefit the Celebrate Carter fundraiser. (angelabickford3)

Nesting cups or bowls.  The best $4 I ever spent was on a set of stacking cups.  They were perfect for our girls to grasp as infants…building towers was a great challenge when the girls were 12-18 months…and almost five years later, the cups serve a million different pretend scenarios. (MandyE)

Cooperating to make a tower at two years old.

Cooperating to make a tower at two years old.

Twins playing together with an activity table from hdydi.com

Playing together at age 10 months.

Activity table. I saw my daughters drawn to an activity table in the waiting room of our pediatrician’s office. I looked it up online and was surprised to find how affordable they were. My girls loved to fiddle and twirl all the knobs, levers and buttons. It helped them learn about cause and effect, and the fact that they could play simultaneously was a huge plus. Most models are pretty good for relatively young infants, since they can be used without the legs to keep babies occupied during tummy time. Add the legs, and these toys can keep toddlers occupied for comparatively long periods of time. (Sadia)

A set of 3 soft blocks makes a great first block set!

Baby blocks. Just another block? Nope! These are 5×5 inch blocks that are made of fabric and stuffed with soft material! We love our soft blocks because they can be used as ‘balls’, pillows (I’ve done this a few times), chew toys, and are educational. They also benefit the Celebrate Carter fundraiser if you buy them by 12/2. (angelabickford3)

One to Two Years

DSC_0540

Step 2 Deluxe Kitchen

Play kitchen.  We got a kitchen play set when our girls were two.  Three years later, our girls still play with it every day, as do any friends — boys or girls — who come to visit.  A wise fellow twin mama advised me to get the largest kitchen our space would allow, and I am very glad we did.  Both my girls can easily play at the kitchen.  The larger set also has room for the many accessories we’ve accumulated…play food, a pastry set, and a tea set.  Those have made great additions at subsequent holidays / birthdays. (MandyE)

Each of our girls had a car.  Many times, they both played...but just as often, they loved to push each other.  Teamwork!!!

Each of our girls had a car. Many times, they both played…but just as often, they loved to push each other. Teamwork!!!

Ride-on toys.  Our girls got ride-on cars when they were a year old.  They played with them for two solid years!  Long after their legs were doubled up to sit on them, the cars served as strollers for their baby dolls, fire engines, and vehicles for their many stuffed animals to drive.  We always used our cars inside, but many of these type toys are suitable for outside, too. (MandyE)

Two to Four Years

Big enough for four to play!

Big enough for four to play!

Train set.  When our girls were three, we got them a wooden train set, and it’s been a great investment.  We bought a Melissa & Doug set, but we’ve added different pieces from Thomas, Imaginarium, and IKEA, as those sets interchangeable.  We opted not to get a train table.  Instead, our girls play with the set more like a puzzle…and the older they’ve gotten, the more complex their set-ups get.  At soon-to-be five years old, they like to see how many loops they can create, or if they can make the set circle around the loveseat. (MandyE)

These kept my kids entertained for hours!

Quiet books and felt boards. Need something to help keep your little one occupied? I love, love, love our quiet books and felt boards. They keep even my busy one entertained and were super helpful for our 17 hour road trip. There are all sorts of choices too, for both boys and girls! And, if you get them before 12/1, you’ll help benefit the Celebrate Carter fundraiser. (angelabickford3)

Matchbox cars. These are cheap (sometimes less than a dollar a car) and small. They make excellent stocking stuffers and surprise gifts for a long car ride. We have a medium size white bin with a lid where we keep the cars. The boys call the white bin the “garage” and often bring it upstairs and dump out their cars to line them up, pretend race, or just drive them around the house. My boys got their first Matchbox car from my brother for their second birthday and still use them today, at age five. However, I would caution against buying the Matchbox car accessories (the race tracks, the large boat, the command centers, etc…) as they are like most newer plastic toys; they break easily and disappoint the boys after just a few plays. (Janna)

Legos have a lot more variety these days than in our childhood.

Big kid Legos have a lot more variety these days than in our childhood.

Legos.  We’ve probably had our Duplo Legos longer than any other toy. They were a hand-me-down when the boys were 18 months old. They played with them just occasionally in the beginning, but a year later at 2.5 years old, they were building towers almost every day. At five years old, they still play with them, though at this point, we’re planning on passing on the Duplo Legos as they are plenty old enough for ‘real’ Legos. (Janna)

Art supplies. The boys’ bachelor uncle with no kids surprised us all when he gave the boys their own giant watercolor pads and a full set of water color paints and a paint brush. It was the biggest hit that Christmas (at 3.5). Doing art projects with twins can be very messy and overwhelming so while we’d painted occasionally, we hadn’t given them their own supplies yet. They love having their own giant paper and paintbrush and paints. We now paint almost weekly and they also use the large paper for stickers, coloring or other art projects. (Janna)

Twins playing with a sand and water table from hdydi.com

At age two, my girls could be trusted not to try to eat the sand. Staying dry was a different story.

Sand and water tables. Our sand and table was a huge hit with all the neighborhood toddlers, whether it contained water, sand or both. This was the first toy that could quite literally keep my girls occupied for hours. I’d definitely recommend getting a table with a lid if you’ll ever leave it outside. I loved that mine had a drain on each side that could be opened from below to easily empty it for storage. Playgrade sand is easy to find at home improvement stores. (Sadia)

Teach the concept of time with a doll!

TimeIN dolls. These dolls have been a lifesaver for our two! They teach the concept of time and can be used to help potty train, teach skills like zipping, to teach about sharing, quality time with a parent, or other time-related concepts, and are just over-all super cute. They also benefit the Celebrate Carter fundraiser if you get them by 12/2! (angelabickford3)

Four to Six Years

Blocks. Trio blocks entered our house when our girls were four.  The girls could click them together pretty well, and the way the blocks snap means that the structures are very solid.  The girls can then play with the bird / cat / castle / zoo that they build, without fear that it will fall apart. (MandyE)

From Fisher-Price

From Fisher-Price

Our girls can play with these for an hour!

Our girls can play with these for an hour!

Magnetic pattern blocks.  These have been a prominent fixture since our girls were almost four.

They love creating patterns on cookie sheets, and this mama loves that there is so much inherent geometry at play, too. There are all sorts of pattern cards you can find to prompt designs, and the possibilities for open-ended play are endless.  (MandyE)

Lincoln Logs: We just received these from the neighbors three months ago, and the boys have used them every day to build elaborate log cabin villages. This is currently their favorite toy. Much younger than four, the Lincoln Logs would have probably frustrated their fingers, but for 4+up this is a great creative toy. (Janna)

Games.  For kids 3-6, don’t forget the board games (CandyLand, Chutes & Ladders, Hungry Hungry Hippos) and card games (Uno, Playskool Crazy 8s, Spud Rummy and Go Fish).  They are great for counting, taking turns, and learning to win and lose gracefully.  (Janna)

K’Nex. These building toys are made up of ribs and joints that fit together in 3 dimensions. I confess to having as much fun playing with our K’Nex collection as my daughters. They go back and forth between building everyday objects and abstract constructs. They sell Kid K’Nex, which are a larger and chunkier version of the original designed for smaller hands. I’d definitely recommend looking for K’Nex on Ebay or Craigslist, because it’s quite pricey brand new. (Sadia)

Dress up fun!

Capes. Kids LOVE dressing up, and a custom cape can add to the collection and make adventures more fun. If you get your cape before 12/1, it benefits the Celebrate Carter Fundraiser. (angelabickford3)

Older Children

Get your budding writer their first journal!

Journals. I loved writing as a kid – still do! Of course, I had a diary, a journal, a special to-do list book, etc. etc. I’m still that way. That’s why I think this is the perfect gift for a budding writer. You can choose from one of their pre-printed books (some aren’t appropriate for little eyes) or you can create a custom book. Super cute and they benefit the Celebrate Carter fundraiser if you get them by 12/1. (angelabickford3)

American Girl Dolls and Books. I confess that when I first heard about these dolls, recommended for age 8 and up, I thought they were an overpriced fad. As it turns out, though, we absolutely love the books that go with them. American Girl makes contemporary dolls with clothes to match their owner, but the ones we love are the historical dolls and the books that accompany them. Each historical doll is set at a particular point in history, and the well-written books allow little girls to explore what life was like for children in different points in US history. I’ve been getting my daughters new American Girls books for several years now, and they have yet to get old. Our local library has a decent selection of these books too. A while ago, a close friend of mine gave my girls her Molly (WWII) clothing and book collection, and my usually doll-averse kids love them.(Sadia)

siennas-locketSienna’s Locket. I really like this book. Not only is it written by a twin mom about her twins, but it’s related to special needs and seeing the world through different eyes. My kids love books already, but this is better geared towards older children (ages 3-12) and is an easy read for a new reader. The illustrations are beautiful too. If you have a special needs child or want to teach compassion to your children, Sienna’s Locket is so cute. If you purchase it by 12/2, you’ll help benefit the Celebrate Carter fundraiser. (angelabickford3)

Card and board games. Older children are ready for adult-orientated card and board games. My daughters love Monopoly, Scrabble, Boggle, Labyrinth, Mille Bornes and Fluxx. (Sadia)

Write notes to the tooth fairy & get a note back!

Tooth Fairy Kit. If your child likes to write notes and is at the point where they are loosing teeth, this cute tooth fairy kit makes a great, unique gift. This item also benefits the Celebrate Carter fundraiser through 12/2. (angelabickford3)

Make gardening fun!

Gardening fun. If your kids like to be outdoors and are interested in gardening at all, Plantables & Paper offers great seed starter kits that are fun, colorful, and serve a purpose. You can even plant paper and watch it grow. This item also benefits the Celebrate Carter Fundraiser through 12/1. (angelabickford3)

 

Not Quite a Toy

There are some great items for kids that aren’t quite toys, but that will help make life on mom a bit easier. Check out some of the Celebrate Carter Fundraiser items shown in the picture below. These items are available through December 2nd.

These items are for baby & kids to USE, but aren't toys. They're just things to make mom's life easier.

These items are for baby & kids to USE, but aren’t toys. They’re just things to make mom’s life easier.

Experiential gifts and gift cards.  One gift that keeps on giving and is fun for the whole family is a gift membership to the zoo, the children’s museum, or the botanical gardens.  A gift certificate for admittance into the bouncy house my girls think is just great.  They’ve also enjoyed gift cards for the yogurt shop / ice cream parlor.  And they think it’s pretty special to have their own money to shop at the bookstore.  (MandyE)

What are some of your kiddos’ favorite toys?  We’d love to hear your experiences, from one MoM to another!

The Last Christmas

 I feel your heart beating inside my own skin
And I think of Mary In Bethlehem
That night in a stable Our saviour was born
Yes, we have so much To be thankful for
On the last Christmas,  The last Christmas,
 The last Christmas Without you
-Six Pence None the Richer

A year ago I was in my kitchen, trying to get ready dinner on the table when I heard this song for the first time.  It stopped me in my tracks and gave me goose bumps.  I stood there, trying not to cry, while my 7 month old babies rolled around on my living room floor.  I couldn’t help but long for the days when I felt them inside my skin. 

The Christmas before I was carrying twins, but I didn’t know until February.  I missed the chance to enjoy this feeling of two beautiful babies at Christmas.  I ignored the signs that there was more than one and focused on the single baby I insisted was there.   I look back at that Christmas and it feels distant.  I can’t help but feel like I missed out on something special. 

I have a tendancy to wish away whatever is happening right now.  I want to rush to a time that is easier, a time when things are smooth and confortable and not so rocky.  With 3 small children it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have, what we can’t do.  I daydream about the days to come, when they are a little more independant.  The every day responsibilities weigh me down and I look forward to an easier time.

This song brings me back to the moment I’m in now.  This is the last Christmas, the very last Christmas I will ever have with my four year old son and his 19 month old sisters.  I will never get this Christmas back.  And even though we may not make it to a Christmas play or through the Christmas Eve service, I don’t want to wish this Christmas away. 

So I sit back and I watch them play.  I try to memorize the way they move, their reaction to the Christmas tunes constantly playing in our house.  We talk about Jesus and Santa and reindeer.  I watch their eyes light up when the see Christmas light and trees.  I breathe in their joy and excitment.  I focus on the things they seem to care about, particularly my son, who is enjoying this Chrismas more than any before.  And I try not to loose that feeling that this is the last one I have with them exactly like this.

Wherever you are, whatever stage your in right now, take a moment to really breathe it in.  If you’re expecting your twins or knee deep in double the diapers, or chasing toddlers or keeping track of preschool activities, take a minute to let it sink in.  Look at your children.  Memorize every dimple and bump.  Commit this Christmas to memory, it’s the last one you have exactly like they are right now.  It can be so much harder with two, but it’s so much more rewarding.  Time moves quickly.  Before you know it we will be putting together a Christmas for 2012.  Don’t let this one slip away before you have a chance to really enjoy it.

 

You can listen to the song here

AmberD, also known as dollimama, spends her days keeping track of her 4 year old son and 19 month old twin girls.  You can read about her Life Not Finished or follow the crazy on Twitter.

Fun holiday tradition: A magic elf

I wish I had known about this tradition when my children were younger.  In a nutshell, your children write a letter to Santa asking him if he can spare an elf for the holiday season.  Around Thanksgiving you leave the letter, along with some saltine crackers (which crunch like snow) and water (melted snow).

The elf appears, and if you have ordered it from Elf Magic, he comes with a bag, some magic snow to sprinkle on him at night, and a letter of introduction telling you his name.  All very cute.

The fun begins when you put the elf to bed for the night.  They love to get up and play around the house at night and the kids awaken to find them in the morning someplace unexpected.

The tradition does not require that you buy an elf from the company, just find one to use and use your imagination.  The company website has lots of ideas and funny pictures.  I think my favorite was the elf who was found in the morning behind the wheel of the badly parked car with fast food wrappers all over the place.  Apparently he had late night munchies.  Our elf, pictured here, brought along his Webkinz reindeer friend one night and the two of them have gotten into all sorts of mischief.

I’m happy to say I just found a giveaway at Crafty Mama of 4.  Sign up for a chance to win an elf for your house.

To see the daily adventures of our elf, visit me at Lit and Laundry.

Ask the Moms – Holiday Survival

Holidays can be crazy enough when you’re single.  Add in-laws and kids of all ages, and you have the potential for madness!  Following are tips from the HDYDI moms on making it through the big family gatherings with twins in tow.

Respect sleep needs

Whatever stage of daytime sleep your kids are in, do what you can to respect their normal routine.  If you have newborns who will sleep in people’s arms, lucky you!  Just pass them around until people’s arms get tired.  I know last Christmas was difficult with my 4-month-olds, as they were still in the “sleep every few hours” stage, but past the “sleep in anyone’s arms” stage. But the time we violated the “sleep every few hours” rule went very poorly, so, lesson learned.  If your older infants or toddlers have a good nap schedule going, stick to it to whatever degree possible.  Bring a pack & play (or two) if they’re likely to sleep at someone else’s house.  Or, consider doing the hour-long drive right at naptime.  It won’t be perfect, but if you want your kids to do well with lots of new people or places, better that they be well-rested.

At four months old, Daniel was not really into Hannukah last year.  Plus, it was bedtime.

At four months old, Daniel was not really into Hannukah last year. Plus, it was bedtime.

Also, be respectful of bedtime, especially in younger kids. Believe me, a 12-month-old is generally not going to appreciate the “special treat” of staying up well past bedtime.  Instead, you’ll just have a meltdown on your hands.  If you’ll be at someone else’s house and will stay there until bedtime, bring pajamas and change the kids before you get into the car.  That way, if they fall asleep on the way home, it will be one less thing to do when transferring them into their beds.

Consider giving warnings ahead of time, both for the sake of the kids and for your photos-at-the-last-minute family members.  Make it known that you are leaving in 30 minutes… 10… 5.  If your kids are old enough to understand the warning, then even if they still don’t want to go, at least it isn’t a surprise.  And though you may have family members who think you’re being a stick in the mud for leaving “so early,” you know full well what will happen if your overstimulated 18-month-olds stay up too late… it won’t be pretty.  Give everyone warning, try to make sure photos are taken before it’s time to put coats on, and then pack it up and go when you need to.

Pack wisely

Bring comfort items or lovies, but maybe consider bringing the second-string stuffed animal.  God forbid you leave the absolute favorite one at Aunt Judy’s house!  For older infants and toddlers, have a good stash of reliable favorite foods in case of a table full of unsuitable items or picky preschoolers.  There’s a time and a place for enforcing the “I am not a short-order cook” rule, but you’ll have to decide relative to the age and tantrum-prone-ness of your child whether it’s a battle worth fighting at your sister-in-law’s house.  My vote is to make sure you at least have some string cheese and goldfish in your purse, just in case.  If your kids are old enough for most table foods, I’m not saying you should bring a separate meal.  Just have a little bit of backup.

Have cup, will travel.

Have cup, will travel.

If having your toddler’s favorite sippy cups or a strap-on booster seat will make things easier when you’re there, then by all means throw them in the back of the car.  As always, don’t forget standard diaper necessities and maybe an extra shirt.  (Though, hey, a little kid running around in a diaper is always considered adorable at my house.) Really, though, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you.  If your supplies require more trips out to the car than number of kids, you may have packed too much.  It’ll be OK if you don’t bring all of the favorite toys.  A wooden spoon and metal bowl can go a long way.

Advance Prep

If you are going to the home of a close friend or relative, especially one who has an affinity for small ceramic figurines, it might be worth a call ahead to see if some of the low-lying breakables can be put away.  But this works for some hosts better than others, and as both parent and guest, the responsibility is yours to keep your kids from demolishing the joint.  Potentially a pain in your ass?  Yes, but it’s not your house.  So, sometimes we have to suck it up.  Parenting is fun, isn’t it?

Older toddlers and preschoolers may benefit from some preparation of their own.  Especially for those who are wary of new places and new people, start talking it up in advance. [Obviously this advice is a little late for Thanksgiving '08, but it's a good time to start prepping for the December holidays, or tuck it away for some other future event.] LauraC makes the great suggestion of getting together pictures of everyone who will be there, and I know some parents even put together their own little photo book of what to expect, inclusive of pictures of the kinds of food that will be served.  Introduce all of the new players, maybe let the kids talk on the phone or Skype with unfamiliar faces whenever possible.  Frequent reminders of who the people are and what you’ll be doing can go a long way towards a smooth adjustment.  Also consider books and stories about the holiday, again to help the kids know what to expect.  Talk about what you say when you meet new people, or about the very special behavior you expect when we all sit at the big table together.

Adjust Expectations

Most importantly, go with the flow.  If you are relaxed, your kids are more likely to be relaxed (that goes for any tension you may have with your in-laws – beware, the kids can and will pick up on it).  Decide ahead of time which rules are most important for you to keep consistent (behavior, bedtime, etc.), and then consider being a little more loose on the rest.  If you never turn on the TV at home, an afternoon of sitting with Uncle Jim and watching the football game is unlikely to do any lasting harm.  If you avoid sweets, having a little dessert is unlikely to be the end of you.  I’m not saying you should let the kids gorge themselves on cookies all day, but pick things that you’re willing to let slide a little bit and just let go.  And have realistic expectations about how long your child can sit at a table, relative to his or her age and attention span.  I know you’d like to sit and chat with Cousin Sal, but it may be better for everyone if you and little Joey get up from the table.

If things crash and burn

… and sometimes they do, take a deep breath.  You’re still the mom, and you’re still in charge.  If your preschooler starts melting down and hitting his brother, and needs a time out, find a way to do it.  If they’re getting overwhelmed, find a quiet room to escape for a little while, or go for a walk around the block.  Fresh air and a change of scenery can work magic.  Remember, they’re just kids, and they aren’t trying to ruin your holiday.  They’re probably in an unfamiliar situation, overstimulated and maybe overtired.

And sometimes, sometimes you just need to cut your losses and pack it up.  It happens to the best of us.  I’m sorry if that means you miss the pie, maybe you can get a slice to go.  But if you can see that you’ve reached the point of no return, say your goodbyes and try again next time.

Readers… any good holiday tricks that have worked for you in the past?  Or mistakes you’d rather not repeat?  Let’s hear ‘em!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Making A List, Checking it Twice

Hard to believe, but the holidays are just around the corner.  Being the organized twin mother I am, (aka: OCD), I have begun making a Christmas wish list for my duo.  This will be our second Christmas as a family of four, and I am hoping to make Christmas shopping easier and more enjoyable for my family. I am so blessed to have the family that I do, and please believe me that they are not at all offeneded by the idea of a wish list.  In my family, each gift-giver truely wants to give Faith and Jonathan a special gift that isn’t the same as a gift given by the other side of the family. And as F and J’s mom, I am quickly becoming skilled in spotting a dud from a gem, in terms of toys and activities.

With all that said, would you please help me with my list? Please keep all suggestions under $50, and bear in mind that we are facing a long, cold, boring Pennsylvania weather. My kids will be 19 months old at Chrismas. Your creative suggestions are so welcommed!

Jonathan testing out the sled.

Jonathan testing out the sled.

Faith hanging out under the tree-Christmas '07

Faith hanging out under the Christmas tree.

Here is my “thinking outside of the box” list so far:

  • Smocks for art projects
  • Aprons for cooking and baking
  • An IOU for a trip to the Aviary (hopefully with that relative!)
  • Any Crayola ColorWonder Art Supplies
  • A Trip to the Children’s Museaum
  • Beanbags
  • Dress-up clothes (consignment store )
  • CD’s of dancing music
  • DVD’s (30 minutes)

As you can see, my creativity is limited! 

I honestly don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking my kids should have “everything.” As fun as it is to buy them new things, I don’t think it is always good for them. I want my kids to learn to be creative, resourceful and thankful. They adore their family, and their best days are when someone comes over to visit. I would say we certainly value people over things, but I do want to give the aunts and grandparents some ideas… Please help!