back to (home)school with twins

Where we left off (more than a year ago… whoops!), our twins’ IQ test results placed just one of them into our public school’s gifted program, which helped solidify our decision to homeschool them – and eventually all four of our children (girls ages 11 and almost 7, and our twin boys, who turn 9 today!)  – for the 2012-2013 school year.

We are now one week into our 2nd school year at home, and I’ve learned a lot. Not about geography and grammar and other boring stuff, but about my children.

Homeschooling twins: 5 key take-aways

  1. The bond between my kids – not just my twins – is stronger. At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, our oldest was at a different school than our twins and our youngest, who form a very tight trio. Over the last year I’ve noticed a change in how our oldest relates to the other three, and I think being home with the other three has made her feel less left out of twinhood. When most of the neighborhood kids went back to school and there was no one to play with but each other, my kids got really close. Over the last couple months my kids have been picked on and ostracized by a handful of neighborhood kids, but rather than being upset at being left out, they’ve felt pretty meh about it all. They enjoy each other. And I love it.
  2. I have perspective on my twins’ academic strengths and weaknesses. The twin with the lower IQ finished math a full month ahead of his brother last year, and is much more successful at employing various strategies to solve multiplication problems in his head, for example. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see this for myself if they were in school. And if I’d placed his brother into the gifted program, the not-gifted twin wouldn’t have gotten the chance to surpass his brother academically every now and again, and build his confidence.
  3. It doesn’t solve everything. The twin with the higher IQ tested into a higher math this year. (So far no one has noticed.) I’m still doing school work twice. We’re still dealing with “mean kids” and bullying.   
  4. They are less like twins; more like brothers. Because they are at home with people who can tell them apart, and because they are doing different work, there isn’t anything “twinny” about their day-to-day life. I don’t know that this is good or bad for them – I imagine that, for them, everything is “twinny” as much as it is not. But it is good for their older sister, and at least I know they aren’t being placed in the wrong levels or called by a hybrid name all day.
  5. There is no peer pressure. Including peer pressure to pronounce words. Being at home with people who can [mostly] understand their garbled speech has in no way motivated my boys to work hard on speech skills. In. No. Way.  

Jen is a work-from-home mom of twin boys who turn 9 today, and two girls ages 11 and almost 7.Once in a blue moon, she blogs at Minivan MacGyver about stuff like speech therapy and homeschooling and how there is not one single day without multiple kid activities and other stuff the rest of the internet seems to deal with in a much calmer fashion.

What Are They Thinking?

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.

Children Lie

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to blog about this incident. It’s embarrassing to one of my daughters, but not atypical for children their age. Seven-year-olds lie and even steal. It’s developmentally appropriate, but not socially or morally acceptable. Maybe our story will help another parent know that she’s not alone in tackling these issues. Here’s what happened.

For their 7th birthday, I got each of my daughters a gift card to a local bookstore. I like to use gift cards to teach my girls financial decision-making. The finite balance on the gift card teaches them that paying with plastic should be treated as responsibly as paying with cash. When they run out, they’re out. It encourages budgeting and exercises their basic arithmetic while they’re shopping. They have to factor in sales tax. Whenever possible, I try to set up situations where my daughters spend their gift cards over multiple shopping trips. I figure it helps them understand the idea of debit and the longterm record-keeping required to track their gift card balance is a good exercise.

The gift cards I gave J and M were identical. Although I suggested that we simply write their names on each one, the girls elected to distinguish them differently. One of them decided that she would remove the hangtag from her card while the other left hers intact.

Nearly two months after our initial shopping venture, the girls asked to go to the bookstore this weekend. I asked them to grab their gift cards and buckle up in the car. I gathered up my things while they packed up theirs. The one who’d left her hangtag on let us know that she’d found her gift card, but removed the tag so that the card would fit in the wallet. The other child was upset, feeling that Sissy had gone back on an agreement. It didn’t help that she couldn’t find her gift card.

I happened to know where the second gift card was. Someone had just left her card lying on the floor of the living room last time we went to the bookstore. Despite two reminders, it was never put away, so I picked it up and set it aside.

I retrieved the gift card and discovered that it was the one with the hangtag still attached. My daughter had claimed her sister’s gift card and concocted a lie to cover it up. I showed her the gift card and she instantly knew she was caught. Sister didn’t even realize what she was witnessing. I explained it to her, and she was understandably appalled. Her sister had essentially stolen from her and then lied to cover it up.

The offending party volunteered that the appropriate consequence for her actions was my permanently confiscating her gift card. I didn’t want to do that, but I did tell her that she would not be spending her card on this trip. Sister not only forgave her, but bought the offender a book with her own card.

The next day, I took a moment alone to talk to my daughter about why she’d made the series of choices she had. She didn’t want to talk about it because she felt bad. I reminded her that she had made some pretty bad choices, and one of the consequences of those choices was feeling guilty. She was going to have to talk about it and she was going to have to feel bad. Once she finally agreed to discuss the whole situation, she explained to me that she knew that she’d done wrong by not putting her gift card away. All the wrong actions that followed were to cover up that mistake.

I told her clearly that lying and stealing were far worse than the original offense, and those were the choices I was truly disappointed in. Dishonesty and theft would not be tolerated. Mistakes happen and can be fixed, but lying was unacceptable.

I live what I preach. I admit my mistakes to my children. The only lie I’m guilty of is eating chocolate at work so that my girls don’t know the quantity of sugar I consume. I’m working on fixing that one. I even struggle with the mythology of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Those feel like lies, even if our entire community is complicit.

This is another one of those ways in which parenting gets harder. You leave behind the sleepless nights and the diapers and potty training, only to have to help your children navigate morality and peer pressure.

What would you have done in my shoes? How do you tackle lapses in honesty?

Goodbye, Timeout for Two

seated kid

Photo Credit: Frodrig

After over 6 years of effective use, I am retiring timeout as a discipline tool. At age 7, it’s more humiliating for my oh-so-grownup children than it’s worth, and it’s hardly effective. Thanks to my daughters’ relatively mature ability to understand causes and effect and long term consequences, I have many more nuanced discipline approaches at my disposal. I need punishments and rewards to fit the crime rather than the one size fits all gem that was timeout. My 7-year-olds are old enough to understand delayed consequences, something a much younger child just isn’t capable of.

I suspect that every reader of How Do You Do It? is familiar with how to use timeout to discipline young children, but I’ll spell it out just in case. Timeout is, essentially, using a brief withdrawal of parental or child-giver attention as a consequence of undesired behaviour. Most parents I know have a specific location designated for timeout, and the child has to remain there for the duration of the punishment, essentially ignored by everyone. Some parents have their child sit on the bottom step of a staircase or have a timeout seat. I went for the convenience of a washcloth placed on the floor next to a wall. It was portable, and my daughters knew that they were expected to sit on the washcloth. Best of all, on the rare occasion that they both needed to go to timeout, I could just put washcloths next to opposite walls, and I instantly had 2 timeout locations that lacked the distraction of Sissy.

Hit your twin? Mommy won’t hit back; that would just teach that violence is acceptable in the home. Instead, for a few minutes (1 minute per year of age, starting around age 1), Mommy won’t make eye contact with the child or speak to him. That’s the real punishment. Children crave and need attention. It’s pretty counterintuitive to ignore them when they’re kicking, screaming and being all around obnoxious. It takes a thick skin to do that in public, knowing that you’re being judged by people who don’t know what children are really like. The long term payoff of rewarding good constructive behaviour with attention and withdrawing it for bad is worth it, though.

It’s ideal, of course, if the child stays in the timeout location of her own accord. That idea didn’t stick until my kids were convinced, around age 2, that no amount of screaming or running out of timeout was going to get me to back down and give them my attention.

I recently had the opportunity to care for my then-2-year-old nephew. I was only there for a week and timeouts had not been a consistent part of his life. It didn’t take long for him to get it, though. The first three days, I’d sit him in his timeout seat and wait for him to start to climb out of it. Silently, and without eye contact, I’d lift him up and sit him back in the chair. Over his 120 seconds of punishment, I’ve had to reseat him up to 35 times. From day 4, on, though, he got it. He stopped trying to fight it. At the end of his 2 minutes, I’d pick him up, kiss him, tell him I love him, and remind him of the behaviour that had earned him a timeout and ask him to do the opposite in the future.

The popular book 1-2-3 Magic offers an effective and simple methodology that hinges on timeout. I didn’t read the book until I needed to help a friend struggling with managing her young kids. Consistency didn’t come naturally to her, and the book gave her encouragement when she needed it. My then-husband and I didn’t get much from the book, primarily because we were unknowingly already practicing its teachings: Use timeout consistently.

Some parents vary the length of time spent in timeout in accordance with the gravity of the offense. A second or third offense may also get a longer punishment. We didn’t take that approach. The beauty of timeout is that it’s super-flexible, which helps explain its ubiquity.

The other day, I found myself in the odd position of needing to distil my parenting approach into a bulleted list. It came down to this: be consistent, reward good choices, and maintain a focus on the adults your children will become. For me, timeout was a big part of consistency and the other side of rewarding good behaviour. I hope that the core understanding that actions have consequences has set my kids up for success throughout their lives. It’s certainly been working well for them so far.

Do you use timeout as a discipline approach? What variations work for you? How do you handle your kids’ escape plots?

 

Two of Me

I needed to assemble some new furniture recently. I put the first bookshelf together while my 6-year-old daughters were sleeping and presented it to them proudly when they awoke. J was unimpressed.

J: You did that by yourself.
Me: Yes, honey. Do you like it?
J: How did you do it by yourself?
Me: The same way I did the dining table. I just followed the instructions.
J: It’s supposed to take two people.
Me: I could see it being easier with two, but I was fine by myself.
J: Last time you had someone else.
Me: I don’t think so. Do you want to help me with the others? I’d love some help putting your book bag cubbies together!
J: You need two people. Two of me is one you. M is another me because we’re sisters and twins. Sometimes she has some different thoughts, but really, she’s another me. So me and M together is one you and we’ll help.

They did end up helping me assemble the cubbies we’re now using to house their schoolbags, dance bags, and piano books. M’s contribution was minimal, since she spent so long washing her hands that we were nearly done by the time she showed up.

When the girls were first born, I would have bristled at anyone saying that M was “another” J. Over the years, though, I’ve learned to embrace the similarities and closeness between my girls, while also celebrating their individuality and differences. Both my girls are well-adjusted, independent, and happy. Most of the time, they love being together, but sometimes they need time apart and they argue often.

I don’t think J’s conception of M as her other self was imposed on her from outside. It’s just one more aspect of the relationship that M and J share, one that might have existed even if they weren’t identical, even if they weren’t twins, perhaps even if they weren’t sisters. I kind of like the idea of my daughters adding up to “another me” when it comes to physical labour, too.

How do your multiples perceive their siblings in relation to themselves?

Sadia is a divorced mother of 6-year-old twin girls, living in the Austin, TX area.

Do What I Say, Not What I Do

I’m a big believer in teaching by example.

If I’m going to talk the talk, I need to walk the walk. If I want my children to make healthy food choices, I need to make healthy food choices myself. If I want them to treat others with compassion, I need to do that in my own life. If I want them to be honest and open with me, I need to be honest and open with them. Whether or not my children are watching me, I try to model the things I want them to learn.

The problem is that I am messy. Really, really messy. I am good at many things, but tidying is not one of them. I am so bad at putting things away that two of my friends came over to help me move in and save me from myself. While the husband took all our kids to the nearest park to play, the wife walked me through my home, telling me where to put my things.

I’m great at cleaning, but lousy at tidying. In an hour, I can leave a bathroom sparkling and germ-free. My dirty laundry doesn’t pile up. Dirty dishes in the sink? Forget it! However, my bathroom counter is cluttered. When it comes to folding clean clothes and putting them away, I’m an abject failure. My kitchen counters are covered with mail, kitchen appliances, and spice containers. My dining table has a pile of books on it. My buffet is covered with paper. I moved into my house in August, and half unpacked boxes take up half my garage. The last time my daughters had a friend sleep over, she told me that I should really clean my room.

How can I realistically expect my children to clean their room when I leave the rest of the house, inlcuding my own room, a mess?

The one area of tidiness where I am consistently successful is the containment of dirty laundry. My dirty clothes always make it into the hamper. Therefore, I feel that this is an area in which I can insist the children follow suit. They don’t, though. Their bedroom floor is littered with worn clothes.

A month ago, I laid down the law. My daughters are 6 years old and dress themselves. I think this means that they can take ownership of discarding worn clothes appropriately. I would no longer wash clothes that didn’t make it into the girls’ laundry basket. Over the last several weeks, I have pushed their dirty clothes scattered on the carpet to the side of the room instead of helping them into the basket. I’ve only washed what the girls toss in their basket.

The first thing they ran out of was pajamas. These girls LOVE their pajamas, so imagine their dismay at having to sleep in daytime clothes. (I used to make them sleep in school clothes. I’ll tell you about that another day.) Next, they ran out of sweatpants and tights. They live in sweater dresses and tights or sweatpants and T-shirts during Texas winters, so this was The End of the World.

It worked. Last Thursday, M told me that she had picked up part of the growing pile of worn clothes and moved it to the laundry basket. By the time she woke on Friday, I’d washed and folded every last item she’d taken ownership of. I placed them in the bin from which they are supposed to put their clothes away, and she dressed herself in sweatpants in deep gratitude.

My girls aren’t going to do what I say, unless I do it myself.

Now tell me: How do I teach myself to be neat so I can teach my kids?

Sadia fails to keep house in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is a single mom of 6-year-old twin girls, and works in higher education IT. Her desk at work is disarmingly clutter-free, and her electronic folders well-organized. Her desk at home is another story.

Switcheroo

My daughter J cried herself to sleep last night, as she had the night before.

The first night, it was because I made her go to bed without a bath after she earned a timeout. She earned the timeout for backtalk and kicking at me for asking her to take a bath. Yes, that’s exactly as circular as it sounds. Last night, the tears were because I didn’t let her finish her science homework because she remembered it (after I’d asked 2 hours earlier and she’d told me she was done) 1 minute before bedtime.

Over dinner tonight, I had to lay out our ground rules again. I’m willing to hear the girls’ opinions, but they are to listen/obey first, then talk.

We’d talked specifically about what had gone wrong last night earlier in the day, after we’d all had a chance to sleep on it. I reminded J that I’d made it very clear that both my 6-year-olds were to be in bed at 8:30, no matter what.

“You didn’t explain that properly,” she retorted. “‘No matter what’ isn’t even words!”

“I know what ‘no matter what’ means,” her twin, M, piped up helpfully from the other bed. “It means, ‘no exceptions!’”

My girls have a tendency to react to bad behaviour from Sissy by being extra-helpful and extra-cheerful. It’s actually a great arrangement from my perspective, since it means that I have only rarely had to deal with both girls crying or acting out at once. Most of the time, they’re both very good-natured and bouncy, so I’m glad they don’t get down in the dumps together.

When I go to the bottom of what was bugging J, it was concern about the next week. Spring break starts tomorrow, and the girls will be driving off with Daddy to spend the week with him in El Paso. They live with me, and this will be the longest they’ve spent with Daddy since he and I separated last April.

Tonight, it was M who cried at bedtime.

“When the overwhelmness fills my whole body,” M explained through her tears, “it makes tears come from my eyes. I’m going to miss you too much. I hate this divorce. Divorce is a ugly stupid word. I wish no parents ever fought ever and there was no word of ‘divorce.’”

J was the one to try to lighten the mood, reminding her sister of a movie they’d watched with their school counselor at ‘divorce club,’ the monthly meeting for 1st graders with divorced parents.

The nutty thing is that, until the last month or so, J has been the one completely in touch with her emotions. She’s been the one who explains to me clearly exactly how she feels about all the recent changes in her life, while M has acted out and needed a lot of help to get to the root of her worries.

This sort of role switcheroo happens all the time with my girls. One will be extremely mature and in touch with her feelings, while the other is a mess with no idea what’s bothering her. After a few days, or weeks, or months, they’ll suddenly switch roles. One will bury her nose in a book 24/7, while the other wants to play, and one day, the arguments will remain exactly the same, but with J and M reversing positions. When they were babies, M was the one who loved to be held and rocked and snuggled, while J would cry to be put down. Today, J’s the one who lists “snuggles” in the “need” column on school assignments on needs versus wants, while M tells me that my goodnight hug was “too much squishing.”

Of course, there are a lot of ways in which M and J are consistently distinct from each other. M can talk the hind leg off a donkey and just be getting started. J takes earnestness to a fine art. M is a picky, picky eater, while J is usually open to liking new things if I can convince her to try them. J has the ability to warm a stranger’s heart with one word or look, while M can leave people writhing with laughter with her wry humour.

I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing conscious about the way that J and M go about reversing roles and maintaining balance, but I can’t help thinking that the sensitivity that they’ve learned from adjusting to each others’ moods and needs will serve them well in personal and professional relationships throughout their lives.

Do your multiples switch roles?

Sadia lives and overthinks matters of parenting in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is newly divorced and works in higher education IT. She will be at work, not at SXSW, this week. Her daughters, M and J, are identical 6-year-olds in 1st grade.

Parenting Petite Kids

I’m short. People use all sorts of nice euphemisms: petite, vertically challenged, little. At 5’0″ (152 cm), my legs are just long enough to reach the floor when I’m standing. I have to perch on the front edge of your average chair to rest my feet on the ground. If I sit back, my legs swing in a very unprofessional way. I often find myself tucking one or both legs under me at work. As my daughters put it, I’m “a very small mommy.”

My 6-year-olds are very small girls themselves. Their first-grade classmates revel in picking them up and twirling them around. They don’t seem to mind much, instead enjoying being the “cute little ones” of their classes. M just made it out of the 1st percentile on the growth chart, weighing in at 38 lbs (17.2 kg) at age 6 years, 9 months. That’s 3rd percentile, people! She’s a giant! J’s 41 lbs (18.6 kg) puts her in the 10th percentile. She’s come a long way since her 3 lbs 6 oz (1.5 kg) birth weight.

My daughters’ current small stature likely has very little to do with their prematurity. Birth at 33 weeks gestation explains the girls’ low birth weight, but most premature infants catch up with their birth age peers in height and weight by the age of 1 or 2. If you think about it, it makes sense. My girls are 2 months “younger,” measured from conception, than other kids born in May 2006. When they were -2 months old, it was a big deal. At 4 months old, it was still a pretty big deal. At 6 months, J weighed 12 lbs 12 oz, and M weighed 11 lbs 12 oz, and they were on track. At the age 6 years, 2 months doesn’t make all that much of a difference. You can just blame me for their lack of stature.

I suspect it’s much easier to be a short girl than to be a short boy, but society’s gender attitudes is a topic I won’t touch just now. I’ll just say that I don’t perceive myself or my daughters to have any hang-ups about being short.

Being especially small comes with challenges all its own. The world is built for average-sized people, so we make adjustments. We have stools in every room of the house so that we can reach the things we need. I learned what products could be tweaked to accommodate the realities of raising short babies, toddlers, and young children.

Car seats

It takes a lot of blankets to secure a baby of less than 5 lbs in a carseat. from hdydi.comThe first time I dealt with the unique experience of having a super-small child was coming home from the hospital. Our Graco Snugride infant seat was technically okay for a 5-pounder, but how were we to keep the babies from rolling around? The size of the infant head support it came with was laughable in comparison to my littles. The NICU nurses came to the rescue, once again. They showed me how to roll up receiving blankets and layer them around the baby to keep her in place on her first hundred or so car rides.

In the US, we’re taught that children should ride in rear-facing car seats until they are both at least 1 year old and weigh 20 lbs, and recent recommendations encourage waiting until they’re 2 years old. As I understand it, the weight limit is a matter of having enough mass to resist being thrown in the air in the event of a crash. The age limit has something to do with the length of the spinal cord in comparison to the spine. As my pediatrician put it when I raised a concern about the girls’ legs eventually getting cramped, “Better broken legs than a broken neck.” My girls were well past age 2 before we turned their Britax Marathons forward-facing.

Now that they’re 6, J and M continue to wear 5-point harnesses in their Diono (formerly Sunshine Kids) Radians. Their classmates are all in booster seats, but M doesn’t meet the 40-lb weight minimum, and I’m in no hurry to reduce the girls’ level of containment in the car. Again, it doesn’t seem to bother them too much, although I occasionally get nasty looks at how long we spend getting the girls situated getting in and out of the car at the school pickup drive through. They can buckle and unbuckle themselves, but two buckles each necessarily take longer than one a piece.

Shoes

M and J started walking at 12 and 11 months, respectively. They both wore infant size 2 shoes at the time. There are very few walking shoes that come in a size 2. I certainly couldn’t find any. I ended up resorting to custom shoes ordered from Preschoolians in their “Walkers” line. They weren’t cheap, but they did allow us to go to the park without fear of stones and splinters in the girls’ feet. It wasn’t long before J and M were walking into daycare in the morning instead of me carrying them.

M tends to end up in light up shoes even at age 6; it’s hard to find sturdy, comfortable, school-appropriate shoes in a kid size 9.5. J’s a size bigger, and there are many more options open to her.

Clothes

Clothes weren’t quite the same challenge as shoes. Preemie clothes were gargantuan on the girls the first few months, but once they fit newborn sizes, it was easy–and so much fun–to shop for them.

J and M will be 7 in a few months. I just gave away the last of their size 4T clothes on Freecycle, because they’re fitting comfortably in 5Ts in most brands. When it comes to clothes that can fit loosely, such as sweatshirts and T-shirts, I can shop all the way to an XXS. The nice thing about being little is that M and J get a lot of hand-me-downs, and some hand-me-ups, from friends.

The girls have been wearing the same 4-6 sized tights for 3 winters in a row now, and they’re starting to fall apart. I’m not complaining. I remember how expensive it used to be to dress two kids when they were growing into new sizes every 3-5 months.

J and M’s first public school in El Paso had a uniform. We had trouble finding uniform shirts to fit them, so they just ended up wearing their XXS shirts baggy. I couldn’t get khaki bottoms that wouldn’t fall down at the store recommended by the school, but ended up finding good options online at French Toast.

Shopping carts/high chairs

For a long time, I’d go to the grocery store with one baby in a front carrier and the other in an infant seat placed in the cart. However, even though this continued to be practical weight-wise, by the time the girls were one, they wanted to sit in the cart and look around. The first time I tried, they flopped all over the place, and I gave up. M and J regaled nearby shoppers with wails and demands to “Sit cart! Sit cart!” as I pulled out the double stroller to try Plan B.

Ikea came to the rescue. They had an inflatable cushion that I could place around the girls to keep them propped up and contained. Unfortunately, they no longer sell it in the US. It was genius! I also used this cushion in restaurant high chairs to great effect.

How do your kids compare to others in size? Do you have any product recommendations to help kids on the smaller end of the size spectrum?

Sadia is the single mother of 6-year-old identical twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX area, where Sadia works in higher education information technology.

Where My Twins’ IQ Test Results Throw Me Into a Tizzy

Our identical (we think?) twin boys are in 1st grade now. While their speech issues hinder their spelling, they’re still performing above grade level in language arts. But math is where they really excel. This fall, G’s standardized test scores for math were the highest in the class, well above the 99th percentile threshold. Right now a parent volunteer is running a pull-out group for some of the kids who can do more challenging work, but next year that might not be an option. We wondered if the boys might be able to jump a grade for math. This isn’t something our district does readily, so we knew we’d have to push. We requested that our boys be tested for the district’s gifted program — if they qualified, we’d have the leverage we need to push for differentiation.

We were surprised by our results. G did not qualify for the gifted program, missing the cut-off by 4 IQ points. P did qualify.

Initially, I was upset with myself for even requesting the test. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of one qualifying and the other not.  Now we had this bona fide test result, on paper, saying G was less capable than his brother. And G has always struggled with self-confidence.

We had a conundrum, too. While we agreed it would be devastating to G for us to place P in the gifted program, we didn’t feel good about withholding enrichment opportunities from P just because his brother didn’t qualify. This is similar to the situation HDYDI blogger Sadia faced this year, except she was faced with moving one of her twins to first grade while the other remained in kindergarten. In researching what to do for our boys, I found this study of different twin types and their reactions to having one twin placed in a gifted program, while the co-twin was not. It definitely affirmed our gut feeling that our boys wouldn’t do well in that situation.

The more I’ve thought about it, the less I trust the IQ test results. I consulted with the director of the university speech clinic the boys attend, and she felt his speech issues could have thrown off the results. G is very aware of his articulation errors, and speaks very slowly to strangers so they can understand him. P does not make any effort to slow his speech for the benefit of others. The speech clinic director said G is likely to choose his words based on what will be easy for him to pronounce and for others to understand, rather than choosing the words that best convey his meaning. G is a kid who asks for math work on his days off of school, because he says he feels anxious on days when he doesn’t get to do math. He picked up his sister’s 4th grade math workbook and started completing the pages for fun. My other two kids who do qualify for the gifted program don’t do anything like this.

We will probably have him retested at some point, so we know what all of our options are. Our oldest child attends a charter school for academically gifted students, and our public schools have various levels of differentiation available. For now we won’t retest — G said he didn’t like the test and it was boring, so I hate to put him through the same thing with the same test administrator this school year. In the meantime we’ve decided to home school next year — we can let them work at their own pace, and provide as much enrichment as either of them needs.

What would you do? Have you run into a similar situation? How would your multiples handle one being placed in a gifted program, while the other remained in the regular classroom?


Jen is a work-from-home mom of 7-year-old twin boys, and two girls ages 5 and 9. She also blogs at Minivan MacGyver. Once in a while.

Not Their Friend

We’ve been having some discipline issues around here recently. The girls have been talking back to me in a way that is not appropriate for 5-year-olds. Both M and J have had emotional outbursts that can be described only as tantrums. Age 4 and the first half of age 5 were nearly tantrum-free, so this flashback to age 3 was unexpected and unpleasant. I’d say something innocuous, and see one child or the other go rigid, rise on her toes, and clench her jaw before letting out a shriek. Despite my efforts not to, I would feel my own muscles tense and my blood pressure rise in response.

During the Reign of Tantrum Terror, also known as the Terrible Threes, I prided myself for being unflappable in the face of the girls’ outbursts, trying to show them how calm thought can work in one’s favour. I used to count slowly to 3, using both my speaking voice and my fingers, refusing the temptation to try to raise my voice over theirs. At 3, off the culprit went to time out, sitting on the floor facing a wall for a minute per year of their age. It didn’t matter if we were home or out in the world. If there wasn’t a wall available, a tree would serve just as well for a time out location.

I’ll confess that I had allowed the thick skin I developed during the Terrible Threes to melt away. At the same time, my children had learned to say, “No.” The first time that one of my daughters said “No,” when ordered to time out, I lost it. I yelled at her to go to time out, and this time she followed my instructions. I immediately knew that throwing a tantrum of my own wasn’t going to help things. All I was doing was validating the effectiveness of their unacceptable behaviour.

My relationships with both M and J became increasingly charged over a couple of months. My husband finally had to step in with some very constructive, but painful, criticism. He pointed out that the girls had learned that they could argue with me, and I was failing to rise above. I needed to remind them that “because Mom said so” carried weight.

He was right, of course.  I had been so enjoying the recent explosion of both girls’ critical thinking that I had been inviting them to offer their own opinions, and trying to show them, whenever I could, how I reached the conclusions and decisions that I did. In my attempts to encourage them to question the status quo, I had put myself in the position of their friend, not their mother.

I shed a few tears, and slept on it. Once I’d marshalled my thoughts, I sat M and J down at the dining table for a conversation. I told them that I appreciated their ideas, and loved our discussions, but I was the mother. When I asked them to do something, I meant that they should do it immediately. If they had questions about the why of things, they could ask them later, and I would decide whether or not they were open to discussion. I would also be the one to decide when they could be discussed. The girls would go to time out when I told them to, and they would listen to me. Period.

After a week of maintaining my icy calm, and an average of 3 time outs per child per day, we’ve settled back into solid mother-daughter relationships. Much as I hope to be a friend to M and J when they are grown, I am exclusively their mother in the here and now.

Do you find yourself becoming complacent and compromising your parental authority? How do you fix it?

Sadia is a Bangladeshi and British working mother of twins and American army wife living on the Texas-Mexico border. Her thoughts on matters of parenting, twins, and parenting twins can be found at Double the Fun.