Help! How Do You Keep Holiday Gifts in Check?

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This is for sure a first-world problem, and not a new one, at that. But I’m really feeling it this year, and it doesn’t exactly fill me with holiday joy.

I have made a really concerted effort – as best I can – to keep my girls in check when it comes to material things. Our toy collection is far from overflowing.

For holidays and birthdays, we keep things really low-key at our house. The girls usually get one big, shared present (like their train set), and then they each have one gift to open. We follow a similar pattern for their birthday, and we always specific “no gifts, please” on the invitation to their birthday parties.

I consider toys and art supplies to be developmental necessities, and I’m pretty particular about what we have. If I think the girls would benefit from a new set of pattern blocks, for example, I buy it for them. I don’t necessarily wait for a holiday or birthday to come along.

I think it helps that we watch very little TV, so the girls are rarely exposed to commercials. We talk about the advertisements we see in magazines. The girls know those are working to make us think we need things; it’s up to us to use our brains and decide if we do, in fact, need something.

I am really happy with the balance we have…but that’s tough to maintain when it comes to family at the holidays.

We have a very small family, and they all live at least 250 miles away. My dad always asks me what the girls would like (or what I’d like them to have, as he {correctly} joked this year). My aunt asks, too…but then she feels she has to do more. “I can’t just give them house shoes!” she protested.

What’s frustrating is that my girls will be OVER THE MOON with some fuzzy kitty cat house shoes. They had some a couple of years ago, and they played in them all the time.

I witnessed last year my girls getting really overwhelmed during one family holiday exchange. Instead of giving them a gift bag of art supplies, each book / box of crayons / package of clay was individually wrapped. My B, then just shy of four years old, melted into my arms in a puddle of tears. That was so incredibly out of character for her…but she just couldn’t handle all the craziness, I guess.

I feel almost guilty that I’m complaining about people wanting to buy things for my children. I know my family finds a lot of joy in doing that. But I feel like I need to protect our boundaries…and protect my girls from being too overwhelmed.

Am I being too particular? Ungrateful, even? How do you manage the influx of STUFF at holidays and birthdays?

MandyE is mom to soon-to-be five-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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HDYDI MoM-Approved Toys

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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!

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How to Afford Twins: Free Used Stuff

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There’s a lot of free used stuff out there for kids, if you know where to look. Children go through stages and sizes so quickly that there’s often a lot of wear left in their things after they no longer need them.

Hand-Me-Downs

My girls, M and J, are small for their age, so they end up receiving hand-me-downs from their friends. I’m not too proud to accept used things from friends, or even strangers. I see both the offer and its acceptance as gestures of love.

Getting free used stuff, from hdydi.com
Photo Credit: reinvented

One former neighbour kept my girls in shoes for 2 whole years. I didn’t buy a single new item of clothing this summer beyond splurging on birthday dresses for all 3 of us. My kids have had a constant influx of new clothes from an older girl on our street, a classmate and a former neighbour.

Of course, it helps that M has no interest in wearing clothes that match her sister’s. If your kids wear matching or coordinated outfits, this may not work for you. I do find, though, that many of my friends buy the same things in different colours for their girls, and there are usually 3 hot shades that are “in” in a given season. Completely different brands will feature exactly the same colour scheme. You might be surprised by how many coordination opportunities you can find with hand-me-downs.

When two of my ex-husband’s high school friends announced that they were both pregnant with girls, I split my daughters’ matching infant and toddler clothes in two and mailed two diaper boxes of gently used clothes to Washington State. I’d been holding onto them in case any friends had twins, but everyone seems to have b/b or b/g twins.

Getting free used stuff, from hdydi.com
Photo Credit: EvelynGiggles

J and M determined told me that they no longer play with their doll house. I asked them to sit on their decision to give it away for a couple of months, but they’ve held firm. We’ll be passing their dollhouse and furniture to another little girl, the daughter of an old friend of mine from grad school. We hope she’ll also get many years of joy from it.

Trades

Getting free used stuff, from hdydi.com
Photo Credit: Renee Silverman

My daughters’ dance school has a fantastic shoe exchange program. Since they teach tons of growing children and know how expensive dance supplies can get, they have a big  bin of ballet, tap and jazz shoes in the office. When a child outgrows their shoes, their parent can add them to bin and go through the shoes that are already there to find a replacement, one size larger.

I do still occasionally have to buy new dance shoes, but the majority of my girls’ shoes have come from the bin in the 4 years they’ve been taking lessons. If your kids dance, play soccer, or use other specialized equipment, perhaps you can look into setting up a similar exchange.

Freecycle Exchange

Here’s how the Freecycle Network describes itself:

It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free.

Participating in Freecycle groups has been a great motivator to keep me decluttering. If I don’t use something but it still has life left in it, I no longer hold onto it in case it comes in handy later. Unless it has sentimental value or I see a real use for it, I offer up unused things to people who will give them new life.

Getting free used stuff, from hdydi.com

I’ve been in 3 different Freecycle groups in my time. They work similarly, with some variation. Some groups allow pet rehoming posts, while others don’t. My two adult cats came to us through Freecycle offers. Their previous family had lost their home and couldn’t keep them. Some groups ask you to offer at least one thing for each thing your receive. Some groups are sticklers for you specifying the area of town you’re in, while others are less stringent. Some ban people from the list if they have a history of asking for stuff and then not showing up to pick it up. As long as you use good judgment about who to share your personal information with, you’ll be fine.

In general, you sign up for an email list and quickly learn the format and etiquette for offering your unused stuff to others for free. Watch the list, and when something comes up that your family needs, send a nice email to the offerer. Some people use a first come-first served policy, but I always took at least a day to try to identify the most needy people for my girls’ hand-me-downs. Clothes and shoes are frequently offered in Freecycle messages, but I’ve seen washers and dryers, exercise equipment and even food given by people who won’t use them to people who will.

Since I work outside the home, I often leave bags or boxes labeled with the recipients’ names on my front porch for them to retrieve at their convenience. There’s something very satisfying about blessing others with clothing that came to my girls through the generosity of strangers in the first place. I gave my girls’ cribs away, one to a newly widowed mom of 6 who had recently taken in a pregnant high schooler, bringing her brood to 8. That was a pretty great feeling.

Craigslist

Freecycle, mentioned in Getting free used stuff, from hdydi.comCraigslist is a service similar to that of the Freecycle network, except that the majority of things posted are listed for a price, often negotiable. Instead of being primarily email list-based, Craigslist has a public website for each region that it covers. In addition to stuff, people also advertise services, jobs, housing and ridesharing opportunities.

I don’t troll Craigslist looking for free stuff, since my Freecycle lists cover me on that front, but I have occasionally gone looking for long-term investments. I bought my daughters a fine electric keyboard at a fraction of its cost new ($250 for a $900 instrument) and have been keeping my eye open for the right playscape to go in my backyard. I had a coworker watch Craigslist for me for the keyboard. I’m a singer, not a pianist, and he fixes up older keyboards as a hobby, so he was far more knowledgable than I. He was able to point me towards a solid instrument at a decent price and I snatched it up.

As with any activity involving meeting strangers, be smart about who you share your address with and whose home you choose to enter. Consider meeting in a public place or bringing a friend with you. Meet during daylight hours. Don’t share a whole lot of information about your kids.

And please, don’t forget to pass your own things on to others when you’re done with them.

What’s your approach to free stuff for your family? Do you love it? Think it’s tacky?

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 Would Mary Poppins Do?

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Ballet shoes
Photo Credit: clogsilk

After taking the summer off, it was time for my 7-year-old twins to return to dance lessons. Since their lesson is on a weekday evening, I have to leave work early to get there on time. I let my daughters know that their dance bags needed to be packed and ready to go well ahead of time.

Of course, they waited until the final moments I would allow them to, but 2 days before their first lesson, I put my foot down. In the mad scramble to pack, they had no trouble finding their dance clothes, but their shoes were another matter. I told them to check our shoe rack, their dance bags, their dance cubbies, and their room. All they could find was a lone tap shoe, a size too small for the littlest feet in our house.

It was time for Project Clean Your Room, Episode 2.

Thanks to Episode 1, there was no need to sift through detritus from the floor. However, we did have 3 bins of unsorted stuff to go through, as well as 2 desks to examine. I started barking out orders. I would go through the bins, distributing their contents to the girls. M was in charge of returning toys to their rightful homes, whether that was the toy shelf, the toy bin, the donation bag, recycle bin, or trash. J was in charge of books and paper.

We weren’t 5 minutes in before J returned from another trip to the bookshelf, huffing in indignation. “This is not fun!” she informed me. “What would Mary Poppins do?”

What Would Mary Poppins Do? from hdydi.com
After Mandy’s Halloween post, I couldn’t help pulling out my daughters’ old Halloween photos. They were both Mary Poppins (from different scenes, of course) when they were 3.

I started singing “Just a Spoonful of Sugar,” but was informed that it wasn’t working.

“Okay, M,” I improvised. “All the stuffed toys are secret superheroes with invisible cloaks. They’re going to fly into the toy bin. Try not to crash them! And J, you’re Super Librarian, and your mission is to get the books through the Hallway of Word-Eaters to the Bookshelves of Knowledge. Go!”

And they went, willingly and in good spirits.

As it turned out, the dance shoes were exactly where I’d told them to look first, in the shoe rack. But hey, their room is being put to rights, and I learned to ask myself, “What would Mary Poppins do?” You know what? A spoonful of sugar, imagination, or laughter does make that medicine go down, in the most delightful way.

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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Identical Twin Toys

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My daughters love their stuffed toys and can play with them for hours, imbuing each of them with a distinctive personality and interpersonal challenges and relationships.

wpid-Photo-Jul-7-2013-838-PM.jpg

I took this picture last night, at the tail end of a stuffed toy fashion show.

A few years ago, Santa got my girls each a Beanie Boo they’d been eying for several months. J and M absolutely adored them and still play with them, although they’re not members of the family like some of their toys.

Years later, both M and J decided that they were going to spend some of the allowance they’d saved up on new Beanie Boos. The excitement built all week, and we finally made it to the store. Both girls walked right up to the display and grabbed the toys they wanted.

I was flummoxed when M selected a toy that was exactly the same as the one Santa had given her. I reminded her that she already owned that particular pink puppy.

“I know,” she told me, then completed her purchase.

I finally got it once we arrived home. M ran off to her room, and I heard her introduce her puppies to each other. “Princess, this is your twin sister. She is your identical twin.”

M and J both tend to refer to the matching toys as “the twins,” even though I’m careful not to do so when talking about my human twins. When we were at the Lego store yesterday, M informed me that the collection of minifigs they assembled included a set of identical quadruplets.

Do you children reflect the reality of being multiples in their pretend play?

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The Toy Takeover – Part 2

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You can read the first post about The Toy Takeover here.

I was inspired by the TV show Consumed to take another step in tackling the toys in our house.  In this show, families with way more stuff than us agree to put most of their belongings in storage for a month.  After surviving with the bare minimum of dishes, furniture, clothing and personal items, they are supposed to realize they don’t need all the clutter. I thought this approach might work for toys too. 

Before Christmas, I packed up a large cardboard box with all the stuffed animals in the living room. The truth is, I was tired of cleaning them all up every day. I put in the basement with the expectation that I’d be searching through it for someone’s favourite in no time.  After they didn’t mention the missing items for a few days, I thought I’d pick a day to go through it with the kids to pick out their favourites.  That was almost two months ago.  Guess what?  No one has mentioned the missing stuffies.

Since this unplanned first step went so well, I thought we could move further.  I was tired of the toy area being a mess and of the kids being overwhelmed when it was time to clean up.  So, I talked with the kids about how having so many toys meant there lots of cleaning up and not very much room to play. I tried to keep it simple by suggesting that we put some toys in the basement to make more room for playing.  They seemed to agree my idea was worth considering. 

All the toys
(Almost) All the Toys

On a weekend, I set out all the toys for them to look at.  I brought up the ones that had been “rotated out” and were being stored in the basement. With everything laid out, I suggested that they each fill one bin with their favourite toys. I expected them to protest or argue, or at least to negotiate for more toys, but they didn’t.  So, the rest of the toys went in the basement. I made it clear they could bring up a toy from the basement if they took one downstairs. That was about a month ago. Guess what? Again, no one has asked me to trade the toys. In fact, they are playing with more board games and puzzles now.  I think that having fewer options provides a space where they can see what is available to them.

 

R's Bin of Toys
R's Bin of Toys

 

S's Bin of Toys
S's Bin of Toys

 A chose to keep his train set, a hotwheels track, some cars and Perplexus.  

I won’t end with an overused quotation like “less is more.”  But, I will say that less is okay. All three kids were okay with choosing their favourites.  They were okay with watching us take the toy organizer and the other bins of toys downstairs.  And, they are certainly okay with clean up being so much easier.

 

Jenna is mom to a six year old singleton son (A) and 4 year old MZ twin girls (R & S).  She is also okay with less. In fact, she looks forward to moving toys out of the basement for the next multiples clothing sale, but she realizes that will take some negotiations.


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The Toy Takeover – Part 1

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One of the biggest challenges for me over the last year was keeping the house tidy. We had already hired a cleaner to help with the floors, dusting, bathrooms and kitchen. What was left was the daily clean up the trail of bits and pieces that seem to come with pre-schoolers.

Every time I entered a room, I’d be overwhelmed by the mess: the single sock abandoned in the corner, the hill of Lego pieces on the floor, the stuffed animal dormitory on the couch, the crumpled piece of paper with stickers that was someone’s “favourite craft,” a water bottle without a lid, and a doll shoe.

The girls were are still in their “in and out” phase where they could spend the day filling bags, boxes, containers and bins with bits and pieces.  They would put the game pieces and dice, hair clips, marbles, rocks, magnets and pompoms in a little box in their play purses.  Then they’d put the purses in bags.  The bags would go in a stroller, draped with a blanket.  As they trekked through the house on various adventures, the bits and pieces would be disturbed through the kitchen, under the dining room table, between the couch cushions, and on the stairs – times two, of course. Needless to say, getting everything back where it belonged, or a least off the floor, was more than could be expect of a three-year old with limited guidance from an exhausted parent.  And, I wasn’t much of a help since bending over was certain to make my world spin.  Over time, I gave up my level of tolerance for disorder increased. But this wasn’t a solution; it was just a reminder of where I felt I was falling short of my responsibilities as a mother.

One-at-a-time Cupboard Top Shelf
One-at-a-time Cupboard Top Shelf

So, I borrowed an idea from my mom:  the “one-at-a-time” cupboard.  I filled two cupboards with all the puzzles, games, cards, and toys with little pieces. The kids could each select one item from the cupboard.  When they finished with one toy, all the pieces were cleaned up. The lower cupboard had the puzzles and games they could play with by themselves, while the upper cupboard held the ones that need more parental supervision.

One-at-a-time Cupboard Bottom Shelf
One-at-a-time Cupboard Bottom Shelf

Did this help?  Yes and no.  The kids liked being able to see all the boxes of games arranged on the shelves.  They could easily select what they wanted and often asked to play games. But, I couldn’t contain all of the chaos in one set of cupboards.  I’ll share the next step in managing kids toys, in my next posting.

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Paired Imagination

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I’m not a huge fan of driving—I put off learning how to drive until I was 25—but I do love overhearing my daughters’ conversations in the car.

Yesterday was Movie Day at the summer day camp our 6-year-olds are attending. The kids were invited to bring pillows and blankets, and the older kids were put to work first thing in the morning dividing a massive quantity of popcorn into single servings.

FueyFuzzy
The girls asked me to photograph their toys to acknowledge their first day of school, and added hair accessories before posing them, to mark the occasion. The blue Care Bear is M’s Fuey, the other J’s Fuzzy.

J and M decided to take their bedtime friends with them for Movie Day.

Before getting into the car, J had a serious discussion with her lovey, Fuzzy, about what she could expect at school.

“This is the first time she’s gone out to the world,” J explained to me, dead serious.

“Fuey’s been to school with me before, but this is a new school for her,” M added.

In the car, there was a discussion of how to ensure the toys’ safety. The girls finally settled on using the tightening straps on their carseats as seat belts for their toys.

“Fuzzy needs a baby seat,” J explained. “She’s only zero. She’ll be only zero forever.”

“Fuey only gets to 7 years old,” M chimed in. “Right now she’s 6, no 5. When she has a birthday, she’ll be 6. On her next birthday, she’ll be 7. But the next birthday, she’ll still be 7, because of magic.”

“Yes,” J agreed, “Magic keeps Fuzzy zero. It’s okay, little Fuzzy. You’ll like my friends.”

I know that most kids build extensive and vivid imaginary worlds, but I love that I get to hear my girls doing it. In addition to their toys having very real personalities, both girls have distinct imaginary friends who, on occasion, they lend to Sissy for the purpose of populating a game. My favourite of their imaginary friends is Dustin, M’s friend, named after a coworker of mine. He has a habit of refusing to answer to “Dustin,” instead choosing alternate names to go by on a nearly daily basis.

What do your kids’ imaginary worlds look like? What do you overhear them discussing?

Sadia, her twin daughters J and M, and her grandchildren, Fuey and Fuzzy, live in El Paso, Texas.

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Hers, His, Theirs

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So, I’ve been thinking about Christmas presents.

I know.

But before you think I’m one of those organized, plan-ahead people, let me be clear that the only reason my mind started taking that jog was because a friend of mine, fully aware of my son’s obsession with Thomas The Train and his knockoff brand trains and accessories, sent me a link on Monday to a Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Roadhouse on Kids.Woot! It was $35.00.

Sidebar: internet, if you don’t know about Kids.Woot! yet, consider yourselves now educated. Once a day, they list something for an insanely low price. And they sell ’em till they’re gone, so you gotta move fast. Most of the time, those something’s are things that we don’t want or need or aren’t age-appropriate. But sometimes there’s a gem. Like that Railway Roadhouse.

Except that I had already bought one. A Deluxe one. Got suckered into it at a Thomas & Friend’s playdate at the local BRU. And even with a coupon, it was $87.00. I swear, that place is Stockholm Syndrome, but with inanimate objects.

Anywoot. At that price, I went ahead and bought it for my nephew for HIS Christmas present. Which brings me back to where I started: I’ve been thinking about Christmas presents.

All our focus on them being treated as independent individuals, but I can barely count on one hand those items that are exclusively one child’s or the other’s. Those things being as significant, but as unentertaining as their own rooms, his Raffy, and her woobie. Thomas and Gordon are his. Those little bobble-heady cats and dogs from grandma are most definitely hers. But beyond that? Theirs.

You know what? This isn’t even about Christmas gifts. Because as I write this, I’m realizing that we I think about the whole his, hers, theirs thing every time we introduce anything new into the toy or activity mix. And 99% of the time, it’s easier if it’s just theirs. Even when that 99% contributes to a good 50% of the tussles and meltdowns.

DSC_9111 (1).jpg

We have the play kitchen and play food and two doll strollers and hand puppets and puzzles and duplos and flash cards and books and art supplies and dinosaurs and cars and trains and stuffed animals and watering cans and two tricycles and one shared barn for the farm animals and two pair of wings. At their birthday, they each opened a couple gifts, but ultimately those gifts ended up being both of theirs. For Christmas, their sibling gift will be a gender-neutral dollhouse, or something to that effect.

And yet, isn’t part of individuation having something you can call your own?

The boy loves trains, so that is his thing. The girl’s interest in the trains or train table extends only to the amount of anxiety she can produce in him after snatching Gordon’s tender or knocking over a bridge and then running away.

Quite by accident, (I was searching the Craigslist posts for a Thomas Halloween costume), we found the boy’s Christmas gift when a family decided to off their entire collection of Thomas stuff. When I saw the listing, I went to the internet to start pricing the retail value of the SIXTY-TWO items included in their post and I had reached their asking price by item number eight. NUMBER EIGHT. It was a gold mine, I tell you. And now we’re covered for Christmas, the next birthday, part of NEXT Christmas, and as many potty training incentives as we might need in between. Unless he decides he doesn’t like trains.

But the girl? I have NO IDEA.

I know, I know. They’re not even two-and-a-half. They won’t remember it. They’ll really have opinions of what they each like and don’t like as they get older, so enjoy this while it lasts. All that.

As of now? I’m just hoping we can come up with some ideas that can she can find in her stocking that will be hers alone.

Any ideas?

**********

Rachel is the author of the blog Motherhood.Squared where she tells tales of boy/girl twins and their two mommies.

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Shopping, Twin-Mom Style

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This weekend marked my MOT club’s semi-annual tag sale, and it was a doozy. The tag sale (consignment sale, yard sale, flea market, whatever your region calls it) is yet another reason to join your local MOT club, if you haven’t already.  Most clubs I know of have sales twice a year, and they’re awesome both for selling and for shopping.

It was my second time selling, and for those who have never participated in such an event, I thought I’d tell you all about ours.  First of all, you obviously have to plan ahead and get all of your items ready for sale.  Sort out the clothes by gender, size, and season.  Toss the ones with stains or missing snaps. Purge the toy room, get the high chairs out of the garage. Write out a price tag for each and every piece.  My club puts everyone’s items together (i.e. one large area for clothing, one area for toys, etc.), so your tags also need your name written clearly so you can get financial credit for the sale.

Tag sale setup

The sale takes place on a Saturday morning, so setup begins Friday night at a nearby high school cafeteria.  Racks are assembled for hanging items, tables are arranged everywhere, clotheslines are hung.  When the space is set up, you can start hauling in your items from your car (the parking lot is a sea of minivans).  And at the end of the evening, sellers get a chance to do a little early-bird shopping.  People nearly trampled each other getting to the Kettler tricycles.  I decided I had to have my friend’s Maclaren stroller.  So 15 minutes before seller shopping began, I grabbed my Peg Perego out of the back of my van, cleaned it off, and slapped a price tag on it (the same price for which I was going to buy my friend’s).  It’s easy to get caught up in the madness.  And that’s just Friday night. Don’t stay too late, chit-chatting with your friends and perusing the stacks of clothing.  The fun starts again at 6AM on Saturday.

Toys, games, and booksSaturday morning arrived.  Barely slept at all.  Still dark when we arrived at the high school.  Sellers who couldn’t come the night before arrived with even more stuff to distribute.  The mountain of clothing, especially the 0-12 month stuff, threatened to topple and we grabbed extra tables to further sub-divide the sizes.  The bookshelves collapsed overnight, so we had to reassemble and rearrange all of the books and videos.  Tables full of toys needed to be better categorized, the piles of board games and puzzles needed major straightening.

Sellers got another shot at early shopping once everything was set up and ready.  I was at the front of the line this time, and tried to pretend I had a shred of dignity remaining as I all but ran back to the large equipment area to snag a Radio Flyer double wagon.  Haha, victory is mine!

But we had to get our purchases quickly back to our cars.  All sellers are also working the sale, and people have been assigned to different areas.  Clothing, books, toys, cashier, accounting, large equipment.  This was my second time back in large equipment, which is a section with it’s own procedures, rules, and even storage so you can keep shopping without dragging around your new double stroller or swing.  Before the doors opened, it was packed to the gills with strollers, carseats, swings, high chairs, outdoor toys, and the like.

Large Equipment area

Finally, at 9:30, doors open to fellow twin club members, who get a half-hour jump start on the general public.  The line at 9:29 was well out the door.

Line to get in

Shopping is barely-controlled chaos.  No lie, nearly seven hundred people came. Unreal. The large equipment area was a madhouse.  There were four cashiers just in our part of the sale, probably another six or eight at the main exit.  The whole thing was mobbed, from toddler clothing all the way back to bouncy seats.  It was hot, it was loud, it was crowded. I won’t lie, every time I saw someone buying something of mine, I heard a little “cha-ching!” in my head. But I tried not to do too obvious of a happy dance.

Shopping chaos

It was a particularly busy and successful sale, maybe because it was a nice day out, maybe because of the crappy economy.  But there was still a line to get in at 10:30, and there was still a line to pay at noon.  It was non-stop.  It’s fun, but completely exhausting, to work the sale.  By the time it ends at 1PM, you’ve worked a fairly grueling 7-hour shift.  But hey, you get to hang out with your MOT friends, get rid of all of your stuff, and make a little cash in the meantime.

End of the sale

And yes, that last picture is what the large equipment area looks like at 12:15.  If you want a stroller or a cozy coupe, you’d better get your ass there bright and early.

As a shopper, there are bargains that can’t be beat.  Strollers for less than half their retail price. Nearly-new high chairs for $30.  Books for 50 cents, toddler jeans for three bucks.  You can probably score a whole season’s worth of clothing for under $40.  As a seller, you not only get to unload a truckload of gear and old clothing, but even after the 10% of proceeds that go to the club, you can make a nice bit of money.

When the doors closed at 1PM, I scoured the remnants of the tables for anything of mine that didn’t sell.  All I could find was one toy and a couple of assorted items of clothing (maybe 10 shirts out of the huge tub I had brought in).  I took one cute outfit of Rebecca’s home, and put the rest in the big bags to be donated.  Because I had worked Friday setup, I thankfully didn’t have to stay for the entirety of cleanup.  I got home, took some ibuprofen, and all but collapsed into bed.

It was a good day.

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