Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just in Time

This has been a long, difficult, sometimes overwhelming, year.  I cannot even recap it in my mind without needing a cup of tea and a nap.

I feel like I've spent all of 2009 running a bit behind and getting things done just in time.  For someone as organized as I tend to be, it's a little unnerving.  We managed to get everything done this year, but I never felt like I was in control of anything.  "At least it's done" was my mantra for 2009.

True to form, 2009 is ending just in time.  I am really ready to have this year end and start a new one. 

I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions, but here's my resolution for 2009.  I'm going to banish, "just in time."  I will work to make sure as much as possible is done in advance so we're not running to the grocery store the day before the family gathering or searching for the right birthday card the morning of the party.

I'm going to try to turn "just in time" to "in advance."  It's my only 2010 resolution, so I'm hopeful I can keep it throughout 2010.  I don't expect to be perfect about it, but I do expect to keep it top of mind.  It will make all our lives a lot easier. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Saying the Bad Words

We don't let the girls say certain words.  At this age, the big two on the list are hate and stupid.  It's actually pretty easy to keep them from saying those words in regular conversation.  They tend to catch themselves before they say one of the bad words and switch to a word that won't get them in trouble. 

Yes, I know those are words they hear every day from other people, but I really want to teach them that words choice matters.  Some words are harmful and some are helpful.  It's easy to fall into the trap of saying something just because other people say it.  It's a lot harder to use another, more descriptive word. 

Instead of saying, "I hate this stuff."  I make them think about what they don't like and explain it that way.  The other day the brunete twin started to say, "I hate green beans."  As she started to say it, I gave her a look that stopped her cold.  I said, "Do you want to rephrase that?"  She thought about it for a moment and said, "I don't like the way the green beans squish in my teeth."  I smiled and told her she did a good job.  She beamed.

We've run into new problems when they start singing their favorite songs.  It's amazing to me how many children's songs include the words hate and stupid.  I guess I never really listened to the lyrics of children's songs until the girls started singing them. 

Now that they are moving to older music, it's even harder.  I don't let them listen to anything too old -- after all they are only six.  They are -- of course -- obsessed with Taylor Swift.  She writes pretty sweet and innocent songs.  Still, in her songs, she says hate and stupid many times.  It's perfectly appropriate for her to do so at her age, but it creates a conflict for the girls.

They LOVE to sing Taylor Swift songs.  Now, each time they are about to sing a song with the "bad words" they ask.  Whenever we're driving and they are singing, they ask if they can sing "the bad words."  

I always want to laugh because they are so serious when they ask.  It's like a solemn responsibility.  If they have been good, I let them sing the bad words.  If they have not, I tell them no and explain why.

When I do let them sing the bad words, they just giggle.  They think they are really getting away with something.  I try not to giggle with them because they are so innocent about all of it. 

I'm sure the list of bad words will grow as they get older.  I'm sure I'll have less and less control over what they say as they get older.  What I hope is the lessons we teach them now will stay with them so they understand the important of using the right words.  

Monday, December 28, 2009

Full Body Contact Church

At church on Christmas Eve, I grabbed the blond twin's arm and sternly said "stop it now."  I'm sure I sounded like a mean mom to everyone around me, but I didn't care.  I couldn't take her anymore.  I was in too much pain -- actual physical pain.

The blond twin is a high contact child.  She cannot be close enough to anyone.  She doesn't sit near you, she sits on your lap.  If she cannot sit on your lap, she sits so closely that you cannot move that side of your body.  She's always been this way.  When she was a baby, she always wanted to be held.  She likes the close contact.   

In church, the translates in painful ways.  She cannot stand next to me, she tries to stand in front of me.  Or, in her case, she stomps on my feet, with an elbow to my side as she goes by.  While we're sitting in the pews, she's elbowing me to snuggle in, pulling my hair so she can whisper in my ear and kicking my shin as she swings her legs.  It's a painful experience, even though she's not with us for the entire service.

The girls spend the first part of church services in what we call "Children's Church."  They learn an age-appropriate version of the day's lesson.  It's not until just before communion that they join us.

Then the fun begins.  It's a weekly adventure.  A few weeks ago she started to kneel up on the pew so she could speak to me.  In the process, she put her elbow on my thigh and pressed down.  She used the elbow to push herself up to my ear.  It hurt -- a lot. 

I turned to a mom behind me and said, "It's like a never-ending full body-contact wrestling match with this girl."  She laughed.  She comes to church with six boys under the age of 10 and doesn't have these problems.  No wonder she's laughing.

It's hard to believe such a sweet and loving child can cause so much pain, but I have the bruises to prove it.  Now I encourage her to sit next to her Daddy.  For some reason she doesn't seem to do as much damage to him.   

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Same Place, New Season

We take advantage of a lot of Chicago's attractions.  We figure if you're going to live here, you should take advantage of everything the area offers.

Today we went to the Morton Arboretum.  We met a friend (who had never been there) for a winter walk.  I have to say that with the mild weather and gently falling snow, it was a lot like something out of a movie scene. 

(And, thanks to the Museum Adventure Pass program, we did get in free.)

We walked through the maze and climbed to the top of the tree house.  We walked around lake just outside the Visitor's Center.  We spent some time enjoying the Enchanted Railroad. 

While we did all these things, people around us rented snow shoes and trekked various trails.  Some people brought their cross country skies.  It was all fun to watch.

I was thinking about how different the Arboretum looked during the winter.  We have spent many fun summer and fall days there.  In the winter, though, it's like a whole new place. 

We enjoyed it a lot.  I'd like to think we'll be back next year to snow shoe. If the girls had a few more layers, we might have tried it this year.  

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Giving and Forgiving

You know how rare it is that a newspaper article makes you laugh these days?  It's even more rare for an editorial to make you laugh, but yesterday the Chicago Tribune nailed one.

Called Giving and Forgiving, the article takes a look at what you can give to the woman in your life and what will get you in trouble.  It's quite entertaining.

It reminds me of a conversation we had when we were first married.  I informed my wonderful husband that any useful gift would not be well received.  I gave him a list of examples including anything that involves cleaning or cooking.  Several years later, I really wanted cast iron pans.  It took a lot of convincing before he would allow me to put those pans on my Christmas list.  I eventually convinced him that I really wanted them. 

When I read the editorial, the funniest line was "How about a little help here?"  I have to admit I'm guilty of that this year.  I'm busy trying to clean out our house.  I cannot think of a single thing I really need or want.  Of course, if I really put some effort into it, I could probably come up with something.

The wonderful thing about my husband is he buys really thoughtful, terrific gifts.  I'm not worried about what will be under the tree for me this year.  Him, on the other hand...well, he might want to worry. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Baby juice for breakfast

I was sitting with some other parents while waiting for the girls to finish dance class when one of the mom's started talking about her breakfast conversation.  It turned out her daughter wants a little sister, so she asked her mom to drink some baby juice for breakfast.  While the rest of us were trying to figure out what baby juice is, she said, "I laughed so hard.  A few months ago she asked me how babies were made and I told her Mommy drank baby juice to make her." 

This opened the floodgates for stories about how the other parents explained how babies are made.  I just stared at them for a bit.  I was amazed that no one just answered the question.  They all came up with these elaborate stories that seemed way too complicated for the question. 

I realize it's an uncomfortable topic, but how detailed do you need to get when a five or six year old asks how babies are made?  It's not like you are pulling out a high school biology book or a PowerPoint deck to explain the mechanics and after-effects. 

It's such a natural question for their age group.  The girls have several friends with infant siblings.  They saw those moms go through the entire gestation and post-partum timeframe.  As they asked questions, we answered them in the simplest possible terms.  They know it takes a man and a woman to make a baby.  They know babies come from a woman's private parts.  They know babies grow in a woman's tummy. 

As far as I know, that's the grand sum of their baby-making understanding. And, you know what? That's all they need to know right now. It never occurred to me to make up a story when they asked their questions. 

Some of it they learned from their friends.  They asked a friend how the baby was going to come out of her mommy's tummy.  The little girl said, "It drops from between her legs."  Okay, it's not technically how it happens, but it's close enough for a six year old.  They asked if it was true as confirmation of information they already had.  If I made up a story, they would have gone back to their friend and said, "My Mom says you are wrong." 

Sooner or later I'd have to admit I lied, and nothing good comes from that conversation -- even if they are so young.   

I wondered what these parents are going to do when their children's friend's moms have babies. Do they have to bring the other parents in to their lie? Or do they just hope those children won't talk to their children.

I realize the questions will get harder as the girls get older, and I hope we'll be able to continue to answer their questions honestly.  For the most part, I'm sure we will because we want that type of open dialogue with them.  Plus, the I'm just too lazy to make up a lie and keep it going.  I don't have the time, nor do I have the energy. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Homework, Part II

Okay, here's the other thing that frustrates me about the girls' homework.  There are numerous errors in the worksheets.  I realize I cannot blame the teacher for this as she is just copying it out of a book.  Yet, I'm frustrated with it.  Here are a few recent examples.

The girls do a lot of word searches for homework.  Last week we searched and searched for a specific word.  (Remember, this is 1st grade level work.  It's not that hard that an adult cannot figure it out.)  We couldn't find the word.  My husband wrote a note that we couldn't find the word and asked the teacher to point it out.  We spent a lot of time looking for it and wanted to know how we missed it.  She wrote back, "It looks like the publisher forgot to include that word."

Yesterday we finished another word search and the word green was staring at us.  It wasn't on the word list, but there were only five letters not circled and they clearly spelled green.  The girls were frustrated that they didn't have green on their word list, so I told them to add it and call it done.

The girls also do a lot of crossword puzzles for homework.  More than once we have only one word left, and it clearly is the answer to the clue.  The problem is the number of boxes for that clue do not line up.  We've had to improvise a few times to make it work.

I do know it's not the teacher's fault.  Still, I cannot help but wonder if this is the first time she's used these materials.  If it is, I can understand her not knowing about these problems.  If it isn't, then I know she's just copying anything to appease us -- and that's not an option that will make me a satisfied customer. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'll give you homework

When the girls started kindergarten, they complained a lot about the work. The typical complaint on the way to school was, "Do we have to go? It's so boring. We already know all this stuff. Can't we just stay home until school is harder?" So, I waited to see if it moved towards more challenging work, but it never did.

The school district uses the ISEL test to measure where each child is at the beginning of the school year. The children take it again at the end of the year to measure progress. When we received the girls' ISEL scores, we decided it was time talk to their teacher. Given their scores, we didn't know what progress could be made -- and we didn't know what they would be doing all day in class while the other children were making progress.

The conversation started well, but quickly deteriorated. When I suggested the girls might be ready for more challenging work, she took this as an insult. She suggested giving them more work, but I countered with, "We know they already know the alphabet, so giving them more pages where they identify and circle one letter isn't what we had in mind. We're not looking for busy work; we're looking for more challenging work."

In my mind, nothing good comes from the girls being bored in school. It is a waste of their time to sit through work they could easily teach the other students. A cousin who is a teacher told me that the bored children in her classes tend to get into more trouble. A girlfriend, who tests completely off the gifted charts, talks about how much time she spent in the principal's office because she was so bored in school -- even in the advanced program. I don't know if the girls will test into a gifted program, but I do know their ISEL test scores clearly indicated they needed more challenging work. And, I don’t want them to start getting into trouble just because they are bored.

Given my personality, I'm not the Mom who is going to say, “Oh, honey, you should just sit quietly while the other kids do their work. Maybe you can help some of them.” I am the one who will fight to make sure the girls get what they need.

There was some grumbling, but eventually the school designed a program to keep the girls challenged. They decided to have a teacher’s aide pull them out for about 20 minutes and do more challenging work with them. We were happy that they did step up and meet the girls' educational needs. The girls enjoy the more challenging work. They don't complain about being bored any more. They talk a lot about their "pull out" time and what they learn. It's been very good for them.

Somewhere, though, I think their teacher is standing in the office copying homework for the girls with a bit of vengeance in mind. We've been buried in homework. The girls have an average of six pages of homework Monday through Thursday evenings. Seriously, six solid pages of first grade level homework.

Before my chat with her, the girls averaged a page or two of homework each night. I think she decided that since we wanted more challenging work, she was going to bury us in it.

Most nights we're up to the challenge. We get it done because the girls love to do it. They usually read the instructions and start doing the work before I can even supervise. There are some things like word search puzzles they will do completely without me.

Some nights it just doesn't get done. We might finish part of it, but not all of it. On those mornings when I'm filling the backpack, I just put in a note letting their teacher know we did not finish the homework.

One thing I do know is that as much as I want to, I won't ask her for less homework. They are always up for the challenging, even if I'm not.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Driving to the Bus

It's cold in Chicago.  I nearly froze waiting for the school bus yesterday, so today I took a different approach.  I put the girls into the mini-van and drove the two blocks to the bus stop.

Yes, I know I'm a whimp, but it's really, really cold here.  The temperature won't get into double digits today.  The wind chill is well into negative territory at about -25 degrees.  It's really windy.

It's just miserable.

So, yes, despite my extra-warm gloves and Thinsulate ear muffs, I drove the girls to the bus.

When we wait at the bus stop, I add two other girls to the party.  One girl lives across the street from the bus stop.  In warmer weather her Mom and I chat as we wait.  These days, she just opens the door and lets her daughter out.  She has a two month old baby.  I don't see any reason for her to bring the baby out in this weather.  I will be there anyway, so what's one more?

The other girl lives on the other side of the bus stop.  Her Dad used to wait at the bus stop and then jump in his car to get to work on time.  When I got to know him a bit, I suggested he leave her with us and head to work so he wasn't always rushing.

Seriously, I'm there anyway.  What's another girl or two?

Today everyone was in the mini-van listening to music and waiting for the bus.  When it arrived, they jumped out and ran on to the warm bus.

On the way home, our girls will get off the bus and into our warm mini-van, while the other girls run into their warm houses.

Call me a whimp if you want, but I like being warm.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Glitter, Glitter Everywhere

You know the big difference between raising boys and girls, especially at this age?  I've decided it's not sports or toys or games.  It's glitter.  Everything the girls do involves glitter -- lots and lots and lots of glitter.  Sometimes it's called fairy dust or angel dust.  It's all the same sparkly stuff.

I admit I'm guilty of encouraging their glitter obsession.  When they wanted to put glitter in their hair for the Father/Daughter dance, I happily pulled out some glitter and hair spray.  When they wanted to go to get their hair done at Disney, they came out with so much green fairy dust in their hair that I kept saying, "I'm glad I don't have to clean those sheets."

Every craft project involves glitter.  A recent park district program called "Glamor Girls" included decorating a purse and creating lip gloss.  When I read the description, I didn't realize this meant "pour as much glitter as possible into the smallest pot of lip gloss."  I'm thinking about saving it for next year's Halloween costume.  It's about the only time I can imagine them wearing purple or pink lip gloss with that much glitter.

I realize glitter is harmless.  It's simple and fun and the girls love it.  The problem is that once it is in your house, no amount of vacuuming or sweeping or dusting can remove it.  If we're going to continue with the glitter craze, I need to figure out how to get it out of our rugs, off the couch, out of the clothing, etc.  Any advice?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Divine Back-up

The blond twin is taking what she learns at church very seriously these days. She has decided to talk to God on a regular basis.

The problem is, she’s not talking to God about her hopes and fears. She’s not asking the kinds of deep questions you’d expect of a six-year-old about fairies or monsters or princesses.  She’s asking God for back-up when she thinks she’s in trouble. Here is a perfect example from yesterday morning

Mom: “Blond twin, did you brush your teeth?”

Blond Twin: “Yes.”

Mom: “Did you get the back molars? And do a good job with the front teeth?”

Blond Twin: “Yes.”

Mom: “Are you sure?”

Blond Twin: “Hold on.”


Blond Twin: “God says I did a good job. My teeth are clean.”

Seriously, how do I respond to that? Do I say “Is God sure?” What’s my comeback here?  She’s done this a few times now and each time I just stop. I don’t want to minimize her conversations with God, but I never thought of God as her back-up.

I’m glad she’s thinking about God, understands that God is important in her daily life and looks for ways to talk to God. I’m just not sure if this is the way her Sunday school teacher envisioned the conversations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How Much Medicine?

Remember a few years ago when all the children's cold medications were pulled from the shelves because parents were overmedicating their children?  Today I realized I am on the opposite end of the parenting spectrum.  I just read a bottle of children's pain reliever and realized I've been under-medicating the girls.

For some reason, I am in denial about how tall the girls are and how much they weigh.  They were both recently measured, so it's not like I don't have updated numbers.  It's just that I tend to think of them as being smaller than they are.

No, I don't know why I cannot update their stats in my brain.  Every time I pick up one of the girls, I am well aware of how much they have grown.  And my back routinely punishes me for carrying them more than a step or two.  On a regular basis I marvel at how grown-up they are and how they aren't my babies any more.

Yet, when I give them medicine, my brain reverts back to some number that is five or six pounds less than what they currently weigh.  This can be a big deal if you are trying to break a fever.  The right amount of medicine would help our girls feel better faster.

I think I'll blame it on the medicine bottle.  If the numbers were bigger, then I would look at them more and realize my mistake.  Yeah, that's the problem.  It's not my complete inability to process that the girls are growing up.  It's that the numbers on the bottle are too small.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Privileged Life

Here's an article from Chicago Parent magazine that I need to read whenever I feel like I'm having a bad day. 

In another's loss, one woman realizes how privileged she is

My day might still be crappy, but I have to remember how privileged I am just to be with my girls and husband.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You Need a New Priest

There's something about the holidays that brings up religion in conversations where it normally wouldn't be a topic. I was talking to a cousin about our move to the Episcopal Church. We talked about how comfortable it was for us and how much the girls enjoy it.

As a life-long Catholic, she wanted to know what made us move. She also feels frustrated with certain aspects of the church, but she never thought about leaving. When I expressed our reasons, she said, "Oh, you didn't need to leave the church. You just needed to talk to a different priest."

I told her we were happy where we are and changed the topic.

It’s one of the things that really bothers me about our decision to change. It’s that people do not just accept it and wish us well. They keep questioning our thoughts and decisions about our family’s religion. They keep trying to convince us that we should leave the Episcopal Church and head back to a place where we were uncomfortable and disagreed with the basic foundations on the premise that some day things “might change.” 
 Why would we want to spend our time waiting to see if something will change in a church hierarchy where we disagree with the most basic rules? Why wouldn’t we want to a place where we feel comfortable with both the community and the foundation of that community? Why not try to be happy, rather than fight something that will never change?