Friday, April 30, 2010

Fun Sherpa Feature

There's a great website called Fun Sherpa, which finds fun experiences in Chicago and puts them in one convenient place.  You can browse the site for idea, create a registry and purchase gift certificates for you or as gifts.  I really like the 100 things to do in Chicago feature.  There's a great selection of gifts, so you'll have plenty of ways to use the discount code Fun Sherpa provided -- 2times-fun2010. 

Why did they send me a discount code?  Oh, yeah, I was interviewed and featured on their blog -- Interrogating the Interesting.  You have to scroll down to find my interview because I was featured on Monday and today is Friday, and well, you know how the weeks fly by.

And, thanks to my cousin Julie, I have a cool photo to accompany the article.  It's not a great photo of me, but how many times can you have your photo taken with a giraffe?

Head over to Fun Sherpa and buy something fun for you, your Mom or anyone else you know who needs a little more fun.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Moving Heartbreak

The girls are really, really good friends with a little boy named P and his sister L.  They are inseparable whenever they can be.  For the past two years, the girls have been in class with P. 

He has been the Blond Twin's crush for the last two years. To explain how attached she is to P, a few weeks ago, the girls were doing their homework and discussing their future grooms.  I said, "You are too young to be talking about getting married."  The Brunette Twin said, "I think I'll marry P."  The Blond Twin's head nearly spun around as she said, "If anyone in this house marries P, it will be me."  She said it with such power that the Brunette Twin changed the subject.  She just adores P. 

Yesterday P and L were at our house for a playdate.  Their Mom told me they were moving, which made me sad.  They live close, so it's not a big deal to drop the kids at one house or the other.  If they move, it might require more planning.

Then their Mom dropped the bombshell.  The family is moving back to Ireland next year.  I nearly cried.  She had tears in her eyes as she explained why.  She said the first thing P said when they told him was "What about the Blond Twin and the Brunette Twin?"  Even though I understand why they have to go back, I am so sad today.

And yet, I know the worst is yet to come.  At some point, we will have to tell the them that P and L are moving.  It will break their little kindergarten hearts. We'll put it off as long as possible, but P and L know.  One day the girls will come home from school and start asking questions.  It will take a while before they realize how far P and L will be.  Once the realization hits, they are going to be very upset. 

I realize he won't be the Blond Twin's crush forever. She will have many, many crushes.  I did think they would be friends, though.  It's going to be a lot harder (aka nearly impossible) to maintain that once P moves to Ireland. 

His Mom did say several times that she will have extra rooms and she expects us to come visit.  They have a lot of family in our area, so they will be back every other year.  It's not like the girls won't see P and L ever again.  It just won't be the same as spending days in the backyard together just because it's a nice day. 

Still, I'm sad.  I can hardly look at the girls today without thinking about the secret I am keeping.  We have a year to deal with it, but I dread the heartbreak when the girls realize P and L are moving far away. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Judging the Coloring Contest

The girls have started having what they call coloring contests.  This means they each pull out a coloring book page and color it.  This is the easy part.

They spend a lot of time doing their best to stay in the lines, adding personal embellishments of course.

The problem comes when we have to choose who won.  Recently Daddy had this experience:

Girls:  "Daddy, we're done.  Pick who won."
Daddy:  "Oh, they are both beautiful.  I couldn't choose one.  Look at those colors and how you stayed in the lines.  They are both good."
Girls:  "No, Daddy.  It's a coloring contest.  You have to pick one."

Daddy says a few more diplomatic lines about how he cannot choose. The girls insist he choose, so Daddy takes a deep breath and says, "Blond Twin, I think yours is better."

The Blond Twin starts crying.  She cannot speak because she is so upset.

Brunette Twin:  "It's okay Sissy, your picture really is better than mine."
Blond Twin:  "I didn't want to win.  I wanted you to win."
Brunette Twin:  "I know.  I wanted you to win, so it's okay because you did win."

This goes on for a few minutes before they decide that Daddy confused and both pictures are beautiful.  The girls then go on to play with their dolls.

From the time twins are born they are the subject of endless competition.  Who weighed more?  Who spoke first?  Who walked first?  We have worked hard to try to balance the competition so they are supportive of each other and always in competition. 

Now I'm starting to wonder if we've gone too far. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Natural Separation

As soon as the girls were born, people started telling us how to raise twins.  I always found this amusing since none of them had twins.  One thing everyone agreed was that we needed to separate them as soon as possible so they would develop their own personalities, interests and friends.

I never bought into that advice.  I read as much as I could about twins and never found any research that separating twins is a good idea.  In fact, I found quite a bit of research saying it had negative effects. 
I always fought to keep them together.  I figured that some day they would develop their own interests and naturally separate a bit.  Until they decided to do it, I wasn't going to force them to separate.  It hasn't been easy, but we've managed to keep them together.

The first signs of separation came a few days ago.  They are in a summer camp that allows them to pick activities based upon their interests.  The girls chose to go into different activities for part of the program.  We talked about how this meant they would not be together and made sure they were comfortable with the concept.  Both of them seemed excited about taking their own classes.

I'm pretty happy about this development.  Their bond is so strong that I don't worry about them losing that connection.  An hour here or there apart will make them stronger individuals and give them more to talk about when they are together.  It also shows that they are developing their own interests based upon their skills.  The classes they chose track with their current interests. 

It's also validation that we haven't really screwed up our children yet.  Our decision to leave them together as long as they wanted to be together seems to be working out well.  Oh, I'm sure we've screwed up our children in other ways, but we seem okay on this issue.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Having "The Talk"

The brat in the backyard has escalated her bullying form just mean words to physical violence.  She hit the brunette twin in the head the other day because she wanted to swing.  I didn't find out about this for two days.  In the end, the blond twin told me.  This immediately set a few things into action.

First, I talked to the brunette twin.  I explained to her that she always needs to tell me when someone hits her, whether it is an accident or on purpose.  We talked for a while about why this is important.  I thanked the blond twin for telling me what happened.  We talked about why it was wrong.

Second, I decided I had to talk about her mother about the brat's recent behavior.  I rehearsed what I was going to say for over and over again.  I tried to find the best way to explain it in simple words since the brat's mother doesn't speak fluent English.  Only then did I walk to her house.

I saw cars in the driveway and realized they had company, so I went home.  A few hours later I tried again, and went home again. 

Two days went by before the time worked out for "the talk."  I explained to the mother what happened.  I told her I heard about the brat hitting other children in the neighborhood.  I told her that the brat wasn't welcome in our yard for a while.  To her credit, she seemed really upset that it happened. 

I next saw her while waiting for the girls to get home from school.  She asked if the girls could talk to her when they got off the bus.  I agreed, of course. 

When all the girls came off the bus, the mother asked her daughter what happened.  The brat denied it, then she said something that nearly put our girls in hysterics.  She said, "I didn't hit the brunette twin.  She hit me and the blond twinkicked me."  The girls started screaming at her.  I'm not sure upset described how angry they were at that moment. 

Once they calmed down, the mother asked her daughter again and again about what happened.  The brat just stopped talking. 

I explained to the mother that her daughter could not come to our yard until she figured out how to get along with all the kids in the neighborhood.  The mother said she understood and would talk to her daughter.

It was a truly unpleasant conversation, but I was glad to see that she took it seriously.  The only problem is her daughter is a an out-of-control brat.  I'm sure she had her mother convinced it was all an accident before they made it in the house.  I cannot do anything about that problem, but I can do something about how she behaves in our yard. 

Even though I dreaded it, I'm glad the talk went so well.  Somehow I doubt it will be the only one we have this summer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Go Wash Your Hands

Overheard at our house...

Brunette Twin:  "Mom, I think the coyotes left something behind."

Mom walks to the patio door.

Mom:  "Don't pick up that stuff."

Brunette Twin:  "I think it's a squirrel leg, don't you?"

Mom:  "Yes.  Now go throw it away and wash your hands."

Brunette Twin:  "Why didn't the coyotes just eat the whole squirrel?"

Mom:  "Seriously, go throw it away and wash your hands before we talk about this."

Brunette Twin:  "Okay, but look at this little paw."

Mom:  "Throw it away and go wash your hands."

Brunette Twin:  "Okay, but then can we talk about why coyotes eat squirrels?"

Mom:  "Yes, after you wash your hands."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sharing Some Good News

Our girls recently received letters accepting them into the Center for the Gifted program, an affiliate of National-Louis University. They will take their first classes this summer. They are registered for the 1/2 day program, so they will take three different classes during the two-week camp ranging from Fairy Tale Festival to Biology You Can Eat to Mathemagicians. Just reading the descriptions made the girls giggle.

When the letters came, I told a few family members and friends, then I put the letters away. I have heard really good things about the program. I'm very excited about the classes, yet I've already learned it's not something I can share with everyone.

Remember when you were a kid and being smart wasn't cool? Well, nothing has changed there. I sit with parents at different activities and most everyone else is talking about the special classes their children take. One is in a reading enrichment class. One is in a math homework support group. One has ADD. Another is in speech therapy. These parents are comparing programs and outcomes. I sit and smile and offer support.

I've tried to participate in these conversations -- mostly by answering questions when asked -- but it's clear that these parents don't want to hear me talk about how well the girls are doing in school. They don't want to hear about the gifted program the girls were just accepted into. They don't understand that accelerated learners have their own educational challenges. They think we are sitting on easy street because the girls are accelerated learners. I thought we've moved past those stereotypes, but we haven't.

We're really excited and proud that the girls are part of the Center for the Gifted program. Still, we sit in a strange place. We have good news that we can only share with a few people. It's a balancing act that I'm not sure I like, but I better get used to it. After all, the girls are only in kindergarten. They have a lot of school years ahead of them.

This was originally posted on the Chicago Moms Blog.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Need to Get Out More, Part II

Of the 16 different vendors at the Chicago Moms Blog event last night, there were two I was quite excited about -- in my most geeky way,of course.  You can join me here to find out more...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I Need to Get Out More

One of the cool things about blogging is you get to meet some really interesting people.  Today I visited with the other bloggers at a Chicago Moms Blog event.  You know what I realized?  I need to get out more.  I don't mean the kind of get out of the house activities like grocery shopping or visiting the library.  I'm pretty good at those.  I mean the kind of getting out of the house just to see what's new in the world. 


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Creating Pill Poppers

A few weeks ago we took the girls to the doctor because they were complaining about sore throats.  Given that several friends already had strep throat, we had a pretty good idea about what was going on.  It wasn't a surprise when the doctor diagnosed them with strep and wrote a prescription for antibiotics.

While he was deciding what to prescribe, he looked at me and said, "They don't swallow pills yet, do they?" 

I hadn't thought about whether they were old enough to start swallowing small pills yet until he asked.  The only pills they take regularly are vitamins, and those are chewable.  I have to say I like the idea that they can start taking pills instead of liquid medicines -- better dosage control, more portable, etc.  I just never thought about how old someone should be to try swallowing pills.

The decision to see if they could swallow a pill whole wasn't something we discussed.  It just happened.  We bought a vitamin supplement that wasn't chewable.  It's tiny, so it seemed like a good time to try it.

We gave them the vitamins and explained how to swallow a tablet.  The brunette twin popped it in her mouth, drank some milk and swallowed the pill.  It was quick and easy.  She was very, very excited to be able to do it.

The blond twin was another story, as expected.  She giggled a bit before putting the pill into her mouth.  She sat for a second with a big smile on her face before trying to drink some milk.  She couldn't put any milk in her mouth because she wouldn't stop smiling.  She finally put about a tablespoon of milk in her mouth and swallowed.  Not surprisingly, she didn't swallow the tablet.  She tried again and again, but never did swallow the vitamin.  Eventually she just crunched it. 

We tried again a few days later, without any success.  We're a week into the "teach the girls to swallow pills" experiment.  The problem is she loves the attention.  She likes it when we all try to "help" her swallow the tablet.  The last time I just walked away after giving her the vitamin.  I thought if I left, she would get it down since she wouldn't get any attention from me.  I was wrong.  It turns out she's doesn't need me.  She has her sister.

The two of them have this big production now.  It's a funny mix of giggling, talking, cheering, spilling milk/juice/water down the front of the blond twin's shirt, and making faces.  It's like a big game for them now.

Someday the blond twin will swallow the vitamin and it will be all over.  I just hope that day comes soon.  I'm starting to think we'll run out of vitamins before the girls stop looking at this as a form of entertainment.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Did You Say?

The girls said the most horrible thing that you can ever say in our family.  I felt the blood drain from my face when they said it.  I couldn't believe it.

When they asked what I wanted to watch last night, I said, "The Blackhawks are playing."  Their response?  "Not boring hockey again."

Wait, I'll be back in a minute.  Even typing those words makes me lightheaded.  I need to rest...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kindergarten Body Issues

Our girls are fraternal, so they have always been different.  One has brown hair and green eyes; her sister has blond hair and blue eyes.  Until recently, they have always been pretty close in size. 

The brunette twin is starting to outpace her sister a bit.  She's in the 95% for height and the 90% for weight.  The blond twin sits at 90% for height and 70% for weight.  It's really obvious now that the brunette twin is bigger than her sister.

This is causing problems for them and me.  People have started referring to the brunette twin as "the bigger twin" or "the heavier sister."  It's always done nicely as a way to differentiate between them, but it's starting to be a problem.

Each time I hear something like this, I cringe and want to push back.  Sometimes I do push back because I don't want her to grow up thinking there is something wrong with her.  Let's face it, she'll end up with body issues on her own.  She doesn't need help from strangers, friends and family telling her she's bigger than her sister.

The reality is she's perfectly fine and normal.  In fact, the doctor told me both girls could gain a little weight.  She smiled and said, "You know I don't say that to too many parents these days." 

The brunette twin hears these things and she asks questions.  She doesn't like it that she's the bigger twin.  She is already worried about being fat.  She worries that other kids don't think she's pretty.  She worries because she is so much taller than most of her class.  She has new concerns every day. 

It just breaks my heart.  This child is so pretty.  She has long, brown hair down her back.  She has a charming smile and sweet personality.  Whenever there are a group of kids, the little boys always follow her.  When we went to a wedding last year, she had all three little boys waiting for a turn to dance with her -- and there were several other little girls, including her sister, at the reception.  Yet, she worries about all the issues I didn't think would be on her mind yet.

I always knew the girls would have their own body issues some day.  After all, what female doesn't?  I just wish I could put it off.  I want to maintain her innocence on these things just a while longer.  She'll have a lifetime to struggle with her body image.  I just wish it wouldn't start in kindergarten. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mom, I Love You Means They Worked It Out

Like most siblings, the girls fight about a lot of little things.  One of them does something to get on the other's nerves -- usually on purpose -- and the other one objects.   

I will say that most of the time they work it out themselves.  One of the things I say a lot is this:  "You two are sisters.  It is your job to take care of each other.  There are a lot of mean people in the world.  You have to be nice to each other."  They have heard this a lot, so they do try to work out their problems.   

If they cannot work it out, one of them says, "Fine.  I'm telling Mom."

She starts to tell on her sister, but it's a really just a threat to get her sister to give in.  Instead of telling me what the problem is, I hear this, "MOM (in an angry voice)."  Then there is a pause.  It's like the threat of getting her sister in trouble just hangs in the air while the other sister decides what to do.

I'll say, "What?"  Usually at this point the other twin finds a way to avoid getting in trouble.  The response, suddenly all full of sweetness is, "Mom, I love you."

Then the two of them go off together to play until the next incident.  I have to admit that I do wonder what the problem was and what the offending sister did to get herself out of trouble.  I'm sure whatever the offending sister did to stay out of trouble was just a different form of punishment like playing her sister's game or allowing her sister to play with a favorite babydoll.

Friday, April 2, 2010

It's Not Perfect, But It's Well-funded

An acquaintance announced that they put their house up for sale. The sole reason was that they wanted to put their "naturally smart" kindergarten daughter into a "better" school district by fall. When I asked her what she wanted in the new school district, the list was long. She wanted foreign language starting in first grade, expanded art and music options in earlier grades, and more parental involvement.

I admit I was taken in by her version of school utopia. For me, it struck at a basic parental fear. Were we doing enough to give our children a solid educational foundation? Even though I'm mostly happy with our school district, I panicked and wondered if we shouldn't be looking for a new school district. I did a little research on neighboring school districts. I looked at what those districts offered in comparison to ours. I tried to figure out what made her think those districts were "better" than ours. Then the evening news came on.

In Illinois, school districts face a financial crisis. You can hardly turn on or read the news without hearing about drastic cuts in teachers, programs and services. It's not likely to get better any time soon given Illinois' terrible school funding formula. The school you adore today could be the next one in line for drastic cuts. This isn't a one or two year problem. It's a long term reality check.

My friends in pricey suburbs are panicking about what the school cuts will do to their property values. They worry about how these cuts will harm their children's college test scores. They worry about how much their taxes will have to go up to cover basic school budget needs.

This is one area I know our district shines. We have a $1 million surplus for this fiscal year. While other school districts are closing buildings, we're taking bids to put an addition on one of ours. Our test scores are very good, and the district is working to add programs. We have an administration that isn't afraid to try out new programs to see if there is a way to improve our children's education. We're not worried about a fiscal crisis in the district any time soon. We're in a good position to ride out the financial storm without damaging our children's educations.

I have to wonder if part of the problem is that our expectations are out of line. Do we ask too much of our public schools?. It would be nice if every school taught a foreign language from the day children enter the doors, but is that the responsibility of a public school? Is it the public schools' job to teach all children a musical instrument from an early age?

I think the public school needs to provide an age and skill-level appropriate, comprehensive education for all children. If parents want their children to learn something not on the curriculum, they are more than welcome to investigate private lessons. Let's face it. If the school district offered flute lessons to all children, then some parents are going to want their children to learn the oboe or violin or drums. I don't think any public school, at any budget level, can meet every parent's expectation -- nor should it try.

Once I took a little time to think about it, I realized we're in a good place and we'll stay here. We don't live in one of the brand name suburbs where people long to live. We're in a solidly middle-class suburb with very good schools, a new library and a good park district. Somehow I think our daughters will be fine, even if they aren't taking flute lessons in first grade.

This was originally posted on the Chicago Moms Blog.