Saturday, December 31, 2011

Peace and Happiness

This has been a miserable year.  It would be too depressing to go through the list of reasons, but we can agree that Marlene's and Dad's deaths would rank as the top two on the list.  All the other things just compounded the sadness and stress. 

I hated 2011 and am quite glad today is New Year's Eve.  I just want to eliminate so many unhappy memories, but I know that's not possible. 

They say that what doesn't kill you is supposed to make you stronger, but I would like to opt out of that concept.  I don't want to get any stronger in 2012. 

What I want for our family, and what I wish for you, is peace and happiness in 2012. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Learning Our Art Preferences

Recently a daily deal site had discount passes for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. My husband emailed and said, "We should go at least once," so I bought passes.

I think we can sum up our visit in the words of the blond twin who said, "It's a bunch of towels with a rope. This is art?"

We try to expose the girls to as much as possible. We figure if you live in the Chicago area, you should take advantage of the opportunities the area provides. I have to admit we all seemed to agree with the blond twin.

There was a really cool exhibit in the foyer called Sonic Arboretum. It featured a collection of horned speakers, creating a sound garden playing an original work designed just for the foyer's acoustics.

What did we learn? I was glad the museum was packed because I like the idea of a modern art museum, even if modern art isn't our taste. Still, I'm glad we went to expose the girls to the concept. It's great to have the opportunity to visit so many different art museums and learn about our personal and family preferences for future outings.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


The blond twin wrote this adorable poem for her sister's Christmas card. 

Just you and me
Just you and me
together forever
I just want to say
Thank you for being there!
Always at school
I think about you
so thank you!
Just us

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Snapshots

Overheard at Our House Christmas Eve
"I made you all presents," announced the blond twin. She wrapped special items from around the house for each of us.  She included a few coins as well.  She wrote lovely poems in each card.  The brunette twin opened her package to find her favorite joke book.  She shrieked like it was the most exciting book ever, even though she's been reading it for a year.

Overheard at Our House Christmas Morning
"See, Santa doesn't listen to parents.  He always gets us what we want," said the brunette twin after opening presents.  For months Mom and Dad said, "No DS games in this house."  Despite that parental stand, Santa brought the DS that she and her sister listed as their number one item in their letters to Santa.

Overheard at Mom's Christmas Afternoon
"Oh, Shari.  It's beautiful," Mom said when she opened her gift from us.  I made a quilt from Dad's shirt sleeves so he could still put his arms around her.  It was the only moment I saw her tear up the whole day. 

Overheard at Our House Christmas Evening
"This is the best Christmas ever," said the blond twin. 

You know what?  She was right.  I was worried it would be sad since both Dad and Marlene died this year, but it wasn't.  We were all together and ready to put the sadness of the past year behind us. I know New Year's Eve is the official time to start fresh, but we did our best to start fresh on Christmas. It was a really nice, relaxing, laughter-filled Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Are You Buying Us Presents?

The girls are nervous.  They pretend not to be, but they are worried.  A few weeks ago they bought us presents from their school's holiday shop.  They excitedly wrapped them and put them under the tree.

Several times since then they've asked, "Are you buying us presents?  There's nothing under the tree with our names.  You have presents.  Aren't we getting anything?"

We just laugh and say, "Santa will bring you presents so we don't have to."

They don't find this funny.

We find it quite entertaining.  First, we didn't plan to start this angst, but it works in our favor.  Whenever they are misbehaving we remind them that they don't have any presents under the tree yet.  Second, they waiver between "of course Mom and Dad are buying us presents aren't they?" and "when are you going to wrap our presents?"  For whatever reason they really have a lingering doubt that we're going to buy them presents.  It's interesting to listen to them try to explain the lack of presents.

Since Christmas is only a few days away, I suppose it's time to wrap their gifts and put them under the tree.  It's time to stop their angst and let them start trying to figure out what is in each box.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Eyes Have It

The girls have been begging for bangs for a while now.  I resisted because I know bangs = ongoing maintenance. 

After months and months and months of reminding me that I promised to think about it, I finally called them into the bathroom.  I took the scissors and cut their bangs. 
They giggled and kept trying to look at their hair while I snipped.  The brunette twin turned her head at just the wrong moment.  I snipped the hair a bit shorter than planned.  The blond twin stood "like a statue" when it was her turn.  Her bangs fell right where I planned.

They were so happy to have bangs they couldn't stop looking at them.  They still walk by the mirror and admire their bangs.  I'm happy that they're happy for now.  Who knew something so little could make them so happy?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Truth be told

Overheard on the way home from piano lessons...

Mom:  "It has been a long week.  I'm glad it's Friday because I'm tired."

Brunette Twin:  "Why are you tired?  It's not like you do anything."

Mom:  "Really?"

Brunette Twin:  "All you do is sit at the computer all the time."

Mom:  "Who cleans?  Who cooks?  Who takes you to school?  Who walks your dog?"

Brunette Twin:  "Dad."

Mom:  "Don't I do any of it?"

Brunette Twin:  "Only when Dad's not around."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Handwriting Lessons

I have what would politely be called messy handwriting.  I could give a long list of reasons from being left-handed to never really caring.  My handwriting is so distinctive that few people need to look at the mailing label to know an envelop is from me.

Imagine my surprise when the blond twin said, "Hey Mom, does this look like your name?"  She had copied my first name from my signature on her assignment notebook.  It was a perfect copy.

I could say I'll clean-up my handwriting so it's not so easy to copy, but odds aren't good that's going to happen at this point.  It's more likely start signing school forms with my first and last name.  Eventually she'll master that too, but at least it will buy me some time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Expert Advice on Managing Your Children's Holiday Gift Expectations

This was originally posted on the Chicago Moms

At the Chicago Moms/Chicagonista holiday party, Editor in Chief Jim Silver pulled up a chair to chat about what was hot for kids this year. He asked what was in our girls’ letter to Santa. I replied, “More than they will get, of course.”

He told me that for every gift-giving occasion, he always has his children write a list for twice as many items as he’s planning to give them. For example, if he’s thinking about buying three things, he’ll ask his children for six ideas.

He said that it was a good life lesson because if you always get half of what you want, you’re doing well.

I thought about it a lot since the party last night. First, Jim had a great idea about the list. I tend to say that they should only put what they really, really want on a list. Something like, “Santa cannot bring you everything because there are so many kids in the world” is usually part of the conversation. After thinking about what Jim said, I think I’ll ask the girls for more. I think that limiting their lists builds their expectations.

Also, because they have so many relatives, the girls tend to get most of what they want. It’s true that they don’t get everything on their lists, but it’s pretty close.

Fom now on we’ll definitely encourage them to put down twice as many items as we think they will get. It will be good for them to learn that not everything on your wish list ends up under the Christmas tree, but if you end up with half it’s a good haul.

Disclosure: I did win a doll during the holiday party. It didn’t have anything to do with Jim’s advice, but I thought I’d disclose it anyway because was a party sponsor.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Missing Three

The girls wear glasses to school.  They have very weak prescriptions, so they don't wear them when they are running around on the playground.  They do have to wear them in class or when they are reading at home.

This morning I said, "Get your glasses.  I want to clean them before you go to school."

The blond twin couldn't find either pair of her glasses.  It was an interesting development since she supposedly wore one pair at school yesterday.  She frantically ran from place to place looking for either pair of glasses.  She prefers the blue frames, but was desperate to find either pair.

The brunette twin handed me her glasses to clean.  She was a little smug because she had her glasses and her twin couldn't find either pair.  The brunette twin put the clean glasses on her face and walked away. 

A few minutes later I said, "Where are your glasses?"  The brunette twin looked at me and said, "I don't know."

Somehow between her trip from the kitchen to the powder room to the dining room, she took off her glasses.  Not only did she put them down, but she didn't remember doing it.  She started looking for her glasses.  A few minutes later she announced, "It's the strangest thing.  I cannot find my glasses."

Yes, she lost her glasses.  No, I don't know why she took them off her face and neither did she. 

We were all looking for any of the missing glasses when the clock chimed.  We had to leave for school.  It was too late to keep looking.

I don't know what they think they are doing after school, but there will be no fun for them until they find their glasses.  In fact, there might not be any fun even if they find their glasses. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Plastic Advantage

I was at a Christmas party last night when I realized I couldn't find my coat check ticket.  I dumped my purse and still couldn't find the little pink ticket.  When I talked to the coat check woman, she said, "Can you identify the coat?"

Sure, it's a long, black wool coat.  I described the collar and buttons.  She still had multiple coats that fit the description.  She asked, "Do you know the brand?"  I had to admit I owned the coat for so long I just didn't remember.

Then I remembered something unusual about my coat.  I said, "I have plastic bags in the pockets."  She said, "What?"  I replied, "We have a dog and I have plastic bags in the pockets." 

She laughed as she went through the pockets of the coats she thought were most likely mine.  She handed me the coat and said, "Well, that's the most unique way to describe a coat."

Score one for plastic bags.

Monday, December 5, 2011

No More Multitasking

I've come the the realization that I cannot multitask anymore.  I realize numerous studies have shown that you're not really more effective when you multitask, but I still continued to try.  If I have to sit on a two hour conference call, shouldn't I be able to answer emails, write blog posts and shop online as well?

The problem is my memory isn't very good when I multitask.  Unless I'm truly focusing on something, I forget that I've done it.  There are lots of examples.  I keep putting the same entry in the checkbook multiple times.  It seems that I put in the entry when we spend the money and when it clears the account.  I cannot count the number of times I've gotten in the van and then gotten out to make sure I've really locked the front door. 

There will still be some multitasking.  I'll make dinner and listen to the girls practice piano for example.  Maybe I'll still answer emails while I'm on conference calls.  It's just that for important things, I need to start concentrating.  I think it's one more sign of my old age catching up with me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Life Without Bars

When we brought Oreo home, he didn't want to go into his crate.  He spent nearly two months locked in a crate in the animal shelter.  The first night we put him in the crate, he tried to break out.  For the first few nights, I would wake up at night from the noise he made trying to get out.

Eventually he settled into his crate.  He dutifully went in every night right after his last bathroom break outside.  He would walk right in the door and into the crate.  When the weather was bad, we'd find him huddled in the crate. 

Lately he has been spending more time in the girls' room after they go to sleep.  He'd stay up there on the rug next to their bunkbed long after they went to sleep.  It's almost as if he thought he'd get to stay there if he was quiet.  Every night we'd call him downstairs and he's sleep in the crate.

Everything changed Thanksgiving week.  Oreo was sick.  The kind of icky dog sick that resulted in lots of messy clean-ups.  One night I awoke to hear him howling in the middle of the night.  He'd never done this before, so I came downstairs.  He was huddled in the corner with a mess in his crate.  I took him outside, cleaned-up the crate and went back to bed.  He slept at the top of the stairs while his crate dried and his blanket was washed.  The next night he went back in the crate.

A couple of nights later I heard him howling again.  I went downstairs to see him trying not to step in the mess.  I took him outside and cleaned the crate again.  He ran upstairs and slept at the top of the stairs.  When I crawled back into bed I told my husband that I just hoped Oreo didn't get sick on the carpet before we woke up.

He didn't get sick on the carpet.  He did run downstairs and get sick in the foyer, a place he'd been sick previously that week.  Since I had seen it enough during the day, I'm pretty sure he was sitting next to the front door when he got sick.  It was his standard place to say, "Um, hey.  Get me outside now!"

The rest of the week he'd run to the corner at the top of the stairs when it was bedtime.  Eventually we decided to let him spend the night there.  We discussed it a lot.  Even though everyone told us we'd eventually be able to get rid of the crate, we were skeptical.  We weren't sure what he would do outside the crate all night.

We also knew that once he was out of the crate, he wouldn't go back.

Turns out he positions himself at the top of the stairs and he stays there until the girls come down in the morning.  Even when Tom wakes up and rushes out the door at 5:30 a.m., Oreo stays put.  He's not going anywhere until the girls wake up.

I have to admit I don't miss having the big metal crate in the living room.  It's in the basement, though, just in case we need it again. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Treading Carefully in New Territory

When we were kids, my cousins all moved to fun locations that made for great vacation memories.  It also meant that when Gramma or Grampa (on either side) needed help, they had to call us.  They weren't able to spread the calls among the family because we were it for little things like mowing the lawn or big things like emergency room visits.  We never just went over for a visit.  There was always an "as long as you are here" list.

Mom hated those lists.  She'd always tell us she was never going to make a list like that.  We laughed because it seemed like a long time before we'd have to deal with the possibility.

Now that Dad is gone, we are keenly aware that we are treading into new territory with her.  It was one thing to offer help when Dad was sick.  He wasn't about to have strangers in his home doing anything.  Thankfully my brothers are quite handy.  There's no way I would have been able to fix the leaky shower in the upstairs bathroom or plow the driveway after the blizzard last year.  Mom was happy to have the help and Dad was happy not to have strangers around.

It all worked well.

Now we're in a new place with Mom.  She needs help.  There's no way she can handle the house all by herself.  The problem is she doesn't want to become my Grams who always had a list when you visited.  Just the other day she said, "I wish you would just come over to visit. I wish I didn't always have to ask for help."

It's important to understand that she wasn't asking me to repaint the house.  She simply needed help getting Christmas decorations down from a cabinet above the fridge.  Even with a ladder she's not tall enough to do it easily.  It's one of the disadvantages of being 4' 10" tall.

We're starting to figure out the system, but not without some growing pains.  Last week I called Mom to say I had a few hours and see if she needed help.  She said she was fine.  A few hours later we make plans to go to a restaurant near her house with friends.  I called back and said, "We'll be down the block about 6:00 p.m.  Do you want us to come over and do anything since we're nearby?"  This time she asked us to stop by and move some empty Christmas decoration boxes upstairs and out of the way.  

What was the difference?  The first call was simply to offer help.  With the second call we were going to be in the neighborhood.  It was a drive-by, not an intentional destination.

At some point we'll find a way to help Mom and let her keep her independence.  It is not easy because every time we help it's another reminder that Dad isn't around to help anymore.  After more than 50 years, Mom is really on her own.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where is that sound coming from?

I was on the phone with my husband when the sound started.  It was a small whine that I couldn't identify at first.  It took a minute to realize it was Oreo.  The problem was I couldn't figure out where he was.

I walked to the front door and he wasn't there.  I was still on the phone as I wandered the first floor looking behind chairs and under the dining room table to see if he was there.  After a few minutes I yelled upstairs to the girls.  They couldn't find him up there either.  It wasn't until I stood in front of the basement door that I solved the mystery. 

I opened the door to see Oreo sitting in the dark on the top stair just whining.  His ears were down as he jumped through the door.  I told my husband that I don't know how he ended up locked in the basement.

A little later that morning, I went downstairs and found lots of dog food on the stairs. When the brunette twin brought up his morning meal, she must have dropped some on the stairs.  My best guess is he went down the stairs to clean-up the mess and ended up behind a closed door.

Oreo has never been fond of the basement.  He will go down a few stairs if we're in the basement, but he doesn't usually wander around by himself.  Somehow I doubt this latest incident will help with that fear.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Fun Results in a Sick Day

"You're punishing us for being sick," was the last thing the blond twin yelled at me before she stomped up the stairs this morning.  I replied, "Nope.  Sick girls don't get to play.  If you stay home from school, you have to spend your time in bed, resting.  It's what sick kids do."

The girls had a very fun Thanksgiving break.  We topped off the long weekend with a trip downtown to see the decorations and have dinner at Macy's Walnut Room.  It was all great until we came home.

Last night the girls just lost their minds.  They were so tired they could hardly get themselves ready for bed.  They complained about headaches and sore throats.  A few fake coughs were thrown in for effect.  I don't think they are sick today as much as they are so overtired they just cannot function.  I let them stay home from school because they both complained about their stomachs hurting.  The girls started saying, "I think I'm going to puke."

I sent them into their beds.  I told them if they were not sleeping then they had to read quietly in bed.  Sick girls don't spend the day playing games or running around.  They rest.

The brunette twin came down to ask for a snack.  She asked for a treat, which caused me to say, "Gee, I don't think that's such a good idea.  I wouldn't want the treat to upset your stomach any more."

Yeah, there's a pretty good part of the day educating them to the idea that if you are sick, your world changes dramatically.  No fun.  No treats.  Nothing but rest and a bland diet.  I'm sure they will be thrilled to find out they are having a bagel with butter and a banana for lunch.  If they are hungry later they can have some yogurt. 

It's not punishment, it's tough love.  If you're sick, you get treated like you're sick.  If you're pretending to be sick so you can stay home, you get treated like you're sick.  If this doesn't make them want to go to school tomorrow, then nothing will. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is the Password?

Our laptop is password protected so the girls cannot log on without our knowledge.  In her quest for more independence, this drives the blond twin crazy.  She has started trying to figure out the password.  It's her mission now.

She comes up with all kinds of possible password combinations that are both funny and intriguing.  Sometimes the words are a glimpse into her attitude.  Other times she gets a little too close and I have to redirect her thinking.

Today Daddy might have put an end to it.  At lunch she made a guess and said, "I think I'll try a few ideas next time I want to log on."  Daddy said, "If you put the wrong password in too many times the computer locks and we cannot use it any more."

He is so smart isn't he?  The blond twin immediately decided to put the password issue aside.  Now instead of trying different combinations in the computer she's trying to catch my off-guard by asking me at random times.  When she thinks I'm distracted she says, "Mom, what did you say the password was?"  So far I've been able to just smile and laugh.  Of course, one day she'll get me at a weak moment and I'll tell her, which means I'll have to change the password and we'll start the game all over again.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fast Forward Please

The holidays are coming and I'm dreading them.  I mean every single activity between now and 2012.  This hasn't been a particularly happy year with Marlene and Dad both passing. 

Marlene's birthday was December 16, which means we'll all be thinking about my brother, her children and her extended family on that date.  She LOVED Christmas and knowing that she won't be here makes it even harder.

Dad always cooked a Fillet Mignon roast with carrots and potatoes on Christmas.  There was a side of smoked sausage, some green beans, a salad and rolls to round out the meal.  This year we're talking about who will make the roast, as if having the same meal makes it the same celebration.  I realize there's a lot to be said for continuing traditions, so we'll make the effort.

If I could tell the truth, though, I'd like to fast forward to 2012. I want to skip all of it and start over on a cold, crisp January day. The kind of day when all good things are possible and everyone feels optimistic.

We're a long way from that now.  We'll do a lot of Christmas stuff like Breakfast with Santa and carolling with the Brownies.  We'll smile for the photos and make sure the girls have a Christmas to remember.  They are filled with wonder and awe.  The magic of Santa still looms large, and who knows how much longer that will last.  No matter how I feel, they still deserve a wonderful Christmas.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

And the winner is...

The girls came home from school just bubbling with excitement.  Their class needed to elect a class representative and alternate for their student council.  They begged us to let them both run.  We signed the forms and returned them.

Yesterday they announced that only three kids were running.  The good news was one of them would win.  The bad news was it was highly possible that only one of them would win.  Walking home from school we talked about what would happen if only one of them was elected.  We discussed different ways to react when one girl's name wasn't called.  The brunette twin cried a little when she realized she might not win.  By the time we got home they had mastered the art of congratulating the winner when it wasn't them.  At least I hoped so.

The girls ran out of school today with big grins.  The blond twin said, "Let's talk about the election when we get across the street."  As soon as we crossed they said, "We both won."  It was a tie, so their teacher flipped a coin.  The blond twin became the representative.  The brunette twin seemed thrilled that she won at all. 

Their friend Marcus wasn't too happy.  They said he cried, but they told us they congratulated him and said, "Good job!"  I doubt that made him feel better, but it did make me feel better.  They really did listen and learn.

Now that the big election is over the girls will attend student council meetings.  They have to take notes and report back to their class.  It's their first opportunity to be student leaders.  They are taking this very seriously, so I hope it lives up to their expectations. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes

One of the nicest things about blogging is I'm offered opportunities to review different books.  When I received an opportunity to review "The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes" by Gary Rubinstein, I jumped at it. 

If there is one thing our girls need to learn it is that making a mistake is not the end of the world.  They take every error as a personal failing.  It is as if a small mistake shakes them to their core.  My hope was they would read the book and take the lesson that mistakes are a part of life.  Everyone makes mistakes, and it's okay.

When the book arrived, the girls grabbed it and ran off.  Of course, part of the deal for receiving a review copy is that I'm supposed to blog about the book.  This is where the problem began.  You see, somehow, someway, the book disappeared.  I looked for it so many times that I was beginning to think I had imagined the book.  A very nice intern at the book publishing company sent a gentle reminder asking when the blog review would be posted.  Several weeks passed and I still couldn't find the book, so I broke down and asked the girls where the book was hiding.

The brunette twin said, "I don't know where it is, but I read it and it was really good.  There was a girl named Beatrice who never made a mistake.  She did everything right.  It was like she didn't know how to make a mistake.  Then she took her hamster out and her hamster really liked salt.  Beatrice didn't realize that she brought her hamster pepper instead.  It was her first mistake and it was in front of a lot of people.  She realized it was okay to make a mistake and laughed."

I was pretty impressed with her recall of the details.  I said, "So, what was the point of the book?"  The brunette twin said, "Don't get upset when you make mistakes.  Everyone makes them."

Now, since I cannot find the book, I'm not sure she got it all right, but she did get the main point.  Any book that makes that much of an impression after one reading must be worth reading.  If only I could find the book and read it for myself.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Prayer Blankets

Our church creates prayer blankets for people who are facing a challenge.  It could be something like grieving after the death of a loved one or like recovering from surgery.  Whatever the challenge, several members gather with two different types of fleece to pray and create the blankets.  The team starts tying the knots and prays over the blankets.  At church the next Sunday the congregation finishes the knots and prays again.  It's a lovely activity for all ages.

Since Dad and Marlene died, the brunette twin has been talking about making prayer blankets for Mom and Steve.  She brought up the topic a few weeks ago and just kept talking about it.  When I said that we were going to the store to buy fabric, the blond twin added that we needed a prayer blanket for my husband's Mom.

The girls looked at every possibility and color combination.  In the end they chose six lovely fabrics to make the blankets.  I told them that if they really wanted to give prayer blankets, they would have to help make them.  We weren't going to drop off the fabric and leave.  

They were so excited to make the blankets.  They told everyone the stories behind the blankets, cut the fabric and helped tie knots.  They giggled when they planned how to give the blankets to everyone.

These are the moments that make all those frustrating moments worthwhile.  Somehow we're raising thoughtful, considerate little girls.  It's something we hoped would happen, so seeing it come to life in them is one of the great joys of my world.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Time is It?

I was sitting at my desk working on a PowerPoint presentation when I glanced at the clock.  I stared for a minute trying to figure out the "what's wrong with this picture" feeling I was having.  Suddenly it hit me.  My calender entry didn't pop up.  The girls school day ended five minutes ago.  I was late to pick-up the girls.

Not having time to walk Oreo up there as I usually do, I grabbed my purse and raced out the door.  Oreo was on his front porch tie-up as I pulled out of the garage.  He ran towards the van, but I was already out of the driveway.  Plus, he's tied-up, so he didn't get very far.

As I was racing towards the school (carefully, of course), my mobile phone rang.  Another mom said, "I have the girls.  Do you need me to put them in the car and bring them home."  I told her what happened and by the time she stopped laughing I was there.

Neither girl was happy with me.  The brunette twin cried because she thought I forgot them.  The blond twin was just mad that I made her sister cry.  She said, "I knew you wouldn't leave us here, but I didn't like coming out of the door and not seeing you."

I switched up their normal after-school routine just to give myself a chance to calm down.  They happily went to play in their bedroom, thrilled that they didn't have to do their homework first.  I started working on a back-up system just in case my work calendar entry doesn't pop-up again.  I knew that sooner or later I'd be late for school pick-up.  I just didn't think it would only be four months into the school year.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Next Time I'll Be Completely Biased

I am in so much trouble with the brunette twin.  They had a costume party at their Brownies meeting.  At the end the moms were asked to clap for each girl to choose the best costume.

It's hard to believe I didn't get this right, but I didn't.  When the girls showed off their costumes, all the moms clapped politely.  No one clapped more for her daughter than for anyone else's daughter.  We thought we were showing how to be on the same team.  Everyone looked great.  No one costume was better than the others.

As soon as we buckled into the minivan, the brunette twin said, "Why didn't you clap louder for us?"  I said, "We all clapped the same for everyone.  You all looked cute."

"We're your babies.  Next time you clap more for us than for the other girls," the brunette twin said angrily.  I mean she was really, really mad at me.  I got that message loud and clear.  I apologized and said I would clap more for them than the others next time.

From this point forward my job is to be their head cheerleader.  I will clap loudly when required and embarrass them by calling out their names when appropriate -- or not.  This is one job I can be really good at with just a little practice.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Relearning Nothing to Do Time

It was about a year ago that Dad started getting really sick.  Since we never knew what Mom and Dad would need and when, we got into the habit of making sure everything was done as quickly as possible.  There wasn't a lot of time to just sit and read the paper on a Sunday because we were running here and there -- either for us or Mom and Dad. 

Now that Dad is gone, we find ourselves trying to re-establish some kind of a normal routine.  This afternoon we found ourselves sitting on the couch reading the newspaper and catching up on a few shows we recorded.  It was the kind of Sunday afternoon that would have been normal a while ago. 

Today I found myself trying to relax.  Every time I settled in, I felt like I should have been doing something.  It was as if I had forgotten how to relax.  I kept waiting for the phone to ring or to remember that there was something I needed to do.  It took a while before I realized I could just do nothing.  It was okay to spend an afternoon just hanging out at home.

It's another step towards our new normal.  The constant worry about Mom and Dad is gone.  It's replacement isn't fitting comfortably yet, but I'll spend more time relaxing on Sundays until it finally fits.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Front Porch Dog

We use a tie-up to put Oreo outside attached to the play set whenever we're working in the yard or just think it's a good day for the dog to be outside.  It's strong enough to keep him in place, and he still has a lot of room to explore. Recently we moved the tie-up to the front porch because the backyard is one big mess from the patio project.

It turns out he LOVES being on the front porch.  It's his personal playground.  The tie-up is long enough that he can wander into the front yard and explore the front garden when the mood strikes.  Other times he just hangs out on the concrete watching all the neighborhood action.  Now, I wouldn't say there's a lot of neighborhood action, but for Oreo, the squirrels, walkers and cars must be fascinating.

He recently started asking to go outside.  Sometimes he sits by the front door and talks to me.  Sometimes when we come back from a walk he'll plop down next to the tie-up.  He won't move until I attach him to the tie-up so he can roam.  Sometimes I'll find him stretched out in front of the screen door.  I'll open the door and try to bring him into the house, but he walks away. 

I've learned to just leave him on the front porch. It keeps him busy for hours on end.  As long as it's not raining, he can spend as much time as he wants on the front porch. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

We've Been Boo-ed

***Orginally posted to the Chicago Moms***

The first time it happened, we didn’t even know we’d been boo-ed. We opened our front door to find an orange, plastic pumpkin with treats and a poem. The second time it happened, the doorbell rang. By the time we opened the front door, the goblins were gone. The treats spilling out of orange, plastic cups sat on our front porch with a ghost and a poem.

Now it’s our turn. We’re going to boo several friends this weekend. I went to You’ve Been Boo-ed to print out the neighborhood version to include with our pumpkins. We have several extra pumpkins from different parties that we can fill with treats. The only argument in our house is who to boo. The poem asks you to boo two other people. Since we’ve been boo-ed twice, we figure we’ll boo four households. Of course, we have six potential families, so we might just boo them all.

Who will you boo? It’s easy and fun to spread a little Halloween fun. Why not join in the fun?

We boo-ed several families last night.  It was very fun for the girls.  They ran up to each house, dropped the treat and rang the doorbell.  At the first house, the brunette twin fell, but she jumped up and ran into the car.  The brunette twin had a scare at her final house when the motion detector lights went on.  She went from sneaking up to the door to standing in the bright lights.  The blond twin couldn't stop giggling when she went to boo her friends.  She was completely out of breath when she slammed the car door.  I only hope it was as fun for the recipients as it was for us.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Privacy Issues

The blond twin recently decided that she wants her privacy.  Not from us or her sister, but from everyone else.  She has started complaining when we tell embarrassing stories or share her grades with other.  Last weekend she expanded it to all medical issues.

The blond twin has bloody noses from time to time.  On Sunday she stayed home from church because she was afraid it would start bleeding again.  It started just before we were supposed to leave and she took the opportunity to stay home with Daddy.  (Ok, maybe she just wanted to stay home with Daddy.  It did cross my mind.)

At church several people asked.  Most of the time I said she wasn't feeling well.  I told a couple of people because I thought they might have some advice for us.  It turns out they did.  When she found out I told them why she stayed home she was MAD.  Really, really mad.  She said, "It's my body and you don't get to tell them what's going on unless I say so."

Did I mention she was mad?  Two more times this week she reminded me that I was not allowed to tell anyone something about her. 

It's an interesting turn of events because both girls have growing concerns about their privacy, but in different ways.  The blond twin doesn't want anyone outside the immediate family to know anything.  The brunette twin has taken to hiding when she changes clothes and shutting the bathroom door as she gains some modesty.  She hasn't said she doesn't want me to tell anyone what is happening with her when she's sick, but I'm sure it's coming. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Worst Ten Minutes of the Day

Each night we make sure the girls' backpacks are ready, clothes are set out and lunches are made.  So why is it so hard to get them out of the house in the morning? 

Some days the problem is obvious.  The girls spill something on their clothes and need to change at the last moment.  The girls cannot get their shoes untied.  The girls have to go to the bathroom at the moment we are supposed to walk out the door.  The girls cannot figure out which fashion scarf to wear with their denim jackets.  You get the picture.

Other mornings run like this morning.  We were five minutes late getting out of the house and I cannot even tell you why.  The backpacks were packed.  Lunches were ready.  The girls were moving at a reasonable pace.  Still, we didn't get out of the house on time.

Now that the weather is getting colder -- and it's soon to be snowier -- we need to push our out-of-the-house time back.  We cannot leave five minutes late and make it to school on time.  Even though there's a 10 minute window during which the girls need to be at school or they are late, I don't like to cut it close.  I'm not interested in finding out whether or not the school's clock syncs with ours.  I want to be there as soon as the school doors open.

Leaving five minutes earlier means adjusting the schedule so we can leave on time. The problem is that no matter how well I plan, there are some things that are out of my control.  The ten minutes it takes us to go from "let's leave" to actually locking the front door will still be the worst ten minutes of the day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I'm Going With

When we first adopted Oreo, he wasn't happy about getting into the mini-van. It was a battle just to get him near the vehicle and getting him in wasn't any easier.

His first long trip in the mini-van didn't go well until we let him sit between the girls' seats.  Since then, he has been a travelling dog.  His seat is now in the back by the window.  Whenever he's in the mini-van, he heads right there.  Sometimes he sits there even after we've come home and gone into the house -- just in case we decide to go someplace else, he's ready.

Now we've gotten to the point that if the mini-van is outside and he sees it, Oreo will not go in the garage.  He sits by the front door wagging his tale as if to say, "Nope.  I'm not going in the garage.  I'm going with."  He's like a child who is afraid he is going to miss something. 

It's really annoying when you are trying to get out of the house and you have to negotiate with the dog to get him into the garage.  It used to be that any treat would send him happily wagging his tail into the garage.  Now treats are just ignored as he sits by the door waiting to go into the mini-van.  Eventually he does go into the garage, but he's not happy about it.

Of course, as with so many things, there is an upside to his wanderlust.  Once in a while Oreo will get out of the house or off his leash.  He doesn't go far.  Usually he runs around the house like it's a racetrack.  We don't chase him as we already know we cannot catch him.  We used to hold a treat and call his name until he ran around enough that he was tired and came back.  Now we just pull out the mini-van and open a door.  He runs right in and plops down on his seat.  Sometimes we drive around the block and come back.  Other times we just drive into the garage and close the door.  Either way he's happy because he got to ride in the mini-van. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Best When?

Overheard at our house...

Blond Twin:  "Did you get this at Best Buy?"

Mom:  "Did we get what at Best Buy?"

Blond Twin:  "The honey."

Mom:  "Why would we buy honey at Best Buy?"

Blond Twin:  "On the back it says best by."

Mom (laughing):  "No baby, that means it tastes best before that date.  It's not buy like you purchase something.  It's by like a due date."

Blond Twin:  "Ohh, that makes sense.  I thought it was funny that you'd buy honey at Best Buy."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Role Reversal

When we rehabbed the family room, we added a surround sound system.  It really spoiled us.  There are a few songs I think sound much better when played a little louder than normal.  A few of them happen to be songs by artists the girls really like. 

Every time I turn up a song, the girls start saying, "Mom, turn it down.  It's too loud!"

Really?  I thought it was my job to tell them the music was too loud.   Knowing that it annoys them when I turn up the music, I often use this as a discpline technique.  When they start fighting, I'll crank up a song until they cannot hear each other anymore.  They stop arguing and yell in unison, "Mom, turn it down.  It's too loud."

There are some benefits to this role reversal after all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Letting People Know

A neighborhood friend, whose daughters play with our girls, stopped by the other day.  She said, "What is going on?  I haven't talked to you in forever."  I went on to tell her about Dad's death and all the other stuff going on.  She said, "What a crappy summer for your family."

She's right of course, but I realized something as I was talking to her.  There's no avoiding what happened.  If I don't get out and tell people, then there's no way to reconnect with everyone.  The girls' closest friends and their families all know.  I told them about Marlene and Dad if for no other reason than I didn't want them to be surprised if the girls mentioned it.

The reality is that I have been trying to avoid it, but it's really not possible.  I recognize now that it's best to tell people on our terms -- when and where we want -- rather than during random conversations.  I had an awkward exchange with another Mom at the grocery store one day.  How's your Dad?  Well, he died.  How's your brother?  Well, his wife and father died within a few months of each other, so not well.  He's doing the best he can.  So sorry, time to get some bananas before dance class.  She was sincere, but let's just say the cereal aisle isn't the place for that kind of update.

A lot of people know something is going on because we've been so out of touch.  Usually we're organizing groups for free concerts or play dates or library events.  We haven't done any of it because we didn't know what was going to happen two or three weeks in advance.  Those days are over, so it's time for me to get back in touch and work through all the conversations so we can all move on. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The End of the Booster Seats

Overheard in the minivan...

Blond Twin:  "Hey!  Mom! Didn't you say that we'd be out of booster seats when we turned eight?"

Mom starts laughing.

Blond Twin:  "We don't need to be in booster seats?"

Mom:  "Nope."

Blond Twin:  "Why are we still in booster seats?"

Mom:  "I was waiting for one of you to remember that you could get out now that you are eight."

Blond Twin:  "Let's get them out of the van today."

Mom:  "Okay.  Remind Daddy when we get home."

Blond Twin:  "Oh yeah.  It will be the first thing I tell him."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making an Effort

After the school tested the girls -- yet again -- to see if they should move into the advanced math class, the principal called.  She said one girl was clearly ready and the other was one point below the required score.  She said one girl would be moved in January when they make the across-the-grade-level adjustments.  I expressed my concern that by January the girls would be so far behind that they wouldn't be able to catch-up.  (Ok, one girl in particular, but I'm assuming that the other girl will test in.)  We talked for a bit about what the school was going to do to keep them challenged until a move was made.  I felt better when I hung up the phone. 

It seemed like we were making progress until I explained it to my husband.  When the words started coming out of my mouth I realized how crazy it all was.  If one twin was ready, then she should be moved now.  What was she going to do until January?  Sit and review stuff she already knew?  This morning I emailed the principal asking why January was the transfer date.  I also asked her what the advanced class was doing now through January.  I told her we'd home school the girls in math until a transfer was made.

To her credit she called me a bit ago.  She said they were going to move up the transfer dates to the end of the first quarter -- about three weeks from now.  One twin would go for certain.  The other twin's transfer depends on her next test score.  

I talked to my husband and we're okay with this.  First, the one twin will be moved up quickly.  Second, once, she's in the program, we'll be able to work with her sister based upon the homework that comes home every day.  They might not both be in -- depending upon the next test -- but that doesn't mean they both won't benefit.

Of course, we're not telling the girls about a possible transfer until it happens.  They said they would be fine being separated, so that's not a concern.  We just don't want to get anyone's hopes up only to have them dashed again. 


Monday, October 3, 2011

Public School Frustrations

I am so frustrated with our local public school that I have a headache.  Our school has an advanced math class that requires certain test scores at four different data points for placement.  Our girls missed placement by less than one point on one of the four data points, and one full point on another data point.  Yes, because they missed one mark by .4 and .8 and another mark by one point, they are not in the advanced class. 

The standard class is dong work the girls mastered in the first semester of first grade.  This class won't be doing the same work the girls were doing at the end of first grade until the end of second grade.  Of course, this didn't sit well with me.  I asked what the school was going to do to differentiate the standard math class since it didn't make sense that children who missed the advanced class by a point or two should do the same math as students who scored in the 70th percentile. 

After speaking with the principal, I learned that more than 20 second grade students are in the same position as the girls.  To me, this says the school needs to work to meet the needs of these students.  To the school, this means they need to "consider options."   The problem, as the principal explained it, is if they start another math level in second grade, it won't carry over to third, fourth or fifth grades.  Of course, I said, "Why not?"  She said it's still in discussions, but it's not really what the math teachers think would be most beneficial.  After our conversation, I realized that the only option that interests me is the option to move them to the advanced math class if they meet the first quarter standard after their next assessment test.  Of course, we could end up in the same position where they miss the advance class by a point -- or by a fraction of a point. 

In other words, we're going to have to home school the girls in math if we want them to advance. 

I understand that public schools are about providing a minimum education to all students, but public schools are leaving behind a whole class of students who are really bright.  In political campaigns and on news shows, we talk about the need to provide our students with more advanced math, but when faced with a cohort of students who need more advanced math, the answer is to simply wait until the next test.

After all, why spend resources on students who already test at the top of the class?  It's more important to focus on the bottom so the overall test scores look good. No matter what educators say, this is the reality of public education today. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banned Books in Our House

The girls are really into chapter books these days.  There are a couple of series they really like, but the blond twin is no longer allowed to read one of their favorites. 

For the past few nights, she has been waking up a lot and crying.  We thought she had outgrown night terrors, but this week they returned in a dramatic way.  The first night she was up we thought she ate too many apples when we went apple-picking.  The second night we thought she might be getting sick.  The third night she finally admitted that she couldn't sleep because of the Goosebumps book she was reading.  When she was little, every scary creature or wicked witch kept her up at night.  We thought she outgrew this since she no longer woke up every time she watched a new movie.  It turns out the night terrors simply adapted to her new interest.  Scary books brought back her night terrors. 

Let's just say it's really, really no fun when she has night terrors.  No one sleeps much and we're all physically and mentally exhausted the next day. 

To prevent this from happening again anytime soon, she is not allowed to read the Goosebumps series.  We explained that she is welcome to read any other chapter book, but since the Goosebumps books keep her up at night she cannot read them.

The brunette twin didn't like this development at all.  She loves the Goosebumps series.  We told her that as long as it didn't keep her up at night she could read the books.  She is not allowed to share them with her sister either by telling her about the story or reading any part of it to her.  If she feels the need to share, she has to talk to Mommy or Daddy where the blond twin cannot hear it.  She agreed to the plan.  As long as she can read her books, she's a happy girl.  Plus, when the blond twin doesn't sleep, the brunette twin doesn't sleep.  And if there's one thing the brunette twin loves as much as her sister it's a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Does Failure Drive Success?

***Originally posted to the Chicago Moms blog***

At our daughters’ elementary school, there is a lot of talk about character education. Schools have latched on to the idea that being a good person is as important as being a smart person. I like the idea because I think anything that helps kids understand that hard-work, personal connections and good character are important for future success builds a solid foundation for a well-lived life. We talk about this at home, and it’s helpful that the school reinforces it.

A recent New York Times article What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? brought all my random thoughts into one nicely packaged story. The article tells the story of two very different high schools and how each principal is looking at using character education as a major component of education reform.

In a nutshell, the principals looked at their most successful students and found that grades don’t correlate to higher education success. We all can relate to this idea. We all knew people in high school who were supposed to change the world and didn’t quite meet expectations. We also know people who seemed above average, but no one predicted their future success.

There were many parts of the article that I really agreed with, but perhaps this statement is the one all parents need to consider: “Cohen and Fierst told me that they also see many Riverdale parents who, while pushing their children to excel, also inadvertently shield them from exactly the kind of experience that can lead to character growth.”

It’s an institutional challenge parents who agree with them — like us — face. When our daughters came home with paper after paper with “fantastic” or “perfect” on them, I asked for more challenging work. The teacher was a bit taken back. She said that most parents would be thrilled their children found school so easy. I explained that if it was so easy that they weren’t getting any questions wrong, they weren’t learning anything. She said she never had a parent with my attitude. She also stepped up the work to challenge them more.

We’re parents who try to shield our daughters from a lot of hardships. They don’t watch the news. They aren’t food insecure. They have a nice, middle-class house in a good school district with plenty of opportunities to participate in programs at the library, park district and school. Still, I do believe that there is something to the idea that they have to build character through struggle. When they struggle to learn a new piano piece, I secretly take pride in their frustrations. I don’t want to tell them that I think it’s good for them to become frustrated, but we do talk about how important it is to keep working on it until they finally figure out the music. When they have to ask me how to pronounce a word or what a word means, I know they are reading a book that challenges them to learn something new.

As the article points out, we have a biological need to protect our children. This hasn’t changed since we had to protect them from wild animals and harsh conditions. Now, though, our instincts to protect our children might just prevent them from creating what the authors describe as a good life that’s not just happy, but also meaningful and fulfilling. It’s a personal and cultural shift that requires all of us to look inside to see how we can balance our need to protect them with the need for them to build character — even if it means they suffer a little once in a while.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Brunette Appreciation Day

We're going to declare brunette appreciation day for all the time she spends keeping her twin occupied.  Really, I know she loves her twin, but keeping her busy is a full-time job.

I remembered this today while we were driving to apple picking.  The brunette twin saw quietly reading a book.  This meant the blond twin was on her own to entertain herself.  There were so many, many things she could have done from draw pictures to read a book.  Of course, she wanted to talk to us.  Since Daddy was driving, this meant I chatted with her.

For more than an hour we jumped from topic to topic to topic to topic.  Her brain moved at a rapid pace and everything she was thinking came straight at me.  I really had to pay attention to keep up with her.  By the time we got to the orchard, my mind was mush.  The girl had worn me down.

On the way home, the blond twin read a book.  When given the option of chatting with Mommy or sitting quietly, the brunette twin decided to sit quietly and relax.  Just one more reason we're going to host Brunette Appreciate Day.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Time is It?

Overheard at our house about 9:35 a.m.

Mom:  "What have you been doing up here?  Move it.  We're going to be late for piano lessons.  I'm tired of being late all the time.  Get moving."

Overheard at our house about 9:40 a.m.

Mom:  "Seriously, what are you doing?  Decide what you are going to wear.  Floss and brush your teeth.  Brush your hair. When you're done in the bathroom, get your music together and in your piano bag."

Overheard at our house about 9:45 a.m.

Mom:  "Girls what do I have to do to get you moving?  Piano lessons start soon.  We need to leave right now.  Are your piano bags ready?"

Blond twin:  "Um, Mom, remember that Miss Anna changed piano lessons so she could sleep in."

Mom:  "Oh, that's right. Piano lessons don't start until 10:30 now.  We're really not late for a change."

Blond Twin:  "Yeah.  We're not late!"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The First Clothing Casualty

This is a great time of the year.  The girls are back in school, with new socks, pants, shirts, etc.  All their drawers are stuffed and their hangers full. 
From this point on it only goes downhill.  Usually it's a shirt that goes first.  Something ends up as a permanent stain in a place we cannot hide.  This year it was a pair of grey pants.

It is hard to understand exactly how the blond twin ended up crying on an asphalt driveway, but there she was on the walk home today.  She managed to skin her knee and rip her pants in one quick movement.  She shrieked and moaned until I finally sat on the ground holding her.  This didn't work to her advantage as I did point out that for all the noise, there were no tears.

She did manage to work it with her sister, of course.  Within moments the brunette twin was carrying her sister's backpack and lunchbox.  A few steps later the blond twin had her arm around her sister with her head on her shoulder.  The blond twin was leaning on her sister as if it was too painful to put her leg on the ground.  Seriously, she was working it.  The blond twin had so little blood on her scrapped knee that it didn't even show up on her light grey pants. 

We had to call Daddy to tell him about the traumatic event that took place.  I tried not to laugh as I talked to him, but I was only partly successful.  We went another block or two before the brunette twin summed up the whole event in a few words, "Well, at least she didn't chip her front teeth." 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The End of All My Children

When I was little, my Gramma Latimer watched stories all afternoon.  I'd sit with her and she'd tell me the storylines of each soap opera.  I didn't watch all of them regularly until college.

It was in college that we'd gather in the common area of our dorm to watch All My Children.  It was such a don't miss appointment that we'd schedule classes around it.  Long before VCRs and DVRs and Soapnet, I lost track of the show when I started working.  Strangely, companies frown upon employees watching TV during lunch breaks. 

I picked up the soap again when I started working from home.  Before the girls, I spent the day by myself working at a computer.  All My Children was entertaining and mindless background noise. 

This week All My Children ends.  It's sad because it's like my last connection with Gramma is gone.  It's time, though, for soap operas to fade to black.  Real life is so much crazier than anything they could get away with on network TV.  Times change. TV tastes change.  My memories of sitting in Gram's living room eating shortbread and watching "stories" stay, whether All My Children is on or not.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Case of the Missing Denim Jackets

This is the perfect weather for a cute denim jacket.  Last year, the girls had two really cute, embroidered denim jackets.  They were just adorable in these jackets.  I'd like to see them in the jackets, but I can't.  Somehow, some way, the jackets went missing this summer.

What?  You don't understand how we can lose two denim jackets in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record?  Well, neither do we.

Once we discovered both jackets were missing, we tore apart the house.  We moved to the minivan and garage.  We started calling people at whose homes we might have left the jackets.  No luck.  Now we're feeling really crazy.  It was so hot we kept the air conditioner running for weeks on end.  There were only a few times we even considered taking a jacket.  Still, the denim jackets are missing in action.

The girls do have other jackets, but those are nearly too small.  The denim jackets should fit perfectly.  If only we could find them they'd be adorable on the girls.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Eight is Great!

Overheard at our house...

Brunette Twin:  "Mom, what does it take to be eight?"

Mom:  "What do you mean?"

Brunette Twin:  "Well, today's our birthday and we're eight.  How do you act eight?"

Mom:  "Just like seven with one extra day."

Happy birthday baby girls! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Inside the Mind of Teens

Our girls aren't teens yet, but they are getting there quickly.  I like to read Vanessa Van Petten's so I can start to understand what's going on with teens today.  Vanessa recently wrote a new book, which adds to her vast collection of teen insight.  She wrote the article below to help people understand what her books explores.  If you have a chance, check out her website and book.  For full disclosure, I didn't receive any money for posting this.  I just wanted to help out a blog pal.


Inside the Mind of Teens by Vanessa Van Petten, creator of and author of the parenting book, “Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?” (

When I was 16 I thought it was my Dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced that he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores or make my curfew earlier.

Our relationship would have continued to devolve until one day I saw my Dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while my Dad was in the bathroom and realized a lot of the things he did that drove me crazy he was getting right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized that they were all written by adults. I wondered—has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?


I decided to build a website where teens could answer questions and write to parents called I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy both teens were to get their voices out and parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids! We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice.

Teenagers, when given a neutral space LOVE talking to parents and often offer some of the best insight because they are going through it themselves. We have also be so excited to help parents who feel like they cannot reach their kids and teens.

I think teens and parents can work together to overcome their differences and learn to work best together. We have just come out with our book: Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded and it is a radical approach to parenting because it is written from the kid’s perspective! We would love for you to check it out—if you are brave enough to see what kids have to say!

What is this book about?
So, you have to forget the old parenting book approach - this book gives parents a totally new way to reach their teenagers because it's the only book that tweens and teens helped write - so we are hearing first-hand advice that actually works! It gets right to the heart of the problems and offers straightforward prescriptive - and effective advice. This is a very different approach to parenting that tackles these modern problems.

What makes this book different?
Before now there has only been resources written from one side of the family equation....the adults. This is the first book that gets both sides talking. What's more, the book goes a step further by using techniques that human lie-dectectors use: What does a teenager's face look like when they are lying? What questions do parents need to ask to get the truth?

You are not a parent, what experience helps you write this book?
Actually me not being a parent is what makes teenagers feel comfortable opening up to me about what they really need from their parents. It allows me to be a translator for what parents need, what teens need and then bringing the two together so they can be on the same side.

You are not a doctor, what experience helps you write this book?
There are already amazing resources out there from doctors and psychologists, we take a very different approach to parenting. We believe that for most families there are really simple miscommunications happening that we just need to decode. With this book, I teach parents what kids really mean when they say, "I don't care" or "Can I have a later curfew." This is advice from teens in the trenches of family life.

Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say:
“Van Petten, founder of the popular Web site, offers parents a candid view of the contemporary teen’s world in this eye-opening text. Van Petten uses actual stories about teens and their often anxious, angry, or befuddled parents to introduce each chapter. Pointing out that she is neither a parent nor a teen (nor a doctor, therapist, or counselor), the college-grad author has nevertheless earnestly investigated her subject and includes current research on teens as well as hundreds of “real quotes, interviews, e-mails and advice from actual teens.” Van Petten explores a variety of timely subjects, including peer relationships, teen/parent communication, bullying, technology, and “risky business” (smoking, drinking, sex, and more). Her outlook on technology and “Internet savvy” is particularly incisive, emphasizing not only the hazards of “time-suck” activities (i.e., Facebook, chatting on IM, and texting) but also the many social and academic benefits of the digital universe. Like a crafty spy, Van Petten comfortably segues from parent to teen perspective, and while noting that each adolescent is unique, she skillfully opens doors to the collective teen psyche. “

Publishers Weekly

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation's youngest experts, or 'youthologists' on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting website,, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her approach has been featured by CNN, Fox News, and Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the housewives with troubled teens. Her next book, "Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I'm Grounded?" is being released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Miniature Advantage

Overheard at our house...

Brunette Twin:  "I cannot wait to go miniature golfing.  Gramma should be good at it.  You know why?"

Mom:  "No, why?"

Brunette Twin:  "Because she's miniature so she should be good at miniature golf."

Both girls start laughing.

For the record, Gramma wasn't so good at miniature golf.  She did a respectable job, but being miniature didn't seem to be an advantage.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Big Birthday Weekend

For at least a month now the girls have obsessed about their birthday.  They demanded I send their aunts and uncles a birthday list about a month ago.  They have been discussing options for their birthday parties daily.  Every day when I walk them to school they talk about their birthday. 

This week we decided it was time to actually plan their birthday parties.  The girls have a friends party and a family party.  This year for their friends party, they decided to have a sleepover.  We told them they could only invite two friends.  I'm sure at some point we'll have ten giggly girls sleeping in their room, but this is our first sleepover, so we're keeping it small.

They have a list of activities they have planned from decorating headbands to eating pizza on the couch while watching a movie.  They planned every part of it.  One friend is sleeping over, but we're still waiting to hear about the other one.  They are still a little young for sleepovers, so if she's not ready we'll have her over for all the stuff except sleeping over.

The family party was a bit harder to plan.  We had a "we're having a party on this date at this time, yet we don't know where" save the date.  Our backyard -- the site of all previous birthday parties -- is still a construction zone.  We held out hope that it would be completed until this week.  We finally decided we needed a new location for the birthday party.  We found a nearby park district facility with batting cages, miniature golf and a party room.  It is now the site of the girls' eighth birthday bash this weekend.

After a few weeks of sadness, this weekend is all about fun.  It's time to lift the fog and start the party. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Earning His Keep

Oreo is fiercely protective of our girls.  He doesn't like anyone or anything near his girls.  He even barks when Mommy or Daddy hug the girls.  Some days this drives me crazy.  I don't need the extra noise as I'm hugging the girls before they go to bed or trying to quickly put on their gloves so we're not late for school.  Last week, I was completely grateful for his protectiveness.

We were walking after his dinner when a stray pit bull ran up to us.  Oreo positioned himself between that dog and the girls.  When the blond twin shifted closer to me, he moved his body to block her.  He growled a low, quiet growl which actually scared me.  I just kept trying to figure out what I was going to do if that dog decided to attack us.  Oreo is too strong for me to control him if he decides to fight. 

There I was with the girls shaking, the dog growling, and my arm hurting as I tried to keep Oreo from lunging.  He really wasn't going anywhere, though, unless one of the girls moved.

Luckily one of the neighbors saw what was happening and tried to grab the stray dog.  It had tags and a leash, so at least I knew it belonged to someone.  He distracted the dog so we could get away by going around the corner.  I kept saying "Thank you" as we walked away.  He just waived his hand as if to say "Get out of here." 

Oreo got a treat when he got home.  I always knew he'd protect the girls form strangers, but I never thought about protecting them from other dogs as part of his job until then.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Moving On

The first few days after Dad's funeral, I was just tired.  I didn't want to talk to anyone or do much of anything.  Of course, that's not really possible, so we jumped back into the girls' school schedule and went back to work. 

Now we're looking at recreating our "new normal."  For nearly a year Dad was in and out of the hospital, so it was hard to make plans much more than a few weeks ahead.  Our planning shortened to a week once Dad went into hospice.

This Labor Day weekend is all about catching up.  There were a lot of things on our to do list this summer that didn't get done for many reasons.  Dad being sick was only one reason.  You add months of record heat followed by record rain and we spent many weekends wishing we could move something -- anything -- off the to do list. 

We got our wish this weekend.  We're painting, cleaning and organizing.  It's not the most fun we can have during a long holiday weekend, but it's a good way to mark the changes -- both in the weather and in our family.

There's something therapeutic about cleaning and organizing that makes me feel like we're making progress.  It's a feeling I plan to keep as I attack the basement -- not today, but maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Funeral Fashion

Overheard at the funeral home just before Dad's service...

Blond twin standing in front of Grampa's casket:  "Gramma, why is Grampa wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday?"

Gramma:  "Well, he didn't get them dirty yesterday, so he wore the same thing."

Blond twin:  "That makes sense.  Plus, he likes the Blackhawks, so why would he change it?"

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Living in Limbo

There's this weird time between when someone dies and when the services are held that is like living in limbo.  In our family the time is a bit longer than normal because we're spread all over the country.  You have to allow people a few days to arrive before anything can move forward.

We've used the time to finalize Dad's wake and funeral, of course.  We've also tried to take care of a few small house projects that have been neglected.  We took care of some errands and did some cleaning. 

The big change to come from this limbo time is Daddy assembled the girls' bunk beds.  Their birthday present went from ready-to-assemble to ready-to-use.  There were a lot of little parts that looked alike to me.  It took him better part of one afternoon and the next morning to make happen, but he stayed focused until we rolled them into bed last night.

The really big news came from the girls' end-of-the-year golf camp bar-b-que.  The brunette twin won first place in the golf skills competition.  She bounced into Gramma's house beaming with her trophy in hand.  When we left yesterday, we forgot the trophy, so we had to go back to get it.  She won't leave it out of her sight for a moment.  She is so thrilled to have a trophy of her own.

Sometimes when we're staining the patio chairs or cleaning the kitchen we can forget that we still have Dad's wake and funeral coming up.  Other times I start crying just because something reminds me of Dad.  It's one of the things that makes this time so difficult.  You can try to make it seem like business as usual, but there's sadness always in the background.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rest in Peace Dad

When I met with Mom and the hospice nurse on Monday, I called to tell both my brothers about the conversation.  She didn't sugar coat how close to death Dad was.  She also didn't make a prediction about when he would pass.  I told them both I hoped it was soon so Dad's suffering would be over.  I know that sounds callous, but it was really hard to watch my strong and independent father struggle for breath.

The call came today just after I brought the girls home from their first day of school.  By the time I arrived, Dad was already gone.  Officially the hospice nurse declared his time of death to be 4:00 p.m.  He was gone.  His suffering was over.

People kept telling me to talk to Dad about whatever was on my mind so I wouldn't have any regrets.  Last Saturday, probably the last really lucid day he had, I leaned over to kiss him goodbye.  I said, "I love you Dad."  He smiled and said, "I love you too Shari.  Kiss my girls for me."

I'm not sure I could have any regrets with that as our last conversation.  Rest in peace Dad.  I love you and miss you.

The First Day of Second Grade

It's so hard to believe the girls are in second grade.  They are so much more mature and confident than I thought they would be at this age.  They walked into the crowd and marched confidently to their class line as soon as they saw their teacher's name. 

The good news is their teacher is also a twin.  She talked to the girls about being a twin.  She talked a bit about how close she and her sister remain to this date.  I really like that she's a twin.  I don't have to explain anything about being a twin to her.  She gets it. 

It took a few minutes, but they faltered a bit.  I stood with them for a while, chatting with their new teacher, greeting children we knew from previous years and talking to other parents.  When I thought they were set, I said, "Is it okay for me to go home?"  Surprisingly, the blond twin grabbed my hand and said, "Please don't go yet." 

Of course I stayed.  They are growing up, but they are still my babies.  I'll stay as long as they want. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Parenting Version of Oversleeping a Final Exam

You know that nightmare college students have about sleeping through a final exam?  I figured out the parenting version of it today.

The girls, Oreo and I walked to their new school.  We walked around the back and talked about how I'd leave them on the playground in the morning and meet them in a specific spot after school.  I'll have Oreo, so I don't want to wander into the crowd.  I'll stand a little to the side.  Given the brunette twin's fear that we're going to leave her somewhere, I wanted to make sure she knew the system and was comfortable.

We were walking back when I saw one of their friends all dressed up for the first day of school with her backpack and a bunch of flowers for her new teacher.  My first thought was "Why is she going to school?  Do they really have school today?  How did I screw up the first day of school? AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!"  My second thought was "Okay, they cannot have school today because there isn't a crossing guard at the corner.  It's only Tuesday and they start school on Wednesday.  I don't see any other kids, so it cannot be the first day of school.  Breath.  Relax.  It's not the first day of school.  Breath.  Relax.  It's okay.  Breath.  Relax." 

Even though I knew it wasn't the first day of school, I felt a momentary panic.  The adrenaline rush stayed until we arrived home and I checked the calender.  I was certain, but I needed that black-n-white confirmation.