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.