Friday, August 31, 2012

I'm Bringing Dreamy Back

One of the birthday presents the girls received was a Tiger Beat magazine. My first thought was "that is still around?" My second thought, after the giggling and squealing stopped, was "they are officially tweens."

You know all about tweens. It's that magical age between little girl and teenager when boys are cute and things are still innocent. The girls are firmly there.

They talk about their favorite boy bands and singers constantly. They are "crushing" on different boys all the time. They discuss clothes and cute hair and fun nails.

Whenever I mention a specific boy band or singer to their Daddy or Gramma I roll my eyes up and say, "He's so dreamy, isn't he?" One of the girls will giggle and explain why he's dreamy.

The other day we were talking about boy bands and the blond twin said, "I think Cody Simpson is more dreamy than any of those guys." Since then both girls have used dreamy to describe cute boys in their class and on TV.

I have to say I'm pretty proud of myself. Without much effort I worked dreamy into their vocabulary. Of course, if they know I think it's cute when they say it they will stop so it's our secret, right?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Her Personal Fast Track Math Tutor

Last year both girls were in the Fast Track Math class. This is an advanced math class based upon test scores. There were two sections last year, but only one this year. The brunette twin made it. The blond twin did not.

It's not that she doesn't know it. Today she sat at the breakfast bar and explained to her twin how to do her Fast Track Math homework. She went into great detail about how to figure out the answer and then helped her sister figure each answer. Of the 25+ problems, the two of them only had one wrong answer.

We always tell the blond twin to slow down. She works harder at being done first then getting all the answers right. There's no doubt in my mind that if she took her time on the last standardized test she would be in Fast Track Math with her twin. She only missed the cut by 4 or 5 points.

Instead, I'm encouraging the girls to work together on the brunette twin's Fast Track Math homework. It helps the brunette twin build her confidence and it helps the blond twin sharpen her math skills. My secret motive is that when the blond twin does the work with her twin, she gains the same information she would if she was in the class. It's not a great plan, but sometimes you just have to work with what's available to make sure your children get the education they need.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Weekend in St. Louis

We ended our summer with a long weekend in St. Louis visiting Aunt Mary (aka Daddy's sister) and Uncle Terry. Our niece Maddie was coming to visit her Gramma and Grampa (aka Aunt Mary and Uncle Terry) so we timed our trip to visit Maddie.

We took Amtrak down which was a treat. It was nice not to drive. We did a lot of driving this summer and weren't looking forward to two long drives for a long weekend. Our girls were able to play their games as the train had electrical outlets by each seat. They liked being able to get up and walk through the train cars.

In St. Louis we stayed near Forest Park. I didn't know this treasure was there before this trip, but I can tell you we will be back. There are several museums and each one is free. We strolled the beautiful St. Louis Zoo and the Art Museum. We walked around the Great Basin and through a lovely garden. it was a fun and free day.

The next day we went to the Missouri Botanical Garden to see the Lantern Festival. This was one of those times I was really glad I didn't visit the website to see what the Lantern Festival was about. The lanterns were large-scale events, not small decorations. Each one was more spectaular than the last. Some of them moved. Others blew smoke. Sometimes the lights flickered. It was all magical.

On our final day we went to the St. Louis Science Museum. The girls participated in a demonstration about gravity that ended up with a water balloon falling three stories.

St. Louis was so much fun. It's nice to be in a city where everything is close and inexpensive. Having Aunt Mary and Uncle Terry -- and sometimes Maddie -- makes it an even better weekend trip. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Places My Grandparents Never Dreamed of Going

If there's one thing I'm aware of it's how different my access is to the world than what my Grandparents experienced. We were raised to believe we could go anywhere and do anything. You can adapt that however you want, but our only boundaries were set by our personalities.

I thought about this a lot this week. On Monday I attended the opening night of the Chicago Dancing Festival. I wore a big, sparkly leaf pin that attracted a lot of attention. When I told my friend that I wore it in memory of my Grandmother who would have loved to have attended a show like this my friend completely understood.

Our grandparents were the poor or middle class immigrants (or first generation Americans) you read about in history books. Even if they had the money, it would never have occurred to them that they could or should go to a dance performance. It was just their mindset that live performances were for rich, fancy people.

Yet, there I was last night sitting in the audience watching the final performance of the Chicago Dancing Festival. It was an amazing night that started with the founders' introduction. When they said that the arts should be free for everyone it hit me that times really had changed. In the audience were people from all walks of life and all income levels. The person sitting behind us could hardly speak English, but he clapped wildly after each performance.

Our girls sat with their eyes wide open the entire evening. When the After School Matters students finished their performance the blond twin said, "This is awesome." Throughout the evening the girls leaned over to ask questions and I never once thought of telling them to be quiet. They politely whispered their questions and we answered their questions. Once they understood the answer they went back to staring wide-eyed at the stage.

If there's one reason I like living in the Chicago area it is that there are so many free opportunities to expose our children to the arts. We take advantage of as many as possible to ensure they have a well-rounded view of what's available to enjoy. We know they won't like all of it, but their decisions will be made from a place of knowledge. One thing I know they won't do is live with the idea that they cannot or should not go somewhere or do something. While it was ingrained in my Grandmother's generation that live performances were for rich people in fancy dresses, events like the Chicago Dancing Festival ensure the arts are available to everyone. We are quite grateful to everyone -- sponsors, performers, volunteers, staff -- who make events like the Chicago Dancing Festival happen.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Handwriting Comparison Goes Badly for Mom

In our school district third graders learn script handwriting.They are so excited to be learning cursive writing so they can write like grown-ups.

My handwriting is bad. I can give lots of excuses, but the reality is I grew up in a time when left hand children were forced to learn how to write with their right hands. My Mom insisted they teach me to use my left hand since I was naturally left hand dominant. So, you had a bunch of teachers who could only teach right hand students teaching me to write with my left hand. The results are hardly pretty.

After practicing in some workbooks and just a few days of practice in class their handwriting is already better than mine. Their loops are lovely. Their spacing is good. It's shaky at times, of course, since they are just learning.

Me? I've given up trying to improve my handwriting. It's only a matter of time before the girls realize their handwriting is nicer than mine. I'm sure I'll never hear the end of that development.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Homework Nightmare Comes True

When the girls decided to separate this school year we agreed. We always talked about third grade as the time they would start wanting their own space.

We talked to the girls about what separating really meant. I wouldn't be able to volunteer as room mom since the parties for every grade are held on the same date at the same time. I wouldn't be able to chaperon each girl's field trips for the same reason. From now on I'd switch between classrooms to spend time with each one. They understood and were fine with this.

Yesterday my real separate classroom nightmare came true. The blond twin's teacher said she gives some homework based upon classroom differentiation. The brunette twin's teacher said she doesn't give homework very often.


This means that every night the blond twin will have homework while the brunette twin will have playtime. At least the brunette twin thinks she will have playtime. If the blond twin has a general math or reading assignment, I'll copy it and give it to the brunette twin. Otherwise she'll do pages from a workbook. There's no way the blond twin is going to do homework while the brunette twin plays.

In our school district the rule is students should have five minutes of homework for each grade level, so for third grade we're talking about 15 minutes of homework. I realize it won't change her academic career not to have any homework, but it will change her mindset and create resentment with her sister. There are times when I say "You're not the same girl so you won't always do/like/want the same things."  This isn't one of them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Third Grade Day One

The past few days have been spent getting ready for school to start. You'd think it wouldn't be that hard, but there was a lot of organizing. The girls used their backpacks during summer camp so we had all kinds of stuff in those. We went through lots and lots of shoes to make sure the few we left out for school actually fit. We won't even talk about sorting through the clothing -- again.

This morning the girls were nervous. They really wanted to be in separate classes, but the reality hit today. They were nervous about who would be in their classes. They were nervous about whether or not they would like their teachers. They were nervous to see friends they hadn't seen since the end of second grade.

As we walked to the school, I looked at the smaller kids and thought, "Wow, were the girls that small last year?" The second graders really seemed small compard to our girls.

I met each of their teachers and made a point of telling them the girls were twins who were in separate classrooms for the first time this year. The girls talked to old friends and introduced themselves to new classmates. They walked through the doors and into their own classrooms as Daddy and I walked Oreo away from the school.

After school the girls couldn't stop talking about their classrooms and their teachers. They talked about the classroom rules. They compared and contrasted their days. It was fun to hear, although we asked some questions twice. It was hard for Mommy and Daddy to keep track of what was going on in which classroom.

Third grade has begun. If a great first day is any indication, this will be a good year for the girls.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Snapshots from Lake Geneva

The girls and I spent a wonderful week in Lake Geneva with my Mom. When our friends asked if we wanted to stay at their house, I said yes. Daddy couldn't join us as he had to work. I knew that was a possibility, so I asked Mom to come with us.

It was a fun week for all of us. The girls spent a lot of time with Grammie learning how to play 31. She told them that she used to play when she was a little girl, so they wanted to learn immediately. It turns out they can be card sharks. Both girls did their best to beat us once they figured out the how to win.

Mom spent most of her time on the deck overlooking Lake Como. She watched the neighborhood activities, enjoying the comings and goings of the residents and visitors. She played with the girls, talked to Oreo and read her book. We went on a boat tour of Geneva Lake to admire the summer mansions. It was a nice change of pace for Mom.

We had visitors several times during the week. Friends and their children joined us for an afternoon of swimming and playing in the sand.

Since the Olympics were on I let the girls watch TV more than usual. They sat with Grammie talking about the different teams and countries. They discussed the possibilities of each athlete winning a medal. They talked about the different sports like seasoned television reporters. It was fun to watch.

After a busy week we went back home. Mom gushed about how much she enjoy the week. The girls have lots of fun memories with Grammie. It was a big success for everyone.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's Okay to Have Fun with Your Children

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms

For our girls’ birthday we took them and two friends to see Big Time Rush last weekend. Rachel Crow opened the show and Cody Simpson did a set. The shrieking grew from happy clapping to a full out need for earplugs between the time Rachel left the stage and Big Time Rush took the stage.

You know what I learned? I like pop music. This isn’t really news to anyone who knows me, but I really did enjoy the show. It was fun to dance like a kid and with the kids. It was fun to watch our girls and their friends experience their first big concert.

You know what else I learned? It turns out there’s a subculture of parents who believe the only acceptable reason to attend something like a concert with your kids is to give you a reason to complain. If you can complain in front of your child there seem to be bonus points for making him/her feel badly. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, but I hope it will be the last. I’m tired of complaining as a competitive parenting sport. I’m tired of hearing how your kid’s baseball league ruins your summer. I don’t want to hear about how much you hated Disney. There’s no reason to be a martyr about everything. Remember, you chose to have a child. If you didn’t want to do anything with your child, why did you have him or her?

It’s to the point that I change the topic as soon as the complaining starts – when I’m feeling polite that is. Other times I say something like, “If you hate baseball so much why did you let him sign up?” The parent always talks about how it is good for her child and how much her child love it. Well, isn’t that a reason to tolerate it? You don’t ever have to love it, but maybe you can find a way to tolerate it and stop complaining?

I do realize spending time with your children is taking you away from you oh-so-important reality show, but how about enjoying the reality show that is your life? As the days fly by I realize there are things I won’t get to do because I’m doing something with our girls. Still, I realize this time is precious. They won’t ever go to a first concert again. I knew what I was getting in to so I embraced the experience. The joy on their faces made me happier than anything else I could have been doing at that moment. Why ruin it by spending my time complaining?

Most importantly, how do I convince other parents to embrace the experience and stop complaining?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Big Time Success

When we handed the girls their early birthday present they opened the package and said, "What's this?" They hadn't been to a live concert before so they didn't understand why there were holding five tickets to see Rachel Crow, Cody Simpson and Big Time Rush. The brunette twin said, "This is our birthday present?" Their two friends -- Morgan and Brynn -- were slightly more excited, but it was a tepid reaction overall. It was the reaction I expected from girls who didn't realize they were going to see the bands live.

As we drove their questions started. Is this a movie, like when we went to see Justin Bieber in Never Say Never? Are these guys going to be actors (like when we see a play) or will it be the real guys? What are they going to do? How long will it be? Can we play when we get home?

When we arrived at the stadium it was a mess. A storm rolled through a few hours before and the stadium lost power about two hours before we arrived. Even though the power outage only lasted about 20 minutes, the stadium management sent the staff home. When we arrived it was chaotic. The staff was arriving as the concert goers arrived. No one was quite sure what was going on.

By the time the concert started an hour late, the girls were trying to make the best of the delay. We were in our seats and ready when Rachel Crow came out. The girls weren't sure who she was until she sang her hit Mean Girls. Then they were excited to see her.

Cody Simpson just about took the blond twin out of her mind. Turns out she has a big time crush on the Australian star. She giggled and sang and danced the whole time. At one point she just stared at him with a big smile.

Big Time Rush was the headline band. The girls stood on their seats singing, danging and giggling. When the guys came out into the audience I thought they all might faint. They reached a pitch I didn't know possible. The brunette twin hugged me and said, "This is the best birthday present ever." The blond twin said, "Oh Mom thank you so much. This is so fun."

At one point the brunette twin tried to talk to me. I couldn't hear her over the crowd so I moved to her. She said, "This is why Dad was talking about a concert isn't it?" She remembered a few days earlier when Daddy almost slipped and told them about the concert. He covered nicely, but she remembered.  At the time she was confused. Now she thought it was funny.

On the way home the girls couldn't stop talking and giggling. They talked about what the guys did. They talked about their favorite moments. They talked about how much fun it was. They talked about how they couldn't hear anything, but they still kept talking.

I wasn't sure we could pull off a surprise birthday party and concert, but we did. It was a great time for everyone, including me. Now all we have to do is follow-up next year.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Odd Couple in Our House

Since the girls took apart their bunk bed, we decided we're not going to put it back together -- despite the fact that they woke up the next day with renovators' regret. The blond twin has been asking for her own room for months now. She brings it up about once a week. Since they took apart the bunk bed, we decided it was a good time for a trial run.

They sleep in a large room we created from two small rooms. We kept the windows and closets, but removed the center wall and closed up a door. To give them each their new space we put the dressers in the middle to form a divider. Their beds are on the far side walls. Their spaces are further defined by the curtains and matching rugs they previously chose. Now the blond twin lives on her side with her blue curtains and shag rug. The brunette twin resides in green splendor on the other side of the dresser wall. They are happy girls.

When they spent the night at Uncle Dave and Aunt Sue-Sue's I stood in their room admiring their decorating. I also noticed one very big difference between their rooms. The blond twin had everything in order. Her bed was made. Her dresser had everything lined up neatly against the mirror. Her dolls and stuffed animals were lined up neatly at the foot of her bed. Then I looked at the brunette twin's room. Her unmade bed had dolls and critters all over. There was stuff in a pile at the foot of a dresser. She had a bag of dolls clothes between her bookcase and her closet.

All I kept thinking about was the show the Odd Couple. Remember it? Two middle age men were roommates. One was orderly and neat. The other was messy. A lightbulb went off in my head. The reason the blond twin wanted her own room so badly was she wanted her stuff to be neat and orderly. The mess we saw every night wasn't so much about their day as it was that the brunette twin doesn't clean up after herself. The blond twin didn't want to clean up after her sister anymore, but she didn't want to say that. No wonder she's so happy now.

So far they seem happy to have their own rooms. In fact they call their space "my room" even though they still technically share a room. The nice part is they can still be together when they want. They pushed the issue by separating their beds and it all seems to be working out well -- for now anyway.