Dear retailer: Make the Christmas trees go away!

Dear Retailer:

Today is Halloween, and I have some questions for you. Why are you are putting the Halloween decorations away? I still need some last-minute decorations and a flash light for my kids for tonight. Where did the candy go?

Why do I hear Christmas music and why, oh, why have the Christmas decorations already gone up? How do I explain to my kids that Christmas is still two months away? Do I really need red, green, gold and silver in may face for the next eight weeks?

What about Thanksgiving and enjoying fall? I will buy more if you put the decorations out closer to Christmas. Then I’m in the holiday mood and ready to spend. No one needs that much commercial Christmas. Putting the decorations out now just pisses me off and keeps me out of your store. I think I'll shop online instead.

A former, and now turned online, holiday shopper

Terror to my preschooler: The Gingerman's Buttons

This was the year I had anticipated the nightmares to begin. This was the year I was sure my kids might be scared of Halloween and all its gruesomeness. But my kids seem to be almost delighted at a scare or two. As soon as we pull up to Target, Anna insists that we go to the back section with the Halloween stuff (Ok, today it’s Christmas stuff) and “see the ‘cary guy.” (The scary guy is a moving man that plays peek-a-boo out of a cardboard haunted house.) She loves it and will just stand there forever pretending to be afraid and then wanting to see it all over again. She’s going to be the child who loves the rollercoaster rides.

At Cox Farms, she was so excited about the “whaa ha ha” noise that welcomed you to its version of a haunted barn—with just enough scariness and fun music. Both my kids thought the prospect of a little haunting was fun.

So here it is Halloween. We have endured six weeks of orange and black, tempting candy in the grocery stores, haunting masks at the mall, and creepy neighbors’ decorations. What terrified my kids most? Shrek and the Gingerbread man’s buttons.

That’s right. On Monday night we attended Reston’s Halloween walk through the nearby nature trail. It was geared totally for preschoolers, complete with bean bag toss, cake walk, tubs full of corn kernels and showings of old Scooby Doo. The Halloween walk, while very, very dark, was lively and fun. There were various skits by volunteers including a troll, an owl, fairies, talking tree, a litterbug, a bat and yes, Shrek. I wasn’t able to see the Shrek skit but there must have been some discussion about the Gingerbread Man losing his buttons. I recall this was part of one of the movies. Both my kids were most upset by this, Alex more than Anna. He wanted me to hold his hand after that and declared the Nature Walk a bust because this scene upset him. Please tell me what I'm missing here?

Afraid of witches, goblins and ghosts? No, my kid is afraid of the Gingerbread Man!


My little art gallery

When my oldest brought home his first piece of “artwork,” I was elated. It actually came as part of a goodbye packet when he finished his Montessori school in Sweden. Bound together with staples, were all his colorful drawings, paintings and assorted creations. I distributed and immediately sent to the grandparents.

Over the past couple of years, various pieces of artwork have come home from school and been hung on the refrigerator, in my husband’s office, at grandma’s house or down in the playroom. But this year’s school is different. They highly encourage artwork with supplies that would normally make a mess in my house. I am so excited that my kids can get their finger painting, glittering and gluing done at school.

Since my kids started their new school, each day both children come home with no fewer than six masterpieces between them both. I have used some for filler when packing boxes, some are hung on the frig, some were used as wrapping paper and most, quite sadly are “filed” away into our special artwork receptacle (aka the trashcan). It’s not that I’m trying to be mean or kill trees, and I certainly don’t fault the teachers. (Thank God they are doing the crafting at school.) But really, what am I to do with 24 painted, colored, or glued-on paper plates? Or even three to four 11.x 17 sheets of painted paper that end up in Anna’s school bag? That’s a lot of art work for my tiny little art museum.

Any suggestions on what to do with hundreds of art created by my little children’s hands? I do save the special ones and the ones that show progress to another step, but am I fool to throw them out?


Discovering the wonder of Legos

My children were never really into toys. From a young age Alex preferred making his own trouble *ahem* I mean, fun. Anna has always been good about improvising things to play with and amusing herself now and then or even letting me play with her.

A few weeks back while doing some organizing of my son’s closet, I came across a old box of Legos (from when I used to teach religious education if you can believe that). We’re not talking Duplos here, these are the “big kid” Legos—the ones that make the biggest mess on the floor and that you find scattered in every room in your house. Swell.

One morning while I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, my kids found their way upstairs to play. After the dishes were done and the house was picked up, I noticed an eerie silence. I dashed upstairs afraid of what I might find. To my surprise, both kids were sitting on the floor working together to make a Lego building. I tiptoed back downstairs so I wouldn’t interrupt the play.

Not only were they playing together, but they were doing it quietly, without killing each other and it was, quite literally, constructive play (okay, pun intended). This occurs now almost daily for a good half hour to 45 minutes. And Alex will insist some mornings that we shouldn’t go outside to play, but stay in to play Legos.

To the mom of a son who never really enjoyed toys, this is a welcome change and a bit of a relief. Cheers to the Danes and their Lego invention!


No bad weather: Only bad clothing

Americans are giant wusses when it comes to weather. My family was all set for the Halloween Trail this evening, an event geared totally for preschool-age children. Tragically, I received an email telling me the event was canceled due to rain. This was frustrating, as it's being held approximately half a mile from my house. I look outside—no rain. And even if there were a little rain, which we’ve seen on and off this morning causing no one any real discomfort, would my kids really care about the rain? Uh, no.

How is it that a country full of such adventurous people can be so put off by weather? Schools close if there is even an inkling of snow. Entire airports close due to light snowfall or the chance of thunderstorms. Playgrounds are vacant until any sign of wetness has evaporated from the premises or if the temperature falls below 50 or goes above 80 degrees.

Do people in other countries do this? Nope. Do you think in Russia the airport closes because there might be snow? Those pilots seem OK with flying through it. In India, do children stop playing outside because it’s 120 degrees? In Sweden (where you’re lucky to get sunlight in the wintertime) are children discouraged from playing outside because it’s wet or cold or snowy?

I find it so interesting other cultures around the world better adapt to seasons changing by the food they eat, the activities they participate in, and the clothes they wear. In Norway there is a saying “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

I imagine with most of the Northern European countries (Denmark, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, etc.) weather isn’t as much of an issue as it is here. People are still walking to the store, waiting for the bus, riding their bicycles, walking to school, and playing at the playground regardless of the weather. I will say in Sweden the playgrounds were a bit too covered with snow to play on for most of the winter, but the second it melted, kids were out. During the rainy season, kids wear “rubber pants,” made from a polyamide/polyurethane blend. I bought extras before we left Sweden and even had a friend send me more. They are perfect for wet playgrounds. (Thanks to Kelly in Seattle for sending me the Puddle Gear link. It's good to hear those in Seattle adapt to the rain.)

It didn’t matter what the weather was in Europe, people were still outside. Even our strollers were outfitted for every type of weather. Rain, wind, or snow and we were prepared to walk almost any distance. I may not have wanted to, but I was ready for it.

This is good for the soul and the spirit. Fresh air in winter is what we need to stay healthy. Being out after a rain, even if it’s wet on the ground, is good for us. Even in the heat of the summer, sometimes it’s good to be outside to get away from central air conditioning.

And, as parents, we should remember often times it’s we who dislike the weather and not our kids. In lieu of the Halloween trail, my friend Susan and I slapped the “rubber pants” on all four of our kids and sent them out to play in the rain. They had a blast!


Needing a better shopping cart

I used to think taking your kid to the grocery store meant an opportunity for teaching: basic math or counting skills with fruit; colors with the veggies or even good eating habits. While I still believe that can be done with one child in the cart, it doesn’t work with two. Your shopping trip is spent corralling, bargaining and often times bribing so kids will just stay in the shopping cart.

If you have at least two children under the age of, say four, you probably know what I mean. In the latest issue of Parenting magazine, there was a blurb about shopping cart, 23,000 children end up in the emergency room from falling out of shopping carts. I believe it. We've had many near misses.

So here’s the thing--except for a very brief time when both my kids would fit in the cart, configured big boy in the front and baby riding in her infant seat in the back, shopping cart with kids really annoys the hell out me!

I have two kids less than two years apart. If I want to shop for anything other than a carton of milk, some bread and peanut butter, I have to use a shopping cart instead of the stroller. This means someone has to ride in the front and someone has to ride the back.

The problem is the back of the cart, where you toss all your stuff, is not safe for a child to sit. But we all do it because we have to. My kids stand up, grab stuff as they pass and throw things out. It’s also not practical to have someone in there because then where will you put your purchases?

If I’m lucky, some of the stores have double carts or the dreaded car carts. In principle these are a great idea. Two kids can ride in the car—strapped in—and you even have room for a third in the front with mom. Now, if your kids are normal, you have about 15 minutes before the sitting side-by-side in the car cart turns into a bloody mess, literally. My kids push and pull at each other. Sometimes entire torsos are sticking out from the car windows. Without my knowing, products come off shelves and into the car. Shoes are flung out of the car cart windows, many times causing me to race back through the store to find the missing shoe. (Have you ever raced in one of these carts?? It’s not a pretty sight.)

Some stores have older kid carts where the two “buddied up” siblings sit facing each other on plastic seats. This is another recipe for disaster. These, too, get us about 15 minutes into the store before someone wiggles out of the straps or pushing the other one out. Then I’m left with two kids running around while I chase them with a giant un-maneuverable cart.

So where does this leave those of us with kids, whether it’s two, three of four of them that all need to ride—or be restrained—in the carts? If they’re not making a break from mom running through Target, then they are trying to scale the side of the cart. If we bribe them through the store (my personal favorite) then we start a habit where every cart-infested store requires a muffin or new item to keep kids in their seats and out of trouble.

Surely some brilliant inventor can come up with a cart to suit those with more than one child. I wish my travels to other countries gave me some great insight into shopping carts—it didn’t. In Qatar, we didn’t even have straps in the carts to keep the kids secure. Perhaps more of the bigger stores will have play areas for kids or even (gasp) child care like the Wegmans in Dulles.

So then after a little research online, I found these awesome shopping carts from Caboco that can be found at a Midwestern grocery store chain. (See picture) There is a TV option in the cart to keep kids entertained. While I think that’s a bit extreme, if it meant I could shop in peace, I might just do it. The best part about it, the customer pays $1 for the use of it. Awesome, that's what they do in Europe, anyway. However, for me, this still doesn’t solve the problem of my kids pushing each other out of the cart, but if they were preoccupied with a TV show they might just leave each other alone.

Still there must be another way to configure shopping cart? Back to back, one in front of the other, side by side with a wall in between. It’s actually a good thing for me. Target is unfortunately where a good portion of our money goes each month; however, I avoid it like the plague with both my kids because of the shopping carts. If I had a way to leisurely stroll the aisles, just think how much more money I would spend. My husband thanks you for this!

There seems to be no solution other than going while the kids are in school, on the weekend or sending my husband out instead.

This article was cross-posted on DC Metro Moms.


Readying the closet for winter

Since it's still 80 degrees here, I’m not talking about getting my winter clothes out quite yet, but I am starting to get my entry way and coat closet prepared for the cooler/wetter temperatures. I will miss the season of Crocs when socks or real shoes are not required.

Some people are fanatical about their kitchen or bathroom being clean and organized. For me, it’s my entry way. This started in Sweden when cold/wet weather struck right about mid-October and lasted into May. We had hats, boots, coats, mittens, gloves, scarves for four people everywhere all the time for seven months. Something had to be done!

So I got organized. Two years later, I am still the entry way Nazi here in Northern Virginia where the weather isn’t quite as harsh, but is more unpredictable. Coats and sweaters can be part of our wardrobe starting in September and carry us well into April, but there might be weeks of hot weather causing the even worse “are we done with boots or not yet” syndrome.

I have a devised a very useful way to organize my teeny tiny townhouse foyer and coat closet. Here are my tips for those with small children when you need to keep all the cold weather items right at hand to get out the door faster.

1. Get yourself a shoe cubby. I bought one from Target the first day we moved into this house. It holds 16 kid shoes and all their shoes are right there. Every time they walk in the house, shoes go in the cubby. When we get ready to leave, shoes are already in the cubby. No excess mess on my floors and very little looking for shoes later on.

2. Get two sets of hooks to hang umbrellas, coats, hats, bags, etc. right where you can get them all quickly.

3. Bring all the socks for the kids downstairs. Don’t keep them in the drawers. Keep them where you need them most, by the front door. I have all the kids socks in a vinyl shoe holder in my coat closet. These over-the-door shoe organizers can organize so much more, and kids' socks fit perfectly in the slots.

4. If you have room, add another vinyl shoe holder to put mittens, gloves and hats in so you can just grab and go. Then everything is right where you need it, and you can see it easily. The best part is the kids learn to put it back in the lower slots.

5. I have two medium-sized Rubbermaid tubs on the shelf that house all rain gear and another for snow gear. It’s stuff above and beyond what we use regularly.

6. On the floor is a two-shelf shoe organizer with our boots and wintery shoes.

Bring on the cold and rain!

(All of the organizers are from Target costing less than $30)

Costumes are a success!

As promised, here are the pictures of my kiddies and their homemade Halloween costumes--ladybug Alex and caterpillar Anna. I went as a butterfly and Andrew went as the bug catcher. After a week of some stress, I would say the costumes were a success.


Halloween Party: Two days and counting

Many of you have inquired on my Halloween costume progress this week. The neighborhood party is this Sunday. I'm happy to inform that last night I finally dragged out the sewing machine, learned how to use it and sewed the few things I needed to sew. I am now almost completely done with Alex's costume, which involved no sewing, and close to finishing Anna's as well. They have to be done by tonight as I leave for Richmond in the morning. Yikes. Can I do it??

Stay tuned . . . will post pictures shortly.


Blogging on DC Metro Moms

Just as an FYI, I am now writing for DC Metro Moms. DC Metro Moms Blog is a collaborative group of moms writing about their lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This blog has sister sites in Silicon Valley, Chicago and now New York City. I'm happy to join this group of both working and stay-at-home moms. They are politically charged group--different politics than my own--but still it's been fun to read and discuss issues with them.


Goodbye to a familiar friend

While inspecting my basement for excess clutter this week, I noticed two big items that have not moved in quite some time—the double strollers. I have two left. (That's right, this household has seen a total of four double strollers.) One is a double umbrella stroller, and the other is a DuoGlider handed down from a neighbor. The umbrella stroller actually had cobwebs on it, and the DuoGlider just pissed me off so much on our last zoo visit that I decided it was time for it to go. I posted the listing on my mom’s group site and had several instant notes from moms ready to take them off my hands. The first was picked up today and the last will go this weekend. It's a bit strange not having something to strap my kids into at the same time. It is good to be free of these contraptions. It was a bitter-sweet parting.

I am now left with only two single strollers. I shall never part with my Mountain Buggy Urban.


Friends with food

Funny thing: Alex now personifies his food. Suddenly the things on his plate are people with feelings. This is what he says:

Mommy, these two chicken nuggets need ketchup. They are sad they didn’t get any. They want to be dunked in ketchup too.

Anna, you should eat those two last carrots. If they’re not eaten, they will be lonely they were left.

But the very best one was when he brought out the carton of milk and Hershey’s chocolate syrup and said:

Mommy, these two things want to be together so I can have chocolate milk.


Halloween Freak Out!

So it’s October 14. That means I have exactly 17 days until Halloween. For a mom who’s making her own costumes, that countdown is important for knowing how long to wait to really start cranking out the all-night sewing sessions. Yep, I’m a true procrastinator.

I had decided last year that I would make Halloween costumes for my kids as long as they would let me. I got some strange pleasure out of my giraffe costume from last year (one made from a Target-footed pajama) that required no sewing. I figured as long as my kids could be something “makeable,” I would do it.

So after the whole pre-Halloween discussion, the kids decided on being a ladybug and a caterpillar. Alex is the ladybug and Anna is the caterpillar. Judge if you like but my son is man enough to hold is own in a ladybug costume, especially one I make!

Here’s where I am on costume making today. The sewing machine was brought upstairs. (That’s right, I said sewing machine.) It was supposed to be a no sew project, but the caterpillar needed some sewing so I’m going to have to take the plunge. It’s a new machine from my grandma, and I think I might spend more time figuring out how to get the thread into the machine than actually sewing, but I need to figure it out anyway, so it will be fine. Anyway, so the machine is upstairs now. The components for the costume were purchased: sweat suit, felt, foam, head bands, hats, etc. So I’m bouncing along enjoying the pre-Halloween festivities this weekend when I realized . . . the neighborhood Halloween party is one week from today. Uh, huh, in one week my kids need to be fully outfitted in their Halloween costumes ready for trick or treating around the neighborhood.

So what am I doing blogging? More to come . . . .


Mom is a pack mule

Dear God,

Not sure who to address this concern with so I thought I’d start with you. When I woke up this morning, everything seemed normal. The kids and I left for our trip to the zoo with our usual 3.5 bags (diaper bag, picnic bag, purse and one kid backpack). When we arrived at the zoo, I felt OK, but something changed. With only one stroller the kids took off. I was left pushing an empty stroller full of bags and other random stuff. As the day warmed up, Kids were throwing sweaters and hats without so much as a thank you. Sippy cups were loaded on me as well.

Before 10 a.m., I had become a pack mule. Perhaps if you looked at me, I would look the same, but something inside snapped.

As the kids pooped out and one child climbed into the stroller, and the other climbed on my shoulders? Here I am walking through the zoo with a 40-pound toddler on my shoulder and the other 30-pound one in the stroller. What am I? Oh, yes, I am a pack mule. Lucky me, since sometimes I have to carry both on a hip at least I had the stroller.

We got in the car, loaded up the 3.5 bags, water bottles, snack remnants, trash, books, toys and went home. When we got there, I picked up all the four shoes which were thrown at me during the drive, the 3.5 bags, water bottles, books, toys and tissues to carry into the house.

After I finally had a chance to eat and drink some water and take a rest, we moved outside for afternoon activities with the neighbors. Out came the bikes, the scooter, the toy stroller, cars, baby dolls, water bottles, sippy cups, rocks, shells and snacks. Not all at once of course.

As the game changed new supplies were needed and kids would go in and get more. Before I knew it, most of our kid items were outside. As dinnertime grew nigh, the enthusiasm for children hauling things waned. Finally, as the last tantrum ceased, I was expected to load the bike, scooter, toy stroller, cars, baby dolls, water bottles, sippy cups, rock and shells (at least the snacks were gone) back into the house in one trip all while keeping track of the kids. Are you surprised I was able to get it all back home in one trip? Other moms know it can be done. We all know it comes with the job description. We all do it with a smile and a giant-ass sigh as things are hurled our way. We do it because we love our kids and it’s just the way the day goes.

But tomorrow, dear God, my arms, shoulders, legs and back need a rest. How about if I could just be mom and carry the 3.5 bags around instead.



How can a face like this be so B-A-D

My youngest is making herself known by taking a “bite” out of crime—toddler crime that is. Anna’s solution for someone stealing her toy is a giant bite out of an arm. This week alone, we’ve left a trail of bite marks and bruises to at least four children—some of them were the lucky recipients of more than one bite.

I love her and she is adorable, but she is B-A-D. So cute and so dangerous. The tantrums, while trying, I can deal with. The defiance is even tolerable on some level, but the biting leaves me ashamed as a parent. Where did I go wrong?

This all started when Anna was about 13 months. She discovered this was her best form of defense against Alex who was16 months her senior. She may be weaker and smaller, but a good bite packs a great punch. I have tried time outs, sweet talking, bribing, spanking, slapping her hand and even biting her back so she knows that it hurts. None of these have worked. One friend suggested I make her lick a bit of Tabasco Sauce every time she did it. She swore that worked for her friend’s kid. That just seems harsh and downright mean for a two-year old! But apologizing to four moms this week is getting old.

Any thoughts out there on how to stop the biting?


The Breast Fest

I’m not really sure who started this, but today, October 10, 2007, has been declared Breast Fest. (The only reason I can imagine it's this day is that 10-10 written out kind of looks like a pair of breasts. Ha!) This was in response to Bill Maher’s blabbering on so about his right to eat and not watch a woman breastfeed in public, as well as a Canadian woman’s Facebook account being canceled without her knowledge after she posted pics of her breastfeeding.

You just have to love the mom bloggers. Everyone had their nursing bras in a knot over this and they asked moms to post breastfeeding pictures on their blogs and write about as a way to basically, flip off those who oppose breastfeeding. Fine. I’m all about participating in this. So, hence the picture here.

But what I really want to rant about here, is why do people care about breastfeeding in public anyway? Why do we, as moms, really care what they think? Obviously having your account cancelled or being asked to get off an airplane or leave a restaurant is cause for a fight. But looks from people passing by as you feed? Why do we care?

While some will say breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, my response is that “then you are a lucky woman!” I struggled with my first for many reasons and chose to stop after five months. With my second, I enjoyed it. She, however, had high standards for when and where she was to be fed so at five months, I threw in the towel. But for women who do struggle and want to try to continue, the pressure to cover up or not feed in public might be too much for them. It’s so much easier to just bring a bottle along. .

Back to why do people care. I breastfed both my kids in two different countries. Alex was in Qatar where women had to dress conservatively--short skirts and tank tops were frowned upon. Did I breastfeed in public? Yep! Did I cover it up? Sometimes I did, but if Alex was screaming loud enough, I was ripping my shirt off to get him quiet.

In Sweden, women are breastfeeding everywhere. No need to cover it up. No need to look away. Three or four moms are sitting having their fika in the middle of a café and all are nursing.

Even in the U.S., I found myself in Barnes and Noble stripping my shirt off on the way to the train table in the kid’s section so Anna could nurse while Alex played Thomas the Train. I don’t think anyone cared. But if they did, I wasn’t about to find out. I even did that on a plane a few times. I actually think they were relieved that the boob stopped the crying. I always did my best to find a chair out of the way so there was privacy for me. I tried to remember a blanket to cover up, but neither of my kids really wanted to eat with a blanket over their face. Would you?

I will say that by the time I had my second child all modesty had gone out the window from the whole birth process and first-time breastfeeding so I didn’t really have any qualms about doing it out in public or even in front of family members that probably preferred that I not.

I’m trying to understand why people don’t like seeing this eating ritual. We see half naked women in the malls, on the streets, in magazines everyday. It’s not as if any woman breastfeeding is trying to do anything other than feed her child. It’s also not as if you’re seeing an entire boob exposed. Most of the time, I have to look twice before I confirm that the baby is actually eating and not just being cuddled.

So I’m asking moms out there to comment. Have you ever had anyone comment on you breastfeeding in public?


Baby Einstein was still my saving grace

Surely we can be smarter about our criticism of Baby Einstein DVDs. Of course it’s TV. We all know that TV is not good for us, especially our kids. Yet even I reacted when I read this article in the Health section of today’s Washington Post. In fact, it was placed in the paper just so that it was the first thing I saw this morning. Good thing, since I was up all night with a sinus headache, and I was tempted to put both kids in front of a DVD.

The criticism is that it’s not educational, TV is bad for kids and it can delay language development. Did any of us really think that this series of DVDs for infants to toddlers was really an educational tool? I saw it as a quick way to get dinner on the table and keep a wee one out trouble. Or for me it was to nurse my even younger one at the time.

My son started his Baby Einstein fix at the tender age of seven months when I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I was tired and nauseous, and I would lie on the couch next to him while he watched sometimes [gasp] two or three of the 20-minute DVDs. And by the time he was 16 months old, he was still enjoying two or three while I nursed and tried to get my infant down for a nap. How else could I keep him entertained and out of trouble, while I dealt with another baby? He was too young for books, PlayDoh, crayons, etc.

As for delay in language skills, he had a vocabulary of 50 words by 17 months. And now he often corrects my grammar. A far cry from being verbally delayed, I think.

These DVDs are not a replacement for books or interaction with a child. Most of us moms know that. Yes, a child should be able to entertain themselves for 20 minutes, but often they don’t or can’t or we need a break from playing cruise director for the day. We’re not using these shows in lieu of parenting. I am sure, however, there are parents out there who do plop their kids in front of the boob tube for eight hours a day. And for them, Baby Einstein is not the problem. And yes, language development would be a problem if that were the case.

In my humble opinion, a child watching a few Baby Einsteins everyday while mom showers, takes a phone call, gets dinner on the table, goes to the bathroom, nurses a child, puts someone to bed, gets another bathed, etc. shouldn't be condemned. Moms have a hard enough job without people always harping on us about what we should and shouldn't do.

Two hours!

So after I complained about my monkeys in yesterday’s post, they seemed to have redefined their role in the household today. After struggling overnight with a head cold, congestion and about three hours of sleep, I woke up to two agreeable children.

What’s this?

This morning I got two hours, yes, that’s right two whole hours of children playing together nicely. They ate their breakfast, hopped down from their chairs and went right to work on playing for two hours. I was able to clean up the breakfast dishes, read the entire paper, take a shower, get dressed, start the laundry and get full make up on before we had to leave the house. There were no tears this morning, no fighting and no pushing. Dare I say, the morning was filled with [whisper] playing, reading, sharing and cleaning up. All of this unsolicited. You think I’m lying? After my shower, I walked into Alex’s room to see them playing Legos. He was teaching Anna how to build and how to share. Then I hear them cleaning up with Alex instructing Anna on how to do it. Five minutes later I walk in and the room was cleaned up.

The day concluded with Alex coming up to Anna saying, "Anna I have a surprise for you?" He had brought her favorite toy!

Who are these children and may they live in this house forever?


What to do?

I just thought as my kids got older, we’d be able to go more places together. But now that no one wants to sit in a stroller or a shopping cart, my outings have been limited, once again, to playgrounds or playgroups.

Yesterday’s outing to the National Zoo was the final straw for outings with both kids, unless I can get my husband to come along with us. (Which is almost impossible due to his work schedule.) The past week we’ve had disaster at the farm, Target, multiple grocery stores and the mall. It was not until the zoo that I realized what the problem was: one toddler defying the stroller + one preschooler not listening = disaster for all.

So where does that leave me now? I have two mornings a week with no children. That leaves me four hours a week to run errands. Ok, that should be sufficient. But then what activities am I left to do with my kids where they don’t need a leash. We’ve tried taking nature walks, inevitably one darts ahead and the other lags behind enough that I’m standing in the middle 20 feet from both. Museums don’t work anymore because Anna wants to climb on everything that she shouldn’t and that leaves us in temper tantrum central. (Why does Northern Virginia/DC not have a Children’s Museum?)

The farm doesn’t seem to work anymore. I look away for a second as I watch Anna stick her hand in the chicken coop and get pecked on the hand or see her trying to scare a cow with her shrill scream. Even places like Target and the mall that were my back up activities have turned into nightmares as children dangle from or parachute off carts.

I feel as though I’m back to my early days of having a baby where the only safe place was a confined area fully baby proofed. (Again, why does this area not have an indoor playground for the hot/cold/rainy days?) Please, I need suggestions for outings with a three- and two-year old where no one will get hurt, including me.


Transitions: Giving it up

As if there’s not enough pressure on parents already, I love the one the peds lay into us on when it’s time for our little ones to “give it up.” I’m talking about nursing, taking a bottle, using a pacifier, rocking our kids to sleep, letting them suck their thumb, drinking milk from a sippy instead of a cup. I could go on. Apparently for every habit our babies have, we have a timeline on when they’re expected (or we're forced) to give it up before the habit turns bad.

I find this to be crazy. They are babies! To take a baby’s bottle away at 12 months is ridiculous. Then to listen to them cry and fuss over something that is a comfort for them. But they are too little to explain that to you or really say anything about it. If your toddler is still nursing and you don’t mind, why should anyone else tell you it’s time to give it up.

Children need their comforts too. If someone took away my morning coffee, I’d be pretty pissed. I even have a certain cup I need it in. My pillow I sleep on needs to be replaced because it’s old, but I love it. And don’t even get me started on the teddy bear that I still have in my bed. Thank God my husband agreed to let it be part of our marriage. Yes, I too still have my own lovey.

So here were my kid’s bad habits and how it came to be that they finally went away.

Bottles: Alex took a bottle until 17 months. I had a new baby in the house, 2 international moves, 1 temporary living situation. I wasn’t about to give up the bottle…the one constant thing he had. Did I tell the peds he was still taking one? Hell, no. I knew when the time was right it would go. I switched a book on him one night and he was fine with it. Anna took a bottle until her second birthday. Why? I was too lazy to talk her out of it. It was much easier to explain “bye bye bottle” to a two-year old.

Swaddling: Anna was swaddled, I kid you not, until she was 16 months old. It was in the same blanket every night. She wouldn’t sleep unless I did it. Then one night she just wiggled out of it and shook her head 'no.'

Thumb sucking: Alex is 3 ½ and we’re still battling this. His teeth are sticking out and the dentist told me I had until 4 or 5 until I had to intervene. We’ll see how that goes.

Cribs: Alex slept in his crib until a month after his second birthday when he told me he wanted a big boy bed. Done. It was purchased. We made the transition. Never an issue. Anna still sleeps in one because she would wander around and not sleep. I’m convinced for many kids that the absence of the crib means bye by to naptime.

Diapers: This is a tricky one. Both my kids showed signs for readiness at about the same points along the way. But I really think that for some kids, you need to be able to communicate with them a little better. I know in other countries where diapers are too expensive kids are potty trained at one. Or in China where they walk around without pants or whatever. But with Alex, I needed to be able to talk with him about it. With Anna, oh man, with Anna we just haven’t gotten anywhere without a giant tantrum and constipation. I figure when the time’s right we’ll get there.

Pacifiers: None of my kids took one as much as I tried to make them take one. But I would have treated this like the thumb sucking. If it’s a night and controlled a bit by the parent, then who cares until they’re 3 or so.

We all need our comforts in life.


Pregnant moms should eat fish

When I was pregnant with Alex, my husband read studies saying that pregnant women needed to eat salmon. According to him, eating the equivalent of one large can of salmon a week was supposed to improve your baby’s brain development. I complied with my husband's meager request to eat more salmon. Who could really argue with wanting a smarter child? I made salmon dip and ate it on crackers during the first and second trimester. I was so sick of salmon by the third that I had to take a break.

That same information was quoted on the front page of today’s Washington Post. And just as today’s article warms against eating too much tuna, shark or swordfish (in the Middle East it was the hammour fish I couldn’t eat) due to high mercury levels, it did encourage eating salmon. Another reason to love Sweden!

As a result of my salmon eating, I have a very, very smart little boy. He could put a 48-piece puzzle together before he was two years old and can say his ABCs in both directions. Do I think it was the salmon? Who knows, but in honor of that my recipe this week is a salmon dish. If you like fish, salmon is always the best choice. Buy wild salmon and not the farm raised or you might undo all the good, they will say. But in Qatar we only had the farm raised and canned. So you do what you can.

Fish is good for your baby. Eat a good amount of the good stuff and limit the rest.

Thursday's Dish: Pasta with Salmon and Asparagus

Are you seeing a theme here? We do pasta in our house since that is my one ingredient that I know both my kids will eat. It used to be rice since Alex wouldn't touch pasta, but thank God we can now move on to another starch. This recipe my kids will eat, including the salmon. You might substitute the veggie out for zucchini or squash if it's more seasonal. From the Williams Sonoma Pasta Cookbook.

3 tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 pound of skinned salmon
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
1 lb of asparagus or other veggie
12 green onions, green and white part cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tbsp of lemon zest
salt and pepper
1 lb of pasta
2 cups of dried bread crumb
1 tbsp of olive oil

Slice the salmon into strips. Marinate the salmon in 1/2 the lemon juice for 30 minutes. (No, I don't ever do it for this long.) Cook aspargus until tender. In a skillet, melt the butter. Add the green onion and saute until tender. Add the asparagus or other veggie for a few more minutes. Add the salmon until it's cooked. Add the remaining lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper. Remove from head and keep warm. Boil pasta, drain and toss with oil. Combine it all with the bread crumbs.


Practice makes perfect

Alex has been obsessed with Halloween since last year when he fully understood it was about candy. (His favorite word after chocolate, ice cream and cake.) Even with Christmas and Easter, Alex still asked when Halloween was coming again. All year, in anticipation, he would convince Anna to go door-to-door "trick or treating," sometimes in costume and sometimes not. This game involves going up to the beginning of someone’s walkway and pretending to pick up candy from an invisible bowl. He even has make-believe conversations with the people “handing” out the candy. I think it might be a long October. But at least he'll be well-rehearsed for October 31.


Tummy and Tot: Tips for those expecting #2

I'm dedicating this post to those I know who are expecting that second baby.

So I have had a few people ask recently about pregnancy with baby #2 and a toddler (under the age of 2) in tow. The question always seems to be the same, “how did you do it?”

I laugh when I think about this now. I still remember the day I stood there looking at the positive pregnancy test. Alex was playing on our floor somewhat happy. I looked at the pregnancy test, and I actually started to cry and so did Alex. How was I going to manage this? Alex was 7 months at the time, and I was pregnant with baby #2.

Anyone reading this who is in the same boat or even if you spaced yours a little better, knows that it’s going to be hard and you will learn many things, but in the end, you will like the decision. You might decide you wouldn’t do it again (like I have), but you will probably learn to love the close ages of your kids.

I love that while my friends with 3-year olds are just starting to have second babies, my kids are already playing together. Not always nicely or fairly, but they can play together with Legos, dress up, playdoh, house, knights, spaceman, etc. I’m done with sleepless nights, should I choose not to have more kids. I’m done with Baby Bjorns, strollers for the most part and bottles. There are definitely pros to having kids close. And aren’t your old maternity clothes still in style?

Pregnancy is tough enough, but with a baby under one it can be a bit tricky. Here are a few suggestions for those taking the plunge:

Surround yourself with other moms who have 2 or more kids. Find someone a bit ahead of you in this game. You’d be surprised how many people out there have kids this close (under 2). They will be your best source for info. They are happy to provide you with tips on getting people out of the house or feeding the crew.

Find some kind of “child care” for your older child. No, I’m not talking about signing him up for daycare, but I won’t tell you how many days I longed to just go to work and let someone else deal with this. Find a mother’s morning out program, a preschool program for an 18-month year old, a gym with good child care or even a part time nanny. You don’t get a medal for doing this all yourself so get some assistance. Even a few hours a week to collect your sanity is worth it. Your older child will enjoy having a new face and other children to play with and you’ll enjoy the break. Do this early and introduce your older child to the situation before the baby comes.

Get a second crib. Borrow one, buy one used or whatever. If your child isn’t in a big bed, don’t push it. Cribs provide a safe place for your toddler. Cribs better ensure that naptime continues when new baby comes. Cribs mean you can put your child in there to read/play while you nurse or deal with a diaper change. If you can make it work financially, get another crib. You can always sell it later to another mom in need.

Gear can be overwhelming so wait and see what you need before you buy. I will tell you the one big thing that saved my life the first few weeks was the sling. The Baby Bjorn I used later, but with a sling I could feed the baby then she’d nap and then just hang out. All right there with me while I had hands for Alex. If I knew then what I know now, I would have invested in a great double stroller. Even after dropping $350 for my Mountain Buggy (my husband wants me to write Ode to the Mountain Buggy) I still wished I would have sold it and bought a Phil and Ted E3.

Get some extra help for the first few days/weeks after baby comes. I’m talking mom, sister, aunt, hired babysitter, etc. Those first few weeks are so hard feeding and dealing with a toddler who doesn’t understand this new life that has invaded on his territory. Most babies just eat and sleep, but you might be doing a lot of nursing and that can be hard when your hardly walking toddler needs something. Give yourself time to recover because you’ll need the energy and see if relatives or friends can pitch in with dinners or babysitting.

If your child isn’t on a nap/sleep schedule, get him on one. It will make things easier if you know you count on a nap and a good bedtime. I had friends that struggled with this and realized too late they should have done this before the new baby came.

If your child looks ready to potty train and shows interest, go ahead and do it. You may have some regression when the new baby comes, but at least the hard part is over. Trust me. It’s much easier doing this with only one child to focus on.

Take a vacation. This may sound like a crazy thing to do. We took a trip to Syria when Alex was 10 months old and I was 4 months pregnant. It was nice to get away from Qatar and see some sights. It was over a year before we could do this again. If you have a chance to take a long weekend—with or without your toddler—I recommend doing it. It’s a lot easier to travel with one than two.

At the hospital, let them take your new bundle the nursery to sleep. If you’re like me, I insisted my first born stay in the room the whole time. Poor Anna, I sent her away the second night just so I could sleep and get caught up for the next day when we went home. It was the best thing I did for myself.

I'd love to hear what other tips moms might have for those embarking on this great adventure.