Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I like to do things twice.

I very rarely get DIY projects right the first time.  Painting the mobiles, arranging the scrapbook page frames, and now making the babies' pillows--all done twice.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I felt I rushed the pillows I made last month and have just not been happy with them. 

Here's take two:

Better, I think.

Here's what they looked like before:

Blech, right?

But now I'm thinking I might take the new picture over again in the daylight.  It never ends!

Monday, August 22, 2011

DIY Nap Mats

When visiting the child care center a few weeks ago, I was reminded that in addition to diapers, sunscreen, extra clothes, and a set of sippy cups for water, Michael and Sophie would need nap items like small blankets and crib sheets to go over their cots.  The director mentioned that one of the kids had a little nap mat with a blanket and pillow attached that rolled up like a sleeping bag.  She said his mom got it at Buy Buy Baby and that we could get a couple of those if we wanted.

When at Buy Buy Baby a few days later I spotted the nap mats, but at about $30 each, a $60 investment for the two, I opted out.

Soon after that I saw a DIY nap mat tutorial on the Prudent Baby website, and I felt inspired. I felt a tad intimidated as well, but I tried to focus on the inspired part. 

Here's how they turned out.  I'm pretty impressed with myself, I have to say.

If I was going for cost savings, this project was a total failure.  After peeking around online and totalling up the cost of making them myself, I see now that those $30 mats are a bargain.  However, I really took this project on for the sewing practice, and that I got!

I bought anti-pill fleece that I thought would feel familiar to Michael and Sophie since it's much like the sleep sacks we use at home. Fabric appropriately masculine for even a male toddler is tough to find. I chose two-toned green for Michael and two-toned purple for Sophie, happily venturing away from the usual blues and pinks.

I made the pillows removable for the mats' weekly cleaning like a later tutorial suggested, shortened the dimensions a bit, and attached Michael and Sophie's names. I really wanted to practice using bias tape, but I only did so on the blanket part (the tutorial uses it on every edge). Fleece doesn't really need finishing, I was eager to trim the cost of this project down, and being my first attempt at bias tape I felt less would just be more. I did ok with it, but I still need a lot of practice!

The main thing I learned from my recent sewing endeavors is to slow the heck down.  I don't have entire afternoons to devote to projects anymore, and I have to embrace chunking them into pieces.  With that lesson in mind, I've recently disassembled the pillows I made last month.  I wasn't happy with how my hurried work turned out, and so far going back and taking my time is paying off.  I'll reveal those finished products soon.

I'm not sure if we'll really use these nap mats this year or if we'll wait until preschool days since Sophie and Michael don't really sleep with pillows at this point. They might be more comfortable with a blanket and a sheet or their usual sleep sacks, so I'm planning to send all three options to the center tomorrow for the teachers to choose from.  Potentially annoying, but I'm pretty sure I'm just that kind of mom.

Did I say tomorrow?  Wow, that was one fast summer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A little serendipity

It was in Paris five years ago that our little girl's name came to us. I joked that if we accidentally conceived a child on that honeymoon, we would have to name her something French, like Sophie. The connection Mike and I felt to it in that moment gave the name an edge over all others we considered during my pregnancy.

Michael's name was decided long before our honeymoon.  I knew for a decade that Mike shared his name with his dad and intended to pass it on, and I thought I supported that.  But when it came down to it, it took the entire pregnancy for me to get fully on board with our little guy not having a name all his own.  Now that I've met our kids, I see their names are just right.

I've found myself thinking back to our time in Paris a lot over the last few weeks.  Mike's parents are there right now but for reasons far less romantic than a honeymoon.  Mike Sr. was there on business in July and developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  From what we understand, his hands and feet went numb, he fell, and was taken to the hospital.  Gail flew out right away.

Soon this neurological condition led to a breathing tube and medication that has had Mike's dad in and out of consciousness and struggling to communicate.  While he's expected to make a full recovery after a period of rehabilitation, the family has been in a frightening time warp.  We were told he could be on a medical flight home "in a few days" or "sometime next week" again and again and again as setbacks kept arising.  Suddenly it's been a month.

Understandably, after weeks away from home and having only prepared for a short stay in a foreign country, Mike's mom needed someone there to share the load of this emotionally draining experience.  My husband returned to our honeymoon destination.  Although I'm never eager for the taste of single-parenthood that Mike's trips out of town give me, I've hoped that this one would give his mom some comfort, his dad a boost of healing morale, and himself some peace of mind.  Envisioning his dad so far away, uncomfortable in a hospital bed, and unable to actually speak to him for weeks has been unsettling for my husband.

I had an experience the other day that made this journey feel especially right.

At dinner on one of our Parisian honeymoon nights, Mike and I met a family from California--a mother, father, and school-aged daughter who had been traveling the country for several weeks.  The mother mentioned that she was an author of children's books and gave me one of her bookmarks, pointing out that the titles were all variations of "peek-a-boo."

While we've never actively looked for them, stumbling upon one of these books has been a casual hope of mine and Mike's all these years.  When we received some with similar titles at our baby shower last year, I dug out our honeymoon scrapbook and checked the bookmark.  We had forgotten the author's name and found that our babies' books were not written by her. 

Mike left for Paris Wednesday night, and I took Michael and Sophie to our public library in the morning to get audiobooks for him to take to his dad, my sad attempt at help.  The kids and I stopped into the children's area where they always enjoy the fish tank, playing with activity cubes, and toddling in opposite directions with destruction in their eyes.  I was momentarily distracted from protecting our community's collection of children's literature when I noticed this:

 Peek-a-Moo! by Marie Torres Cimarusti, smiling up at me from a kiddie table.  I recognized the book immediately.  It found me on the day Mike was scheduled to fly back to Paris, and that felt like a cosmic wink, a little John Cusack-style serendipity.

I checked the book out, of course, and Michael and Sophie love it.  They both sign "more" when we get to the end, telling me to read it to them again and again and again.  That's my favorite kind of time warp.  I've been reading the book to the kids every day of Mike's trip as reassurance that things are somehow working out, falling into place, and will be just fine.

During Mike's visit his dad made greater progress than any of us could have hoped for.  At this moment my husband is on his scheduled flight home, and his mom is with him.  His dad is also in the air right now, on an International SOS flight home.  The two planes should land here within hours of each other.  How's that for falling into place?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Peeeeanut, Peanut Butter, and Jelly"

"First you take the peanuts and you..." well, you do your best to get that perfect picture of the two of them in their adorable onesies, but sometimes it just doesn't happen!

I'm hoping to get a picture of them both looking at the camera, or smiling, or (although it's just too much to hope for) doing both before Michael and Sophie outgrow/destroy these outfits.  I just love my PB&J!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beach Buddies

After taking a few trips to the Traverse City, MI area as a couple, Mike and I agreed it was a region we would share with our children one day.  Last weekend we made that little dream a reality.  We traded in the wine tasting for sandcastle building and found ourselves regretting not planning a longer stay. 

Four years ago Mike and I celebrated our first anniversary at same hotel we stayed at this time, but back then we were disappointed by the hundreds of feet of ankle-deep water that stretched beyond the shore with no space nearby to fully immerse oneself...unless one was only a couple feet tall.  Back then I made note of a toddler happily splashing around in water up to her hips, and I'm glad I did.

This was Michael and Sophie's first beach adventure, and despite many stumbles face-first into the water, the only tears came when we carried our shivering buddies out of the bay.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Britax Boulevards for our Tiny Toddlers

We've gotten a number of comments in recent months about how little Michael and Sophie are.  Today a dad in a park called them "early walkers," assuming our nearly 16-month-olds were well under a year.  While they were born at 6 lbs. 6 oz. (Michael) and 6 lbs. 1 oz. (Sophie), they've lingered in the 5th-10th percentile for height and weight for most of their lives.  Right now they're both about 28 inches tall and roughly 22 pounds, wearing 12-month sized clothing and size 3 diapers with plenty of room to grow. 

I adore their teensiness, can't imagine them growing any faster, and am learning not to go into a minor mommy panic everytime I see other kids their age who are taller, chubbier, and who even refer to Michael and Sophie as "babies" themselves.  My toddlers are reaching milestones appropriately, eat like champs, and the pediatrician is not at all concerned, so I remind myself not to be.

One benefit of Sophie and Michael's small physiques is the longevity they've given our infant car seats and accessories.  We used the Baby Trend Double Snap N Go Stroller and the SnugGlider Swing Bases for far longer than we would have expected, just recently retiring the DSNG since the Baby Jogger City Mini Double fits in the back of our new van unfolded and ready to roll.  The swing bases were moved to the basement storage room a few months ago to make more space in the play room, but because the car seats kept Michael and Sophie from sitting up while swinging and the bases were so low to the ground anyway, I felt safe using them long after most swings would have been unstable.
We'll keep using the Graco Snugride 35's until Michael and Sophie reach the height or weight limits of 32 inches or 35 pounds.  However, we no longer use them as carriers and are just going to keep these seats in the Jetta like convertible seats once I go back to work.  They'll be replaced in the minivan with our recently purchased Britax Boulevard 70 CS Convertible Car Seats, enormous beasts of safety ($255 on Albee.com--a great deal compared to $329 at BRU).  Perhaps we'll go with something more compact for the Jetta once Michael and Sophie outgrow the Snugrides, but we'll see.

Regardless of what we choose for our second set of convertibles, this new phase of carseatdom is likely to cost us over $1,000 for four of them.  And we need four since Mike drops off at the child care center and I pick up.  Of course, when you consider the purpose of these seats, one can't help but be reminded that no expense is too big to help ensure the safety of our teeny, tiny cargo.  It's amazing they don't charge more with that kind of leverage.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Slouchy Stroller Solution

While I love our stroller for all of its other features, since we started using our Baby Jogger City Mini Double , I've been a little disappointed in how slouchy the seats are, how Michael and Sophie never seem able to sit completely upright.  I discovered on message boards that the 2010 versions of our stroller are sort of notorious for that, and the 2011 models came with boards to be slid into the seat backs.  You can order the boards from the manufacturer, from Amazon.com, and from other baby product websites for $15-20 each plus shipping.  Since we would need two boards, this would cost us about $60, and the idea of sinking that money into an already expensive stroller (thanks again, co-workers!) has kept me from diving into this option.

Thinking about this issue the other day, I wondered if Mike could cut some pieces of wood to slide in there.  Looking at the boards online, trying to find their dimensions, I thought, "They're basically the size of a plastic cutting board."  A moment later I was in the driveway where I'd left the stroller after a walk, opening one of the velcro backs, and sliding a cutting board back there.  Perfect.

Since we do need our plastic cutting board and we need two for the stroller anyway, yesterday we went to Home Goods, bought boards for $7 each, and easily slid them in for a quick trip around our local mall.

So if you also have a 2010 City Mini, consider this solution!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hungry Hungarians

Last week while walking through Randazzo's together, a bin of cabbage gave my mom an idea.  Several days later she was at my door with all the ingredients, and she and I made stuffed cabbage over the course of the afternoon, rolling up the leaves while the babies napped. 

Someday I'll try this one on my own, but as my mom pointed out, you really need to make these family recipes a few times with someone who really knows how in order to catch on to the subtleties.  I have a number of memories my grandma measuring ingredients with her palm and seemingly cooking by instinct, so I know what my mom means.

I also have memories of not liking chicken paprikash (usually just called "Hungarian chicken" in my family) and turning my nose up at stuffed cabbage.  I think it's over time that a kid learns to appreciate the smell of onions and paprika wafting from the kitchen.  Boiling cabbage starts to smell like family memories and actually inspires you to eat it, to request it for your birthday, to learn to make it for your own kids.

But in the beginning, one's first taste is likely to look like this,

or this,

and that's to be expected.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Just some of your everyday ridiculousness

Last summer Mike and I unknowingly scheduled our individual dental cleanings with our family dentist on the same day, one hour apart.  At first we thought we had a child care conflict.  Then we realized this arrangement would work perfectly.  We'd meet at the dentist at 5:00.  I'd bring the babies and their dinner and get my teeth cleaned first while he fed them in the lobby.  At six I'd take the babies home while Mike got his teeth cleaned, and he'd pick up dinner on his way home.  We did that six months later and then again today.

When I chatted with the hygenist at the start of my appointment today, discussing the twins, my summer off, and going back to work for a second time this fall, she made one of my least favorite comments.  She said she really struggles with the idea of working once she has kids, but she knows she'll have to.  "I'd rather stay at home so I can raise my kids.  I don't want someone else to do it," she said. 

While I certainly understand her unease, as she clipped the paper bib around my neck, I assured her that even working parents are raising their kids.  A child care center, a nanny, or whoever watches your children while you work takes care of them.  You raise them.  "You'll see," I told her, a phrase that I try to use sparingly and positively as a parent talking to anyone are pre-kids.

When I returned to the lobby where Mike was packing up the kids' dinner gear, Michael and Sophie smiled up at me.  I gave their yogurty faces some kisses, and the receptionist told me I was very lucky.  I said thank you and that I agree.  "He just impressed me so much, feeding both of them like that."  Realizing she meant I was lucky to have Mike, I again agreed, saying I have a really great husband and that I couldn't imagine doing this without him.

It was later in the night that I let these two well-intentioned comments really get to me.  I wondered why nobody ever asks a man how he can do it, how he can go to work and let somebody else "raise the children"?  And why doesn't anyone ever tell Mike how lucky he is to have a wife who feeds the children, sometimes all by herself?

Why?  Because it's ridiculous.  And I'll leave it at that...for now.

EDITED TO ADD: I shared this post on a message board for working moms where I've gotten a lot of support in the challenge of merging career and motherhood.  The comments inspired me to respond there with the following.

As a working mom and a mom of multiples, I hear a lot of stupid comments and am typically pretty good at shrugging them off. I've heard both of these statements before, but since they were said right after each other like that, they just got to me and made me think about what's expected of parents today.

It's sad to me that it's typical for a woman, particularly prior to having children, to perceive working as "not raising her kids." Sadly, it's also pretty common for someone to find dads like my husband literally remarkable for being equal partners in the job of parenting.

I guess we're just in a transition between the expectations that were on the last generation of parents and those that more appropriately fit parents of today and hopefully the future. Unfortunately I think those who feel much of the growing pains are moms of today while dads are held on a pedastal for changing a diaper or two.

I also don't feel my kids are "better off" at child care. Both stay-at-home-moms and working moms are capable of providing great childhoods for their kids, but being one or the other doesn't inherently make her kids better off in my opinion.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Toddler Room Visit

It's August now.  For the last month or so I've put off thinking about the fall, but August always makes me.  So today we went to the child care center on our first of probably a few visits before I go back to work.  At that time Sophie and Michael will be in a toddler room, a new environment with new teachers, so I want to help make the transition a smooth one.

Like most adventures with twins, it began with me wondering how I was going to do this, literally how I was going to get Michael and Sophie into and out of the center this year now that we've retired the DSNG.  Last night when I shared my concern with Mike, he said we would carry one kid while pushing the other in an umbrella stroller, keeping one stroller in each car.  He said it so matter-of-factly that surely I already thought of this and told him the plan previously. 

During some play time early this morning I brought in one of the strollers, put Michael in it, and carried Sophie.  We gave Michael a little ride around the living room, making turns around the rug and into the hallway, confirming that these cheapo strollers can be pushed one-handed.  "My idea" is a good one.

The numbers were low at the center today, only six toddlers in attendance, so the two rooms for that age group merged.  We took a peek at the actual room where Michael and Sophie will spend three days a week this year, discussed with the director what supplies they'll need (a sippy cup for water, diapers, and nap gear), and then went to play with the kids and the teachers gathered in the other classroom.

We saw many familiar faces including several toddler friends who grew out of the infant room over the last year as well.  Still, Michael and Sophie weren't eager to mingle.  The kids and teachers sat on the classroom rug reading a book about the solar system, sang some songs, practiced a few signs, and even danced a little--all pretty familiar stuff.  However, I had to carry Michael and hold Sophie's hand, tugging her a little bit, to get them to join the party.  I sat on the floor with them, and before long Sophie stood up and walked into the crowd.  Michael stood up as well and reluctantly accepted a hug from an old buddy who was eager to play.

The teachers set up for art, and Michael and Sophie explored the room.  The big play kitchen and a couple of Sit and Spins signaled that we weren't in boring old Kansas anymore.  My buddies were pulling beanbag fruits and veggies off of a shelf--proof that they are in fact toddlers, according to the center director--when they were invited to make some art.  Sophie and Michael used white chalk to make a solar system on black construction paper and stuck star stickers onto it as well.  Sophie even ripped her paper to show her artistic sensibilities.  Such a divergent thinker.

Of course, after taking the time to ease in and get used to the environment, leaving was now tricky as well.  Sophie didn't want to give up her piece of chalk, and Michael discovered a big red phone and was chatting away.  I had to use the L-word (lunch) to coax them back home.

We'll go back again probably next week.  Like last year, these visits are partly for me, so I can envision them playing happily, knowing they are familiar with the people and surroundings of the center when I'm back at work. 

I've heard mothers debate whether it's better to go back to work when your kids are infants and are less aware but seemingly more delicate or when they're toddlers, seemingly stronger but more aware of your absence.  I am incredibly grateful for my two months at home with Michael and Sophie this summer and for being able to have spent several months with them after they were born, but I'm in no hurry to have experience on both sides of that argument.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Soup Song

For me there was "Sullivan Street" by the Counting Crows sometime during the summer of '94.  My brother knocked on my bedroom door and begged me to stop playing it.  I'm not sure how many times I'd hit the back button on the CD player to hear the song again, but it was one time too many for Joe.

For Mike I know there was "Layla."  His mom said he played that one over and over and over.

I now sympathize with both my brother and my mother-in-law and suspect that if I have a nervous breakdown someday, you'll find me rocking in a corner singing "Stirring up some soup that's full of ABC's.  Would you like to try some?  First you should say please!  Thank you."

Here's why.

I actually really like this little kitchen, a Christmas gift from Mike's parents.  The kids love the pot and spoon that came with it and will gladly feed you imaginary bites, stirring the pot to get you some heaping pretend scoops.  Its plastic carrots, milk carton, and jar of applesauce fit into cut-outs in the refrigerator door, and shape toys are a big hit with Michael and Sophie these days. 

One great feature is that the songs and sounds don't interrupt each other--once one is playing, it plays to the end.  The little V-Tech Noah's Ark toy I picked up long ago at a mom-to-mom sale doesn't have that feature.  You'll hear a few notes of one song then a lion's half-roar cut off by some banging on the piano keys as the kids explore all the gadgets.  Let that sucker sink.

I guess the best feature of all of these toys is really the off switch.  Mommy's sanity saver!

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