We Are Both Right

Following a One Kid/One Room Formula

©veralu/stock.xchng

In Amanda's house, siblings do not share a bedroom. How about in yours? ©veralu/stock.xchng

I can pretty much guarantee that my husband and I won’t be adding a fourth child to our brood. And while I have plenty of physical, emotional and financial reasons to keep that promise, my grounds are really driven by aesthetics.

We have three kids. We have four bedrooms in our house. We have no desire to move for the moment. Ergo, we will not be having any more children.

I understand that siblings sharing a room is hardly the end of the word, that millions (billions) do it all the time and grow up to live normal, happy existences, but for me, giving my kids their own room — a space that they can call entirely their own — is really important.

Houses are a public space. Our house isn’t tremendous and unless no one else is home, it’s rare that you find yourself alone in any room in the house (not counting the bathroom). I feel like giving kids their own room is giving them a haven. A place where their stuff stays safe, away from the prying hands and eyes of siblings; a place where they can sit and read or listen to music or just in silence; a place where they can just be alone. More importantly, their own room is also a place where they can keep their own mess and their own bedtime.

The funny thing is, I don’t think either of my older children would mind sharing a room with their younger brother at all. In fact, I think they would welcome it. When I was pregnant, we didn’t know what we were having. My son and daughter would fight with each other on whose room the baby would sleep in. Never mind that they were eight and six years older than their soon-to-be-born sibling. For them, the thought of having the baby in their room was terrific. (The baby, a boy, wound up sleeping in mine and my husband’s room for a little over a year, then we did some room swapping where we lost our office.)

Now that their baby sibling is a little brother (and one going through the toddler years at that), they still say they want to share a room with him, but their pleas are a bit less enthusiastic.

How does it work in your house? Did you share a room with a sibling when you were growing up?

While Suzanne’s kids don’t share a room, she wouldn’t mind it if they needed to.

Originally published October 3, 2011

Siblings Sharing a Room, Brady-Style

siblings sharing a room

There's a lot of irony in having siblings share a bedroom, but you might as well make the best of it like this sister/brother room does. Photo and design ideas provided by Project Nursery at http://goo.gl/AErgf

There’s a little bit of Brady Bunch envy still lurking within me. And part of it has to do with those big awesome bedrooms they shared, one for the three boys, and another for the three girls.

OK, so their dad was an architect. And each room looked like it was the equivalent of two oversized bedrooms with the wall taken down between them. And Mrs. Brady (or maybe it was Alice) coordinated the bedding just perfectly. It all looked so cool. And so much fun.

Remember when the boys scared the girls by projecting apparitions from the attic out the bedroom window? Or when one of the triple sets would huddle up in a bedroom to cover up some ill-fated scheme involving farm animals? Sure Greg eventually moved out into his attic bachelor pad, but it was a good setup there for a while.

I was convinced that there was nothing better than getting to share a room with a sibling, or two. And to a point, I still am.

Growing up, my sister and I shared a room for close to ten years after our brother was born and snagged the third bedroom. We even shared the same bed (a double from what I remember) for at least a few of those early years. But whether it was us singing show tunes while making the bed or throwing socks at the whirring ceiling fan while laying on our backs in bed, we learned to be a team. That came in handy when it came to covering for each other years later.

In some ways, I think that experience also primed me for parenting. I remember nights spent awake listening to my sister breathe after an especially bad bout with asthma. We were in twin beds at that point, and I would kneel beside her bed on the hardwood floors that had been cleared of carpeting that might harbor allergens, listening for consecutive breaths. My perfectly healthy babies would be under the same night watch years later.

Sharing a room with my sister wasn’t all fairy tale all the time though. We had our share of spats, and there was no place to escape to when the going got rough. But in the end, I still appreciate having those years in such close quarters. Because the Brady room ours was not.

Especially now, in the middle of this double dip recession (if the economists won’t officially declare one, you can take my word for it), I think room sharing is coming back into vogue. Families are downsizing their housing out of necessity. An ailing grandparent might need to move in. And in urban areas, where housing has always been a tight squeeze, room sharing is only becoming more commonplace.

There are ways to make it work and have fun with it. And there are times to let it go — like when children get older and privacy becomes a factor. But in the end, siblings sharing a room provides a special bonding experience that just might make things easier for them later.

Did you share a room growing up? Do your children now? Ever think you might have to tape a bed sheet to ceiling when the going got tough?

**********

Over at Amanda’s house, single rooms are such a priority that she and her husband gave up their longstanding home office (and a few weekends) to make room for their new addition.

Originally published October 3, 2011

Best of: Bringing Tears to Our Eyes

tears of joy

What makes you cry tears of joy? ©davidlat/stock.xchng

For my mother it’s the song “Pomp and Circumstance.” She could hear the hopeful notes being played as far away from a graduation ceremony as could possibly be (think Musak in the elevator), and she’ll still find herself welling up, imagining polyester gowns, squared-off caps and optimistic speeches that take too long.

Tears of joy — a phenomena that you’ll (hopefully) experience a lot as a parent. And the thing about crying happy tears is that you never know what will set you off. Maybe it’s a sweet homemade card or one of your kids doing something uncharacteristically nice for their siblings.

Whatever it is, despite you tears, you feel good inside and you are once again reminded how lucky you are to be a parent.

So in honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday we’re sharing our favorite ways our little ones bring tears to our eyes. Pass the tissues!

  • First steps
  • Preschool graduation ceremonies where they sing songs you wouldn’t expect — ask Suzanne about “I Believe I Can Fly”
  • Dance recitals
  • Watching a child sleep
  • Solos at the school band concert
  • School-sponsored Mother’s Day teas, complete with crumbly homemade cookies and watered-down juice
  • Watching your little athlete be handed the game ball
  • Thinking back to the delivery room
  • The Song “Five Days Old” by the Laurie Berkner Band (gets Amanda every time)
  • When they brush my hair
  • The last day of school (and camp) goodbyes with friends
  • Pictures of my children giggling and playing, full of love
  • The special moments when you see siblings really connect (and dare we say, adore each other)

What about you? What makes you cry happy tears?

Australian Company Offers Return to Work Bonus After Maternity Leave

Usually when we talk about maternity leave, it’s about what’s lacking about it. Especially in the United States. Well a new maternity leave policy implemented by an Australian company once again has me shaking my head at the dismal state of maternity benefits here.
According to The ABC, The Insurance Australia Group, one of the biggest companies in the land Down Under, has changed their maternity leave policy not only provides 14 weeks months of paid maternity leave, but a “back-to-work bonus” that doubles their salary for the first six weeks of their return.
“Basically this initiative came out of some discussions that we had with our people and specifically women on the difficulties and pressures that they faced upon returning to the workforce, and we think this welcome back payment is a good first step in helping them to address a number of those pressures,” IAG’s chief executive Mike Wilkins, told The ABC.
While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, the action is not without its critics. Detractors say that women are being rewarded to take time off to have a baby (which, if you’ve ever had a baby, you know it isn’t time off!). Still, for a woman who is trying to decide whether or not she should return to work, the bonus is a great incentive, one that benefits her co-workers and the company too.
Not to mention, if you are a parent or not, a company that offers a benefit like this obviously cares about its workers and is probably a pretty nice place to work.
Did you receive maternity/paternity benefits?

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Who Wants Her Fair Share

When you are finished using second-hand baby gear, should you return it? nerdluck©/stock.xchng

When you are finished using second-hand baby gear, should you return it? nerdluck©/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

Nearly two years ago, I gave a whole bunch of my baby gear to a friend who was about to give birth. Even though this was her fourth baby, it was a “surprise,” so she didn’t have much in the way of a stroller, high chair and other assorted equipment. I’m not planning on having any other children and the stuff was taking up room in my attic, so I was happy to pass it on and see someone else get use out of it (I told her as much). The stroller and high chair were two “big ticket” items, the rest of what I gave her included a nursing pillow, a whole bunch of clothing and some toys. Everything was in really good shape.

Fast forward to the present. My friend no longer has a baby girl, but a toddler and apparently doesn’t need the gear any longer. A few weeks ago I was surprised to see that she had posted a note on Facebook saying that her fourth was truly her family’s last baby and that she was selling off all of their gear. She included a list of all the items (with pictures), as well as a description and a price. I was horrified to see that a lot of the stuff on her list was what I had given her!

I was really mad that not only had she not asked me if I wanted my stuff back, but that she was selling it and hadn’t asked me if it was OK. I called her and asked her if she was planning on giving me a cut of the money she made off of my baby gear, and she point blank said, no, that I had given her everything not “loaned” it to her and she was well within her rights to sell it. Now we aren’t speaking.

What do I do? Honestly, if she had just told me her plans in advance, I probably wouldn’t have been mad, although I still would have wanted her to give me a portion of what she was selling it for. Also, there were some outfits that I wouldn’t have minded holding on to (for sentimental reasons) and now they are gone.

–I Should Have Just Had a Yard Sale

Amanda: I keep going back and forth on my answer. On the one hand, if you had given your friend a baby gift that was new, you wouldn’t expect it back. On the other hand, I agree that since she was selling the items and profiting off of your generosity, she probably should have run it past you first, if at the very least to find out if there was anything you wanted before it disappeared into another baby’s nursery. (And this would be true too if she was donating the items or passing them along to someone else.) So I guess the question is, was your baby gear a gift or a favor? Clearly, you and your friend have different opinions.

Since you’ve talked to her and she “disagrees” with you (part of me wonders if she’s embarrassed by the situation), I think I’d try one more time, maybe in a non-confrontational way. Write her a letter or an e-mail telling her how disappointed you are that she didn’t check with you first to find out if there was anything you wanted back, because there was. If she responds, then maybe you can once again try to discuss her giving you a portion of what she made from the sale of the gear.

If she doesn’t respond or is once again angry, I think letting it go is the best option. And in the future if you pass something along from your attic, be sure to let the recipient know if you want something back.

Suzanne: At this point I would just let it go. Sure you gave her things that maybe you could have used again, but if you didn’t mention that upfront as part of your agreement, then you really couldn’t expect her to comply.

When you give something away you just can’t expect to get it back. What if one of her older children accidentally stained the stroller seat with permanent marker — would you have expected a replacement?

Just last year I gave my sister-in-law whatever I had left of my children’s newborn clothes (being sure to keep a few of the outfits that were special to me) as well as a portable baby crib. When her twins outgrew everything she called to ask if I wanted it back. While it was very nice of her to ask, I replied that it was now hers to do with what she wished, whether that was pass it along to another mom who could use it, donate it, sell it, trash it, whatever.

She never told me what she ended up doing with the stuff and I have no reason to want to know. Because when I handed it over, I considered it her property.

And that’s why I think you might want to let this one go, in the interest of maintaining a friendship. But next time you decide to help a friend out, just be sure she knows what you mean when you loan something to her.

What do you think about what Yard Sale’s friend did? What do you do with used baby gear?

If you have a problem that needs two points of view, e-mail advice@wearebothright.com.

How Tight Are Your Apron Strings?

How tight are your apron strings? ©Adrian/stock.xchng

People watching. It’s a favorite pastime of mine.

So much so that you could send me to an airport right now, subject me to a five-hour layover and I would be more than happy to find a seat and watch the comings and goings of other people the whole time. (Of course, if my children were with me, the tables would be turned and we would be the people being watched.)

The way things have been lately, I have actually had a lot more time for people watching. You see, it’s an inverse relationship: lots of time waiting in lines, going to practices, and sitting in doctor’s offices means more people watching, less sit-ups and blogging.

Sometimes people watching is the only thing to do. Like in the gymnastics waiting room — my daughter is new to the class and I don’t know any of the other parents yet, but I do know who’s running a marathon and which moms and dads teach in the same school together. Last week, between S.’s turn on rings and her flips on the low bar, I picked up on two conversations that intrigued me. (OK, so it was more like public eavesdropping than people watching, but it struck me the same way.)

In one room, three moms were comparing sleep away camps. The conversation soon shifted to convincing another mom who was new to the concept that she would be fine with sending her second grader away to camp for the entire summer. I couldn’t see her reaction to gauge whether she bought it or not.

That’s because in my direct line of sight was a mother pressed up against the window, talking at the same time through the glass and to her husband who was half-listening with Blackberry in hand.

“They’re not even watching her. She’s going to fall,” the mom said. (Just to set the scene: the room is lined in wall-to-wall heavy duty mats equipped to cushion an adult falling off the uneven bars and her preschooler was about a foot off the ground on another foam mat, while two instructors looked over a class of six.) She spent most of the class saying the same thing over and over again.

I was keeping my judgment-free cap on, and didn’t even react when I saw that her child was dressed in a zipped-up, velour track suit on a 60-degree day. As if she read my mind, she wondered aloud to her husband how some kids could be dressed in leotards on such a cold day — as my leotarded daughter jumped off the balance beam.

No offense taken. Because these are the observations I like best. They make me think. About how I make choices as a mom. How I view different approaches to parenting. And if such differences validate my way of doing things or make me feel inadequate.

This version of people watching, or parent watching, has made me question how tight the apron strings really need to be. Most people like to keep their kids close, others even closer. But where do I want to fall?

I always fancied myself a supportive and open-minded parent, one who would be happy to help my children find their wings and learn to fly. I can picture myself smiling (with a single tear on my cheek) as we pull up to campus on the first day of college. I want to be the mom who could not be more proud that her child becomes self-sufficient and independent.

I truly believe that I will feel fulfilled to see my children make a life of their own — and not feel the need to pick out their furniture, invite myself on the honeymoon or even into the delivery room for that matter.

Of course, my two are still young. And I still smother them with worry sometimes. But there are lots of times when I think that maybe there’s a motherly doting gene I’m missing.

I let a lot of things fly, like hats on a cold day. There are times I expected them to toughen up, even as toddlers, and stick out a long day without a nap at home or forgo the favorite sippy cup which hadn’t made it through the dishwasher yet. It doesn’t leave me panicked to let them go on field trips and ride school buses without taking the teacher’s cell phone number.

Nine years into the experiment and I haven’t made any fatal mistakes. So that’s a good thing. But I’m wondering if I should be holding them tighter, worrying more, and not wanting to let go.

Tell me, how tight are your apron strings?

Preserving Memories – What’s Your Style?

old family photos

What are your family's memories made of? ©Jean Scheijen/stock.xchng

The other night, while I was rearranging the game closet (because it was about time) my daughter came up behind me and asked for her special pink book. “The one that’s all about me,” she said.

I reached up two shelves and handed over a fuzzy covered photo album that contains about two hundred pictures of her first two weeks of life. Yes, I take a lot of pictures. And my kids love me for it. ;-)

Actually, I have archived so many pictures that my husband jokes around that when we’re both gone someday, our son and daughter will be sitting in our house, looking at a room full of photo albums and portable hard drives, saying: “What are we supposed to do with all of this?”

But hey, it’s my memory-preserving style of choice.

Kids grow up so fast. There are so many special moments that I’m always thinking, I wish I could bottle this up and take it out down the road. The color of my daughter’s hair as I put it into pigtails for the first time. My son as a toddler digging into his favorite vegetable — corn on the cob. The looks on their faces the first time each of them rode a pony. Family gardening days out in the yard. Trips to the beach. Visits with great-grandma.

All of the random stuff that makes our family’s world go ’round. And so I take pictures. Lots of them.

There are so many other ways to capture a memory:

Keeping a baby book (although most moms feel a slight tinge of guilt when they think about their unfulfilled wishes for their baby book).

Blogging. I’ve gone so far as to print out most of the blogs I’ve written about my children, but somehow I don’t see them paging through these as much as they will our photo albums.

Scrapbooking, whether digitally or traditionally.

Logging highlights on Facebook–which our kids will probably hate us for someday when their potty training progress (and hang-ups) is still on full display for their prom date’s reading pleasure.

Videos–which are probably the best way to go back in time, if we could just settle on a format that’s going to last a lifetime!

What’s your memory-keeping style of choice?

Best Of: How to Make Time for Your Spouse or Partner

Even if you are married with kids, a (quiet) candlelit dinner is possible! cynthiab ©/stock.xchng

Even if you are married with kids, a (quiet) candlelit dinner is possible! cynthiab ©/stock.xchng

Being married with kids can sometimes give you tunnel vision. Wake the kids, feed the kids, play with the kids, get the kids to school, get the kids from school, get the kids to afterschool activities, feed the kids dinner, put the kids to bed and everything else that the kids need in between.

All important of course, but it’s also necessary to make time for your partner in all this — your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend — it doesn’t matter what they are called, but it does matter that you get some alone time together, or at least a few minutes to talk uninterrupted. But how? Certainly you could hire a babysitter for an evening, but that often comes with extra cost and not everyone has access to a person they trust.

Instead, consider ways to make time within the confines of your busy life to find time. Take advantage of the few quiet moments or carve out some time by making your own (some are better advised than others). Even if the kids are with you, it is possible! Here are our suggestions:

  • Tuck the kids into bed early, rent a movie or play a game and bring in take out for a late dinner
  • Consider taking a break from dinner time being family time for a night. Let the kids eat in the living room with a movie while you have a quiet dinner in the dining room (or vice versa)
  • Wake up early and eat breakfast together alone
  • Pack the kids in the car and go for a long drive. If your minivan or vehicle is equipped with DVD player, utilize it. If not, let the kids bring books or portable game systems that will keep them occupied. (Make an exception if you usually frown upon such devices.)
  • If you both work (or if one of you does) while the kids are in school or daycare, consider taking a “goof off” day
  • When the weather is nice, go for a walk as a family at a local high school on the running track. Let the kids run ahead (staying in sight of course) while you two talk.
  • Invite another couple with kids over for dinner. Let the children entertain each other while they play, giving the grown-ups a chance to socialize.
  • If there is another family you are friendly with, consider setting up a babysitter swap arrangement where you take their kids for a night and they take yours.

How do you make time for your marriage?

Why Yes, I am a Terrible Person

weblux/stock.xchng

This place looks pretty quiet and remote, but I bet the second I sit down my kids find me. ©weblux/stock.xchng

This is how desperate I am for some alone time. (And please, don’t take offense, I’m at my wit’s end here.)

Today, my husband will be attending the wake of a colleague’s father. A solemn occasion honoring and remembering a good man that I have never met (I was introduced to my husband’s fellow worker once). It will be a room filled with this man’s family and friends, all mourning his death and celebrating his life. And what am I doing besides writing out a sympathy card?

I’m begging my husband to let me go with him. Begging. Think the last piece of chocolate cheesecake begging.

“We’ll get dressed up!” I told him as I plead my case yesterday afternoon while our children zoomed around our house, high on an energy that can only come from a Friday that leads into a week off from school. “We’ll have an hour-long car ride alone together — we can finish our sentences without being interrupted! Maybe we can grab a bite to eat after!”

My husband raised his left eyebrow at me and gave me a look of semi-disbelief. “Are you trying to turn the wake of a man into date night?”

At that moment, my 9-year-old daughter ran through the kitchen with her 2-year-old brother on her back, both of them shrieking at the top of their lungs, their 11-year-old brother  (brandishing a light saber, naturally), not far behind.

“Please,” I implored. “Think about how quiet it will be.”

And that my friends, is what it has come down to.

I had lunch with an old friend and colleague recently who relayed  a story about her younger sister. When her sister’s children were small — probably around the age of my brood — she used to “joke” that even going to the dentist and getting a root canal was enjoyable, because it meant she had a moment’s peace.

Show of hands, how many of you are nodding your heads and saying to yourself, “Well, that sounds reasonable.”?

I thought so.

I love my children. More than anything else in the world. I never thought my capacity to love and care about someone else (and that’s three someone elses) could be so vast and deep. When they are happy, I’m ecstatic. When they are sad, I’m inconsolable. I have never laughed as hard as I do when one of my children is doing something silly. They keep me active and awake and engaged.  My smile is bigger because of them.  They are my light and my life and I’m a better person for them.

But they are loud. Oh, so very loud. And they like to interrupt a lot. And spill things. Also, yell. And I never get to watch my shows. (Seriously, I’m like four episodes back on Revenge.)

In any case, I’ve come to my senses and restored my sensitive gene. I will not be attending that wake. But I do go to the gym a few times a week. And if you knew me from days of yore, you’d know that my sudden interest in exercise is less about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and more about something else. (Hint: no one asks me to put the straw in their juice box while I’m on the treadmill.)

Still, even while I’m rolling my eyes and breaking out the earplugs when the herd of oxen I live with comes trampling through the living room, I tell myself that it won’t be like this forever. In fact, it won’t be like this for very long at all. And while quiet sounds like heaven right now, I bet ten years from now it will be deafening.

OK, let me have it. I’m an insensitive clod. But ‘fess up. What measures have you gone to to secure a moment for yourself?

When Speaking Up Means Staying Quiet

Football stadium

Amanda discovered that sometimes advocating for your child means not saying a word. ©We Are Both Right

It’s a piece of advice that seems to transcend parenting books, styles and experts: Advocate for your child. There’s a lot of wiggle room in those four words, but for me, they always meant “SPEAK UP!” whether it was in the classroom, pediatrician’s office or even on the playground. If my child can’t articulate for themselves what they need, then it’s my job as mom to help them get it. I learned recently though, that sometimes advocating for your child means knowing when to stay quiet.

Over the weekend, my 11-year-old son and I attended an incredibly popular sporting event. A football game, you may have even seen it on network television (I hear the commercials are pretty funny). The circumstances of how we attended aren’t important, but that we did, just the pair of us, is. I was slightly nervous about going to an event like this without a male presence — not to demean myself as a woman, but in a stadium filled with rowdy, possibly inebriated fans, I felt like my son and I (decked out in gear supporting our team) were easy, vulnerable targets.

For the most part, I needn’t had worried. Our section was filled with fans supporting both teams and there was even a family sitting immediately to the right of us. At the beginning of the game, a group of three male fans about seven rows back were escorted out by security for having a bit too much to drink (something they denied but was then confirmed when one in their party slipped down the cement steps — ouch!), but otherwise we were in a good group of people who were just as happy to be there as we were. And while we were all hoping our team would win, just being at this game was enough to keep everyone satisfied.

Kind of. In the row immediately behind us, were a pair of 30-something males who were rooting for the team that we weren’t. That’s fine, except their choice of language wasn’t exactly the stuff nursery rhymes are made of. Now my son is 11, he’s certainly been exposed to words like this (not by me!), but not at the frequency and the intensity that these words were uttered (and shouted).

So what to do? If my husband was there, I’d either ask him to say something (chances are he’d do it on his own) or I’d speak up myself. Nothing confrontational of course, just a simple, “Hey guys, do you mind watching what you say? My kid is sitting right here.” But my husband wasn’t there and I wasn’t sure how these men would react to me, a mother and her child. Would they feel terrible for their transgression, curb their creative vocabulary immediately and apologize for their lack of tact and etiquette? Could be. Or would it go the other way and would I suddenly find myself in a not-so-great situation with my son looking on?

Honestly, I didn’t want to find out, so I did nothing.

Well, not nothing exactly. The next day, after the game was over (our team won!), I mentioned what had happened to my son to get his read on it. It seemed like he hadn’t even noticed, so caught up in the game was he, that the two dopes behind us never hit his radar. Still, in hindsight I question if I did the right thing. Maybe I should have said something, or even texted security (there was a number where you could report unruly game goers). That thought had passed through my mind at the time, but I was concerned that the pair would have just been given a warning, my hand would have been tipped and then a few choice foul words would have been the least of my problems. Also, I felt uncomfortable about “tattling” when I hadn’t had the courage (or good sense) to first speak to these men myself.

Overall, I’m comfortable with what I didn’t do and would probably make the same choice next time, but I’m curious what other parents would do in my situation. Seeing that the family sitting next to me didn’t speak up either, I feel like I’ve been validated a bit. What do you think? Did I make the right decision? Have you ever felt that staying silent was the best option?