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

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

What's on your first day of school checklist? ©Sam LeVan/stock.xchng

Building a nest of toilet paper. Check.

Talking about stranger danger. Check.

The perfect backpack and lunch bag packed with crayons, sharpened pencils and a marble notebook. Check.

Colors, counting to 100, letter sounds. Check, check, and check.

Being convinced of the importance of wearing sneakers instead of “heel shoes” on the playground. Check (finally).

Giving up naps. Well, we’re almost there. Three weeks after her day care teachers started phasing out naps to prepare the children for kindergarten, most of them are making it through dinner before falling asleep for the night. She wasn’t for a while and I was getting really worried. (But that was totally karma coming back to bite me since I used to silently snicker when parents would whine: “How is my baby going to go a whole day without a nap when he starts kindergarten?”)

So, what else is left to do before kindergarten starts? I feel like we have been talking about it forever with our daughter who will have her fifth birthday a few weeks after the big day. That puts her a little on the young side, but I know she is more than ready.

She must also have some sort of mental checklist going. The other day she asked me — in tears no less — how she would ever figure out how to unwrap a sandwich.

Since she shares her brother’s repulsion for grey chicken nuggets, I only assumed that I would be making lunch for her to bring in every day. I just never thought about the puzzle that is aluminum foil. So I promised her we would practice. She stopped crying and has asked for a trial run every day since.

The other big deal is getting ready for the bus ride. She’s been crying about that for the last three years on her brother’s first day of school — because she wanted to get on the school bus with him. Now that it’s her turn to finally go, she’s nervous. Where do I sit? Who will I sit with? What if I don’t know where to get off? But mommy, I’m going to miss you. Cue tears.

Thankfully the school district does a trial run the week before school starts. She will have a bus ride with her class around the parking lot at school. It’s going to be fun, I promise her.

When the day finally arrives, I know she will do just fine. This is the beginning of many years of preparing and learning and growing. She’s ready. And I’m ready. Truthfully, I’m excited.

There’s a chance I won’t even cry as the bus pulls away — not that I won’t have a tissue stashed in my pocket just in case. But I look at this first day of kindergarten as a milestone in my life as a mother. My child is ready to fluff up those wings and I can’t wait to see her confidently fly through those doors, ready to take this leap.

How close are you to being ready? Is your little one excited about the first day of school? What else have you done to prepare?

Best of: Road Trip Games

©MEJones/stock.xchng

When your family goes on a road trip, how do you keep the kids entertained?

Road trip! The words have different connotations depending upon your age and station in life. For families with young children, the notion of hours (and hours and hours) in a moving metal box with four wheels and finite space can seem a bit daunting.

There are, luckily, devices designed to keep the whole family entertained while you are on the way to the main entertainment (Walley World anyone?). From portable DVD players to handheld video games (and let’s not forget books!), there are myriad ways to keep kids busy while you drive from Point A to Point B (and stop at Landmark C in between).

But now, not to get all “when I was your age I walked uphill in a snowstorm seven miles both ways,” but when we were younger, there were no electronic toys to keep us occupied. It was just ourselves (and a sibling or two), confined to the back seat, trying to stay sane. What did we do? Road trip games of course! Here are some of our favorites:

  • I Spy
  • 20 Questions
  • License Plate Bingo
  • Team Storytelling
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors
  • Banana Game (Whoever finds the most yellow cars wins)
  • Punchbuggy! (In which you keep an eye out for VW Bugs)
  • Mad Libs (buy the books or make up your own in advance)
  • Which Hand?
  • Quiz the Big People (the little one picks a topic and you name as many Pokemon, dinosaurs, etc. as you can in a minute)
  • Be Weird Al (and create your own song parodies)
  • Build an Imaginary Sandwich (the only time you will OK a pretzel, chocolate chip, syrup, white bread combo)
  • Colorforms on the windows
  • Magnetic fishing

What about you? What kind of road trip games do you like to play in the car with your kids?

(Originally published on July 22, 2011)

It’s the Itchy and Scratchy Show!

lice treatment

Amanda was going to run a photo of a louse to accompany her post, but she can't stand to look at another one. Here's a generic picture of a comb instead. You're welcome. aperfect1©/stock.xchng

If, for whatever reason, I am ever asked to come up with a way to torture someone, and I mean, really inflict maniacal psychological warfare, I have the perfect method.

I will infest my victim and everyone who lives in their house with lice.

Think I’m being a little, I don’t know, soft on my potential target? Clearly, you have never dealt with these wingless bloodsuckers that will just not go away.

It all started two weeks ago when I found a single louse on my 3-year-old’s head. With my own head becoming suddenly incredibly, unbelievably itchy and my stomach plummeting into the basement, my husband confirmed what I couldn’t bring myself to say or even think.

We had lice. And by we, I mean two of my children (my daughter and my younger boy) and me. (My husband is voluntarily bald. Cheater.)

I remember very clearly my reaction. I went with the three-year-old temper tantrum route, shouting, crying, balling my fists and stomping my feet. The funny (heh – I don’t think the word “funny” has ever been used in conjunction with lice before) thing was, I didn’t even know what I was in for. Just that it wasn’t going to be good. And it wasn’t.

Oh it wasn’t.

Because it wasn’t enough for the universe to just give us lice. It had to take away our hot water in the form of a broken boiler. And have my husband be at work for the next 48 hours.

Me + three cases of lice – a supply of hot water – my support system = One ticket to crazytown with all the extra baggage I could carry.

When I am faced with a problem, I automatically go into research mode and this time was no exception. The problem is, all my googling was making me more upset, despite almost every article I read starting with the same two words: DON’T PANIC. (Yeah, right. There are bugs. In our HAIR. They are LAYING EGGS. Seems like a perfect time to panic to me.)

I think the hardest part for me through it all was the hopelessness I felt. Like swimming in Jell-O (with bugs in my hair). Because no matter what I did, no matter how much money I spent, no matter how much time I spent picking through my daughter’s hair or my own (I shaved both of my boys’ heads. I was not messing around), I felt like I was always a step behind. There was always going to be a nit I missed or worse, a bug I couldn’t catch. I can’t even tell you how many treatments my daughter and I wound up having (at least five each in the course of a week).

I turned into a crazy person, with the lice overtaking every part of my life. I read, reread and read websites, over and over again, looking for some easy solution. I washed and rewashed and washed again what felt like every article of clothing and sheet in our house. (Major props to my husband for doing six loads of laundry at the laundromat on Mother’s Day.) I bought every kind of treatment, preventative spray and anti-lice product out there. I cross-examined other parents for tips and tricks (Major props to Suzanne for sending me a list of of things to do. Interestingly enough, it also carried the “Don’t panic” propaganda.) Because there was a major outbreak of lice (seven cases!) in my daughter’s class, I spent some time on the phone with the principal of her school, peppering her with questions on she was doing to disinfect and clean the classroom and educating the kids and their parents.

Not to mention how I tortured my family. Begging my husband to comb through my hair. Chasing after all three kids with sprays concocted of mint and rosemary (lice don’t like these scents apparently). Making my daughter wear her hair up in a braid and plastered with hair spray . Not to mention the plastic shopping bag in lieu of her knapsack I make her keep her things in once she gets inside of her classroom — not a cool thing to do apparently.

But no matter what I was doing, no matter how busy I kept myself, no matter how in control I tried to put myself, the lice were always in the back of my head (literally!), taunting me. I couldn’t relax. Until now. Kind of. (Not really.)

Two weeks of this ordeal and I’m cautiously optimistic that we might have very possibly, potentially, perhaps, maybe have gotten rid of them. (I’m being intentionally vague and humble on the chance that one of the little buggers reads this and decides to come back and teach me a lesson.) My daughter and I each had a treatment today — the “OK, no live bugs in over a week but you still better do a follow-up” treatment. We both came back clean, save for a few stray nits on her head that I have removed. My head still itches, but both my husband and I have been through my hair up and down and side to side and can find nothing. I think I might have overdone it on the treatments and now I’m reacting to them, physically and psychologically.

I promised my daughter that after this treatment that I wouldn’t be on top of her with the combs and tweezers as often (I was doing it twice a day), but as I write this, I know this is a promise I won’t be able to keep. I’m still scarred. And scared. You hear that lice? I’m scared. You win. Please leave us alone!

Have you or anyone in your house ever had lice? When did you reach the point where you could say, “O.K., they are gone?”

By the way, if you know me in real life, please don’t mention my post to my daughter. She will reinfect me herself if she knows this story is floating around on the Internets.

Watch a little TV to encourage reading?

Reading books ranks right up at the top of my priorities along with fulfilling basic needs and good oral hygiene. My husband and I enjoy all media and so my children are exposed to practically every form of entertainment that is available and age appropriate. With so many entertainment options – apps, books, magazines, movies, music, newspapers, television, theater, video games and websites – I have to use every creative angle I can to make books stand out from the glitzy competition.

Public enemy number one in my household always seems to be the ever-present television. It’s not just cartoons or shows. It’s the Wii or our collection of 400 plus DVDs. When this topic arises while chatting with other moms, it is apparent that we all struggle to find the right balance for ourselves and our children. Some moms say no TV on school nights. Others have removed the offending device from their homes altogether. Still others place no restrictions at all.

In my house we have a few basic rules when it comes to either television or reading: No Wii after dinner, no movies on weeknights after 7 p.m., no TV until homework is completed, Thursday is reading night, Sunday is library day, and so on.

Surprisingly, I find that other forms of media, and in particular television, don’t necessarily compete with reading but rather inspire it. As a toddler, my son would gravitate towards a book with a cover that featured a character he was familiar with. You know, one of those many licensed characters from PBS or Disney movies? In marketing this is called brand extension: movies, toys, games, tv shows and books. Each cross promotes the other using one common theme. And, while it feels predatory to me at times (as in toys or non-educationally based tv shows), I have found it helpful when introducing reading to my son. My son will watch a movie, play the video game and then…READ the book!

Rather than one form of media cannibalizing the other, I find that one actually reinforces the other. If a TV show or website helps my son get past his hesitation to read a book, I’m all for it. After all, he already knows and loves the characters. He may even know the plot. He seems to take comfort in the familiar content and this gives him the motivation to tackle the words he doesn’t know.

So, while striking a healthy balance between all the different media for myself and the entire family is a daily struggle. I tend to think of it like a diet: moderation and variation is key to a healthy lifestyle. In this case a movie, some game time and a bit of reading does the trick.

tracey

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?

iPads, Kindles and Nooks … Oh, my!

My pre-schooler has a Nook Color. At first glance, this might seem indulgent, but the motivation to purchase a digital device was purely an act of self-preservation.

My kids are forever intrigued by my iPad. They beg to play games. They whine to watch movies. They just can’t keep their hands off it. Upon picking up my iPad after kiddie use, I discover the thing that grosses me out about kids — even my own — slime. A six-week pinkeye bout later and I was determined to invest in a digital reader for each child.

For me, it came down to the choice between three options: iPad, Kindle or Nook Color. I wanted my kids to read. They wanted to play games. Could I find a device that could meet both of these requirements?

The iPad was the first to be eliminated. I deemed it too expensive and too heavy for little hands prone to dropping things. Yes, there are many cool book apps. However, my goal was to was to get them to read first and then shoot birds across the screen later. Book apps aside, there’s just too many other media offerings on the iPad to distract my children from reading.

Hands down, if it were all about reading books, Kindle would be my first choice. It has the lowest price point and ease of purchase using the Amazon store. At the time I was purchasing, the e-ink black and white device was the only option available. Not such a good option for someone who planned to purchase children’s picture books. And, let’s face it, my kids weren’t attracted to my iPad for the text. They were anticipating vibrancy and interactivity. The Kindle just wasn’t going to cut it.

This left me and my family with one alternative choice, the Nook Color. This device has a good selection of children’s book and offers select, popular apps. My kids can read, play games and watch movies. The Nook has one thing that makes it stand out from the competition, it is the only device that has an association with a physical bookstore. B&N gives full access to select titles and other promotional incentives to bring Nook buyers back into the store. Imagine my son’s joy when B&N gave a free Mighty Eagle to all those who played Angry Birds while in the store.

It has been several months since this major purchase and my children enjoy their Nooks daily. Turns out that there are many children’s books available and even some that will read to my daughter. Oh, and that in-store service came in handy. My husband and I thought the touch screen wasn’t being responsive, so we brought it to the local B&N. Imagine our embarrassment when the associate pulled out the screen cleaner!

Note: I made the decision to buy a Nook Color just as the Kindle Fire launched. The Fire gets less than stellar reviews for user interface, but it has a color screen and is a tablet. If I had to make the purchase again today, I would still purchase the Nook for my children. Why? The integration between the physical and digital, both store and content is important to me and I want my children to make the connection and respect both options.

tracey

Encylopedia Brown: More than a Mystery?

Cuddling up with my seven-year old, lights out and flashlight in hand, we readied ourselves to dive into his first-ever detective mystery novel. He was excited about the flashlight. I was excited about passing on the joy of reading books filled with adventure and intrigue.

The book I selected to deliver on such high expectations was Encyclopedia Brown. Earlier in the day, my husband and I had picked this book while browsing the shelves at the local B&N. He spotted the Encyclopedia Brown series and recalled liking them as a child. I remembered Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fondly. I had never heard of this series or character.

This being my first exposure to Encyclopedia Brown, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Luckily, it became apparent after the initial well-constructed and neatly wrapped-up chapter that facts are presented, clues are given, and the reader is left to use their own deductive reasoning skills to sort out the mystery. Helpful answers are provided at the end of the chapter to help the novice detective along.

Beginning with chapter 2, my son and I were ready to do some sleuthing of our own. We could solve these mysteries with a bit of research.  Who won the battle of Waterloo?  No problem.  Then, I glanced over at my son and realized he hadn’t a clue as to how to find the answers.

An image of my childhood collection of Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the top shelf of my closet, quietly awaiting the next social studies report sprung immediately to mind.  What to do? We have no such printed reference materials in our household today. We have the internet. We have…WIKIPEDIA!

The rest of our reading time was spent discussing technology and its impact on information. I explained to my son that today information is stored, shared and updated constantly on the world wide web. It is no longer the static, outdated facts on a printed page that I had as a child.

Coincidentally, I recently read an announcement that Encyclopedia Britannica will stop printing books. Turns out that the 2010, 32-volume set will be the last of its kind as the company focuses on digital.  They are betting that consumers will see the value and pay for vetted, expert information vs. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

So as new technology forces the old to adapt and compete, will Encyclopedia Brown be  renamed Wikipedia Brown? Which will resonate more with my son? What an unexpected twist to our evening. Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown!

tracey

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?