We Are Both Right

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?

Best of: What’s for Brinner?

breakfast for dinner

Breakfast for dinner anyone? ©Alicia Solario/stock.xchng

Brinner. Better known as breakfast for dinner. Or that quick fix on a busy night when you just can’t fathom take-out again.

What’s not to like?

Brinner is the easiest evening meal to pull off.

It can be as healthy as you make it.

The kids can help.

Did we mention it’s quick?

And in our homes, brinner often gets a better reception from the kids than when we spend close to an hour or longer finely mincing, dicing, and sauteing ourselves to a balanced meal (and a sink full of dirty dishes).

The husbands are a different story. Brinner is not a winner for either of them, although neither seems to mind if we serve the kids pancakes at 6 p.m. when they’re working late.

And at times like that, a mom will eat just about anything that doesn’t require a meat thermometer:

Sticky Waffles: Pop a few fluffy style frozen waffles (cinnamon work great with this) into the toaster. Set your preschooler up with a butter knife and a peeled banana to slice into quarter-inch rounds (or however they manage to do it). Spread peanut butter (optional) onto the toasted waffles, top with bananas and drizzle with honey. Warm, sticky, and yummy!

Egg Sandwiches: Eggs any which way with your favorite cheese, and bacon if you have a few more minutes to spare, smooshed between toasted English muffins, croissants, whole wheat, frozen dinner rolls, whatever bread you have on hand — it all works!

Veggie Frittata or Omelette: Same idea as above, just dump some whisked eggs and milk into an oven proof pan. Stir in diced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, peppers, leftover ham, or anything you have a chance at disguising for your kids. Top with shredded cheese and slip it into a warm oven while you find those paper plates.

Breakfast burrito: Line up bowls with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns (the frozen kind warmed up), salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese alongside warmed tortilla wraps and consider it a make-your-own kind of night.

What’s for brinner by you? Share your favorite “recipe” below and tell us about how many times a month you enjoy breakfast for dinner.

The Stuff Legendary Gifts Are Made Of

Holiday memories come in all shapes and sizes. ©We Are Both Right

Childhood memories fascinate me.

I love to ask my children what their first permanent memories are — things like the earliest point in time they can remember, what they were wearing or who they were with. My daughter’s is from last year’s vacation in California. My son’s earliest memory is playing with plastic dinosaurs in his room.

So no sooner than the first Christmas decorations appeared and pushed the Halloween candy into the clearance aisle, I was inspired to poll everyone I know about their most memorable holiday gift as a child.

The best reaction I got was from my husband. In less than a second he was telling me about a blue hockey helmet with a white cage that he went to the store a few days before Christmas to pick up with his dad. He brain-dumped so much detail on me about that Christmas that I felt giddy for him.

It made me recall the Christmas when I (or maybe it was my brother) got a magic kit. Even though I can’t remember whose name was on the tag, I have vivid memories of playing with the retractable wand and pulling a rabbit from a top hat. Also memorable is the year I got an electric Brother typewriter with the correct tape built in! Geeky, but oh so prophetic for this writer.

Still, the holiday that stands out most in my mind is the year that my brother was born just three weeks before Christmas. Now before you jump to any sappy conclusions, my kid brother is merely an accessory to this memory. (Sorry T., I know you thought I was about to publicly make up for my wrongs.) Anyway, that was the only year that my extended family let my mom off the hook for the huge family dinner that she usually prepared for 30 every Christmas Eve.

Instead, we celebrated a quiet evening at home with just our immediate family. We were lucky enough to have Santa stop by for his (her) cameo that evening, although I don’t remember any of the gifts he brought.

What I do remember is the gift I received from my maternal grandmother that year. It was a mushroom crate — the wooden, woven kind, held together with wire. There were two in fact — one for me and one for my sister — each with red gingham fabric sewn to fit inside the crate and draped over the sides to make a doll cradle. When I placed my favorite doll inside, it hugged her as snugly as my newborn brother in my mom’s arms.

The simple things.

For his own reasons, my nine-year-old also remembers his sister’s first Christmas. He was five and the unexpected jealousy following the ending of his only-child reign had just about worn off.

His big gift under the tree that year was an Xbox 360 (can you say parental guilt?). But the part he forgets (phew!) is that when we plugged it in that day, we quickly discovered that it had been used and broken, and then repackaged. My little guy (and his deflated dad) didn’t get to play with it until a big box store made good on Santa’s damages.

I wonder if it’s “the thing” he’ll tell his family about one day in so much detail that they feel like they were there with him. Or maybe that memory is yet to be made.

How about you — any big holiday surprises from childhood that still make you smile?

It didn’t take Amanda long to remember that special gift she wished for… and got!

That’s my iPad! Mine, mine, mine.

Forget planned obsolescence. It looks like technology manufacturers have thought of one better.

Just put your saved-all-my-latte-money-and-rewards-points-to-buy-this iPad into the hands of a toddler and it’s all but guaranteed that you will have to buy another sooner rather than later. Whoever thought of that plan is genius.

At least that’s what I’m thinking after reading about all the new apps and attachments that are coming out just in time for the holidays. Can you say crayon stylus?

Even the Brookstone catalog that arrived in the mail today has an iSomething accessory for kids on almost every page. Everything from a toy helicopter, sing-along microphone to spy robot offers the bonus of being operable via Mommy’s iPod, iPhone and/or iPad.

In other words, they are forcing us to share. Whether we like it or not.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I like to keep my pricey technology to myself. My children have plenty to keep them occupied that they don’t need to be half-owners of the phone, iPod or laptop that my husband and I just about managed to get ourselves into. It’s bad enough that our three-year-old iPod got corrupted over the weekend. I don’t think a preschooler who likes to rip it off the charger had anything to do with it, but it pains me nonetheless.

How do you feel about sharing your technology? Are you happy to hand it over once and a while? Or is it just easier to get them their own (and hope it doesn’t break too soon)?

One last question, and I guess this is my underlying hesitation about the whole thing: Do kids really need all this technology at such a young age? Sure, it’s how they will grow up, but does every toy have to be an app?

Best of: Reasons Why You’re the Meanest Mom

mean mom glanzerr©/stock.xchng

Sorry kid, if you want to go outside, you'll need to put your coat on. glanzerr©/stock.xchng

There’s an interesting little aspect of parenting that no one tells you about. Your kids may love you, but it doesn’t mean they have to like you. Especially when you are in “mean mom” mode — telling them not do something that they want to do or making them eat their vegetables or coming up with some other ridiculous “mom” rule that is completely unfair in the oh-so-silly interest of keeping them safe and healthy.

You know what we mean. One chilly morning last week (34 degrees fahrenheit), Amanda’s 11-year-old son stormed off to the school bus stop in a huff because she made him put on his coat. The horror! What’s next? A hat? Some gloves?

And that’s not all! Here are some more seemingly-obvious little rules that we’ve actually found ourselves uttering and, according to our kids, make us the meanest moms that ever lived. (Please save your phone calls to the authorities until you have reached the end of the list.)

  • No bare feet on the dinner table. (No feet on the table period.)
  • No using your little brother as a ball.
  • Your test is a week away? Great! Start studying now.
  • Jell-O is not a fruit.
  • Yes, you have to take a shower every day.
  • The ceiling fan is not the same as the monkey bars and should not be treated as such.
  • Please stop jumping on the trampoline, um, I mean couch.
  • The dog is not a horse.
  • No more slap shots with the hockey puck down the hallway.
  • You’re nine now, it’s time to use a fork.

We know we aren’t alone. Share your favorite “mean mom” moments in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

“Trouble in Toyland” — Playthings You’ll Want to Avoid this Holiday Season

You’ve made your list and checked it twice but is what you (or Santa) planning to give the child really as safe as you think it is?

Twenty-four seemingly (and not-so-seemingly) innocuous toys have had the dubious honor of being listed in the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s “Trouble in Toyland” report, a survey of toys that don’t meet the standards of safety set the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other health organizations.

While the list isn’t exhaustive, U.S. PIRG shopped a host of toy stores, malls and dollar stores in September and October 2011 nationwide, looking potentially dangerous toys. Using CPSC recalls and other regulatory actions as their guide, the group searched for toys that “posed a potential toxic, choking, strangulation or noise hazard.”

“Choking on small parts, small balls and balloons is still the leading cause of toy-related injury,” said U.S.PIRG’s Nasima Hossain. ”Between 1990 and 2010 over 400 children died from toy-related injuries, but more than half choked on small parts, balloons or balls. While most toys are safe, our researchers still found toys on the shelves that pose choking hazards and other toys that contain hazardous levels of toxic chemicals including lead.”

Toys on the list include a variety of playthings that appeal to kids of all ages including including an Elmo cell phone, a Hot Wheels stunt car, a Tinkerbell watch, a Hello Kitty keychain, a toy-sized Honda motorcycle, and a Whirly Wheel. The full report is an eye-opener, and will certainly give you pause the next time you go toy shopping.

“Parents and toy givers need to remember that while the CPSC is doing a good job, it doesn’t test all toys on the shelves.  Consumers should also remember that toys that are not on our list of examples could also pose hazards,” Hossain said. “The message of today is clear. We cannot, must not, weaken the most basic safety rules that protect young children, America’s littlest consumers.”

For me, seeing a toy that we own on the list (the Fisher-Price Elmo cell phone) was a good reality check. I looked at the list never expecting to see something that is in our own toy box, but there it was, listed as a noise hazard. Are any of your child’s toys on the list? Have you ever bought a toy, only to discover that it isn’t as safe as you would have assumed?

If you come across an unsafe toy, you can report them to the CPSC at www.cpsc.gov and towww.saferproducts. gov or by calling 800-504-7923.

Safe shopping!

An Apology to Emily Post on Behalf of My Children

I can assure you (although sometimes I don’t believe it myself), that my children were not raised in a barn.

You’d never know it, sitting at the dinner table with them. I don’t understand. I don’t chew with my mouth open. My husband doesn’t put his feet on the table. We sit straight in our chairs and say “please” and “thank you.” We don’t kick the person who is sitting across from us under the table. We don’t slurp our spaghetti, nor does half of our meal wind up on our plates. We don’t reach across one another to get to the dish that we need.

If the best way to teach children is by setting an example, I’d like to know exactly who it is that sneaking into my house every day and eating in the most unmannerly way possible in front of my kids.

 © mwookie/stock.xchng

© mwookie/stock.xchng

I don’t get it. No matter how much begging and pleading and whining and screaming we do, they still eat as if they’ve been handed a plate of lime jello and a trowel.

And certainly, we try our hardest to instill manners in them. We go over the rules, correct them if they make a mistake and then “punish” when appropriate. A.’s biggest offense is that she always sits improperly in her chair. After two warnings, we make her stand for the rest of the meal. C.? He often has to be reminded of how a knife works. And to stop kicking his mother under the table.

What worries me is not what happens so much when they are home, but when they go to other houses and I’m not there to keep them in line. C. has a friend J. who not only puts his napkin in his lap, but he asks to be excused. The first time J. came for dinner and said that, C. looked at him as if he had asked if  he could wash our windows for us. I want my kids to go to someone’s home and ask to be excused! I want someone to tell me how polite they are!

Luckily, S. seems to be on the right path. Sure, he makes a mess and he throws his food but at least he has good reason — he’s 18 months old. At least he always says “thank you” before he hurls his carton of yogurt across the room.

Look, I know they are kids, but at seven and 10 years old, I don’t think we are asking too much of them. I’m not giving them seven forks and asking for their proper usage, I just want them to remember to bring their plate to the sink when they are finished.

Manners are important. They need to be instilled now, before they go to their first White House dinner!

When did you expect your children to display table manners?

Originally published November, 2010

Never Mind Finishing School for Manners-We Haven’t Even Started Yet

Should my daughter ever become engaged to a prince someday, I think we’ll all be in trouble. The Queen of England surely won’t approve of her habit of stirring her drink with a parmesan cheese covered fork. Or the way she turns her soup-filled spoon upside down on its way to her mouth.

Perhaps Her Majesty will be distracted by the fencing match between the fork and knife in my son’s hands. And then once he falls off his chair because he only bothered to pull it out at a 45 degree angle, the contents of the chalice carelessly left in front of his plate will spill on the 16th century antique dining table and the whole palace will be in a tizzy.

It’s not even like we can depend upon our beagle’s English roots to pull us through. Her incessant barking will add another layer of madness to the event and she’ll likely only stop long enough to sniff the Queen’s corgis and dorgis.

And there I’ll be, with my phone under the table googling which of the eight forks should be used for pheasant — too busy to notice or be embarrassed by this display of poor table manners.

On second thought, maybe instead of junior year abroad, I should send my kids to finishing school for remedial table manners. Because as much as my husband and I try our best to model good table manners and etiquette, we sometimes worry (possibly prematurely) that our children will be destined for a life of social missteps.

Not too long ago, I read an article about a weekend course for children that focused on the etiquette of meeting and greeting, answering the phone, and of course, table manners. All I could picture was kids walking 40 yards with a stack of books balanced on their heads and then sitting down for tea. It seemed a little much.

pnijhuis/stock.xchng

But during meals when I get so frustrated with my kids’ disregard for the most basic of table manners, I have been known to threaten that instead of football practice we’ll send our son to “manners school” instead. He always objects with a groan and sits up straighter.

Right now we’re working on encouraging him to shore up his social etiquette skills, especially when it comes to meeting and greeting people. The warm welcomes he gets from his former day care teachers when we drop his sister off are all too often met with blank stares in the other direction. On a good day, they’ll get a belated and cursory “hi” when we’re halfway down the hall. Part of it is the shyness gene he inherited from me — but knowing how that held me back, I want him to work through it now and realize how his response in these settings is a reflection on him (and us as parents).

On my bookshelf, I have a tattered copy of Emily Post’s book of etiquette circa 1945 (curiously enough found at the home of my non-English speaking grandmother who didn’t arrive in America until 1955). I read it for a good laugh — especially the parts about men needing a collapsible high hat should they happen to be seated in the orchestra versus the boxes at the opera and tips on how to space place settings with a string in lieu of a less-than-accurate eye.

Etiquette sure isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t aspire to have my children constrained by these standards, but there is definitely room for improvement.

How far do you have to go on table manners and etiquette with your kids?

Originally published November, 2010