Thursday, December 27, 2007

Out with the Old and in with the New

“Out with the old; in with the new.” That’s usually the motto at our house after Christmas when we attempt to put away our gifts and find that we need to make more room for them! Closets and drawers must be gone through to rid them of clothes that are too small, toys that are no longer played with, and books and CDs that can be resold.

This is always a little bit of a “downer” for me. This year, I finally gave up the last of my size 6 pants, resigned to the fact that my spreading hips will probably never go back to their pre-pregnancy width. It’s also sad to see all the baby clothes and toys go as I know I’ve given birth to my last babies. We recently gave away the high chairs and the double stroller used by our now-four-year-old twins. On the plus side, I think about the joy they will bring to another family (as well as the tax benefits of a charitable donation!).

My mom usually helps in cleaning out our closets. She’s a great organizer with a flair for decorating, and she can be ruthless in paring our wardrobes down to the bare essentials! When cleaning out the twins’ toy box, we’ve found that it can’t be done in their presence. Toys that haven’t been played with in a year are suddenly their “favorites” when faced with the prospect of losing them.

But it feels good to de-clutter. A new year calls for a new start, whether it’s in big ways, such as a change of career, or in small ways, such as organizing closets. However, my New Year’s resolution is to do the closet cleaning a little more often in 2008 so it’s not such a monumental task next December! May you have a wonderful new start in 2008, too.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

As I write this, it is less than an hour before the dawn of Christmas day. "Santa" has laid out the mounds of gifts, but in this time of bounty, I am most grateful for the gift of God's son, Jesus, and my beautiful family. May we all remember the true meaning of the season and extend gratitude for these gifts throughout the year, not just on Christmas day. I wish you all a very blessed Christmas and a new year full of hope, peace and love.

Hugs and kisses, Susan

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Favorite Family Christmas Movies

This is the time of year when we dust off the old Christmas videos (for those of us who still own a VCR) and DVDs, and enjoy them all over again. I also TiVo any Christmas specials that look interesting, hoping I’ll acquire another good one! Following is a list of my favorite Christmas movies and specials for children, as well as for the whole family. I’d love to hear about your favorites!

Strictly for children:


The Year Without a Santa Claus (I still know every word to the heat miser/cold miser songs!)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
(fortunately, the “bumble” no longer scares me!)

Frosty the Snowman (but skip Frosty Returns…yuck!)

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (it’s gotta be the animated one)

Max and Ruby’s Christmas

Caillou’s Holiday Movie (quite educational, too!)

Alvin and the Chipmunks: A Chipmunk Christmas (dated, but still cute…Alvin is just so greedy!)

The Story of the Nativity (Beginners’ Bible series…my kids always laugh when the camels crash!)

Madeline at the North Pole


For the whole family:


It’s a Wonderful Life (yes, it’s overplayed, but I adore it anyway)

Miracle on 34th Street (the original with Natalie Wood, but please don’t watch it colorized!)

White Christmas
(satisfies my romantic streak!)

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (it’s so stupid, it’s hilarious)

Monday, December 10, 2007

TV Trouble

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no joy in Christmas shopping—especially when you’re trying to score a deal! I had a heck of a morning trying to get a TV on sale. My sister had called me last week to say that Circuit City had a 15-inch Polaroid TV on sale for $219. She wanted to get one for our parents, but she lives out of state, so she asked if I could get one and wrap it up for my parents for Christmas. However, she wanted my husband to check it out online first to make sure the quality was good. Unfortunately, he took a few days in doing that, and the TV went up to $259! I felt bad that my sister would now have to pay $40 more, so I agreed to ask if Circuit City would honor the previous sales price. Thus, I found myself sauntering up to a nerdy guy this morning at Circuit City, pointing toward the TV, and asking if he would give me last week’s price.

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” he said.

“But if you were willing to sell the TV last week for $219, why can’t you give me the same price this week?” I asked.

“Well, those prices are to encourage you to buy them the week they are on sale,” he explained. Well, duh.

“But I didn’t realize that the sale would end in a few days, and I’m doing this as a favor for my sister,” I added. “It’s my fault she missed the sale, so could I still get it for $219?”

“Sorry, I can’t do that.”

“Okay, then,” I said, “do you honor competitors’ prices?”

“Of course, we do,” he smiled.

I whipped out a Wal-Mart ad for a 15-inch Polaroid TV. “There,” I showed him, “they’re selling the same TV for $223. Can I have it for that price?”

He glanced at the paper I held. “That’s not the same TV,” he said.

“Sure, it is. It’s a Polaroid 15-inch TV, and the model number on both is 1511.”

“Yes, but the letters are different,” Mr. Smart-Aleck said.

“What letters?”

“The letters in the model number.”

“I thought that just had something to do with the store it was being sold at,” I said naively.

“No, it means it’s not the same TV,” he smirked.

“Okay, here’s a Target ad for that TV for $229,” I said, whipping another paper out of my purse.

“Boy, you come prepared,” he noted. I ignored his comment. He glanced at the ad.

“That’s not the same TV either,” he said.

“Okay,” I sighed, “so do you have anything comparable to these TVs in the low-$200 range?”

“Just this Element,” he said. “It’s also made by Polaroid, but the quality’s not as good.” I could tell at a glance that he was right on that one.

“So, do you know if the Polaroid will go on sale again?” I asked.

“It might,” he said.

“Do you know when?”

“No, I don’t find out the prices until I come in on Sunday morning!” Yeah, right.

I shoved my lists into my purse and decided to drive up to Wal-Mart to get their $223 Polaroid TV. I located the TV on their shelf, but it had a price tag of $243. Obviously, they hadn’t put their sale price on it yet, I surmised. I waited ten minutes for the one salesperson they seemed to have in that department and then showed him my ad.

“Can I get this TV for $223?” I asked.

“No, that’s only if you order it online,” he said. “You need to order it online and have it sent to the store. Then I can give you the sales price.”

“But if you already have the TV in the store,” I said, “why do I need to order it online? Can’t you just sell that TV for $223 now?”

“I’m not allowed to do that,” he said. “I was told that they’re trying to encourage online sales to decrease their overhead, so you have to order it online first.”

“Decrease their overhead?”

“Yes, they can hire fewer employees if more people order online.”

“But if I send it to the store and an employee has to go get it and ring it up for me, isn’t that the same thing as buying it at the store?”

The salesman looked confused. “I don’t know. That’s just what they told me.”

“Okay, then,” I said, “why don’t I save them some overhead, order it online and have it shipped to my house?”

“But then they’ll charge you for shipping,” he said. “They’ll only give free shipping if it’s sent to the store, not to your house.” He shrugged.

I restrained myself from kicking him in the shin and stomped out of the electronics department, empty-handed once again.

Christmas shopping, I decided, is not for wimps. Do you think my sister would consider getting our parents a gift certificate this year?

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Friday, December 07, 2007

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

We Are Our Children's First Teachers

The importance of parents being their children’s first teacher really struck home for me yesterday. My twins and I were playing at the park when I started talking to an older woman who was accompanied by a two-year-old girl. The woman told me she was staying with the girls’ family for a few months and had accompanied the little girl, with her mother, to her two-year doctor’s examination. The doctor asked the girl’s mother if the little girl could identify her nose, ears, eyes, and so on. Of course, she can do that, I immediately thought to myself when I heard that. Isn’t “Where’s your nose?” one of the first games that all parents play with their babies? Well, to my surprise, the woman told me that the girl couldn’t do any of that! Her parents never played with her. In fact, said the woman, they usually stuck her on the couch with the remote control in her hands and let her watch TV for hours at a time! I was in shock. It got worse…this little girl, who lived within walking distance of the very park we were in, had never been taken there by her parents before. It was her first trip there that day with her parents’ friend. I was so saddened and appalled by these parents’ lack of interest in their child. I wasn’t sure whether it was deliberate or just naïve on their parts that they should be interacting with their child, but either way I grieved the damage being done to that beautiful little girl.

Holly Engel-Smothers, a parent educator and early-childhood consultant, told me, “Baby development is a long-term building event, with each day being important in how the baby develops the next day, and each event being important in how the baby develops for the next event. Appropriate food, comfort, face-to-face interactions, tummy time, music, and even the lilt of Mommy’s voice are all brain developers. It is not a random happening when a milestone is reached. Just like an athlete has to practice his sport in a certain order to build up to the main event, so do babies have to take ‘baby steps’ toward optimal brain development, which is created and driven by experiences with Mommy, Daddy, and caregivers. These people play a critical role in baby’s life because milestones need personal experiences to be reached.”

The woman at the park told me that the little girl never interacted with other children. Her mother took her shopping for hours on end, but then didn’t understand when the child didn’t behave after a while. I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds for this child. As Holly stresses, “Parents play a vital role in their children’s development.” We are their first teachers, and our actions in the first few years strongly influence their future success—physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s a shame that this little girl’s parents don’t understand how blessed they are to be given this awesome responsibility for another human being, as well as the amazing opportunity to play a hand in creating something wonderful.

Raising great kids begins the day that they are born. But, Holly points out, “Love isn’t all a baby needs. It is an excellent start, but there’s so much more you can give your baby.” Time, affection, play and attention are also crucial at all stages of our children’s lives.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Imperfect Christmas

Phyllis Diller once commented that “cleaning house while the kids are still growing is like shoveling snow while it’s snowing.” I feel the same way about decorating the Christmas tree! As soon as I place an ornament on my carefully arranged branches, my almost-four-year-old twins have their hands all over it. They just can’t seem to leave the tree alone. They’ve rearranged the garland, left one side of the tree bare, and broken off Lisa Simpson’s head (part of a Simpsons ornament collection presented to my teenage son last year)! Frankly, the tree’s a mess. You can bet my home won’t be appearing in House Beautiful any time soon!

But when this lack of perfection starts to get on my nerves, I think about a beautiful story written by Marla Feldman in my book, It’s Twins! She talks about how she was so proud of her beautiful and immaculate home before her twins arrived. Her first-born daughter was a very gentle child and allowed Marla to maintain her home’s loveliness. When she and her husband had difficulty conceiving a second child, they turned to adoption and were unexpectedly blessed with twins! However, reality soon set in. Marla had to rearrange all of her furnishings to accommodate the extensive baby gear and supplies. And when the twins entered the toddler stage, they acquired an appetite for destruction! Marla’s beautiful dining-room chairs became pocked with tiny bite marks, her rugs became stained with dropped food and drink, and safety locks had to be installed on every door and drawer. Sure, Marla shed a few tears about the way things once were, but she knows that she is blessed beyond belief. She concludes that her children “live in a house where they can be kids. We do not fret over the mess. All three are happy and healthy. And I think to myself, Yes, I have a beautiful home.

The true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with a gorgeously decorated house, a perfectly proportioned tree or shiny bulbs all around. Kids teach us about what really matters at Christmas. We were watching Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas tonight (the cartoon version, which is my favorite), and when they got to the part where the narrator said that the Grinch’s heart was two sizes too small, my little Austen explained, “That’s because he doesn’t have Jesus in his heart!” So, how is your Christmas spirit this year?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Are You a Preschooler, Too?

As the mother of four, including twin preschoolers, I think my children’s behavior is starting to rub off on me. Much to my amusement—and my husband’s frustration—I’m acting more and more childish every day. My only comfort is in hoping that I’m not alone in my descent to the sandbox. Do you recognize any of these juvenile characteristics in yourself?

I don’t like to go to bed early. There’s just too much to do, and I’m afraid I’ll miss something! The kids are finally asleep, and now it’s time for me! Call me self-indulgent, but I want to savor this time to watch a movie, call a friend, surf the ’net . . . or just do nothing!

I love cartoons. I actually like Caillou, Max and Ruby, and Little Bear! These shows make me feel good. Everyone’s nice to each other. Everything works out well in the end. In other words, they don’t remind me of my real life! Children’s programming eases my troubled mind.

I like to curl up with a good book. Almost all children love to curl up with Mommy and a good book. There’s something soothing about getting lost in the characters, laughing at their antics and wondering what will happen next. I still find comfort in getting involved in a well-told story and grieve when it comes to an end. Like my kids, I beg for “more, more!” at the end of story time.

I like to have my own way. No marriage is perfect, and one of the biggest stresses is battling over the “right” way to do things. I prefer a dishtowel; my husband uses a sponge. I like carpeting; my husband wants tile. Often, I “give in” as a way to preserve the peace, but still I can’t help dreaming about having things all my own way. Like a toddler, I want it to be all about me, me, me!

I love to sing. Don’t you love how kids just belt out a song with no regard to talent? My dirty little secret is that I do, too—but not in public, of course. The scene of my crime is usually the car. I turn up the old eighties hits and belt them out. In my own little world, I can sing as well as Pat Benatar, hit the notes like Billy Joel, or make up the words I can’t figure out on Hotel California. It makes me feel good—and alive!

I don’t like to work. I admit it: manual labor is a drag. I don’t enjoy gardening in the hot sun. I dread cleaning the floors and windows. I procrastinate about pulling out the refrigerator for fear of what I’ll find underneath. I do these things because I’m a “good girl,” but I’ve never learned to enjoy them. Maybe I’m lazy, but I just want to have fun!

I get scared sometimes. Kids aren’t the only ones who develop irrational fears. I’m scared I’ll get in a car accident, we’ll get hit by a hurricane, I’ll develop cancer, something will happen to my kids . . . When I hear about the latest terrorist attack or deadly epidemic, I just want to bury my head in the sand and pretend it isn’t out there. Like a child crying out for his mommy, I want someone to tell me these things will never happen. It’s tough to keep a stiff upper lip in a scary world.

I wish someone would take care of me when I get sick. Mothers always fix the chicken soup and bring the blankets when the rest of the family gets sick, but who takes care of Mom when she’s under the weather? Usually, as I lay under the covers in agony, I hear, “Does this mean you’re not going to make dinner?” or “Can you still take me to Tommy’s?” For once, I’d love to be tucked into bed and told, “Don’t worry about a thing. We’ve got everything covered!”

I love things that aren’t good for me. I have a weakness for chocolate . . . and ice cream . . . and café lattes . . . and cookies . . . and fried foods. Okay, I know they’re not good for me, but sometimes I just need to indulge myself! Give me a mozzarella stick, and I’m a happy mommy! I know I should be eating “healthy” and counting calories, but chocolate has always been very good to me!

So if, like me, you’re having a hard time admitting you’re all grown up, decide to embrace your childishness! Join arms with your preschoolers, put down your stubborn little foot and say, “I like myself this way!” A little me, me, me can be good for you. After all, aren’t children the happiest people on the planet? Perhaps with a little childish behavior, you can love life, too!

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's Twins Day!

Did you know that today is Twins Day? Okay, it’s not really, officially a day for twins (and I’m not talking about the Minnesota Twins here, either). But I have a couple of announcements for families with twins, triplets and more. If you are the parent of multiples, a twin yourself, close to twins or just fascinated with twins and multiples, please read on. (If you’re none of the above, you might want to skip the rest of this column today.)

First, I have a wonderful new website for parents of twins and multiples. It’s called TwinsTalk, and it’s filled with great tips, tales, and articles about raising twins. You can submit your twins’ pictures for a chance to become the Multiples of the Month and receive a free book, and participate in the forums to benefit from advice offered by other twins’ parents. This is an interactive site where you can share your own wisdom and stories with other parents of multiples. If you’re parenting twins or triplets, please join our community at www.twinstalk.com.

Second, I recently wrote the Foreword for an enjoyable eBook called Twin Connections: Stories That Celebrate the Mysterious Bond Between Twins. Author Debbie LaChusa, a fraternal twin, always wanted to know if other twins experienced the same things that she and her sister did. This curiosity led her to begin collecting stories from twins around the world that demonstrate the unique bond between twins. Whether you are a twin, a parent of twins, a parent expecting twins, or simply a friend or relative of twins, you will enjoy this amazing collection of twin stories. Please check it out at www.twinconnections.com/book.htm. It will soon be arriving as a printed book, too!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Marital Advice from the Victorian Era


I’m a bit of a history buff and love to read about life in the “olden days.” I’m always fascinated by how people lived without TVs, telephones or cars. So, I was delighted when I stumbled across a little book at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida. The Flagler Museum is actually a 55-room, 60,000-square-foot Gilded Age mansion called Whitehall built by Henry Flagler for his third wife, Mary Lily Kenan Flagler, as a wedding present. Flagler made his fortune in oil alongside John D. Rockefeller, and then through building the railroad system and several hotels in Florida. Whitehall was merely a winter retreat, used from 1902 until Flagler’s death in 1913. (You can read more about the fascinating Flagler family and Whitehall at www.flaglermuseum.org.) It’s a great place to visit, and they have a wonderful gift shop filled with historic items, such as a little book called The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette. A collection of works published by Professor Thomas E. Hill between 1873 and 1890, it provides advice on “the rules of conduct that govern good society” and “Professor Hill’s guide to love and marriage.” So, since being a good parent is always aided by having a strong marriage, I thought we could all benefit from (and be amused by) Professor Hill’s advice on being good wives and husbands. Here is what he had to say:

The Wife’s Duty in Marriage: “Never should a wife display her best conduct, her accomplishments, her smiles, and her best nature, exclusively away from her home.

"Be careful in your purchases. Let your husband know what you buy, and that you have wisely expended your money.

"Let no wife devote a large portion of her time to society-work which shall keep her away from home daytime and evenings, without the full concurrence of her husband.

"Beware of entrusting the confidence of your household to outside parties. The moment you discuss the faults of your husband with another, that moment an element of discord has been admitted which will one day rend your family circle.

"If in moderate circumstances, do not be over ambitious to make an expensive display in your rooms. With your own work you can embellish at a cheap price, and yet very handsomely, if you have taste. Let the adornings of your private rooms be largely the work of your own hands. [Note from Susan: He is obviously not speaking to time-crunched mothers of multiples!]

"Beware of bickering about little things. Your husband returns from his labors with his mind absorbed in business. In his dealings with his employees, he is in the habit of giving commands and of being obeyed. In his absentmindedness, he does not realize, possibly, the change from his business to his home, and the same dictatorial spirit may possess him in the domestic circle. Should such be the case, avoid all disputes.

"What matters it where a picture hangs, or a flower vase may sit? Make the home so charming and so wisely ordered that your husband will gladly be relieved of its care, and will willingly yield up its entire management to yourself. . . .

"Whatever may have been the cares of the day, greet your husband with a smile when he returns. Make your personal appearance just as beautiful as possible. Your dress may be made of calico, but it should be neat. Let him enter rooms so attractive and sunny that all the recollections of his home, when away from the same, shall attract him back.

"Be careful that you do not estimate your husband solely by his ability to make display. The nature of his employment, in comparison with others, may not be favorable for fine show, but that should matter not. The superior qualities of mind and heart alone will bring permanent happiness.”

Now, before you men start pumping your fists and shouting, “Yeah, woman!” to these chauvinistic theories, it’s time to hear what Professor Hill says constitutes a good husband.

The Husband’s Duty: “Every grave responsibility has the man assumed in his marriage. Doting parents have confided to his care the welfare of a loved daughter, and a trusting woman has risked all her future happiness in his keeping. Largely, it will depend upon him whether her pathway shall be strewn with thorns or roses.

"Let your wife understand fully your business. In nearly every case she will be found a most valuable adviser when she understands all your circumstances.

"Do not be dictatorial in the family circle. The home is the wife’s province. It is her natural field of labor. It is her right to govern and direct its interior management. You would not expect her to come to your shop, your office, your store, or your farm, to give orders on how your work should be conducted. Neither should you interfere with the duties that legitimately belong to her.

"If a dispute arises, dismiss the subject with a kind word, and do not seek to carry your point by discussion. It is a glorious achievement to master one’s own temper. You may discover that you are in error, and if your wife is wrong, she will gladly, in her cooler moments, acknowledge the fault.

"Having confided to the wife all your business affairs, determine with her what your income will be in the coming year. Afterwards ascertain what your household expenses will necessarily be, and then set aside a weekly sum, which should regularly and invariably be paid the wife at a stated time. Let this sum be even more than enough, so that the wife can pay all bills, and have the satisfaction besides of accumulating a fund of her own, with which she can exercise a spirit of independence in the bestowal of charity, the purchase of a gift, or any article she may desire. You may be sure that the wife will very seldom use the money unwisely, if the husband gives her his entire confidence.

"Your wife, possibly, is inexperienced; perhaps she is delicate in health, also, and matters that would be of little concern to you may weigh heavily upon her. She needs, therefore, your tenderest approval, your sympathy, and gentle advice.

"When her efforts are crowned with success, be sure that you give her praise. Few husbands realize how happy the wife is made by the knowledge that her efforts and her merits are appreciated. There are times, also, when the wife’s variable condition of health will be likely to make her cross and petulant. The husband must overlook all this, even if the wife is at times unreasonable.”

Unreasonable? We’re never unreasonable, are we, ladies? Anyway, I hope you got a chuckle out of these words and took away the overall message that a little consideration and appreciation for each other can go a long way toward keeping a marriage healthy!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Great New Book Series for Middle-School Girls


Why won’t anyone sit with me at lunch? Why aren’t I in the popular crowd? These are the types of questions that cause tremendous angst for middle-school girls. When I was in junior high (our term for “middle school” back in the Stone Age), there weren’t many places to go for answers to the questions I had during those years. My parents had very few resources to consult, but today’s parents are much more fortunate. The publishers of Discovery Girls magazine have developed a series of books called the Fab Girls Guides to help girls navigate the ups and downs of middle school.

So, who are the Fab Girls? They’re fraternal twins, Carmen and Dallas Fabrulezziano. They may be twins, but they are totally different. They tell readers, “Discovery Girls asked us to help you through these crazy, confusing middle-school years. And who better to go through them with than a couple of fun Fab Girls who know exactly how you feel? We’ll give it to you straight and tell you everything you need to know . . .”

I got hold of a copy of Fab Girls Guide to Friendship Hardship, by Phoebe Kitanidis, and it was filled with some great information for middle-school girls, such as how to tell the difference between good and bad friends, how to be the best friend you can be, how to meet new people, and how to find the friendships you truly deserve. Creative quizzes and sidebars make for fun and easy reading so that girls feel like they’re chatting with a friend, not reading a lecture. The first four books in the series are:

Fab Girls Guide to Friendship Hardship (ISBN 978-1-934766-00-2)
Breaks down the solutions to friendship problems step-by-step, helping your middle-schooler identify poisonous friendships and showing her how to be the best friend she can be.

Fab Girls Guide to Sticky Situations (ISBN 978-1-934766-01-9)
What do you do when your deepest secret is blabbed to the entire school? Or when you tell your crush you like him and he doesn’t like you back? By the last page, girls will be ready to deal with any situation.

Fab Girls Guide to Getting Through Tough Times (ISBN 978-1-934766-03-3)
True stories written by girls about their most private struggles--being betrayed by a friend, dealing with their parents’ divorce, a death in the family.

Fab Girls Guide to Getting Your Questions Answered (ISBN 978-1-934766-04-0)
In this collection of real letters to Discovery Girls’ advice columnist, girls will find answers to their most troubling questions about everything from family to friends to school to boys and more.

The books are $9.95 each or $29.95 for all four, plus shipping and handling. They may be ordered at DiscoveryGirls.com or on Amazon. There’s even a coupon in the back of the book for a free issue of Discovery Girls magazine. This is a wonderful new series for middle-school girls (or those soon-to-be)!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy (Belated) Halloween


I hope that everyone had a fun and safe Halloween! My twins wanted to be “scary” this year, so they dressed up as skeletons (see photo). They were a big hit! We had beautiful trick-or-treating weather as Tropical Storm Noel was passing by, so we enjoyed the wonderful breezes. In Florida, it’s nice to have a little cool weather for Halloween! Although there were lots of trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood, our house only got two groups. We live on a cul-de-sac, and unfortunately our neighbors decided not to hand out candy, so the dark porches seemed to discourage the candy-seeking kids from heading our way. That’s not a good thing as now the twins are begging for all the left-over candy (on top of what they collected) – and the rest of us have started grazing on it, too. Watch out waistlines!

The holiday season has officially begun. Before you know it, Thanksgiving will be here, and then Christmas. We have three December birthdays in our household, too, so there is a lot to get done. I actually bought my first Christmas CD of the year the other day! (I try to add a few new ones to my collection every year.) Hopefully, we can manage to control the chaos this season and appreciate the many blessings we’ve received this year. Happy belated Halloween to you and your little goblins, and may the holiday season bring much joy!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Always a Mom


My husband and I went away for the weekend—the first time, I think, since before the twins were born almost four years ago! Actually, I was combining business with pleasure. We went down to Key Largo for the Florida Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs’ annual meeting so I could sell some books to the conference attendees. (Note the beautiful view from our hotel balcony.) We decided to recruit my parents to baby-sit so we could get a little break from the kids. So, happy as I was to get a well-needed rest, why did I think about the kids all weekend? The twins had minor colds when we left, so I worried about whether they were feeling better. My oldest son was going out with a friend, so I hoped he’d make it home safely. My other teenage son went to a friend’s house, so I wondered what they were up to. Were the twins behaving? Were the older boys getting their homework done? Why couldn’t I just quit being a mom for a few days?

I had a “cancer scare” recently. Fortunately, everything turned out to be fine, but during those dark days when I thought my days were numbered, all I kept thinking was that I wanted to try to “hang in there” until my kids were grown so they wouldn’t be traumatized by their mother’s death at a young age! I didn’t give a thought (or at least not much) to what I would be going through; my number-one concern was whether the kids would be cared for if I became ill or passed away.

Even though I’ve been out of the house for many years, my own mother still can’t quit mothering me. When she visits, she washes my clothes, sweeps my floor, and even rearranges my silverware drawer (which I redo once she leaves). Of course, it drives me a little batty considering I’m old enough to take care of myself, but at the same time, I understand. Totally. I’m sure I’ll be the same way when my boys are all grown. I’ll be getting food for their cupboards and shirts for their backs, and slipping them cash for a little treat. I inherited the “mommy gene,” and it’s a very dominant one!

Hopefully, my husband and I will be able to arrange a few more long weekends away without the kids in the next few years. When the twins are tackling each other for the tenth time in a day, and the older boys are giving me flak for suggesting they help clean house, I’m sure I’ll get that yearning for a little “alone time” once again. And I’ll enjoy it immensely—but part of me will always remain with my boys. My mother’s heart just refuses to leave home.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Putting My Foot in My Mouth

In July 2006, Parenting Plus magazine published an article I wrote called “Curbing My Tongue: How I Learned to Quit Putting My Foot in My Mouth.” The article addressed the danger of blurting out insensitive remarks or opinions, and provided tips on how to keep a tighter rein on our tongues. So, of all people, you would think I’d know better than to make a tactless remark to someone. No such luck.

After church last Sunday, my twins and I joined a group of other parents and children on the playground. We were watching our kids run around the playground equipment, and one of the mothers remarked about her little boy, “I’m trying to figure out where he got all that energy!” Noticing the beautiful blond curls on the tiny tot, and the dark straight hair on both his parents, I laughingly replied, “I’m trying to figure out where he got those gorgeous curls!” Silence. By the crestfallen look on the mother’s face, I had said the “wrong thing.” I knew the child wasn’t adopted because the mother had mentioned her pregnancy to me previously, but in thinking about it later, I realized that maybe the child was a product of a donated egg or sperm (or both), which would explain the inherited blond curls. Or perhaps he was biologically related to both parents, but they just got sick and tired of everyone inferring that the child wasn’t theirs! Of course, I tried to cover my tracks and commented several times on how beautiful the child is, which the mother graciously smiled and accepted. But I felt like a real heel when I got in the car to go home. I remembered how badly I felt after I gave birth to my twins and, several weeks later, a man asked me when they were due! I hated the thought that I had made that mother feel as badly as I felt that day.

So, to spare some of you from making the same faux pas, I’m going to summarize here the tips that were in my original article. And then I’m going to go back and read them over again and again until I commit them to memory!

1. Practice listening instead of speaking. I’ve learned that if I’m really listening to what others are saying and not jumping in with my own version of the story, I offend a lot less people. These days, I don’t jump in with my own feelings unless an honest opinion is truly solicited. When I speak, I encourage the other person to continue the conversation by asking questions: “How do you feel about that?” “What did you do?” “Are you happy with your decision?” I’ve found that my foot is a lot drier these days when I use this tactic.

2. Balance the benefits of speaking out against the potential harm. Next time you’re tempted to express an opinion, ask yourself, Am I really going to help someone by giving my viewpoint, or am I just eager to contribute to the conversation by showcasing my own feelings? If the words from your mouth will give no wisdom or understanding to the listener, then don’t offer them.

3. Use your “gift of gab” for good. Nowadays, when I’m about to express an opinion, I remind myself that my “loose lips” can be used for a better purpose: to make people feel good about themselves. Instead of telling my friends what I don’t like, I think about what I do. I may not care for my friend’s new couch, but I do care for her—and I can let her know honestly that her choice of wallpaper is outstanding. Expressing positive thoughts makes you a better friend.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Helping the Father-to-Be Understand Pregnancy


I’m sure you’ve seen those “pregnancy bellies” that are supposed to give men a taste of what it’s really like to be pregnant. Chances are, however, that your husband wouldn’t be caught dead wearing one! So, if you still think your husband needs to get a clue about what you’re going through, and could use a few gentle nudges about how to pamper you while you’re pregnant, then I suggest you buy him the book, A Labor with Love by Leon Scott Baxter.

The book is subtitled “A Dad-to-Be’s Guide to Romance During Pregnancy,” but the author makes it clear that romance doesn’t include merely sex. As he advises husbands, “Rub her shoulders. Wash the dishes. Clean up after dinner. You’re providing. Talk to the bulge in her belly. Tell her how much you love her and the baby. You’re showing signs of protecting. And, that’s romance during pregnancy. When she feels provided for, you are meeting her emotional needs, allowing her to reduce her levels of stress and to feel loved.”

A Labor with Love is chock-full of valuable information and lists for the expectant dad, such as “9 ways to tell her she’s beautiful,” “10 ways to enjoy quality time with mom-to-be,” and “10 ways to ease her load.” It then provides very specific “week-by-week romance suggestions” so there’s something that every man will feel comfortable initiating. Baxter acknowledges that men often have difficulty with romance, whether their wife is pregnant or not, but when they are able to drop their preconceived notions about what constitutes romance for a woman, they’ll find it’s not as difficult as they think. A husband might be surprised to learn that just spending some time alone with his wife or giving her an impromptu massage will make her happy! And that is especially true when a woman is pregnant and feeling stressed by her surging hormones, having a hard time sleeping, etc.

If you’re pregnant, give a copy of A Labor with Love to your husband. (If you need to trade sex or an uninterrupted football game viewing to get him to read it, then do it!) And this book is not just for first-time daddies . . . it even describes how subsequent pregnancies will differ from the first. Visit Amazon or www.couplescommittedtolove.com/book_labor.html to read more and order. This book also makes a great shower gift for expectant couples.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Birthday Blessings

My birthday was this past week, and my sister’s was the month before. Every year, we go through the same routine of asking each other for a wish list and struggling to come up with anything we want. We’re so blessed, aren’t we, that we have such a hard time coming up with things we really need? We get tired of buying each other the same items every year. I buy her favorite lotion, which she can just as easily buy for herself and save the postage of having it shipped. (We live in different states.) Or we’ll send each other gift certificates, when all we’re really doing is just swapping money. So, this year we decided to forgo the gifts and donate money to each other’s favorite charity. I asked my sister to donate to the memorial fund for my friend’s son, an airman who was killed in an accident in Afghanistan. My friend was so grateful for the donation that it made me feel great! In fact, I felt so good that I went a step further and donated some money of my own to a charity I had read about recently that really touched my heart. Being able to give really made me count my blessings on my birthday.

Another favorite gift I received was one that my 14-year-old son made. When he asked me what I wanted, I had the usual difficulty in coming up with some suggestions, so I jokingly told him I wanted “a new house.” (That wasn’t really a joke. I do want a new house, but it’s highly unlikely he’d be able to arrange it!) Anyway, he spent hours putting together a little house with Popsicle sticks and glue, cutting out doors and windows, and painting it. He then searched through his Lego people to find the perfect representations of our family and gathered them around a little Lego table inside the house. It was adorable, and the thought and labor that went into it thrilled me more than any gift he could have bought. (To top it off, however, he did tape a Barnes and Noble gift certificate inside the roof of the house!)

I didn’t suffer my usual depression this year at getting another year closer to death (as I so dramatically phrase it), and I’m certain the reason was because I felt as if my birthday was more meaningful this year. Don’t get me wrong . . . my family still spoiled me with some really nice gifts, which I loved and accepted gratefully. But I was surprised at how much joy I felt in also giving something away, as well as in knowing that my son took the time to make something that made me laugh. I think this way of thinking is going to become a birthday tradition in our family. Wouldn’t it be great if we could teach our children that our birthdays are days of gratitude in which we should be thankful for all that we have and joyously make someone else’s life a little better? Start up a new “giving tradition” when the next birthday comes around in your family. I guarantee it will make everyone feel wonderful!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My Self-Defeating Speech Habits

I believe I’ve mentioned in a previous post that it bothers me that my husband never says, "I’m sorry." Well, the irony of that hit me the other day when I was reading an article and realized that I say "I’m sorry" all the time! I apologize for everything, whether it’s my fault or not. "I’m sorry you don’t feel well," I’ll say to a friend, as if I were responsible for her illness. "I’m sorry to bother you," I’ll say, as if whatever I have to say is certainly not important enough to be worthy of someone’s attention. "I’m sorry if this isn’t what you wanted . . ." I’ll say, assuming someone won’t like what I’ve done for her. So, why am I so overly apologetic?

According to "Are Your Words Holding You Back?" by Ellen Welty (Redbook, October 2007), "self-defeating speech habits" such as this can get to be, well, a habit! And, I found out, I’m guilty of quite a few. Here are some others that Welty points out in which I recognized myself:

• Have you ever been in a meeting in which you brought up an idea that was met with a so-so reaction, and then somebody else brought up the idea later and it was met with enthusiasm? Think back to how you broached your idea. If you started out by saying, "This is probably a stupid idea, but . . ." or "This might not work, but . . ." or "I’m no expert, but . . ." then you’ve given your listeners permission to appoint a lower value to your opinion. When someone else boldly states, "We need to do this . . . ," then the idea is suddenly taken seriously!

• Do you preface your statements with the words "I think"? For instance, "I think I can handle that," or "I think I’m pretty good at that," or "I think we should do it that way." Experts say this phrasing is "a hedge," allowing you to play it safe and not totally commit to an idea. Needless to say, many people take your words more as opinion than fact, and don’t take them seriously.

• The word "just" is also highly over-used. If you tell someone that you’re "just an administrative assistant," or you call your friend and announce, "It’s just me," then you’re minimizing your importance in the eyes of others.

The problem with using these speech patterns is that they really do cause people to begin to see you as being less capable. And when these people treat you in a manner that supports that belief, it validates in your own mind that you’re not worthy. It’s a chain reaction that needs to be broken by being more conscious of your use of these phrases and getting rid of them. Now that I’m aware of these harmful speech patterns coming out of my own mouth, I’m vowing to try to banish them from my conversations. I think you should join me . . . I mean, please join me today!

Friday, September 14, 2007

I Love Mr. Food

I made what’s getting to be my monthly trip to Mr. Food’s today. In case you’re not familiar with Mr. Food’s, it’s one of those places where you assemble your meals at their store. I simply go on the Internet to view the month’s menu, pick out my selections, and pay by credit card. Then I pick a day and time for my “session” and go in to assemble my meals. I love it because it takes care of the problems I always have in preparing meals for my family, such as:

Lack of creativity—They come up with the greatest dishes, such as Chicken Napoli in Phyllo, Orange-Ginger Pork Roast, and Shrimp and Tortellini in Lobster Sauce.

Lack of ingredients—They have all the ingredients right there. I don’t have to make up a shopping list to make sure I have enough spices, cheese, pasta, meat, etc., in the house.

Lack of time to prepare—I can prepare 7 meals for my family in an hour. You can’t beat that!

Lack of desire to chop—I hate cutting up chickens, slicing vegetables, peeling onions, and so on. They do all the prep work.

Lack of patience for a complicated recipe—All of their recipes are so easy to follow that even a cooking-phobic like me can follow them. All the ingredients and utensils are laid out. Even the proper measuring spoons are placed with each item. It’s easy! (And they clean up after me, too!)

Lack of cash—When you first add up the total, it looks like you’ve spent a lot. But if you actually add up all the ingredients and consider that each meal feeds 4-6 people, it’s really a value.

Lack of time in the day—On those days when I realize at 4:00 that I still haven’t figured out something for dinner, I simply take one of my Mr. Food packages out of the refrigerator or freezer and prepare it according to the directions. Most of the meals just involve sticking them in the oven.

Best of all, their ingredients are fresh and yummy, and I have a Mr. Food’s right around the corner from my house. Being that my specialty is normally Hamburger Helper, my family is eternally grateful that I found this place!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic

As I sat at my kitchen table eating potato chips and dip, an article in today’s newspaper caught my eye, "Rampant obesity cripples children’s health." A child obesity expert at the Texas Children’s Hospital reported that today’s children "may be the first in a century not to outlive their parents, because of weight-related illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes." Scary, isn’t it?

Fortunately for my immediate family, obesity hasn’t been an issue we’ve had to contend with thanks to good genes and high metabolism. I was always the kid they called "bones" or "skeleton" because I was so skinny. My mom had to take a "tuck" in the waistband of all my jeans to make them smaller. (As an adult, of course, it’s a different story, as my metabolism has slowed way down. I suspect that only a small appetite keeps me thin these days!) So far, my kids have been just as fortunate. Tall and lanky, my boys seem to be bottomless pits when it comes to eating, and yet they remain thin. But, experts tell us, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re healthy. Despite our appearance, I suspect we’re sadly out of shape.

Of course, a lot of the obesity problem stems from our diets of fast food, chips, candy, soda, ice cream, and so on. But there’s also the problem of inactivity. I can’t remember the last time my kids went outside to hit a tennis ball or play a game of basketball. They can usually be found in their rooms in front of the computer. Nutritionists say this generation of kids "is battling a toxic fast-food, couch-potato culture." But who introduced them to this culture? Sadly, we as parents did. After all, most kids aren’t getting to the local fast-food joint by themselves. I would suspect that most homes, including mine, have an overabundance of snacks and an absence of fruits and vegetables.

It saddens me to see children who struggle to breathe when they run or who have to buy their clothing in the adult section. And, quite often, when you see an overweight child, he’s accompanied by overweight parents. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if families spent more time together on fun and healthy activities? When was the last time you threw a ball with your child at the local park or took a walk together to explore an adjoining neighborhood? Have you shown your child how to throw a Frisbee or play Hopscotch? Children are only going to start losing weight when physical activity is made a part of family life. It has to be a group effort to get out of the house more and eat healthy foods. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading out to the kitchen to throw away that bag of chips and take my twins to the park.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Berenstain Bears for Grown-Ups

You’d have to live under a rock not to know of the Berenstain Bears books and TV shows. I’ve loved the Berenstain Bears ever since my teenagers were babies. I like the classic Bears (where Papa Bear is always a bumbling idiot) and the later Bears (where Brother and Sister always learn an important lesson). However, I recently learned that Stan and Jan Berenstain, creators of the Berenstain Bears, wrote some books for parents! I just read one of them called The Berenstains’ Baby Book: Advice for Parents from the Creators of the Berenstain Bears (ISBN 0-671-49629-8), and it’s hilarious! The Berenstains dispense advice on all kinds of subjects, including pregnancy, feeding, bedtime, first words, discipline, daycare, and much more. The book was published in 1983, so parts are dated, but it really doesn’t matter. The humor in this book remains fresh! Here’s some of the advice they offer:

Pregnancy: While you’ve been working through the final stages of your blimp impersonation, solicitous friends and relatives have kept your phone ringing off the wall. Your mother-in-law is convinced that the whole process is taking much too long and that your delaying tactics are for the specific purpose of embarrassing her.

Grandparents: The grandparent’s first impulse upon seeing the grandchild is to pick him up. It matters not that the child is happy in the crib, coach, or playpen. Nor does it matter that it required a supreme effort of stamina, will and native cunning to get him to lie there quietly in the first place. Up he’s snatched! Then, after a few minutes of knee dandling, Grandpa glances at his watch and discovers that he’d better hurry if he’s going to pick up Grandma in time to make the first show. . . . So, putting Baby back where he found him, he bids you adieu, but you don’t hear him over the mounting decibels from your infant.

Potty-Training: Bladder Control consists of putting the tot on the pot every hour on the hour. It also entails sponging up a puddle every hour on the hour, roughly two minutes after you take the child off the pot. Stated in its simplest terms, your objective is to get the puddle in the pot. The solution is largely a matter of sticking rigidly to a schedule and constantly keeping a weather eye squinted for signs of precipitation.

Undressing: At two and a half, your tot will probably try to remove socks by grabbing at the piggie end and pulling toward his face. He pulls and pulls. Nothing happens. Eventually his hand slips off and connects with his nose. After this, be sure to slip his socks off his heels for him when he’s in the mood to undress himself. Then when he grabs a handful of sock and yanks, he’ll get results: there will be a sock in his fist when it connects with his nose.

There’s even a brief fill-in-the-blank section at the end of the book with such humorous items as:
Smashed first priceless heirloom at ___ months.
First locked self in bathroom at ____ months.
Brought home first dead animal at ____ months.
First fist fight at ____ months. Who won? __________

The Berenstains’ Baby Book is also loaded with adorable classic Berenstain illustrations. This is my new favorite gift item for expectant parents. Parenting isn’t easy, but it helps when we can laugh at the many challenges and difficult stages. This book will bring out the chuckles in every parent.

Friday, August 24, 2007

High Drama at Preschool

It’s funny how certain things are such a "big deal" when you’re only three. My twins just started a new year of preschool, and this is the first time they’ve had a schedule that includes eating lunch at school. A hot-lunch menu was sent home, so I read each of the items to the boys. Austen, who will eat almost anything, wanted to buy them all. On the other hand, Caleb, who is extremely picky, only wanted to buy a few meals. So I sent a check for Austen to have hot lunch for the next 8 school days, and Caleb to have only a few. Well, you should have seen the tears from Austen on the first day when he found out that Caleb got to take his (new) lunch box, and he didn’t! I tried to explain, of course, that he was having a very special chicken nuggets lunch at school, but as he didn’t actually have the lunch in front of him, the concept of "waiting for the good stuff" was too difficult to comprehend. Considering that I had plopped down $24 for his next 8 lunches, however, I really didn’t want to give in and let him bring lunch. So, I put up with the tears and sent them to school. When I went to pick them up at the end of the school day, their new teacher met me in car line and said that the boys did great on their first day, with one exception. Austen, who had the hot lunch he complained about, ate well. But Caleb, who got the coveted home-packed lunch, ate nothing! Go figure . . .

On the second day, I picked the boys up from school and asked how their day went. They told me about some of the fun they had, and then Caleb chimed in, "And I peed on the playground, right on the mulch!" I was stunned! "Did you really pee on the playground, Caleb?" He assured me that he had. "Did the teacher see you?" I asked. He told me that she hadn’t. Thank God I wasn’t going to be getting a call from their brand-new teacher on the second day of class informing me that my son had peed on the playground. Why would he do that? Then I remembered the time when we had just arrived at Home Depot, and Austen announced that he had to pee NOW! There was no time to run him into the store and find the restrooms. We allowed him to discreetly pee in the grass in the parking lot. Little did we realize what a big impression that had made on Caleb! So, Caleb was sent to school today with very strict instructions to no longer pee on the playground!

Today is the third day of preschool. I’m almost afraid to pick them up. What will I hear next? Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The First Day of School ... for Mom

Hearing noises at 5:30 this morning, it suddenly occurred to me, "It’s the first day of school!" My two high-schoolers were getting ready to catch an early bus. In a few short hours, my twins would be starting their preschool class. It was a new year and a new beginning . . . for Mom!

A guilty smile crossed my lips at the thought of some "alone time" for me. Yes, I missed my kids a lot, and I really looked forward to seeing them after school to hear about their day. But for five hours, the day was mine.

Of course, it wasn’t like I was going to lounge on the beach all day or sit on the couch eating chips and watching reruns of The Gilmore Girls (as tempting as that is). No, I had a full day of work ahead of me. A publisher was waiting for word from me as to whether they should publish a particular manuscript. A magazine reporter was scheduled to call to interview me about my book, Oh, Baby! I had a book proposal to write, a web site to develop, and hundreds of other details to attend to. Nope, it wasn’t to be a day of rest for me. But it would be a day of accomplishment! And when I get things done, it makes me happy, which spills over into my parenting.

In the meantime, I know that my kids are being coached to reach their full potential. My oldest has just started his last year of high school, and we’ll soon be immersed in applying to colleges and seeking scholarships. My second oldest son just started high school. It’s hard to believe that the boy who was "my baby" for so long (before the twins arrived 11 years later) is now six feet tall and starting high school. And the twins are going from a 3-hour preschool day to 5-and-a-half hours. I can’t wait to hear about eating a school lunch for the first time, the new playground, their new teacher, and all the other exciting things that filled their day.

Yes, today is the beginning of a new routine, one that’s filled with just enough balance between enjoying my kids and growing my "self." I think I’ll pour a small glass of wine and have a toast: "Here’s to a new school year!"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Good-Bye, Wisdom Teeth

My 17-year-old had his wisdom teeth extracted this week. They were moving in on his other teeth, threatening to undo all the years of orthodontia he’d been through. Neither alternative was desirable – to repeat the braces or have the teeth pulled – but he wisely chose the short-term course of action, and the surgery was scheduled.

I, too, had my wisdom teeth out in high school, and I swelled up so badly that it broke all the blood vessels under my eyes. I looked like I’d been involved in a fistfight (and lost!). Fortunately for Dylan, he’s doing very well and has no signs of swelling. They knocked him out in the oral surgeon’s office, and we were home ninety minutes later! He was very groggy that afternoon and took a couple of naps, but by evening he was back to his old self again.

I’ve always wondered why they call the third molars "wisdom teeth." According to Wikipedia, "They are generally thought to be called wisdom teeth because they appear so late—much later than the other teeth, at an age where people are supposedly wiser than as a child, when the other teeth erupt." Wisdom teeth most often erupt between the ages of 16 and 24.

I’ve also questioned why so many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. If they so often cause problems, why do we get them in the first place? Again, Wikipedia has an interesting answer: "Wisdom teeth are vestigial third molars. In earlier times, when tooth loss in early adulthood was common, an additional molar had the potential to fill in a gap left by the loss of another tooth. It has also been postulated that the skulls of human ancestors had larger jaws with more teeth, which were possibly used to help chew down foliage to compensate for a lack of ability to efficiently digest the cellulose that makes up a plant cell wall. As human diet changed, a smaller jaw was selected by evolution, yet the third molars, or ‘wisdom teeth,’ still commonly develop in human mouths."

So, I’m grateful to know that my son hasn’t lost any of his wisdom with the loss of his precious third molars – and that I won’t be paying for any more orthodontic work! Now that Dylan’s had his wisdom teeth removed, I’ve only got three kids to go . . . !

Monday, August 13, 2007

Here Comes Homework . . . and Stress!

We’ve only got about a week here until the kids head back to school. I always have mixed feelings about this time of year. It’s good to get the kids weaned off the video games and back into a comfortable routine. But I’m not looking forward to the stress of trying to motivate my kids to do their homework and do well in school. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very lucky. My two oldest (the younger two are only in preschool) are both very bright, so they’ve always received good grades, but this has also been a disadvantage because they’ve never had to work very hard to excel. But now that they’re in high school, things have changed a bit. They can’t get by solely on their excellent memories and self-taught knowledge. Teachers will test them on information that was never taught in class, but is only in the textbook. And there are a lot more long-term projects that involve heavy organization and research. My kids can no longer slide by just on their smarts. They have to do some “work”—a term they frequently find poisonous.

There was a recent article in Family Circle that posed the question as to whether our kids are receiving too much homework. Are they getting too “stressed, sleep-deprived and, worst of all, becoming disillusioned with learning”? For me, it’s a tough question to answer. I always had a lot of homework when I was in high school. Yes, at times I was stressed, but I never felt overwhelmed. I always knew there was a purpose to it—to get good grades and get into a decent college. And I usually held down a part-time job at the same time, another thing that my kids gripe about. So, are today’s kids more spoiled than we were, more lazy, less motivated? Are they too distracted by all the entertainment they have now, such as video games, movies, iPods, and extracurricular activities? Or have teachers gotten out of control in assigning homework, feeling they have no choice as more and more expectations are placed on them in the education system? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Whatever it is, as the article points out, it causes a lot of tension for families.

So, how can we help our kids? The article advises us to provide an appropriate place to get homework done, where it’s quiet and devoid of distractions. And set rules for when homework should be worked on each day. Avoid watching TV while your kids are doing their homework; set a good example by reading or quietly working on something. If your child is having difficulty, never give her the answers; try to lead her to the answers through questions. And, finally, don’t punish your child for not getting his homework done. Let him face the natural consequences of his actions at school.

If all else fails, and your child seems to be ready to break, you may need to have a conversation with the appropriate teachers to determine whether the homework truly is excessive or if the teacher can provide some helpful strategies for success in the classroom.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Anger's Power to Scar

The other day, I followed one of my three-year-olds into the bathroom, only to discover that he had wet himself—again. This had been going on for several weeks, once or twice a day. He’d simply get so caught up in what he was doing that he wouldn’t reach the bathroom until he started to pee his pants. This time, I was furious. I started yelling at him, “What is wrong with you? Why are you acting like a baby? I can’t believe you wet another pair of pants! Look at this! When are you going to learn?” I said all those things to him that parents aren’t supposed to say to their child. I lost it. But my little boy was determined to be brave in the face of my anger. He looked up at me in defiance, his eyes meeting fire with fire. And then, seeing the rage on my face, his little lips began to quiver, and he broke down in tears. His tiny body slumped to the ground. I felt about two inches high. No, not even that tall. “I’m so sorry, honey,” I sobbed, as I gathered him in my arms. The look of utter disappointment on his face still haunts me. I had really let him down as a parent.

That took me back to another day, when I was a child myself, and I’d made my mother angry. I don’t remember what my offense was, but apparently she’d reached the limits of her tolerance because she spanked me. It didn’t hurt very much, so I laughed at her—which made her even angrier! When my dad came home from work that night, I got another spanking. And that one hurt a lot. It was a horrible day for my mother and me, one that I remember all these years later.

Ahhh, the power of anger to scar. And angry words can cut just as deep as angry actions. Surely, my horrible words to my son hurt just as much as, maybe more than, the spankings I received many years ago. I can only hope that my son won’t remember this day like the one I remember with my mom.

I think most parents will admit, though, to struggling with anger at certain times in their children’s lives. We’re overworked and overtired. Our kids seem to continually defy us. We say the same things over and over, with seemingly few results. It’s tough to maintain control of our tempers. Those sweet “Cosby” show moments certainly seem few and far between.

But I don’t want my kids to remember the looks of fury on my face as they reflect on their childhoods. I want them to picture me gazing at them with love and adoration. I want them to know that I still cherish them, even when they’ve wet their pants for the hundredth time. But it’s tough to show in the heat of the moment.

I think that’s the greatest gift we can give to our children—our unconditional love. Sure, they need to be told when they’ve done wrong and, at times, be appropriately punished, but they should never doubt that we still love them even if we don’t like what they do. It’s a legacy we should all seek to pass on to our children.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Growing Up in the Stone Age

I was born in 1964, but as far as my kids are concerned, it might as well have been the Stone Age. I love to shock them with the "hardships" I had to endure:

I managed to get all the way through college without having a computer. I would type up my term papers on an IBM Selectric typewriter, and my friends would pay me to type theirs.

We had a black-and-white TV, and only three channels—ABC, NBC, and CBS. Sometimes, we managed to get PBS if we got the antenna just right. And we actually had to get off the couch to change the channel using the knob on the TV set.

We had no air conditioning in our homes or cars. We opened the windows at night and ran through the sprinkler during the day!

My friends and I could make crank calls to our hearts’ content thanks to the absence of Caller ID.

Nobody carried cell phones. Yes, we survived without cell phones, or even cordless phones. We had to dial the number on a wheel—no buttons to push.

We had no answering machines. If nobody answered the phone, we called back later. If someone was on the phone, we got a busy tone. There was no call waiting or additional phone lines. Sometimes you could even hear someone else’s conversation on the "party line"!

To listen to music away from our home stereos, we had to use our battery-powered transistor radios or listen to the radio in the car. Our music was stored on plastic disks called record albums or on cassette tapes. There was no such thing as an iPod or an MP3.

We actually had to take film to the store to be developed. There were no digital or video cameras.

We had to entertain ourselves with board games. No video games.

The only way to see a movie was to go to the theater unless it happened to be on the aforementioned three channels. We didn’t have cable TV, pay-per-view, or DVDs.

There was no such thing as a thirty-second meal without microwave ovens.

We had no digital clocks—all of our wall clocks and watches had "hands."

Cashiers had to key in the price of every item at the store. There were no scanners.

We had to do multiplication and division by hand. We might have had access to an adding machine, but no calculators.

When we needed to get directions, we had to consult a paper map—no GPS or MapQuest.

We wrote letters on paper to our friends overseas. We didn’t have e-mail or instant messaging.

When we wanted to send a document to someone, we had to photocopy it and mail it. We couldn’t scan it and e-mail it.

We had to tie our tennis shoes. There was no such thing as Velcro.

If we needed information to write a book report, we had to go to the library (and manually consult the card catalog) or check out the set of encyclopedias that our parents bought. We didn’t have Google, Wikipedia or the Internet.

Well, I’m sure I missed a few of the "hardships" we endured growing up in the sixties and seventies, but hopefully I made my point. Our kids are certainly growing up in a very different world from the one we experienced! In many ways, I don’t think they’re necessarily luckier. Life might be a little bit easier for them, but somehow we managed to have just as much fun! Sometimes more, I think…

Monday, July 23, 2007

What Does Your Spouse Add to Your Life?

It’s so easy to focus on the things that our spouses do wrong. These are some of the things that annoy me about my husband:

He constantly throws his clothes on the floor.
He sleeps with 3 pillows, thus crowding me out.
He has every tool ever known to mankind cluttering up our garage, but berates me for buying one more makeup item that merely clutters a single drawer.
He never says, “I’m sorry.”
He drives too close to the car in front of him.

Of course, I could go on for pages…and, if he were inclined to write about the things I do to annoy him, he’d probably have an even bigger list (and I’d like to add “He’s too critical” to my list above). But just when I think I’d be much happier without him—my floor would be clothing-free, my bed would be pillow-free, my garage would be tool-free, etc.—I realize that there are quite a few things that he does right. For instance:

He does laundry.
He takes care of the cars.
He cooks—often.
He does our taxes.
He does his share of childcare.
He works outside the home at a job he dislikes so I can work at home.

And this list could go on and on, too. When I think about what I would miss without him, I know that the little annoyances are a small price to pay. In fact, I already know what it’s like to be without him as I was a single mother and head of the household for nine years before we met. I did it all, from dealing with the meals and laundry, to handling all the childcare, to working an 8–5 job to support my family. My closest relatives lived two hours away. I managed, and I learned a lot from the experience, but I also realize how fortunate I am now to have a partner to share the load. Sure, my husband sometimes adds to my workload, too, but he lightens it a lot more.

The next time your spouse does something to annoy you, think about what he or she does to please you. How does he make your life easier? What does she do that you don’t want to do yourself? What things are more palatable because you tackle them together? Focus on your mate’s contributions rather than his or her annoyances. Believe me, it puts things in perspective. You’ll never find the perfect mate, but you can find the perfect mindset that makes the marital trip worthwhile.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kids Are Bad for the Physique

Have you ever had anyone ask you why you sound out of breath when you answer the phone? That’s happened to me! Apparently, the exertion required just to run to a ringing phone overtaxes my body. And I’m not even overweight! But I am out of shape.

When my husband and I first met, we both had gym memberships. We worked out several times a week, and were in the best shape of our lives. And then the twins arrived.

I was recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. We were both averaging about two hours of sleep a night . . . if we were lucky! The cost of diapers, formula and a new minivan was seriously overtaxing our budget. Needless to say, the gym memberships had to be dropped.

So, here I am three and a half years later struggling to answer the phone. And my husband’s size small gym shorts are definitely a lot tighter! We feel terrible about this, of course, but we take small comfort in knowing that we’re not unique. A study released in May 2007 by the University of Pittsburgh found that parenthood greatly reduced the amount of physical activity that adults engaged in. For women who exercised about four hours a week before having children, they lost an hour and a half of that after becoming mothers. Men took an even bigger hit. If they used to engage in approximately eight hours of physical activity a week, they lost four and a half hours of that after becoming fathers. So, how many of you are using your treadmill or exercise bike as a clothes hanger?

Experts tell us that too many of us have acquired an “all-or-nothing mentality.” We figure if we no longer have the time to put in our usual two-hour workout that we might as well just give up exercising entirely. But that’s just not true. Even if we only have a half-hour to work out now, we should still do it! Instead of going to the gym, head out to the sidewalk with the stroller and take a long walk. At the very least, park at the back of the parking lot when you go to the store and take the stairs at the doctor’s office. It will make a difference in how you look and feel.

Another argument that parents use for giving up exercise is that they don’t want to spend any more time away from their children, especially if they work away from home. But if your health begins to suffer due to lack of physical activity, the quality time you spend with your kids is going to suffer, too.

Now that our twins are three-and-a-half, my husband and I have been talking more and more about getting back into shape. Mike may head back to the gym once he recovers from knee surgery, and I’m thinking about starting out with a yoga class at the Y. My goals are modest to start, but I hope to be able at least to answer the phone without panting!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hand Sanitizers Can Be Dangerous—Even Deadly—to Children

I recently read a report in a newsletter written by a mother who was called to her daughter’s school after they found her to be extremely lethargic and incoherent. The four-year-old was unable to hold up her head or focus her eyes. After questioning the child’s classmates, they learned that she had been licking hand sanitizer from her hand! The hospital discovered that the girl had an extremely high blood alcohol level.

I remember the days when my teenagers were in elementary school, and one of the required items on their supply list was always a bottle of hand sanitizer. So, naturally I was suspicious of the story I had read because I had a hard time believing that children would be given something that was so dangerous. But after checking out the urban legend websites, I learned that the story is true!

Hand sanitizers can contain up to 60 percent alcohol, which is 120 proof—a higher alcohol content than vodka! The result, depending on the amount ingested, could be intoxication, alcohol poisoning, and even death. If your child has been around hand sanitizers and is showing symptoms such as slurred speech, extreme fatigue, vomiting, glassy eyes or anything else out of the ordinary, call 911 immediately. Treat hand sanitizers as poisons and keep them out of reach of children. As for me, that’s one item on the school supply list that this mother won’t be purchasing!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Separation Anxiety Comes Full Circle

My twins are three-and-a-half and still exhibiting bouts of separation anxiety. Even though they love their summer camp and have a lot of fun, they still give me a hard time when I drop them off by crying, clinging to my legs, or running off. On the first day of camp, Austen made a mad dash across the playground to escape the camp counselor, and I had to chase him down! It got a little better after that, but there are still plenty of days with tears and clinging. Of course, I hear from the camp counselors later that the boys are perfectly fine about thirty seconds after I leave, but they still have to put on a good show while I’m there. Even the promise of ice cream when they get home doesn’t always get them to curb their misbehavior.

Even though I have two older children, this is really my first experience with separation anxiety. When my older two were babies, I had to return to the workplace very quickly, so the boys spent their days with a babysitter and other children. I think they just learned at an early age that it was okay to separate from Mommy for a while.

But with the twins, I decided to work from home when maternity leave was over, so they were with me all day, every day, until they started part-time preschool when they were almost three. Even then, they were only away from me for a few hours a day. Thus, they got used to having me around . . . maybe a little too much!

Strangely enough, though, now it’s me who’s suffering from separation anxiety as my older ones grow up and spend more time away from home. My seventeen-year-old is in New Orleans with a group from church to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. I find myself wondering if he’s okay, what he’s doing, if he’ll call, if he’s safe, and so on. It feels strange not to have him in the house! But I guess it’s something I’ll have to get used to. Another year of high school, and then he’s off to college. And I’m sure the years will quickly pass, and he’ll really be on his own. Will it get any easier with each kid? Somehow I doubt it. Yes, my twins will grow out of their separation anxiety soon. But I don’t think I ever will.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Am Not Supermom

I may be a parenting author, but I’m the first to admit that I’m not Supermom! (And if you read my book, "It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence," you’ll find plenty of examples of the chaos that exists in my life!) But, you know what? I’m perfectly happy to admit to my lack of perfection.

And I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings. I recently read an article about a web site called www.unsupermoms.com, which was started by Nicole Henry-Clark, a mom of four from New York. According to the article, almost 900 mothers have joined her group. They’re tired of the pressure to do everything "right." They’ve decided not to stress about the unmade beds, the Cheerios under the couch, and the fact that they let their children have ice cream for dinner once in a while. Sometimes you just have to relax and realize that perfection is unattainable and your family will be just fine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been in plenty of houses that have just plain grossed me out. If my shoes stick to the floor and I get clumps of dog hair all over my behind when I sit on the sofa, then I think they’ve taken this Unsupermom thing a bit too far. I once knew a mother who never folded or put away the laundry. She just pulled everything out of the dryer and dumped the contents in a big pile. Her family was invited to take their daily outfits out of the pile each day. Now that’s not relaxed parenting…that’s just plain lazy!

But there’s definitely a middle ground between the two extreme parenting styles. Cut yourself some slack when you fail your mother’s white-glove test or realize you’re never going to win the latest "Home Beautiful" contest. The point is to look at the big picture. Are your children taken care of and happy? Is your house hygienic but homey? Do you generally accomplish all you need to get done? Is the stress you feel at a manageable level? If you answered yes to these questions, then you’re doing just fine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Has Parenting Turned Your Brain to Mush?

If you’re like me, you frequently enter a room to retrieve something and forget what you wanted. Or you spy someone you know in the grocery store but can’t for the life of you remember her name. Or perhaps you emerge from the store to find that you can’t remember where you parked your car. If you find this happening to you more frequently, you’re not alone. Being a parent is certainly a stressor and a sleep-depriver, which can play havoc with your brain.

But, sorry to say, this also goes with the territory when you enter middle age. Scientists aren’t sure why—perhaps we begin to lose brain cells, or our brain cells just don’t communicate as well as they used to—but chances are slim that you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s, as you’ve probably feared. It’s most likely caused by age and stress. And parents are masters at multitasking, which tends to clutter the brain. That’s why it’s helpful to keep a very accurate calendar and a to-do list (if you could only remember to check it . . . after you find it!).

At my house, I instruct my kids to write any food they use up on the grocery list posted on the refrigerator because I know I’m not going to remember when one of them says, "Mom, we’re out of milk!" And I keep a calendar in the drawer that I check several times a day on which I’ve written every single activity I must attend, even if it’s a regular event. And keep a notepad in your purse in case you remember something while you’re out and about that you need to do later. Some people even leave themselves messages on their cell phone or carry a small voice recorder. When you write things down, you won’t be stressed about forgetting them. (Of course, if your memory loss seems to get worse with time and even list-making doesn’t seem to help, please see your doctor to be checked out.)

Most importantly, and I know it’s hard, try to get plenty of rest, nutrition and exercise, and manage your stress. All of these things are good for the brain and allow you to achieve optimum mental functionality. A shower is also good for clearing the head! Writes Tammy Tibbetts in Ladies’ Home Journal (June 2007), "According to recent research, warm water running over your body can stimulate the outer layer of your skin, releasing molecules that ‘talk’ to your nerve endings. These molecules include beta-endorphins, which trigger brain activity." This stimulates your thinking power and problem-solving abilities!

So next time you can’t remember where you left your keys, or you can’t summon the words to formulate a thank-you note, hop into the shower and wait for a brainstorm!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Parenting in Other Countries

There’s a fascinating article on the BabyCenter.com web site called "Mommy, Mama, Mutter: Motherhood Around the World," by Connie Matthiessen. It’s loaded with interesting trivia about pregnancy and parenting in various countries. Here are some of my favorite highlights:

China: Many Chinese believe that exposure to cell phones, microwaves and computers can cause miscarriage or birth defects, so many pregnant women wear “antiradiation vests” to protect their babies. Many expectant mothers also refrain from using their cell phones until the baby is born!

Sweden: Swedes believe that nursing moms should warm their breasts to prevent blocked ducts and increase milk flow, so they sell a product called a “breast warmer,” which can be stuffed into the bra to hold in the body’s heat.

Mexico: In Mexico and some Latin American countries, they believe that if you don’t indulge in a food that you’re craving, your baby will have a birthmark shaped like that food!

India: The proper way for women in rural India to let their elders know they are pregnant is by asking for tangy and sour foods, like raw mangoes and tamarinds.

Switzerland: Many Swiss believe it’s bad luck to announce your child’s name before the birth.

Canada: Working mothers get a year’s leave after having a baby, as well as 55 percent of their salary during maternity leave. Fathers are also allowed 37 weeks of parental leave.

Panama and El Salvador: Many Latin American countries have a "quarentina," during which a new mother is well taken care of by family members during the first 40 days after the baby is born. The mother or mother-in-law will do all the chores and cooking so the new mother can rest and take care of the baby.

Susan M. Heim is the author of Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Children Remind Us of the Simple Pleasures of Life

Life brings simple pleasures to us every day. It is up to us to make them wonderful memories.—Cathy Allen

Children love to marvel at the simple things in life, don’t they? Having children helps us to rediscover those little pleasures that fascinated us when we were kids. When was the last time you looked for a rainbow after a storm? Or went out at night to look for constellations? Or watched a squirrel scamper up a tree? It doesn’t take an expensive toy to thrill our kids. The world around us is a wonderful playground! Following are some of the things that my three-year-old twin boys love:

Sunbeams: When the sun shines in through the blinds and makes a pattern on the floor or wall, they never tire of trying to put their hands through the sunbeam or stomp on it! And then, as the sun changes position, the sunbeam disappears. Where did it go? It’s a mystery!

Worms: My kids’ latest craze is worms. They love to watch them wiggle, and even bring them into the house for me as a gift! It’s like watching the cat bring in her prey (only these worms are alive!). I valiantly try to show enthusiasm as I gently steer the twins back to the yard with their wiggly friends.

Bugs and Lizards: Anything that moves is wondrous! Unfortunately, the little bee that was moving on the ground stung Austen when he picked it up! But that didn’t slow him down for long. Soon he was chasing the curly-tailed lizards in the yard. One day at preschool, the teacher took the children to a playground they’d never been to before. Caleb looked at her hopefully and asked, “Do they have bugs here, too?”

Books: Any offer to read a book is always greeted with enthusiasm! My children love to snuggle up next to me and look through books, especially if they’re Look & Find books. They can’t get enough of discovering the hidden pictures. And, thanks to books, their preschool teacher was awed by the fact that the boys know the names to almost every imaginable animal!

Airplanes: What little boy doesn’t love the sight of airplanes in the sky? We live near a small airport, so there are plenty of take-offs and landings to be viewed. Wouldn’t it be fun to fly in the sky?

Caterpillars and butterflies: My twins’ preschool teacher taught a unit on caterpillars and butterflies. The children had a jar full of caterpillars that they watched create chrysalises and then emerge as butterflies! We even got to bring home the caterpillars one weekend. How many creatures can transform themselves into something new?

Freckles and boo-boos: For some reason, kids are fascinated with skin! They love to point out freckles, birthmarks and “ouchies.” They want to put Band-aids on all of them, whether they’re needed or not! My kids love to show off their boo-boos, as if they’re prizes they’ve won. When people try to tell my twins apart, the boys proudly announce that Austen is the one with the freckle on his nose!

So, go out and make some memories with your kids. Create chalk art on the sidewalk. Follow an ant to see where it goes! Compare the shapes and sizes of everyone’s fingers and toes. Let your children be your teachers in discovering the world around us!

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Tribute to Teachers

Today marked the last day of my twins’ first year at preschool. It was a sad day for all of us, especially—incredibly—for their teacher! How many people are truly blue when their job has come to an end, at least for the summer? Most of us would be jumping for joy if we had a couple of months off from work. But not her . . . she truly loves what she does. And she dearly loves "her" kids.

When I was first shopping around for preschools, I visited several where the teachers and aides just seemed to be doing their jobs and getting through the day. There was no joy on their faces. They just looked tired. But when I went to this particular preschool, there were smiles all around. And hugs . . . lots of hugs! When the kids would go into the classroom, the teacher would say, "Look at all those beautiful faces!" And when she’d escort them out to the car at the end of the day, she’d tell them she loved them and shower them with kisses. These kids just felt cherished all day long.

And they learned so much, too! Some people might criticize me for placing my twins in part-time preschool at age 3. Perhaps I should be spending all day with them. But I know in my heart that my boys benefited so much more from being with an additional person who loves them. They made an ant farm, and watched the ants make tunnels in the dirt. They kept caterpillars in a jar, and observed as they spun cocoons and became butterflies. The children came home with a new song on their lips every week. These are the types of activities I don’t always have the patience or creativity to do. Their little intellects and spirits just blossomed from all the special things they did at school. They hated to see the weekends arrive!

When we got home from preschool today, I found a note in one of the backpacks. It said, "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Heim, Thank you for sharing your beautiful, beautiful boys with me. They both left their fingerprints on my heart! Love, Mrs. C." Here’s to all the teachers in the world like Mrs. C, who love and care for our children, and deeply bless the lives of their parents.