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 cafĂ© 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!