Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Need a Last-Minute Halloween Costume?

I must admit that Halloween has never been one of my favorite holidays. I just don’t like the pressure to come up with a great Halloween costume! I don’t know how to sew, and I’m creatively challenged when it comes to costumes. I thought I did pretty well for my twins this year. I bought their dinosaur costumes at 75% off after Halloween last year! Unfortunately, because the costumes are yellow and purple, my husband thinks our little boys look too “girlish.” Since when, I told him, do little girls ask to be dinosaurs? These must be little boy costumes! Anyway, at least I got a good deal, and the twins do look adorable. When you’ve got twins or a lot of children, you need to bargain shop! (So hit the Halloween sales on November 1st!) If you’re still stumped for a last-minute costume, here are a couple of ideas:

My niece Paige is trick-or-treating as a “frumpy housewife”! She’s going to put her hair up in curlers, don an old robe and slippers, and smear cold cream all over her face. Guys can go as a hobo, with an old baggy suit, a drawn-on beard, and a hat.

You may not realize that you probably have a costume in your house already! If your children are on sports teams, their uniforms make great costumes. Have girls wear their ballet costumes or cheerleader uniforms. If they’ve been in a play, dig out the costume to wear again.

Wear last year’s costume (if it still fits). Nobody will remember it’s the same as last year’s, and even if they do, who cares? Why spend the extra money for something you’re only going to wear for a few hours? Better yet, swap last year’s costumes with a friend or neighbor. Then you’ll each have something “new” to wear.

A big box can be made into lots of different costumes. When we were young, my mother transformed my sister into a table by gluing cheap plastic dishes to the top of a box, with my sister’s head poking out of the middle! Then they put flowers in her hair so she looked like the centerpiece! You can also make a robot, a box of crayons, a train…get out the paints and use your imagination!

Most of all, just have fun, and relax the rules a little bit when it comes to letting the kids chow down on a little bit of candy (after you’ve inspected it, of course)! Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Getting Kids to Help Out Around the House

I often wonder if pioneer women had trouble getting their children to do chores. After all, surely children of old had more responsibilities than today’s children. Farm animals had to be cared for; water needed hauling; wood awaited chopping; crops had to be harvested. Today’s children can’t even begin to comprehend the work performed by pioneer children. So if their workload is lighter in today’s times, why do children give us such a hard time about doing it?

I don’t really know the answer, but I do know it’s normal behavior. I remember giving my own parents fits when I stalled and procrastinated about doing my chores. Thursday night was housecleaning night, and I would do anything to get out of it—make other plans, plead illness, express a sudden interest in homework. I swore I’d never put my own children through such an ordeal. But when I grew up, of course, I discovered that housework couldn’t be put aside. It needed participation by all members of the family if it was going to get done.

Sometimes it’s easier to do the chores myself rather than listen to the kids complain or do the job poorly. But I know this isn’t good for them in the long run. I’ve tried chore charts, allowance, special treats—anything to motivate the children to help out. These methods usually help for a short period of time, but then the complaining begins anew.

I have faith that, one day, God will show my children the same thing that He showed me when I grew up and had a house of my own: Housecleaning might not be fun, but it is necessary for every family’s health and well-being.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It's a Boy . . . Again?

Has your heart ever longed to have a little boy or a little girl, but things didn't quite work out the way you wanted?

When I was little, I wanted to have four children, and figured there would be at least a few girls sprinkled in. I grew up in a feminine household with my mother and just one sister. We had no boys in the family. And my father— no offense, Dad — wasn't a particularly manly man. He knew much more about cooking than kicking. I was lousy at sports and was sure I'd have daughters because I had no idea what to do with sons. I had even saved my beloved Barbie dolls to pass on to future daughters.

When my first son was born, I was surprised yet thrilled. "After all, I still have plenty of time to have a daughter," I told myself. "Surely the next one will be a girl."

When I got pregnant with my second child nearly three years later, the ultrasound technician drew an arrow pointing to a particular body part on my unborn child and typed, "It's a boy!"

Oh, dear.

"Well," I thought, "maybe it's better this way because the two boys will be company for each other. The next one will be a girl."

After a divorce, 10 years of single parenting and a new marriage, my husband and I tried for a baby. We showed up at our first ultrasound appointment eager to check out our new family member-to-be. It seemed to take the doctor an awfully long time to take the baby's measurements.

Finally, the doctor turned the screen toward us and announced, "It's twins!"

I think my husband and I caught a few flies that day because our mouths flew open in shock. Twins?

Some months after we had recovered from the news, I began to look forward to having twins. My brightest thought was that, surely, with two babies, at least one of them would be a girl, right?

Wrong! Amazingly, I gave birth to two more boys. And at 7 lb, 13 oz, and 6 lb, 9 oz, they were ready to join the family football team.

So now I am the mother of four wonderful boys. Despite an overabundance of testosterone in the house, my husband and I have decided that our family is definitely complete, and I wouldn't trade my four boys for the world.

I've now become an expert on video games, Yu-Gi-Oh cards and hockey. Still, under my bed lies a box, getting older and dustier by the minute, with my treasured Barbie dolls tucked safely inside. I'm not giving up hope yet for a girl.

"Surely," I now tell myself, "at least one of my grandchildren will be a girl."

There's still hope that I'll be buying frilly, pink clothes someday. In the meantime, I'll embrace the color blue and know that I've been given the perfect assortment of children to love.

Originally appeared on the ClubMom Web site.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Winning the Popularity Contest

Just as we longed to be popular when we were children, we hope that our own offspring will enjoy their share of popularity. “I’ll love my children whether they’re popular or not,” we tell ourselves, and it’s true, but nevertheless we want life to be easy for them. We don’t want them to know the pain of being rejected by other people.

When a child of mine comes home from school some days and pronounces, “Nobody likes me,” the mother tiger in me rears up, and I want to march over to the school, shake up the kids who teased him and demand, “Why don’t you be nice to my child?” After all, I know that my child is the most wonderful being that God ever created. He is smart and funny and cute and sweet. Why can’t everyone see that I have the most fantastic kid in the world?

But when I look back on my own childhood, I realize that the taunts and the teasing made me a better person. Yes, they were painful to go through. But I gained a “tougher skin” because of it. I learned that I’m never going to please everybody, and that, indeed, I shouldn’t. I realized that I should just be the best “me” that God created, and not worry about whether everyone likes me or not.

And that is the lesson I try to impart to my own children. If they look beyond themselves, they will see that all children are teased and ridiculed by their peers at one time or another. And it hurts so very badly when it happens to them. But I also tell my children that the only person they need to please is God. He made them perfectly, and He doesn’t make mistakes. His opinion of them is much more important than that of the team captain or the head cheerleader. Being popular with God wins the popularity contest.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mothers of the World

When I watch the evening news or read newspaper articles about the war and poverty in the world, I can’t help but view them through the eyes of a mother. Somewhere out there are mothers just like me who are scared because their sons are fighting a war. Or they’re worried that they won’t have enough food to nourish their children. Or they can’t afford medical treatment for a sick child who is wasting away before their eyes. No matter what language they speak, what color they are or where they live, mothers all over the earth have the same hopes and worries for their children.

Even during times of happiness and prosperity, we all share the same experiences. How many mothers at this very moment are watching proudly as their little one takes his first step? How many children are holding their mother’s hand as they walk down the road to school? How many mothers are combing their daughter’s hair or tying their little boy’s shoes? These loving acts we perform with our children are universal. As human beings, we may not agree with each other’s politics, religion or personal preferences, but we all share that special love that only a mother has for her child.

Even though I have never been to China or India, Somalia or Norway, I still feel connected to the mothers who live there because I already know so much about the way they feel. And somehow I know that if I were to meet any one of them, there would be an immediate knowingan instant acceptance—because our hearts are the same. Our primary wish in life is that our children are safe, healthy and raised in peace.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if only mothers could lead the world? Surely our great capacity to love would ensure that no child ever goes hungry, fights a war, or becomes jobless or homeless. We would see each other not as strangers in foreign lands, but as sisters unified by common goals and a fierce love for our children. Together, united as mothers, we could change the world for the better.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Learn to Trust Your Mother's Intuition

The more people have studied the different methods of bringing up children, the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all.--Dr. Benjamin Spock, 1946

First-time mommies usually have a thousand questions about what is right when caring for their infants. When do they start solid foods? How long should they be sleeping? When will they start crawling? New mothers may read every book and magazine they can find that tells them the "right" time for reaching each milestone. Even experienced mommies might seek the latest advice about raising their new children.

Other mommies are more than eager to give advice, too. "I started my baby on solid foods at 3 months." Or "You have to use diaper cream on their delicate little bottoms," they'll say. Even worse, some moms play the competition game. "My Sarah was walking at 9 months," one says, as she glares at your little one still sitting on the floor at 11 months. "My Justin was speaking in complete sentences when he was 1 year old," another proclaims, while your little one is still babbling "da-da" and "boo-boo." It's enough to make any mother feel insecure.

But you've been given a wonderful gift called mother's instinct — the ability to know what's best for your child — if you know when to heed the call. When my oldest son was a baby, the pediatrician told me that the latest research said that under no circumstances were babies supposed to start cereal until they were 6 months old. My son was born at a hefty 9 lb., 13 oz., and was already the size of most 6-month-olds at 3 months. He wasn't sleeping, and he was begging for food between feedings. Although I trusted my doctor and knew he had my child's best interests at heart, I realized that nobody knew my son better than I did.

Finally, I put my guilty feelings aside and started gradually giving him some rice cereal. The change was miraculous. My son was much happier because I listened to my instincts and gave him what he needed. I've learned to have faith in my own abilities as a mother and not let others make me feel unworthy or incapable. Yes, I still listen to advice from others — including my doctor and friends — but then I apply it to my particular child and listen to my heart. A mother's instinct is a powerful tool.

Originally appeared on the ClubMom Web site.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My Fear of Driving

My son is almost seventeen, and he still doesn't have his driver's license. He's had his learner's permit for over a year. He's passed his driver's ed course, but still I haven't taken him to get the license. Part of the reason is insurance costs. I know that having a 16-year-old driver on our policy will send our rates sky-high. But that's not the full reason why he still doesn't have his license. It's FEAR. Not his...mine. Is a 16-year-old really mature enough to handle the complex situations that arise when driving? Heck, many 50-year-olds I see on the road don't appear to have the common sense to navigate traffic. I've also heard that traffic accidents are the number-one cause of death among teens. I believe it. I have a whole head full of news stories where teens have died due to reckless driving and stupidity. And so I want to put off the inevitable as long as I can. Yes, it's a hassle to still be driving him everywhere he wants to go, especially since I have three younger children to run around. But for me, it's worth the peace of mind. I'll probably let him get his driver's license for his 17th birthday, but there will be restrictions. No driving on the freeway at first. No more than one passenger in the car. No fiddling with the radio. Call me paranoid, but I prefer to think of myself as a mother who loves her son dearly.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Kids Are So Noisy!

If you're sensitive to loud noises, you should never have kids. My husband and I were remarking tonight, for about the thousandth time, how it's never quiet in our house except when the kids are sleeping! Our almost-three-year-old twins, especially, just make constant noise! Whining, crying, screeching, yelling, pounding...it never ends! It does get tough at times. Sometimes we long for a little silence. I can't remember the last time I sat and quietly read a book. What a pleasure that would be! I've been thinking about doing some radio shows to talk about the books I've written, but I honestly can't figure out how I could do it without listeners hearing the kids in the background! Sure, I could closet myself in the garage, but then I couldn't hear if the kids start fighting or get hurt. And, as most parents know, as soon as the phone rings, kids instantly up the volume on their demands, as if they're jealous of the attention we're giving to someone else. I know that someday these rooms will fall silent, and I'll probably miss the sounds of a full house. It will feel lonely around here without the echoes of children's voices. But those days are a long way off yet, so in the meantime I'll keep taking my long showers in peace and savoring bedtimes!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Teaching Teens to Serve Others

My 16-year-old son, Dylan, tells everyone that one of the most amazing experiences of his life was the trip he took to Costa Rica in the summer of 2005. Most people would assume that this was a vacation—that he was, perhaps, surfing the waves! But Dylan spent almost the entire ten days of the trip building houses for local residents. It was hard, dirty work. The conditions were primitive (no hot showers or air conditioning!), and the days were long. I never thought that my typical teen—who balks at having to mow the lawn—would be willing to climb up on a hot roof every day, but he loved every minute of it! The feeling of camaraderie with his fellow workers, and the eternal and loving gratitude of the people he was helping, made this an unforgettable experience.

Encouraging teens to do volunteer work is one of the most important things you can do for them as a parent. And the amazing thing is, once they get a taste of it, teenagers love to volunteer! In 2004, 55 percent of American teenagers volunteered—almost twice the rate of adults, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. And students who do volunteer work actually do better in school than those who don’t volunteer. Albert Schweitzer once said, “The only ones among you who will be truly happy will be those who have sought and found how to serve.” In fact, volunteering provides many benefits for teens, including increased self-esteem, a feeling of being valued, the opportunity to meet new people, the acquisition of valuable new skills, and a lifetime of wonderful memories and experiences.

Volunteer opportunities for adolescents aren’t difficult to find. Some organizations may have age restrictions if the job involves a certain amount of risk, but opportunities abound for all ages! One of the best places to start is with your local church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship. My kids have also found volunteer opportunities through the Parks and Recreation Department, hospitals, nature centers, libraries, children’s museums, community and teen centers, and just through word of mouth. My 13-year-old had a great time as a volunteer at a boat show, which raised funds for charity. Don’t be afraid to ask around. Most people jump at the chance to put a volunteer to work!

When teenagers learn to serve others, they become empowered. They grow up knowing that they can make a difference in the world. Just imagine what this kind of attitude can accomplish when our adolescents are soon the leaders of society! Making the world a better place starts by showing our kids how they can be part of impacting the future through volunteering.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Do You Have a Favorite Child?

Parents are often devastated to find that one child just seems less lovable to them than the others. They may see one child as “the difficult one” and another as more easygoing. Sometimes children go through phases and don’t necessarily have the same temperament throughout their childhood. One child may behave monstrously at age four, but turn into a much more lovable character at the age of six. That’s why it’s important not to label our kids and assume they’re destined to have the same personality forever. One child may be your (unspoken) favorite right now, but it could be a different story in the teen years. As a parent, try not to be too hard on yourself when you don’t always find yourself liking a child. Often, parents’ feelings of frustration in these situations are directed more at themselves because they don’t like how they respond to the difficult child. They may hate themselves for losing their temper or not being as patient with this child as with the others. This makes it hard to accept this child as he or she is and to appreciate the good qualities. So, think of the difficult child as a gift who will help you become a better, more patient parent. He or she is a challenge who can actually help you grow as a person and learn to cultivate your own good qualities, such as forgiveness and patience. Also, remind yourself that there’s a difference between not loving a person and not loving his or her behavior. You may not like how your child acts sometimes, but if you search your heart, you may find that you do indeed love this little person—in spite of his or her frustrating actions. Sometimes, children act up because they need more personal attention. Try to spend more time alone with the difficult child so he or she isn’t competing for your attention with your other children. Get to know this child as an individual and find out what his or her interests are. Seek out something special about this child that you can admire. When your child is sassy, you might tell yourself, “I was a shy kid, so I really admire how well my child knows his own needs and isn’t afraid to express his opinions.” Think about how these difficult traits might actually be a benefit later in life. The child who is very assertive or has lots of energy may actually find these qualities to be an asset as an adult. Oftentimes, we may relate better to the child who is more like us. One child may remind you of yourself at her age, while another reminds you of your difficult father-in-law. When you’re doing things together, you may naturally gravitate to the child whose interests and temperament are more closely aligned with your own. On the other hand, you might find yourself being less tolerant of this same child’s misbehavior because you notice those personality traits in your child that you dislike in yourself. Nobody likes to have a little mirror walking around, reminding them of their own personality flaws! It’s important to remember that your children didn’t pick their genes and personality, and shouldn’t be punished for them. Again, look for the qualities you do admire and can relate to in all your children. If you still find it tough to have equal affection for all your children, it might be helpful to read some parenting books geared toward helping you raise a difficult child. They could have some great tips for helping you to better understand why your child behaves the way he or she does. With understanding comes acceptance and love. Be sure to let your children know that you admire and love them all as individuals. It’s never right to openly express your favoritism, even though it is natural to feel that way inside. All children are a blessing in that they have a lot to teach you about parenting, life and other people.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Protecting Tiny Teeth

Today, I took my almost-three twins to the dentist for the first time. Besides getting swarmed by fire ants in the parking lot, it turned out to be a very pleasant experience for both of them! Don't you love pediatric dentists who make it fun for the kids? How I wish they'd been around when I was young! My kids had so much fun that Caleb was begging me all day to take him back. We were there because one of Austen's front teeth was beginning to turn gray. Did you know that it's possible to "bruise" your teeth? The dentist said he most likely bumped his tooth on something, and it broke little blood vessels that are inside the tooth, causing it to "bruise from within." Fortunately, the tooth isn't loose or broken, and Austen is in no pain. The dentist said it would most likely heal on its own and return to its normal color, but to watch it because it is more prone to developing an abscess, which could necessitate removal of the tooth. Hopefully, it won't come to that, but it was reassuring to find out that this gray tooth was most likely a temporary thing. Anyway, today's note is just a reminder to make sure that you're taking care of your kids' precious teeth! Have them brush twice a day with a little bit of toothpaste, and schedule them for their first dental exam at the age of three. (My boys will be heading back for theirs in January.) Most of all, make sure you select a pediatric dentist who will make it a positive experience for your child. Your child will pick up on your own "vibes" about going to the dentist, so be sure to have a smile in your voice when you talk about going to the dentist.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Be on the Lookout for Hair Tourniquets

I clearly remember the day I thought that one of my boys would lose a toe! The twins were about six weeks old, and my mother-in-law was visiting from Alaska. She was bathing Caleb in the sink when she noticed that one of his toes was turning blue! Upon closer examination, we realized that a piece of hair had become wound around two of his toes so tightly that it was cutting off the circulation. In fact, the strand was embedded so deeply that we could only see the cut lines in his toes and the hair stretched between the two toes. Holding Caleb carefully so that he wouldn’t wiggle, we managed to slice the hair between his toes with a small knife and slowly unwind it. It was difficult to know if we had retrieved all the hair, but fortunately the blood started coming back into the toes and the blue color disappeared.

I was so grateful to my mother-in-law for noticing the problem because it could have resulted in the loss of one or two toes! Even though I had already successfully steered two other children through infancy, I had never heard of this phenomenon or been warned of the possibility. Experts call this a “hair tourniquet,” and it can be a real threat to infants. Hair can get wrapped around fingers and toes—and even penises! (In fact, I read an article where a baby girl lost her clitoris due to “hair tourniquet syndrome.”) Even pet hair or loose threads from a blanket or piece of clothing can become entangled. Because human hair is so thin and tends to contract when it dries, you may not even notice a problem until the appendage starts to show signs of distress.

So be extra vigilant. (Who doesn’t love to check out those adorable little fingers and toes anyway?) If your babies wear mittens or gloves, check their fingers for signs of wrapped-around threads once they’re removed. Check toes after removing booties or slippers. If a child is inconsolable and you can’t figure out why, he could be in pain from a hair tourniquet. If you find a problem, you’ll need a sharp tool like a small knife to cut the hair if you don’t see a loose end. Get some help to hold your child still while you remove the hair so no one gets hurt. If you’re unable to disentangle the hair or thread, contact your physician immediately. He may recommend soaking the limb in a hair-dissolving solution (like Nair) or have you bring the baby into the office or emergency room. (If you can’t reach a doctor, head to the hospital or urgent care center right away.) It’s important not to delay removing the hair because serious infection or loss of the limb can occur. I have long hair, so there’s always lots of my “shedding” around the house, but even if your hair is shorter, women tend to lose a lot of hair soon after giving birth due to hormonal changes, which can make the possibility of hair tourniquets more likely. So frequently examine those little fingers, toes and private parts!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Embracing Single Motherhood

I was a single mother with two sons for about nine years. Unfortunately, during that time, I spent most of my days pining for a relationship (and going through plenty of bad ones), hating to do everything by myself, resenting my limited financial means, and feeling lonely. But now that I'm remarried and have two more children, I find myself telling my single-mother friends all the things I liked about being a single mother. I could paint my bedroom rose, and nobody would complain. I could make fish sticks or frozen pizza for dinner, and everybody liked it. I could sit up in bed with a cup of hot cocoa and watch TV Land reruns, not crime shows or sports. My kids and I could spend Friday nights cozily on the couch, munching on popcorn in the dark as we enjoyed a good comedy. I could take a nap on a Sunday afternoon and not feel guilty about it. I could clean the house whenever I liked. I could do what I wanted with my money. I could raise my kids the way that I thought was best. I'm not saying I wish I hadn't remarried or that being a single mother is wonderful. Being married certainly has its advantages, and being single with kids poses many challenges. But I do want to say to those single moms who are wasting these years wishing for something else, take time to appreciate the freedoms that you now have, the independence to "do your own thing" without criticism or regret. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities to handle things on your own. Embrace this time in your life as an opportunity to get to know what's important to you before jumping into another relationship. Hopefully, I'll never find myself becoming a single parent again, but if I do, I know this time that I'll savor the good things and not wish the days away. I'll be more comfortable in my own skin and not yearn for someone else to "complete" me. I'll be the best "me" that I can be and live in the moment.