Thursday, April 26, 2012

Twin Love and An Emerging Diva

Growing up as an only child, I always thought it would be cool to have a sibling. In my young mind, it would've been even cooler to have a twin. Nowhere in my rose-colored multi-child household vision was there any fighting, backstabbing or arguments over who got to have the last cookie. There was just love and Parent Trap meets Dora the Explorer kinds of adventures.
Now, that I'm a mommy of twins, I understand that there is no such thing as a peaceful, hold hands in a circle and sing kum-by-yah in unison kind of environment. There are fights over crayons, accusations of toy theft and the regular shedding of tears. We live in a very energtic, active house.

But, at the end of the day, when the disagreements over which episode of "Yo Gabba Gabba" to watch have been resolved, I still want them to appreciate the special bond that only they have and love each other regardless of who has the coveted book of the moment in their bed.

I got a glimpse that Avery and Lexie are heading in that direction this week at bedtime. After saying our nighttime prayers and reading two (which rapidly morphed into six) favorite books, I asked the girls to get into their beds. They still sleep in the same room.

Before doing so, Avery went over to Lexie's bed and said, "I want to give Wex a hug." Avery leaned in and gave little sis (by eight minutes) a big squeeze. "Awww, that's very sweet, Avery," I said.

Lexie returned the favor. She walked over to Avery and gave her a hug. To trump her sister, Lexie added a kiss. "Nice girls," I said. At my prompting, they each told each other "I love you" and proceeded to bed.

Lexie, the child who can fall asleep faster than a narcoleptic, snuggled in immediately. Acting fast to seize this opportunity to keep her in bed, I covered her up with her favorite duck blanket and kissed her goodnight.

As I went to turn out the little lamp in their room, Avery alerted me that she was not quite done with her sweet expressions of love. She walked over to her sissy's bed and said, "I want to hug Wex, Mommy." As she tried to climb into bed with Lexie, I realized this was probably going to erupt into a fight over personal space and territory, which would only delay bedtime, incite tantrums and cause Mommy to miss "Gossip Girl." So, I said, "Oh, bug, that's really nice, but I think sissy is tired and wants to go to sleep. Why don't you blow her a kiss and get back in your bed?"

I should've known that suggestion would not do. Avery did the exact opposite. She wiggled her way into Lexie's converted crib and attempted to hug her, despite the fact that the only part of Lexie's body visible above the duck blanket was her head. No limbs were available for hugging. And, Lexie was not interested in changing positions.

"No, Avery, I'm tired" was Lexie the Mimic's response to Avery's display of affection. Avery burst into tears. "Oh no," I thought. This was not how I expected the situation to roll out. Instead of avoiding conflict, I had unintentionally created it and, apparently, a diva at the same time.

I comforted Avery and tried to convince Lexie to sit up and give Avery a hug. No dice. Lexie stuck to her diva guns and responded, "No! I'm tired." Remind me to never say "tired" at bedtime again.

After 10 minutes of CIA-like negotiations, I finally convinced Lexie to give Avery a big hug. As soon as they parted, I hugged them both and whisked them both into bed. I immediately turned out the light, said my "I love yous" and scurried out the door before another hugging war ensured.

The morale of the story? Be careful what you wish for. Twin love is not easily shared at 8:45 p.m. when the diva extraordinaire needs her beauty sleep.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Best Birthday Present EVER!

Last Friday was my birthday. Yes, Friday the 13th. (I feel it's important to mention that I came into the world on a Wednesday, which carries far fewer superstitious concerns.) I'm at the point in my life where I don't really get many birthday gifts anymore. That's okay. Most of the things I want (a Diane Von Furstenberg dress, a beach house, the chance to sleep in until 9 a.m. just once) are not really feasible anyway. That's why the unexpected surprise I got during my birthday week was so incredibly awesome.

I was picking the girls up from school and happened to look on the chart on the closet door. It lists things like how long each kiddo napped, her mood and her bathroom behaviors on that particular day. In the potty slot, it said in big letters "Alexa is ready for big girl underwear!"

YES! Finally! I started having visions of all the things I could buy with the $50-$75 a month I would save without having to purchase gigantic economy boxes of diapers and pull ups from Target each month! WooHoo! Babysitter money!

Under the exciting note about Lexie's panty prospects, the teacher had written in smaller letters something to the effect of "Yeah, Avery's not really ready yet, but if you want to start her at the same time, we can do that." Um, no thanks. I may masquerade as Super Mommy, but there are seriously only so many simultaneous accidents I can handle at once. Plus, I'm not sure there are enough pairs of Yo Gabba Gabba panties available in the world to outfit both of the Wonder Twins during this special time of transition.

So, Avery is waiting. It's actually part of our super secret strategy to get Avery to go. Geof and I hope that by letting her see Lexie succeed at toilet training, she'll want to follow suit. For once, the leader of this dynamic duo will become the follower. At least, that's our plan.

So far, this approach seems to be working. Avery has peed once in the potty at school this week, which is huge, and she's tried to put Lexie's Minnie Mouse underwear on over her shorts. She cried when we told her to take them off. "No! I want some!" Nope. Not until you bid diapers bye-bye and get serious about potty time. It's the old "you want what you can't have" mentality. Sort of like me and size 2 pants.

Lexie is definitely unknowingly aiding and abetting our plan to get Avery potty trained. She started wearing her big girl panties last Friday and has been doing impressively well ever since. There have been accidents, but like Elmo says in his potty training DVD, "Accidents happen, and that's okay."

Don't get me wrong. Cleaning up after the accidents is not my favorite thing in the world. But, I understand it's a necessary evil and a means to an end. Sometimes, though, it's really gross. Let me give you an example.

On Saturday, Geof went golfing, so I took the twins to the Knightdale Public Library for storytime. Mommy did not check the schedule before leaving, so I was unpleasantly surprised to learn after we arrived that the library is not having Saturday morning storytime in April. Fail.

Instead, we made a craft out of a paper plate and cruised the aisles for books about animals, Sesame Street and mice who eat cookies. With the librarians' help, we checked out five stories without disrupting too many of the other patrons. (It's hard to maintain the tomblike silence in a library when you're traveling with two toddlers.) At the librarian's recommendation, we then took a walk on the pond-side trail next to the library.

I knew that it was probably not too smart to be that far away from a potty (the woods doesn't count in this scenario, since we're not camping or on a Farmhouse fraternity hayride), but I took them to see the water anyway. On the way back to the car, Lexie said, "Mommy, I need go potty." My response to try and beat the pee? "Run!" I yelled.

The twins went thundering down the path to the parking lot. I scooped them up and hustled back into the library (I know all the old people were thinking, "No! It just got quiet in here!") and straight to the potty. I corralled the girls into the handicapped stall, which is the only one large enough for all three of us and the enormous diaper bag full of spare pants, and got Lexie turned around appropriately in front of the commode.

Just as I was breathing a sigh of relief and feeling victorious over Lexie's bladder, there it came. A puddle around her feet. ARGH.

When you think about bathroom accidents, you think wet pants, wet underwear. Oh, no. It's much more than that. It's wet socks and wet Crocs, Lexie's primary shoe of choice.

So, here I am trying to mop up the pee, remove the soaked clothing and footwear, get Lexie on the potty and yell at Avery for crawling under the stall door and repeatedly flushing every commode in the restroom all at the same time. 

Probably 20 minutes later - after threats of Time Out and no lunchtime trip to see Ronald McDonald - we left the bathroom with clean hands, dry clothes and minimal remaining patience. (Well, that was only me.)

I had to laugh when a woman witnessing this ordeal in the restroom commented, "They're so much fun at this age. Enjoy it while you can." I must have looked at her like she had four heads, because she quickly added, "My son is 17." I replied, "Bless your heart."

I'm sure when Avery and Lexie reach their teenage years, Geof and I will look back on life, say "Remember when we thought potty training was hard?" and burst into laughter. It's similar to our response to people who talk about how hard raising one child is.

We'll get through it some day, but only after doing copious amounts of laundry and enjoying some premium adult beverages.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teaching Toddlers the "No, Nos" of Life

Growing up, I was a perfect angel. I was never spanked, because I never did anything wrong. Ever. Excuse me while I polish my halo.

Geof also claims he was a "good kid." Although, apparently, it took a few swift meetings with the paddle to get there. I can't imagine that anything he did was that bad, though. Seriously, he went to private Christian school for the greater part of his life. Those kids aren't typically known for blowing up urinals with fireworks or calling in fake bomb threats like the delinquents in public school. (I can say that with humor since I am a product of the public school system. And, my uncle did once try to blow the urinal off the wall at his public school back in the day. No joke.)

It seems Avery is going to take more after Geof in her attitude towards following the rules. This week, I've been told two days in a row that she was telling the daycare teacher on the playground "No! No!"

No such report for Lexie. It's clear she's following my shining example. Minus a few bad choices in college.

I certainly don't want Avery to think it's okay to disrepect her elders. But, how to you explain that to a precocious 2.5-year-old girl? I need the Toddler Whisperer.

After the first offense, I made her apologize on the playground in front of her friends to the teacher and give her a hug. Then, I explained that if it happened again, toys would disppear. She seemed to understand and told me again later that night she was sorry.

But, the next day, she became a repeat offender. When I walked onto the playground, she came running over, saying "Mommy, I being mean. I being mean."

"What are you talking about?" I asked. That's when the teacher walked over and explained that Avery had once again told her "No! No!" on the playground. The teacher stood there looking at me as if to say, "Okay, discipline her now." I couldn't do anything, because I was still processing the fact that Avery was told she was a mean girl, and now, she was repeating it.

I wasn't sure who I was irked at more - Avery for being defiant again or the teacher for programming my kid to think she was mean.

I'm no daycare teacher, and I don't pretend to know how they keep their cool while dealing with a dozen whiny, green-nosed children begging for attention and getting into trouble left and right. But, I do think there are better ways to explain to a child that her behavior is unacceptable without resorting to labeling and name-calling.

The challenge with disciplining Avery and Lexie (on the rare occasion that she does something wrong) is that whatever I threaten to take away, they decide they no longer want.

Here's an example:
Me: "Avery, you better sit down in your chair and eat dinner, or we're not going to Marbles tomorrow."
Avery: "No, Mommy. I no wanna go to Marbles. I want to stay home."

Great. I know that you are lying, because Marbles is your favorite place in Raleigh. But, nevertheless, you just eliminated my leverage with your comment. Now, how I am supposed to get you to sit still without forcibly restraining you to the chair?

Last night, I decided to teach Avery about consequences for her actions at school. I explained that when she chose to not do what teacher was asking, she chose to not get to play with any toys all night. She also opted herself out of after-dinner dessert. For good measure, I made her sit at the dinner table while Lexie ate her chocolate bunny cookies. I know. I'm the mean one now.

Avery cried off and on, but I'm not sure if the lesson really sunk in. I guess we'll find out in about three hours when I pick the twins up at school.

What I do know is when I was tucking Avery into bed last night, I told her she was beautiful and smart and very special. Her mouth spread into a wide, sleepy smile - a look I hadn't seen all day - and she rolled over, content and ready to put the day behind her.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Mommy Marathon

I was sitting in my office at work the other day when a colleague who happens to have a two-year-old son started talking about their family's bedtime routine. His little boy goes to bed between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

"What?!" I questioned, shocked at this revelation. "Sometimes, the girls and I don't even get home until almost 6:30 p.m.!"

So begins the story of my mommy marathon.

By "marathon," I do not mean an actual road race with chip times, paper numbers and short shorts made from a high-tech wicking material. (All the hours I spent running in the past are now used to do other kinds of rigorous physical activity like laundry and picking up the playroom. It's also why I will not be wearing a bikini this swimsuit season. I know you're disappointed.)

When I say "marathon," I mean the all-out sprint that begins when I leave work, and race to pick up Avery and Lexie from daycare. This pace doesn't slow down until the twins are in their beds fast asleep. Unless I'm going 90 to nothing with my hair on fire, it will be 10 p.m. before the kiddos are in bed.

That is totally unacceptable. One reason? Tantrum city! No one wants to endure screaming in stereo surround sound from an overtired Avery and Lexie. Another? The later the girls go to bed, the less time I have to watch "Gossip Girl" on DVR. When you only have time to watch one or two programs a week, they become pretty essential. Plus, if the girls ever become members of Manhattan's elite, I really should know how to fit in properly. It's just proactive parenting.

Before I share the play-by-play of my mommy marathon, I should mention the competition between the clock and me only takes place on Mondays and Tuesdays when Geof is working the night shift at the TV station. On these nights, I'm physically outnumbered, so when Avery is throwing a plastic sippy cup off the second floor balcony onto the hardwood floor below and Lexie is climbing diaperless into my bed, I curse his schedule and respond as quickly as possible in priority order to the crises unfolding before me based on which one I think will damage the things I like most. In this particular real-life example, I lunge for Lexie first, because I really like my mattress and do not want it to smell like pee pee.

Here's the rundown:

5:30 p.m. - I pull into daycare, go inside and get the girls off the playground. On the way to the front door, I negotiate a squabble over which girl I hold and which one walks next to me holding my hand.

5:45 p.m. - We get to my car. Instantly, I provide apple juice-filled sippy cups and snack food to the hungry twins. Undoubtedly, Avery will not like what is in her snack cup ("NO! No want any goldfish!"), dump it on the floor in the backseat and lie on top of it screaming for more. I wrestle her off the ground and into her car seat while trying not to look to other daycare parents like this is an abusive situation (I'm using the one getting swatted at, by the way), so they won't call Child Protective Services.

6 p.m. - We drive down I-40 to our house. Avery has typically calmed down by this point. She and Lexie take turns requesting songs on CD and estimating when we'll see the two water towers along our route. I pray silently that Avery will not demand to hear "Frosty the Snowman" since it is now April.

6:15 p.m. - We arrive at home, and I unload the girls from their car seats. Lexie tries to climb the ladder in the garage while Avery asks to bring the basketball into the house. I tell both of them "no" and prod them to the door.

6:25 p.m. - Everyone is finally in the house. The twins clamor to go onto the deck. I agree, so I can start dinner without dodging toys and little people under my feet.

6:40 p.m. - I nuke a typical dinner of protein, two veggies and two fruits. By this point, Avery has likely protested eating a number of the items I'm cooking and has scavenged in the refrigerator for other items I will not cut up for her, because I know she won't eat them, either. I juggle this with moving Lexie from counter to counter in the kitchen, so she can see what I'm doing. "Mommy, see! Mommy, I help!" Hmmmm, can you do dishes?

6:45 p.m. - The twins refuse to eat until I put their plates on their picnic table on the deck. I oblige, because I'm watching the clock, and I know we're running WAY late. They eat until they see our neighbor grilling out on his deck next door. They abandon the picnic table and run to the bench, so they can wave and talk to him. Tick, tick, tick.

6:55 p.m. - Our neighbor goes back inside, and the girls eat a little more before deciding it's time for a game of chase, or as they call it, "Get You!" By this point, they have hidden behind me several times, and my favorite cream-colored dress pants are dotted with black bean juice and hints of green from avocado.

7:15 p.m. - Vitamin selection begins. Avery demands two, even though the bottle says for her to take just one. Knowing an argument will take another 10 minutes, I concede and remind myself to steal it back from her later. Lexie takes five minutes to make her selection and ends up with a "clapper." (See previous post)

7:25 p.m. - Now upstairs, we begin the pursuit of bath time. I ferry Lexie to the potty while I try to prevent Avery from filling the garden tub with cold water only. After collecting 10 plastic food items from the play kitchen in the playroom and dumping them in the water, the girls finally get in. I bathe them at the same time as they splash the walls and me. I am still in my now stained and wet work clothes.

7:40 p.m. - Bath time is over. Towel off and pajama time begins. Like mini nudists, they want no part of it and sprint off in opposite directions totally naked. They ignore my calls to come back to get dressed. Fearing urination on my carpet, I race after the closest one and get her dressed. By this point, the other one has announced, "Mommy, I peed. Mommy, I pee on floor." Groan.

8 p.m. - Everyone is diapered and dressed with hair combed. Now, we begin the toothbrushing battle. I let them try to brush their own teeth and then I jump in to help. The girls like me to sing while I brush for them. Avery requests "Jungle Song." Having no idea what that means, I immediately sing "Welcome to the Jungle." She likes it. Lexie does, too, and wants me to sing it her for, as well.

8:10 p.m. - I nudge the girls into their bedroom and shut the door, reducing their play space and hoping they'll calm down quickly, so we can get to bed. We're already way past the 8 p.m. bedtime I was shooting for. Totally amped up from multiple renditions of Guns N' Roses, they jump up and down on their converted crib beds just like trampolines. They are not interested in my attempts to start story time.

8:20 p.m. - Lexie brings me "trophy book," a kind of Where's Waldo book for toddlers, which she adores and wants to read every, single night. Mommy is sick of "trophy book." Putting my disdain aside, I sit her in my lap and speed through "kitchen" page and the search for 10 hidden cupcakes, hoping I might manage to get the girls in bed before 8:30 p.m.

8:30 p.m. - No luck. I put them into their beds multiple times, and they get out multiple times. Each time, they have a new excuse. "Mommy, I need book," says Lexie. "Sweetie, it's going to be dark in here in a minute, and you won't be able to read it," I explain, trying to counter this popular stall tactic. "Mommy, need book! Other one," Lexie insists. I get the book, cover her up and lean in for a goodnight kiss.

At this moment, Avery walks over, hugs me and says totally unprovoked, "Mommy, I sorry for spilling goldfish crackers. I sorry not getting my seat." I am totally taken aback and speechless for, perhaps, the first time ever. Not only did she remember the terrible tamtrum from about 2.5 hours earlier, but she felt bad about her bad behavior! Wow.

I give her a giant hug and tell her how much I appreciate her apology. For that one minute, I forget that the finish line to my mommy marathon is in sight, and I am very close to ending my competition with the clock. I shower Avery with kisses and put her into bed with her beloved "red blanket."

8:45 p.m. - Hearing only muffled protests, I turn off the light and slide out of the room while softly telling the girls how much I love them.

The race to bedtime at my house is long and crazy, and sometimes, it feels like it will never actually end. Just like in a real marathon, quitting isn't an option. I have to see it through even though some of the steps along the way might be painful, frustrating or involve unexpected potty breaks. But, in the end, it's worth it. I may not get a medal or a beer from an event sponsor, but ocassionally, I get a "thank you" or an "I'm sorry," and those sweet words are my own prize, helping melt away the stress and tense moments and energizing me to do it all over again the next night.

Oh, and remember that guy whose son goes to bed as early as 6:30 p.m.? I failed to mention that he also gets up at 5:30 a.m. - even on weekends. I'll take my long nights over early mornings any day!