travel tips with three-year-old twins

Travel Like a Pro with Twins in Tow | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

If you’ve noticed I’ve been absent on the blog over the last little bit, it’s largely because we’ve been traveling. First we went to Colorado to visit my husband’s family, and then we made a sad and unexpected trip to my parents’ house when my grandma suddenly passed away. All of this time with family was wonderful, but I also have to admit that traveling with two small kids is often also extremely stressful. I find myself gritting my teeth and wondering why my shoulders are so tight in the days before flying with our kids. I was especially anxious this time, because the last time we flew, last October, Etta screamed bloody murder through an entire 2 hour flight, completely inconsolable, refusing movies, snacks, and screaming “DON’T TOUCH ME, MOMMY!” every time I even tried to help her. Then, of course, she perked up right in time to land, and cheerfully bid farewell to every single passenger as they deplaned, while they gave her looks that said “see you never, demon child.” To everyone on that flight: I am soooooooo sorry.

Since I haven’t written about traveling with twins since the girls were babies, and since this trip actually went darn smoothly, I thought it might be time for an update on some of the things that work for us when traveling with the toddler and preschool set. (If you’re traveling to Disney in particular, check out this post on doing Disney with two toddlers and only one small backpack.)  Continue reading

serenity now

Serenity Now: how parenting is like being a super hero in training

Lately, I’ve had the feeling that having children is like becoming a super hero. Not in the get exposed to nuclear waste and suddenly find yourself in possession of amazing mutant powers sense, but in the receive a call to greatness and head off for some really intense training with some kind of fighting master who kicks your ass and teaches you to calm your inner storms and harness all of your strength in the service of something greater. Only in this scenario, my ninja masters are about 3 feet tall and their methods seem a little questionable. Like, they might violate the Geneva Convention. Luckily they’re really cute, because they push me to just about all my limits at least 10 times per day.

I never thought of myself as a super patient or gentle person, but when I think about how much those powers have been tested and grown in the last 3 years of this bizarre baby-led boot camp, I might as well be a super human in comparison to my former self. I don’t always get it right, but luckily my little teachers are very patient and determined to keep testing me until I learn.

They’re so good at it, in fact, that I’ve thought about lending them out so that others can get this sort of zen training themselves. Every time I drive past the ecumenical meditation center, I fantasize about dropping off my two little zen masters to give the folks inside some real mindfulness training. Finding peace in a tranquil room while listening to the soft sounds of a babbling brook? That’s the easy level. Finding peace while two master interrogators pepper you with questions every 36 seconds is some next level stuff. Finding it while someone needs to potty, the other is starving, they’ve just gotten into a hair pulling match over a dollar store toy, you’re 10 minutes late to get somewhere, you haven’t had time to feed yourself all morning, and suddenly everyone hates everything they’re wearing and YOU GAVE ME THE WRONG CUP, MOM, EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE…well, that’s super hero type stuff.

Most days, these little fantasies make me laugh. When I think about all the ways even my most exasperating moments in parenting are helping *me* to learn and grow, it’s easier to feel something closer to appreciation than desperation. It especially helps to think of myself as Batman and the girls as my little martial arts masters. Because I may not be Super Mom yet, but every day, I’m learning a little more.

it’s apparently breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, i’m not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

When I nearly died from complications after delivering our twins, I grieved one thing possibly more than any other: the loss of my ability to breastfeed my babies. Breastfeeding was just something I knew that I would do. It was really important to me, and in our first few days in the hospital, I was breastfeeding Etta and pumping to send milk to Claire in the NICU at Children’s Hospital, too. I remember the agony of my possessed hospital pump that would randomly turn itself to high and threaten to rip my poor nipples right off. I remember the ritual of Jon cleaning all the various parts in the hospital room sink so we could get ready to do it all over again all too soon. And I remember the pride I felt in sending those little 2 ounce bottles of “liquid gold” to my girl recovering from surgery to close her myelomeningocele, feeling comfort that if I couldn’t be there holding her, at least she was getting a little bit of me to strengthen and nourish her. It was so important to me, that when I was intubated and unconscious in the ICU myself, my husband had a lactation consultant bring the pump up, because he just knew I’d be very mad if I woke up and discovered they had let my precious milk dry up.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Unfortunately, when I woke up, they told me that drying up was exactly what I would have to do, because the medicines I needed to help my heart were not safe for nursing moms, and there were no safer alternatives. I had to stop breastfeeding so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.

From where I sit now, with happy, healthy three year olds, this seems like an obvious choice– the clear, right thing for my health. But at the time it felt rather devastating, because I believed I’d be settling for “second best” for my babies. Oh, how I cried. I remember noticing that even my damn formula can said “breast is best” on it and SOBBING. And for a while, I felt sad or defensive every time breastfeeding came up. Sad because I didn’t get to do something that was important to me. Defensive because I felt like so many people essentially wanted to see a doctor’s note to justify our “choice.” “Breast is best” became a trigger for rage– oh yeah? Let me show you how bonded I am to these bottle-fed babies! Let me tell you about immune systems and antibodies when these formula-fed kiddos haven’t had a single ear infection in over 3 years of life!

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

But now, 3 years in, it’s amazing to realize how all of that has just kind of fallen away. My kids eat food now. They drink mostly water, and sometimes whole cow milk. No one really asks if they were breast or bottle fed. No one really questions our bond, or their intelligence, or their health. They’re just happy, healthy kids, and what seemed SO IMPORTANT and SO DEVASTATING to me back in that hospital room, my breasts and my heart aching for what I could no longer give to my babies, well, it seems so far away and so small now.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Today, I don’t feel a twinge of pain or sadness or loss when I see my friends nursing their babies. Today, I can stand alongside other parents and say that our culture needs to do a whole lot more to support nursing parents. And today I also feel a whole lot of compassion for those of us who feel a little too aware during breastfeeding awareness month, too aware of what we perceive as our failings or shortcomings, or too aware of what we perceive as judgment from others, or too aware of loss and pain. To you who are still in that place, I am writing this to say: it gets better. Your babies will thrive not because of what they are drinking, but because of your great love. They will be bonded to you not because of your breasts but because of your hearts. They will be healthy because of your care, not because of antibodies in their milk. They will grow, and they will thrive, and this big deal will shrink and shrink and disappear in the rearview. I promise. I’ve finally made it there.

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Last week, my husband flew to Denver to interview for what I can only say would be his dream job. The interview went really well, but the gears of medical academia grind slowly, and we won’t be hearing about a hiring decision until at least November and maybe January, and then if he gets the job, possibly not moving until next summer. This means we’ll be living with a little uncertainty for a while. Rather than focus on the unknown, we’ve decided to live what may be our last year in my home state to the fullest. I want to make an Arkansas Bucket List and focus on enjoying what this place has to offer for as long as we’re here. If we end up not moving, at least we’ll have had a really fun year!

Some of the things I want to do are:

  • Take the girls canoeing on the Buffalo River
  • Road trip for a weekend to Memphis and Oxford MS (I have yet to make a Faulknerian pilgrimage and must do so while we’re so close)
  • Take the girls tent camping for the first time
  • Spend a weekend in a cabin
  • Visit Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Dyess
  • Take the girls to an Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball game
  • Visit the 3 Arkansas BBQ restaurants that made Garden & Gun’s BBQ Bucket List: Craig’s in DeValls Bluff, Jones in Marianna, and McClard’s in my hometown of Hot Springs
  • Take the girls to the State Fair
  • See the fall color in the Ozarks
  • Attend our alma mater, Lyon College’s Scottish Fest
  • Rock out at the Americana concert series at South on Main (tickets to this series were our anniversary gift to ourselves, and I’m super stoked about seeing The Indigo Girls with Patterson Hood in December)
  • Spend a night at The Capital Hotel (maybe for my birthday in December?)
  • See a show at White Water Tavern (We used to live right by it, and I hung out there a lot before kids. Haven’t made it back to my favorite dive in a long while.)
Making an Arkansas Bucket List

The Warhol’s Nature exhibit at Crystal Bridges.

There are a few things that would be on the list, except we’ve already done them recently

  • Visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (the current Warhol exhibit is pretty awesome!)
  • Go boating on Lake Hamilton (my parents live on this lake, so we can go anytime!)
  • Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens
Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Etta’s first Arkansas Travelers game. It’s way past time for us to get back out to a ballgame.

Obviously, there is much more that we could add to this list, and this is where you come in! Got suggestions for things we can’t miss in case we move? Bonus points if they are convenient to Little Rock or little kid friendly!

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

Kids in restaurants have been a hot topic lately because of a restaurant owner who definitely acted like a jerk over a kid who was maybe or maybe not acting like a jerk while the parents maybe or maybe didn’t do something about it. Until some third party describes what really went down in that situation, I’m not making any judgments about it.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

However, as someone who loves food and likes eating out and also has two small humans who often accompany us when we eat out, I did want to talk about eating out with kids. Part of my job as a parent is raising my small humans to be good citizens, who know how to navigate social situations, who know how to act in public. Eating out is part of that. And you can’t learn how to do that until you actually do it. Our kids have been going out to eat with us for all of their three years of life. The best times were probably when they were infants. We could put them on the floor in their baby buckets…I mean, car seats…and they’d sleep the whole dang time while their tired twin parents guzzled cheese dip and margaritas. Local Mexican restaurants and an Oyster Bar near our house were two favorites. As they got to be older babies and early toddlers, we played to our strengths: we went to noisy places, the types with high chairs and kids menus, and we went EARLY. We took toys and sippy cups, and when they fell apart, we took their butts right out, sometimes even all the way home, although that was rare. Now that they’re three, they’ve had years of practice eating out, and also years of practice of being expected to sit in their high chairs, eating their food, at the table with everyone else, until everyone is finished for dinner at home every night. I can’t remember the last time we actually had a bad experience in a restaurant.

Now, we don’t just have to stick to “family restaurants,” but can even go to places with like, actual table cloths and stuff, like in that picture from Forty Two at the Clinton Presidential Center, which may seem fancy, but also has a very courteous wait staff and a GREAT kids’ menu. Strangers have actually remarked to us on several occasions how cute and well-behaved our children are in restaurants, and we smile and tell them thank you, it took a lot of practice, and if they weren’t being cute and well-behaved, we wouldn’t be staying long.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

We love the patio at US Pizza. The girls love their spaghetti and meatballs, which can feed two kids for $3.50, and we can walk there.

The way I see it: no one else should ever have a bad time at a restaurant because my kids are being annoying. Generally, if a place has high chairs and booster seats, I assume my kids are welcome, and I expect that they will behave appropriately– otherwise we won’t be sticking around. We don’t take them to bars, though we have taken them to a local brewery, Lost 40, where they enjoyed the heck out of drinking water from little flight glasses and eating cheese dip and bratwurst. (Jon happens to love their beer, so we always have a keg from them in our kegerator at home.)

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

Etta at Lost 40.

I think the best statement I’ve ever seen on kids in bars was on the menu of a place called The Bird where I had one of the best burgers of my life in Jackson, Wyoming.

Kids in bars and restaurants, some guidelines

I probably would not take my kids to The Bird, because we like having high chairs, and because it really is more of a bar than a restaurant. Once they were old enough to not need a booster seat? Maybe. But I like that they make their standards clear, and I realllllly loved that burger. I’d hope that if they did have a kid or parents who were “messing up,” they’d just politely ask the family to handle the situation or leave, without, you know, screaming at children.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

For the record, this is the amazing burger and amazing view at The Bird. A literal cheeseburger in paradise.

Parents want to be able to eat out. Kids need to be able to eat in restaurants in order to learn how to act in restaurants. Obviously kids will mess up along the way to learning how to act, and it’s on the adults around them to model correct behavior, like asking people to leave *politely* if they’re being a disturbance, like getting the heck out of Dodge if your kids are consistently being obnoxious/tired/emotional/loud. If everyone did that, everyone could have a good time not just at The Bird, but in every restaurant.

I took a buffalo selfie in Yellowstone, managed not to be gored. Ask me how I did it.

ernie meets bufflos

Having recently visited Yellowstone and met my animal alter-ego, the buffalo, face to face, seeing news of a woman attacked by a bison while taking a selfie hit a little close to home. OMG, I thought, I totally took a buffalo selfie. Am I lucky to be alive?

ernie meets bufflos

It turns out I’m just lucky I read and obeyed the park’s bazillions of warnings about giving wildlife the appropriate amount of space. When you enter the park, you’re given a handout on the park’s wildlife that tells you to stay 25 yards away from bison and 100 yards away from bears. There are also signs reiterating the same all over the park.

Any of our photos of bison that appear to have been taken closer than that were achieved via zoom lens or from inside our vehicle. I was actually fairly terrified that we would encounter a bear on our hikes, and we talked and made noise the whole time to help keep the bears away. No photo is worth risking your life. You can still get amazing photos through the power of zoom.

ernie meets bufflos

saving my sanity with a box full of healthy snack options

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Little kids don’t have many opportunities to make their own choices. In my house, I usually decide what’s served for meals, what they wear, where we go, who we see, when they nap, and on and on all day long. I’m also always having to tell them no, stop that, don’t do that, slow down, be quiet, etc. So, when I have the ability to offer them a choice without it being a lot of skin off my nose, I try to do it.

Now that my kids are 3, I’ve been trying to cut down on constant snacking. They get breakfast, rarely a small mid-morning snack, lunch, post-nap-snack, and dinner. The days of constantly feeding them bites of stuff all day long are over, because I can reasonably expect them to eat most of a meal. Recently, however, post-nap-snack had turned into a sore point in my day. Claire especially had gotten pretty demanding, wanting more to eat than I wanted to give her, usually leading to her not eating very well at dinner. She also would want the same not-so-healthy snack foods that I would buy for occasional consumption every single day. I’d offer one thing, and she’d pitch a fit demanding a different thing

Then I remembered seeing different things on Pinterest about creating a box of acceptable options and offering kids a limited choice of snacks. One naptime when my husband was home, I took a blissful kid-free trip to the store and rounded up a bunch of healthy snack foods to create two snack boxes, one that lives in our pantry, and one that lives in our fridge. Now, when my kids wake up from nap and feel a rumbly in their tumblies, I just pull out one of the boxes, and they can have one of anything inside. We’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been working fabulously, for the most part. They seem to enjoy exercising their little wills over something, and since I’ve already narrowed their choices to things that won’t ruin their dinner, I don’t have to stress about whether or not they’ll still want to eat at mealtime. I usually set the box in front of them and they know they can only choose from the box, which prevents them from demanding something else they spy in the pantry.

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Currently, the pantry box holds bags of almonds, small containers of trail mix, apple sauce pouches, yogurt raisin boxes, seaweed snacks, and pretzels with peanut butter. The fridge box has white and yellow cheese sticks, carrots and hummus, yogurt, and apples. Other ideas include: salsa and chips, cottage cheese, dried fruit, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, fruit leather, and granola.

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

I’ve noticed an added benefit to the snack boxes: now when *I* feel like I need a snack, I’m more likely to choose one of the readily available healthy options too. It’s also handy for pulling together packed lunches when we need to be able to eat on the go.

Have you instituted anything similar?