be the seatmate you want to see in the world

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Last week, I got to go to Las Vegas with a girlfriend who was there for a conference. She attended the conference all day while I read by the pool/wandered around the strip, and then we hung out and saw shows and ate amazing things every night.

To get there, I had to fly Southwest. I know, most people adore Southwest for their reasonable fares and funny staff members and for letting you check a bag for free and for not nickel-and-diming their customers at every opportunity. I have a grudge against them because they don’t assign you a seat, but instead, you get assigned a boarding number based on when you check in, and then it’s like a free-for-all to find a seat. I am so scatterbrained, I never remember to check in on time and thus end up in the crappy, you’re gonna have a middle seat, good luck finding space in the overhead bins group. True story, I once cried on a Southwest flight because I was PREGNANT WITH TWINS and didn’t get to sit next to my husband because we hadn’t remembered to check in on time. I JUST WANT AN ASSIGNED SEAT, DAMMIT.

Anyway, I actually managed to get in the B boarding group for my flight to Vegas, miracle of miracles. I always feel blissfully unencumbered when flying without my kids. It’s like, long security lines? No problem, at least I’m not trying to keep a couple of five year olds happy and in line. You need me to take off my shoes, show you my liquids, maybe even pat me down? Great. At least I’m not also taking off two other people’s shoes and hustling them through the lines. Basically, my good mood when flying without my children cannot be stopped.

As I waited to board, I heard a baby losing his mind. My first thought was “I hope I’m not next to that baby! I’m flying without kids, finally! I *deserve* a quiet, relaxing flight.”

But then I got on the plane to look for a seat, and saw the mom of that baby, flying alone with him and his preschool-aged brother. The aisle seat next to them was open. I didn’t really want to take it, but then a thought popped into my head: “Be the seatmate you want to see in the world.” I think it was inspired by my own airplane angel from a long-ago flight with my kids.

I sat down next to the mom. “Hi! I’ll sit next to you– I have twins, myself.” She smiled, “I didn’t think ANYONE would want to sit with us. Thank you so much!”

The kids did as great as a preschooler and a lap baby can do on a flight, which was also not particularly long, thankfully. The preschooler watched movies on his tablet and occasionally demanded snacks. The baby was wiggly and in need of constant distraction, occasionally emitting a squawk before his mom and I distracted him with something else, but no prolonged crying or anything. Big win? Let the baby play with ice cubes on the tray table. That entertained him the longest.

The mom and I chatted, and I was glad I sat next to them. It felt like sisterhood. Moms need to look out for each other.

We arrived in Vegas, and I left the little family at the end of the jetway, mom competently putting the stroller together and getting her kids settled. She had it handled, so I kept moving, eager to get to my hotel and grab some dinner.

As I reached the end of the jetway, I heard a man scream, “GET THAT FUCKING SCREAMING BABY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!” I turned to see a big guy fully decked out in Broncos gear literally yelling at a woman alone with two kids. I stared, mouth agape, as he walked toward and past me.

I wish I had said something like, “Babies can’t help it if they act like a-holes, but what’s your excuse?”

Instead all I could do was stare. Would he have screamed at her if her husband had been with her? Did anyone who witnessed the event say anything to him? Why didn’t the flight attendant who was standing right there say something? Can that guy get like, banned from future flights?

I can only imagine how rattled the mom was, and I wish I had caught up with her to check in. “You OK, sis?” There is no one more stressed and uncomfortable on a flight with small kids than those kids’ parent(s). Here, she had just survived the flight, oh sweet relief, and her kids had actually done as great as you can expect any kids their ages to do, and then she gets screamed at by an intimidating stranger?

I’m still furious with that man.

But in spite of his hatred, I’d like to share the main lesson I learned on that flight: be the seatmate you want to see in the world. Remember the hard times you’ve had, and let them give you compassion towards people dealing with stressful situations, like traveling with small children. Don’t huff. Don’t roll your eyes. Help. At the very least, offer a kind glance and a smile. Pack your earplugs and your noise-cancelling headphones if you must, but remember, while babies don’t have self-control, you do. Exercise it.

Image above via Flickr user fred C under a Creative Commons license.

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look for the helpers

We don’t have a TV in our main living space, and Jon and I almost never watch TV news (when we do, the kids are in bed or not in the room, because we watch in our bedroom usually after bedtime, and it’s because we’re following a breaking event or watching a live speech or something). I figure, they’re 5, and I don’t want to overwhelm them with the problems of the world just yet, especially since Claire tends toward anxiety. We talk about issues and events, but I just don’t want them exposed to wall-to-wall coverage or the sensationalism and graphic imagery so often part of TV news. This wasn’t even a super conscious decision to protect them from TV news, but more a result of my own awareness about my anxiety– I do better reading print/online news than watching it on TV, too. This has been especially true since the election.

I haven’t talked to them about recent natural disasters, but we were eating at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant last night, and they had a Mexican news station on TV. Of course most of the coverage was about the Mexico City earthquake. We had been eating when I noticed a concerned look on Claire’s face. “What is happening? Are those people dead? What happened to that building?” I realized she’d been watching the coverage, taking in the images even if she couldn’t understand the speaking, which to me had been background noise along with the oom-pa-pa mariachi music playing on the radio.

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How to explain an earthquake to my worried child without causing her to develop a fear that one might happen to us? I told her there was an earthquake in Mexico City, and that a lot of buildings fell down when the ground shook. “Did people die?” Yes, some people died, but a lot of people are still alive in the rubble, and the people they are showing right now are the helpers. They are digging the people out and saving them. So many people will be helpers after something terrible like this happens, and we’re so thankful for the helpers.

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I don’t know if I got it right, but my general parenting philosophy is that following the advice of Mr. Rogers can never be wrong. He said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

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I don’t watch the news because it feels like the end of the world lately: earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings, nuclear war, and an evil man in charge of our country. I need to look for the helpers, too. I need to protect my children and myself, and I also need to help the helpers.

Some organizations we like to support include World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.  Feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments. I’d also love to know if you protect your kids from TV news, and what age you think is appropriate for them to be exposed to it.

the moment we realized just how “normal” our daughter’s disability has become to us

Today I took Etta to get her second filling in 5 short years of life. This is hard for me, because I didn’t get my first cavity until I was like 28. (I’m blaming pregnancy for ruining my perfect record. It’s a thing.) Anyway, we’re pretty into good oral health and hygiene, and with her first filling, I felt like a failure for letting it happen.

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Our new dentist here in Denver is awesome, and she said it looks like Etta just doesn’t have good enamel (something about her teeth being hypoplastic?), that it didn’t form right on her baby teeth, and leads to grooves and weaknesses where cavities can form, despite our good oral hygiene. The good news is, on X-rays, her permanent teeth look better, but we may be spending a lot of time at the dentist for these baby teeth.

After we left the dentist, my husband said to me, “Man, Etta sure got the short end of the genetic stick.”

It was only a beat later that I realized how absurd that comment sounds. I mean, we have one kid with spina bifida, but here we are agreeing that it’s actually the “healthy” twin who lost the genetic lottery. And it’s actually kind of true! Etta’s the short, tiny one (finding school uniforms to fit a 3-year-old-sized Kindergartener was a struggle). Etta inherited my cardiac mutation. And now it turns out that she got crappy teeth?

Meanwhile Claire’s differences have just become normal to us, and normal to her as well. Strapping on AFOs, using catheters, scheduling doctor’s appointments and therapies, monitoring for signs of shunt malfunction, wondering if she’s getting a cold or a UTI, they’re just part of our life.

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And remembering how we felt on diagnosis day, or when we came home from the hospital, I realize how huge this mundane life actually is. What at first seemed insurmountable and life-shattering, turns out to just be another way of being a person in the world. Aren’t we all just adapting and trying to use the bodies we were given to the best of our capabilities? Don’t we all sometimes need extra help in certain areas?

So, in case you’re a parent or person who just got a big scary diagnosis, I hope you can read this and take a little comfort in knowing that one day, it may very well all seem very very normal. Just part of life. Not a tragedy at all.

Here we are today, thinking just maybe it’s our able-bodied daughter who got the bum end of the twin genetics dice roll. What an amazing thing.

to kindergarten they go

Today, Etta and Claire headed off to kindergarten, two tiny girls with giant backpacks. This year, they will be in different classrooms, but they will be right across the hall from each other, and will have recess and lunch together.

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There’s another set of twins in kindergarten this year, two boys, whose blond hair seems to have a counterpoint in each of our girls. They are both in Claire’s class. Their mom, and many others, asked me if I chose to keep the girls together or apart. The truth is, we saw a lot of benefits in both options and decided to let the school handle it. They’ve done great together at Montessori, and all of their teachers there remarked on how they are neither clingy or dependent on each other, nor antagonistic and fighting– they just kind of coexisted like any other two kids in the same class. They are also very different little humans, though, and I think being on their own could give them each a chance to shine and grow in a way they can’t together, and I’m excited to see how this will go. We’ve been reading a great little book called Twindergarten about a set of twins who are in different kindergarten classes, right across the hall from each other, but who are together for recess and lunch, and it’s really helped them prepare for this change.

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I realized at Back To School Night that I’m mostly just excited for them as they embark on this big journey. Their teachers had big sheets of paper on the wall where we answered questions like what we are most proud of about our children, what they are curious about, what they like to read about, etc. To me, the most interesting question was what our hopes and dreams are for our children in their kindergarten year.

I want this to be the year they fall in love with learning and school. I want them to be, like I was, excited to learn and to be with friends. I am excited to watch them learn to read and have the world of books unfold for them, a world that has always been my happiest and safest place. But most of all, I hope they continue to grow and stretch their kind and loving hearts. “Brave” and “kind” are much higher on my list of desirable traits than “smart” or “successful.”

I mostly don’t feel sadness that my “babies are growing up.” I am so thrilled to see them becoming who they are. I am so excited for the adventures that await them. I woke up before my alarm, just buzzing with excitement. I can’t wait to pick them up (about to head out on our bikes to get them!) and hear how their day went!

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once more around the sun

I went to the girls school for their “walk around the sun” today. At first I was like, oh great, a hippy dippy Montessori ritual, but it’s actually pretty cute– there’s a candle in the middle of the circle time rug, and there are “rays” that each say a month of the year around it to make a “sun.” The kids get to hold a globe and walk around the sun once for each year old they are, and they pause after each year for a parent to share a story about that year and show a picture. A cute little ritual that manages to teach kids about the solar system and the months of the year and aging all at once. Plus the girls had seen other kiddos get to walk around the sun and had really been looking forward to it.

It was also good for me to reflect on the past five years. The first year of their lives seemed to last forever, counting time in weeks and months, and, admittedly, though a magical year, full of a lot of loneliness and boredom for me, too. Ever since then, time gets faster. I think five is going to be a great year. I know we will have a lot of fun this summer, and then this fall brings KINDERGARTEN. I just can’t believe we’re here, but I’m happy to be– I love the little people they are becoming. I treasure the privilege of watching them become more themselves every single day.

 

Tomorrow we will be celebrating with a rainbow-themed birthday party. Cross your fingers that the weather cooperates. Colorado in springtime is a trip. We had sunny and 70s all week and today we might get snow.

 

super easy, no-candy valentines that will make your slacker butt look like a pinterest parent

I get that Boomers are like, OMG Millennial Parents And Their Special Snowflake Children. They see our birthday parties and class Valentines and think we’re a bunch of overachievers. And while I’ll cop to going a little overboard on birthday parties, my Valentine game only looks like it took me a ton of time. Our school has never let us bring candy or food items, and frankly, with food allergies what they are, I don’t really want to risk it. The good news is, party favors plus free printables that other overachieving parents make available online equals class Valentine’s win. I’ve made it even easier for you by rounding up some awesome options (if you can’t see the images in your RSS reader, click through to see embedded pins):

Every kid loves bubbles. Cute Valentine bubbles available via Target. You can get 16 for $3. Cheaper than a bag of candy.

I used this idea for Claire last year. Play Doh party pack available at Target for $6.

Mustaches are fun! Target even has Valentine mustaches, because of course they do. 16 for $3.

My kids love tiny things. They carry around purses full of them. Zoo animals via Amazon.

Also in the tiny things category: bugs! Bugs via Amazon.

Turns out bouncy balls look like planets. 12 bouncy balls for $3 at Target. Here’s an alternative bouncy ball printable.

I know my girls would love these heart glasses. 16 for $3 at Target.

Glow sticks are always fun. You can get 100 for under $9 on Amazon, with Prime shipping.

If your kid loves dinos, these are perfect. You can get 72 for $8 on Amazon Prime.

And if you hate the other parents in your kid’s class, give the kids kazoos. Almost as bad as giving a kid a whistle. 12 for $5 at Target.

And something for the teachers (I cleared these with my teacher sister):

We’re big Eos lip balm fans in our house. Plus they’re easy to find when blindly reaching into your purse. Or use any lip balm of your choice.

Just add hand soap or sanitizer.

Works with pretty much any Burt’s Bees product.

Just add nail polish.

Did you know you can gift Redbox gift codes via their website?

Always a crowd pleaser. Just make sure the card has enough on it for at least a grande drink.

a superhero girls’ fourth birthday

My kids are 3 months from turning 5, so now seems like a great time to blog about their fourth birthday party. I was kind of a mess last spring and not blogging much, but I don’t want to not document this on my blog. I enjoy planning my girls’ parties, and I know I can only enjoy this kind of thing for a few short years, so I want to make sure I document them so we can remember them in years to come. Last year, the girls were (and still are) super into superhero girls, and DC Superhero Girls hadn’t quite taken off yet, so I used the magic of the internet to help create a girly superhero theme that both girls and boys could enjoy. I love how adorable their superhero birthday party turned out.

Superhero Girls' Fourth Birthday Party Cake Table Setup

Washi tape plus science fair board = city skyline. (Idea here.) I downloaded the adorable clip art superhero girls from Etsy. I got the print-it-yourself invitations from the same seller.

Superhero Girls' Fourth Birthday Party Cape Favors

Every kid got their own cape when they arrived at the party. I got them via Amazon.

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Girls Superhero Fourth Birthday Party Activities

Activities included mask decorating, Hulk smashing, shield frisbee throwing, silly string “spidey” target practice, and bubble guns. I made the girls’ superhero dresses by sewing cute fabric onto tee shirts.

Food-wise, we served “hero” sandwiches, fruit and veggie trays with dip, and POP! corn. Claire especially loved the popcorn.

Girls Superhero Fourth Birthday Party POPcorn

Overall, it was a wonderful day, and I’m smiling looking back at these photos with people we love in our old house in Arkansas. Now I’ve got to get busy planning a rainbow-themed party for my almost five year olds!

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