oh to preschool they went!

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This week, Claire and Etta Jane started school for the first time. We found them the school of our dreams– a Montessori in an old house in a historic neighborhood. The classroom is calm and airy. The staff is warm and caring. There’s a giant outdoor classroom where the kids spend a lot of time. It’s homey, sweet, and peaceful, and we’re really excited to have found it and gotten in despite our late-summer move. I had been convinced there would be mile long waiting lists at any school we actually liked, but we ended up finding 3 good options to choose from.

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Purchasing uniforms with Claire, who is not a ham at all, why do you ask?

One thing I really liked was they allowed us to choose if the girls were in the same classroom or not. I know people have lots of opinions about separating twins in school or keeping them together, but I think it’s one of those decisions individual twin parents should be able to make for their unique kids. Etta and Claire have a special relationship. They are best friends (they not only share a room but sleep in the same bed), but not overly dependent on each other, so we didn’t think them being together would be a disruption, nor did we think separating them would be particularly traumatic. It’s just…they’ve always existed together. And when they embarked on their own into school for the first time, it felt natural and right that they would do it together. I love, for example, that they can look out for each other. Etta’s had a rougher transition than Claire has, but Claire has assured us that Etta does just fine at school and has a great time. They were scheming in the car today to get all the girls to sit at the same table for lunch. Another upside? This scatterbrained mama only has to keep up with one class’s crap.

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It feels pretty strange to suddenly have 4 hours a day to myself after 4 years of 24/7 twins. I’m really glad we skipped preschool for their 3 year old year. We had a really wonderful year together going to the zoo, library, and children’s museum each week. And yet this summer I think we were all feeling that we were ready for some space from each other. They were bored with me, and I was frustrated with them, more than before. If I had any doubts that they were ready, the Open House at their school alleviated them. They happily entered their new classroom, pulled out some Works (it’s a Montessori thing), and got busy. They didn’t want to see the playground, they didn’t want to leave, they just wanted to work. On the first day of actual school, Etta was ready to leave us at the curb, and Claire, our sensitive little heart, shocked us by not even crying (EVERYTHING makes Claire cry). When it came time for pickup, Claire didn’t want to go home!

It has also been amazing for my mental health (more on the anxiety thing in a future post) to have some time of my own. I can grocery shop by myself! I can run errands at super speed because I don’t have to constantly put kids in and out of car seats. I can blog! I can read! I can sew! (I’ve already been whipping up headbands and am thinking about selling them.) I can get lunches packed for the next day, dinner prepped, and even do some actual housework (if you think my floors like, ever, got swept with those two underfoot, think again)! I can even volunteer for the Clinton campaign! (More on that later, too)

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Now I think I know why my dad always sang “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as we shopped for school supplies. School is wonderful. The girls are thriving, learning, and making new friends, and I GET TO HAVE SOME SEMBLANCE OF MY OWN LIFE.

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can it be? a light at the end of the long dark tunnel that is THREE?

EttatudeUsually, I am not one to cotton to other parents who tell those with littler kids “just you wait, it gets worse.” Because each stage in this journey has its own set of hard and its own type of beauty, and there’s no use worrying about the next stage when you are already knee-deep in the current one. But one of the best things anyone did for me was to tell me that the “terrible twos” are a myth and three is where shit really gets real. Because OMG. The last year of three squared has nearly killed us. Thank God I didn’t go through two thinking we were in the worst of the toddler years, only to get walloped by three. Three. GOOD LORD. THREE.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

Three has been emotional. Three has been obstinate. Three has been irrational. Three has been straight-up exhausting. It has brought us to the edge of our patience, ability to form rational thoughts, and self-control. Three has made me want to run away screaming more than a few times. Yes, three has had some magic in it, as imagination has continued to explode and the twin bond has gotten tighter and they’ve been oh-so-eager to be big helpers, but mostly three has been the hardest year of our lives.

Claire tude.

But lately. Lately we see glimpses of the promised land: FOUR. It’s three months away, and we’re getting close enough to see some landmarks. Four seems less ruled by emotions. Four seems silly, always looking to make us laugh. Four is playful and imaginative. Four is independent and actually becoming capable. Four can make a sandwich! Four can put on her own coat! Four is getting better about putting on her own shoes! Four is really affectionate, and comes up with new ways to “show love” every day. Four is obsessed with “ballet music,” and will listen to Beethoven in a ballgown while playing with LEGO. Four loves snuggles with mommy and park time with daddy.

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I’m sure a lot of the time four will also drive us right up the freakin’ wall, but it finally feels like we’re reaping some rewards from all the hard work three has required. And if four is actually a nightmare, please don’t tell me. I can’t handle the news. I’m still recovering from three.

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

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?

when one twin can potty train and the other can’t

potty training twins when one has spina bifida

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing and trying to decide if I should or not. A major reason I want to write about our lives with spina bifida is so that others can be encouraged, and also so people without SB or other disabilities can see that this life we’re living isn’t “special,” but just life. But the truth is, sometimes SB is a big bump in our paths, and I need to be able to write about that, too.

I’ve also hesitated to write about potty training because I want to respect my kids’ privacy. I don’t want them to ever feel bad about or be teased about things I’ve written about our lives. I would never post a picture online of them on a potty or something. But I feel like I need to write about this because it’s been such an unusual problem. I also feel that potty training woes are pretty universal and any kid who dares to tease one of my girls about using the potty should probably ask their parents about their own potty misadventures.

The girls are now past 3, and though Etta has made strides in the potty learning department, I can’t say that either of my kids are potty trained. And the intersection of their personalities and this milestone and the speed bump of spina bifida has made the whole situation oh so complicated.

Claire, ever wanting to be a big girl, always asking me if she’s old enough to drive the car and when her boobs are going to grow in and when she’s going to be tall like me, would love to be able to be a big kid in just about every respect, including the potty. However, like most people with SB, Claire has disability in her urinary and GI tracts. She, like many people with SB, uses a catheter to empty her bladder and takes medicine to keep her dry in between caths. In the future, this is how she will manage her bladder, slipping into a bathroom to discreetly use a cath, and no one but her will have to know. For now, though, she can’t catheterize herself, so we do it for her every four hours. Most people with SB also get on some kind of “bowel” management plan that can involve nightly enemas to keep them dry during the day, medications, and even surgeries. We have an appointment with GI in August to start figuring out what Claire’s bowel management program will be, but it is our hope and belief that she’ll be able to be diaper free and will be “potty trained” to the degree that she will be able to cath and do whatever bowel protocols she needs to do to stay clean and dry during the day. But none of this progress is as fast as she’d like.

Etta, usually my independent little spirit, has decided she is just not ready yet to take the potty leap. If you ask her, she will say, “maybe tomorrow.” This has been her approach to many milestones. She didn’t walk until 14 months, when she was good and ready, skipping the toddling-and-falling stage of many early walkers and graduating straight from cruising to walking. Her speech development also seemed a little delayed for a while, and our pediatrician was even talking to us about referring her to a speech therapist, but her verbal skills have taken off recently, and we have no concerns. I’m a little frustrated that she hasn’t shown more interest in the potty, something I’ve been trying to get her to do since she was 18 months old, but I have confidence that my girl does things at her own pace in her own time.

Faced with a reluctant potty user, many parents try to motivate their kid. This can be something simple like telling them it’s time to be a “big kid” and buying “big kid” undies and doing other “big kid” things. Except I can’t do that, because I’d be simultaneously telling Claire that she is not a “big kid” since she can’t do these things. Some parents do boot camps or sticker charts, rewarding kids for potty progress, but then Claire would wonder why she can’t have treats and rewards, too. She actually cried at Bible School when all the other kids in our group had potty breaks and she didn’t get to use the potty.

I do what I can to affirm to Claire that she’s a big girl of whom I am very proud even though she doesn’t use the potty. I want her to know that what I’m proud of in her is her loving heart, her inquisitive mind, her infectious laugh, her affectionate nature, her nurturing spirit, her tenacious soul, and all the other things that make her who she is. I don’t want her to ever feel that she is anything less than a whole person, regardless of tools like AFOs or catheters or enemas that help her take care of her body in the ways she needs. At the same time, I’m at a loss of how to motivate her reluctant potty training sister without making Claire feel less-than.

I’m sure one day this will seem less fraught. Claire will have a potty system that works for her. Etta will eventually be a potty user. But in the meantime, this feels tricky.

 

threenager

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Back when we were first entering the twos, people started warning me: “Don’t believe the Terrible Twos thing. Twos are fine. Threes are terrible.” For the most part, I didn’t mind the twos. Yeah, they developed attitudes and the ability to say NO! But I was mostly too enchanted with their growing verbal skills and emerging personalities and ability to walk and fetch things to be too bothered.

Now that I’m a few months into three, I think people were right. THREE, MAN. THREE SQUARED, ACTUALLY. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. When they are good they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. Two-year-olds can be defiant, but three-year-olds are committed and they won’t shut up about it. They’ll give you a monologue manifesto about why you wanting them to put on their shoes/eat that thing they asked for and then decided they hate/use the potty/hold a hand/stop stealing toys from their sister/stop WHININGOMG is the most ridiculous thing in the world. And then they’ll put a hand on their hip, give you the stink-eye, and go HUMPH! for emphasis.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Claire in particular seems to embody another three-year-old stereotype. She’s a “threenager.” Three going on fourteen, I kid you not. She’s moody and sassy, yes, but she also desperately wants to be older. Here are three things that keep happening again and again.

I must, I must, I must increase my bust…

That was a line from Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, a book I loved at 13 and which seems to speak to Claire’s soul already at 3. She’s amazed by boobs. She admires them, she asks me about them, and she compliments me when I’m wearing particularly cute boobs, by which she means a sports bra, particularly my neon pink one. And she asks me daily if her boobs are coming in yet. Nope. Probably not for another 10 years, kid, and then, considering your genetics, probably not by much, anyway.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Steal my kisses

Claire has also recently developed an affinity for “wip-stick.” Her mama happens to love a bold lip color, and she is always complimenting me on my color choices. And then she demands a kiss, on the lips. How sweet, you might think. But it’s not about showing affection. She’s hoping some of my lipstick will wear off on her lips, so she can wear it too.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Learner’s permit

It’s normal for little kids to be interested in cars. We have a lot of toy cars, but to Claire they’re about as satisfying as when she said she wanted a “baby” for Christmas and she had to keep correcting people, “not a doll, a real one.” Claire wants to DRIVE. Every day when we get in the car, she asks me if she is “tall enough” to drive yet. Nope. And you’re not nearly old enough, either, kid. She has to settle for the race car carts at the grocery store. Which she drives like a crazy New Yorker, hollering “BEEP BEEP! OUTTA MY WAY!” to the folks just trying to shop. I blame the book “I Stink!” about a grouchy big city garbage truck for that one.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

My little threenager isn’t all sass and shenanigans, though. She’s also full of sweetness. She appears to be a natural-born nurturer and has been dubbed the junior babysitter of our playgroup. She’ll gently and expertly hold all the baby siblings, fetch their pacis and diapers for their mamas, and happily hand them toys and blankies to play with. Mostly, she’d rather play with the babies and chat with the mamas than play with her same-aged peers. She also takes excellent care of her own mama. She’s always asking me how I’m feeling, stroking me gently, giving me giant bear hugs, and picking random moments to whisper “I wuv you, Mom,” and totally melt my heart. She pushes me to my limits, confuses the heck out of me, and totally has my heart.

a good nap, spoiled

I probably need to do some self-examination to truly get to the bottom of these feelings, but as the mom of two preschoolers, I cling to the quiet of naptime like a life-preserver. Parenting small people requires every ounce of patience and energy I have, and I begin to run low after a few hours. I need a respite in the middle of the day to gather my reserves and recharge a bit, to refill the patience and energy tanks so that I have more to give in the hours before bedtime. And on days when my kids won’t nap? I feel actual rage. It’s like I can feel them actually stealing MY TIME away from me, and I start to feel desperate– how will I find more patience and energy to last me until bedtime?

I should have known as Etta Jane drifted off in the car on the way home from the daffodil festival that we were borking any chance of an actual nap. But visions of some quiet time on the couch to read danced in my head as we attempted to put both girls down for a nap after their short car snooze. I went back in twice to get them back into bed. I handed them books and begged them to just lay there and be quiet. But eventually it became clear that the nap  rocket was not leaving the launchpad. I pictured my husband going in to work at four. I wondered what I was going to feed us for dinner, something that seems to occupy at least 75% of my brain most of the time. I wondered how in the heck I was going to make it to bedtime on current patience and energy levels. I got mad.

“Why don’t you leave and go somewhere and let me take them?” my sweet husband offered. Blinded by my desperation for the nap time that wasn’t happening, all I could feel was trapped. “Where would I go? There’s nowhere for me to go!”

I heard him telling small people to put their whiny voices away, heard him finding them shoes, and as he led them outside where he had planned to spend naptime working on the garden, I snuck away. I sat on the couch and tried to gather some patience and energy. Small people soon returned demanding snacks, so I fixed them a cheese stick–no, cwackers!–no, the orange ones!–no, the ones she has! I got exasperated and raised my voice to ask them to OH MY GOODNESS JUST SHARE WITH YOUR SISTER THERE ARE PLENTY OF SNACKS, WHY DON’T YOU EVER ACTUALLY WANT THE ORIGINAL THING YOU JUST ASKED ME FOR?

I realized maybe I needed a snack and some quiet time too. I fixed myself some cheese and crackers. I retreated to my bedroom with a book and the cat, who I am worried about lately because he’s been sick, who keeps getting put on the back burner because life is sometimes so very hectic with small non-napping constantly-snacking insanely-picky preschoolers running around.

I ate my snack and read a chapter and enjoyed the fact that the cat is such a quiet, lovely companion. I felt the patience and energy meter start to creep up, just a hair.

Soon a small white-blonde head bobbed in next to my bed. “I sowwy mama. I sowwy I made you mad by not shawing wif my sister.” I melted. “I’m sorry too, baby. I’m sorry I got so mad about the nap and the snack. I love you very much.” I read two more chapters as my little sprites wandered in and out, catching worms with their daddy outside, pausing to come in and try on some of my necklaces, wandering back out again. I appreciated the sound of their stompy little kid feet in the hallway, snuck some kisses on top of soft hair warmed in the spring sunshine. I helped Etta wash her hands and returned to my perch. I helped them find “the widdle bubbles” and then returned to my perch. I got out my laptop and felt moved to write this post, confessing my sins to the page, releasing them as I typed. The brittle edges of my bad mood began to soften. I forgave them for not napping, forgave myself for being tired and impatient. To be a mother, for me, is to have to forgive myself at least seven times a day. Thank heaven grace abounds. I’m still growing, too.