Raising My Twins

It's what's on my mind.

I Hate Abby’s Flying Fairy School

Girls craning to see Sesame Street around mom.

Sesame Street is one year younger than me. I watched it, and loved it, when I was very small, and I even remember continuing to enjoy it after school as an older “latchkey kid”. My dad thinks Sesame Street may have been responsible for my very early reading. (I remember me and just one other kid being allowed to read whatever we wanted in a separate book room during reading lessons in 1st grade because we were already so accomplished at it, they didn’t feel the need to teach us anything.)

In any case, I love Sesame Street so much that I literally couldn’t wait to show it to my girls. I know the recent research says TV under age 2 is definitely not helpful and is more than likely detrimental. But although I had some self-consciousness about it, I was not deterred, truly believing that this show is not going to set my girls back, given the rest of our engaged, loving home environment. I showed Sesame Street to the girls soon after their 1st birthday, and it soon became an almost-once-a-day habit. (FYI: We only allow this one hour of TV per day, and it’s only Sesame Street, sans sponsorship ads at the beginning. I don’t pretend it’s “educational” at this age—we treat it as entertainment for sure.)

Well, I was dismayed to find that the format has changed. I looked at the Wikipedia entry on Sesame Street and found there have actually been at least a couple of recent format changes…meaning well after Elmo was added. One was around 2002, and I frequently see that format in re-runs. I don’t mind it at all. It’s pretty good, with lots of variety learning in videos of different cultures, places and general information. And importantly, there are still a lot of kids in the intervening “street” segments, talking with the human adults and muppets. This is a huge part of Sesame Street’s tradition.

In the latest iteration (five years old now), there are almost no human kids on Sesame Street. They are still in an occasional video about transportation or whatnot, but even those have decreased in frequency and have been replaced by a more rigid sequence of (increasingly) animated segments.

For the record, Elmo’s World, vilified by many, is fine with me. I don’t love every aspect of it, like the fact that he’s aimed at 3-year-olds and yet he looks for info primarily from his TV and computer. But in general, the segment is warm and engaging, predictable in a fun way for tiny tots, and filled with good information about a variety of subjects, the details broken down pretty far for the young set. I also like Super Grover 2.0 and my husband likes Murray’s school segments, where kids learn about different types of school, such as karate, ice skating or music.

But there’s one segment I don’t like: Abby’s Flying Fairy School. I’ve tried to like it, because my kids are charmed by it (I’m happy to say that my kids don’t completely zombie out when watching Sesame Street…they register smiles, even laugh now and then while watching, and three times Rachel was scared by something). But the first thing you notice about the Fairy School segment is that it’s mostly drawn in pink and lavender*, so I’m assuming it’s targeted at girls, because that’s how they color code our youth now…blech! (Don’t get me started on this.)

It’s also made using pretty shoddy-looking computer animation*. It doesn’t look polished at all. And I know…Sesame Street isn’t known for “polish” but if you look at the new Burt and Ernie’s Great Adventures, there is a super cute claymation-style animation that appeals a whole lot more than the Fairy School’s slapped together look.

There are two male fairies in the school, which I’m glad for, but one of them is grotesque, in one episode talking about “belly button baloney,” and the other is hopelessly lacking in self-esteem. The girl fairy, Abby Cadabby, is clearly the strong, smart one, which on the surface sounds good, because she could be a good girls’ role model…if it weren’t for the pink fur and tutu and sparkly wand. But why do we have to make a girl stand out by making the boys around her sort of moronic? I’m sure I’m over-thinking it. 🙂

I find myself wishing they’d return to the previous format, although I guess some people disliked that one. At least there was a breadth of informational “human” videos instead of so many cartoons and hardly any people.

Does anybody else watch Sesame Street? Like it? Hate it? Think I’m crazy for letting the girls watch it?

* I was wrong about the pink and purple scheme—it’s only Abby herself that is pink and purple. Also, it seems I was wrong about the sophistication of the graphics—please see the comment below from a SS insider. I apologize for letting my personal dislike color my judgment of the work’s quality.  –js

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Update On Four Meals, and a Recipe

We’ve been adhering to a four-meal-per-day system for over a month now (read this post to see why we started it) and I have to say, it’s been a huge success. Not only is it easier for me to plan and serve four meals, rather than 3 meals plus 2 snacks (seems not a big difference, but it is…what can I say?) but the girls are hungrier at each meal, and so they eat more with less fuss.

I do not force anything on them. I give them three to four choices. Often they won’t eat one of them, and that’s okay. Because like every mom, I do have some go-to meals that I know give them their needed nutrition. This helps me to relax when they eat NO dinner, and that happens at least once a week because they don’t like what we’re eating (falafel, anyone?) Rachel always tries the food now, which is fun and encouraging, and if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t eat more. Audrey will still size things up by how they look and sometimes reject without trying. But she’s slowly getting more willing to have a taste.

Dinner is always with us at the “dining room” table (it’s in the living room). And for this last meal, I’ve continued to offer whatever we eat to the girls, with occasional exceptions…lately we’ve eaten a lot of salads, and I don’t expect 22-month olds to eat those, so I offer them some components of the salad, like chicken and avocado, with, say, a quesadilla. At the end of every meal they get milk, in a regular, open cup. They love this part. They are getting really skilled at drinking this way. Rachel didn’t spill a drop of her OJ this morning!

Since starting the four-meal days, trips to restaurants are less stressful—they know what is happening (high chair always means meal time) and they are considerably more patient, as well as attentive to their food. It’s amazing! Truthfully, we have only put this to the test once since the last post, I think, but still…it was a good experience. They were amazingly well-behaved, and it was a somewhat-lingering dinner at our friends’ restaurant.

So the early benefits have lasted. I’m completely sold on it. Oh, one other thing: it matches with my philosophy of showing the girls that every family member’s needs and time are important. They are old enough to wait for their meals to come at predictable times, not demand that mom drop everything and get them a snack. (Not that they did that before, but they are under 2, and eating all day would seem to cultivate an appetite for immediate gratification eventually, and that’s something I don’t want them to grapple with any more than necessary.)

And now, here are some fun food standbys that make my life easier.

Rachel scarfs some "Half and Half Soup." Here's a tip on boxed organic soups: Imagine Foods has the lowest sugar content by far...much lower than Amy's.

The first is “half and half soup”—a lazy creation of mine that I think is fun. The girls like tomato soup by itself but they don’t like butternut squash soup as much, for instance. So I started getting them to eat a bit more of the latter by pouring yogurt on one side of the bowl and the soup on the other. And now I do this for tomato too, to cut the sodium down and give them more calcium and protein. And here’s the best part: I serve it cold…so I pour the sides simultaneously right out of the refrigerated cartons. So easy for mom!

And below is my recipe for Zucchini-Banana Bread (AllRecipes link—easier to print), which is quite beloved by my family and friends. I wanted a good snack to give the babes when they started eating solids, that didn’t contain too much sugar and did contain some protein, iron and vitamins. So I made batch after batch of zucchini bread with various modifications until I got some I really loved, and the girls always go for it. Now I usually make it in large batches of muffins and freeze them individually. It is lightly sweetened with molasses and bananas, and it’s egg-free (but not vegan) because little Audrey gets hives from eggs, sadly.

Often I make this lower fat by substituting apple sauce for half of the canola oil, and that’s how I’ll regularly make them when the girls are older. Also, if you don’t have that much zucchini, shredded carrot works great too!

Zucchini-Banana Muffins the whole family loves!

Low-Sugar Zucchini-Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup whole milk yogurt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini

Directions

  1. Grease two 8 x 4 inch pans, or 4 mini loaf pans, or muffin tins. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon together.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, mashed bananas, molasses, yogurt and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Fold in zucchini and pour into pans.
  5. Bake for 50–55 minutes for 8 x 4 inch pans, 40–45 for mini-loaf pans. 25 minutes for muffins.
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Sweet Thoughts on Positive Discipline

“The inevitable result of consistently employing power to control your kids when they’re young is that you never learn how to influence.” —Thomas Gordon

“I know that when my child rejects me, I’m tempted to withdraw from her emotionally.  But giving her the cold shoulder doesn’t teach her anything positive about how to build a relationship.  Worse, it undermines the supportive relationship that is her best protection throughout childhood.  Remind yourself that when kids are at their least lovable, that’s when they need your love the most.” — Dr. Laura Markham

“Here’s a bumper sticker I’d like to see: “We are the proud parents of a child who’s self-esteem is sufficient that he doesn’t need us promoting his minor scholastic achievements on the back of our car.” — George Carlin

The girls happily playing together. They cooperate very well most of the time.

I’m learning a lot about “Positive Discipline” and trying to employ its tenets here in our household. It matches so well with what I want to accomplish and what I want to convey to my kids, I’m very glad I’ve found it and that there are such great resources to support my efforts.

Here are three examples of what it looks like in our house:

The easiest one: I don’t punish the girls for undesirable behaviors. I keep in mind their curious, learning stage and realize they have to test everything, multiple times. It makes me infinitely more patient, but this does require I take care of myself well, so that I have this capacity to stop and think before reacting. If it’s something we really don’t do, such as bang on the wall heater, I remove them promptly and redirect, telling them it’s “not safe”. This was always my most consistent reaction, but the difference now is that I remember their stage and don’t let my frustration escalate as much. If they can’t be deterred, then I change the situation to keep them safe, and I’ll tell them why as briefly and respectfully as possible. (“I have to block the hallway off until you can be safe around the heater. I understand you’re not there yet, and it’s okay.”)

The sweetest one: When a girl has a tantrum, I get close to her and tell her I understand her feelings, naming them as best I can. I offer hugs if she wants, and if she doesn’t I tell her I’m here when she wants one, and then stay close by, shooting loving glances and smiles until she feels like getting that hug. This one is fun and warm, making it pretty easy to implement. The only problem is when I’ve got dinner on the stove or something. But then I just stay in communication with the girl while I go and turn the stove off or whatever.

The most difficult one: I’m weaning myself off of “Good job!” and instead trying to say, “Look what you can do!” and “You did it!” For some reason it’s very hard to stop myself from the old standby. The thought behind this, in its short form, is that it helps the child to develop an inner sense of accomplishment, not to live for your praise alone. I used to think this was mumbo jumbo, but I don’t anymore. However, it’s going to take some time to retrain me. I do try to think in terms of how I can get them to be proud of themselves, rather than how they can make me proud. In fact, this is one thing I’ve done from early on—I say, “You must be proud of yourself!” a little more often than I say, “I’m proud of you!” But the latter phrase definitely pops out from time to time.

I like the warmth and trust inherent in these techniques, but I have a little further to go to get practiced at them. Another thing I really want to do is separate the girls when Dad is home and we each spend 10 uninterrupted minutes with each toddler, doing whatever they choose to do. Dad is excited about this too, but we haven’t done it yet. We have to get organized. I think first thing in the morning would be a great time for this, but they do love to play together at that time. Maybe before dinner would be better.

For more information on Positive Parenting, try Dr. Laura Markham’s website, which has an absolute wealth of information: http://www.ahaparenting.com/

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Double Coverage

The girls are fully into the competitive stage. For the past few weeks, they’ve been increasingly nabbing toys from each other, pushing, hitting, and engaging in a sort of aggressive wrestling, which sometimes includes covert biting. There’s also what I call “rhino-ing,” where one girl uses her head and shoulders to bulldoze the other girl out of her way. This behavior frequently gets reciprocated, so they look like a couple of rhinos in a dust-up. Or what I imagine rhinos to look like. Probably I’m not even close. Whatever.

Audrey already in rhino position to remove Rachel from my lap. And this was not even a frustrated moment for them. It's just what they do now.

Anyway, it gets really nerve-wracking, especially when one girl needs hugs and comfort. It never fails these days that as soon as I embrace one girl, the other girl will horn in (See?…rhino imagery again), suddenly needing some hugs and comfort too—and then they are each pushing and wrestling for position on my lap, while also violently writhing away from any hint of contact with the other. (How do they do those at the same time?) It’s a little comical because while they are in this frantic state, they can’t tell the difference between my hand touching them or their sister’s, so it gets really theatrical and flailing as they hurl themselves around trying to avoid being touched. It’s exhausting!

I have two ways of dealing with this so far, and I’d love to hear from anyone who can offer other tools.

First, I try to get us all to share the space, saying “Left and right, girls. (I’m trying to make this an easily identified phrase with lots of repetition.) See? One of you can sit on my left, one on my right, and there’s plenty of room for all of us! Left and right!” I can snug each of them up on my lap and in my arms without them even touching each other if they are cooperative, and it’s quite cozy and comforting. This currently only works 5% of the time.

Alternatively, I tell the “other” girl that “A/R needs my attention right now. I’m going to come back to you in just a few minutes.” At this point, I usually have to actually leave the room with the first girl, but I am trying to slowly get them used to the words “I need 2 minutes with your sister” so that they can eventually occupy themselves for 2 minutes with relative patience. I also go straight to this separation method when somebody has been hurt and is crying hard, or when I just can’t de-escalate the competition and fighting.

I’m also committed to trying to spend alone time (ideally, twice a day) with each girl, and I’ve got hubby on board with this plan too. Just 10 minutes of devoted time for each one, where they get to direct what we do. Because I am aware that being twins they are nearly always together, and while they love this so much of the time and they do cooperate, as their independence buds they need some individual expression time too.

Do you have other methods for dealing with toddlers or any siblings competing?

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They Don’t Tell You: You Need Puppies and Kittens

Catching some Zs with the 3-month-old girls.

People love to start sentences like that…”Here’s what they don’t tell you about becoming a parent…” But there really is one thing that I never heard (or remembered hearing anyway) until after I had my babies and talked to other new moms: A new mom’s brain needs complete insulation from all world horrors and evils, because it will create the most horrid scenarios all on its own.

Perhaps the reason we don’t hear about this is that it fades away, out of our memories eventually, like the pain of childbirth. If so, that would be a tremendously life-affirming development. In any case, it took me by surprise, until I found out my fellow mama friends were experiencing the same things in their own heads.

It seems to be most rabid in the earliest months, right after you bring the babies home. Just as you are trying to get a grip on how to manage your new sleepless life, and you do manage to lie down to catch a few winks, your brain suddenly flashes a ghastly scene, snapping your eyes open and causing your heart to race. I’m talking about really hideous thoughts…pictures of your new babies mutilated or killed in graphic detail.

I can’t remember the exact detail of my own vile imaginings (thank goodness!) because I tried to block them out so quickly. But I know that they were powered with a ferocious energy, as if forcibly pushed into my consciousness by my subconscious, not to be ignored. I remember feeling so helpless against the assault, and so disgusting! How could I imagine such things? I mean, it’s my own mind that’s creating these vivid, abhorrent scenes! Am I some sort of sicko?

The onslaught did ease up after the first year, but then I had a resurgence a couple of months ago, when the babies were around 18 months I guess. This second round was just as horrifying, and unfortunately seemed more realistic. The images were of the girls being hit by cars and trains, mostly. This is not easier, because it really could happen. But at least it’s not just horror-movie level gore.

I think that maybe what powers these thoughts is good ol’ maternal instinct (and oh yeah, hormones). Our brains seem to be telling us not to totally relax because the new responsibility we hold is very great. As if we didn’t know.

But the other thing behind it is something most people are familiar with. It’s that thought that temporarily flashes while driving on a windy road that has no guardrails,”I could drive right off the road right now.” I guess it’s a flirtation with the realities of human choice and the temporary nature of our lives. I mean, we all know somewhere, deep down, that life can change in an instant, but we don’t really behave that way, do we? We actually do most things in our lives to establish the illusion of control.

Having babies puts the issues of life and death right in front of you, all the time. When you see them grow an inch overnight (they really can!) you are reminded that they will continue to grow, right up to and past your own age (that is, barring your mind’s frightful scenarios becoming realities). And every time you retire another baby or toddler accoutrement, you get misty because you know that there will never be another baby bottle or pacifier for them ever again. Time will continue to push us on toward our futures, and of course toward our deaths. Which is a very hard thing to think about. We’d much rather dwell on the innocence and newness of these tiny, perfect humans than on thoughts of future loss and pain.

I think these moments of weird horror are just our subconscious reminding us that our lives are a little bit fragile. And they can help us to really cherish the present moment, but they can leave you with a lasting feeling of discomfort, too. Which is why one new-mommy friend of mine literally has to think of “puppies and kittens…puppies and kittens…” when the thoughts attack. Because the thoughts are intolerable, and can definitely cause some level of depression, not to mention rob you of the little sleep you are afforded in the early days!

Of course maybe it’s all just about balance. Because the joys and insane beauty in which you get to bask as a parent are so intense, that maybe the mind simply has to counter-balance its chemistry, and so doses you with some downers to keep you from flying off on a blissful pink cloud of unreality. In any case, the good stuff—as in most areas of life—outweighs the bad, and I can endure these frights for the contrasting delights.

Do you remember any of your own freaky thoughts?

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