Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Toys? We don't have no stinkin' toys!

Not so long ago, I took most of my kids' toys away. Or, rather, they chose to sit by and watch me pack up their toys and haul them off to the closet, instead of picking their toys up. We came up with an agreement that they could earn toys back by picking up every evening. Each night, if they picked up their toys when they were told to, they could each earn back a toy. 

It's now been a couple of months and their interest in earning back toys has been minimal. Our hall closet has about five garbage bags full of toys, waiting for my kids to reclaim them. And, anyone who's watched Toy Story 3 can understand the concern I have for the emotional welfare of those poor, discarded toys... But, days on end go by where either the incentive of getting a new toy isn't enough to get them to clean (and then everything left out gets packed back away) or they just have no interest in claiming a new toy.

The other night was yet another eye-opener on this toy-reclamation project. After they'd picked up their toys, my husband asked them if they wanted a toy back or a piece of chocolate as a reward. My son immediately chose the chocolate. My daughter initially chose a toy. But, after searching through four bags and rejecting everything, decided she'd rather have the chocolate also.

Where does that leave us now? Number One, I'm predicting a massive garage sale at our house sometime this summer. The kids have finally outgrown the stroller (sniff) and several of their young toddler ride-on toys. So, those, combined with the rejected toys are all going on the card tables (sorry, Squeakers). Number Two, I have come to realize how much happier and more creative my kids are, now that they're not bogged down by stuff. Nightly toy pick-up had been one of the major points of confrontation and frustration in our house -- and that's been almost entirely eliminated. I think it's safe to say that we intend to keep our scaled-back approach to things going. In fact, I'm planning on sorting through a lot of my own stuff and doing a major purge as long as I'm working on this garage sale...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Less "Co", More "Sleep"

For someone who doesn't embrace co-sleeping at all, I sure seem to do it a lot. I never intended to be a co-sleeper, nor do I like it, but my kids seem to feel otherwise. 

This morning I woke up in the guest room bed, sleeping alongside my two-year-old. How did I get there? It was a long, sleepless journey to that guest room bed... It started somewhere around 2:00 a.m., when my four-year-old climbed into bed with me and then took over my sleeping space. This is a near-nightly habit for her. Can I just tell you, I pity her future husband. That girl is a bed hog. Not only is she a bed hog, but she's a sleep snuggler. Me? I'm a snuggle-separate-then sleep person. 
Having someone rubbing my arm, then yelling at me when I try to roll over, is not my idea of a good time. Finally, exhausted and exasperated, I couldn't take it anymore. I had two choices A) carry her, kicking and screaming back to her own bed, or B) sneak off the guest room for a little snooze, all on my own. I chose the coward's route. And, for a while, it was great. Really great.

Then, 5:00 rolled around and my little guy woke up, demanding to sleep in Mommy & Daddy's bed, which was fully-occupied. So, I took him back to the guest room bed with me. Which was fine, until he woke up wanting water. Then, we went back to sleep for a while, which was fine, until he woke up wanting more water...

The night before last, I slept on the floor of my son's room, because he was suffering from cold-induced asthma and I wanted to be close to him. The night before that, my four-year-old again found her way into bed with me... Long story short, it's been about 4 1/2 years since I've had a truly decent night's sleep. Sure, we get a few uninterrupted nights here and there. Sometimes even a month at a time, but overall I'm downright sleep-deprived. 

I know I should do the responsible thing and cart them back to their beds on a nightly basis. But, at 3 in the morning, all reasoning and responsibility goes out the window. That's when I either don't fully wake and don't even realize that I've even let them into my bed or I simply make the decision that will (hopefully) get me back to sleep the fastest in that particular instance, disregarding potential long-term impacts.

My mom loves to tell me all of the harms that come from sleep-deprivation, mainly weight gain. Joy. At least I have something to blame that on, I guess...

When I was visibly pregnant with my daughter, I was in the elevator at work. Someone I'd never met before got on, took a look at my protruding belly and, like an evil witch in a Disney movie, told me it'd be 18 years before I slept through the night again. At the time, I called her a crazy, evil witch (in my head of course), except witch started with a "b." Now, I just know she was a prophetic truth-teller...

Well, one day they'll go off to college and I can sleep through the night again. Until then, I guess I'll just invest heavily in under-eye cream. Kiehl's, you can thank my kids for the uptick in sales.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The REAL classes expectant moms should take

A message to all of the pregnant gals out there -- when you go to the birthing class and they tell you to stick your hand in a bowl of ice-cold water to help prepare you for labor pains, you tell them to stick it where the sun don't shine. I am here to tell you that experiencing cold and discomfort for five minutes doesn't help with your labor. Nope, you just had a freezing cold hand one day and insanely painful contractions another day.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I went to every baby-preparedness class our hospital offered. Labor and delivery 101, check. Hospital tour, including special late-night arrivals directions, check. Newborn care, featuring swaddling and breastfeeding, check. Infant CPR, check. There were at least four classes we took, not including the Happiest Baby on the Block class we took when my daughter was three weeks old (okay, actually that one was totally worth it and the best $40 we ever spent -- now there's research to prove it).

But, now that my kids are a little older, I wish I would have skipped "how to bathe a baby" and instead found a class that would prepare me for life as the mother of a little boy. So many of his interests are foreign to me and I'm already finding myself out of my league. My daughter's hobbies are easier for me. Having been a girl myself, I'm up-to-speed on the Disney princesses and I know the basic positions in ballet. These things I get. My son's interests, not so much.

Not too long ago, he asked me a pretty basic question about how a car runs. The only answer I could come up with was to point and say "Oh look, a deer!" There was no deer.

Like most two-year-old boys, he's fascinated by all kinds of trucks and construction equipment. But, no matter how many times I read him his little truck book and point to diggers, scrapers, mini loaders and tractors, damned if I can recognize any of them out in the real world. Aside from concrete mixers and car transporters, I'm at a complete loss. Generally, I just call them all bulldozers and hope that there's at least one bulldozer in the mix.

Again, like most two-year-old boys, he loves Thomas the Tank Engine and can push his little cars around those little wooden tracks for a long time. Then, he gets bored or frustrated and breaks up those tracks. That's where I come in, I have to reassemble those tracks. Except I'm terrible at it and can never get the darn thing to connect back into itself. It's a one-way road.

Why don't they offer moms classes that will help prepare them for a life of boys? Classes like: Train Set engineering 101. Introduction to emergency vehicle parts and identification. Advanced cars and trucks...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why are Toddlers Such a Bunch of Nudists?

Nearly a year ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about how nudist colonies are on the decline as their typically baby boomer generation clients are aging. They need young blood to fill those old shoes (if they wear shoes, not sure about that to be honest). The article talks about how they're targeting the college-age set. While I applaud their efforts, I can't help but think they're still aiming too old. In my opinion, they should be targeting the preschool-age set.

If my kids are any indicator, those nudist colonies would be full-up in no time. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the calendar says March, the temperatures say January, but my kids' attire says mid-July. They start their day in warm, footie pajamas, but they increasingly strip it down over the course of the day. First, I wrangle them into long-sleeve shirts and pants. Then, they sneak a minute in their closet and are transformed into shorts and t-shirts, soon to be replaced by shorts and tank tops. Then, just shorts. Then, just their undies and diapies. More often than not, this is the state of undress my husband finds them in when he gets home from work. "It's cold outside! Go put some clothes on!" he says. I just shake my head, as I've given up that particular battle.

On the one hand, I get it. Their little bodies are super-cute. If I had such adorable little legs and could legitimately call my belly cute, rather than frightening, I'd probably want to flaunt it, too. But, on the other hand, it baffles me. Their little bodies are well, little. With no blubber blanket on their bones to keep them warm, aren't they freezing? Oh well, it won't be the first bit of toddler-logic to escape me.

But, since having read that article, I can't help but think it would be kind of refreshing to vacation at a nudist colony where I could just let my kids roam free in their state of wild. A week without battles over getting them dressed? Hoorah! Hmm, except then I'd be expected to go au natural as well... Maybe they're right to target 20-something's instead.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The REAL March Madness

It's that time of year again -- college basketball fans are doing things with brackets (not entirely sure what, to be honest) and I'm losing my mind. February and March are the worst months to live in the Pacific Northwest. It's the time of year where you can't even remember what warmth and sunshine feel like. It's the time of year when the gray drizzle outside just make you want to put on your gray sweats, flop on the couch and do nothing (as I'm wearing and doing now). And this is from a native.

And, now that I'm a mom, it's the time of year where I feel like I'll go insane if I have to play one more game of indoor hide-and-go seek. Honestly, there are only so many places one can hide in a house... To top it off, my daughter's been sick for the past week, so we've been housebound. No preschool, no Little Gym, no St. Patrick's Day party at a friend's house. Nope, just us, a few puzzles, board games, books and TV. If the weather wasn't depressing enough, too many episodes of Dora the Explorer have definitely done the trick. (Does anyone else wonder if she's the reason behind the increase in anti-immigration sentiment in this country? Hearing her inanely prattle on about big, gooey geysers makes me wonder if a big fence isn't such a bad idea, after all.) In an effort to break up the monotony, my kids have begun finding new and inventive ways to be naughty. I can't entirely blame them, a lack of vitamin D will do that to a person, but it's making this long slog longer and sloggier for me. Is anyone else going through this as well?

P.S. Gene Kelly - You can sing about it and dance in it all you like, I'm done with the rain.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Canadians: Not all Loonies - They Have a Great Idea with Toonie Parties

Last week, I was talking about my desperate move to deal with the toy clutter. In response, a friend of mine, who lives in Canada, shared the greatest idea, which I now want to shout from the rooftops -- or at least from our little blog.

First: A super-quick primer on Canadian currency. In Canada, they have $1 coins nicknamed Loonies and $2 coins, nicknamed Toonies.

Okay, back to the Greatest Idea... She said that Toonie Parties are really popular in Canada. The premise is that, in lieu of a gift, guests bring the birthday child a Toonie coin. The birthday kid then donates $1 of that coin to a charity and uses the other $1 to buy themselves a special gift. So, if 20 kids come to a party, the birthday kid gets $40 - $20 for charity and $20 for one, new present.

Instilling a sense of gratitude and appreciation in my kids has been on my mind a lot over the past several months, and I think this approach to parties is a great step in doing that.

I've heard of kids asking for donations to charity instead of gifts for their birthdays, that's nothing new. But, this spin is new (at least to me). The kid still gets the excitement of a new present on their birthday, which, let's be honest is a pretty big deal. I actually think that when you get fewer gifts, they have more value. Sometimes, the sheer quantity of toys and presents kids get can make all of them seem less special. Yes, there's a certain thrill, having a huge stack of gifts to plow through, but that quickly fades.

The other great thing about this approach is that it reminds kids to think of those less fortunate than themselves. We have a local charity for babies and kids near us, so I think that, at first, we'll give the birthday donations to that charity. That way, my kids (2 and 4 years old) can physically go in there and hand over some cash to someone in person. This will make it more tangible and meaningful to them. At their age, plugging a donation into a website won't mean anything. But, doing it in person will help give them a better sense of understanding.

The last wonderful aspect of this party concept is for the guests. Think about the stress it reduces. Rather than having to run to Target, find a toy, hope the kid doesn't have it already, run home, wrap it, find a card to go with it, etc., they get to pull $2 out of their wallet and call it a day. Most moms I know run themselves ragged with all of their commitments, anything we can do to simplify things for each other is A-OK in my book. Plus, it saves guests money. I'd say that people usually spend about $15 on birthday presents. When you're in the midst of birthday party season, this can start to add up, quickly.

Now, the only question I have is what to call these parties. Since we don't have Toonies here in America, will the Toonie Party name resonate?


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The End of Toys as We Know It

Once upon a time, these toy bins were full. Overflowing, in fact. Then, last Friday happened.

Let me back up. Over the years, I've struggled with toy organization. And I mean struggled. At first, I had all of my kids' toys divided into four large, plastic tubs. I'd rotate these out once a week. Therefore, each week they'd get a supply of toys they hadn't seen in a month. The thought was that I'd cut down on clutter and the toys would maintain more appeal because my kids hadn't seen them in awhile. But, because the tubs were so large, my kids had a hard time getting the stuff out of them and everything wound up on a big pile on the floor.

An uber-organized friend suggested that more, smaller bins might be easier for the kids. So, I moved to that method. We had shelves installed in our family room and I filled them with bins of toys. At first, I tried to organize them by types of toys. Balls in one bin, Barbies in another. Total disaster and everything wound up on a big pile on the floor.

Then, I gave up on the organization and said any toy, any bin. But, now four, my daughter would get frustrated, trying to find a particular toy, and wind up dumping out all of the bins until she found the toy she wanted. Total disaster and everything wound up on a big pile on the floor.

So, I thought maybe they were ready for the organized bins once again. I downloaded pictures of Disney princesses and Strawberry Shortcakes. Toy Story characters and Hot Wheels. These were all printed out onto labels and stuck onto bins. Now, the kids (who can't yet read) could easily look at the pictures on the outside of each bin and know what was in there.

The plan was that they could make as big of a mess as they wanted during the day, but they had to clean up before bed. Now, I'm realistic about the capabilities of my children. They're young and I don't expect them to manage a massive clean-up project on their own. So, I'd line all of the bins up on the couch, labels facing outwards, and get down on the floor with my kids. I'd hand them a toy, saying "Here's Ariel, she goes in the princess bin. Here's Buzz, he goes in Toy Story..." It worked for a little while, but then, even with that level of assistance, they just started refusing to participate. So, our house generally continued looking as though it had been ransacked by a group of particularly destructive thieves.

Then, last Friday happened. My kids flat-out refused to help pick up their toys. I told them that I knew they had too many and I was going to get rid of some of the toys they no longer played with. I filled up a couple of garbage bags. They even helped put things in the bags. Then, I told them that it was their turn to put away their toys. I gave up on organized bins and said, once again, any toy, any bin. They ignored me completely. I warned them that in 10 minutes, I'd be coming through with another garbage bag and hauling away anything they didn't pick up. They ignored me completely. 10 minutes went by and I calmly got said garbage bag and started loading it up. They ignored me completely. I didn't yell, I didn't lose my cool, but I pointed out that because they weren't helping, they were losing their toys. Favorite fire trucks and precious princesses went into the bags. Toodles, Thomas the Tank Engine. Adios, Ariel. They each "rescued" about two toys each, then wandered off into another room to play.

My husband and I agreed that, if they helped pick up at the end of each day, they could start to earn their toys back. A few toys returned each day that they helped tidy. I thought that after a day of being without their toys, they'd be so sad and so motivated. But, here's the thing, it's been three and a half days, and they haven't asked for a single toy back. Today, my son glimpsed a fire truck and asked for it. I told him he could have it back this evening if he helped clean up his toys. He agreed and hasn't mentioned it again since.

I thought they'd be devastated by having their cache of toys decimated. On the contrary, they're quite happy and busy playing school and various other games of pretend. Clearly, the two bags of toys I bagged up to give away wasn't enough. My kids were bogged down by the toys. Rather than providing them hours of enjoyment, they were almost trapping them. They tripped over them, littering our floors and causing lots of fights and stress over their clean-up.

We'll let them earn a lot of them back (if they even want them, that is), but it will take some work to decide which toys return and which ones go. I often feel like the wonderful, higher-end, "classic" toys I buy, sure to stimulate their brains, end up being ignored for some bizarre piece of cheap plastic crap.

I also wonder how I'll handle birthday parties going forward. I fear that the kids will feel sad if we begin instituting a "no presents" policy, but it's also clear to me that my kids don't need to receive toys from every friend and family member at their party.

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