Monday, January 5, 2015

Cloth diaper troubleshooting

Several weeks ago we started having problems with baby #4 and Freetime diapers. {What is a Freetime? Read my post "Cloth diapering an infant: BumGenius Freetime and Elemental diapers."} Everytime I put him in a Freetime diaper, he would break out in a rash. I started suspecting that his skin might be getting irritated by the liners in a Freetime diaper, which are different than the organic cotton in an Elemental. Well, one day he ended up wearing a Freetime diaper and taking a long nap. When he woke up and I went to change him, he had a bad diaper rash. Over the next couple days, the diaper rash turned into yeast and suddenly we had a full blow problem on our hands. How do I clear up yeast when in cloth diapers?

After some Google searching, I learned nystatin is not cloth diaper safe. The nystatin will get on the liners and form a waterproof barrier, apparently. {This is the same reason why a lot of diaper rash creams are not cloth diaper safe.} I read about two methods to clear up yeast while in cloth diapers:
1. use disposable liners to make a barrier between the nystatin and the liners in your diapers, adding bleach each time you wash them.
2. switch to disposable diapers until the yeast infection is cleared up.

While I was Google searching I started wondering how our little guy got yeast in cloth diapers. This was a reoccurring problem for us in disposable diapers with all 3 of our other boys. Baby #4 had his first bought of yeast right before 5 months, but his brothers all dealt with it several times before that in disposables. All the Google searching lead me down many roads: wash routine, detergent choice, etc. I ended up in this cloth diaper Facebook group that slammed homemade laundry detergents as well as "cloth diaper safe detergents." The conclusion of this group was that nothing would get your diapers clean unless you were using Tide {or a similar mainstream detergent} and bleach. I was so disheartened reading all these posts on the group. I kid you not, I started crying. I had a baby with a horrible yeast diaper rash {it flared up really bad by then}, all this money invested in our cloth diapers, and this website is telling me that nothing will actually clean our diapers {and yeast} unless we are using Tide and bleach, two products we don't use?

This bothered me a lot because part of the reason why we switched to cloth diapers is our environmental impact. I know that might sound lame, but we have 6 people in our house. We fly through products. I felt horrible about the landfill we no doubt created with our twins, despite my efforts to use biodegradable diapers {does anything biodegrade in a landfill?!}. We make a conscious effort to use biodegradable products and products with minimal packaging, buying in bulk where we can, and raw ingredients instead of processed. We make as much as we can at home, including most of our household cleaners {read "Homemade household cleaners"}. So hearing that we needed to use Tide-- a detergent I don't use for our laundry-- and bleach-- a product we don't keep in our house-- made me feel like, "What is the point of cloth diapering then?" If cloth diapering is going to make me introduce cleaning products that we don't use and detergents that don't biodegrade, what is the point of cloth diapering over disposable diapers?

The next morning I packed up our poor sweet baby with his, by that point, really bad diaper rash and headed to my favorite local baby store. When the owner greeted me, I am pretty sure that I came close to tears as I unloaded my problems on her. Thankfully she had all the answers. She started with a hug, which I needed, and then moved to the immediate problem: the yeast diaper rash. She recommended switching to disposables and focus on clearing up the yeast rash. She said it is the quickest way to clear it up, especially with how out of hand his rash was.

Then she moved to the diapers. There is a lot of chatter online about whether or not yeast grows on cloth diapers once there is a yeast infection. She told me to ignore the bleach comments and wash everything he's worn on the highest heat setting a couple times and put them in the sun. Since he was going to spend the next 2 weeks in disposables, he would not go back to cloth until after his yeast was cleared up, at which point there wouldn't be a problem with yeast anymore.

After that we had a long discussion on detergents and wash routine. She asked me why I was looking up the wash routine and I told her that we weren't really having a problem with our wash routine, but I was noticing that our Elemental diapers had a strong smell when I changed them. I didn't notice the smell when he was wearing them, but once I got him on the changing table and started the changing process, I really noticed the ammonia smell. I didn't feel like there was an ammonia smell the first couple weeks of cloth diapering so I was worried somewhat that our detergent wasn't making the grade, especially since he somehow got the yeast diaper rash. I talk about our wash routine in "Cloth diapering an infant {logistics};" we had been using unscented Babyganics laundry detergent. She told me that she recommends unscented Rockin' Green laundry detergent. I asked her about our homemade laundry detergent, but she said no since I use borax in it, which is somewhat of a question when dealing with the PUL {waterproof cover} on cloth diapers. Rockin' Green also makes a Rockin' Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer. I asked her if she recommended I use that for a bit and she said she really didn't think I needed that with the problem I'm having.

We also discussed the Freetimes. Since I was very confident that the rash started in the first place from the Freetimes {my children have inherited my sensitive skin}, I decided to shelve the Freetimes until much later before trying them again.

I left her store with a plan:
1. disposables and nystatin until the yeast is cleared up
2. wash all my diapers twice on high heat and sun them
3. switch from BabyGanics to Rockin' Green detergent
4. put away our Freetimes and stick to Elementals

I was fairly certain that I would be back for the Rockin' Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer, but she insisted I wouldn't need it. I went home and followed all the instructions. Baby #4 spent almost a full 2 weeks in disposables. His rash started clearing up immediately when we put him in disposables with nystatin. The diapers were washed and sunned and I used up the last of our BabyGanics on our household laundry, not our diapers.

When we finally put baby #4 back in cloth, the Rockin' Green detergent worked amazing. The ammonia smell that I noticed went away. She was right that we did not need the Funk Rock. I have been exceedingly pleased with the Rockin' Green. {Maybe too pleased. I flew through our first bag because I started washing all of our household laundry in it, just to experiment with it's cleaning capabilities.} We kept the rest of our wash routine the same because we really didn't have issues with our diaper laundry.

Of course in a house of 6, mistakes are made. Baby #4 accidentally ended up in our remaining Freetime {I swapped the other Freetime for an Elemental on a local b/s/t page}. When I went to change him, his bottom was covered in rash. Thankfully we caught the error quickly and have not put him back in a Freetime. I do believe that his skin reacts badly to the Freetime liners. I am going to trade my last Freetime for an Elemental. We only had the 2 Freetimes because they dry quicker than the Elementals, but I pulled out all the used Elementals I bought on a swap page {11 used diapers} plus the new Elementals I've bought for baby #4 {10 new diapers} and so our stash is large enough to support using Elementals exclusively, even with a longer drying time {21 Elementals total}.

Having the box of disposables in the house from the yeast has actually been handy. We've had some colds pass through the house and the craziness of getting ready to move again has lead to days of forgetting to either do or move the laundry, which is a problem since for some reason I only have one night diaper {a problem I plan to remedy}. When we move this time, we are going to be traveling for a couple months before settling in our new state, so we will be using disposables during that time. It has made me reluctant to invest in more cloth diapers for the time being, even though we will resume cloth once we settle.

Have you had to deal with yeast and cloth diapers? Have you had to use disposables while cloth diapering? What are your cloth diaper troubleshooting tips? :)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Submarine officer's JO tour dream sheet

While my hubby was in prototype he came home and said it was time to fill out his dream sheet. Since this is for his JO {Junior Officer} tour-- his first tour as a submarine officer-- he was only able to rank locations and types of boats. For his JO tour, he could only pick out of the submarine bases, which there really aren't that many.

Submarine bases:

1. Groton, Connecticut {Naval Submarine Base New London}
2. Norfolk, Virginia {Naval Station Norfolk}
3. Kings Bay, Georgia {Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay}
4. Bangor, Washington {Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor}
5. San Diego, California {Naval Base Point Loma}
6. Honolulu, Hawaii {Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam}
7. Guam {Naval Base Guam}

Before I get started on this guide, I want it to be known that this guide is for the spouses, not the military members. This is a very general and very brief summary of the types of boats with information on schedule and boat life. I would also like to state that the only experience my hubby and I have had on a submarine is on a fast attack {read "STA-21 'Officer's' Program"}.

There are two different types of submarines:

1. Boomers
2. Fast attacks

BOOMERS {SSBN}

We'll start with boomers. Boomers are ballistic missile submarines {SSBN}; they are Ohio class. Their job is to keep our seas safe by guarding the perimeter. They are huge submarines and have two crews, a blue crew and a gold crew. The two crews take turns manning the boat. The crews are given a schedule ahead of time: 3 or 6 months on crew followed by 3 or 6 months off crew. As a spouse, this gives you a little planning room for when your military member will be home or away. Boomers are based out of Georgia and Washington. They are also forward deploying, meaning the crew's family lives in Georgia or Washington but the boat doesn't pull into port except for maintenance; on crew flies to where the boat is {usually Guam for Washington and Italy for Georgia}.

More reading on boomers: "The US Navy: Fact File: Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines: SSBN"

FAST ATTACKS {SSN}

Next up: fast attacks {SSN}. Fast attacks are Los Angeles class, Seawolf class, and Virginia class submarines, much smaller than the Ohio class submarines. They have one crew and no set schedule. Fast attacks run missions. They can be underway a week, in a week, underway two months, in for a couple weeks... While underway the crew is on 18 hour days making the in and out exhausting for the crew and making a lot of the in port times revolve around catching up on sleep. As a spouse, there is little or no planning to be done around the boat schedule; basically, don't make plans that you expect your spouse to be there for because the schedule is written in sand. FRG meetings are exceedingly important on fast attacks because this is where you will receive a general idea of the boat schedule. My hubby never went on a deployment {picked up STA-21 right before the boat left on deployment}, but he was gone 75% of the time we lived in Hawaii just from underways. What I enjoyed most about fast attacks were the homecomings at the pier and watching the boat come in and out of port. It is amazing to behold. Fast attacks are stationed out of all the submarine bases.

More reading on fast attacks: "The US Navy: Fact File: Attack Submarines: SSN"

GNs {SSGN}

Finally, GNs. Guided missile submarines {SSGN} are Ohio class submarines. How I've had them described to me is "fast attacks on a boomer schedule." These submarines run missions, but also have a two crews and a schedule like boomers. They are also forward deploying, just like boomers. GNs have homeports in Washington and Georgia.

More reading on GNs: "The US Navy: Fact File: Guided Missile Submarines: SSGN"

Note on schedule: what is really important to remember when reading this list is that the schedule with submarines often does not go as planned. Shipyard is longer than expected... off crew gets called in... stand down gets cancelled... things change.

For more reading on submarines, check out this link: "Frequently asked questions about submarines"

When we filled out our dream sheet for my hubby's JO tour while at prototype, we ranked our choices from 1 to 10 considering location and type of boat. For example:

1. Washington-- SSN
2. Washington-- SSGN
3. Georgia-- SSGN
4. Georgia-- SSBN, etc.

{That isn't the order of our dream sheet, but an example to show you how you get to pick location and specify the boat type in the order of your choosing.}

Dream sheets are exactly that: dream sheets. The detailer will look at the dream sheet when assigning you a boat, but this might be a crash course on "the needs of the Navy," a phrase often quoted in regards to getting your bottom choice. We heard it a lot as we waited for our assignment. "I hope we get our top choice, but, you know, the needs of the Navy..." Thankfully for my hubby's class, most people were assigned one of their top choices {my hubby received his #2 choice!}.

I am nervous and excited to go back to boat life. My hubby loves his job and so I'm excited for him to get back to what he loves doing. I'm also very excited about living near close friends again {love our Navy family!}, but I'm also dreading the return of a boat schedule and duty days. The last time we were on a boat we had one child and now we have four. I think it will be a very different experience from dealing with one infant/toddler to older children who are far more aware of Daddy coming and going.

I've been a submarine wife for 8 years; this move will be our 5th PCS together. I'm still learning new things about submarines and Navy life!

What was your experience filling out your dream sheet?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Homeschool schedule




When this homeschool year started, I was excited. Our first "real" year of homeschooling! I opened up my calendar and my feelings shifted slightly, "Oh no! There is nothing on our calendar!" So I started adding things to our calendar.

I continued our piano lessons on Wednesdays. He is really interested in music and learning piano.

I found a fun ASL co-op class on Thursdays. He likes sign language and I thought he would enjoy doing it with other kids-- just for fun.

I found a storytime on Fridays. This is really our only "toddler-friendly" activity.

Fall started. We enjoyed our schedule.

Then we found a fun co-op class on Wednesdays after our piano lessons. We joined that.

Then one of our toddlers needed speech therapy on Mondays.

Plus we go to church on either Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Plus we still had to go grocery shopping...

...and I joined a mommy meet-up group that I never had time for.

...and a homeschool field trip group that I never had time for.

...and friends that I was having a hard time finding room in our schedule just to hang out with.

...and a house to take care of.

...and toddlers that were still napping.

...and a newborn.

Oh, yes. And homeschool to actually accomplish with our kindergartner.

Suddenly our schedule was not fun. How had kindergarten become such a chore?

At a park playdate I opened up my calendar to a homeschool mom currently homeschooling her 4 children. I figured that she is wise at planning her family calendar since her oldest 2 are teenagers. I asked her, "What am I doing wrong? We are stressed and fighting every morning when we leave the house and we are homeschooling kindergarten! I don't think it should be this hard." Bless her she went through my schedule and helped me cut it down. {Side note: be thankful for honest friends!}

We dropped piano lessons and ASL co-op to free our schedule and because winter break was a good point to drop the classes before we move.

We obviously kept church and speech therapy.

The Wednesday co-op stayed since it was one of the things that our oldest loved and really wanted to keep on the calendar, plus it wasn't too stressful to get to or be at especially after our calendar was cut way down.

Friday storytime is drop-in and so on Fridays when we are looking for something to do, we go. On Fridays where we are way to busy after a hectic week, we don't.

I dropped the mommy meet-up group and the homeschool field trip group. Even being part of them online was stressful. I never had time for the playdates, even the ones that I wanted to go to. It feels so much better not having that "failure" hanging over me. I figure that if our schedule ever dies down, then I will consider joining again, but first I want to get in the swing of things.

After such a busy schedule, I wanted to give us a chance to breathe and regroup. Our co-ops and commitments ended in December then we hit the winter holidays. I gave us the freedom and flexibility to let school happen or to take a break. We ended up doing more no-school days than school days over Christmas, which was fine. We started school early this year and have plenty of days we can take off for moving, if we need to. As we get ready to start school again post-holiday, I'm keeping in mind the lessons I learned this past fall.

Don't feel that homeschooling means open schedule.

Don't fill up each day with an out of the house activity.

Don't make it harder than it needs to be.

Since I've cut down our schedule I'm being far more discerning as I put things on our calendar, especially weekly commitments:

1. Does it include all the age groups of our children? Finding activities that all our boys can participate in is wonderful, specifically our oldest 3. If I have something interesting for them to participate in, it is so much easier to get us out the door. "Let's all put on our shoes for our nature explorers park trip!"

2. If it doesn't, do I already have several things on the calendar for that age group? For instance, my schedule was very heavy with activities for our kindergartner, our "official" homeschooler. Even though we were doing things for him, I was still bringing his 3 younger siblings to all those activities and they were getting bored and tired of hanging out in the car or lobbies or sitting quietly on benches watching their brother. While I do think that some activities geared toward a particular age group are great and fine {storytime for our toddlers, co-op for our oldest}, it is important to balance how often I put things on the calendar for one age group.

3. How busy will I be? Over extending myself on weekly commitments meant a lot of the other daily tasks became much bigger chores, such as grocery shopping, house cleaning, laundry, and the kitchen. As a family, we love cooking together and eating dinner at home, but we were short on ingredients and short on time. Our dishes were stacking up. Our laundry was piling up. It was stressful because each day we had too much going on. With young children, leaving one day {Tuesdays, in my case} open wasn't much help because I couldn't count on that day being a good day to get chores done. What if the boys came down with colds? Or our toddlers were exceptionally uncooperative that day? Or the baby was up all night and I was feeling sluggish?

4. Do we have free time? I love free time. The best things happen out of free time. Our boys invent a wild game to play together. We bake together. We do crafts together. We snuggle up and watch movies and eat popcorn together {we love watching movies together!}. When our schedule was so full, free time was miserable. The boys were tired and always fussing at each other. I needed a break and didn't feel like engaging when I finally had a minute to myself. Free time gives us the chance to let our math lesson run over because we are having fun. Free time let's us read just one more book together. Free time allows us to throw on shoes and take a walk. Free time let's us say "yes" to our neighbor that wants to come over and hang out for awhile. I am a firm believer in free time.

What lessons have you learned regarding your family calendar and homeschooling?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Unique to twins?



There are a lot of things about having twins that are hard to put into words or hard for people without twins to understand. For some things, parenting twins is double the work. For other things, it is half the work. I absolutely love being a momma to identical twins.

However, I read some of these articles about parenting twins or talk to some people with multiples and it feels like they are trying to make parenting twins far more unique or unusual than it is. Some of the things involved in parenting twins applies to parenting more than one child. Having twins in itself is special and unique. Why make it bigger than it is? Why say things in a way that puts down other moms, especially since most moms are moms of singletons? It feels like it is making a divide, when there is no need to create more mommy competition than there is already.

I was reading this article and it seemed to cover all the bases for most of the "unique" twin things I hear a lot, "9 things only parents of twins will understand," by Megan Shauri on FamilyShare. I went through the points she made regarding "unique twin things" and expanded on them, since many of them are not twin-exclusive, and some apply to sibling groups but are a little different for twins.

1. "People will ask inappropriate questions."

Totally agree with this one. We have heard some wildly inappropriate questions-- especially in front of our children-- as to how our twins were conceived. Even now I get asked if they are natural. But now that we have 4 children, we hear a lot of inappropriate comments, especially because they are all boys, these also said in front of my four precious children. Comments I've heard from strangers:

"If I had 4 boys, I'd put a gun in my mouth."

"Having 4 boys is the worst thing that I think could ever happen to me."

"Are you an alcoholic? I would be if I had 4 boys."

"God bless you because I can't think of a worse thing than having 4 boys."

"Better you than me because that sounds miserable."

I know the author was referring to fertility/conception when stating the inappropriate questions. When people ask about our boys ("Yes, all boys, all mine") they usually notice two are the same height and look the same ("Yes, they are identical twins") and I will sometimes hear if we "planned" them-- because using our magic looking glass we knew down the road that our 4th child would be another boy? So we thought let's do twin boys for children #2 and #3?

"Good Lord, I'm so thankful I don't have twin boys."

"Twin boys! That is horrible. Wow, I have always wanted twins, but never twin boys."

"I'm surprised you are out of the house and dressed. If I had twin boys, I would stay in bed crying all day."

Note on that: people really need to stop using the Lord's name in vain to curse my blessings.

2. "You have to learn to speak twin."

This is the first point she makes that I truly don't agree with. Twin language? Really? This is one that just makes me shake my head...

Anyone who has raised a toddler knows how language gets warped and distorted as their child learns words. Dirty diaper becomes "bo bo;" water becomes "wah." I've met people in adulthood who are still called by the name they referred themselves to when they were three-years old, unable to pronounce their full name.

Then you take two children learning language at the same time who spend all day together... yeah, they babble and sometimes it appears they have invented a little language. But they haven't. They are babbling. We have taken our boys-- all 3 of the older ones-- on playdates where they are playing with their peers and their friends even seem to know what they are talking about.

I attribute this to the fact that these children are just used to not understanding a lot of what is being said to them. Up until that point in their cognitive life, they have had a world of people talking over them and at them. And so they are imitating what was modeled for them, just like they do with everything else. You give them a pot and a spoon, they pretend to cook {until they start beating their brother with the spoon...}.

Our boys have all gone to speech therapy. With our oldest, we were taught not to encourage his mutated words. Even when he said words in an absolutely adorable way, we were to repeat it back to him correctly so he learned the correct pronunciation. With our twins, we were taught not to encourage their "twin speak," even when it was hilarious. When one babbled a word incorrectly, we were to repeat it back correctly.

Honestly, we never had an issue with "twin talk." I have met many people that strongly believe in twin language. Strongly. We have had age appropriate babble from our children that seemed to be understood by each other-- even our oldest. Our twins would be fussing in their high chairs, yelling some undecipherable stream of words, and our oldest would say, "Mom, he wants the red car and he wants his blanket!" after my attempts of appeasing them failed. Our oldest would diligently fetch these items; his brothers would take them and instantly stop fussing, their attention fully absorbed in their treasures.

As our twins have grown, we have encouraged correct language. When we figure out a hard to pronounce word that they have been struggling over, we learn to recognize it in their speech and work with them on the correct pronunciation. It doesn't make sense to me to latch on to toddler speak and dub it twin language.

When I tell people, no, our twins do not have a secret language, they usually launch into how their cousin's twins could read each other's minds. One would just burst out crying and the other would go get a certain toy and the twin would stop crying because they just knew. My sisters and I were always very close and always anticipated/knew what the other sister wanted, just from our surroundings/past experience/knowing each other. Siblings have a bond. Twins have a leg up on this sibling bond because from their moment of conception they have been thrown together as a pair, even in family's where the sibling bond is often ignored or left to grow on it's own without parental guidance.

3. "You will never stop being asked if they are twins."

My sisters and I look like replicas of each other. We used to find it so amusing when people asked us if we are twins. Sometimes we said yes; it was all a game to us. Now that I'm grown with a set of identical twins... it isn't the game it was then. Our boys are three-years old and I'm not sure I can really convey how often we are asked if they are twins. It isn't that I mind talking to people or that I'm not friendly; I feel like I am very friendly and open. I love our boys and love talking about all of them. It is just that we get asked at every store, at every errand, at the guard shack driving on base, at Chick-Fil-A when we walk in the door, when we order, when we are sitting at our table, by the parents in the play area, by the fellow patrons around us, on our way out to the parking lot... We seem to go in waves of being asked if they are twins. We will only get asked on some of our errands and then other times we are asked e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e every time we go out. {Mind you, I do not dress our twins alike. I sometimes put all of our boys in matching/coordinating outfits for events and such, but not our every day wear.}

4. "There is no such thing as just running to the store quickly."

This point made by the author was one of those comments that make singleton parents glare at twin parents. Because leaving the house with one child is so easy and singleton parents have no idea how easy they have it?

As a parent of singleton first, I can tell you that it is not that easy. Our first child was a breath holder from 6 weeks to 3 years. It was intense. And going from buckling no car seats as a free agent adult to buckling a car seat every time you leave the house, it is a big change.

Now as a parent of 4, I can tell you leaving the house with one child is not the chore it used to be. Buckling one car seat and taking one child in when I have 3 more children in car seats staying home with Dad feels like much less work. That sounds like I'm saying that one car seat is easy...

No, what I'm saying is that it is relative. Having your first baby is a major learning curve. Having your fourth baby is much easier. Things don't surprise you so much. I expect to have some fussiness in the store, maybe some crying in the car. I expect babies to be loud and disruptive in public and know what age appropriate behaviors from our toddlers are. I enjoy going out and having one on one time with just one child and appreciate not having to do zone defense down the aisle of the commissary.

If I could go back in time there are so many things I would be much more relaxed about with our first, but I can't because I was figuring it out then. I had no idea what to expect at each of the ages and stages. There are definitely times now that I hear a mom of one complaining to me about how their house is a mess and I do want to laugh out loud, thinking about the uphill battle I have at home with our 4 children. But I have been in that mom's shoes. I know how that mom feels and I know those feelings are real.

5. "The learning curve for sibling rivalry happens much sooner."

I think this really sums up a lot of the differences between twins and singletons, not the sibling rivalry, but that things happen much sooner. Instead of easing into balancing sibling groups, you are thrown into it. We went from one child to three children-- a big transition! As someone who rarely pushed a stroller with our first, I was then taking a stroller that could hold three children everywhere we went-- two infant carriers, two bottles, two sets of baby toys and blankets to keep track of, three children to balance. And when our twins became mobile it was much more difficult finding a place for our oldest to do toddler activities, like Playmobile sets. He would pull his toys away from one baby only to be accosted by the other baby. It was a lot for him to take in. Our style of parenting changed a lot going from one child to three children, though there has been a much smaller shift going from three children to four.

6. "They truly love being together."

This one is another stretch. How is this just twins? Our boys fuss and fight and bicker all day long. But they freak out if one of them leaves. They worry about the baby when I leave the house with just him, "Don't forget to feed him while you are gone!" Thank you, 6-year old; I will remember to do that! They worry when my husband leaves with any combination of them-- our 6-year old and a 3-year old; both the 3-year olds... They are so excited when their brothers come home after any amount of time away. "Where did you go?! Did you have fun?!" Whenever we go anywhere-- doctor appointments, piano lessons, etc-- and the one with me is offered stickers or suckers or treats, he demands 3 more for his brothers. They all look out for each other. We have encouraged from the beginning the sibling bond, the band of brothers. It is so important for brothers to have each other's backs.

7. "It feels like your kids grow up faster."

It is weird to me having two pass through the phases together. It feels... different. We seem to hit the phases fast and furious. We binged on toys to make our day easier; we have so many baby toy hand-me-downs, two of everything, because it was easier to give them each a toy in their Bumbo. We had two swings, two bouncey seats, two, two, two. Two push lawnmowers, two Fisher Price poppers, two Fisher Price school buses... And then they grew out of it all and it is passed down to baby #4 who finds far more entertainment in his brothers than his toys.

Looking at baby #4, I'm amazed at how old our twins are. We are out of the baby stage with them-- they are 3 years old! We are moving into the preschool years. How did we fly through that? I still remember the long evenings, double the colds, double the diapers...

And suddenly they are playing games with their big brother and our house is now three of everything. This was a Christmas of threes. Our garage has shifted from toys for our oldest {one of each} plus toys for our twin toddlers {two of each} to toys for our boys {three of everything}.

I think maybe now they are older and out of the extreme hands on baby phase, maybe it will feel more normal to have two children pass through the stages together. Maybe it will feel a little less intense than when it was two babies. I don't know. I am just floored that our oldest is now 6 years old. SIX. Not the tiny baby on my hip. Our twins are 3 years old. THREE. Not the round babies in cribs and diapers. And we have a fourth baby. What? How time flies!

8. "They will always be compared to each other."

There could be a whole article on this one alone. Yes, yes, yes, yes, a million times YES. We have 4 children and we have heard, "Does he sleep like the other ones? Does he eat like the other ones? Is he a good baby/bad baby/same baby as the other ones? Does he look like the other ones?" Normal, right? Yup.

But for twins, it is different. We hear that and then some. If one of our twins falls off the slide and starts crying, I hear, "Is he the sensitive twin?" If one of our twins is wearing mismatched clothes and the other twin is wearing what I picked out, I hear, "Is he the rebellious twin?" If one of our twins is throwing a fit in public, I hear, "Is he demanding twin?" If one of our twins says hi to the people asking if they are twins, I hear, "Is he the outgoing twin?" The are just labeled. Labeled everywhere we go no matter what they are doing. They are labeled as the twins and then people want to attribute each and every one of the smallest behaviors they are exhibiting at any given moment to which twin they are.

And when our oldest is noticed in the midst of the twin labeling, he gets asked, "Are you a good helper with your brothers?"

{Face palm}

9. "You will always be teaching people about twins."

Yup.

"My dad is a twin so I was sure I would have twins."

"My brother's cousin's wife had twins, so I know my turn is next."

Read my blog post, "Identical or Fraternal {revised}."


What do you think of this list and of her article? Do agree that these are unique to twins or do you think they cover sibling groups as well?
 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Boys will be boys

If you follow my blog, you might have read my post, "Mom to all boys." In it I say:
Why does it bother me so much hearing "boys will be boys?" Because, in my experience, people do not use that expression in regards to positive behavior demonstrated by my children.
To be honest, most of the time when I hear boys will be boys, parents are using it to justify their children's bad behavior. It really bothers me.

I come back to that expression time after time and each time it just makes my skin crawl. Why are we teaching a future generation of men that their behavior is okay or justified due to their sex? It makes me think back to various jobs I've held when men touched me inappropriately or said inappropriate things, once to a point that I had to report a guy. What if the manager had said, "Boys will be boys"?

I am not under some illusion that males and females think/act/are exactly the same and we need to drop all gender references. As our boys have grown, I have noticed our playdates with girls and boys have changed. In truth, our playdates {not everyday play in our own home or for our friends' everyday play in their homes} have only really changed this past year. The boys and girls-- through no direction from the parents-- tend to split off or assign various roles to each group. The boys say, "We are knights and are defending the castle! The playground is the castle!" and they are off roaring around the playground with sticks and swords and imaginary bows and arrows. The girls say, "We are the princesses!" and they go in the castle, assigning bedrooms and nurseries and describing the imaginary dresses each of them are wearing. But this extreme division is only starting now. The younger siblings are following suit with the older siblings. When our oldest was 3 years old, he happily joined in on the game with whatever the boys or girls were doing. Now that our oldest is 6 years old, his little brothers trudge along after him, waving swords and occasionally wandering over to check out what is happening in the castle.

My problem is not with boys preferring one game over another or boys playing differently than girls. Our boys spend a lot of time sword fighting. All day long we have wrestling, sword fighting, bloody noses, fat lips, questionable injuries {"Is it broken? Is he fine?"}. Every thing that enters into our house is literally made into a weapon: stuffed alligators are swords, paper towel rolls are swords, paper folded round and round is a sword, pencils are swords, really short pencils are guns... Everything is a weapon. Even our 3 year olds grab long strands of grass and try to tie them to sticks to make bows and arrows. If you know me, you know I am not a fan of weapons. When I take our boys to play with other boys their age, they seem to all do this. They want to protect, to serve, to fight, especially these military children of ours who hear military talk all day {Soldiers! Sailors! Airmen! Marines! Duty! Honor! Courage! Commitment!}.

My problem is when all of the above behavior is immediately dismissed, justified, or permissible due solely to gender. Our oldest is 6 years old; our twins are 3 years old; our baby is 6 months old. We are still in the realm of "little kid play." Why is it okay for big boys to tackle our little boys to the ground as they're crying and beat them with a foam sword? Why is it okay for big boys to chase a 3 year old down pelting him with Nerf bullets as the 3 year old screams in terror? Why is it okay for little boys to chuck rocks at our stroller with the baby inside? Why are we-- WOMEN-- justifying this behavior in front of our future generation of men by saying "he's all boy?" Since when is it okay for men to throw rocks at babies????

As a woman, that makes me angry. Why are we using our roles as influential women in these men's lives {because our boys will grow up to be men} to ingrain gender stereotypes in them?

Our boys are allowed to explore their creativity to the full extent. Our oldest has started playing Destiny {in small doses} with his dad and grandfather, an activity beloved by the men in my family. He plays Minecraft and revels in his successes. Our boys do wild sword fights where they make tents in their room and battle all afternoon. When we watch Lord of the Rings, they make K'Nex swords and reenact all the battles they see on the screen. Our 3 year olds are constantly on an Orc hunt. They are given the freedom and space to behave in the way that they wish.

However, we still have house rules. Older children must watch out for younger children. All children must have respect for babies. Respect is very big in our home. It is never acceptable to point guns or weapons at adults or babies, with the exception of adults who are willingly and knowingly joining in their game {such as a Nerf gun war}. We do not allow wild horseplay in our family room, where we have guests and babies, but we have a playroom and their bedroom for such activities. We feel that, especially indoors, they need to find appropriate ways to channel their behavior.

Don't get me wrong, our children do their fair share of far too rough play at home and at the playground. They do their fair share of hitting instead of using their words or sword fighting with unsuspecting friends. What I do is help teach and guide them on how we play with friends. "Why don't you ask her if she wants to play battle with you?" "When you pushed past him to go down the slide, you hurt him. Would you like it if someone did that to you?" "When we don't get our way, we use our words not our hands. You need to say that you are sorry and then take a rest with me for a few minutes."

Last night our boys were playing wildly with stuffed animals and one of our 3 year olds took it way too far. All the stuffed alligators {aka alligator swords} were taken away. We have rules for indoor play. "Do we play like that in the house? Is it okay to hit your brother when he's asking you to stop or not playing your game?" We have outlets for them. Our boys are allowed to play on our back porch where I can supervise them and they can get a little wild. We have games they enjoy doing, like puzzles, K'Nex, trains, cars, Legos, coloring. When they get too wild all together {as sibling groups can easily do}, we break them up and have them do some quiet activities on their own until they can play together and follow the rules. When it has gone so far down hill that they all just need a rest, I either send them all to sit on their beds {which means they took it way too far} or I have them take a break and watch a movie or read stories.

When we discuss their behavior with them, we do not make them feel that they are destined to be a certain way because of their gender. How would it make them feel being put in a little box due to their gender? And how does that make them relate to others based on their genders? We talk to them based on the incident, just like how we do all areas of our parenting-- not dragging in far past incidents, not heaping more and more trouble on them-- but discussing what happened then. "Do you think that you treated your brother fairly or unfairly?" "It is never okay to behave that way towards a baby. That was far too rough of play for a baby." There are definitely behaviors that we have constant issues with that we are continually working on. For instance, our oldest lately is playing way too rough with his brothers when they all go into their room {aka the coliseum}. We are really working on that because he views them far more as peers than as younger children-- when there is just over 2 and a half years between them in age. "If you want to go play in there with your brothers, you will follow the rules or you will have to find something else to do."

Why is this so important to us? Because we aren't raising boys to be boys; we are raising boys to be men. We don't want them to be limited in their views or the future generation of old men to make racist/sexist/bigoted comments towards young mothers in Target {which I have had my fair share of}. Right now, being so young, they obviously don't have any bias regarding race or gender. We are starting to hear comments like, "This is the boys' table, Momma," but our boys still happily play with all their little girl friends. One of our 6 year old's best friends is a little girl who trudges through our front bushes finding weapons with him one minute and then the next is teaching him all sorts of cool gymnastic/dance moves, which according to our oldest are very useful in battle.

As for race, our boys are still blissfully unaware of skin color-- or, rather, experience of racism. Our oldest is really drawn to Martin Luther King Jr right now {actually wants us to throw a birthday party for him}. When we read stories about him, he gets emotional that anyone would treat someone badly based on their skin color; I think it is hard for his little 6 year old brain to fathom tolerating or practicing racism. So far we have stuck to picture books on Martin Luther King Jr and the book "Pink and Say." We feel that equality is a conversation that is worth starting now, to get the vocabulary and understand that we are all people, that Christ died for us all.

Picture books are a great way to initiate these conversations and to help bridge any gaps that our children may encounter. As boys, they have encountered far more "bully" behavior than anything else. They get frequently told that behavior inflicted on them is okay because they are "boys playing with boys," mostly in playground situations where we are playing with strangers. For bully behavior, I love "Llama Llama and the Bully Goat." That book is great at pin pointing behaviors that our children frequently encounter and also helps outline a great way to help diffuse bully behavior. In the book, the bully goat has to sit next to the teacher through recess and for the rest of the day so she can help navigate his interactions with the other kids. When our boys have "bully goat behavior," as we've come to call it, I explain to them that they need to take a break for awhile with momma, mostly applicable to our 3 year olds who are still figuring life out. It has been a great resource for our oldest to recognize behaviors that he previously had a hard time processing. It upset him to have kids treat him in a way that hurt his feelings {or his body} and then have their parents tell him to suck it up because he is a boy. Now he's feeling far more confident in telling a child that he doesn't want to play with him anymore and moving away from him or alerting an adult of what is going on.

For gender issues, we focus on modeling the attitude we expect. They hear positive things about girls at home and do not hear gender stereotypes from either parent. We read books and encourage open play. Our boys have baby dolls and a variety of toys. The book "Just Like Me" actually sparked a lot of conversation regarding girls and boys as well as interaction with siblings. The twin girls talk about their similarities, but also their differences. All of our boys, twins and singletons, talked about how they are like that-- the same, but different. They also talked about how they are a lot like the girls in the book, which then evolved to how girls and boys have a lot of similarities and differences as well. This topic has been one that we try to let naturally penetrate our interactions with peers because we want them to see it in action, to respect males and females alike, and to recognize we are all people, despite our differences.

We have taken a similar approach with race as we have with gender-- that we model the attitude we expect. For our 3 year olds, we have followed the same path we took with our oldest at that age. We focus on the Bible, how Christ loves all of us, we are all people. As our oldest has grown, the conversation has changed, mostly due to his questions. We've talked about how sometimes appearance and skin color is an indicator of your culture and different regions of the world. We've talked about how America is a melting pot and we've even dove into some of the more sordid aspects of our history. A hero is always welcome to a 6 year old and so we've introduced him to Martin Luther King Jr, a hero he has really taken to. While with gender we have really tried to just let the conversation be without pushing any agenda, race is something that we have focused on introducing. We want them to be aware and conscious of how they treat others, as well as biases that they will need a response to.

In our house, "boys will be boys." We are proud of our boys. We love parenting boys and we want them to embrace who they are: young men. But we are going to do our best to raise these boys to be Christ following, conscious men who exude love, peace, faithfulness, and self-control.

To quote the movie Little Women:
Marmie: "Feminine weaknesses and fainting spells are the direct result of our confining young girls to the house, bent over their needlework, and restrictive corsets."
Meg: "Marmie, must you speak to everyone about corsets?"
Marmie: "Oh, Meg. Do I?"
Some things are worth talking about.
 

Monday, December 22, 2014

"Mommy" holidays



I woke up this morning after a long night with baby #4. Everyone seems to think he's teething, but I am not sure. I don't know why baby #4 is off, teething or a cold.

So after that night I came out this morning to a kitchen laden with dishes. That isn't an exaggeration. I have dishes on my stove top, piled in the sink, sitting in front of the microwave. Last night we made cookies. And dinner. And applesauce. Dinner required every bowl and blade of our food processor, which is still on the counter. Our kitchen is a mess.

Our children aren't eating. I make them food and they don't eat it. After making room in our kitchen to make breakfast, only one of them ate. I gave them whole grain bread with cinnamon and raisins, toasted with lots of butter on top. Eggs made to order. Yogurt with strawberries and a banana to boot. Water, as requested. Our oldest, of course, ate all his food, but left his dishes on the table. One of our toddlers ate his yogurt and played with his egg for a bit while shredding his bread. Our other toddler rearranged his plate and spilled his yogurt all over the table. Most mornings I just give them a banana and then an hour later they are complaining about being hungry. I was hoping to avoid that this morning by feeding them foods they like, except all they ate out of a plate of "toddler food" was their banana. {Read: "Why do I feed our toddlers?"}

All through breakfast they argued over who's "team" they are on. Boy 1 and Boy 2 are on the same team, but Boy 3 can't be on their team. Boy 3 wants to be on their team. They argued over it. Boy 1 and Boy 2 tried sword fighting with yogurt spoons all through the meal. Boy 3 wanted to put all the food he didn't want to eat-- which was all of it-- on the table instead of on his plate. Boy 2 sneezed and covered himself with bubbling sticky snot. While covered in snot standing by the kitchen trash with Kleenex, he started unloading our trash can of things I "accidentally" threw away. Of course said items were covered in egg shells and coffee grounds, so I had quite the time cleaning up the snot covered/trash covered toddler. The cat discovered a strong love of yogurt and spent her time jumping up and swatting at the children while trying to eat their yogurt.

I have some Christmas shopping to finish up. I haven't wrapped hardly any of our Christmas gifts. I'm trying not to stress out over the Christmas items that we ordered weeks ago from Zulily that promised a Christmas delivery {where are they???}. I have a kitchen to clean. A house to clean. Fights to break up between our children. A fussy baby. I forgot to do advent calendars with the kids this year-- totally forgot. I gave myself a hair cut last night because it has been so long since I last had my hair cut and I have no idea when I'll ever find the time to get back in to the salon. 2 of our 4 children are congested; 1 more seems to be coming down with it.

Sometimes I feel like I have expectations in my mind of what family life is all about. I get this vision of our children in footie pajamas sitting under the tree watching the Christmas train and flipping through Christmas books while my husband and I snuggle on the couch watching stop motion films. I can feel a little overwhelmed when one boy is beating his brother with a Ravensburger puzzle and another is playing Minecraft on our tablet. This holiday season flew by. Where did all the time go? There are so many things I wanted to do. We still haven't ridden a Christmas train {don't they keep running until New Years?}. We went caroling once and couldn't go to the next one due to an ill-timed doctor's appointment. I can't help but feel that we must soak in this year because next year my husband will be back on a submarine and-- where? Out to sea? On shiftwork? Working? I don't know. I had the same feelings at Halloween {Read, "Mommy courage"}. As I write this blog post one of our toddlers is following our other toddler around the house taking his toys and generally picking fights. Seriously, all they have done since they got down from breakfast is fight. "That my toy! He's touching me! He's sitting next to me! He's looking at me! He's taking my toy!" Can't we just enjoy Christmas? Can't we just sing and snuggle and drink hot chocolate without counting who had how many cookies and who is touching your napkin or who is drinking too loud/fast/not enough/spilling/making a mess?

Wrapping everything they can get their hands on and putting it under our tree :)

I suppose this is family life. I know that when I go out with my girlfriends for dinner and hear about the shenanigans that went down while I was gone I laugh. I probably laugh until I cry at least once a day; our children seriously crack me up. There are moments where I want to pull my hair out. {I don't actually have to pull my hair out-- it is doing quite well falling out on it's own. As a defense mechanism or maybe advanced evolution, some strands are turning gray and hanging on for dear life.} I can't imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else. I am going to miss this even next year when perhaps our 3-year olds don't wrap everything in sight, including my Target receipts and their bedtime stories, placing their "presents" under the tree. I'm going to miss our 6-year old being so excited about a simple download, purchasing Minecraft for our tablet. I'm going to miss baby #4 being almost 6 months old. He is so sweet with his smiles and hands grabbing my face to pull it in and look at me closer. I don't think I will miss the incessant 3-year old whining {times two}, but maybe I will; maybe I will laugh at how ridiculous and over the top and constant it was for that brief period in time.

As a little girl, all I wanted was to grow up, marry a prince, have babies, wear ball gowns, read books, and write novels. I've since discovered that even when you marry your prince, it isn't all happily ever after. You have fights and miscarriages and arguments over finances and silent seething anger over the laundry. Your babies demand every minute and hour of your day while pulling your hair and destroying your house. You pour and pour and pour yourself into every minute of every day and wonder if anyone notices half of what you do. Your ball gowns don't fit one year to the next. You start 3 or 4 books and finish 2. You work and work on the Next Great American Novel and seem to get nowhere, not that you would ever find the courage to publish it.

There is an element of disenchantment to adulthood that I never anticipated. My mother is the most beautiful woman I have ever met and I just wanted to be her when I grew up and now I see that there is more to being a woman than what I thought as a child. She is all of the things I thought she was when I was a little girl, but more. She is far more patient than I ever thought. She gives far more than I ever thought. Her beauty and strength are much deeper and more powerful than I ever knew. I remember sitting by her vanity and watching her get ready as a girl. The smell of her powder, the hair spray still hanging in the air, her perfume. I was drawn to her. Drawn to finding my Mr. Darcy. Drawn to the freedom of adulthood, attending holiday balls and fantastic Christmas parties where I could have my first sip of champagne. Perhaps I need to be a little more patient and the Austrian nun will swoop in our house and suddenly our children will don matching outfits made from gorgeous curtains {not that we even have curtains hanging in our house} and sing in harmony. But life is messy. We are far more like the March family than the von Trapps, and that is okay. I'm far more like my mother than I ever thought. There was a short period of time when I felt I didn't want to grow up to be exactly like my mother; now I can't imagine being anything else.

My prince is a submarine officer. My house full of children is all boys that can't find matching socks or clean shirts to save their lives. And our Christmases have their own twist of merry and bright.


Happy holidays from my family to yours!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Saying good-bye


I've been a military wife for almost 8 years now. We've lived at 4 different duty stations and we are getting ready to move again. While the routine of moving has become {somewhat} familiar, saying good-bye has never become easier. Yesterday a good friend of mine moved away. While I plan on visiting her at their new duty station in the next couple months, I don't know when we will ever {if we will ever} be next door neighbors again.

There were many things I loved about living next door to this friend. She always had what I needed, for one. This could range from butter to wine to baby-sitting. She also always had a plate of cookies for us, always was up for a Target run, always ready for a girls night-- planned or not. We shared laughs, bottles of wine {or champagne in one lovely evening}, and tears. She's not much of a hugger, but I managed to get several big hugs from her {yay!}. We had game nights. I could always pop over to her house for an hour or two after my husband came home, taking no children with me, soaking up a much needed break and going home feeling refreshed when my hubby finally called to say the baby was hungry. To quote Little Women, we bore our souls and shared the most appalling secrets.

Over my time as a military family, we have made many wonderful friends along the way. I don't always feel like when I meet people that they know me, who I actually am, not just who I am right then. There are seasons of our life-- seasons where I'm dealing with pregnancy, newborns, strange schedules kept by my husband... seasons where I feel sad or lonely because I'm struggling to make friends and feeling I'm getting nowhere. But I don't feel defined by those seasons. I feel like myself passing through times in my life where I am dealing with various things. Sometimes when I meet people in the midst of those seasons, I think they get to know me right then, despite my best efforts to show them my crazy. I feel like this friend got to know me. My heart. And accepted me warmly. I feel like I got to know her. It was one of those rare times in life where you meet someone and recognize a part of yourself in them, despite all the differences between you-- because her and I were very different in a lot of ways, but very similar in many others. Then throw in the added bonus that my husband and her husband became friends, our kids got along great, and we were next door neighbors... this all added up to a perfect best friend cocktail. {And who doesn't love a cocktail?}

Last night when I was crying, my husband told me that it is always better to make friends and have your heart broken when they move than to not put yourself out there and to not make friends. I fully agree. However, today as I write this blog post and see her pile of recycling sitting outside her empty house, I can't help but feel sad. It hurts to say good-bye to people that you love, whether you've known them a long time or for just a year. Because a year is long enough to form a deep friendship, especially when that friendship just clicks.

Today my house feels a little different. The dust of military life has settled over it. We have said many hellos and good-byes along the way and some were felt more deeply than others. One thing that comforts me is that military wives are good at is using technology-- new and old-fashioned-- to keep in touch. We believe in mailing cards, Skyping, texting, Facebooking, and visiting. I loved living next door to my friend. I know that we will keep in touch and visit each other often. I am just sad to see this chapter close because I enjoyed it so much.