Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Prototype in South Carolina

I'm starting this blog post off with a disclaimer: this was my experience as a Navy spouse as my husband went through prototype, another school in the nuclear Navy officer pipeline-- not his point of view, but mine. These are my thoughts and words, not his.

My husband is prior enlisted. When he went through prototype this time around, he had already gone through prototype before {as enlisted}; he had already been on a submarine; he had been in the Navy for 10 years. He went through the STA-21 program {more blog posts on that under "Military Resources"} and is going back through the pipeline as an officer. I felt his prior experience would work to his advantage in prototype and at least give him more time with our family than he had while in power school {read the "Power school" blog post}.

Students in prototype are on rotating shift work. The shifts are roughly these times, depending on which boat you get on and various other factors:
  • Days {day shift or first shift}: 7 am to 7 pm
  • Swings {swing shift or second shift}: 12 pm to 12 am
  • Mids {mid shift or third shift}: 8 pm to 8 am
*Note on shift hours: you need to add about an hour before and after these shifts because often they have to go in that much earlier and stay that much later for trainings and turning things over to the next shift.

As of right now, there are two prototypes, prototype in upstate New York and prototype in South Carolina. We went through prototype in South Carolina and I do not know how true all of this rings for upstate New York.

In South Carolina, there are two operational submarines {called boats} used for prototype. After the first 7 weeks of prototype, the classes are divided between the 2 boats. Even though the students are in one class, the submarines operate independently of each other and the training for the students on one submarine does not affect the training for the students on the other submarine. What I mean is, if the submarine you are on assigned to breaks down {as it did for us}, you do not get to go train on the other submarine until yours is operational again. While we were there and our boat was shut down, the students on the other boat kept moving forward and graduated on time while our graduation date was pushed back to graduate with the class behind us.

The first 7 weeks of prototype operate on a Monday through Friday day shift. After the first 7 weeks, rotating shift work starts. The shifts last 7 days and are 12 hour shifts. Here is how the schedule works:
  • 7 days of days
  • 2 days off
  • 4 days of training {"T-week," which has the same hours as day shift}
  • 4 days off
  • 7 days of swings
  • 2 days off
  • 7 days of mids
  • 2 days off
When shift work starts after the first 7 weeks of prototype, each of the students get assigned to a crew. Whatever shift your crew is on is the crew you will start shift work in on week 8. Some students actually started on day shift. We started shift work on swings.

The nice thing about shift work is that once it starts, you can mark your calendar from week 7 of prototype {you find out your crew around week 6 or week 7 and the shifts you are on around then} all the way to the graduation date. Because that's your schedule. And the first 7 weeks of prototype are days, so you can plan on that too. I liked that much better than the uncertainty of the study schedule in power school and felt like I saw my husband far more in prototype than I did in power school.

The first 7 weeks of prototype had to be 12 hour shifts. He spoke to his advisor and, after the first 2 weeks of prototype, he was allowed to come in early so he could leave early. With 4 children, arriving home shortly after 7 pm-- the busy hour of baths, pajamas, and stories before their 8 pm bedtime-- was crazy and chaotic. For the first 2 weeks of prototype, he came home to roughly 45 minutes to an hour of epic meltdowns. Over tired and excited children glad to see Daddy, tired from their day and resisting bedtime, to be bathed and put in bed by a hungry and exhausted Daddy. When he could go in earlier for his 12 hour shift, it was much better; he started going in between 5 am and 6 am. Even getting home at 6 pm gave him time to change and eat before the bedtime hour started. My husband wanted to help with the bedtime hour on those shifts because that was his only interaction with the children during day shift; on days he left before they woke up.


My husband's prior experience did work to our advantage in prototype; he spent most of the shifts on reduced hours. If students are a certain distance ahead of the curve in prototype, they are awarded reduced hours, which, depending on how far ahead of the curve they are, are either 8 or 10 hour shifts. Reduced hours made shift work far more bearable. On day shift, I asked him to be home by 6 pm, for the reasons stated above. On mid shift, he would leave for work after the kids went to bed at 8 pm. Most of the time he would go in at 10 pm, but, if he was really busy at work, he would go in at 9 pm. I loved mid shift. He would sleep in our guest room during the day, which was removed from the rest of the house, and sleep pretty much "work hours," 9 to 5, wake up in time for dinner, play with the children and then put them to bed, and then he and I would have time to curl up on the couch and watch a show together.

Swing shift was my least favorite shift. There was no good time to go in for swing shift. If he did reduced hours and went in at 2 pm, our whole morning routine was thrown off because we were hanging around the house until he woke up around 10 am and then we would hang around with him until he went in to work at 2 pm, which was about the time our toddlers went down to nap, which forced us to linger around the house even longer. It threw off the rhythm to our day. Swing shift kept him away on the busiest part of the day {evening hours} that was only made harder because our whole routine was thrown off by that awkward morning lingering {4 children off schedule = disaster}. He tried doing reduced hours to see us more, but eventually I told him that the reduced hours just made it harder. He used swing shift to work and stay ahead of the curve. The only nice thing about swing shift is that I used swings to schedule all our doctors appointments. I would schedule them around 10 or 11 am, after he woke up, and he would go in on reduced hours. We always tried to be home when he woke up on swing shift so the children could see him.

This is when we were exceptionally glad we homeschooled and had the flexibility to adjust our hours to be home with Daddy. If you look at the schedule, there are off days in there. Many of them aren't actually off days, but days to help transition your sleep schedule. Here is a breakdown of the sleep schedule on shiftwork:

Days:
It was hard not to look at days as a day shift, "Oh, yay! He's working regular hours and I will see him regular hours!" No. When he was on days, he had just come off mids so he was tired and grouchy. He went to bed at roughly the same time as the children and sometimes staying awake all the way until 8 pm was a struggle. There were times where he went in the boys' room to read them a story and I found him asleep on a twin bed with the boys climbing all over him.

2 day {The 2 days off in between days and T-week}:
This was our weekend. More often than not in fell on a weekday. Since we homeschooled, I never did school with our kids on these days, weekend or weekday. We usually ended up doing errands or put-off projects on these days, which I think is what most people do on these days, but parents with 4 kids definitely do on these days. These are the days that were either filled with car maintenance, doctors appointments that we worried would be too long to squeeze in before swing shift, and various other house projects. Rarely did we not have something along those lines on a 2 day. I do think that is normal with family life, though.

T-Week:
This is training week for the staff so the students had to go find other section's staff for their qualifications. This didn't affect me at all, as the spouse. During T-week, his sleep schedule was almost normal for a "regular" day shift.

4-day:
4-days were lovely! Mostly because swings come next and so he started really trying to stay up in the evenings. These are the nights of movie watching, no school days {homeschooling, remember?}, and playing outside {South Carolina, remember?}. Again, generally we had something going on {we have 4 kids}, but they were still something to look forward to and very much enjoyed, far more than the 2 day, which always felt like an awkward weekend...in the middle of the week.

Swings:
The weird thing about swing shift is that he was almost the most "normal" sleep-wise. He was most alert, most rested on swings, but we saw him the least. He only had to stay at work until midnight and then he came home and went to sleep, at least, the first part of each swing shift. The last part of swing shift is totally awkward. He starts trying to stay up later in preparation for mids, so he his rising time is later: 8 am, 9 am, 10 am... 10:30 am... and that time between the time he rises and the time he leaves for work shrinks... and he gets home after we are all in bed. I will also add, in my Navy wife experience, all bad things happen on swing shift. This is the shift that you will get a migraine; you will forget your ID at home and thus cannot get back on base; your children will all get sick; your best friend will have distant relatives in town and so cannot come over each evening to calm your nerves. This kind of stuff only happens on swing shift.

Swings to mids rotation:
These are the off days in between swings and mids. When I first saw these on the calendar I thought, "Aw, how lovely to have all these off days built in our calendar!" Nope. These are basically sleep days. The crews usually meet up in the middle of the night to help each other stay awake, such as meeting up for pizza or to play basketball. I never went to any of these because 1. I am not a bat, awake all night, and 2. We always have kids sleeping at home. I do know that some significant others did go with their military members to these get-togethers, but as the parent watching the children, I never did. During the day on these rotations, he slept. In the evening on these rotations, he was tired.

Mids:
Since he put in so much work at the end of swings and the swings to mids rotation, he was fairly prepared for mids each time. My husband has a gift for falling asleep. I am not saying that sarcastically. I do think it is a gift as a submariner. He can sleep just about anytime, anywhere. He had no problems sleeping during the day and no problems sleeping in our guest room with the children home. As the parent awake with the 4 children making noise as he slept, I did worry they were waking him or that he wasn't getting good rest. However, he always assured me they were fine. I started trusting this and letting the kids live their lives as normal. I said it before, but I loved mid shift. I looked forward to putting the kids to bed each evening and our time together to watch a movie and hang out without him being tired. When he left for work at 10 pm, this was the time that I was heading to bed anyways and so I didn't really think of this as time away from him. I didn't like sleeping alone and sleeping alone bothered me far more in the past. Living on base with 4 children, a cat, and a dog in the house, across the street from my best friend and her husband {who was on a different shift than us}, helped me feel far less alone. I did miss falling asleep next to him and one mid shift I made the error of reading a scary book, but, in general, I slept fine. I do know that mid shift wasn't his favorite for his sleep schedule, but he did enjoy our time together and the time with the kids. He came home just as the children were waking up and spent all evening with us.

Mids to days rotation:
These days and the first part of days were enough to make me doubt each time if I really loved mid shift as much as I thought I did. Man, these were tired, grouchy days for him. He would try to stay awake as long as possible, but it was impossible, even with the children distracting him. He was so tired. I tried to leave him alone as much as possible on these days, no planning anything that could wait.

"Thanks," you say, "for the sleep schedule. But what is prototype? How do you pass it?" I'm not even going to pretend that I understand exactly how the system works to get qualified at prototype. Here is a very simplified version of the process:
  • You do computer check outs to see if you are prepared enough to monopolize an instructor's time for an actual check out where you can get signatures for your "qual card" {qualification card, which is actually a ginormous book requiring upwards of 650 signatures}.
  • You must complete all the computer check outs.
  • You must get all the signatures.
  • There are verbal check outs with the instructors and then there are check outs where you have to stand watch.
  • There are smaller watch standing check outs and bigger watch standing check outs. If you are in charge of the watch, you are the Engineering Officer of the Watch {EOOW}. That is a Big Deal and deserves a special dinner the first time you stand it.
  • You have to take a comprehensive exam which takes about 8 hours to complete. This is a Pretty Big Deal and also demands a special dinner after you pass.
  • To graduate prototype, you have to stand a watch board and, the very last thing, the oral board. These are Even Bigger Deals and sometimes people fail them. They get about 2 more tries if they fail them. These deserve Big Celebrations after they are passed.
  • After all that, your crew goes out to a celebratory dinner together in which everyone takes a cab home.
Besides the sleep schedule and the check out process, there is the boat schedule to contend with. When he started prototype, we thought with his prior experience that he would be qualified quickly. I briefly mentioned before that each class gets divided between the 2 boats. Our class had a January graduation date. Our boat broke and our grad date floated around for a long while before finally being pushed back to join the class behind us for the March grad date. The people in our class on the other boat did graduate in January and went to the February SOBC class. Since our grad date was pushed back to March, now he is in the April SOBC class. The boat schedule is frustrating. I especially disliked that when a boat is shut down, you can't get quals on the other operational boat. You are just stuck sitting around doing what you can until your boat gets running again. Prototype is supposed to be 24 weeks long and it took us 32 weeks due to the boat we were on. Not only did he not qualify as quickly as we thought it would take, but he stood rotating shiftwork 8 weeks after his projected grad date.

Around the time you start rotating shiftwork, week 8, you put in your Dream Sheet, which ranks your duty station options and boat types 1 through 10. Around week 20, 4 weeks before graduation if your crew is on schedule, you get orders with your duty assignment {read my blog post, "Submarine officer's JO tour dream sheet" for more information on duty station options, etc.}. Some people have already gone through SOBC and will report to their boats immediately after graduation; some, like us, have SOBC after prototype and report to their boat after SOBC. When our boat shut down and our grad date got pushed back, the orders for our class were taken away and reissued. It was such an uncertain time. We had to cancel a house hunting trip we had planned over one of his 4 days; I ended up flying out to our next duty station to go house hunting without him because he can't take time off in prototype. It was a mess. It was made messier because we didn't know what his grad date was, what SOBC class he would be in, if our orders would stay the same. I got our house ready in January to pack out early February. Then our orders changed and we ended up packing out in March. I am glad that is all over.

Prototype, to me, started out far better than power school. I loved the reduced hours. I loved knowing exactly when he would be home and what his schedule was for the next couple weeks. I loved the 4 day weekends and being able to schedule doctors appointments when he would be home to watch the children. However--big however-- by the time it was over, I was over prototype. I hated the uncertainty at the end. Are we moving now? We had written and cut orders that changed. Are we going to the same boat? Same state? What SOBC class will he be in? When can we go house hunting? How much longer will he have rotating shiftwork? I had anticipated rotating shiftwork until-- at the latest-- his grad date in January, not all the way until March. I didn't ever quite grasp how the system worked to get signatures and what you were supposed to do when your boat was shut down and so, to me, it often felt disjointed or that nagging feeling of, "Surely there is a better way!" {Perhaps that is my mom-of-4 organizational skills kicking in, attempting to find the quickest and easiest system.}

I often had that feeling in prototype that I was being impatient, that boat life is harder than this. That I needed to take a deep breath and enjoy him being home. Our last boat was a fast attack submarine and that life was so up and down, in and out, nothing but uncertainty--never being able to count on him being home, always having my plans cancelled. Needing him, needing a day with a him, a night with him, a moment with him-- preferably when it could be us, not us where he is tired with gray circles under his eyes and I'm frazzled, but us how we are in my mind, how we were. And when I compared prototype to boat life, I felt guilty. Boat life was so so so much harder. I knew I had it better in prototype, yet I struggled so much with the desire for this ever changing grad date, the tedious rotating shiftwork, the endless move preparations {with 4 children underfoot!} to be over... I thought of the loneliness and isolation of boat life, not being able to tell my family boat movements. And, yet, I was impatient. It was one of those times as a Navy wife where the grass is greener and yet you know it is not. You know the next thing isn't better than the current thing, and still you long for a change. I'm terrified to get back on a submarine, now with 4 children instead of 1 like last time. I'm sure when he leaves on that first underway I am going to cry thinking about warm South Carolina afternoons where he was working on a project in our garage and our children were riding bikes around the driveway while I sat and drank sweet tea watching our life march forward...

Friday, March 20, 2015

PCS #5: Big changes!


Wow! It has been awhile since my last blog post. A lot has happened since then. We are in the midst of a PCS, one of those military moves where we won't be at our next destination for months and we are living with relatives and traveling to visit friends. These are all good things, but it has been exceedingly stressful planning this out with 4 children. On top of the craziness of getting our house ready to be packed out, we are making this move with a season change: wardrobes for 2 seasons for our family of 6 with a cross country drive at the end of these couple months. We have been consciously trying to pack our belongings in a way that we hope will fit in our vehicles when we drive from the east coast to the west coast (and trying not to stress out over a 5 day drive with 4 children, in the meantime). I packed our winter clothes lightly, with the hope that the winter will wrap up soon. I'm relying on layering and the one winter jacket I brought for each family member. It is the first day of spring and snowing so it seems my good intentions are for naught. My children are going to be shivering for the next couple weeks! Could it please warm up soon?!?!

This PCS was one of the craziest PCS's we have made. I think I said that last time as well. When I first got married, I remember that being a whirlwind. California to the New Hampshire/Maine border in February was a shock to the system. After that, we were always moving with children. We had at least one child for our next 4 moves. I remember it being busy. When we moved across town with 3 children, I was ready to pull my hair out, but we still managed and my parents came to help us unpack. When we moved to South Carolina, we still had 3 children, but this time our twins were toddlers. I had them play on our patio as we unpacked the house and we managed to unpack quickly. PCSing a household with children is not convenient, by any stretch of the imagination, but still do-able. I search for the do-able.

I'm not sure why it was so hard on my emotions and my stress level this time. I struggled a lot. While my husband and I worked on one area of the house, the children were destroying the other side of the house. I expected that, but I still found the level of mess that they were able to make in a short time hard to handle. One day while we were painting chairs, they "went camping." The three of them stripped their beds and stuffed their pillow cases and duffle bags with their entire wardrobes, their favorite puzzles (poured into the pillow cases, out of their boxes), and Playmobile people. I was mortified to discover this mess and it took us nearly an hour to clean it up. Afterwards I felt horrible because their little faces were so sad that I was upset. They were having such a nice time camping and I put a kibosh on the whole thing because of the mess.

Mentioning painting the chairs brought in another new element: DIY projects. My husband and I have never PCS'd with 4 children. We have also never tackled the number of DIY projects we did this time, all the week before our pack out. Since we are building a house at our next duty station, we have decided that we also want to decorate it nicely. I did some thinking and browsing of my favorite designer sites and blogs and decided that I had a multitude of pieces I wanted painted or fixed up for our next house. My hubby and I discussed if we wanted to paint them in our current duty station or wait until we arrive at our next duty station. We decided-- since he will be reporting to a boat at our next duty station plus unpacking with 4 children-- that we should tackle as many DIY projects as we can before the pack out since we will still have much to do once we arrive. (I want my hubby to build us a couple pieces of furniture as well.) Looking back at how we spent our time before the pack out, I can confidently say that we undertook way too many projects. It was so stressful managing these projects as well as the children. I told my husband this and he agreed-- it was too much. However, he also pointed out that it would either be too many DIY projects before our pack out or too many DIY projects after we arrive at our destination. I agree on that. He also said that at least this way, it is all finished. I also agree with that. So, I don't know. Maybe there just isn't the "best time" to get a lot of DIY projects done with children and with a PCS; I can say I am excited to decorate our house.

...and our house. That was another first. This is our first time buying a house plus we are building it. It is all new to us. That has been stressful as well, but not nearly as stressful as my husband and I thought it would be. I think what helped us is that we were on the same page about the whole house buying process. We found what we were looking for. We liked our realtor. I was far more nervous approaching this than my husband was (he wanted to buy at several of our last duty stations) and we did have a number of disagreements. I think I just expected much more disagreements than we ended up having. I am very nervous about selling when we PCS next time, but I'm putting that in a bubble and letting it go. We will cross that bridge when we get there.

Along with my husband and I's emotions approaching this PCS, our children's emotions really came in to play this time, much more than last time. Our oldest had just turned 5 when we moved to South Carolina. He was nervous about leaving his friends and cried all the way from North Carolina to South Carolina; it was heartbreaking. This time, at 6 years old, he had a lot of anxiety approaching the move. He remembered PCSing and didn't want to leave his friends. He frequently complained about his tummy hurting and his emotions were very up and down the weeks before we moved. That was very heartbreaking. Our twins are almost 4 years old and mostly fed off of the emotions in our house-- my stress level, their older brother's stress level. They had very short tempers and there were a lot of tantrums to contend with. In general, there was a lot of conflict between all the boys, much of it to get our attention and much of it because they all weren't sure how to process what was going on around them. The baby fed off my stress level at times, but he was mostly grouchy because, of course, he got sick. (And did I mention that one of our boys caught a stomach bug days before the pack out? Yeah, horrible timing.)

Now that we are settled in my parents' house, we actually made a huge change and enrolled our oldest in kindergarten here. He started on St. Patrick's Day and will finish out the year here. This is a big change for us as we homeschooled 5-year old preschool last year and kindergarten this year. We had started feeling God put the possibility of traditional school on our hearts several weeks ago when our oldest was having such a hard time with the uncertainty of our upcoming move. His anxiety and upset stomach really broke our hearts. Since he is a child that loves and craves routine, we started thinking that school would be a great option for him next year, for first grade, after we arrive at our next duty station. We felt that the routine of school would be good for him with the ups and downs of submarine life; no matter what the boat schedule is, no matter how uncertain our days are, he would have the consistency of his school routine. We felt like that would be a good option for him and felt that we would just use the rest of this year and this summer to continue to pray about it, marinate on the idea. I, for one, loved the flexibility of homeschooling. When my husband and I discussed school, it basically came down to homeschooling works best for me and traditional school might work best for our son. Anyways, so the children and I moved to my parents' house and settled in. We had been here for 4 days when I saw the stress starting to peek through in his behavior. I called my hubby and we decided to enroll him here at my parents' house, where I will be living until this July. We also felt that being in a place he is comfortable and familiar with might be a great place to get his feet wet with traditional school. My hubby also thought that it would be a great place to try it out because there are so many adults living under one roof-- plenty of people to help with baked goods, carpool pick ups, and volunteer days-- and plenty of people to make sure I places on time. Also, now that he's started, when we do get to our next duty station and enroll him in first grade, he will know what to expect from school; it won't be so foreign to him.

We are all settling into this new temporary routine. The boys are all also enrolled in a gym program so we have plenty of space to get the wiggles out. The toddlers have especially enjoyed taking advantage of the open play hours in the afternoon while our oldest is at school. I've enjoyed taking them to it as, while my parents' house is quite comfortable, the open play can accommodate them much better than this shared space (and there is no possibility of them breaking anything!). It is strange going out with 3 children instead of 4. I'm constantly feeling like I left someone. I have to admit, it is nice doing activities geared towards our toddlers without feeling like it is too big for our toddlers or too young for our oldest. Our oldest is also especially tall and strangers are often reprimanding him for being in places that are "too young for him," when actuality, it is geared for his age, if not his height. So far all of the boys seemed very pleased with our new routine. Our oldest is loving school and its accoutrements. We bought him a new lunch pail, appropriate jeans (how do every pair of his jeans have holes in them?!), and he loves toting his things to and from school in his backpack. He loves his teacher and classmates. He loves showing us his work at the end of the day. It is a big change from homeschooling, though I'm feeling peace about the decision. I was exceedingly sad and shed many tears when we moved in this direction because I thought we would be homeschooling him for at least 1-3 more years, but this was the time for us to move in a different direction and we have all embraced it well. I'm sure I could write much more on this topic, but the boys are starting to get restless.

A lot of big changes at our house. A lot of new routines. A lot of changes on the horizon. For now we are focusing on enjoying our time with family before we move to the west coast; I'm eagerly planning visits with friends before that move as well. We are taking one day at a time and following where God is guiding us!

****P.S. During this PCS, we have switched to disposables. I know I've written several blog posts on cloth diapering, but I could not figure out how we would manage cloth while living with family for several months and making all the trips we have planned to visit friends. If you are a cloth diapering military family, did you cloth diaper while PCSing? Even with a TDY? How do you handle cloth while traveling?

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.