Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mindfulness vs Losing My Mind

I tried an experiment the last two days. I didn't intend it to be an experiment, but that's the way it worked out. I've been writing here and there about slowing down and paying more attention to the little things (in part, inspired by Katrina Kenison's fantastic book The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir, which I finally finished a day or two ago). The idea of slowing down in order to fully appreciate life is a major theme of her book; at one point she eloquently makes a list of all that she is grateful for so that she recognizes the beauty even in the ordinary. After my husband's recent heart attack, this idea particularly spoke to me and I decided to try something similar.

To do this, I thought to myself, I would have to make some notes about what I noticed, how I felt, what was happening throughout the day in order to write about it. I tend to be a little methodical when I'm not so familiar with things, so this is how I approached this idea. And so I began with little things:
Our daughter's sleepy voice calling me, waking me from a foggy dream. Sliding into her bed to keep her company until it was officially wake up time. The smallness of her shoulder blade in my hand, the feel of her feet on my thighs as she curls her back to me and lets me spoon her. Later, the sounds of the kids singing happily in the living room as I wash dishes. The scratchy beard on my husband's chin as he kisses my neck. Love. And then I notice our tense interaction about making plans for the week. I wonder to myself why it is that we butt heads over such silly things...and then I notice as the tension dissipates. Our children run in with homemade pirate maps and an invitation to join them in being pirates. Our son rushing through breakfast, our daughter moving at a pace all her own. She is in no rush to be anywhere or do anything except what she is doing in that moment.
Later in the morning we drive 90 minutes North to the zoo, and lunch, in Santa Barbara, CA. 
Checking out the beach with daddy
I turn my back to the large picture window in the restaurant and ask our son to describe for me all that he sees. I watch his big, blue eyes glitter in the sun as he smiles and tells me about the boats and the birds. Walking on the pier, our daughter wants to go play barefoot in the sand despite the chill in the air. My "no" sends her into a tantrum mostly directed at me. I feel my anger and take a breath, blowing the tension into the wind. I bend down to talk to her. I notice my resistance to letting her do what she wants, and let go of my need to be right. Reluctant at first, but then I fully let it go. She happily looks for shells in the sand, while up ahead her brother and father play with a parachute toy. I pull my coat closer around me and smile. 
Sliding down the hill with daddy
Throughout the day there were numerous moments that could have sent me in a negative direction (like the kids' insistence on going to the play area inside the zoo instead of going to see any of the animals, or our son's constant whining that he be allowed to buy a plastic animal bobble head at the gift shop), yet I found myself feeling lighthearted about it all. 


The next day, I had the kids to myself. Unlike the day before, I had no goal in mind for myself, and the only plan I had was a play date in the morning with some friends from school. The play date was fine, but afterwards I found myself quickly worn out, frazzled and irritated; I had no energy to come up with anything creative for my kids to do, I lost my temper more than once and ended up crying in the hallway while my son parented me with hugs telling me "I love you" over and over. Not my finest hour. 

How could I have two days, one right after the other, that were so completely different? How could that be the same mother? There was nothing particularly special about the activities we did that Sunday, my children weren't especially well-behaved that day. Nor were they especially terrible the following day that I had such a melt down. What was completely different, I realized, was my reaction to things. I know that the best way to not be affected negatively by things is to simply change your reaction to the stimuli. But it was more than that, on that Sunday I was paying particular attention to everything; the small, the seemingly inconsequential, the ordinary. Perhaps it was the joy I experienced in these tiny moments that added up to a sense of happiness, warmth and fullness. With that sense, things that normally would set me off and leave me feeling depleted, had much less effect on me.

In The Parent's Tao Te Ching there is a passage that reads:
"Children are fascinated by the ordinary 
and can spend timeless moments 
watching sunlight play with dust.
Their restlessness they learn from you.
It is you who are thinking of there
when you are here.
It is you who thinks of then
instead of now.
Stop.
Let your children become the teachers,
and you become the student."
How to become the student of something so simple, yet seemingly so difficult? How do I learn to slow down and notice each little moment when there is so much that needs my attention each day? In Katrina Kenison's book she says,  
"If memory is the art of attention, then pausing to be grateful is a way of remembering. And remembering is a way, perhaps the only way, of holding on to the way we are now, the things I love, the moments I wish never to lose."
How many beautiful things have I missed because I was worrying about what we were going to do later in the day, or because I was checking email on my phone? Is a sense of anxiety and stress what I want to remember when I look back on my children's early years? Or do I want to remember how my son's hands feel when he strokes my hair before he falls asleep, or how my daughter's face looks as she concentrates on painting a picture? I imagine many of you, even if you aren't familiar with the term "mindfulness", have a sense of what I mean. All I want is to be the best mother I can be and to truly enjoy these fleeting moments of childhood. 

I called my dad (as I often do when my questions turn metaphysical) and, not surprisingly, he had many things to suggest to help me learn to be more mindful. Virtual Mindfulness Center has a really good introduction into what being mindful is and some easy exercises to help introduce you into that state of being, including a guide to Mindfulness at the Supermarket that anyone who has experienced a trip to the market with twins could benefit from! He also suggested this beautiful talk given at the UN by Goenka, a leading teacher of Mindfulness (or Vipassana) meditation. It goes right to the heart of what it is and why it matters. For someone not familiar with meditation or this type of slowing down, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but humor me and try the experiment. Spend a little time being mindful of yourself and your world and see what happens.

After talking about this with my dad and sitting with it all for a few days as I tried to write this post, I was reminded of the segment of the movie "What The (bleep) Do We Know?" where Dr. Joe Dispenza discusses a practice he uses in which he "creates his day". When this movie came out in 2004, it blew my mind. This piece of it, in particular, has inspired me greatly and I have attempted to put its principles into use from time to time, always with incredible results. 

(if this video doesn't play properly, please click this link).
I know there's a lot in this post. My brain is feeling a little off-kilter since noticing how much I contribute to the beauty or the dysfunction of my day. This is subject matter that is difficult to describe and condense but it felt so important and so revolutionary for me that I had to share it. One of the new year's resolutions I have made for the past few years has been to have more patience. I think, perhaps, I have found a way to acquire it and a more concrete motivation for sticking to it. 

I wish you all a wonderful New Year. You have added immeasurably to my life in this past year. With each post I write, I am learning about myself, my children and my parenting. I thank you all for following me on this journey. Thank you for your comments, support and encouragement. I hope I have given back to you even a small percentage of what you have given me. 

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Have you voted for The Twin Coach yet on Babble's 50 best Mom Blogs? It only takes a moment and I would truly appreciate it. Click here. Scroll down to find The Twin Coach and click on "I like this blogger!". It's also a great way to find other blogs you may enjoy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Everything

Happy Holidays From Our Family To Yours!
The endless rain in Los Angeles coupled with the start of Winter vacation for our kids and the last crazy days of holiday shopping has left me both too busy and too exhausted to write recently, and for that I do apologize. I have some posts brewing in my brain and just need enough peace and quiet to get them out of my head and onto my screen in such a way that I won't be mortified once I hit "publish". 

The photo above was, obviously, taken on a much sunnier day and it is from our current holiday card. Anyone with twins (or multiple children) will know how absolutely impossible it is to get a single photo where everyone is smiling, happy, looking at the camera, looks decent and so forth. This shot was a miraculous moment. Although our life is usually a lot messier, and not always full of perfect smiles, this photo sums up how I feel when I think about my family: happy, warm, sunny, connected.

Here's wishing you a holiday season filled with the same. 

With love,
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Television: Pandora's Box or Educational Entertainment?

Disney's new movie: "Tangled"
I took my almost 4-year old kids to their first movie yesterday. I was both excited at the idea of sharing something that had the potential to be a wonderful childhood memory, and terribly anxious that I was exposing them to something they weren't ready for. I decided to take them to see Disney's "Tangled" as I liked what I had read about how the whole princess thing was handled. But I was stressed about how the kids would react to the evil "step-mother"/witch. 

Our children didn't watch any television until they were over three years old. I am one of those people who grew up watching a LOT of television. In many ways it was my constant companion, always on in the background, and it stayed this way throughout my adulthood. Before I became a mom, I read a number of studies that showed how detrimental television was to developing babies (particularly under age 2) and I knew I wanted to wait for some time before our kids were exposed to it. I made my husband a bit crazy because I didn't even want the TV on in the same room as the kids; when it came time for college basketball season there was a begrudging acceptance for this new law in our home. 

There is a lot of research out there about the damaging effects of television on young children. Dr. Jenn Berman has an excellent, well-researched, thorough chapter in her book SuperBaby: 12 Ways To Give Your Child A Head Start In The First 3 Years. In that chapter, she has a section titled "How TV Pushes Your Kid's Button: Fourteen Viewing Risks for Children" in which she describes television's role in issues as varied as ADD, high blood pressure, depression, aggression and the drop in creativity. One of the risks Dr. Jenn mentions is Fear: 
"Dr. Joanne Cantor, an internationally recognized expert on children and television and author of Mommy, I'm Scared!, refers to movies and television as 'the number one preventable cause of nightmares and anxieties in children.' In fact, most children have been frightened, sometimes very seriously, by something they have seen on TV. A random sampling of parents in Madison, Wisconsin, whose children were in kindergarten through the sixth grade, found that 43 percent of those parents reported that their children had been frightened by something on television and that the fear had outlasted the program. These fears can raise a child's level of anxiety and increase nightmares. In a survey of 150 college students, 90 percent reported experiencing a fear reaction from media during childhood. These students reported trouble sleeping and eating after watching shows, and over a quarter of the respondents said the effects lasted for more than a year. The younger the respondents were when they viewed a scary movie and TV program, the longer-lasting the effects."
So, we headed off to "Tangled". I had prepped our kids in every way I could think of from describing what a movie theater is like (big, dark, loud, large screen, lots of people) to what this movie was actually about and, thanks to our nanny who had seen it and a friend who had taken her daughter already, what scenes might be a little scary. The kids seemed totally OK with it and didn't even have too many questions. I was still trepidatious, but I had discussed this event in my mothers of multiples support group earlier in the day (are you surprised?) and got what sounded like very good advice: it is OK for kids to experience a little bit of fear and to have the chance to feel brave and work through it.

The kids were excited. We got our popcorn and took our seats. The reviews went by with only one highly inappropriate trailer which my kids didn't seem to take notice of. The movie starts and I think to myself, "this is going to be so great! I am sharing a movie with my kids"! Literally, three minutes later, the witch reaches her gnarled hand into baby Rapunzel's crib, and my son shoots his hand out to block her, whips his face behind my back and wails "No! No! Get me out of here! Scary! Scary!" I tried to calm him but he was having none of it; I walked him out to the lobby where we sat and talked.

I tried to explain how it wasn't real. We came up with ideas of what he could do when he is scared. I asked if he wanted to leave or try again and assured him that I didn't mind if we left. He wanted to try again so...back we went. Just in time to hear the witch telling Rapunzel in a menacing voice "Don't ever ask me about leaving the tower again"! Well, our son leaped out of his seat, looked at me in terror and took off down the stairs. So much for our movie-going experience.

My sweet, sensitive boy
He has always been extremely sensitive to people's emotions, facial expressions and intent. My gut instinct about this movie was that it would have an underlying current of scariness, as all Disney movies do. But every review I read said it was different, that it was funny and clever. Maybe it is, but it is also scary for a sensitive boy who is not quite 4. And what about our daughter? She seemed to like it better, but at 2 in the morning both kids were up for almost 2 hours, unable to sleep. Our daughter said her tummy hurt. 

Our kids have a couple of friends who watch a lot of television and who see a lot of movies that I wouldn't feel comfortable exposing our kids to. These kids have seen "Star Wars", "Spiderman", "The Nightmare Before Christmas", "Batman", "The Princess and The Frog" and so on. After seeing "Tangled" I wondered to myself whether my children are overly sensitive or if I've done them a disservice because they aren't being allowed to experience that sense of overcoming a fear. But, what I feel in my heart is that their friends who are watching things that are developmentally inappropriate for their age, are over time becoming desensitized to violence, cruelty, ugliness and pain. How does one explain to a 4- or even 5-year old that people can say "I love you" but not mean it? Or that people can be nice to you only in order to get something from you? What is the rush to share these themes with such young children? Do I really want my children desensitized to all of that?

Watching a movie with Grandma
The decision to limit television in our house has been good for our family. I believe it has lead to our children having an extensive and expressive vocabulary, great creativity, the ability to pretend and best of all, increased interaction between the four of us. 

Now that they're a little older, they do watch some shows and a couple of movies that I think are pretty terrific and which they really seem to get some positive things from. I do try to limit the amount of screen time they get and I always watch new shows or movies with them the first few times so they can ask questions and I can explain anything that may seem confusing. 

Watching together is also a great way to make TV less of a mind-numbing experience and more of an interactive family experience; get the popcorn out, make some hot chocolate and have family movie night now and then! There are actually some really worthwhile programs on these days, but their lessons can easily go over your children's heads if you are not guiding them. Television can't simply be a baby sitter (although I will cop to using it on school mornings especially) if you want the values in these programs to be understood. 

Television and movies can be a wonderful source of entertainment, education, and expansion; but it needs to be shared wisely and with caution when it comes to children. With that being said, I wanted to share a short list of what I think are some good programs and movies when you decide you are actually ready to let your kids know what that big, black rectangle on your wall is: 
  • Ponyo by Hayao Miyazaki. This beautiful Japanese movie is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, but it is so quirky and charming and unlike the Disney version in every way that it's not even worth comparing. When my husband and I prescreened this movie I thought they kids might be scared by some scenes. There is a giant storm when Ponyo tries to become a girl and a scene where the Ponyo's friend (Sosuke) can't find his mother and he cries. But nothing about this movie frightens our children; in fact, they adore it. I love it because it's beautifully illustrated, teaches children about keeping promises as well as being respectful to both people and nature.
  • "My Neighbor Totoro"
  • My Neighbor Totoro also by Miyazaki. This has to be one of the best children's movie's I've ever seen. The story of two smart girls who have adventures with magical creatures who live behind their house. Again, there are a couple of things that I thought might be scary: the younger sister gets lost and everyone is very worried about her (she is found), the mother is thought to be very sick and the children are scared that she might die (it turns out to be a misunderstanding as she is not that ill). Again, our kids were not in the least frightened and would happily watch this movie over and over every day. It is beautifully illustrated and truly a lovely film full of magic and Miyazaki's continued interest in promoting a love of nature.
  • Ruby's Studio: The Feelings Show is a terrific DVD put together by a group of mothers from TheMotherCompany.com whose goal is to produce media that increases our children's social and emotional growth. Through a series of wonderfully thought out vignettes, our kids learn about expressing and recognizing their emotions, how to handle big feelings like anger, and that even grown ups and animals have feelings. The animation and live action are visually beautiful, the music is catchy and and it's great to have a live action role model in Ruby (think Mr. Rogers, but way prettier and much more hip)!
  • Little Einsteins was one of the first videos we let our kids watch. Despite the bad rap the Baby Einstein videos have gotten, the Little Einsteins are actually quite clever. There is classical music, teamwork, foreign destinations and art involved in every episode. My kids now have some introduction to things as varied as Matryoshka Dolls, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, The Laurentian Library and Henri Rousseau. The episodes are very innocent and interactive.
  • Franklin is a television show we watch on NickJr. Although it's about a turtle and his animal friends, it's really just about a boy who struggles with the same things your kids may be experiencing: being mad at friends for "copying" him, coveting a fancy, new toy boat even though he already has one etc. These sweet, kind stories are short (about 11 minutes each) so the "negative" actions aren't drawn out for too long and more time is spent on the resolutions. For example, when Franklin cheats on a spelling test he very quickly realizes it was wrong and offers to give his friend who didn't cheat, the prize he won for doing so well. NickJr is also almost entirely commercial free, so you don't have to battle the "gimme's" that result in too much commercial interruption. 
  • Toot and Puddle is also on NickJr and is based on a best-selling book series. What I love about this show, in addition to the attractive animation, is that Toot and Puddle (who are rosy-cheeked pigs) have a joie de vivre heretofore unknown in swine; they go on Himalayan adventures to find a yeti, they meet new friends on the Australian Outback, they explore their own backyard to find materials to build a new clubhouse with some friends...in other words, they are always curious, always learning something new, they ask useful questions, they learn how to work with others and to value the points of view of many different types of "people".
  • CommonSenseMedia.org is a website you should bookmark and remember. Here you will find detailed descriptions (by parents and children) of just about every movie, television show and video. It is broken down by The good stuff (ie: Educational value, Messages, Role models) and What to watch out for (ie: Violence and scariness, Sexy stuff, Language, Consumerism, Drinking, drugs and smoking) as well as what age it is appropriate for. 
All of this information is hopefully helpful to you, but in the end I will remind you that all you have to go on is your intuition and your sense of your own child. I should have followed my initial instinct about "Tangled" (which, by the way, is rated for an audience of children ages 5 and up, according to Common Sense Media) and remembered that although my kids are really mature in many ways, they are not sophisticated, jaded or savvy movie goers. I will stick with sweet and gentle "Toot and Puddle" for now. Disney can wait.

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast...

Such a tragedy that I missed this!
I remember when I was in 7th grade our television broke. I can't recall why, I have a fuzzy memory of it falling off the stand, but that could be wrong. What I do recall clearly was that my father decided this would be a wonderful chance to not replace it, and to live television free. I also remember that this was the year that "Mork and Mindy" was extremely popular and I was really pissed at my dad that I wasn't able to watch this extremely important bit of American culture. What my dad remembers is that this was the year that his 11 year-old daughter entertained herself in the most creative ways. Hmmmm.

I just read a really interesting article by Darell Hammond in The Huffington Post entitled "In Defense of Boredom: Why it is Essential to a Happy and Healthy Childhood". This article brings up a lot of ideas about how our over-scheduled and action-packed (or television-filled) lives actually limit our children. Even in my own family where I try to make as much time for the kids to just "be", I find myself filling in the time with classes and scheduled "fun". And, what I notice most about myself is that when we take our children somewhere new, I work myself into a frenzy researching and planning in the hopes of staving off BOREDOM. Because, for me, I equate their boredom with my day dragging on interminably, having to listen to them fight or whine or worse: not have fun. But, as the author of the Huffington Post piece says: 

"...boredom serves its purpose if children have both the time and space to play--and preferably, some other kids to play with. "Productive boredom" may sound like an oxymoron, but under the right circumstances, boredom will lead to child-directed activities that promote creativity, hone life skills, and enhance physical health".

Filling a cup with spray bottles. Oh, the joy!
When we took the kids to New York this Summer we stayed at the house of a friend who has no children. Thus, there were no toys for the kids. You will likely not be surprised to hear that I was stressed out about that (and my husband wasn't). However, this friend has a tiny, but beautiful, back yard deck overflowing with plants and flowers. Our children had the brilliant idea of using spray bottles to soak the plants. In absolute glee they would spray themselves and the plants for hours. There was nothing I needed to add. Nothing for me to do. They created their own game and were absolutely thrilled. 

Sometimes it's just the simplest things that bring the greatest pleasure and the greatest memories. For me, this is a reminder that I sometimes make parenting so much more difficult than I need to. 

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Have you voted for The Twin Coach yet on Babble's 50 best Mom Blogs? It only takes a moment and I would truly appreciate it. Click here. Scroll down to find The Twin Coach and click on "I like this blogger!". It's also a great way to find other blogs you may enjoy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guest Post: A Love Letter - Part 1


By Guest Blogger Sophia Jackson*


Do you remember the beginnings with your spouse; the early years of your marriage? I felt like all was right with the world and no matter what the obstacle, I could do anything as long as we were together. And then the obstacles began to come, fast and furious. Yet I still did conquer the world – using every ounce of strength and fortitude and tenacity - we had twins! And at last we were rewarded with the euphoria of having newborns: 3am feedings, sleeping babies on my chest, gazing in amazement of what we did together. We were lucky and our babies were healthy; but if they hadn't been, I would have survived it because we would have handled it together.

After we brought the babies home my hormones were raging and I didn’t even feel like my body was mine. I had body issues before babies, and they were amplified after babies. I felt the baby blues and thought I could power through it; because I power through everything. Then slowly, without noticing it, things began to shift. My spouse didn’t take time off work and there I was, overwhelmed with a feeling of complete incompetence and absolute ignorance of what being a mother is all about. Instead of reaching out to my partner and asking for support, I decided I was going to be “Supermom” and do everything the books said I was supposed to do. I became the self designated CEP – Chief Executive Parent -- where all decisions relating to the children were mine, and I told my hard working spouse what to do and how to do it right, because I read all the books and talked to “experts". And why couldn’t she just do what she was told, like all the dads we knew?  I forgot the fact that I became a parent at the exact same time as she did; instead, I acted like I just received my doctorate in child development.  More importantly, I forgot that we had conquered the world as a team, and not alone.

She seemed okay with me taking charge and perhaps she objected, but it didn’t seem that urgent since I had two babies crying, spitting up, in desperate need of a diaper change or a combination of all three. I was overwhelmed, but didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know what the f@#k I was doing because that would intimate that I was weak. Reaching out and connecting with her was not even on the list of what needed to be done, because at that point I wasn’t even getting sleep. She continued to object and I didn’t hear her still. And she didn’t hear me when I didn’t say how much anxiety I was carrying while I was awake every night from 2a–5a, even while the babies were sleeping,…like babies.

And then the babies turn one and I thought: “phew…we made it”! And I heard all these other couples talking about date night and I thought to myself, “oh we’re good, we don’t need a date night every week; that seems silly and overrated.”  Then slowly, without noticing, we didn’t hold hands or really kiss anymore, or stay up late just talking about how we see the world. 

The terrible twos showed up at eighteen months, giving me more reason to feel frustrated and unappreciated for all that I did.  But instead of reaching out and asking her to help, I figured out the best solution for how to deal with little baby A’s temper tantrums that seem to be getting worse, not better, was that I’d rather just bitch my partner out because she didn’t understand what I was dealing with. I shouldn’t have to actually communicate, she should just know. And then the communication becomes abrupt and cold, little by little. And without notice, she stopped objecting. 

I dealt with all of the preschool panic and who the f@#k wants to potty train at 2 1/2?  And instead of letting her know that I didn’t know how to do it, or that I didn’t even want to deal with it, I just resisted any suggestion she may have had to help the situation. After all, I am the CEP, and I make all decisions and do EVERYTHING related to the kids and what does she know and she doesn’t even care. I can’t remember the last nice thoughtful thing she did for me or when she even said she appreciated me. And if I stopped long enough to think about it, I can’t remember when I did a nice thoughtful thing for her either. I can’t remember the last time we had a kiss longer than a second, held each other, or had sex, because I can’t remember why I even like this stranger that lives with me. Because I’m numb.

And now the kids are three and half and it’s easier in a lot of ways.  But now I realize my marriage is a mess, because for over three years no one heard what wasn’t being said. What if I quit hearing what she wasn’t saying anymore?  She gave up silently and I was too busy, overwhelmed and anxious to notice. I shut her out because I was afraid she wouldn’t be there.

At what point do I give up if I really love her and I’ve built a family and a home with her and I believe in her? What if it’s too late? What if the bond is irreparably broken because it died by a thousand cuts to the heart? How do I begin to repair what feels shattered? What am I willing to do? 

*Sophia Jackson is not the guest blogger's real name. She is also not a writer by trade. She is a mom of twins, just like me and perhaps like you. She has offered to share her experiences and insight into how the arrival of children can change a marriage. I hope you come back to hear more of her story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Talking To Your Children About The Scary Stuff

Babar is riding happily on his mother's back when...
My son has been extremely interested in death and dying for some time now. At almost 4-years old, I know it's developmentally appropriate, but it's still a little disconcerting at times. I know exactly where it started. It began innocently enough with a copy of one of my favorite childhood books: The Story Of Babar. Oh, it starts out just fine, but by about page three, we encounter a "wicked hunter" who shoots Babar's mother dead. Well, now I had opened Pandora's box. "What is wicked?" "Why did he shoot her?" "Why is Babar scared?"

Shortly after this, we went to the California Science Center which was not only hosting a mummy exhibit (thus, requiring an approximate explanation of what a mummy is) but also has a rot room in which one can "examine maggots feasting on a dead organism" among other things. Well, this really was the jackpot. Our son was fascinated by the machine which, when you turn the handle, shows a time lapse video of a fluffy bunny decomposing and being consumed by maggots. Truly repulsive to me, but an endless source of questions for him. It does also show strawberries going from fresh to rotten, but a dead bunny is waaaay more interesting.

My sweet and thoughtful boy asks the deep questions
We haven't really gotten to the fear stage yet. He's not worried about me dying or Daddy dying; even with Daddy's recent hospital stay. What's interesting, though, is that when he asks if mommy will die and I say, "Yes, but not for a really, really, really long time", he is quiet and then thoughtfully says, "But, will I die, too?". I answer in the same way and he gets very upset. I ask why and wails, generally saying something like, "but when I am dead I won't have my house or my bed or my food!". 

I know that with young children the best way to deal with "big" issues, like death and dying, is to give them straightforward information but not to give them too much. As this excellent BabyCenter.com article suggests,
Young children can't handle too much information at once. At this age, it's most helpful to explain death in terms of physical functions that have ceased, rather than launching into a complicated discussion of a particular illness: "Now that Uncle John has died, his body has stopped working. He can't walk or run, or eat or sleep or see anymore, and he doesn't feel any pain."
So we try to be quite honest with our children when they ask questions, but, as Betsy Brown Braun says, we use "the drip method" of providing information. We give them a little and wait to see if they ask questions. Then we give a little more information and wait to see how they process it. For example, when my husband had his heart attack last week, I waited a day to see how long he would be away from home and then asked my sister-in-law who is a therapist specializing grief counseling, how to proceed. She said the worst thing to do is to lie to children or to use euphemisms. You never want to say to a child "Grandma went to sleep" if she actually died. All that will do is make your child scared of going to sleep. Give your children information in terms they can understand and allow them to ask as many questions as they have. In our case, I simply said Daddy was sick, he went to the hospital because he had a boo boo on his heart. When they asked what kind of boo boo, I gave them the simplest explanation of what a blood clot is that I could come up with and said that it made the blood stop getting to daddy's heart like a plug in a drain. A few more questions about blood clots and that seemed to do the trick.

Mommy, Is Santa going to die?
I took the children to have breakfast with Santa Claus the other morning and on the way our son asked me, "Mommy, will Santa die?". I was a little stumped on that one and said to him, "You know, Santa has been around for a very, very long time and I don't think he dies. He's kind of magical". Silence in the back seat. A little later, after getting a hug from Santa and a photo, our son reached for my hand, looked up at me and whispered "Mommy? Is Santa a little bit magic?" 

I wish magic could fix everything. I know that eventually our children have to learn about death and illness and losing people they love. It breaks my heart to imagine, and I am so incredibly grateful that they haven't yet had to learn such a huge lesson. 

Have you had talks with your kids about "big" issues yet? How have you handled them? Which topics were hardest for you?

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Have you voted for The Twin Coach yet on Babble's 50 best Mom Blogs? It only takes a moment and I would truly appreciate it. Click here. Scroll down to find The Twin Coach and click on "I like this blogger!". It's also a great way to find other blogs you may enjoy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Guest post: Fond Memories Of West Hollywood Park

By Guest Blogger, Christina Simon

When my kids were toddlers I used to take them to West Hollywood Park a few times a week. Now that they are 7 and 10, I realized recently that we hadn’t been there in a really long time.

I have such great memories of spending mornings and afternoons at that park. The fenced, gated toddler area with the shade canopy was the perfect play area for my active son. We’d play for hours on the slides, swings and in the sand. Toys were always shared. It’s a great place for twins too. The gated toddler area makes life a lot easier if you have two kids running in opposite directions, as one of my friends did.
Sometimes, we’d see other nannies and kids we knew. Often, I’d find other moms to chat with. Generally the conversation was about our kids. Sometimes it would be about fashion or work. It was just a nice break for me as a Stay At Home Mom, from what could be a long day with two young kids.

I remember one hilarious incident with another mom. It was late afternoon and I was there with a friend.  We were sharing snacks with other moms and kids. I offered this mom some of my son’s Nacho Cheese Doritos (Gasp!). I know, I know! Not a healthy snack, but one I had quickly grabbed to make sure we had something. The other mom had brought farm-raised Salmon and Cous-Cous from Whole Foods. She made a big deal about rejecting the Doritos, telling me and everyone else that her son only ate healthy, organic food. I was gracious and didn’t take offense to the statement. Then, a funny thing happened. She ate her kid's snack. He got hungry. He had a meltdown. She came up to me and in a whisper, asked, “do you have any chips left?” I handed them to her and she fed them to her fussy little boy. The wonderful thing about this incident was the other moms and I exchanged glances and eye rolls, but said nothing.

I love West Hollywood Park. When my kids got to be about 4 and 7 years old, the big kids play area was so much fun. I’d take them there after school and they’d swing or bring their scooters or bikes. I always knew I’d run into friendly moms I could sit with. My kids almost always found new friends or would run into friends they knew from school. They’d come home dirty and tired, but ready to go back the next day.

West Hollywood Park lets you check out basketballs and other play equipment for free. Coach Samir, one of the most popular kids sports coaches, teaches all kinds of classes there, from soccer to basketball. Birthday parties at the park offer a big, clean bouncy house.

Not all parks in LA are as great as West Hollywood. I’ve spent endless days at other parks in this city where the kids don’t play together, toys are not shared and moms don’t speak.

West Hollywood Park will always bring back such great memories for my family. It’s a warm, friendly, fun place. If you’re looking for a community park, take your child and see what happens.  The last time I was there, about six months ago, my son was playing basketball. It wasn’t long before other kids joined him for a game. We’ll have to go back soon. Very soon.

West Hollywood Park 647 N. San Vicente/Melrose, www.weho.org

Fun And Sports, Coach Samir: www.funandsports.org.

Christina Simon is the mom of a daughter (10) and a son (7). She is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She writes about private elementary schools at www.BeyondTheBrochure.blogspot.com.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reality Check


Our wedding
Six months after my husband and I were married, he narrowly missed having a heart attack. An angioplasty and 3 stents later, he was (more or less) good as new. It was a scare and a shock and afterwards I was all over his food intake and his exercise regime. And time passed. We went through our battle with infertility, he closed a business and opened a new one. I was pregnant with twins. We said goodbye to our little one-bedroom by the beach and hello to a larger home to accommodate our expanding family. Life moved on. Deaths, births, fights, apologies, sleepless nights, vacations, birthdays, tears, laughter, shared moments. Lots of love. 


a vacation after the first surgery
On Wednesday last week, almost 5 years to the date of his first heart surgery, he experienced another episode. The symptoms were different this time; at first he thought it was overexertion at the gym, then indigestion. But, frankly, he looked and felt like shit and I rushed him to the hospital. All the way I held his hand; it was cold and clammy. I tried to just concentrate on driving but couldn't help thinking that something must be terribly wrong. Yet I couldn't believe something could happen to my 39-year old husband. 


The next few hours are a bit of blur. EKGs, tears, phone calls, requests for information, frustration, confusion, questions, blood tests, wondering if the fact that he was pushed to the front of the line for an angiogram was a good thing or a bad sign. More waiting, more calls, more anxiety, a brief smile because Julie Kavner (ie: Marge Simpson) was TAWKing loudly into a cell phone next to me, bare bones information from a doctor and then the words, "your husband has had a heart attack".


I didn't hear much after that. He was alive. That was all I cared about. Half my brain was trying to calculate how I was going to get home to get the kids to sleep and settled down, and half my brain was trying to process what had happened and how we were going to handle what comes next. 


The last 4 days have been hell. I am scared and exhausted and stretched too thin; my mind tends to skip ahead to what ifs. I also find it hard to ask for help and am just so overwhelmed that I don't even know what to ask for even though everyone I know has offered (and then I feel guilty because I'm not letting people help me). Mostly, the last few days have been so hard because my husband means the world to me and to our kids and the thought of losing him is just incomprehensible. 


my love
So bear with me these next few weeks. I may post a few guest posts just so there is not complete silence here. I will hopefully keep writing on a regular basis while we go through this....I know I need to. Writing has always helped me process things. 


For now, I just want to remind all of you reading this that even when your partner is doing everything "wrong" or is frustrating or doesn't "get it"...remember how fragile life is and how very easily it could all be taken away. Leave no words of love left unsaid and remember that you are incredibly lucky for all that you have been given. 


Thank you for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Friday, December 3, 2010

Los Angeles Online Mom Communities: Popular, But Post At Your Own Risk


By Guest Blogger, Jenny Heitz

Post: Wanted to know going rate for legal nanny who drives and for an illegal nanny who doesn’t drive.

This was a real post from a real person. It was posted, in all seriousness, on a members-only, referral based Yahoo group of L.A. moms (there are some dads on it, but it’s mostly moms). Let’s call it Stuff Moms Like (SML). Frequented by very educated, probably upper-middle class Eastside parents (east of West Hollywood) , SML should be merely an online referral board. But, it’s also the showcase for other posts, the deeply personal, the profoundly subjective, and, like the one above, the severe lapses in judgment. The West LA equivalent is “Apple Bottom”; it boasts more than 13,000 members and is hugely popular.

If the person who wrote the above post on SML had been at a small dinner party with ten or so of her “peers,” it’s highly unlikely she would have broached the going rates for hiring illegal help. However, give her access to an online “community” of her peers and suddenly this question is simply a given. Yet, what this clueless poster doesn’t quite understand is that she has just published this query, online, to a possibly infinite number of readers. Ouch.

Indeed, posts on SML venture into the even more bizarre, like a woman writing about how her Salvadoran nanny needs friends, and do any of “us” have nannies who might want to be friends with her. Absurd? It’s just as absurd as assuming that all women who are mothers and live in a large city automatically share the same “values” and sense of  “community,” one which leads to consensus on all these sticky issues.

What consensus, though?  There are very vocal cabals on SML and Apple Bottom, that practice a fairly tight grip over content and conversation. And all of this is done in the name of “community,” “privacy,” and “non-judgment”. These “Queen Bees” of the groups respond to every query. No topic is left unanswered, from the best movers to where (or whether to) vaccinate your child. But if you differ, the “discussion” can quickly deteriorate into a shouting match, causing the moderator to ask the dueling mommies to take it offline.

Perhaps the problem here is confusing an online “community” with actual community. Sometimes it seems that online mommy groups have taken the place of real face-to-face interactions among moms. Many of these moms are raising young children, and craving a group of friends or “community” is natural. Whether SML or Apple Bottom serve that need is another story entirely.

Privacy, for instance, on these community forums is an afterthought. In this case, posters assume there’s privacy regarding the post, but that’s not so. Once you post something, it’s pretty much out in the online world forever.

Obvious? Maybe. People should know better than to post private information, or information which might incriminate them in any way. Yet, they don’t really know better. They “trust” that the often many thousands of members of the group, the majority of whom they wouldn’t know from Adam in aisle 14 of Gelson’s, are trustworthy “community” members.  Really, they’d be better off posting these things on Facebook, a place where you can pick your friends and privacy settings up front.

This post turned up on SML:

Subject: Seeking Personal Waiter

Hi guys. I’ve grown tired of the iffy and indifferent service offered by L.A. wait staffs, as well as the inconvenience of having to speak into the drive thru speaker myself. I’m currently seeking a Personal Waiter, someone with lots of food service experience who can travel with me, both in and out of town, to serve just my family and myself. I need someone who understands the workings of professional kitchens and can adjust quickly to new environments. A good, clear speaking voice is mandatory (English only, please). The ability to communicate special dietary requests is also paramount; I have a severe pickle allergy and need to be constantly on my guard, so my Personal Waiter would act as a gatekeeper in that regard.

I will supply the uniform and apron. As I have a small vehicle, the Personal Waiter should be of smaller stature. Although I would prefer they be legal, I would consider an illegal for a lower wage.

If you know of anyone who fits this Personal Waiter description, please contact me

I wrote this post (I also posted it on my blog, with an explanatory rant and the actual name of the Yahoo group). It was a joke. It was also a social experiment. Which people would laugh, and which people would take offense? I didn’t have to wait very long for responses.

Sure, there were people who “got it.” They laughed and sent emails saying how hilarious the whole thing was. Here are the emails I didn’t get: from some of the 750 members who were “offended.” No, cowards that the offended parties were, they tattled on me like a group of 3rd graders to the group’s moderator, who then reprimanded me. I was not banned from the group, although I was informed that, as I mentioned SML by name on my blog, I had violated the “safe, members-only community trust.”

On some level, perhaps the offended have been lulled into some sort of false sense of security, simply due to online dynamics. The vocal and particularly active members are pretty consistent, rendering the majority of the members to “lurker” status. Lurkers read but don’t post, are perhaps offended but don’t report; they view SML or Apple Bottom as either a source of amusement or as a cost-free Angie’s List. Still, there may be another possibility, another example of how human dynamics are eternal, whether in a classroom or online.

There is a heartfelt plea buried in all this online mess for a sense of community. But there is no “tribe” here. Better to face the ugly truth: SML and Apple Bottom are really just sororities gone middle-aged. While they preach “non-judgment” (the alleged reason for the outcry over my satiric post), there is intense hostility to different points of view. A few women feel completely entitled to judge the content of their online group, but I’m expected to reserve judgment regarding classism, and overall obnoxiousness. Community, my foot, this is a sorority (albeit with some male members). And if the arbiters of subject and taste at SML had been able to meet me, as opposed to just having an already acceptable member recommend me, somehow I doubt I would’ve been invited to pledge.

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad. Jenny’s op-eds on education have been published recently in the Los Angeles Daily News.  Jenny's also writes for the Los Angeles private elementary schools blog, Beyond The Brochure. She is a graduate of Crossroads School and has a BA in Journalism from UC Santa Cruz and an MS in Mass Communications from San Jose State University. Jenny has a nine-year old daughter and teaches Pilates. She lives in Hancock Park, Los Angeles.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Learning To Step Back: An Evening With Dr. Wendy Mogel

Dr. Wendy Mogel
Dr. Wendy Mogel began her excellent and often hilarious lecture Monday night, with a reference to a website called Bunk1.com where parents whose children are off at camp can view photos taken of their kids throughout the days and weeks as they enjoy their time away. Although this site was originally set up as a way for parents to see how much fun their child was having and, perhaps, purchase a few photos, it had become, for some parents, yet another method of involving themselves in every detail of their children's lives: "We notice that in all the pictures of our son, Jason, he is wearing the same shirt. We are concerned that perhaps he is also wearing the same underwear and were hoping that you could intervene."

Dr. Mogel said that she fears that we have become a generation so devoted to our children that we treat them like "handicapped royalty"; delicate flowers unable to survive on their own. In other words, "good parents gone bad". These days there is so much to worry about that we have no control over (global warming, toxins in our air/food/homes, financial meltdowns etc.), so many parents are latching on to the one area they feel they can control: their children. 

Thus, we have well-intentioned parents doing their utmost to make sure their child gets not just the good 2nd grade teacher, but the best 2nd grade teacher; or parents involving themselves so much in their child's school work to be sure their child gets a good grade, that they end up doing the science project themselves. But what does this do for our children in the long run?


"Become What Thou Art"
Love Sugar Design Studio etsy.com
Like a caterpillar in its cocoon, children need to go through phases, stages and experiences to metamorphose into the adults we envision them being. If we try to keep them in a protective bubble, we are actually robbing them of all the life experience that builds their character. Dr. Mogel pointed out that every parent has the obligation to teach their kids to swim; that is, we must teach them to leave us and make their own way in the world. And while the kids are learning to swim, they don't need parents in a row boat shouting directions!


According to Dr. Mogel, today's parents have a goal that they be able to reach a consensus with their children when there's disagreement. Perhaps this is because our parents didn't do this with us, perhaps it's because we are caught up in the "self-esteem movement". Whatever the reason, Dr. Mogel believes this is not the way to parent. Only half jokingly, she told the audience to use dog training manuals as a frame of reference. When training dogs, we don't ask them to come to a consensus, do we? No. There is an Alpha dog (mom/dad) who sets firm rules for the pack (your kids) & follows through consistently with consequences. This is how she suggests we approach setting rules and boundaries with our children.

Again, she points out, our goal is that our children grow up and leave our homes as full functioning, self-sufficient adults. No one wants to be the parent of the college student who comes home after the 1st semester because she can't handle the loneliness or can't regulate her sleep cycles or can't function because of a difficult roommate. College deans refer to many of today's students as "teacups and crispies". Teacups being the children who have been protected at every turn and can't cope on their own, and crispies being the burnt-out students pushed to the limit until they have lost the intrinsic pleasure in learning. 

 "I want your children to have that crabby, uninspired, unenlightened teacher; I want your children to experience being cold/wet/tired", said Dr. Mogel at some point. "I want them to learn how to deal with disappointment and frustration!" Just as Moses chose to lead the Israelites through the desert for 40 years, instead of 40 days, because he knew they would not be ready for the land of milk and honey without having suffered, Dr. Mogel reminded us that our children would not be ready for the land of milk and honey (eg: college) if we don't let them make good mistakes in the years preceding it. If they have satisfaction all the time, she cautioned, how will they ever recognize joy?

We worry about so many things when it comes to our children, said Dr. Mogel. We redshirt our kindergarten boys so that they might have every advantage. Schools have red washcloths to camouflage the blood from a child's cut so they won't get scared. We schedule them in every type of after school enrichment program in the hope of securing a bright future. Instead, Dr. Mogel encourages parents to let your children have adventures, experience things and engage in imaginative play. Good judgment comes through experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. 

Then how do we learn to step back and find the middle ground between over-involved parent and disengaged parent? Dr. Mogel had some excellent suggestions:
  • Be a witness without stepping in. You do not need to interfere at every turn. Remember the acronym WAIT (Why Am I Talking). It is possible to talk too much to your children; so much so that kids become "parent deaf".
  • When you say "no", keep sentences short and simple. Don't punctuate with the word, "OK?" (as in, "I want you to clean up your room. OK?" No, your child thinks, it's not OK)!
  • When your child negotiates, use words and sentences like Nevertheless, Regardless, No and that's final, I thought about it and the answer is no, I am not ready for you to ____ , I remember saying no and I'm not changing my mind.
If this feels harsh to you, remember that you are saying no to your children without consensus because you want them to learn how to say no, themselves, with firm, confident authority and to be able to say it with conviction when they are faced with difficult choices as they get older. 
  • Remember that just as your children will not fulfill all of your dreams, nor will they fulfill all of your nightmares.
  • Think of your child as a packet of unmarked seeds that you've been given. Your only job is to pick the big weeds, water and stand back to watch what grows.
  • The greatest predictor of success in life is empathy, optimism, a flexible reaction to setback and a sense of humor.
  • Tell your kids about your day. Let them know you are enjoying life because we want them to want to be adults some day!
Dr. Mogel ended her evening by asking us to imagine going through life with two pieces of paper, one in each pant pocket. On one is written, "I am nothing but dust and ashes" and on the other "The world was created for me and me alone" and to remember that we must see our children from both points of view.

Dr. Wendy Mogel is the author of the bestselling The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, and the new book, The Blessing Of A B Minus. In addition to reading these excellent books, if you get an opportunity to hear her speak in person, I highly recommend it. I left feeling very excited about my pledge yesterday to let go of some control and can see more clearly how I can help my children more by doing less. 

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

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