Did We Always Worry So Much?

Lately, parenting chat boards I frequent have been full of posts with worried questions about BPA in supermarket receipts, toxins in sunscreen, whether or not to “redshirt” our kindergardeners and why over-praising our children actually ends up harming their self-esteem. There’s a lot to worry about these days as a parent. In many ways, it’s kind of sad to think about all the things that just aren’t safe to do anymore. I wish I could just let my kids play in front of our house all day & occasionally peek at them from the kitchen window. As a very young girl my parents drove a VW van throughout Europe picking up hitchhikers as a way to determine our destination….who the hell would do that now???? But we had some amazing adventures. None of which involved car seats.

Photo Credit: Hugh Kretschmer for TIMEAre we protecting our children too much? Some parenting experts would probably say yes. Remember the debates about “helicopter parents“? As a parent myself, it is hard (or even impossible) to allow our children to be hurt, teased, ignored or disappointed let alone poisoned by a toxic baby bottle!

In Wendy Mogel’s bestselling book “The Blessings Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings To Raise Self-Reliant Children” she writes:

“Parents’ urge to overprotect their children is based on fear. Fear of strangers, the streets, the Internet, the mall. Fear of the child’s not being invited to the right parties or accepted by the right schools. Fear about safety, sex, disease, and drugs. In my parenting classes there are always lots of questions about fear and its flip side, freedom…Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard. Worrying excessively about discrimination while not letting your child walk around the block on their own can create highly conscious cripples.”

As I was thinking about all of these things today, I got a funny email through the multiples club I belong to:

“TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED THE 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80’s!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn’t get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-base paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps not helmets on our heads.

As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon. We drank Kool-aid made with real white sugar. And, we weren’t overweight. WHY? Because we were always outside, playing…that’s why!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And, we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo’s and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD’s, no surround-sound or CD’s, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet and no chat rooms.

WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were

told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them.

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers problem solvers and inventors ever.

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.

If YOU are one of them, CONGRATULATIONS!

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn’t it?”

I laughed when I read this, both because I remembered so much of this from my own childhood and because I realized how different it all was from the way I am raising our children now. Was this necessarily a bad thing? There’s a lot to be said for some of the things we know now. But the line about these previous generations producing some of the world’s greatest risk takers stuck with me.

And so, I wondered, where does that leave us as parents in the “new millennium”? As we learn more and more about child development we begin to get a glimpse into what is possible for our cherished babies; what is possible for their brains and bodies if only we don’t expose them them to toxic chemicals in their food containers; what is possible for their future if only they are accepted into that school that professes to be the best at tapping into their creative and intellectual potential; what is possible for them, emotionally, if only they always feel included, adored, self-assured, smart and so on. It’s enough to drive any involved parent batty. Believe me, my heart feels like it is going to be ripped out whenever a child at a playground won’t share with my children and I admit that I fell victim to the pressure of wanting to give them the best head start at getting into Harvard by trying to find the “best” preschool for them and I’m certainly not planning to re-introduce BPA into our house any time soon. But I also try to let my kids be kids. Again, from “The Blessings Of A Skinned Knee”:

“Securing babies in car seats and requiring children to wear helmets while bicycling makes sense. But going too far in the direction of protecting children can backfire, leaving them fearful of stepping out into the world on their own…Having the courage not to pamper and overprotect your child means that sometimes she will be uncomfortable, unhappy or even in peril, but that you are willing to take a chance because of your commitment to her growth and development.”

I know that we are talking about two different things here: the protection against the outside world of toxins, child predators, television, the Internet and so forth, and protecting our children’s inner worlds so that the way they handle experiences allows them to grow up into resilient, confident, happy people. To watch someone you love struggle and fail is incredibly hard; and it is so easy to get caught up in the fear about parenting that is created by the media and internet gossip. But to be so afraid of the world and the chance that our children might get hurt, physically or emotionally, is actually doing more harm to them than any leeching plastic plate or exclusion from a birthday party ever could. It is through our biggest disappointments, rejections and struggles that we grow as people and know what we are capable of. Are we raising a generation of children given every opportunity, but shielded from reality? I want my children to grow up knowing that life isn’t always fair, the world isn’t perfect and there are things out there that aren’t so pretty…if we try to hide all that’s imperfect, how will we ever raise children who have passion to bring change to this world?

Preschool Application Process: The Sunshine Shack

The Sunshine Shack was, quite literally, the first preschool we looked at. We didn’t even really know what we were looking for at the time but we knew we liked it right away. We loved the director, Sara, who had the perfect blend of straightforward, traditional intelligence about teaching and a wonderfully heartfelt, progressive, knowledge of the way a child learns and develops. We loved the small, homey feel of the classrooms and the way the children’s art that was displayed showed real creativity and unique styles rather than the cookie cutter work other schools called “art”. We loved the way lessons were planned based on what the children were interested in learning about, rather than following a rigid set of rules that had nothing to do with the specific little people who populated the classroom.

Most of all, we could see ourselves at The Shack. We felt like we fit in and that our children would learn and thrive and love this place. We left thinking that every other preschool must be as good because how could the first place we stumbled on be so right? We toured a number of other schools and then visited The Sunshine Shack a second time, just to be sure. And we were. We were sure we had found our home.

Last day of school - so grown up!One of the things that my husband and I wanted most from a preschool, other than that our children would be safe and well-cared for, is that they would develop a love of learning. At The Sunshine Shack their natural curiosity is constantly encouraged and developed. The teachers are so attentive and involved; they have really gotten to know who our children are and for us, being parents of twins, we have been so impressed at the teachers’ ability to foster each child’s individuality. This past year I have watched our children grow from two babies who clung to me, crying, on those first days into two, maturing children who love school and who delight in sharing with me all of the wondrous things they learn each day. It has truly been a blessing that our family found The Sunshine Shack.

The Shack, as it’s affectionately known, is a progressive, play-based, Reggio-inspired preschool that reflects the importance of learning through play and creative expression. The Sunshine Shack’s director and head teacher, Sara Perets, and her husband Segev also run the very successful Super Duper Arts Camp during the summer (one in Los Angeles and the other in West Hills); this allows children attending The Shack during those months to experience the camp’s experts and be introduced to such extras as yoga, drama, dance, music, science and wonderful art and creative projects.

So, now you know all of the things I love about the school; how do you get in? Our admissions process went something like this: we contacted the school when our twins were about 10 months old to set up a tour which took place a couple of months after that. They currently hold tours monthly, with Sara conducting them. There is now a fantastic assistant director, Summer Scott, who came to The Shack from Temple Isaiah Preschool who may also be present at tours, but when we went it was just Sara. Tours are after school hours and involved about 20 – 25 parents. Look around, get a sense of who’s checking out the school and who seems interested – these are the people you’ll potentially be spending the next few years with. Are they the type of parents you can see yourself with? Sara spoke about her philosophy on parenting, teaching and the school; afterwards we were given a look around the classrooms and the play yard and then the tour ended up in one of the larger classrooms with Sara, one of the teachers and the administrative head of the school so that we could mingle and ask questions.

Although we were very impressed by Sara, because it was the first school we looked at, we felt we had to see others. After doing that, we went back to The Shack for a second tour. At this point we felt we knew what questions to ask and what we were really looking for and we just wanted to make sure we knew that we were making the right choice. After the tours we wrote thank you cards and then sent follow up letters to them to express why we felt the school was such a good one for our family.

After touring we were emailed a link to an online application that asked the basics, but also had many in-depth questions about our children’s characters and personalities. They were 16 months old at the time I filled out this application, applying for a spot for when they were 2 1/2. The school accepts children as young as 2 (and you do not have to be potty trained). We sent another letter following up after that to, once again, express our interest. Towards the end of this process, they narrow down the applications to a small group that are invited to come in for a “play date”. 3 parents & their children come together with Sara, the director, for what is essentially an evaluation, but which feels like an informal get together. Sara is extremely good at sussing up children (and their parents as well, I’m sure) even though she appears to just be having a nice chat with you. This part of the process was most nerve wracking because you want your kids to be little angels or little geniuses but of course the play date is scheduled for their nap time & they melt down or have a screaming match with another child. A twin mom friend of mine was on her play date with another family whose 2-year old son knew the names of every dinosaur (“And this is a diplodocus. This one is a Brachiosaurus.” and so forth) while her son climbed on top of a table and picked his nose. She texted me: “We are so not getting in”. Now that I’m on the other side, my impression of their admissions process, and the make up of the school, is that they wouldn’t make a decision solely based on something like that. But as a parent going through the process it can feel as if everything is riding on that one encounter.

And after that play date, you wait. The most difficult thing about the application process to The Sunshine Shack is that they are fairly laid back in terms of deadlines (on their part). Whereas other preschools let us know quite early that we were accepted or not, we hadn’t yet heard from The Shack (our first choice). I debated about what to do….stressing about appearing too needy or too pushy. But our second choice school was quite official and was requesting $1000 non-refundable deposit for each child so, in the end, I sent an email and told The Shack of our predicament and thankfully I received a call to say that we’d been accepted regardless of whether or not the official paperwork was in my hands (something my attorney husband had a hard time dealing with).

And so we were headed to The Sunshine Shack. We were very excited and knew we had made the right choice. Now, one year down and about to begin our second year there, we couldn’t be happier.

The Sunshine Shack: 1027 N. Cole Ave. Los Angeles, CA. 90038
Director: Sara Perets
Phone: 323-466-4381
Email: [email protected]

For additional preschool listings, check out my post Hidden Gems: Preschools You May Not Know and my review of eco-friendly preschool Green Beginning. You might also like The School Search Begins.

Interview With Dr. Jenn Berman, Author of “SuperBaby”

dr. jenn mannI don’t know how Dr. Jenn Berman does it. She is a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show and is a regular on The Today Show, The Early Show, and CNN. She hosts a call-in advice show on Sirius/XM’s Cosmo Radio. Dr. Jenn writes an award winning “Dr. Jenn” parenting column for Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other magazines and is on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine. She also has an eco-friendly clothing line for adults and children called Retail Therapy. On top of all of this, she is also the married mom of twin girls! In 2007, in addition to everything else Dr. Jenn has on her plate, her book “The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids” was released. Now, just a few years later, she has a new book “SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years“. Dr. Jenn was nice enough to send me an advance copy of the book and take some time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions.

I had only read through the first few chapters when I knew I really liked it! Visually, it looks great, with crisp graphics and highlighted sidebars from experts (tons of experts! More on that later). Chapters are broken down into the 12 concepts Dr. Jenn focuses on, which makes it possible to simply read a chapter about a particular topic you might be currently interested in; however, every one of the 12 chapters is so full of interesting information and ideas that you probably won’t want to skip anything!

The Twin Coach: Your first book, “The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids”, was very successful and covered a great many areas one struggles with when raising children; I am very interested to know what inspired you to write this next book and what makes it different from the first.

Dr. Jenn: I love preschool through elementary age kids so writing “The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids” was very natural for me. By the time I wrote that book I had been writing my “Dr. Jenn” parenting column for Los Angeles Family Magazine for five years and had been a therapist, helping my clients raise their children for more years than I would like to admit. I love that age group. As a therapist and a person, I love being able to talk to kids and get into their heads. For me the first three years was much more mysterious. I had a lot of questions of my own.

I wrote “SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years” because I wasn’t able to find all the information I needed in one book. There are a lot of great books out there about infant development but there wasn’t one that covered all the aspects: the psychology of parenting, reducing toxins, nutrition, language development, sign language, baby massage, kangaroo care, scheduling, sleep, responding to cues, foreign language, television, child care, and picking a preschool; so I felt I had to write it myself. I looked at all the questions that my clients, readers, listeners and viewers have been asking me over the years. I also looked to address the questions I encountered as a mom and tried to answer all of them in this book.

You don’t have to be “Type A” to want your child to have a head start in life. Let’s face it, we all want that. I love doing research. For me, reading about the latest study on language development or talking to an expert in toxic chemicals, is fascinating. I learned so much while researching and writing “SuperBaby” that it really made me a better parent. I think any parent who reads the book will have the same experience.

TTC: In the not too distant past, parents felt that flash cards, “Baby Einstein” videos and educational toys would give children every advantage they didn’t have growing up; I get the sense from your book that this is not what you had in mind when you chose the title: “SuperBaby”.

DJ: You are right. I start the book by saying, “SuperBaby” is not a book about how to create an überbaby. It has not been written to burden you with new and expensive things that you have to do to raise the perfect genius-child.” To me raising a superbaby is not just about intelligence or admission into the right preschool or college; it is about raising a child who is empathic, resilient, and has what experts call emotional intelligence, the ability to regulate one’s emotions and read the cues of others. We know that early relationships and attachment experiences are central in shaping children’s social development. Following the suggestions in this book, especially those about parent-child communication, will help create the foundation for these important psychological strengths.

That said, we now know that children are born with an IQ range that can vary as much as thirty points, depending upon outside factors. While it is believed that “nature” is responsible for 50 percent of intellectual development, the other 50 percent is a result of “nurture.” Whether or not a child reaches her potential depends on her environment, experiences, and relationships. There are a lot of misconceptions about what helps children fulfill that thirty point potential. I think most parents will be surprised when they read the research in my book.

TTC: There is so much information from so-called experts on how to raise well-adjusted kids; how did you narrow down what was important to just 12 key ideas?

DJ: I started out with twenty but had to narrow it down. Maybe the next book will be about the other eight I didn’t get to write about. After all the research I did and looking at my own experience raising my own children, it became really clear to me what was most important.

My original background is in journalism and I had to rely on that training a lot to write this book. At first I was a little apprehensive about writing the last two chapters which are on reducing toxins in the home and nutrition but after what I learned I felt I would have been remiss if I did not include these chapters. Because of children’s developing brains, fast metabolisms, and immature immune systems, they are particularly vulnerable to harmful reactions to chemicals, hormones, and additives. While I am not a toxicologist or a dietician, I have relied on my journalistic skills, research, and interviews with top experts in the field, as well as my own judgment, to write this book. I hope this experience opens people’s eyes the way it has opened mine.

TTC: During your research to put together these 12 key factors in giving children the best start in life, I assume you were trying these methods out with your own children; did you find any of them challenging to adopt or were you surprised by the immediate effects of any of them?

DJ: I did everything I suggest in my book with my own children. Some I did better than others, which I talk about in more detail in the book. As a therapist, I often tell my clients that I would not ask them to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. As an author, I am no different. Some of my suggestions gave me instant gratification, like the scripts I recommend for tantrum reduction. Others, like learning baby sign language, took more time. I must admit I was doubtful myself that all the time I spent signing with my daughters would ever make a difference. But my doubts quickly disappeared the first time one of my daughters, who wasn’t even a year old, signed to me. Her new ability to ask for the “milk” that she wanted opened the door to communication for us and reduced her frustration tremendously. It also helped us get closer and have a better understanding of each other.

When I chose to expose my children to a foreign language, I had the same reservations I had about signing with them, but since I had done the research and believed what I read, I continued to read books and play and listen to music in other languages. I now have soon-to-be four year old daughters who speak and understand both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese—and there are no native speakers in the house.

TTC: You have been a therapist and parenting expert for many years; how has the birth of your own children (twins, Quincy and Mendez, age 4) changed your perspective on what you do?

DJ: I now find the first three years to be really fascinating. I don’t think being a parent has changed my perspective so much as it has made me more curious about the early years.

TTC: Like you and me, many of my readers are parents of multiples who sometimes feel that we can barely get ourselves out of the house in the morning! What do you say to the new, overwhelmed parents of twins who feel that they just can’t find the time to incorporate any more expert suggestions into their lives?

DJ: This book is filled with suggestions to make your life easier. I share information about how to get your child on a schedule (with sample schedules), how to create a bedtime ritual, easy scripts to help parents avoid tantrums, simple tips to occupy your child so you don’t have to turn on the television, and so much more. I also have illustrations of baby massage and sign language so you can try samples of both without buying ten other books. Sure there are some suggestions that are more time consuming. But sometimes as parents we have to pay up front in time and energy to get the results we want for the future. The book is filled with hundreds of suggestions for parents to pick and choose from. Not every suggestion will be right for every family but I do believe there is something there for every parent.

TTC: Tell me about your “From the Experts” sidebars. What made you decide to do them?

DJ: I was at an event at [L.A. eco-friendly children’s boutique] The Little Seed with Christopher Gavigan, the CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, telling him about my book when he offered to write me a sidebar. I thought it was such a great idea. Because of my experience as a writer, I have access to some really amazing experts. I wanted to give my readers that same access within the book. As soon as I started reaching out to these professionals and organizations I got such great responses. The book has “From the Experts” side bars from: Dr. Harvey Karp, Dr. Bob Sears, Ruth Yaron of Super Baby Foods, Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline, Jim and Charles Fay of Love & Logic, Sir Richard Bowlby, Jill Spivack & Jennifer Waldberger of The Sleepeasy Solution, Rachael Coleman of Signing Time!, Donna Holloran of BabyGroup, Corky Harvey & Wendy Haldeman of The Pump Station, Betsy Brown Braun of Parenting Pathways, Sue Darrision of Baby’s First Class, Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann of Mommy Calls, Dr. Scott Cohen of Eat, Sleep, Poop, Dr. Michelle Nitka of Coping with Preschool Panic, Dr. Bryan Vartabedian of Colic Solved, The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Alliance for Childhood, The Environmental Working Group, and many others. I was blown away by the willingness of these high level experts to make a contribution to my readers. It is such an honor.

TTC: This book seems to have been a real labor of love for you; what comes next?

DJ: Yes, it is a labor of love turned obsession! Once I started researching it was hard to stop. I have a children’s book coming out next spring called “Rockin’ Babies”. It is an edgy children’s board book that I wrote with my mom while we were feeding Mendez and Quincy, which took hours because they had very severe reflux as infants. I just finished writing a second children’s book with a friend. My next adult book will probably be relationship oriented but I do have another parenting book that I am hoping to write, as well. My clothing company Retail Therapy will be launching a new website this month which will allow customers to buy our products on line now. All our products are eco-friendly and have really positive “feel good” messages on them. I am particularly excited about our new line of onesies we are launching this fall which includes a SuperBaby onesie. You can find the site at ShopRetailTherapy.net

———————

Los Angeles speaking engagements:

Dr. Jenn Berman will be speaking at The West LA Parents of Multiples meeting on Tuesday, September 14th at 7:30 pm at a private home in Beverly Hills. If you are a member of WLAPOM the meeting simply requires an RSVP; check the WLAPOM calendar for details. All attendees will receive a gift, and each person who buys a SuperBaby book will be get one raffle ticket per book bought. Raffle tickets will be eligible for prizes such as: The SuperBaby Swag bag, Retail Therapy onesies and tee shirts, as well as “The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids”.

Los Angeles Book Signings:

Monday, September 13th at 7pm at The Pump Station, Westlake 2879 Agoura Rd. Westlake Village, CA 91361
Wednesday, September 15th at 7 PM at The Little Seed 219 N. Larchmont Blvd. LA 90004
Thursday, September 16th at 7 PM at The Pump Station Santa Monica 2415 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90403

The first 50 people to buy two or more books at The Pump Station and The Little Seed will get eco-friendly swag bags filled with Dr. Jenn’s favorite products. For more info click here.

Thank you, Dr. Jenn, for the interview and the terrific book!
And thank you for reading!

End Of Summer Panic: Preschool Transition Is Looming!

The start of the school year is right around the corner. At this time last year I was pretty nervous as our children were going to be starting preschool for the first time. In particular, I was really worried about how my very sensitive son who really loved his mommy was going to deal with the transition. I was also stressed out about how I was going to handle it! In theory, I loved the idea of having a few hours to myself while knowing that the kids were safe and happy; but the reality of it was that I was also sad that they were beginning to have a life without me, where they would be doing things and experiencing things that I had no part of. They were starting to be children and not babies anymore.

Nevertheless, they were starting school and we, as a family, were going to be prepared for it. You may be familiar with my need for being prepared by now…I approached preschool the same way I approach most things in life: I researched, I picked people’s brains, I read books and then I attacked the problem.

Before School Begins:

llama llama misses mamaAs I wrote recently in the post Toddler Sleep Battles, I think books are an amazing way to help children with any type of change in their lives from traveling somewhere new to potty training or even starting school. The best book we found is called “Llama Llama Misses Mama” and it’s about a little llama going to school for the first time and being sad that mommy isn’t there. In the end he learns that mommy always comes back and that he can love school and mommy. This book was a HUGE hit in our house (and we subsequently bought the other two in the series). Although we always used the phrase “mommy (or daddy) always comes back” whenever we left them, this drove that message home in a way that they could connect to.

The second thing we did was to make sure we were able to connect with other families whose children would be in the same class as our kids and made a few play dates before school started. This allowed our children to feel as though they already knew a couple of kids on the first day. Plus, it allowed us to get to know some of the other parents as well and we were able to really bond before those hectic days of rushing through drop off and pick up. Continue the play dates as school continues, this can only help. Additionally, before the start of school, our school director arranged an in-school play date for all the families. The class was broken up into small groups and a half an hour/45-minute play time was arranged in the actual classroom. This allowed the kids to get to know the other children as well as to get more familiar with the class and the teachers.

Me, making the kids' scrapbooksThe third thing that we did before school started was to make a book for each of our twins about themselves. This idea was actually given to me by our fabulous preschool director. Each child in the class had one so that when they got homesick the teachers could pull it out and let them see it; additionally, it gave the teachers some insight into who each child was. The book included pages titled: “This is my family”, “This Summer I….”, “After school I like to:”, “My favorite things”, and “When I am at school Mommy and Daddy…” (what Mommy and Daddy do all day). I loved making these books and I do encourage you to make a separate one for each child….they are not the same person, they need their own book. I went a little overboard and spent weeks making mine with photos and collage and all sorts of crazy scrapbooking stuff, but really you can make it simple; the kids will love seeing photos of grandma and grandpa or their best friend or their dog. You can buy an inexpensive ring binder and make it that way or a photo book through Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery if you like. If your preschool isn’t set up in a way where you can leave the books for your children at school, it is still great to read to them each morning before go or each night before bed. A second book can be made once the kids start school (or if you’re able to get photos of the classroom and play yard ahead of time). This book is all about what the kids will be doing every day and how much fun it will be.

The last thing we did (and the most superficial, but still helpful) was to buy each a few new clothes and a new lunch box. The clothes were mostly for our daughter who is very visual and gets excited about putting new things together. The lunch boxes were exciting to them because they only get to use them for school and they felt like big kids carrying them and showing them off.

Once School Starts:

My little man with his new lunchboxThe first day will be different at each school. In some ways transitioning is easier if you are in school 5 days a week or 3 consecutive days; we were doing a M,W,F program so it was a lot harder on the kids to have the days off and then go back to transitioning again. Bear that in mind when you start. Hopefully you have been told by your school how they handle transition. Some allow parents to transition out slowly, others do it right away. There are different theories behind each method and different methods work better for some children (and some parents). I will say, in my experience, it is almost always the parents who have the harder time. The kids may be screaming but once you’re gone, they are over it and move on to playing again. At our school the transition was slow and the director and staff was very involved with each family and allowed each to move at their own pace. I was one of the last to leave and they were quite patient with me. In retrospect, I could have gone sooner, but I really appreciated that they heard what I needed and supported me and then, when it was time, they pushed me out of the door.

Start the day off by not carrying your child into the classroom. Ask them to walk, holding your hand if they wish. Explain that they are not babies anymore and that big kids who go to school know how to walk. You will have to judge for yourself and based on your family dynamics if this works for you. For some kids, especially those with new baby siblings, the idea of being a big kid is not appealing. But more often than not, this approach works and they are very proud to walk into school carrying their lunchbox to put in their cubby.

Our very sensitive son seemed much more at ease than our previously fearless daughter. She clung to me like a barnacle and cried inconsolably. The more you engage with your child in a situation like that, the more they will not be able to bond with the teachers and learn that there is someone else who can fulfill their needs. It is so difficult, but my best advice, if you are staying in the classroom, is that you need to make yourself as boring as possible. Bring magazines, books, work from the office and try to only peek at them when they’re not looking. When they ask you for something, direct them to the teachers. In many ways it would have been easier to leave immediately because I have so much empathy for my kids (and being ignored is a major trigger for me) that behaving like this is antithetical to me; but they began to understand that mommy was there, but I was “busy” and Miss Kelly and Miss Sivan were kind and loving and there to help. This also allows the kids to really engage in all of the wonderful things going on at school. It’s hard not to join in at circle time because we’re all so used to doing Mommy and Me classes, but this is where the kids get to experience things with their new friends and teachers; hang back and observe.

Daddy at workTalk about what mommy and daddy do when the kids are at school. If they’re used to you both going to work it will be a little easier for them but if, like me, you are a stay-at-home parent, it is a little trickier. I was truthful and told them I would be running errands and going to yoga class (well, maybe that was less-than truthful) and maybe seeing a friend. But I also spoke to them about how I was doing things that had to do with them, reminding them that I was always thinking about them even when I wasn’t with them; I would talk about how I had to go to the market to buy pudding (they love pudding) or how I was going to be setting up the train table so it would be ready to be played with when they got home etc.

Many children do well with bringing a favorite lovey or blankey from home. It’s risky because he or she may end up misplacing it but sometimes that familiar piece of home is all that well help your child. I decided to take a cue from a story my sister-in-law told me about when she first started school. I wrote about this before but it bears repeating: when she first started school her mother helped her get over her fears by drawing a heart on her wrist each morning so that every time she felt scared, she could look down and know mom was thinking of her. This ritual continued as she grew older; although it was no longer every day, if my sister in law went through a tough period in high school, had stressful days in college, took exams, had interviews, there was the heart. When their mother passed away, my sister-in-law had a hand-drawn heart tattooed on the inside of her wrist to always remind her that her mother was thinking of her. I loved this story and did something similar. It’s important, if you do this, to tell them the story each time you draw the heart or give them the keepsake item, so that it is really a part of the ritual. My kids were enthralled each time I gave them the little trinkets of mine that I let them wear at school.

Often it is easier for dads or nannies to drop the children at school as the kids will separate easier from them than from mom. If this is the case in your family, it might be a good idea to arrange that set-up for the first week or so.

If your child is crying during the first days when you leave, please know that this is really normal. It’s really hard to hear, but it’s normal. Our school was really wonderful about calling me to let me know that everything was just fine (usually this was within 10 minutes of my leaving which just shows the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” to be true).

Remember that your children will adjust and then, for seemingly no reason at all, they will suddenly have periods where it’s hard to let you go again. Patience and communication with your school is key during these times.

First day of school, playing together in the kitchenKeep in mind that having your co-twin in your class is a benefit most of the other children aren’t going to experience. Your children at least have one other person with whom they already feel comfortable; that should ease your mind a little. Be wary of their twin dynamic as school starts though; keep an eye on whether one is becoming the boss of the other or if they are only playing together. If your school isn’t used to handling twins, give them some pointers on individuation (check out my post Getting To Know You for some helpful ideas).

Change of any sort can be hard on all of us. Try to keep your own anxiety in check as kids easily pick up on it. Be aware of what you need to feel at ease (I needed the school to let me know they had stopped crying….otherwise I obsessed about it for the full three hours) and ask for it if it’s not offered. At the end of the day, you know your child and if, like mine, when you pick them up after a few hours and they don’t want to come home….you know they’re happy.

Good luck with the transition, I hope this post helps a bit.

Weekend Away: Craft, Community, Creativity!

Normally you won’t find me posting about travel or crafting; neither is my specialty. But, I am a collector and disseminator of information and when I see something that looks interesting, fun, educational, inspiring….I like to share! Yesterday I got an invitation to join what looks like a really cool event in Palm Springs at the very hip (yet family friendly) Ace Hotel. The event is hosted by artist Karen Kimmel who created Kimmel Kids, a collection of really beautiful, unique educational tools and toys. Karen periodically puts together these wonderful weekends for “creative families”. The artists involved sound really wonderful; check them out here. I love the idea of stimulating our children visually and creatively. Lee Rose Emery of LACityMom.com wrote this great review about a visit with her family to The Ace Hotel on an average weekend and it sounds great! I’m not 100% sure we’ll go because the crafting may be a bit beyond what our 3 1/2 year olds can do, but if you have slightly older kids, I would absolutely check it out! And then report back to us! Here are the details:

Update! I’ve been in touch with one of the organizers of this event who sent me the following note when I asked about younger children participating:

“We have activities for 2yrs and older. The younger kids just need a little more hands on from mom and dad, but there is super cool stuff for them to do! Here are a bunch off the top of my head: Felt boards, garland making, Stencils, felted rocks, Edible costume cookies, fun with fabrics, and even more. Really!!”

So really….do check out the info below. I think I may actually head out to Palm Springs come October!

Dear Friends and Families,

The details are finally here! Attached please find the invitation for our upcoming Crafting Community event Oct. 8-10th at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. You’ll notice we have included more perks than ever in our weekend package such as Friday night taco dinner, Saturday and Sunday continental breakfasts, and a very special family portrait taken by an acclaimed photographer. Of course we’ll still have the usual goodies and all the crafting you can handle! To learn more about all of the talented artists involved, please check out http://kimmelkids.com/crafting/

In order to reserve and guarantee your spot you will need to call the ACE Hotel directly, using the information and promo-code provided on the invitation. Once you’ve booked with the ACE please email Stacy Bernstein at Kid Concierge, [email protected] So that we can get all the information we need about your family for our welcome book and personalized goodie bag!

Look forward to seeing you poolside at the ACE!

cc1010_header1

SHIFT GEARS from the hectic hustle of city life to a poolside getaway filled with craft, community and creativity.

JOIN US for a weekend retreat destined to bring creative families closer together.

INTERACTIVE WORKSHOPS include stencils, underwater photography, felting, succulent gardens, airbrushing, dioramas, pottery, creative cookies and macramé.

ARTIST KAREN KIMMEL will lead the group along with a talented team: Tanya Aguiñiga, Richard Mulder, Kate Burger, Cathy Callahan, Mister Cartoon, Cheryl Cambras, Clare Crespo, Steven Visneau, Sheryl Cancellieri and musical duo Nikki & Rich. Meet the artists.

POOLSIDE RECREATION & RELAXATION includes sunrise yoga and skateboarding 101. At the Sew Splendid pop-up store, families can custom tailor their own colorful garments. Nighttime festivities include campfire games, s’mores and songs.

Special package rate of $678* includes:
• 2 nights lodging (standard king or double)
• 2 days art instruction and supplies
• Friday night taco dinner and fireside s’mores
• Saturday and Sunday continental breakfast
• Saturday movie night and popcorn
• Splendid-styled family portraits
• Kimmel Kids tote filled with goodies

*Basic package rate includes 3 people.
Tax and resort fee not included. Upgrades available.

Check out the fabulous Ace Hotel.

Reserve by September 24, 2010.
Call the Ace Hotel: 760.325.9900
PROMO CODE: KIMMEL KIDS CRAFTING
Terms and conditions

Tour of Green Beginning Preschool

This morning I had the chance to tour a lovely new preschool called Green Beginning. Located on S. Robertson Blvd. just a short distance from neighborhoods such as Culver City, Beverlywood and Cheviot Hills and run by Veronica Cabello, the beloved, former assistant-director of Temple Isaiah Preschool; Green Beginning is a wonderful addition to the Los Angeles preschool scene.

Beautiful sandbox

There were many things I liked about Green Beginning, from the warmth and enthusiasm of the staff, to the well thought-out classrooms, to the charming outdoor space. Walking in to the school I immediately got the thought that my children would love this place; the school facade is painted a happy shade of grass green and it’s front yard is a filled with a large wooden climbing structure and slide, a wooden playhouse, a shaded grassy hill, an in-ground sandbox, and two charming gardens with flowers, fruit trees and produce planted and tended by the children and teachers. In the back of the school the outdoor play continues with a train table, a stage for imaginative play and a very sweet nook created to allow children the chance to play in smaller groups. This concept was one that Ms. Cabello spoke about with some passion. In many schools the children sit together in large groups, working on the same thing at the same time; at Green Beginning the children are encouraged to work together in groups of two or three which not only allows the children to develop friendships, but also allows for easier social interaction and give the teachers a chance to know the children more intimately. To a mother of twins, this was music to my ears! Additionally, one of the key philosophies of Green Beginnings is inspired by the Multiple Intelligences theories of Howard Gardner which emphasizes, in part, that different people have different ways of showing intelligence and each is to be honored and encouraged. If I were looking for a preschool for our twins, knowing that they could be somewhere where this was a basic mindset would be very appealing.

the reading corner of the Sea Lion/Polar Bear roomAll the materials used to create their outdoor space are non-toxic and environmentally friendly; many of the items both outdoors and in the classrooms are repurposed (such as the great picnic tables made from old doors). All snacks are organic and there is composting done each day; even children as young as 2 are excited about turning their uneaten snacks into food for their tomato plants out front! This focus on sustainability and the environment is one of the core philosophies at Green Beginning. Ms. Cabello and her teachers truly believe in practicing what they preach and work hard to use their surroundings to teach the children such lessons as delayed gratification (gardening), making healthy choices (trying new foods that they grow themselves) or re-purposing things as opposed to throwing them away (they have a wonderful garden “fence” made out of the bottoms of large, discarded, soda bottles. The bottles are filled with colored liquid which creates rainbows on the ground at certain times of the day).

The classrooms themselves are bright, airy and set up like a mini home with overstuffed couches, table and chairs, a kitchen area, book and toy shelves etc. While the younger children will focus on recognizing emotions, socializing and developing relationships, the children in Pea Pods (ages 3 1/2 to 6) will begin to be introduced to academics in a playful way through play, music, movement and so forth. Teachers will be able to assess and communicate to parents the child’s abilities and skills in order to have them ready for Kindergarten when they graduate. One very nice aspect of Green Beginnings is that its population is small: only 26 children spread out between the two classrooms. As enrollment changes there may be 26 kids in the afternoon program and 26 in the mornings, but given the teacher/student ratio you can be sure that your children will be given lots of attention and plenty of chances to experience all of the toys, crafts, games etc. Polar Bears must be 2 by September 1st, Sea Lions should be 2.9 by that date and kids who are 3 1/2 by September first are Pea Pods. Potty training is not required. Polar Bears and Sea Lions share a space and Pea Pods have their own room.

blocks, puzzles music fill the shelvesAlthough there is not enough space here to allow your twins to have separate classrooms, it is my sense that by keeping the enrollment low, plus the quality and experience level of both the director and teachers, multiples would thrive here. There are still spots available for Fall 2010 at this “Hidden Gem” of a preschool. If the location makes sense for you, it is absolutely worth checking out! Check out the rest of my photos at the end of the post!

Green Beginning Preschool is located at:
3047-49 S. Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone: 310-841-6100
Fax: 310-841-6119
For General Information email us at: [email protected]
For School Touring and Enrollment information email: [email protected]

Solving Toddler Sleep Battles

sun lightLong ago I promised a detailed description of one of our night time books. We use these picture books in conjunction with the Sleepy Planet method to help our children learn how to sleep. Before our crib to bed transition, our most recent problem was a combination of resisting going to bed, waking throughout the night AND waking early (as we have twins, I had one doing the early waking, one doing the middle of the night waking and both taking forever to fall asleep). So wonderful.

I’ll tell you what I did in our book and you should be able to translate it for whatever your specific issues are. If not, feel free to ask. First of all, I bought a Good Nite Lite which is basically a moon shaped night light that you set to turn to a sun at the desired wake up time. I showed them the new night light, showed them how it was going to turn into a sun when it was time to wake up etc. before we read the book and told them (in an excited voice) that we were going to have great, new bedtime rules!

Being excited about new rules is important – don’t say that you are changing things because night time has been such a struggle. I suggest doing it instead as a reward because they are ready to go to bed like big kids or ready to sleep in their beds because they are “almost 3” or whatever tactic might work for your kids.

I drew the whole book but I am not a great artist by any means. The kids don’t care and they totally get that the stick figure that I call by our son’s name is him. If you have photos of the whole routine listed below, you can create a book on your computer or using Kodak Gallery or some such website. I like to use a ring binder for the book so that as their sleep issues change I can easily pull out pages and make new ones that are specific to whatever is going on and I don’t have to start from scratch again.

OK….here’s the book:

Page 1. Drawing of your children happily sleeping with a moon and stars above them. Our text reads: “For a long time when it was time for John and Jane [use your kids’ names, obviously] to go night night, Mommy and Daddy took John and Jane into their room, gave them a bath, read books, sang songs [list your night time routine here] and Jane and John went to sleep the WHOLE night until morning.”

Page 2. Drawing of your children looking very happy with a sun shining. “When Jane and John sleep all through the night they feel sooooo happy the next day and their bodies have sooooo much energy!”

Page 3. Drawing of your children, in crib/bed, waking up, calling for you. “But, for a little while now, when it’s time to go night night, John and Jane tell Mommy and Daddy ‘I need water!’, ‘I don’t like my crib!”, ‘I don’t want to sleep!”. And in the middle of the night John and Jane wake up and say ‘fix my pillow!’, ‘fix my blanket’, ‘I have a stuffy nose!’ [list whatever tactics your children use]

Page 4. Picture of your children up, looking sad with sun shining. “When Jane and John don’t get good sleep at night they feel yucky and cranky the next day and their bodies feel tired so they have no energy to play.”

Page 5. Picture of your whole family with a big heart around you all. “Mommy and Daddy love John and Jane so much that we always need to be sure that they get great sleep so they can be happy and healthy children”

Page 6. Picture of “the Sleep Doctor” – official looking person in a lab coat with glasses. “Mommy and Daddy called the Sleep Doctor and she helped us make a new plan to help John and Jane get good sleep”

Page 7. “Here’s the new plan: (thumbnail drawing after each of the things included in your bedtime routine: a) Have a bath, b) Brush teeth, c) Put on pajamas etc. The last item on the list* is “then into the bed, last kisses and time to rest your bodies with “X” – whatever lovey, teddy bear etc. your child sleeps with. The last sentence on the night routine page is: “After last kisses Mommy will ask John and Jane if they want the door open or closed and they can choose. But we are all done talking, all done asking for things, it is time for sleep. Choice time is done. Now it is time for Mr. Moon”.

*This list is important because it is the “routine”; the kids can go through it with you each night so they get excited about it. If it is OK with you, they can also mix up the routine to, perhaps, brush teeth BEFORE putting on pjs or something along those lines. This sense of having some control over their bedtime routine may really help kids who may feel confused because you have given over the control of their night routine to them, but then you are usurping their “power” by forcing them to go to bed when YOU say it’s time. The more places in their day that you give them considered choices over their life the less they feel the need to battle with us.

I used this idea often with our daughter who refused to put on her pjs every night….we would go over the bed routine, she gets to choose the order of the steps (as long as they make sense) and before the pj part I stop and say “and what do you do next?” and she excitedly says “go pee pee and put on pajamas!”. Thank God. Now I can concentrate on another battle. LOL.

son with blue monkeyThe book continues:

Page 8. Drawing of mommy or Daddy standing outside of the room with child awake and calling for you. “Mommy and Daddy know that sometimes it is hard to sleep all the way through the night. Mr. Moon is here to remind you that if you see him when you wake up that it is still time for sleep. If you call for Mommy I will tell you “I love you, I am here and it is time to sleep. But I am not coming into your room until Mr. Sun says ‘Good Morning'”.

Page 9. Picture of a happy sun. When Mr. Sun says “Time To Wake Up!” Mommy and Daddy will come in and we can start our great day!”

It’s important to use language familiar to your child. For example, if you use the words “beddy-bye” instead of “night night” – change the text. Obviously change the text/pictures to fit your personal struggle. If you need help coming up with the ideas, let me know. If you have a difficult time hearing your children cry (as most good parents do) please see if your partner or a trusted friend/family member can be home with you for the first few nights (or even first week) if they can – you may need back up so you can remain consistent.

If you are NOT consistent or you show any weakness in your resolve, your kids will know instantly and you will be right back where you started. Also, tackle bed time before you tackle naps. It’s way easier to get them to bed at night than during the day. Once that is going more smoothly you can move on to dealing with naps.

There is another part to dealing with crying and that is to really listen and get to know the different types of crying that your children have. There is just the complaining whine (which I would let go for a while), the angry cry (which can easily escalate into a tantrum so I wouldn’t let it go for long and would do the Sleepy Planet interval check-ins), or there is the serious needful cry which would make me go in right away.

As your children get older you will probably know these differences in their cries and that can help make your check-in decisions easier when you start the sleep learning process. You’ll figure out how to deal with each child; for example, I know when the kids were younger that if I went in for our daughter and she was just complaining, seeing me was going to make it worse for her and prolong her sleep. If I let her sort of fuss and moan for a bit and just see what happens, she generally fell alseep within 15-20 minutes. Please keep that advice in mind when your kids cry for you – they are most likely just fine; they just temporarily angry/confused/tired and so on. They are not desperately unhappy or feeling abandoned. They, and you, will be so much happier once they are sleeping well.

If you have issues with them getting out of bed once you say good night, I would take a look at a video on the Sleepy Planet website and remember the rule about bringing your child back to bed without engaging them. Just use a short sentence you decide on ahead of time (like “It’s time for sleeping”) and guide them back to their bed. Do nothing else and keep doing it even if they get out a hundred times; they will eventually tire of it because there is no pay off for them. They fight with you because they are getting a huge payoff by engaging you for so long – even though it is negative attention, you are still giving them tons of attention.

Exploring The World Around You

For me, one of the hardest things to adapt to after having our children, was getting comfortable getting out and about with the two of them. In large part, this has to do with my issues about being prepared for every scenario when not within the safety zone of my own house (you may have read about this neurosis of mine in my earlier post On The Road Again…). Additionally, as they got more mobile, the logistics became more complex as our son would move in one direction and our daughter another; they never seemed to want to do the same thing at the same time! The last part of this puzzle was that I could only stand going to the same old park so many times before I wanted to throw myself under a bus. Thus, out of necessity, I developed a game plan that made all of this easier for me. I thought that today I would share with you my lists of places to go that are fairly easy with twins (of different ages), some websites that have excellent advice and suggestions on where to go and what to do around LA (and the surrounding areas), and a few tips on making the whole process easier. I rated each place based on how simple it is to handle twins on your own (in my opinion).

Parks, playgrounds and other fun places:

West Hollywood Park

Gated, shaded and there’s a new parking lot being built so it will soon also be easy to park at! The play area for the larger kids is completely separated from the little kids’ gated area. One Parent Rating: Very easy when you have little ones up to, maybe, age 3. After that, they may want to be in the larger play area and some of the climbing structures are quite high.

California Science Center

Newly renovated and chock full of amazing things for the kids to see, touch and explore. Free (donation requested) except for $8 parking. When your kids are very young, head up to the Discovery Rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors as well as the new one in the renovated wing. These rooms are for children up to age 8, but are generally only filled with kids 5 and younger. Within the Discovery Rooms are smaller, fenced off areas that are for children 2 and under with lots of great plush toys, books, puzzles etc. One Parent Rating: Very Easy. My kids adore the science center and generally go once week, sometimes more. As they’ve gotten older they now go all over the museum and it’s pretty easy to handle the two of them on their own. The Science Center tends to get quite crowded on weekends and in the mornings when school trips are at their peak, after 1:30pm during the week is the easiest time to visit if you’ve got the kids on your own.

The Zimmer Museum

I’ve been taking my kids to The Zimmer since well before they could walk. This little “town” setting is a perfect place to keep track of two kids on your own. There’s a padded room that’s always a hit and only for the under-two set; my kids love everything there: the restaurant, the life-sized ambulance, the jet plane cock pit, the dress up theater etc. etc. Additionally, they offer story time, arts and crafts and cooking classes at no extra charge (non-members pay a nominal fee for cooking). Bonus: open on Sunday afternoons! One Parent Rating: Easy – just because it can occasionally get a bit crowded and that always stresses me out when I’m own with the kids.

Beverly Hills Music Together

There are lots of music classes in this town; but in my opinion, no one does a better job than Siree Franks. She has a sweet, little space just off La Cienega and Wilshire and handles the Music Together program in such a creative, joyful and interactive way. Plus, she has a beautiful voice and really loves children. My kids LOVED this class from 7 months old until they went off to preschool at 2 1/2. There’s a discount for your second child. One Parent Rating: Very Easy. Even if you have one kid who throws a tantrum and you need to leave the space, you just step to the other side of a small child gate and can calm your cranky baby while watching the other have a blast.

Under The Sea

This indoor playground can get very crowded on a rainy day or a school holiday (and I once, stupidly, went on rainy holiday and thought I would die), but in general it’s a great place to go on your own. When your kids are very young they have a small area for babies, but it’s best when your kids are walking. There’s lots to climb on, slide on, ride on and best of all, a big bouncy house. The play area is all enclosed and you can see everything so there’s no chance of losing sight of your kids. You can bring lunch (or dinner) and stay for as long as you want. The location in Culver City is nicer than the one by The Beverly Center: bigger, more toys, bathrooms are closer and easier to access. The one by The Beverly Center has a diaper changing station inside the play area as opposed to the other which has it in the bathrooms that you have to leave the play area to get to. One Parent Rating: Very Easy.

Naya’s Garden

If you’re on the East side you’ll appreciate this small, indoor play space in Los Feliz. They have a bouncy house, a great ball pit, lots of toys and picnic tables to have lunch or snack at. The last time I was there they had begun to bring in performers to do things like free music classes which was a great addition. One Parent Rating: Very Easy.

KidSpace Museum

It took me a long to time to try this place out since it’s “all the way” in Pasadena but I wish I had done it sooner. This place is GREAT for kids and quite easy when you are on your own. They have a room just for little ones that is completely enclosed and you can’t lose sight of anyone. In there they have soft climbing blocks, a small sliding structure, books, puzzles, small toys etc. Throughout the day they do story time and art in that room as well. For slightly older kids there is fantastic water play during warm weather (bring their swim suits and water shoes), a construction zone, great indoor climbing structures, an archeological dig with dinosaur bones, a “gross” insect diner and more! They also have free music classes and arts and crafts at different times. Bonus: There are two playgrounds outside of KidSpace if you arrive before it opens or just need something else to do and, best of all, KidSpace is open on the weekends! Always check their website as they are closed when there are games/events at the Rose Bowl (I learned that the hard way)! One Parent Rating: Easy. I found it very easy when the kids were really young and only wanted to be in the baby room. As they got older, it was still quite simple to navigate on my own with the two but until they were old enough to listen to me when I said we had to stay together I didn’t feel comfortable….it can get crowded and it would be hard to keep your eye on one running off while the other wants to stay put.

The Huntington Gardens Children’s Garden

These beautiful gardens are in San Marino (right near Pasadena) and it can get quite hot in the Summer but when the weather is right and the kids are old enough to walk and listen to you a bit about not taking off in two opposite directions, this was one of my favorite places to take the two of them when I was alone. I always bring our stroller (even now that they’re too old to want it normally) because the gardens are very spread out and you don’t want to have cranky children who don’t want to walk when it’s time to go! The Children’s Garden is tucked off to the side and it is so charming. Bring their swim clothes/water shoes or at least a change of clothes because there are some really sweet water fountains they will love to play with. There is a delightful little “fairy house” covered in vines with floral window boxes and a table and chairs inside, a moss covered hill with a tunnel under it to crawl through and stairs on top to climb over, a greenhouse with temperate zones and more. The hours there can be a bit of a pain with nap schedules but we would always try to bring lunch or eat at their cafe to make the shlep worth while. As the kids got older we have now explored the rest of the gardens and they have a great time even though there isn’t anything “to do” there. I love getting them out into nature so I’m glad they still have fun here. One Parent Rating: Not Bad (easier as they get older).

These are just some of my favorites for when I was on my own. When I had another pair of hands I would go anywhere: down to Long Beach to The Aquarium, Venice Beach to make giant sandcastles, any park etc. Now that the kids are old enough to really be interested in things for more than 3 minutes and are able to listen (most of the time) about staying together, I do a lot of things with them on my own. I still prefer having another adult with me because, let’s face it, it just makes it easier; plus, it allows me to have a few minutes here and there of alone time with each child, and you know how I like that!

Here are some ideas of places we love going with our twins as well as some websites that constantly update you on what’s going on in here in L.A. (many of these sites have local versions too, so if you’re not in L.A. don’t lose heart)! Be sure to find out about memberships and “frequent visitor” discounts. Sometimes you are charged for every adult and every child so buying a membership will actually save you money if you go more than once a year to some of these places.

  1. Noah’s Ark at The Skirball Cultural Center
  2. Go City Kids
  3. L.A. With Kids
  4. Red Tricycle (There are locations all around the U.S. if you don’t happen to be in Los Angeles)
  5. The Coop Studio City, CA
  6. Pretend City Irvine, CA
  7. The Culture Vulture
  8. Theatricum Botanicum Family Fun Days Topanga, CA
  9. The Santa Barbara Zoo
  10. Baby’s Day Out in Southern California: Fun Places to Go With Babies and Toddlers, Book
  11. Electric Lodge Theater Venice, CA (presents some wonderful plays and musicals for children ages 3 and up)
  12. Underwood Family Farms Moorpark, CA
  13. Aiden’s Place Westwood, CA
  14. Joslyn Park Santa Monica, CA (fully gated)
  15. There’s a great list of activities on Fat Envelope Publishing.
  16. A friend of mine put together an amazing list of just about every activity there is to do in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas (thank you Andrea Weiss). The list includes some of what I have already written about, but it is so extensive it is worth checking out. Click here for the full list.

I know how hard it may seem to get out with two, tiny babies and their massive amount of gear; I hope you see this post as a gentle nudge to make the effort. As much as I dislike traveling (by air) with our kids, I do love getting them out and about. Besides keeping me from getting bored, I think it has given our kids a love of trying new things, an ability to meet and make friends with anyone, and a curiosity about the world around them; none of which is a bad thing! Get out and explore the world….there is so much to discover! Let me know if there’s anywhere special you love taking your kids, I’m always looking for something new to do!

The School Search Begins

One of the more daunting tasks faced by parents of multiples is the search for schools. This is stressful for any parent, but when you have twins (or more) it can seem completely overwhelming. The process begins, for many of us, while our kids are too young to even have any sense of a developed personality; so saying that you are choosing a preschool that is right for them is a bit of a joke. You choose a preschool that is right for your family as you perceive it to be. You choose a school that is conveniently located, that has a director and teachers whose philosophies are like yours (or like what you aspire to have), and that is hopefully affordable. Some preschools are part of a school that goes all the way up through, say, 6th grade; which makes life simpler, assuming you love the school past the first year. Most preschools only take you through Pre-Kindergarten and then the process begins all over again.

boy in school bagApplying for school for twins means you have to think a little smarter and, perhaps, do a few things you might not have to do were you applying for a singleton. Same sex twins make it even more complex. Schools like to balance out their classrooms by gender and by birthdays; so asking a school to give not just two spots to one family, but also two girl (or boy) spots and two birthdays in the same month, can be asking too much for some schools. But obviously, not for all. There are things I would suggest considering when looking at schools for your twins that go beyond the basics:

  • Are there other twins at the school? The presence of other multiples shows that the school is open to it and that they at least have had some experience in handling the nuances involved in having twins in the classroom.
  • Is the school large enough to have your children in separate classrooms? This isn’t a necessity, but as your children age you may feel more drawn to this idea. As I have written before in posts such as “Getting To Know You”, giving your twins time apart from each other is one of the best ways to help them develop their individuality. If you absolutely love a school, but it isn’t physically possible for the kids to be in separate classrooms, get some concrete information from the director or whomever you are in contact with, on how they will help your children have their own space and how they work to individuate twins. You will often get the standard “we separate them into two classrooms”, but treating twins as individuals is so much more than just physically separating them; get a sense of their sensitivity towards the issue.
  • Start early. At some schools it’s never too early to start looking. We looked at one very popular preschool here in Los Angeles which has a true waiting list that the director schedules her tours from. Friends of mine were on that list when their children were 4 months old. I toured another highly recommended LA preschool with a pregnant mother. To me, all of that was a bit ridiculous and you can easily get very anxious if you get wrapped up in the hysteria. All that being said, starting your research and your touring early isn’t a dumb idea; with twins, it is a good idea to apply to more schools than your singleton parent friends are applying to and you have extra issues to consider. Additionally, you want time to develop your plan of attack when applying! I started the search when our children were about a year old, maybe a little younger.
  • Assess your needs, define your desires. By this I mean, do you have visions of your children frolicking under shady trees and in sandboxes or do you picture them being geniuses who can read and write by the time they’re two? Or maybe a little of both? Structure or less structure? Traditional or Progressive or Developmental? Reggio? Montessori? The list goes on and on and when you’re new to the game, everyone might as well be speaking some crazy foreign language. Do a little research and define the terms, think about what you loved most about school and what you disliked most as this will be a good guide for what types of schools are going to appeal to you, consider how at home you feel in the environment when you tour. After all of this, think about whether you need a school that you can drop off early or pick up late at; a school that has a five-day a week schedule or one that has a 2- or 3-day a week schedule, will a school that is a 5-minute walk be best or will one that is a 20-minute drive be OK for you? Really give some thought to how much driving you are willing to do (and how much your children will be able to handle).
  • What is the school’s approach to the transition? Those first days of school are particularly tough as you try to separate from your “babies” and teach them that these teachers/strangers are now going to fulfill all their needs. Who is it harder for, the children or the parents? Sometimes it’s hard to know. Here’s where having twins actually makes you feel a bit more secure! In most cases your children will be starting the first year at school together so it is somewhat comforting to know that they, at least, have each other to help feel secure. Regardless, the transition can be quite difficult; one twin may blend in easily, while the other is clinging to you like a barnacle (and you may be surprised by who the barnacle is)! You want to find a school that makes you feel comfortable throughout the process. You may be the type who needs a lot of contact from the director and teachers to let you know what they are doing and how your children are faring and may not want to feel pushed to transition before you’re ready. On the other hand, you might appreciate a little tough love and respond well to being told that transitioning only lasts a few days and after that you will leave your child with a quick hug and a kiss. Different schools do it differently. Feel it out, ask questions and know what works for you.
  • girl in school bagMake your case. One of the most important aspects of applying to school with twins is to make it clear that you understand that you are not expecting a “two for one” deal. You may want to impress upon the admissions director or head of school that you understand what it means to have twins in the class. One aspect I had never considered before starting school was that the teachers with twins in their classrooms have to deal with sibling rivalry on top of everything else; this can be a big deal if your children have a particularly hard time in this area. I think acknowledging your children’s personalities and how they interact and discussing in a positive way how you have chosen to handle these matters shows that you’re proactive, involved and willing to do the work. I have written previously about a blog I love called Beyond The Brochure and an article she wrote on twins which, in part said the following: “The important thing to impress on the admissions folks in the interviewing process–and throughout the application process– is that you, as parents, are not trying to get two children through their school as if they were one. You must let them know that you understand that you will be partners with them on each child, seeing your children individually, contributing to the school with your volunteer efforts for two, supporting the school financially beyond tuition for two, etc.” You can read the full entry here. Christina Simon, who writes the blog has great insight into navigating the application process.

There is so much that goes into the search for preschool for your twins. We worried about the playground equipment and the coziness of classrooms. We worried about hot lunches and the parking situation. We compared large schools and tiny schools, fancy schools and “less fancy” schools. In the end, for us, it boiled down to the director of our school. We loved her philosophy and the methods she employs to teach the children (I wrote about some of it in a post called The Superhero and Princess Epidemic”); we felt comfortable with the other families, we liked the school’s approach to having twins in the classroom, we felt at home. One year into it and I know we’ve made the right choice. Now I am starting the search for Kindergarten and beyond….more to come!

Postpartum Confessions

There’s so much about being a parent that is wonderful; before you have children people will tell you that you don’t know what you’re missing. And that’s true. You don’t know how delightful the warm, cozy kisses they give you at night will feel or the immense pride you’ll have when they show true generosity and kindness to each other. You also don’t know about the guilt and the stress and balancing act that comes along with parenthood.

I have spent most of life full of passion for learning new things. I have had three careers before becoming a full-time mother and each one I approached with an intense desire to know everything there was to know so I could perform each job at the highest level I could. I think I approached motherhood the same way; I read every book and article on children/parenting/twins, I attended every class I could find, I was on every chat group out there asking and answering questions. In many ways, all of the knowledge felt like a protective barrier; without it, I was naked and left to care for my children “alone”. But armed with all I had learned, I felt confident and secure, I felt I had an answer for each new situation should it arise. And, if you asked my husband, I also had an solution for every possible situation that might ever happen in some dark and murky, not too distant future. Have I mentioned that I tend to over-prepare?

So, all of this prep work provided me with with a lot of knowledge; but as the kids have gotten older, I’ve noticed that sometimes the more you know how something “should” be done, the more you realize you’re not quite living up to that level of perfect parenting you thought you’d exhibit before the kids were actually here. While speaking recently with a few of my girlfriends we began to joke about some of our bad parenting moments. And then the confessions began to come out.

I realized that, like so many other areas one might feel shame about, when you share your guilt and realize others are just as imperfect, you feel a bit better. Why is that? Misery loves company? Or perhaps there is just some relief in knowing that none of us is perfect. Those parenting books and classes and so-called experts can lay out all of the scenarios and give you great advice on how to handle your 3 year old’s tantrums or your newborn’s colic or your sleep deprivation or your changing relationship with your partner after babies, but none of them live my life or had my childhood or react to stress as I do. And even I, when I counsel new or expectant parents of multiples, tell people that it is important to prepare as much as you are able and then, when your children arrive, you will still be winging it for a long time.

Winging it, because my children’s reasons for dragging out bed time may be different than yours, and your way of handling your children’s refusal to put on their clothes may be different than mine. So you may know the “right way” to handle each of these situations, but in any given moment your tricks won’t work and then, perhaps, you may resort to what I refer to as my “bad mommy” behavior. You cajole and you bribe and you feel selfish and you feel frustrated and maybe even angry. You might let a curse slip out or slam a door or hide in a locked bathroom. You might take your emotions out on your partner and complain about a messy house and why doesn’t he ever help, or tell a white lie and say you have to work late so you don’t have to deal with bedtime this once or pretend to be sleeping when you hear a baby cry in the night. You might agree to just one (or two) more Dora videos or let Thomas the Tank Engine play for just a little bit longer so you can just not hear that fighting/whining/complaining for a while more. And most of all, you might secretly want to make a voo doo doll of that parent from your Mommy & Me class who is all roses and sunshine all the time with her singleton who sleeps all night and “never cries”.

And you know what? It’s actually OK. It’s been very hard for me to acknowledge that I am actually a terrific mom, even with my “bad mommy” behavior. Some of what I do, I realize, is not so bad. Yes, I confess that now that my kids watch television I use it to help me get ready in the morning on school days. I excuse it with the fact that my husband leaves for work very early in the morning and so I am usually on my own; but I know that I am saying that because, deep down I feel that I “should” be able to get myself dressed, bathe the kids, get them dressed, make their breakfast and lunch, get everything together for school and all the while have them be happily entertained without melt downs and fights. But I can’t and so I give in and let them watch more t.v. than I’d like to admit. But, like so many other things I’ve learned about parenting, you have to do what works for your family. Occasionally I have really bad mommy moments like yesterday when my 3 1/2 year old daughter screamed at the top of her lungs at me for what felt like an eternity, while I was driving, because I didn’t come prepared with a truck-load of snacks for her after school. After calmly trying to reason with her and getting nowhere I finally snapped and yelled back at her “if you don’t like it, you can get out of the car and find a restaurant to eat at!”. Mature, right? Shockingly, that display of sarcasm got me nowhere.

Confessions are good for the soul they say. I asked a few friends for their “bad parent” confessions; see if any of these make you feel a little better about your own “bad” behavior:

  • I recently was upset with the mom of a friend of my son’s and when my son complained to me that his friend always had treats in his lunch…i.e., junk…I said…”well, look how short he is…and how nice and tall you are from eating healthy food”! I realized immeidately what a terrible thing it was to say and that I said it because I don’t like that kid’s mom and think she feeds her child junk!
  • I just fed my kids ice cream at 7 in the morning in front of the TV so I could brush their hair.
  • We were at the beach in Santa Barbara and forgot my son’s shoes and went to the bathroom. The floor was wet and DISGUSTING and he had NO shoes on…..all the other mothers had their kids in flip flops and I felt like the WORST mom.
  • I am so tired after having the kids on my own all weekend that by Sunday night I just said “screw it!”, ordered a pizza and let the kids eat it in the living room while watching a movie!
  • My own mother confessed to me the other day that once when I was little, she gave my siblings and me ice cream cake for breakfast because it was defrosting and she didn’t want to waste it. We thought it was the best thing EVER and told our teacher so too. She gave my mother such a telling off and said “I don’t know what you do in your country, but here we don’t consider cake a suitable breakfast food for children”. My mother should have told her to f**k off but she was so embarrassed that she sheepishly apologized!
  • My son watches far more television than I’m inclined to admit to anyone (including right this minute while I e-mail you). He is also drinking a cup of tea (decaf, but still)!
  • I once told our children, who were driving me crazy, to “get in the f***ing car”! My son, three, then asked me sweetly, “Mommy, why did you say “get in the f***ing car”? Scrambling to cover up, I said “No, I said get in the frustrating car”! Sigh. I’m sure he didn’t fully believe me, but at least he hasn’t repeated that word since.
  • After the birth of our second child I was so overwhelmed and depressed that I told a friend, in all seriousness, that I needed to get away so badly that I was going to find a mail order bride to take over my life.

In the end, you have to learn what you need to be a great parent. I need sleep and I need some time to myself where I am able to write, think and recharge. I need alone time with each child to remind of me of how wonderful each of them is when their day isn’t colored by fighting for attention and toys and a turn to speak. Even when I have all of that, I still do things less perfectly than I would wish; but really, who’s perfect all the time? I’m neither the fantasy 1950’s mom in the picture above, nor am I that chain smoking, self-indulgent fashion plate…I’m just a real mom figuring my way through my real life; sometimes I do an awesome job, other times, I must confess…not so much. How about you?