Need A Date Night Idea?

Before we had children, my husband and I got out a lot more. We went to the movies, we went out to dinner, we even went to the theater. And I’m not talking about seeing Elmo Live! Now, with a pair of 4-year olds, no nanny and a husband who works long and demanding hours, our date night or a night out with friends often gets put on the back burner. Plus, after a long day of handling tantrums, negotiating sibling disputes and fulfilling numerous meal requests (and trying to squeeze in some writing when I can) I am often too tired to go anywhere – even with the man I love most.

But, today I read about a play at the Ahmanson Theater here in Los Angeles that looks so good that I not only am willing to get out of my yoga pants and into a pair of heels to go see it, but I am also telling you to do the same! It’s here on a very limited run with the original, Tony Award winning stars, so I wanted to encourage you to get out and see God of Carnage.

This production smashed all-time box office records when it ran in New York and nabbed Tony Award nominations for all four actors, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, and eventually earned the Tony Award for Best Play, Best Director and a Best Actress Tony for Marcia Gay Harden.

So what’s it about and why am I going to like it? Well, here are the details: Two married couples in upscale Brooklyn meet to sort out a playground fight between their sons. At first, everyone is cordial but as the evening progresses and the drinks flow, the gloves come off and the night becomes a free-for-all. One of the reasons I wanted to write about it here is that I think every single parent knows what it’s like to feel protective of their own child and their own parenting methods – when someone tells you how to do your job as a parent, it’s not so easy to bite your tongue. This sounds like a show we can all relate to!

After seeing this cast on Broadway, Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote:

“Never underestimate the pleasure of watching really good actors behaving terribly . . . highly skilled stage performers take on roles that allow them to rip the stuffing out of one another, tear up the scenery, stomp on their own vanity and have the time of their lives.”

God of Carnage is running in Los Angeles at The Ahmanson Theater from April 5th to May 29th.

Go to Center Theater Group and watch the cast members, all of whom are parents, talking about the show. It’ll give you an even better idea of how much fun the show is – and how extraordinary the cast is! Tickets range from as little as $20 to $150.

God of Carnage
Ahmanson Theatre
April 5 – May 29
For tickets call 213.972.4400
or visit Center Theater Group
Performance Schedule: Tue – Fri at 8, Sat 2 & 8, Sun 1 & 6:30

I am definitely getting tickets – I hope to see you there!

All That I Am Grateful For

“No longer forward nor behind, I look in hope or fear;
But grateful take the good I find, The best of now and here.”
~ John Greenleaf Whittier

I had a morning to myself today, and looked forward to it. No plans except, perhaps, to get to the writing I had been procrastinating about for so long. At the breakfast table we all sung “Happy Birthday” into the phone to my mom in New York and wished her a wonderful day. As I dropped my kids at school this morning, my son waved to me from the open window of their classroom, dragging out his goodbye: “I love you so much, mama Gina….Bye….See you later….I love you.” The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny, almost like a Summer morning. I headed home to begin my day.

As the arrow changed to green I rounded a corner, a corner I’ve turned hundreds of times, on to a busy 6-lane street. A dark blue car was suddenly speeding towards me. Speeding towards me on the wrong side of the road heading straight for me. My shoulders hunched, I had nowhere to go, I felt my face grimace as I knew the car was going to hit me.

Then it happened. Somehow it didn’t hit me head on, instead it clipped the corner of my car and spun out behind me, screeching and then smashing loudly into a chain link fence and continuing over piles of plastic piping into a construction site. It came to a stop only when it smashed into a huge trailer used to haul semi trucks, a metal rod sticking out through the car’s windshield.

How quickly a day can change. How quickly a life can change. Over and over today I saw that car coming at me and thought about how differently tonight would be had it hit me just a few feet to the right. And in thinking about how much I could have lost, I remember how much I have.

Tonight, as I put our children to sleep, I lingered just a little longer and kissed them a few more times. I hugged my husband tighter and took a moment to consider my life. It is so easy to get caught up in the frustration, exhaustion and anxiety that come along with life as it gets more complex. It is so easy to pass your days worrying about what is yet to come or regretting what has been. Tonight I want to just be grateful for what I have. Here and now.

Hidden Gems 2: More SoCal Preschools You May Not Know

Those of us that live in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas know that searching for preschools is a daunting task. Dr. Michelle Nitka, author of Coping With Preschool Panic: The Los Angeles Guide To Private Preschools describes the process this way:

“In Los Angeles, choosing a preschool, and being chosen, has come to feel like competitive sport. Parents attack it with the same fervor and intensity as a military general mapping out his next battle plan.”

In many ways this is true, but it shouldn’t be. For me, part of the problem stems from the fact that there just isn’t enough information out there about all of the preschools that actually exist. We all know about the same 20 schools and once we’ve narrowed it down to those that are within a reasonable distance from our homes, we feel as though there are only 3 or 4 schools in all of L.A., each with only a handful of spaces available, that hundreds of families are vying for. No wonder we panic!

Last Summer I posted Hidden Gems: Preschools You May Not Know and received an overwhelming response to it. Based on the number of views that post receives each month and judging by the comments left from parents who offered additional “hidden gem” schools, I know there is a need for more sharing. One of the problems I have noticed in searching not just for preschools, but for private elementary schools as well, is that few of the books or websites that list schools have taken into account the fact that their target audience has moved. Literally. Those of us looking for private education no longer only inhabit “the West Side” (Santa Monica, Brentwood, Venice etc.). We now also live in Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Calabasas, Glendale, Studio City and so on. As the prices of homes on the West side rose and the availability of affordable places to live decreased, many families moved East and North. Obviously there must be schools in those areas to accommodate those families.

Thus, I decided to put together a second list here. I have included Westside schools that are, perhaps, lesser known; as well as a number of schools in surrounding areas. I have also included a few that offer more low-cost options (co-ops, YMCA programs, LAUSD pre-K programs and so forth) that I have heard good things about for those families for whom preschool might otherwise not be an option. As before, I would love anyone to add to the comment section any schools they know of that are hidden gems – no matter their location. The more we share with each other, the more we can lessen the panic.

  1. Children’s Center Preschool Serving Silverlake and Los Feliz 323-422-9690
  2. Children’s World Montessori Mid-Wilshire: 323-677-2670 Verdugo and Eagle Rock: Phone 323-256-2215
  3. A Child’s Place, Los Angeles/Palms 310-204-6833
  4. Branches Atelier, Santa Monica
  5. Sunflower Preschool, Santa Monica 310-452-5316
  6. Montessori of Malibu Canyon Calabasas 818-880-0555 or [email protected]
  7. Caterpillar Cottage Preschool Lake Balboa/San Fernando Valley 818-881-1355
  8. Culver City – Palms YMCA preschool (310) 390-3604
  9. CHALK Preschool Venice: 310-827-7300 Westwood: 310-446-5400
  10. The J Preschool Santa Clarita 661-877-7121
  11. Nora Sterry Pre-K West L.A., Pre-K program through LAUSD
  12. Clover Avenue Elementary Los Angeles, Pre-K program through LAUSD
  13. Joy School. A co-op homeschool option 801-655-0091
  14. The Early Years School Santa Monica 310-394-0463
  15. Evergreen Community School Santa Monica [email protected] 310-453-6255
  16. Little Dolphins By The Sea Santa Monica 310-998-0011 or [email protected]
  17. SGM Atelier Mar Vista 310-397-4863
  18. Rose Scharlin, Co-op nursery school, Silver Lake 323-661-1319 or [email protected]
  19. Miles of Smiles Canoga Park 818-888-1099 or [email protected]
  20. Camelot Kids Silver Lake 323-662-2663 or [email protected]
  21. All Children Great And Small, Los Feliz 323-666-6154 or [email protected]
  22. Delaney Wright Fine Arts Preschool, Hollywood 323-871-2470
  23. Los Angeles Family School Silver Lake 323.663.8049

Is your preschool on this list or listed in my original Hidden Gems post? Why not leave a comment and tell us more about it? Or leave a comment about schools that aren’t listed here and tell us what makes them hidden gems!

What The World Needs Now…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the world as a whole these last few days. I know there has been an awful lot going on for years, but world news tends to fill me with anxiety, stress and extreme sadness. So for my own sanity, I try to tune out as much of it as possible.

My husband (who does not share my sensitivities) remarked to me last night that it is being reported that there is much less aid being donated toward Japan, and the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami, than there was sent to the victims of Haiti’s earthquake last year. Apparently, this is because the photos coming out of Japan tug less at our heart strings because they are more focused on the imminent nuclear meltdown as opposed to reminders that thousands of people are homeless, starving and freezing.

There have been horrible comments on Twitter lately, ranging from random idiots talking about karmic retribution for Pearl Harbor, to comedians making jokes about the disaster. The lack of empathy may, in part be due to overload (how much more can we take on top all of the horror stories coming out of the Middle East), but it doesn’t forgive it.

Years ago I read an amazing series of books, the first of which is called Journey Of Souls. Dr. Newton’s books can be somewhat controversial as they have to do with reincarnation, afterlife and what he calls “life between lives”. For me, these books resonated deeply and were profoundly moving. I subscribe to Dr. Newton’s belief that we all come from the same place, that our souls have connections to each other and that each of us affects all of us.

It is not always easy to be kind or to put others first when we have so much we may be personally struggling with. Yet, extending a hand to others is the greatest way to uplift yourself. I remember in the weeks after the tragedy of 9/11 how amazing it felt to be around other people. Do you remember how kind everyone was to each other and how people looked each other in the eye and smiled just because there was another human being standing there? Even in the midst of this terrible time, I remember thinking how beautiful people could be.

After reading Journey of Souls I remember having a very similar feeling. For a short time afterwards I didn’t see how people looked on the outside; all I was “seeing” was their energy, their soul, the sameness that connected us.

I know this doesn’t specifically have to do with parenting, which is what I usually write about, but in a way it does. As parents we are striving to raise our children to be kind, empathetic, generous souls. No one wants their children to live in a world full of fear and hatred and intolerance. Yet, we have so much of that. I don’t know how to change such an enormous issue, but I know that I am doing my best to teach my children to treat people with respect and kindness. I want them to understand that the more people we have who truly value that, the better the world will be that we leave to them and their children.

Maybe Burt Bacharach had it right all along. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing there’s just too little of.

Our Best Tips And Advice For New Parents

When I was pregnant I read a few books, went to a few classes and spoke to a few friends about what I would need to know when my twins were born. I didn’t know anyone with twins, I didn’t know anything about multiples clubs and I certainly didn’t know about blogs where I could find information! In some respects, it’s a miracle I knew anything!

One of my sisters-in-law is pregnant with twins right now and, although she is much more knowledgeable about babies in general than I was, I thought it would be helpful for her to get some of the sage advice from those who have gone before her. I asked the terrific parents in my multiples club (West LA Parents of Multiples) to send me their best tips and advice, the things they wished they had known and the things that they found the most helpful on their journey as new parents. I thought I would post the best of the best here.

Remember, this list isn’t made up of my own personal advice, it is a list from numerous mothers of twins and triplets who have been in the trenches and who offered to pass on their wisdom. I believe that their advice is just as applicable to parents of singletons as to parents of multiples. Obviously, what works for some families may not work for yours. These are merely suggestions and you should feel free to check with your doctor if you have questions. After reading it, if you’ve got advice to add or questions to ask, please post in the comment section at the end! So, without further ado…

General Advice

  1. my twinsBe easy on yourself and the expectations you have of what kind of parent you will be. All the things you are going to do as a parent (e.g. vaginal birth, breastfeeding, etc.) may not work out as you had expected, or may not be as wonderful as you had thought.
  2. Make sure your relationship with your partner is strong and that you communicate well. Don’t take stuff too personally.
  3. Relax. Stay Calm.
  4. Hire a night nurse, especially in the beginning and especially if you are on bed rest or are having a c-section.
  5. Spend some one-on-one time with each baby.
  6. Help: ask for it and accept it! I’m horrible at both but the times I have done either have been huge. I also posted a list on my fridge with directions for some things so that if someone visits and asks how they can help I can direct them to the list (i.e. Wash bottles, make formula, throw a load of baby laundry in the wash/dryer). My days are so filled with all of this that I rarely get a moment for myself.
  7. Consider getting help, especially if family who is helpful is not available and/or you are a first-time parent. We had post-partum doulas during the day and night for the first six weeks and now have a live-in nanny and some help at night.
  8. I do want to add very quickly, which I have shared to numerous parents in our club, is get out of the house with the babies and join a playgroup no matter what in those first few moths. I didn’t and I regret it like you wouldn’t believe to this day! I was scared, I was overwhelmed, I was exhausted and I was frazzled…but I could have had an incredible network of other parents experiencing the same things and may not have felt so alone. It would have no doubt been hard to do, but it would have been so good for my sanity and good for them.
  9. My first piece of advice and something I wish I had done sooner, is to join a multiples group. Start with this website NOMOTC to see what’s available in your area. Ours has meetings once a month, but also had meetings once a month specifically for expectant parents of multiples. You’ll meet other moms/parents-to-be as well as get advice from the “pros”. It was also reassuring to meet moms whose kids were toddlers. I was always relieved to know we’d survive 3 or more years! Ha!! Plus, on the boards and emails that go back and forth I received great information/advice about products or pretty much anything! I still do and it’s worth the $35-45 I pay per year!
  10. Hell: we’ve heard from other parents of twins (and are living it right now) that the first 6 months are hell. I can attest to that, they were. We are finally in our 7th month and things are a little easier although there are still difficult times (I don’t think they understand sometimes when I am alone with them and tell them that “there are two babies and only one mommy”). We love these babies like you wouldn’t believe (never knew this kind of love existed) but I am exhausted, have shed lots of tears and sometimes just look like a crazy person (and feel like one too)! But we know there’s a light. It’s hard to just get out of the house to go for a simple walk, at least alone, but sometimes I manage.
  11. At the two week mark they definitely “woke up” and oh my goodness were we unprepared for that! I don’t want to burst anyone’s halcyon newborn bubble but man, do I wish I’d been told.
  12. Unsolicited Advice (which is what I am also giving): I think every new mother gets this but what people don’t understand is that advice from a singleton mother doesn’t always mean much to a mother of multiples. I’ve had people insist that they know more just b/c they are a mother, but believe me when I say it’s completely different being a mom to multiples! So take it with a grain of salt, but your best advice is going to come from other moms who’ve walked in your shoes! Having twins is a completely different experience than having one baby at a time. Actually, take this note from me with a grain of salt (speaking of unsolicited advice)!
  13. Attend Sue Darrison’s class for raising twins [Sue is Based in Sherman Oaks, CA. You can find her contact info on my Clubs And Classes page]
  14. No TV or screen time until they are three or older. No juice, No juice, No juice. Feed them healthy foods as long as you can.
  15. Research a company that will help deal with all the hospital bills and insurance forms – I had 3 feet of insurance forms that would come in the mail constantly and it took me a year to finally get every bill paid (due to inevitable problems when there are some many bills going back and forth). It was completely overwhelming.
  16. To find out if they are cold: Feel their hands (it’s a good proxy).


  1. twin pregnancyBed rest: it’s so common in mothers carrying multiples so just keep it in the back of your mind. I had a plan for when I was going to do certain things which was way earlier than most people. But it was for just in case. Not everyone goes on bedrest, just keep it in mind, though. Also, I was 10 weeks early, but I hear of so many people who make it a lot closer to 40 weeks. One thing I was kind of sad about, which is weird to some, is that I gave birth before my shower. I wish it had been a little earlier so that I could have been there while pregnant. Some people may not care, but I kind of did.
  2. Don’t travel somewhere at high elevation when you’re far along in your pregnancy. It is hard enough to breathe with all of your organs squashed up to make room for two babies in your uterus. Don’t add to the stress your body is already under by deciding to go on a snowy mountain get-away with your husband and end up in the hospital like me!
  3. See a perinatologist in addition to regular OB. They are specialists in fetal development, and her OB may not have the latest ultrasound equipment. This is especially important if they are identical twins, as there are more issues (twin-twin transfusion, for example).
  4. One thing I did that I feel SAVED me was getting everything ready for babies room, packing my hospital bag, and getting all necessary supplies for early days by my 28th week. I would say this is the BEST piece of advice I can give. I did this only because I am crazy early for everything in my life and like to be prepared. As it turned out, I had a completely UNEXPECTED emergency c-section at 31 weeks (there was NO indication before that day that I was going to deliver early at all…I was rushed into the hospital and my babies were out 2 hrs later as one of my placentas separated and my daughter’s heartrate plummeted). I don’t mean to be negative, but with twins I think it is best to be prepared early as you never know.
  5. Eat well. A nutritionist might be covered by insurance, so a visit or two would probably be just a copay. If you do go, it would be helpful to log your intake for a few days to get a baseline—don’t cheat and suddenly eat healthy. It needs to be an honest assessment
  6. Learn infant CPR now. We did not get a chance because of the bed rest and now I’m paranoid about what will happen if the babies stop breathing.
  7. Rock Stars: you and your babies will become this quickly! I can’t go anywhere with our kids without always being stopped. It’s nice, but sometimes hard b/c you’re just trying to get in and out of some place before it’s time to feed or one/both has a meltdown. Generally, when I take each out separately no one will even notice us, which can be a nice change of pace. I took them both out together on Sunday and I couldn’t tell you the number of people that spoke to me or asked if they were twins. The one nice thing is that other parents of twins will also stop you and offer encouragement. I got this much needed encouragement one afternoon when I was having a really difficult day after a couple of days of being cooped up in the house b/c of rain. The parents were so nice and had twin girls who were 6 — so once again I was reminded that we will survive this first year and may even survive the first 6 years!

Labor, Delivery and Immediately After

  1. Don’t get bent out of shape over delivery method. Whatever is best for your babies is what you’ll do in the end, anyway. My wife was not hell-bent on a v-birth, but was open to it if the babies were properly positioned, but then she went on bed rest, so never went to any birthing classes; it worked out anyway that our son was in such an odd position that it would have been a very difficult push.
  2. Research NICU’s in terms of what is most family friendly if you have to be there for weeks or months.
  3. Take the pain meds if you have a c-section. Also use an abdominal support after birth – the hospital will probably give you one. They help a ton!
  4. Before going to the hospital, go out and buy those inexpensive maxi pads. Soak them in a moderate amount of water and then freeze them. After birth, these will provide some soothing relief to your privates!
  5. Circumcisions suck.
  6. TAKE EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING the nurses at the hospital will give you. You can never get too much. I didn’t have to buy diapers for a whole month for my babies when they came home from the hospital as the nurses gave us so many.
  7. Also, if you end up using Emfamil formula, call them and tell them you had multiples. They will send one free case of formula. I didn’t even need to provide evidence. Pampers will also send coupons to moms of multiples so you should call them as well.

Feeding (Breast, Bottle, etc.)

me feeding

  1. Hands-free pumping! I had to start breast pumping because my babies were preemies and I was very sick (due to pre-eclampsia). It was really hard and I didn’t know about hands free for a week or so and it made a huge difference. Also, if in this situation, buy a lot of extra pump pieces so you don’t have to wash the pump parts in the middle of the night and just use the steam sterilizer bag once a day.
  2. Give pumped breastmilk fresh whenever possible rather than freezing – it lasts a week in the fridge and if you freeze it, it KILLS the immunity of the milk (the nutritional aspects are still great).
  3. Buy a deep freeze – my frozen supply of breast milk went bad, so I had to throw a lot of it out
  4. TRY to enjoy night feedings when you are with the little ones – I miss those days despite the exhaustion – there is something very special about the bonding that happens at night if you can focus in on the moment and really bask in it.
  5. Get breastfeeding help early and often if you need it, so very key, I thought breastfeeding just happened!
  6. Breast feeding is HARD… if it will help your sanity, stop earlier.
  7. Don’t get bent out of shape on breastfeeding. You’ll get engorgement whenever you get it, and if you don’t, then there’s a few things you can try, but stressing out will not help. Our OB’s motto was always, “give them what you have, and then give them what they need,” which requires a fair degree of acceptance to whatever the situation is.
  8. Feedings, etc: keep a chart of when you feed each, how much they ate, what their diaper looked like, etc. You’re going to be sleep-deprived and time and everything else are going to run together. The hospital will give you one. Many sites have fancy ones you can buy. Or make your own.
  9. For food-related questions, check out the Wholesome Baby Food website (a great resource).


  1. my twins 2 weeks oldSet up a bedtime routine even when they are waking every three hours. Then when they are physically ready to sleep through the night, the routine will already be in place. We did bath, bottle, bed.
  2. Put them down awake from the start!!!!!
  3. Sleep train your kids as soon as possible. I know many don’t believe in the “cry it out” method, but we did that and it took about 5 days with every night getting shorter and shorter. My kids are olympic sleepers and have been since 4 months and they still are at 4 years.
  4. Transitional object – More commonly called a lovey or blankie. this is an important aid for falling asleep and self-soothing. To develop an attachment to the “object,” keep it with you and your baby all the time until baby begins to finger, rub on face, clutch, etc. It especially helps to hold it between you and baby when you hold them, so it has your scent. Once they’ve attached, just give it to them for sleep. Now they have a special way to self soothe that makes getting into their bed pleasurable. It’s a good idea to have multiples on hand. It is typically a small (size of a cloth diaper) blanket or cloth, unstuffed animal, etc.
  5. Follow a strict schedule at all times for feeding and naps – don’t let social engagements interfere with the schedule. Work your life around the schedule.
  6. Sleep when your babies sleep. It’s so hard to do when you’re used to being a productive member of society, but the more rested you are the better your milk production, the better your mood, the better your relationship with your family. Sleep.
  7. Sleepy Planet rules!

Gear And Products:

  1. twins againOne of the best pieces of advice that I was given is “learn how to use your car seats before you have the babies”. I asked my husband to do it and then I gave birth early. We had quite a miserable time trying to figure out how to adjust the straps (had to call a friend). Maybe it’s just me (or my car seats), but it was a lot harder than I thought it would be!
  2. What do I wish I had done differently? Well, the main thing I can think of is that I wish I had not insisted on all of my equipment (i.e. high chairs, etc) be brand new. That’s what I’ve loved about this club is getting hand me downs a lot cheaper than buying them brand new, especially since you use a lot of this stuff for such short time period.
  3. Register for things that you need further down the road. I was so focused on what I needed immediately, that I didn’t think of future needs. Big mistake!
  4. Decide in advance what remedies you’d like to use for colic, fevers, gas or other ailments and have it on hand. There is nothing worse than your child being feverish or in pain from gas and having to take the time to run to the store to get anything that will help. Better to have it on hand and use the product that you want rather than the only thing the all night drugstore has on the shelf. Make no mistake, most of the time you will need some remedy at 11pm not the convenient 3pm.
  5. Motherlove nipple salve. The absolute best product ever. You can use it on your nipples, but you can also use it on the babies. If they get a little scratch or pimple or something you can put it on and the boo-boo heals up pretty quickly. It’s not petroleum based, so I feel safe putting it on their face.
  6. I should have signed up for Amazon Mom a lot sooner.
  7. Playtex Diaper Genie II. This diaper pail is very good at reducing odors; my husband has said to me about 100 times: “Who gave us this? This is great!”
  8. When you need a gate, this is a nice one: North States 3 in 1 Arched Superyard Metal, Matte Bronze Sold by:
  9. Ergo Baby (Or anything that will help you and your spouse wear your babies comfortably).
  10. Humidifier Air-O-Swiss AOS 7144 Ultrasonic is a nice one, but any humidifier in colder weather during cold season, will help. Use filtered water (Brita), which will help reduce mineral buildup.
  11. For safety gear, my favorite place to shop is One Step Ahead
  12. When they start eating solids, get a waterproof bib like the Bumpkins superbib. I wish I had known about these sooner.
  13. You don’t need two of everything—we have one bouncer and one swing. You don’t need two cribs right away either, but probably will within 3-4 months.
  14. Miracle Blankets for swaddling. They are the only way I was able to keep my babies arms in. They broke out of all other swaddles. They can be found online on the Miracle Blanket website. Love them!
  15. Breathable bumpers. They are safer than the big cushy bumpers and are made in many colors now. Babies R us sells them. Also, they are inexpensive. An added bonus.
  16. Small fan to keep in the room. There is new research that says circulating air helps to reduce SIDS. I learned this at Sue Darrison’s twin pregnancy preparedness night.
  17. I was just told by a friend of mine (with twins) to get the summer infant pan and tilt camera. Apparently, you can pan from crib to crib easily, up and down etc. You can also add another camera if you want two panning cameras.
  18. Make sure to get mattress pads that go over the baby mattress and also the one over the fitted sheet. That way, when there is a spill, drool, etc., you don’t have to wash the fitted sheet.
  19. Get the summer infant piddle pad for the car seat so you don’t have to clean the entire car seat when there is an overflow of poopy.
  20. A good activity mat is the best investment. My boys now use ours to pull up on 1 year later!
  21. Set up 2 changing stations within the house. Especially if you have two floors.

Other Posts To Check Out:

Wow! Are you still with me? I know, it’s an enormous list. But honestly, I found that there was so much more to having my twins than I ever would have expected. I wasn’t one of those people who had a ton of baby experience or a bunch of friends with children before I gave birth to my own. I hope that for those of you who are in the same shoes, this list serves as a place to check in and find some real answers. For those of you reading whose children are past the newborn stage, I’d love if you would add your own best tips and advice in the comment section. I am sure there are a lot of people reading this that would be so grateful for anything you have to share!

Cultivating Connectedness And Empathy For Your Child

Last week I had the chance to attend a lecture at Larchmont Charter School West Hollywood, with the director of The Echo Center which is located in Echo Park, CA. I had heard of this center for a long time (formerly called Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting – or CNVEP), but had not had the chance to look into it deeply.

To begin with, the director, Ruth Beaglehole, is a fascinating woman. Her efforts to heal the emotional pain of her own childhood led to her to develop a remarkable understanding of children and parenting which she has shared with the world for more than 50 years.

The most important intelligence is Emotional Intelligence

Ruth-BeagleholeRuth began with her sense that the language used by parents, for the most part, is one of dominance. That is, parents always want to know how to discipline children and how to get children to respect adults. When we are having difficulty with our children there is often the desire to have immediate compliance which tends to lead to a sense of “I have power over you” or fear based dominance. We all may be familiar with the “I am going to count to three and if you don’t do x, y or z, there is going to be a consequence!” which usually comes from a parental feeling of frustration and exasperation.

Ruth suggests not looking at behavior as either “good” or “bad”. Instead, tune in to your sense of empathy and put yourself in your child’s shoes. Ask yourself, what was your child’s goal and what was she trying to do to achieve it? If you want to get to the real story, your child must “feel felt”, which is one of the major building blocks for emotional literacy. Remember, connecting with your child is not just done when a child is behaving the way you want them to.

Every experience is wired into the brain

In the early 1990’s it was discovered that the brain has something called mirror neurons. A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an person (or animal) acts and when the person observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.

Children must see, feel and hear empathy in order for these empathy neurons to begin to work. When a child lives in an “empathy drought”, as Ruth termed it, these mirror neurons never come on line. She continued to talk about how the brain forms new pathways until we die. Thus, even if one did not experience empathy from day one, it is still possible to re-wire the brain and create new pathways of trust and healing. This made me think of the wonderful farm out here in California called The Gentle Barn where severely abused and mistreated animals are rehabilitated and taught to once again trust and love. In turn, these animals are used to help children who also have been abused to begin to heal. Surely there are mirror neurons at work! More to the point, mirror neurons would be a lead factor in why modeling behavior works so well.

What level of compassionate health do you bring to your parenting?

Without mindfulness, we will simply parent the way we were parented. “Our ability to be in relationship to our children is not based solely on whether we had a good childhood” said Ruth, “It is our ability to have a coherent narrative about our life”. Thus, if you are the child of alcoholics or had a parent who was abusive in some ways, it does not mean you cannot be a wonderful, empathetic, caring parent. If you felt no empathy as a child, it doesn’t mean you can’t raise your own children to be empathetic, connected adults.

The ability to reflect on our own life experiences is the most critical factor in breaking the cycle. Without that, we respond to triggers and can have moments of shockingly intense anger towards our children. I wrote about my own triggers in a previous post called Motherhood: Otherwise Known As Therapy. If you find yourself reacting to something with a disproportionate amount of anger, you are almost certainly being triggered by something from your past. So what do we do when we’ve been caught up in that triggered moment?

Stop and reflect.

Ask yourself: how old am I right now? Why am I not able to be calm or feel connected?

Take ownership of your behavior and apologize.

“Mommy really lost it. I wasn’t able to hear what you needed and I can imagine how hurtful that might have been”.

Stop blaming.

For example, instead of saying “my child lied to me!”, reframe it as “my child used a really poor strategy to get what he wanted. Through empathy I want to connect to what lead him to do that.” You are not accepting the lying; rather, you are trying to find out what is beneath it. Again, once your child feels felt, the negative behavior is diminished.

Create a reflective, mindful practice.

This allows you to repair your childhood. When we are flooded, we are in our mid-lower brain and can’t access the higher brain which is where thought process happens.

Find a parenting support group.

The Echo Center offers support groups and I have a number of additional ones listed on my Classes and Clubs page. You simply cannot parent well in isolation.

Read the book Parenting From The Inside Out.

Dan Siegal, the author, will be speaking at The Skirball Cultural Center in June. I will let you know when I have more details on that.

How to cultivate connectedness

There were numerous questions at the end of the evening. For me, the most pertinent ones had to do with connection. There is so much going on in each day and we are all so rushed and busy and overloaded. How do we make the time we do have with our children really count? I found Ruth’s answers to be more like pearls of wisdom, as opposed to sound bites. Here’s what spoke to me the most:

  • Help your child recognize and tune into their feelings. Remember that behavior modification is ALWAYS a matter of regulation, not discipline.
  • Start your day with 5 minutes of connection. Instead of starting the day arguing with your children about getting dressed or making beds in order to rush out the door to make it to school on time, consider taking 5 minutes out of that day to sit and read a book or chat with your kids. Just 5 minutes of connecting makes an enormous improvement in a child’s mood and behavior.
  • Talk about the plan. Helping your child think through the day helps predictability get wired into the brain. This sense of security, coupled with emotional connection, helps an otherwise anxious or frazzled child move through transitions more smoothly.
  • Bedtime. Fill your child up with attachment at this very special time of day. Try not to rush through it with frustration and anger. Start early enough that there is time to unwind and time to spend together, connecting. Use bedtime as a time to hear about their day, what they were grateful for, what things happened and so forth. When a child is filled with connection, they are less likely to be needy.
  • When you just don’t have time. There are definitely times when you are just too busy to give your child all of the attention he or she needs in that moment. If possible, have a special notebook (or even just a Post-it) in which you write down all of their requests when they can’t be honored in the moment. As I discussed in my post last week about early literacy, writing things down gives your child a sense of how important something is. They know their needs mean something to you, even though you can’t get to them just that minute.

“Attachment and Connection is your insurance for the future. Much more so than compliance will ever be” said Ruth at the end of the evening and I do believe that to be so essential. From The Echo Center’s website: “In 2010, CNVEP underwent a branding change, and the same transformational work that Ruth had practiced for half a century now goes by the name The Echo Center. ‘Echo’ because of the geographical roots in Echo Park, but also as a metaphor: when we are kind, that kindness echoes long after we are gone. In other words, when we raise children with care, we raise children to care“. I love that metaphor…it does make me feel that all of the hard parenting work we do is carried on generation after generation, and there is so much of an opportunity to raise this generation of children to feel deeply loved, respected and honored. It gives me hope.

Science That Will Rock Your (Parenting) World

When I first read the book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, I was blown away by the realization of how much I had been doing in the name of helping my children that was actually not helping and, in all probability, might even be holding them back. I couldn’t put the book down; I folded page corners and took notes, I talked about concepts with friends and family, I was hooked. One of the things I loved about this book was that the authors weren’t interested in putting parents down; rather, they wanted to open our eyes to the amazing scientific research that is out there that can help us all be more connected, effective and understanding parents.

art10860narLast week I had the good fortune to be invited to hear one of the co-authors of NurtureShock, Ashley Merryman, speak at a small gathering here in Los Angeles. In addition to being a journalist and author, Ms. Merryman is an attorney and was a speech writer during the Clinton administration. She’s also surprisingly funny for someone who spends so much time writing about science! She began her talk last week by stating that according to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85% of parents think it’s important to praise children for being smart. From the book, NurtureShock:

“The presumption is that if a child believes he’s smart (having been told so, repeatedly), he won’t be intimidated by new academic challenges. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research — and a new study from the trenches of the New York City public school system — strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.”

Praise for intelligence works…until a moment of failure.

Merryman brought up the groundbreaking research done by Carol Dweck which began with a group of 5th grade students who were either praised for their intelligence or praised for their effort. Those praised for their intelligence ended up choosing to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed when offered a choice of simple or more difficult tasks later on. Of those praised for their effort, 90% chose the harder set of tasks. These results continued in numerous follow up tests. Why? Dweck’s studies show that “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

How do we motivate children if our previous plan of building up their self-esteem by praising them was actually backfiring? She explained that there are two kinds of motivation:

Intrinsic motivation

The thing you love to do and which you would do regardless of whether you were paid or applauded for it. Hmmm. Any other writers out there know this feeling?

Extrinsic motivation

Motivation caused by everything else: money, recognition, approval etc. The real world is full of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors. The issue with extrinsic motivation is that your motivation and desire is based on someone else. Thus it is inherently temporary; as long as the praise goes on or the money comes in, you are willing to do the job.

Extrinsic motivators have no correlation to academic success “except that,” Merryman wryly joked, “in 3rd grade that fact gets stronger”. In other words, giving your children money for doing chores, extra computer time for doing well on a test or saying “good job” whenever they put away their toys simply keeps them needing those “rewards” to be motivated. They have not learned to do things simply for the joy of just doing them.

Studies Show What Our Brains Needs To Learn

Merryman mentioned a UC Berkeley study that discovered that motivation acts like dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is released when we receive a reward, but what researchers found was that dopamine is also released when one is intrinsically motivated, thus showing that motivation is, in and of itself, a reward! And the additional benefit was that this focused, heightened awareness allows people to learn better.

Additionally, another study by Carol Dweck and Jennifer Mangels secretly separated Columbia University college students with a cleverly designed questionnaire into two groups: the “Grade-Hungry” and the “Knowledge-Hungry”. Then, given a rigged test they could not pass, the brain activity differences were measured. One of the fascinating things learned was that the brain activity of those who were “grade-hungry” plummeted when they got wrong answers and only the amygdala (or, “fear center”) was lit up. Thus, one of the major things this study showed was that people who are more focused on grades and status literally can’t learn because their brain can’t process in the normal way. To read Po Bronson’s terrific summary of this research, take a look at this Newsweek article entitled “This Is Your Brain On A Test”.

What Would The Tiger Mom Think?

Remember when we were all discussing Amy Chua’s parenting style? Perhaps some parents believe that motivating children comes down to a choice between being strict and demanding or being weak and permissive. But Ashley Merryman believes this is actually a false choice and she brought up yet another fascinating research study:

Both Chinese and American mothers were told (falsely) that their children had scored below average on an IQ test and that they would be re-taking the test. Then, hidden cameras watched as American mothers were warm, supportive and connected as they offered their children snacks, talked about what they were going to do later, and passed the time until the test was to be re-taken. The Chinese mothers on the other hand, immediately told their children they scored poorly and that they had work to do before taking the test again. Their warmth and support was directed toward the test. Both sets of children improved the second time, but the Chinese children improved twice as much. The study concluded that warmth and connectedness that is directive has a greater effect on achievement.

How Do I Get Better?

j with medalAs parents, we all want to encourage and support our children. We all want them to feel good about themselves and be motivated learners. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already doing a pretty great job of helping your kids. The question is though, how can we do it better? Here are some ideas from Ashley Merryman:

“That’s the best picture ever!”

If you praise your child’s artwork in this way what you’re really saying is that she just can’t do any better than she’s already done. Why would she keep trying? Instead, describe what you see, praise effort, ask questions. Children hear so much empty praise that they stop believing it by age 7. By age 12, children actually believe that if they are praised it means they are doing poorly (“if I was doing well, I would instead be told I wasn’t working at my potential” is the common sentiment expressed).

Allow competition.

So many of us are now familiar with the sports classes in which every child wins a medal and no one keeps score. This feels right, doesn’t it? No one walks away feeling bad about themselves. But how do children learn to deal with disappointment? Competition spurs you to work harder and peer pressure can actually be motivating.


Yes, it always comes back to modeling. We are our children’s primary teachers! Let your kids see you making a mistake and more importantly, let them hear you say that it’s OK to make a mistake and that you don’t expect perfection.

Don’t impose your judgment.

Ask your child “Have you worked hard on this?” when he or she hands in a homework assignment. Let your child decide for himself. Kids need to develop a sense of when something is good or the best. In NurtureShock there is a section in which Merryman’s co-author, Po Bronson, describes a technique he uses with his young daughter: “Every night, she comes home from preschool with a page of penmanship, filled with whatever letter she learned that day. I ask her to circle the best example on each line — so she’ll recognize the difference between a good one and a better one.”

What if my child just says “It’s good enough”?

Try to get inside your child’s head and ask questions. Are you bored? Is the work too hard? Is it too easy? It’s easier for your child to say “I don’t care” than it is to say “I need help”.

What if my child always gets 100% on tests?

This doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, does it? But it does beg the question: “Are you bored? Do you need something more challenging?”

Praise what your child does, not who they are.

Kids who get constantly praised get hooked on dopamine. Intermittent reinforcement teaches persistence.

But doesn’t high self-esteem mean my kids will do better in school?

In 1984 a committee to build self-esteem was established in California. 15,000 studies later no correlation was shown that increased self-esteem leads to high achievement. In actuality, it’s high achievement that leads to increased self-esteem. Interesting, no?

NurtureShock is an astounding book which covers topics like why kids lie, why white parents don’t talk about race, why siblings really fight, teen rebellion, how to jump-start infant language skills and more. The book is full of so much terrific information that I believe every person who is around children should read it. I believe this so much that I am making the autographed paperback copy I received at this lecture my first ever giveaway at The Twin Coach. If you’d like a chance to win it, leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts about about this post. Don’t forget to leave a way for me to contact you! And to make it more interesting, those of you who are subscribers (or who subscribe once you read this post) will have an extra shot at winning. I’ll pick a winner at random and announce who’s won Wednesday, March 9th on my Facebook page. I really look forward to hearing what everyone has to say