Thursday, October 29, 2009

Little Nurses

On a school day like so many others, while I was rushing my shower to stay on schedule, I cut myself shaving. It was a tiny nick, nothing to worry about. The girls, who were playing in my room at the time, saw the blood on my ankle when I got out of the shower. String Bean spotted it first and came rushing over to point at it: “Mommy is that blood?” I told her it was nothing, blotted it with some tissue, and figured we were done with it, but String Bean was still concerned. She stood there, watching the little cut carefully. “You better put a band-aid on it, or you’ll get blood on your pants,” she said. I decided that she was right, so I rummaged through my bathroom cabinets looking for a band-aid (after turning down her offer to use one of her Dora or Hello Kitty ones), and was about to put it on when Peanut spoke up. “Wait! You need cream!” She took the Neosporin tube out for me. The two girls watched closely as I put the Neosporin on the band-aid, and the band-aid on my cut. It was a nice little change in roles, to be the one they were trying to take care of instead of the one who is always taking care of their little injuries.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Lights

We have a light switch that operates an outlet in our family room, but the outlet is in a bad place (next to the stairs, so too exposed to where the kids like to play to plug a lamp into), so the light switch serves no function. Peanut has played with that switch for about a year, always turning it on, looking around the family room and in the adjoining rooms for any new lights that have come on, then turning it off and checking the rooms for any lights that have suddenly turned off. I’ve tried explaining it to her, that it’s an unused outlet, but it’s either beyond her three-year-old capacity for understanding or my explanation taxes her three-year-old attention span, because she’s never quite grasped how a switch so perfectly placed at her height could do absolutely nothing.

As Halloween decorations started going up around the neighborhood, String Bean suddenly remembered that we have a rather large cache of lights that I hadn’t brought in with the decorations we’ve already put up. We no longer have the curtain rod up that I used to hang the lights from in the front window, so I decided to please both girls by plugging the lights into Peanut’s switch-controlled outlet. I strung them around the railing along the stairs and across a guard rail that separates the kitchen from the split-level family room. The girls have absolute power to turn these lights on and off as the mood strikes them, and they do so every five minutes or so.

The first night we had the lights up, after turning the lights on and off about fifty times, String Bean turned to me and asked, “So where were these lights before?” I told her they lived outside in the storage shed, in a box with all of our Halloween decorations. She studied the lights and the switch, then asked, “And every time we turned that switch on in here, it turned the lights on out there?” Electricity is a tricky concept for a four-year-old. So, even with my careful explanations and demonstrations, the concept of the switch-controlled outlet is still a bit fuzzy.

The cutest thing was how guilty String Bean looked as she asked it, as if she’d just realized that she and Peanut have been wasting electricity by turning on the lights in the storage shed with that light switch all year. She didn’t appreciate my laughing as I reassured her that playing with the switch didn’t control the lights unless they were plugged into that exact outlet. And I’m pretty sure she still doesn’t understand what I mean.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All-Powerful Big Sisters

The other morning, after a rough night’s sleep, I heard the girls moving around in their rooms fairly early. I wanted to sleep in, say, until 7am, before dealing with them, so I left them alone, knowing that String Bean would get herself up, pull down the gate on Peanut’s door (a no-longer-successful means of keeping her from waking her little sister in the morning), and convince Peanut to climb out of her crib, and that then they’d head downstairs together, where String Bean, expert in all things childproof, would open the childproof gate at the bottom of the steps that really has just become a way of keeping the dog downstairs all night.

One good thing about monitoring kids out of view (but not about trying to snooze once they’re awake) is that kids, particularly mine, are very loud first thing in the morning. As I lay in bed, pretending I had a chance of getting a tiny bit more rest before dealing with the morning routine, I could track their movement downstairs by the volume of their squeals. Louder meant they were in the living room at the bottom of the stairs, quieter meant they’d moved down to the family room, where all of their toys are kept.

Ten minutes later, I heard the girlish voices getting louder, then my door was thrown open and both girls rushed to my bedside, talking at the same time, saying something terribly urgent about milk. From what I could gather from their muddled rantings, Peanut wanted her morning milk (really, milk with a little Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed in), and wanted String Bean to make it for her. Apparently, Peanut had decided that her big sister could handle this job just fine, but, thankfully, String Bean disagreed. Peanut was still going on about wanting String Bean to make her milk, and String Bean was giving me a lengthy explanation that while she knows where the sippy cups are, and can put the “chocolate powder” into the cups, she’s not sure how much to put, or how to pour the heavy gallon jug of milk without spilling any. So, she thought the best thing to do was come get me, and Peanut wanted me to agree with her that it wasn’t necessary to get me involved.

Even though I was tired and cranky, it was a pretty amusing way to wake up. It was adorable to see Peanut’s confidence in her 4-year-old sister’s abilities, and to see String Bean growing up enough to care about things like making a disastrous mess by trying to pour a jug of milk that weighs almost as much as she does. So I hauled myself out of bed, laughing as the girls continued making their cases for/against four-year-olds making their sister’s chocolate milk in the morning, and headed downstairs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

I know it’s a normal part of growing up with siblings, and that having a sibling to play, fight, and make up with is a healthy thing, proven to lead to more conflict-resolution-oriented adults, but really, isn’t there an easier way? I love it when my girls are laughing together, playing their cute little games of hide and seek or running from imaginary monsters or building forts out of couch cushions. The sound of their laughter together is truly the best sound I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, the laughter only lasts so long. Then there is a tug-of-war over some toy, or hitting and pushing over one refusing to accept the role the other has assigned her. The other day I pulled them off each other, lying head-to-toe, kicking each other in the head. Neither one could remember what the fight was even about. I locked them both in their rooms, with gates in place to keep them there, and went downstairs to finish making their lunch. Within minutes they were laughing again, straining to reach each other across their gates, singing songs at the tops of their lungs, jumping up and down, and begging to be reunited.

Yesterday they got into a scuffle over both needing to play with the same toy horse (ignoring the other nine toy horses that lay scattered around them), and after each had pushed, then punched, the other one, they both got time outs. But they couldn’t manage to stay in their time-out chairs, and kept running across the room to each other to whisper silly things to make the other one laugh. So I tried a different tactic. I made them sit in the same time-out chair, with their arms wrapped around each other in a hug, and they had to kiss each other five times before they could get up. They were laughing hysterically after three kisses, and ran off best friends again.

I don’t remember my sister and I fighting so much as kids, but I also don’t remember playing with her much, either. We usually did our own things, in separate rooms. So maybe the problem is that my girls are too close, and refuse to play separately. I’ve tried using doors, gates, and harsh language to get them to play separately when it seems they can’t get along, but that just makes them more upset than fighting with each other. One time I asked String Bean why they can’t play nicely all the time, and she put her hands on her hips, gave me one of those exasperated sighs, and said, “We are playing nicely. Then we fight. Then we play again.” So maybe I’m the only one with a problem here, and they’re fine with the terms of their relationship.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Christmas Spirit

So, it’s not even Halloween yet, but the Christmas ads have begun on TV already. I’ve told the girls that they can’t have everything they see, but that they can start making their wish lists for Christmas, so every time we’re in a store together or I accidentally let them watch live TV on a channel with commercials, I get a few more items for the list. So far String Bean wants a princess bike, roller skates (the old school clunky kind that straps onto your shoes), Bendaroos, a new fairy wand, a jewelry box, rain boots, warm dresses, a new pig-shaped mini flashlight, and the new Tinkerbell movie that isn’t even out yet, but is already being advertised. I’m sure there are other items she’s thrown at me and I promised to put on the list but have already forgotten. So far Peanut has asked for…nothing. She got a doll house from her grandma for her birthday, and she spends hours playing with that every day. The rest of the time she spends with my old horse collection. Between those two diversions, she’s a happy girl.

I’m not sure what it is that makes some of us collectors: of clothes, jewelry, bright and shiny objects, toys, shoes, books, movies, you name it, while others just don’t value stuff so much. But I can tell you that I have one of each in my children. Maybe Peanut never asks for anything because with all of the stuff String Bean wants, pretty much every desire she could have is covered, but I think it’s more than that. String Bean is so aware of how things look, and puts a lot of value on the appearance rather than function of her objects. She’s prone to statements like “I just like pretty things,” as she sneaks her dentist appointment reminder card, decorated with a glittery rainbow, into her treasure box. Peanut’s treasures are all in her own mind, in the form of her imaginary scenarios that she acts out with her dollhouse dolls or Breyer horses. Aside from the doll she sleeps with every night, Peanut doesn’t keep any toys in her room or consider anything off-limits to her sister.

So, someday I’ll have to help String Bean understand the difference between a want and a need, and that not everything sparkly, shiny, or new is worth owning. Definitely before her teen years, when she’ll undoubtedly be on top of the latest trends and be a complete shopaholic. Maybe Peanut can help me get the message across.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Before kids, hubby and I used to spend a lot of time hiking. After we got our dog, the always energetic vizsla, we spent even more time hiking, even opting for cold, pouring down rain hikes, where we’d all end up soaked and mud-covered, anything to keep ourselves active and wear out the dog. When he was just a hyperactive puppy, all long floppy ears and gangly legs, we used to hike him for so long that at some point he’d just give up, maybe after seven or eight miles, and we’d have to carry him the rest of the way. As he matured, covering three miles to every one mile we hiked, with his need to explore every trail, stream, hillside, and meadow we passed, we kept adding more distance to our outings to end up with the same quiet, tired dog at the end of the day.

After having kids we kept up modified versions of these hikes, but with babies in Bjorns, then backpacks, then jogging strollers, with diaper changes and feedings to factor in, we weren’t able to cover the same amount of ground, and we had to be more selective about the weather we were going to expose our kids to. This past year, with neither child able to hike far, and both refusing to ride in a stroller, the poor dog has hardly been on any long-distance hikes at all. I have to admit, it’s been unfair to him, to set up this expectation that every weekend he’ll be hiked to exhaustion, then suddenly scrap the routine.

Yesterday, I decided to try a hike alone with the two girls and the dog. I feel a little wary of going without hubby, and minding the dog off-leash in a large area full of grazing cows while monitoring the girls as they totter along bumpy, hilly paths, but they’ve both recently had growth spurts, and their long legs gave me hope that maybe they’re finally ready for some real hiking. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the outing. The dog roamed and explored far and wide, encountering several other off-leash dogs to play with, including two other vizslas. The girls basically ran the entire time, their new longer legs handling the uneven terrain like pros. We went full out for an hour, and when Peanut started slowing down, I asked if she needed me to carry her the last stretch back to the car. Without a word she took off running again, quickly catching up to her sister. It was the first hike I’ve taken since having children where I never carried a child or had to push one along.

With bad weather on its way, we might not have ideal conditions for a lot of these outings, but I’m glad to know that when time and weather allow, we’re all equally game for it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rainy Days

So, the summery weather is finally taking a break here in northern California. This week the first real rain of the season hit, bringing with it cold, darkness, and a craving for quiet indoor activities. The girls and I have been drinking hot chocolate, watching movies, playing with Peanut’s new doll house, and sitting in our big front window watching the rain pour down, forming little rivers on the street that run down the hill, carrying the first fallen leaves along with it.

I love the first rains of the season. We have the first round of Halloween decorations up, and the darkness during the day means the little light-up pumpkins and witch-hat lights are easily visible all day long. I’m craving hot mulled apple cider and soup, wearing my favorite sweater and warm corduroy pants that I haven’t seen since last winter. String Bean even agreed to wear a long-sleeved shirt and her fuzzy pants (as opposed to one of her four favorite sun dresses) for the first time in four months without a fight, so you know she’s feeling the urge to get cozy, too. There’s nothing dreary about this first real storm. For one thing, as always after a long dry summer, we need the rain. And this is California, so I know this cool, wet weather won’t last. Sometime in the next few weeks we’ll have our usual fall warm spell, the Indian summer we all count on before we give in to the shorter days and cooler nights. But for these few days, the drum of the raindrops against the roof and the sight of the kids’ swing set dripping with water, are a welcome change.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The hubby and I took a two-day getaway to Las Vegas (the furthest I’ve traveled kid-free since String Bean was born), while brave grandma stayed with the girls. She says they did fine, kept the basic routine with some added elements, like a checklist written in big bold caps, that the girls got to check off as they completed each item (eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, go potty, etc.). The girls apparently loved the list concept, and were not just cooperative, but eager to get through each step just so they could use a colored marker to check off the big empty box before the item.

We came home from the airport during naps (which the girls, miraculously, took, all three days for their grandma, after weeks of non-napping for me). When String Bean woke up, she first wanted to know if we’d brought her a present from our trip, and then (while wearing the new necklace she’d scored), she wanted to cuddle on my lap for the next two days solid. It’s how it always is with her when I go away, whether for an evening, a night, or a weekend. She is happy to see me when I get back, and reluctant to let me out of her sight for a few days. She gets tearful if I try to sneak off to the bathroom without telling her where I’m going, is moody at the next school drop off, calls me back into her room frequently after putting her to bed with silly questions and concerns, just to make sure I’m still there.

When I got Peanut up from her nap after being gone for two days, she smiled at seeing me and said, “Grandma said you were coming home.” I picked her up in a big hug, gave her a kiss, and she immediately said, “Put me down,” and was off and running to find Grandma, her big sister, her new doll house. Peanut’s behavior is pretty much exactly the same with me whether I’ve been gone or not.

I guess it’s a nice combination, one higher-maintenance and clingier child who makes me feel endlessly needed, but can also wear me down with her demands, and one easy-going less affectionate child who doesn’t make me feel like the center of her universe, but never taxes my reserves when I’m running low after a couple of late nights. I do look forward to the day when I can take an overnight break for myself and not feel like I have to make it up to String Bean afterward. But I also know that when that day comes, I’ll miss being the most important person in her world, just a little.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It’s a Girl Thing

One of the things that I have always marveled at with String Bean is what a girlie girl she is. I have no idea where it came from, since I definitely didn’t get that gene, but she loves sparkles, dresses, jewelry, dressing up, tea parties, playing princess, and pretty much anything else you’d classify as traditionally girlie.

She has a posse of girls that she’s bonded with at school, and enthusiastically greets each morning, and reluctantly leaves each afternoon. In all there are six of them, which I believe is the total number of girls in her pre-K class. They share a brain, travel in a pack, are inseparable throughout the day, and adore each other as only a group of little girls can. Freely expressing their adoration with hugs, squeals, and endless praise for each other’s pretty shoes, beautiful hairstyles, or fancy clothes, this tight-knit little troupe of four-year-olds is an interesting study in the social development of young girls. And oddly, it’s the one aspect of her girlie nature that I can really relate to.

In high school, I had my own pack of girls I traveled in. There were five of us, and we ate lunch together, took classes together, and had endless sleepovers together. We were teased mildly for always being together, for all being the same height, and for speaking in our own secret language that only we could understand. The only difference was that we were not four-year-olds, so teenage hormone-driven drama was all around us, and occasionally infiltrated into our group. By the time I graduated high school, our pack of five was down to three, but I still count those other two girls, now women, as the closest friends I’ll ever have.

So there is something sweetly reminiscent in the way String Bean forgets I exist as soon as her “girls” arrive each morning at school. The way she’ll interrupt our long goodbye and run off beaming, holding hands with one or two of them, showing off her sparkly bracelet or complimenting her girlfriend’s sparkly headband, never looking back at me. I never really cared if I had a girl or a boy, I just wanted healthy babies. But now that I have two girls, I can’t imagine wanting anything different. As different as all three of us are, I feel like my girls and I form our own posse. Like my old group, we definitely speak our own language, have nightly sleepovers, adore each other unabashedly, and the way the girls are growing, very soon we’ll all be the same height. There is comfort in identifying as part of a group, something I think girls learn at a young age and carry with them into adulthood. I’m downright honored to be a part of their little pack.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Flu Shots

I just got my flu shot, doing what little I can to stem the flow of germs from preschool to my house, not to mention from the grocery store, Target, Costco, and the Starbucks down the street. I haven’t had the flu since I started getting the shot, back in college, after a particularly brutal flu season when I had it again and again. I don’t miss it. Likewise, I’ve vaccinated my kids against it, because the only thing worse than being really sick is having a really sick child.

Our pediatrician has a couple of flu shot clinics each year, where he opens his doors all day for his patients to stream in and get their shot, and sticker reward, in assembly-line fashion. Last year String Bean and I went to one of the clinics. I spent the whole morning giving her a pep talk about it, that the shot would be small, quick, and very mild, and that the sticker would be shiny, new, and quite beautiful.

When we arrived at the pediatrician’s office, she was whisked from the shot line into the FluMist line, because she’d had the shot before, and who wouldn’t prefer to sniff a little spray over having a shot? Guess who. String Bean has long had an obsession with saline nasal spray, so getting the FluMist vaccine was easy for her. He sprayed, she sniffed, no big deal. Until we were back in the car, Pocahontas sicker in hand, headed home, when String Bean suddenly piped up from the back seat: “Mom, I forgot to get my shot!” I apologized for the confusion, and explained that she didn’t need a shot after all. The spray up her nose had done the trick, and we were all done. She immediately started to cry, “Turn around! Go back! I want my shot!” Now, kids love to throw curve balls like this at you. Instead of feeling thrilled at her shot-reprieve, she was feeling deprived of the pricking sensation, the sore arm, all that I had promised her. I had to stifle my laughter as I apologized, profusely, for preparing her so adequately for something that, in the end, didn’t even happen. This year, I’ll try to be better prepared for either outcome.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Holiday Season

In our house, the holiday season starts in October. First, it’s Peanut’s birthday, then mine, then Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, then String Bean’s birthday. For the next four months, it’s one party planned after another. For the birthdays, there are play group parties, school parties, and family parties. Peanut’s at the age (and of the personality) where she just goes along with whatever comes, no questions asked, so she’s getting a few small parties as she makes the momentous turn from two-year-old to three-year-old.

String Bean, on the other hand, is quite the party-lover. She’s already giving me guest lists for her various birthday parties, wanting to be sure she gets to celebrate her big day (stretched out to a big week) with all of her closest friends and family members, and everyone else she knows, likes, or just hasn’t seen in a while. She’s giving me cake requests, gift suggestions, and ideas for decorations. Never mind that her birthday is almost four months away. This girl was born to plan parties.

I don’t mind planning parties, hosting holiday gatherings, even celebrating Christmas the three, sometimes four, times it takes to properly celebrate with every branch of my family. But I do have my moments where I look at the busy months ahead and start feeling the need for a massage or two. It helps to have String Bean’s enthusiasm to remind me that children are the real focus of so many of these occasions, making it instantly seem more worthwhile. And to have Peanut’s easy-going attitude to balance her sister out, so I’m only getting perfectionist pressure from one child. As party planning goes, I can already see who I’ll be passing the torch to someday. And I’m glad she’ll be better at it, more organized and more passionate about it, than I am.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

It’s all about Comfort

String Bean is a thumb sucker. She discovered her left thumb at three months old, and it’s been in her mouth any time she’s sleepy, scared, or needing some comfort ever since. The dentist tells me her bite is only mildly affected now, so not to worry, yet. We’ll tackle the habit more seriously when her adult teeth start coming in. I have to admit, it’s come in handy, the fact that she has something so comforting with her all the time. As soon as she found it at three months old, she started sleeping through the night. Now, when she’s nervous about a new situation or scared, it keeps the tears at bay. She also uses it to remember her right and left (she never sucks her right thumb, so if you tell her to turn to her left, she’ll pop her thumb into her mouth to orient herself first, then turn in the appropriate direction).

Neither of my kids had any interest in a pacifier. I tried, when they were wee things that cried regularly, but it just didn’t do it for either of them. String Bean found her thumb, and, wanting to prevent Peanut from adopting the habit, I tried various comfort measures until she chose one for herself. When she was about six months old, she started insisting on sleeping with one of the cloth diapers that I used as a burp cloth. She’d latch onto it while nursing, then cradle it to her chest as I put her down. As long as she had her burp cloth, she was a happy baby. I was happy with the choice, since I had dozens of identical cloths around the house, so we were never short of one. I kept them in her bed, in her swing, in the car, in the diaper bag, and tucked into the glider I used for nursing. I was never sure what to call it, this mini security blanket of hers, and tried various terms, but she came up with her own at about a year old, and that’s what it’s been called ever since. I’m not sure how it’s spelled, but it’s pronounced “tay.” She’ll be three years old next weekend, and she still sleeps with her “tay” every night. But we just had a dentist appointment, and her bite is perfect.