Monday, October 31, 2011

A Soggy, Sticky, Smiley Tiger

Tonight was our first "real" Halloween with a child old enough to know that saying "tick or treat" will yield candy.  It rained, of course.  Most of my memories of Halloween as a child involve rain.  Sometimes snow.  It's tradition.  It didn't slow us down, though apparently the other neighborhood kids are made of less stern stuff because we didn't get a single tick-or-treator at our house.  Not one.  (Being at the bottom of a steep hill probably doesn't help.)

The dearth of kids may have also explained the phenomenon whereby we visited exactly six houses, but managed to come home with a couple pounds of candy.

Seriously.  One woman literally gave Miss Mouse three big handfuls of mini-chocolate bars.  Egad.  We let her eat three and she carefully selected M&M's, a Kit Kat and a Baby Ruth.  Of them, she really only liked the M&M's.

Buggie thought perhaps he needed candy as well, but he was wrong.  Poor little dinosaur.

The quandary for tomorrow is this: what to do with the extra candy?  I'm not gonna let Miss Mouse eat all of that, even if she does space it out over a few days.  Our current plan is to be matter of fact -- candy is for Halloween and Halloween is now over.  Thus the candy is gone.  Life goes on.

Maybe I can offload the remainder at work...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to Cook a Pumpkin in a Crockpot

It's definitely easier to crack open a can of smushed up pumpkin if you have a sudden desire to do some harvest baking.  But if you find yourself with an actual pumpkin on hand (say, if you went to a pumpkin patch with a bunch of preschoolers but then realized you're never going to get around to carving the darned thing), it's pretty easy to cook one yourself, too.  

The "traditional" method is to cut the pumpkin open and roast it in the oven.  But if your oven happens to be full of pumpkin spice scones or pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (as mine has been, of late), you can actually cook a pumpkin in a crock pot, too.

First, cut the pumpkin in half.  Easier said than done, I know.  I used a bread knife because it was serrated and big.  Scrape out all the insides and seeds (feel free to cook those, though I'm not a fan of pumpkin seeds).  Cut your pumpkin into chunks that will fit in your crock pot.  Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot and come up about 3/4 of an inch on the sides.  Cover and cook on high for four hours.

Then you scrape the pumpkin flesh off the rind and puree it in a food processor.  Whenever you cook and squish pumpkin (though especially in the crock pot), it's worth draining it through a cheesecloth because it tends to get a bit watery.  And, voila!  Pumpkin puree, ready to bake with.

I actually made a spreadsheet of pumpkin recipes.  Don't laugh.  It's good sense!  I scoured all my cookbooks for pumpkin dishes that looked yummy -- everything from pumpkin waffles to pumpkin lentil soup to pumpkin bars -- then put the cookbook and page number (or web address for the online recipes I've found lately) in the spreadsheet.  

I also noted any unusual ingredients that I might not have readily available.  Most pumpkin baking calls for pretty standard ingredients but if you're going to make pumpkin bars, for example, you need to be sure you have cream cheese on hand.  Pumpkin waffles require a container of vanilla yogurt.  That sort of thing.

Now, when I get a pumpkin-cooking yen, I can just consult my spreadsheet to find a good recipe and leap into action.  I'm planning to try pumpkin fudge this evening...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Darwinian Motivations for Bipedalism

Scientists theorize that our quadrupedal, ape-ish ancestors were motivated to start walking upright about the same time they figured out how to make and use tools.  It's remarkably difficult to carry something while crawling on all fours, opposable thumb or no.

I've noticed the same process playing out with my son over the past few weeks.  After starting to take solo steps over a month ago, Buggie has finally settled into a mostly-bipedal form of locomotion (though he still can't stand up by himself -- he pulls up then takes off).  I think this is why:

His greatest love at the moment, apart from his sister, is books.  When you set him on the floor, he usually makes a beeline for the bookshelf, selects a favorite tome, waddles over with it, and climbs into your lap.  It's pretty hard to mistake his intentions.

If there's no parent immediately available to read to him, Buggie is pretty happy "reading" by himself, too.

Wait, the picture is good, but it's better with sound...


Snow Day

It snowed today.  Yes, we still live in Pittsburgh.   Yes, it's still October.

If Josh and I were still a newly married couple with no children, we'd have glared out the window and then curled up on the couch with our books and maybe a mug of hot chocolate.

Instead, we gave in to the frenetic excitement of our three-year-old who was running laps around the living room and begging to go outside and "crunch the snow."  We dug out our winter wear (discovering in the process that neither child has boots that fit them!), bundled up, and headed out.

Miss Mouse was ecstatic and busily began collecting as much of the pathetic dusting of snow as she could in her Halloween plastic pumpkin.  The fact that she wasn't wearing gloves didn't really slow her down.

Buggie on the other hand, reacted in much the same way that Miss Mouse did at his age: abject horror at the frozen particles falling from the sky.  Poor Buggie.

When we (and by "we" I mean Josh and I) had had enough of the slushy mess, we dragged Miss Mouse back inside by promising to make pumpkin cookies together.  Which we did.  She sat at the kitchen island, industriously mixing bowls of flour, kneading it purposefully into her Play Doh.  I strapped Buggie into his high chair with some veggie puffs and the two of them were happy as clams while I did the heavy lifting baking.

It was a blissful morning.  And may I just say: pumpkin cookies are awesome.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Trouble with Harvest Parties

Yesterday, there were "Harvest Parties" -- complete with costume parades -- at Miss Mouse and Buggie's daycare.  As with an earlier holiday party at school, it seemed like a really good idea...

...but actually wasn't.

I took the day off work because Buggie's party was in the morning, Mousie's was in the afternoon, and we had an adoption-related errand to run mid-day (biometric fingerprinting -- how official!).  The difficulties began almost immediately when my wee dinosaur decided he was very unsure about his (insanely adorable) costume.

He rallied a bit when he saw that his friends looked at least as silly as he did, if not more so (see: skunk).

Unfortunately, his big sister had a meltdown when she realized I was a) in the building but b) leaving again without her.  Yikes.  It also poured down rain so the 'costume parade' that was supposed to take place outside on the playground actually took place in a crowded hallway.

But, I returned in the afternoon undaunted and ready for a preschool Harvest Party of epic proportions.  It was epic all right.  Lots of tears.  Lots of whining.  And one small tiger with pigtails attempting to rip her costume off in the hallway.

In fairness, it really is asking a lot of little kids to understand and enjoy that sort of party.  There are way too many parents, the events are usually not all that well organized, and Halloween costumes can be a bit tricky.

But the event wasn't a total loss.  I did get this fabulous picture:

And this one, which seems like an ideal postscript to our conversations about princesses.

 And, at the end of the day, twenty three-year-olds in Halloween costumes are pretty darned cute.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bink Be Gone

See this?

Good thing we took a picture because it's a sight you won't see anymore at our house (the binkie, not the snuggling with Papu).  I'm ready to pronounce Buggie binkie-free.  He's been clean just over a week, with his last binkie fix taking place last Tuesday night, and I think we're in the clear.

I expected the de-binkification to be a long and arduous process because Buggie seemed pretty fond of the thing.  Unlike Miss Mouse who was never particularly attached to a binkie and who had completely given it up by the age of nine months, I anticipated a fight with my boy child.

It turned out to be pretty anticlimactic.

We've been undergoing a whole bedtime transition with my Bed Bug.  Around his first birthday, we took away his bedtime bottle, at which point he was completely weaned.  We replaced the bottle with a sippy cup and let him drink it while we read stories.  Then I'd turn off the lights, give him the pacifier, and rock him for a few minutes until he fell asleep.  Buggie was always a good sleeper -- five minutes tops and he'd be out cold.

When we took away the bottle, that started to change.  He didn't fall as easily to sleep and would sometimes flail about when I tried to rock him.  Then last Tuesday, I bit the bullet and took away the binkie.  Interestingly, his response has been to stop wanting to rock.  Within a week, his new bedtime routine looks like this:

Stories with sippy cup
Lights off
Hug from mommy
Into the crib (wide awake)
Good night!

He's moved to putting himself to sleep totally without assistance.  He usually squawks for about a minute after I leave the room, sometimes less.  Then he's out.

I was flabbergasted by the whole process.  I had envisioned having to rock him for eons to get him to fall asleep without the binkie.  It never occurred to me that he would opt for a solo bedtime on his own.  But I'm definitely not complaining!

We have introduced a brief morning rock, though, since I still want to snuggle.  When he comes out of the crib in the morning, we head to the rocking chair for a few minutes, so he can nestle against my shoulder and blink sleepily before we launch into the day.

Monday, October 24, 2011

In which I grudgingly embrace chocolate milk

As much as I enjoy watching my daughter's face light up at the sight of a cupcake, I'm not a big fan of my kids ingesting lots of sugar.  I recognize that this is ironic and perhaps even hypocritical in light of my own sweet tooth, but that's the way it is.

Thus it is with deep reservations that I have been serving Miss Mouse a big glass of chocolate milk each morning with breakfast.

My wee girl is a severely picky eater.  And drinker.  She doesn't do much of either and I was getting concerned that a) she was getting dehydrated and b) she wasn't getting anywhere near enough calcium.  I attempted to address the latter worry by offering her more yogurt and cheese.  She'd take two bites and lose interest.  Ditto broccoli.

So I chatted with the pediatrician who convinced me that the sugar in chocolate milk was the lesser of two evils, wherein the other evil was future osteoporosis.  He reassured me that one glass of chocolate milk a day wasn't going to cause her teeth to immediately rot and fall out.

Miss Mouse is in heaven.  She cheerfully knocks back her chocolatey breakfast beverage each morning and then we sprint with her upstairs to brush her teeth.

Ah, the chocolate milk mustache

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Multi-Tasking Meals (How to Cook When You Have Kids)

I've still got the harvest cooking bug.  Today I made another batch of homemade applesauce (which is absolutely outstanding on waffles, if anyone is curious), a no-bake pumpkin pie, and a batch of sweet potato chili.

I'm learning that the keys to cooking when you've got kids are: figuring out ways to multi-task and learning how to most efficiently use your time.  A few examples:

When I made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins a few days ago, I prepped the dry ingredients while Miss Mouse was having her bath.  After hugs and kisses, Josh took her up to bed while I finished mixing everything together.  I threw the muffins in the oven and raced downstairs to the elliptical machine.  I did a twenty-minute workout while the muffins baked, finishing up just as the timer went off.

This morning, I peeled and chopped a million apples while the kids were having their morning snack.  Buggie was strapped into the high chair and Miss Mouse munched on apple slices.  Josh hung out at the table too, so it was good family time in addition to being productive cook time!

The pumpkin pie literally only took 10 minutes to put together so I just waited until the kids were both engaged in some sort of activity, then popped into the kitchen.

Finally, I took advantage of nap time to make the chili for a church potluck supper tonight.  It's kind of a weird recipe, which is why I'm making it at a time when my family doesn't have to eat it all!

It's easy to feel like you don't have time to cook when you have kids.  And it's definitely more of a challenge, especially now that Buggie is a bit big to wear like a backpack while I cook.  But if you plan ahead, multi-task, and time your cooking right, you can still do it!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Foodie Binge


I love to cook but I tend to go in waves.  I won't have the energy to do much more than get a basic dinner on the table for weeks and then suddenly I get an itch and go into a cooking frenzy.  It happened this week, starting with my first-even attempt at homemade applesauce.  I cooked up a vat in my crock pot while working from home on Monday.  It was delicious.

Today, it's 45 degrees, cloudy, and blustery.  Perfect harvest cooking weather.  Is there anything better than a freshly-baked pumpkin muffin on a gloomy chilly evening?  I thought not.  I whipped up a big batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins tonight after the kiddos were in bed.  I ended up with twelve big muffins and 24 mini-muffins.  I'm planning to freeze most of them to dole out on future mornings as a nice breakfast nibblet for the kiddos (and myself).
It was the first time I'd ever cooked with pumpkin.  My mother is a notorious pumpkin-hater and some of her prejudice had rubbed off on me.  It's only been in recent years that I have begun to tentatively embrace pumpkins as a food source and not just a Halloween decoration, though I'm still very skeptical of pumpkin pie.

Similarly, I'm fairly new to the world of butternut squash (I again blame my mother) but it's quickly becoming one of my favorite vegetables.  Sadly, my husband and children side with my mom so I'm usually eating it solo.  Tonight, we had meatloaf and mashed potatoes but in addition to the spuds, I roasted some squash.  It was heavenly.  But since I was the only one who ate it, there was a lot left over.  What to do?

Make butternut squash soup, of course.

Thus I give you my newly-created recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.  It's a bit imprecise but it's forgiving so that's okay.

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 1/2 cups of chicken broth
1-2 cups of water

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, toss the squash cubes with the olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Spread the squash cubes on the baking tray and bake for 12 minutes.  Remove tray, stir squash, then bake for another 8 minutes.

At this point, you can pause and devour a big bowl of the delicious squash nuggets.  They're sort of like candy, so indulge a bit before proceeding.

Puree the squash with 1 cup of chicken broth in a food processor or blender.  Transfer puree to a large saucepan and stir in the additional 1/2 cup of chicken broth and as much water as you need to reach the desired consistency. You'll end up needing a lot of liquid or your "soup" will more closely resemble herb-infused baby food!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More than just a pretty face

I read a pretty mind-blowing article today on Huffington Post.  It was called How to Talk to Little Girls.  The upshot of it is that the first words out of our mouths when we (as in "society as a whole") talk to little girls is to talk about their looks.  "Oh, aren't you pretty," we gush.  And the article begs the question: is it any wonder that our girls grow up to be hyper-conscious of their looks in all kinds of unhealthy ways when, from the time they can toddle, we send them the implicit message that their key attribute is their looks?

Wow.  Guilty as charged.  I mean, it's hard not to gush over something as shockingly adorable as a three-year-old with gigantic brown eyes, long lashes, and enough sparkle to power a small city.

But it got me thinking about other ways that I send Miss Mouse that same message.  Like with her growing love for Disney Princesses.  Just this week I got her a deck of Go Fish cards adorned with the lovely ladies.  And what do I usually say when she holds one up for inspection?  "Oh, isn't she beautiful?"  Every time.

So this afternoon I made a concerted effort to change the paradigm.  Today, we talked about Hobbies of the Princesses.  It took a bit of creative thinking because honestly, those girls don't always have a whole lot of depth to them, but we came up with the following list:

Ariel -- likes to sing and swim (obviously!)
Belle -- likes to read (you remember that opening sequence, right?)
Cinderella -- likes to sew (enchanted spinning wheel...a bit of a stretch)
Sleeping Beauty -- enjoys spending time outside with woodland creatures
Jasmine -- loves animals, like her pet tiger
Mulan -- is a warrior and is very brave

Not too shabby.  Miss Mouse was absolutely captivated by this exercise and we spent a lot of time talking about the likes and dislikes of our pack of princesses.  We talked about what Belle's favorite books are and what Miss Mouse's are.  We talked about our favorite animals.  We talked about how fun it is to walk around outside barefoot like Sleeping Beauty does.

Not once did we discuss the physical splendor of the princesses.  It's a small step, but it felt really good!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Present

For her birthday, we got Miss Mouse a puppy.

Just kidding.  Do I look crazy?

That puppy belongs to my best friend, but we went to visit him yesterday as part of Miss Mouse's birthday festivities.  Actually, he would have made a terrible birthday present as Miss Mouse could not have been less interested in the small furry critter.  She was much more keen on scavenging around the house for toys, ultimately landing on a Britney Spears action figure left over from our college days.  She called Britney a princess.  We quickly hid the doll and tried to change the subject before Mousie noticed and commented on the doll's (very visible, of course) pink panties...

No, the Big Gift (in addition to a fabulous set of Tinkerbell sheets from Nana and Papu and a new puzzle and game from Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Don) was a dollhouse.

My folks and I went in together to get Miss Mouse an exquisite, fully-furnished dollhouse.  In honor of our pending adoption, I bought two sets of people, white and black, then mixed them up to giver her an interracial family.  I have no idea how much that sort of thing really registers with a three-year-old but they do say that it's the little, subconscious things that can really help shape their worldview.

Anyways, the dollhouse was a big hit. Miss Mouse is engaging in more and more creative and imaginative play and I think that her new toy will help her develop that even more.  She immediately identified and named her family (after our family, of course) and introduced them to their new abode.  She set about taking breakfast orders, bathing the kids, and tucking everyone into bed for naps.

Buggie was also quite enamored of the gift.  Miss Mouse wavered between generously welcoming him to play with her and shoving him out of the way when he actually put a finger on her toys.  Ah, siblings.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Super Fantastic Day of Awesomeness

My daughter turned three today.  I'm not sure how it's possible, but each and every day for the past three years, I've discovered that I love her even more than I did the day before.  She is smart, and funny, and knock-you-down beautiful.  She's also sassy, and moody, and whiny.  She's three all right and I love her so much it takes my breath away.

This is the first year she really knew her birthday was coming and got psyched up for it so we tried to make it awesome for her.

It started with breakfast.  When she got up, she was met by balloons, a pop tart and chocolate milk for breakfast, and a lovely Birthday Fairy hanging from her chair.

The Birthday Fairy is a carry-over from my childhood.  She has a beautiful porcelain face and a tiny pocket on her back, just big enough for one wee present.  She always hung on my door the morning of my birthday.  This morning, she met Miss Mouse for the first time, bearing Tinkerbell stickers in her special pocket.

We did a 5K walk this morning -- a fundraiser for my work -- where there was much fussing over a wee girl's birthday, and balloon hats were plentiful.

Presents in the afternoon (more about those later) and then a birthday dinner with cupcakes.  Oh the cupcakes.  The pictures tell the story of her joy.

Oh, the anticipation...
She tried to share...he just looked scared.
Hooray for birthdays!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Clock for a Mouse

Hickory Dickory Dock.  I bought Miss Mouse a clock.

We've been struggling with keeping Miss Mouse in her bed at night.  She tends to wake at random intervals in the night and come traipsing into our room.  Sometimes she has to go potty.  Sometimes imaginary gorillas are causing trouble.  And sometimes I don't think she has any idea why she's up, and she simply asks to be tucked back into bed.  All in all, it was causing some sleep deprivation.

We're utilizing a couple different tactics, including making puzzle activity contingent upon a good night's sleep.  But my other theory is that Miss Mouse legitimately has no idea what time it is when she gets up.  It stays pretty dark these days until well past when we get up on a school day.  So I bought her a clock.

Rather than trying to teach her to tell time (a bit premature for a three-year-old), we opted to focus on matching instead.  We taped a piece of white cardstock to the clock display, with the number 6 written in a block clock-like font.  Then all she has to do is check to see if the other visible number matches.  If it does, she's allowed to get up.  If not, stay in bed.

It's a good idea.  I think.  Though I'm not quite sure she really gets it yet.  She brings it with her when she comes to my bedside now, and asks me if the numbers match, so I think we have a bit more work to do...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

5 Things We Do Instead of Watching TV

While there are definitely days when I would desperately love to pop in a Dora the Explorer DVD after a hectic day of work and kick back, basking in the peace and quiet of zombified children, for the most I really appreciate all the things we have time to do when we're not glued to the screen.  Things like...

1) Blow Bubbles -- Have you ever had the chance to watch little kids play with bubbles?  It's one of those rare moments in life where you get to observe pure and unadulterated joy.  I highly recommend it.

2) Bake Something -- Despite our best efforts at keeping the sugar content of Miss Mouse's life to a minimum, she naturally has a sweet tooth the size of Montana.  She got a huge kick out of helping me make birthday cupcakes for Buggie a couple weeks ago...

3) Do Puzzles -- I've mentioned how much Miss Mouse enjoys doing puzzles.  And if her interest ever seems to wane, we can always refresh to activity by changing locations...

4) Build Igloos -- Well, assemble igloos, in our case.  One of my buddies got the kids this great play tent that looks like an igloo.  We spend an inordinate amount of time in there, having picnics, building towers out of blocks, reading stories, and pretending to be wild animals.  And by "we" I do mean more than just the kids...

5) Dance and Frolic -- If in doubt, dance.  We do a lot of frolicking.  Miss Mouse has also developed a fondness for zumba moves, which we practice together before I head to my weekly zumba class.  She definitely gets an A for Enthusiasm!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Our Anniversary Staycation

In August, Josh and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  Well, we marked it at least.  Busy lives and crazy schedules prevented us from doing a huge amount of celebrating.  We had planned to go away this weekend instead -- spend a few days in a cabin somewhere away from the kids, reading, reconnecting, and above all...sleeping.

But when the time came to make some concrete plans, the financial reality of our "weekend away" started to look a bit daunting.  Even a modest trip gets expensive fast, between gas, lodging, and food.  In the end, we nixed our plans and opted for a little "staycation" instead.

Sunday after church, we left the kiddos in the capable hands of my parents and headed out to lunch, compliments of a gift card from Josh's parents.  Then, we hit the bookstore for an hour or so.  Two bookstores, actually.  (We love a good bookstore date.)  Next up, a matinee show of The Ides of Match.  At one of our local theaters, all shows starting between 4pm and 5:30 are $5.  Score.

And finally, we switched houses with my folks for the night.  They stayed at our house with the kids and we spent the night at their condo.  We ate cookies, watched a movie, and slept more soundly than we had in months, freed from listening with half an ear for the baby's monitor or the sound of a three-year-old stealthily creeping into the room.

It wasn't glamorous, but it was great and it didn't break the bank.  Altogether, I think we spent about $65, including $30 spent at Half-Price Books (for which we got six books -- can't beat it).  Maybe for our ten-year anniversary we'll head to the French Riviera.  Or not.

This post is linked up to Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom.  Head on over to read more money-saving ideas!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Birthday Parties: An Addendum

Allow me to add one more comment to the "why I'm in no hurry to organize a birthday party for Miss Mouse" conversation -- she doesn't always do well in social situations.

Let me be clear.  My girl is bright and verbal and social and fabulous (of course).  But I'm learning that there's a specific type of activity which is hard for her.  It's the "structured activity led by someone she doesn't know."  This includes story-time at the library, camp at the botanical gardens, and -- as it turns out -- birthday parties.

We went to our first true birthday party today.  A friend from school was turning three and invited Miss Mouse to a party at a local gymnastic studio.  Trampolines, parachute games, zip lines, and pits full of foam cubes to launch oneself into.  Oh, plus cookie cake.  Should have been an absolute blast, but I'll let the picture speak for itself.  There were ten kids playing happily together and one kid who looked like this...


Honestly I'm not quite sure what goes wrong in these scenarios but poor Miss Mouse just really struggles.  At less structured events, like our trip to the pumpkin patch or a play date at a friend's house, she's fine.  But in classes, camps, and other programs, it's a different story.  Usually she just gets quiet and withdrawn and a bit petulant.  At story time she'll refuse to participate, or she'll pretend to be super shy when someone asks her a question.  Today, it was a full blow meltdown.

I almost took her home, but we stuck with it and she eventually perked up when one of her best friends from school arrived late.  The two of them formed their own little party and basically ignored the rest, but at least they were happy.

But I realized today that she would almost certainly have responded the same way at her own party, had I been so foolish as to organize a similar one, and I felt a huge sense of relief to have dodged that bullet!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Of Pumpkins and Preschoolers

Just because I'm not on board with birthday parties for toddlers doesn't mean I don't love a good party.  Quite the contrary.  I love any excuse to get a group of friends together.  I'm almost compulsively social.  In grad school, I organized themed weekly potluck dinners that sometimes drew as many as forty people.  It was glorious.

Now that I've got kids, there are even more opportunities for festivities.  Thus it was that I issued an open invitation to the families in the kids' daycare to join us for an outing to a local pumpkin patch last weekend.  I thought I'd get a couple interested families and our small posse would hit the fields together.

The final headcount on the day of the excursion was 29 children under six and 30 adults.

Glorious, I tell you.

We met up at the farm, terrorized the animals in the petting zoo, took a hayride out to the pumpkin patch, ate lunch together, and enjoyed a bunch of activities -- including an old firetruck-turned-jungle-gym-and-slide.  It was a blast.

I love the chance to connect with other parents and for Miss Mouse to see her friends outside of school.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is nothing cuter than little kids holding hands.

This is where my heart and organizational strengths are.  I'm not great at party games and crepe paper.  But laid-back fun in the great outdoors with sixty of my closest friends?  That I can do.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Resisting the Mompetition

It was an innocent enough remark from another mom at our daycare -- "R__ is starting Phonics Adventures today..." -- but it abruptly brought me face-to-face with that awful, hidden reality of parenting: mompetition.

If you're a mom, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  It's that weird competitive streak that runs through moms (at least American moms) as we strive to ensure that our child is the best, the brightest, and the most likely to be admitted to Harvard at the age of four.

There's an ever-increasing push to get our young kids involved in more and more activities at a younger and younger age.  Kids in Miss Mouse's class play soccer, take dance, and are now taking early reading classes.  At the age of two.

There's (probably) nothing wrong with extracurricular activities if your child enjoys them.  Miss Mouse takes a music class that is a daycare add-on.  Once a week, she spends an hour with a few other kids, singing, dancing, and banging objects together in a preschool approximation of music.  She loves it.

The problem I see is when we schedule things for our kids because we think we're supposed to, rather than because they enjoy it.  And that's where the mompetition rears its ugly head, because the first thing I thought when I heard that another kid in Mousie's class was taking Phonics Adventures was: "oh, wow, should I enroll Miss Mouse?  I'd hate for her to not keep up with the other kids..."

Reality check, momma.  Miss Mouse is two.  Well, almost three.  But the point is this: she doesn't need to learn to read yet.  She really truly doesn't.  She loves books.  She loves words.  She loves letters and pretending to read.  We read to her and she "reads" to us.  We're doing everything right and I do not -- NOT NOT -- need to enroll her in a special class to speed along her literary growth.

Today's kids are much more highly scheduled than children a generation ago.  Or ten years ago.  We are so busy signing them up for "enrichment activities" that I think we run the risk of forgetting what their main purpose is at this age: to play and be kids.

So I didn't sign Miss Mouse up for Phonics Adventures.  Or Beginning Spanish.  Or SAT Prep for Preschoolers (I bet it exists somewhere!!).  But I did take her to the park this afternoon...

Monday, October 3, 2011

10 Things I Learned After Spending 20 Hours in the Car with my Children

This weekend, my family piled into our minivan and spent about 20 hours of quality time together there, driving to and from Kentucky to attend my brother-in-law's wedding.  After spending nearly a full day in a small confined place with my kids, I learned a few things.

1) Car travel was easier before I had children.

2) Two adults and two children on a four day trip can -- and will -- fill one minivan to the rafters with gear, food, and toys.

3) No matter how much gear, food, and toys you bring on your trip, it will not be enough to keep your kids entertained for the entire ride.

4) A one-hour CD of children's music played on constant repeat for twenty hours will drive you insane.

5) A one-hour CD of children's music played on constant repeat for twenty hours is less irritating than a three-year-old whining for her CD for twenty hours.

6) Pizza-flavored goldfish crackers are worth their weight in gold.

7) Armed with only two graham crackers and a sippy cup of water, a one-year-old can make a mess colossal enough to necessitate an entire wardrobe change.

8) No matter now deceptively ingeniously marketed and packaged to imply otherwise, craft projects do not work well in the car.

9) If your children fall asleep while you're driving do not stop driving unless you will literally run out of gas on the side of the road if you don't fill up.

10) When it was all said and done, my kids actually did much better in the car than I expected!
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