Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fostering Independent Kids, Part 1: You are not a slave

Since I sometimes have better things to do than cater to small demanding kids all day, I've quickly learned that the more I make my kids do, the less I have to do. I know, I'm a genius! Anyway, while my decision to figure out ways to do less and less for my kids is largely motivated by pure laziness on my part, I am also truly keeping my children's best interests at heart. They need to learn not only how to take care of themselves, but how to help out others and be productive members of a family and society. It's to their benefit to realize that unless they are wealthy enough to hire maids, (and they damn well better hire them for me, too) their current ones named Mom and Dad are not always going to be serving up their hot dogs, wiping their butts, and doing their laundry and dishes. 

I often see parents doing crazy amounts of things for their kids that the kids are perfectly capable of doing themselves. I don't understand why the parents do this, perhaps it's because they know that's it's faster to just do it themselves, or probably because they just don't realize that their 7-year-old is not an infant anymore. It's really easy to remain in the have-to-do-every-single-thing-for-them mode because it becomes so automatic. 

So leave it to me; I'm here to tell you that your kid is more than capable of doing things for, and cleaning up after, him/herself. Really! I witness it every day because I make my kids do pretty much anything they're capable of doing. They put their dishes in the sink, pick up their toys, get their own utensils, and get their own water and yogurts out of the fridge, and on and on. Short of frying up their own eggs and bacon in the morning, merely because they can't reach the stove, anything they ask me to do for them, if they can do it themselves, I tell them to - "Are your legs broken?" and "Do it yourself" are commonly spoken around this house. And who am I kidding, I don't even make eggs and bacon for them anyway. Their dad does; I'm too lazy.

To make the transition from being a slave an on-demand parent, follow this one simple step: the next time your child asks you to do something for them, before automatically snapping to it, stop and think, "Is this something they can actually do?" If it is, let them know that they can do it. This also applies to things you do for them that they don't ask you to do, like put their dishes in the sink or dishwasher. The next time you start to clean up after them, stop and ask yourself the same thing: "Is this something they should be doing?" I'm willing to bet their dad's left nut that it is. 

Now, you may encounter some resistance once the kids figure out that the new show you're running isn't exactly fun for them. But be strong, be firm, and don't waver! Find fun ways to turn tasks into a game, or for the particularly competitive child, a competition: "who can do it faster?".  Or you can always fall back on plain old taunting and shaming to get them to cooperate; it's one of my personal faves. Really though, your kids will actually feel better about themselves in the long run because they'll feel a sense of accomplishment and responsibility, instead of helplessness. Boost their confidence and sense of personal abilities, and use your newfound extra time to start a stamp collection. Or whatever floats your boat.

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon... learn to put your kids to work for you! 

Join in the fun on Facebook and Twitter!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Space-saving gear and methods

So we don't live in a giant house (unfortunately, since we have so many kids) but it's not tiny, either. However, with each additional kid, the walls close in on us more and more. Out of a lack of space and a desire not to be tripping over baby and kid stuff as much as possible, I've had to figure out some ways to space-save. I'm sure there are thousands of additional ways to accomplish this goal, but here are a few to start with.

    • Instead of a giant, full-sized high chair, get a baby seat that attaches to the table, like the Chicco Caddy Hook-On Chair. I used this one and it has been great, except for the fact that Brandon no longer wants to remain seated in it. He wriggles out of the straps that go across his belly, in spite of our making them so tight his face turns slightly blue, and he stands up as if he's accepting an Oscar. But before his Academy Award-winning days, when he remained seated, having this chair was awesome because not only did we avoid cluttering up our dining area, he got to sit with us at the table and feel like a big, cool kid instead of an outcast shoved in the corner, staring at our backs (for those of you who actually care about that kind of thing in the first place). This is also a great alternative to the booster highchairs that strap to the regular chairs, if you have a 4-seater dining room table and those four chairs are already claimed, like in our case.

      • Buy a travel-sized swing versus the regular ones that encompass a minimum of 15 square feet of floor space. The travel ones are also smaller in price, as an added bonus. If your babies are anything like mine, they won't even like baby swings anyway, so going smaller was an overall good choice. I've also seen these Graco ones that are basically a frame that the infant car seat pops into. They look pretty small and fold up, too. 

      • If you're really tight on space, a Porta-Crib/Pack 'n Play (at right: Graco Pack 'n Play - Morgan) works well in place of a regular crib, and like the travel swings, are also less costly. My younger two have mostly slept in Porta-Cribs for varying reasons, and they work really, really well. As a double space-saver, get a style that comes with the little changing table attachment, although those only support smaller babies - but I have some changing-table alternatives listed farther down. Plus, like their name implies, they're portable! So in a pinch, it's been nice to be able to take the baby's bed with us. 

      • For the older kids - bunk beds. Especially the kind that allow for storage underneath. And I am especially wowed at these triple bunk beds, that I just saw here. This "tip" is pretty obvious, I know, but I've stopped assuming that everyone is capable of basic common-sense, myself included.

      Evenflo Classic Johnny Jump Up - Frogs.Opens in a new window
      • Instead of the kind of jumperoo that's in a metal frame, get the johnny jump-up kind that hangs in the doorway (like this Evenflo Classic Johnny Jump Up - Frogs at right). Yes, it's a real pain in the ass to attach and unattach the thing from above the door every time, but if you have a kid who needs to jump and no space for the kind in the frame, this is your alternative. Plus, this Johnny can travel with you!

      • A changing table alternative is getting a diaper caddy, like the Prince Lionheart Table Top Diaper Depot pictured at right, and an underpad and changing your baby on the couch (or toddlers on the floor, like we did), or placing a curved changing table mattress on top of the dresser and doubling up the dresser's use. I do feel compelled to point out that if you use the top of a dresser, there typically are no safety railings so please utilize that sometimes elusive common sense and employ safety measures! 

      • Put the dresser in the closet, or get closet extenders. The dresser in the closet works great for boys since they rarely have any clothes that need hanging, and if yours does, then you need to rethink the kid's wardrobe. I don't think it'd be too easy to use both this and the dresser-top-as-a-changing-table method, but knock yourself out seeing what works.

      Product Details
      • If you don't have room to store an infant bathtub (although inside of the regular bathtub works pretty well for that), get one of those giant baby bath sponges instead. I've never used one, but a friend of mine with even more kids than me used one for her last daughter and swore by it. This one pictured is the Summer Infant Comfy Bath Sponge. Another choice: the Summer Infant Deluxe Baby Bather - it's like a reclined chair that fits in the sink or regular bathtub. Again, I haven't used that either, nor am I plugging for Summer Infant... just trying to throw out some ideas.

      • Try to find the 2- or 3- or even 4-in-1 products that would fit your needs. For instance, I saw that Graco makes a 2-in-1 swing and bouncer and Fisher Price makes some kind of 4-in-1 EZ Bundle system! I've never used either of them, but you get my drift. 

      • If at all possible, buy furniture that doubles as storage, like these ottomans that are basically big toy boxes with comfy lids. I've seriously wanted to tear up the cushions on my couch to see if I can sew in some hinges and store stuff in the frame. Which is ridiculous only because I can't sew. 

      And really, if space is a problem, consider that you probably don't need half of the stuff that you think you do. Babies are pretty simple and really don't require much, contrary to popular belief. Besides, most of the stuff will only serve to annoy you and the baby with the shockingly loud volumes, and bring about near-seizures with the flashing lights and extraordinarily bright colors and patterns. 

      Have some fantastic ideas/methods that have worked for you? Please feel free to add them below!

      Join in the fun on Facebook and Twitter!

      Monday, December 5, 2011

      The Travel Diaries, Part 4: The End

      The first 3 parts of this series can be viewed by clicking here (#1)here (#2), and here (#3).

      So basically, the rest of the week, after Brandon's episodes of sexual harassment that I outlined in my previous blog post (is that even what it's called?), was relatively uneventful. It was awesome to see the family and friends, and sucky not to have time to see the ones that, well, I didn't have time to see. Nate and I got to sleep in for 6 days, and had a nanny (my mom) as well. I think I only changed about 3 diapers and only wiped a kid's butt once - in an entire week. That's what I'm talking about! Usually that encompasses one morning for me. 

      The downfall to the week was: having someone else basically taking care of our kids only served to remind Nate and I of all we'd rather be doing at any given moment of any given day than playing servant to little kids. So therefore, my goal of being wealthy enough to hire a live-in nanny has been renewed with the utmost passion. It's not that I don't enjoy taking care of my kids, I just don't enjoy doing it every hour of every day. The whole parenting thing would be so much easier if I only had to deal with my kids for no more than an hour or two every day. Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder, versus the overexposure I get. So McDonalds, here I come for an application, and yes, I will work 10-hour shifts, seven days a week. Hire me.

      But I've made my bed and now I have to lie in it (I just hope I don't get pregnant in the process of doing that) and back to the trip recap I go. On Sunday we left our cozy dreamy cloud of significantly reduced parental responsibilities and embarked on the journey back home. The drive was not fun, as to be expected, but nothing too horrible happened so I'm thankful for that. One crazy chick in a yellow van decided to freak out on me for absolutely no reason (seriously, NO reason!) as I came up beside her in the left lane of I-5 while she was in the right lane. But my superb ability to handle freaks (I've mentioned that I used to work in a jail - plus, I live with 3 small children) allowed me to expertly deal with the situation and before long, she apparently got bored with being a psycho and the situation was over.

      The first stop we made (again not until after 4 hours of travel, amazing!) was awesome in that the younger 2 took craps at that time and I am eternally grateful for their excellent timing. However, literally 15 minutes after hitting the road, and a mere 5 minutes after passing the last town and therefore the last bathroom for the next 75 miles, #1 announced that he had to go #2. Fantastic. We had just passed Ashland, heading south, and anyone who knows the geography knows that we were entering no man's land, i.e., no bathroom land. We drove forever before finally coming to an exit, which we took and then drove and drove some more, only to find trees and hills and zero signs of civilization, much less a toilet. We headed higher into the hills, and I'm having creepy thoughts about that family a few years ago that got lost driving from Oregon to San Francisco and lived in their car for 9 days after getting stuck in the snow, with the dad dying before they were found. I was mentally calculating how much food and water we had and reviewing my limited wilderness survival skills (in other words, completely and totally overreacting) when Nate decided that we're screwed on the bathroom/civilization end and turned around. Of course, Ethan could have crapped in the woods somewhere, but the situation hadn't reached critical mass and until it did, I wasn't going to exercise that option. So ten wasted minutes later, we got back on the freeway with a little brown snake still playing peek-a-boo with Ethan's butthole.

      I don't know or even care anymore how much farther we drove before Nate spotted a gas station in the middle of nowhere and Ethan took care of his business. Off we went again, set back only about a half an hour at this point but whatever. Perhaps that half hour allowed us to miss the cop that was sitting on the road, not that we were speeding. Again, Brandon only slept about 30 minutes during the entire drive, (thanks dude) and cried for significantly longer. But, we were heading for home sweet home and knowing that we are not going to have to do this again for a while somehow bolstered my ability to be unfazed by him.

      Twelve hours after leaving my dad's driveway, we pulled into our own. I collapsed into bed later that night and slept so hard that when Connor woke up crying from another bad dream I didn't even hear him or wake up until Nate left the bed to go deal with him. I was so out of it that I began wondering why Nate was leaving our picnic and whose kid was crying... wtf? The next day we awoke to reality and the feeling of gratitude that we are not traveling again for a long time. 

      Join in the fun on Facebook and Twitter!

      Friday, December 2, 2011

      The Travel Diaries, Part 3: My Kid The Sex Offender

      The first and last parts of this series can be viewed by clicking here (#1)here (#2), and here (#4).

      So we're in Oregon for Thanksgiving and making the rounds of visiting friends and family. This includes visiting some friends that we met while they lived in California but later happened to move 30 miles away from my hometown in Oregon. They also happened to have had each of their kids at the exact same time as us, with no more than a couple months separating each kid in the years that we had them. So we're over at their house with 2 five-year-olds, 2 three-year-olds, and 2 one-year-olds. Well, to be precise, their one-year-old was a couple of days from turning one. As if this wasn't chaotic enough, we learned that Brandon, our 14-month-old, has a "thing" for babies of his age.

      Allow me to clarify what I mean by "thing". To begin, the name of the poor baby of Brandon's age is Madelyn, goes by Maddie. Brandon became obsessed with this girl and by obsessed I mean would not leave her alone. Apparently, the kid LOVES babies. He kept touching her face, eyes, hair, legs, whatever he could get a hold of, while trying to "talk" to her in his baby babble. He followed her around and kept climbing all over her while she did her best to fend him off. We tried to keep them separated by putting Maddie back in one of the bedrooms to play with the other kids. Well, like a hunter to its prey, Brandon found her before we knew he had left his own little play area, and when I walked back into the bedroom, this is what I encountered:

      Maddie was on her hands and knees, desperately trying to crawl away while Brandon was mounting her from behind. I kid you not. He was on his knees, reared up behind her, grabbing her hips to hold her place while he was trying to crawl up over her back to do God knows what. The look on this poor, poor little girl's face as she was trying to escape the clutches of my child was heartbreaking. Brandon, of course, had the biggest shit-eating grin on his face, and squealed like a stuck pig when I ripped him off of her. I took him out to the living room, and sure enough, faster than you can say "rape", he had gone back and found her again. This time, Nate went to rescue her, and when he returned with a protesting Brandon, informed us that Brandon had her down and was trying to kiss her neck. Left with no other options, we enclosed him in this little play area and blocked him off as best as we could. He was crying and trying to get back to his girl (victim) but I told him that that's what happens when you molest people - you get thrown in jail.

      Finally, it was close enough to dinner time that Maddie's parents were able to place her in her highchair and therefore protect her from my little rapist. They kept her there until her bedtime, basically. I have a feeling we won't be invited back the next time we're in town, nor will they come visit us the next time they're in California, I'm sure.

      Adding to this, a couple of days later we learned that Brandon does not discriminate in his choice of victims. Nate and my mom took him and his brothers to an indoor play place and Brandon decided to go after a little Asian boy. It's good to know that he's neither racist or sexist, and loves babies of all races and genders. The father of the little Asian boy- not so happy. My mom said that he was getting pretty pissed. Gee, I wonder why.

      While I know that he's just being an innocent little baby who is merely showing his love and affection for others in inappropriate ways, I am glad that I worked in a jail several years ago - I'm already prepared for what to expect when I go visit Brandon there in 20 or so years.

      Join in the fun on Facebook and Twitter!