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Archive for the ‘Toddlers’ Category

The Ladybug Sandbox

It all started with the red ladybug sandbox.

K was 2 and I decided she needed a sandbox.  The ladybug was the perfect size – not too big, not too small – and K loved it.  She loved it before we even put sand in it.  She filled it with the little plant id tags from my garden, stepped in and started filling her bucket with plant tags.  I loved it because for the first time since K could move, I could sit.

We started going to playgrounds.  There was the sunny playground with the great train.  There was the wooden playground with the dog statue.  There was the Veres Street playground at Mom and Dad’s house.  We loved them all.  K enjoyed the climbing structures more than the swings but she always made time for the sandbox.  We packed a snack, sometimes lunch and stayed for hours.  The leaving was never fun but honestly leaving anywhere at that point in K’s life was a challenge.  And really, who wants to willingly leave a playground?

We decided to expand the offerings at home.  I did the research and declared that we needed to go with one of the more expensive choices because they marketed themselves as “splinter-free.”  What can I say?  I was a relatively new mom at the time.  I believed it was in my power to keep K’s life splinter-free not realizing that the required mulch underneath the play space would provide more than its share of splinters.  We started with a sandbox and climbing area and would ultimately add a swing set.  I can’t begin to count the hours we spent visiting playgrounds or using the masterpiece in the backyard.

But somehow, when I wasn’t paying attention, the swings in the backyard weren’t really for swinging anymore.  K and her friend G would sit on them and chat for hours but they didn’t swing.  They had gotten too big to go down the slide or climb in the fort.  But they loved to sit on the swings and talk out of earshot of the adults.  Visits to public playgrounds had stopped a while before.  We were too busy with other things.

The backyard playground began to show its age.  The ladybug sandbox was more pink than red and the lid hadn’t been opened in ages.  The mulch had been ground into the dirt and lost its battle with the weeds.  The girls realized there was just as much privacy in K’s bedroom and the swings stayed empty.

A neighbor’s granddaughter was having twins.  The baby’s arrival would make five children.  Could they use a swing set?  The neighbor came and looked at ours and thought this family would enjoy it.  Kids could climb on it and swing on it again.  We were thrilled they wanted to take it.  Yet,  I’m glad I was away the day they came to take it down.  You see, it was just yesterday that my girl was three and we sat on the steps and watched the men put it up.

K and I drove by the wooden playground the other day.  Or I should say the place where the wooden playground was.  The powers that be decided it was too old or too unsafe so it was taken down.  It was replaced with a much smaller, rubber/plastic kind of structure.  “I can’t believe they changed it, Mom.  That was a great playground.  Do you remember how we used to go there?”

Yes, K.  Yes.  I remember.

Creating Childhood Memories: Traditions vs. Tasks

Recently, my husband and I attended a seminar by a family therapist that focused on creating meaningful childhood memories.

So we were given homework…….like we don’t already have enough.  We were told to come up with a list of situations that will remain everlasting memories in our children’s lives.   With high hopes that this list will be packed full, I came up completely empty except for the yearly apple picking trip, annual family vacations, our summer trips to Cape Cod and holiday celebrations.

Think…think…think.  As I try to come with some other examples, I think about my days…..up at 6am to let dog out, wake up JJ, make breakfast, wake up our 5 yr. old twins,  get JJ off to the bus stop, make sure twins are dressed, washed and teeth brushed, make their breakfast, wake up husband, feed dog, walk dog,  make lunch for twins, feed husband, run out the door at 8:42am to get kids to school on time, go food shopping, pick up dry cleaning, go home and unpack food, grab coffee, time to pick up kids from school, attend to various temper tantrums and marathon pouting, look out for bus, prepare snack for JJ, help with homework, pick up some of the “toy” cyclone that has taken over our house, make dinner, eat dinner, clean up after dinner, prepare for baths, brush teeth, twins to bed, JJ to bed, husband to bed, walk the dog, and finally bed for me.

So that is what a traditional day looks like.  No traditions…..no time for anything.  My day is filled with running from one task to another.  Now with this evaluation of my daily routine….there is no time to develop traditions that lead to meaningful childhood memories.  The memories my kids will have are of a frazzled mom who runs around like a crazy woman—trying to do everything for everyone, all necessary things that need to  be done but none that I deem memorable.

Unfortunately, this left me sad feeling that my life was not being lived to the fullest, especially in what I was providing to my kids.  Good thing is that I was forced to evaluate my choices in life.

When I reported to the therapist leading the seminar, she made me realize that although they are not the easiest to identify but the
memories are being created in even through the most mundane tasks.

So now the traditional day looks very different to me.  Up at 6am for some quality time with our cute and very loving dog,  go into JJ ‘s room to
wake him up with cuddles and a kiss on the cheek,  make breakfast for the kids ensuring they have it just the way they want,  wake up
the twins…and let them know that they have 15 minutes to cuddle with their dad,  making lunches has a whole new meaning as this is some mother/son time that JJ and I share as he eats his breakfast, I spend time chatting with Princess and Bruiser as they eat their breakfast and
as I down my first of many cups of coffee and the list goes on.

I have learned that it is all perspective of how you look at things.  My children will remember lots:  how they help me bake in the kitchen, how
Bruiser and I put together awesome Lego structures, how Princess and I work together on art projects, how all us root for JJ at his little league games, and most importantly, our family dinners—together.   My kids will have wonderful childhood memories of a strong knit, loving family that is happiest when we are together—no matter what we are doing.

Must Read Books for Your Toddler

My husband and I have been talking about how wonderful adoption is since we brought our son home with us from Korea. Now that he is 3, we intentionally talk to him about adoption more often and give him more depth to our own story about how we became a forever family.  I finally completed his life book, after agonizing over every word and picture, and presented it to him like it was the holy grail.  I must say I am pretty proud of it, but I must also admit that he loves several other adoption stories I’ve gotten for him just as much.

Horace by Holly Keller is a wonderful story that we’ve been reading since he was 2 about a leopard adopted by tigers.   Another one that we started reading then is A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kasza, and it is my all-time favorite. Choco is a little bird who needs a mommy and goes to Mrs. Walrus, Mrs. Penguin, and Mrs. Giraffe to see if one of them could be his mommy. He thinks that because he doesn’t look like them, they can’t be his mommy. He then meets Mrs. Bear, who just happens to do everything he needs a mommy for (hugs, kisses, dancing, etc).  You can guess where it goes.  The illustrations are the cutest I have ever seen, and I think it’s about the best you can get for a toddler who might be from a different ethnic or cultural background.

Books that we have moved on to recently are The Family Book by Todd Parr, I Wished for You by Marianne Richmond, and Over the Moon by Karen Katz.  Before I got these I did a ton of research on Amazon to make sure these books had the right messages and language.  What I learned is that there is no book that has the perfect language and story, except for the life book you create for your own child.  I would read lots of glowing reviews, then all of a sudden I would see reviews from readers quite offended by something in the story. I used some of these reviews to edit my selection, but soon I realized that I shouldn’t set perfection as the bar.  These books are all great in that they celebrate the love and joy of families created by adoption, and that was really what I was after for my son at this stage.

The Family Book, A Mother for Choco, and Horace are also good options for helping toddlers from non-adoptive families understand adoption.  I plan to get these for the young children of our relatives and close friends so that Maximus’ inner circle has the same context and understanding of adoption that he does.

I have also started to look for books that will celebrate my son’s Korean heritage. I stumbled across the perfect one, called Bee-Bim Bop, by Linda Sue Park. It’s about a family preparing for a festive meal of bee-bim bop, a traditional Korean dish.  It’s got catchy rhyming, cute illustrations of the food, and makes the meal preparation fun and participatory for the toddler from start to finish.

I had some paralysis every time I sat down to work on my son’s life book because I was so afraid I wouldn’t get every single word right. Reading some of these children’s books on adoption really helped because they gave me alternate ways to explain the major concepts – birthmother & father, why they made an adoption plan, who his foster family was, etc. And seeing him just enjoy the books, instead of agonizing over every word like I was, made me realize that at this age, my attitude is more important than the specific language.

Happy Reading!

The Questions are Coming……..DUCK and PRAY that You Say the Right Thing

“Mom, if you are JJ’s birth mom then how come you are his regular mom too?” Bruiser asked this evening between dips of his Chips Ahoy into
a small glass of milk.   It is questions like this that every once in a while randomly come out of our 5 year old twins’ mouths.  Are you ever fully prepared to respond to these types of questions?  As adoptive parents, we hope to be ready with an arsenal of appropriate, sensitive and
truthful answers.   My husband and I seem to be doing ok with the questions and appropriate answers…at least I think we are.  We address the questions in a reassuring manner, in a way that will make our children feel unconditional love, in a way that they will not question their place in the family, in a way that will assure them that their birth mom, lovingly made the choice to place them to afford them the best life possible.

But, I never know how my responses are perceived by my twins.  Today’s question was answered with a spiritual/ religious response of “G-d has a plan for everyone………..the plan was to have me be the mom of JJ, Bruiser and Princess.”  The answer was accepted and conversation quickly turned to potty talk that seems to dominate our kid’s vocabulary these days.

It seems as though the complexity of the questions are increasing but that is to be expected.  It is frightening as a parent to fear the unknown……….what is the next question? Will I answer it with ease? What if my child doesn’t accept my answer?  What if I don’t have a good answer?    My common sense tells me that these fears are universal to every parent……..the questions may be difficult, they may be different but all parents have the fear.  I will continue to give it my best shot and appreciate that my children are coming to me to get their information.
Our family is close, we communicate well and love each other………the questions will come, the discussions will endure, the dialogue will continue
but that comes hand in hand with a child growing up.

Monkey See Monkey Do

“Feel my muscles everybody!” Maximus says victoriously from his highchair, arms up in the air, with his little fists clinched.  This is after wolfing down broccoli, carrots, salad, and grilled chicken with a homemade yogurt smoothie on the side.  During this meal, as with all others, we have been talking up the benefits of healthy eating, so that by now Maximus fully expects to be “big, strong, fast, & smart” simply by eating all the virtuous gifts Mother Nature has to offer.  We figure that at 2½, it’s only a matter of time before he gets uppity and picky about his food, so we might as well pack in the goodness now.  Maximus eats pretty much everything we eat, including kimchi that would make smoke come out of even my scalp, thus sparing us of the French fry/chicken nugget strikes that afflict many families.

This is why I am starting to dread eating dinner with other families. Maximus is in the “monkey see monkey do” phase, and all it takes is for another kid at the table to say “Yuck!” at anything that doesn’t look like a French fry.  My healthy little eater then proclaims the same and pushes the virtuous yet offending food over to my plate.  We don’t mind if he indulges when we’re out at a restaurant because he knows by now fries don’t come from our kitchen, but I can’t help but think this is the start of all kinds of influences that will slowly chip away at Mommy’s credibility.  We also have a friend whose toddler runs away every time she lets go of his hand – as in literally flees like he has the Feds on his tail. Maximus almost always holds my hand and comes when he’s called, but not when we are with his friend The Fugitive.  He thinks it’s a hilarious game and takes off without looking back or acknowledging my panicked calls.

A couple of months ago Maximus also learned from someone how to yell angrily if he doesn’t get his way. He still seems a little surprised about the high decibel outbursts that come out of his mouth, but mostly he seems to experience great pride and satisfaction.  Today we had him in a hotel lobby and there he was, yelling as loud as he could to anyone in proximity “GO AWAY!”.  This sweet, polite boy who normally shakes people’s hands when he meets them was somehow overtaken by an incredibly rude imp that I could hardly recognize.

I suppose this is one of the many reasons that being a parent is the most heartbreaking and rewarding thing anyone can ever take on. From here on out I suppose Maximus will be breaking away little by little every day, with the influence that my husband and I yield replaced by others and Maximus’ own judgment.  Today I thought of this as I watched Maximus plunge into the pool into my waiting arms below.  How wonderful to be a child and know that everything your parent does will always be in your best interest.  But how frightening too, that for many years to come, Maximus will give others that same trust.  My job is to teach my little monkey to think 1st vs do, but I always wonder how I will know how to do that as the monkeys around us become more influential and exciting.  Can a monkey who stays in the tree all night be as exciting as the one who sneaks out of the tree?  Can the monkey who eats the bananas be as exciting as the one who eats waffle fries and Twizzlers? What about the monkey who squawks rudely back to his mother vs the one who politely apologizes for sitting on her banana?

For now my strategy is to bury deep into his long term memory some lessons to live by and hope that they stick.  Vegetables make you big, strong, fast, & smart.  Big boys are careful.  Share with your friends.  Say you’re sorry when you’re mean.  Water only in the tub.  No toys in the potty.  Be gentle to the dog.  At some point I’m going to have to upgrade to the more life critical messaging around not doing drugs, working hard, doing unto others, etc, but for now I need to bask in the pride and joy of my little monkey demanding more broccoli and carrots.

Toddlers Unite!

“Daddy, want picture rainbow” says Maximus the other day.  This request was not tied to having seen a rainbow anywhere within the past 6 months, he just happened to want a picture of a rainbow at that moment.  Such a simple, sweet request that took our breath away.  And, I might add, a welcome antidote to the stark-raving crazy tantrum he had just a few minutes before because he didn’t want his diaper changed. How can this delicious little ukele-playing 2 & 1/2 year old summon so much rage when we are just trying to restore him to his sweet-smelling self?

The emotional ups and downs of toddlerhood are INSANE. Every time I walk past a parent in public who seems to have a peaceful toddler I wonder if only a few moments ago they too were making it clear that mommy isn’t to be hit/kicked, and if they are also waiting for the next tantrum time-bomb to go off.  I can’t believe the things I used to take for granted – leaving the house, getting into the car, walking up the stairs, eating a meal, moving quickly and efficiently throughout my day. Now everything is a battle of the wills that has makes us at least a half hour late for all of our commitments. “I do self!” is the warning shot, but often actually is just a bluff that really means “I have no intention whatsoever of doing what you want me to do”.  The daily battles have made me wonder who on earth ever decides to bring second child into their lives when their 1st is anywhere between 2 & 3.  Do these people have a muscle for patience that I don’t? Do they have bigger hearts than I do? I have several friends with multiple children and I want to be like them, calm and rolling with the punches, not concerned that leaving the house requires military-style planning or that 4 days might roll by before they even get into the garage.  I honestly fear that if we brought a second into our lives, we might never leave the house again. Or if we did, we might never make it back up the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment, forever stationed in the entry way of our building. There we would be, an exasperated, grubby pile of a family with the smallest members screaming out unrelenting demands:

“want raisins!”

“don’t want wear pants!”

“where’s my penguin?!”

“no go upstairs!”

And then I try to think about how we’d be doubling our joy and that the positive part of the equation probably only requires a few sweet things to happen each day. Like the request for a picture of a rainbow.  Or today when I told him a surprise visitor was coming over who would want to give him a big hug.  “And big kiss?” he said.  “Yes!” I confirmed.  “And nibble my toes?”  wanting to understand exactly how much love would be coming his way.  It’s moments like this when I think maybe I could do it, and that I probably owe it to Maximus to give him a little brother or sister.  To have someone who looks like him and can relate to the adoption questions and challenges he’ll face as he gets older, to have someone to play with, to have a mentee in his “Toddlers Unite!” empowerment program.  I think an adoptive parent of an only child probably feels much more guilt about not adding to their family, because I think you can argue adoptees need siblings even more.

But then I go back to thinking about how I don’t think I have double the patience.  And how we’re so lucky to have such a healthy child who seems to be developing on track. And how we can give Maximus more if he’s the only one – education, travel, etc.  But fast-forward 20 years; would he rather have had a better education and trips, or would he rather have had a sibling?   You ask me that, growing up with an older brother who made being mean a sport, and I might have preferred the travel.  You ask my husband, only child of a doting Jewish mother, and he’d have preferred the sibling.  My husband definitely wants to double the fun but is willing to go with what I want.

So I wait for my epiphany.  The day it strikes me like a lightening bolt what to do.  Or maybe it will come in a dream and I’ll awake with a new found clarity and inner calm that all my friends with multiple children seem to have.  Or maybe it will spring from another sweet moment with Maximus, like when we’re done with the last book at night and he says “Snuggle with Mommy?”  Or when I get in the car with him after work and say “I missed you today” and he says “I missed you too!”  Can I possibly miss having 2 pudgy little faces smiling back at me???  We’ll see.

Elvis has left the building

I’ll admit I treasure my rockstar mommy status, though I do feel guilty about it. This is because my #1 fan treats his father like a bad opening act that he just wants to throw tomatoes at until the real rockstar comes on the stage.  Everyone tells us it’s typical for a 2 ½ year old, but they usually say “Oh sure, they go back and forth on their favorite parent so don’t worry about it”.  It’s then that I really pity my husband, because we’ve seen no going back and forth.  I always say that if Maximus treated me like he treats my husband, I would have to be heavily medicated to get through the day.  Here’s a typical day:

Morning wakeup – Maximus yells “Mommy! Mommy!” for a swift retrieval and if I can’t get him, my husband is greeted with “Go away!”.  Maximus flops back into the crib and refuses to get out.

Breakfast – “Mommy yogurt”.  I say “Look Daddy made yogurt!”. Unimpressed, Maximus says “No! Mommy yogurt!”

Me off to work – Complete and utter despondence; Elvis has left the building.  If my husband leaves first, he gets a jubilant “Bye Daddy!” accompanied by a big wave (or perhaps shooing motion?)

Getting out of carseat at end of day – “Mommy carry”.  I say “Mommy has to carry her computer so Daddy will carry you”.  Tears.

Bedtime – “Let’s go downstairs and read books”.  Suspicious clarifying question:  “Mommy read books?”  I say neutrally “Yes, Mommy and Daddy”.  Sherlock answers “No Daddy. Mommy!”

Today my husband asked Maximus if he loves Daddy. His answer:  “Tuesday”.  My husband took that as a sign of hope that at least on Tuesdays he could be loved.

I really do feel so badly for my husband and keep trying to convince him not to take it personally.  All of our friends say it happens to all parents eventually and that a few years from now Maximus won’t be all that psyched about me anymore.  This assumes however that I can’t overcome my fear of balls before then.  I am definitely scared of anything hard flying at my face, and this was even before Maximus broke my nose in an accidental head-butt a few weeks ago.  The thought of standing in front of him waiting for him to hurl a baseball at me seems ridiculous now, but I don’t think I’ll be able to let my rockstar status go without a fight.  I just wish both of us could be rockstars.  My husband is so much funnier and more patient than I am; he should really be the preferred one.

I’ve read a bunch of articles online to see how we can get my #1 fan to appreciate his father, and I think we’re doing all the prescribed things.  Maximus has special outings with Daddy, like eating their way through the Asian supermarket and picking out inter-galactic shaped fruits and vegetables.  (Maximus is from Korea and has already acquired quite a taste for super spicy kimchi thanks to my husband!). We make sure we share the care-taking tasks vs me doing them all, and I am constantly chatting up Daddy’s assets (“Daddy got that car just for you!” “Look, Daddy fixed your drum. He can fix ANYTHING!” “Daddy makes such yummy burgers.”)  Being a principled man, my husband could have locked up his #1 status months ago with some M&Ms, chocolate milk, and letting Maximus stay in either his tub or his jammies 24 hours a day, but he didn’t.  I admire that because I’m not certain I would have done the same.

We waited a long time for Maximus to come into our lives and being his rockstar mommy makes it all worth it.  Mercifully my husband seems to be able to cope with his “opening act” status, tomatoes and all.  I always suspected my husband was the kindest, most patient man in the world,  and Maximus gives him the chance to prove it to me every single day.  I know I should be taking notes for when I topple off my thrown, but I’d rather spend my time basking in the wonderful and fleeting devotion of this precious child.

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