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Most days, the kids begin stirring between 6:15 and 7:00. I love those days because I get to see them before I leave for work. While Jennifer prepares their breakfast, I go downstairs to get their diapers changed, get them dressed, and upstairs to eat.

Which means I’m usually sweating before I even leave for the office.

Here in the days of this sixteenth month, with favorite words abounding, I am witness to some cute and tender moments in our morning routine and finally took the camera down to record them.

Were it not for our six year refusal to patronage Wal-Mart, and were it not for those pesky child-labor laws, what with Mateo’s new favorite word of “Helll-OOOOOO!!!” we might have put him to work as a greeter.

RaJen Review: ASL Flash Cards

We knew we wanted to experiment with sign language even before the twins were born. There were plenty of resources available, some where you just make up your own signs with your kids, and others based specifically on the more universally known American Sign Language (ASL).

We purchased two different resources. The first was the Sign With Your Baby DVD by Joseph Garcia and while that was all good and well, you were a bit stuck to a television. So then we purchased these ASL Flash Cards by Sign2Me when the kids were four months old, which, looking back, is an incredible feat because we were dealing with ear infection after ear infection after stomach virus around the same time and I’m surprised I was able think beyond how it looked to the guys at Home Depot after I purchased a large tarp, plastic gloves, and a bucket, not sure they’d believe me if I told them it was for letting our son go diaperless to deal with the worst diaper rash ever from seven days of diarrhea and not because I was planning to dispose of a body.

Wait, where was I? Oh, sign language.

So the plan was to teach ourselves some basic signs, do them around the kids and see if they’d pick up on them. Sure enough, they did back here and here. And they’ve continued to pick up on signs.

Things we like about these cards: the sign description is easy to figure out; the Spanish word is there, too; nifty boxes for storage. Things we don’t like: the creepy bot signers; the cards, though a sturdy weight, are no match for the mouths and hands of babies – then again, neither is wood. I suppose we could have laminated them, but really.

We initially purchased three boxes (Quick Start Pack, Actions and Opposites Pack, Objects and Emotions Pack) on Amazon for a little under $11.00 each. And I just recently ordered the last two boxes (Family/Clothing and Toileting Pack, Animals and Colors Pack).

Sure they can use words now, but another method of communication during the toddler years is never a bad thing. Plus, with them requesting “More!”, how can we resist?

Prolific Pooper

Dude poops upwards of four to five times a day. A DAY, people! And we’re not talking the second one is leftover from the first one kind of poop. We’re talking full on, wholly independent, fifteen wipes, under the balls, centimeters from the top of the back of the diaper kind of poops.

Battling this kind of pooping requires strategy, such as in the form of meal planning. I seriously plan their meals around their bowel movements. Overnight pooping (which leads to massive diaper rash for Mateo)? Make sure his fruits are in before 1:00 p.m. Poops too watery? Add starches, reduce dairy. Good day for watermelon? Better have some bananas handy. After dinner poops? Move the proteins up in the day.

These kids are as much science as they are art.

Our dining table is a sore subject, primarily because things get stacked on it that shouldn’t be. Like the camera, mail, kid swimsuits. And ASL flashcards that we purchased for ourselves so we could learn and then teach the kids. One day, one of the kids saw the boxes and asked for “more”. And now, we can’t serve them a meal without doing sign language flashcards at the table. BUT HOW CUTE ARE THEY SIGNING?

Double Trouble

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Mateo in the backyard, just before I put my cupped hand at his chin and he spit out chunks of blue sidewalk chalk.

Our nanny works very hard. When our work schedules get crazy, she is always willing to stay later or come earlier. For her part, we compensate her well, let her go home if we get home early, pay her in full even if we’re out of town, and give bonuses when we can. She knows we appreciate her, she adores our kids, and quite importantly, the kids adore her.

However, not once has she asked for time off. So after much encouragement, and a reminder that we were going to pay her anyway, she found some dates that would work for her take a trip. Jennifer and I made arrangements with our respective employers to take time off work so that one or both of us could be home with the kids. It was all set for the weekdays.

But Jennifer had committed to being a caddy for one of her clients BOTH SATURDAY AND SUNDAY so that left me as a mostly single parent over the weekend. Okay. We went to the park, played on the swings, and I mostly prayed and held my breath as one experienced toddler went up the stairs and down a slide while the other toddler was running across the playscape bridge. In opposite directions. Hovering over your child is something only the parent of a singleton has the luxury to do. The rest of us have to use a zone defense.

My patience was tried at meal times what with the my-belly-is-full-so-I’m-going-to-toss-food-now and the I-can-clean-my-dirty-hands-off-by-rubbing-them-through-my-hair. There was plenty of whining, mostly related to someone taking the one toy that the other wanted, this in a room full of books and toys. I waited too long once to get them down for their (now only one per day) nap so there was plenty of drama surrounding that experience. Like when I was changing Harper’s diaper, in the middle of wiping poop, when Mateo decided to open, crawl into, and then toss himself out of, the bottom dresser drawer. Over the corner. Resulting in a four inch blood bruise down his sternum. And lots and lots of tears. Which made Harper cry.

That afternoon, I took them to their godparent’s house where we played in the pool and had snacks (and mommy had a yummy mint margarita. Thanks KF!) Crazy trip to the grocery store with the twins (yay for big carts) because I had committed to making some meatloaf and rice for some friends with a new baby. Those crazy moments offset by sweet kisses, lots of lap time with favorite books, hearing (mostly Harper’s) exploding vocabulary. Overall, Saturday was super!

That gave me plenty of confidence to map out our plan for Sunday. And that’s when the Get-Ready-To-Be-Humbled gods decided to play games with me. Like when after walking to the park (we use a stroller as infrequently as possible) and playing for an hour, we head home, me having convinced the kids that water and snacks awaited them, that thought being the biggest motivator for getting them home without too much distraction. Only to arrive at the driveway to realize that the garage door opener has fallen out of my pocket. Somewhere between our house and the park a hundred and fifty yards away. SOME WHERE.

I found it, but it’s a shame carrying fifty pounds of toddlers the length of a couple football fields doesn’t result in toned arms.

Or when, as I’m about to change Mateo’s diaper, he starts coughing and choking. So I hold his lower body down with one elbow (because HELLO, who wants a completely full poopy diaper and exposed tallywacker left to their own devices?), while turning his head to the side. At which point I finger sweep some meatloaf and peas out of his mouth. THE MEATLOAF AND PEAS HE HAD FOR LUNCH AN HOUR EARLIER. The guy loves to suck on his food. FOREVER.

Or, because I’ve been on a hunt for a non-themed flip toddler sofa and had heard I might find one at Ikea, we went there. On a Sunday afternoon. And the crowds! And the standing in the middle of the aisles! Thought clouds hanging above their heads saying “which. way. should. I. go. I. wonder. maybe. left? no. maybe. this. way.” And then POP! goes the cloud because I’ve just clipped the back of their flip-flopped heels and then said “oh, oops, sorry!” even though I did it on purpose. Granted, only after I said “excuse me, please” no less than a hundred times.

I start feeling a little clammy.

And on our way to the Children’s Museum, my belly did this thing that caused me to ponder what I had eaten that day. Turns out not much. An egg that morning and a slice of toast. Some cranberry juice. A few pita chips and hummus at lunch. Water. Half of a half of an uneaten grilled cheese.

Oh…yes…I am about to go there.

So we get to the museum, I get the two kids and the diaper bag into the stroller in no time flat. Stash the duck and the sunglasses and the coloring books in strategic places for the trip home later. Push up to the Members lane, and get stopped by a chronically needy member of my mother’s of multiples group. And she’s all “are you here with the MoM’s group for the playdate?” And I’m all “NO” because really, I am not. And I’m being all rude and dismissive, avoiding eye contact, and acting like I don’t recognize her, not because she has a tendency to suck the life of out of you – which she does, but because…I’m about to shit my pants.

I blow past her, clip a few more adult flip-flips, head to the elevators and wait for one to finally open up. “Finally” as in it was probably thirty seconds, but you know how slow time passes when you need a bathroom. And just as the doors are about to close, the hand of Needy waves between them and there the doors go opening because she’s headed to the Tot Spot, too. Wait, aren’t you “Rachel with the MoMs group?” “Yes,” I say, feigning lack of recognition because all I can think of is breathing and counting to onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten…BREEAAAAATHHEEEE…onetwothreefourfivesix… And she’s all “I’m ….” And I’m all “oh, yeaaaahhhhh….” LIKE I WASN’T TRYING TO PRETEND I DIDN’T KNOW YOU and then the elevator is all “Ding!” and she’s saying something about asking my advice and I’m all, “hold that thought, we’re taking a detour to change diapers, see you in a bit!” …seveneightnineten…BREEEAAAATHHHHEEEEE.

And that’s when I bust through the bathroom door backwards, flinging the stroller behind me, Harper laughing and going “YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYY!” because she likes to go fast and get tossed around and she thinks my desperation to get to a stall is fun and Mateo is all “WHOOOOOOOAAAAAAHHHHHH!”. And I’m all “Mommy has to go potty!” And we go into the handicapped stall and I can’t get my pants down fast enough.

Let me take this opportunity to say that we very rarely have the kids in a stroller. They are used to walking, even if it means we get there – wherever ‘there is – slower. This is all part of fostering independence and active participation in their environment. This has it’s pluses and minuses. Thing is, right now it’s a minus because the kids have now been in a stroller for ten minutes. The same kids who were subjected to thirty minutes of stroller at a Times Square crowded Ikea. The same kids who had been in a carseat for another forty minutes combined since leaving the house. And now they are at the museum, could see the entrance where slides and blocks and tunnels await them. And what did I do? I took them in the opposite direction. So you can imagine their general dispositions at this point.

I’m sitting there shitting my brains out, hot flashes and sweating, sure I’m about to pass out on a toilet in the handicapped stall of the Children’s Museum because it fits a sick mommy and a double stroller and mercy flushing like every sixty seconds.

Oh.

AND IT’S PAST SNACK TIME. So there’s that.

There I am doling out graham crackers and water between flushes and whining and trying to peel themselves out of the stroller all the while signing “more” and “please” and “thank you.” Right there in the stall.

I am not even kidding.

And I’m all “mmmmm, cookies.” And Mateo and Harper are all “mmmmmm”, Mateo’s eyes getting big every time I flush the toilet. And at this point, I cannot even imagine what this sounds like to someone else who is also in the bathroom. Can’t. Even. Imagine. Some Houston mom is out there posting about the shitting, flushing, parent feeding her kids in the Children’s Museum bathroom stall and all I can say is: TRUST ME, I DIDN’T HAVE A CHOICE.

So anyway, I’m done. I get up, open the door, tell the kids “want to go play at the museum?” as I wash my hands, and they’re both nodding “Yes”, something new within the last week. And someone walks in, and we’re about to walk out, and then the stomach cramps hit me. AGAIN. So I’m all “okay, but mommy has to go potty first.” And right then I’m really glad I brought the cheerios/golfish/raisin trail mix, too.

After all that, we’re another fifteen minutes of stroller confinement and I decide we must do diaper changes because the cheapie diapers we bought to save money are sometimes leaky and it was at least another hour before we’d be home. Cue the mini-meltdowns.

Of the ninety minutes we were at the museum, I think we were in the damn bathroom for half of it. What with my brain and most of my internal organs flushed away, the time wasn’t all lost on Mateo and Harper. I mean they had snacks, right? That’s good parenting! And afterward, I let them loose in the TotSpot, both in my visual periphery as Mateo heads right toward the slide, and Harper heads left toward the tunnels.

I’ve regurgitated this post from one I wrote over at HDYDI.com. Because I can.

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As mid-August approaches, I join a few million other people in my city as we brace ourselves for the onslaught of School Traffic. In the meantime, I’ve noticed an uptick of posts in both my neighborhood parents and my Mothers of Multiples group forums related to school issues and childcare. And I guess it’s because I have kids now that back-to-school has me thinking about more than just highway congestion and school zones, but also about developing our parenting/education philosophies and future intentions.

And though what I’m about to say surely is full of sweeping generalizations and un-unstudied opinion on education systems, I feel that public schools have become all about teaching-to-the-test with a visible reduction or elimination in subject matter such as physical education, art, and music. Do I think any and all public schools are horrible? No. But I do think that public schools focus on one, maybe two types of learning styles.

So what are the alternatives? Well, there are private schools with expanded curriculum. Yet for us, by virtue of tuition, there’s the…Cost Of Tuition. How the heck do people afford it? And with more than one child? Though to me, the bigger cost of private education is limiting access to the demographic and socio-economic fabrics that make up our larger community. The ones we’ll turn them loose on in twelve years, expecting them to live and work together.

There’s public and private magnet schools, but goodness, so many Labels and compartmentalization and boxing like “the math kid” or the “health careers kid” or the “performing arts kid”. I was lucky (that’s not the right word), to have been labeled Gifted from an early age. (Clearly, somebody screwed up!) I say “lucky” because I have been witness to kids being treated differently depending on if they are “regulars” students or “honors” students. Though I can’t quote directly, I do know there are studies that prove this to be true. In my experience, it meant that I was encouraged to think freely, more easily forgiven when I didn’t conform, and given more say in what courses I took. The very type of individualization that would be beneficial to so many, but is often limited to not enough. Gifted kids are excused their ‘genius’ when the same actions by an underperformer merely gets them labeled as trouble. That kinda didn’t have anything to do with magnet schools, but I’m thinking out loud here anyway.

Oh, and homeschooling. At its best, kids get immersed in their environment and learning is a natural process with appropriate amounts of structure and double doses of discipline from both the parent and child to make it work. Backers say kids are smarter, do better in college, and know better how to deal with all kinds of people and situations. Detractors say they don’t get socialized appropriately or that the parents are granola wackos and religious extremists. With unlimited financial resources, and should I notice either of my children to have learning styles that don’t correlate with the more traditional auditory learning and/or reading/writing preference-learning, we’d lean more towards the option of homeschooling rather than the current local public school system. And I consider myself pretty middle of the road.

Speaking of which, being that our kids are ONLY SIXTEEN MONTHS OLD, our ‘middle of the road’ will be Montessori school, probably entering sometime between 18-24 months. At this age, with two working parents, we’re still in a situation where we have to pay for childcare, so I’m less inclined to get worked up about shelling out money for ‘schooling’ at this time. We like Montessori because it fosters self-directed learning, but still offers some structure. And more importantly, encourages independence, respectful treatment of others, and integration as respected individuals in the environment in which they live, and PLAY. It’s a lot of work and a lot more messy, but we strive to do things in a “Montessori way” at home, too. Once we hit Kindergarten or 1st grade age, I’m not sure what we’ll do, or even what our finances will allow.

No matter which educational methodology we approach and ultimately choose, there are pros and cons to all of them. None of them are perfect. And we as parents have equal (if not more) responsibility to continue their education outside the walls of any school. I mean, I find it to be Jennifer’s and my responsibility to teach things like manners and learning that there is a world outside ourselves, and a sense of community, and spiritual development, and fostering self-confidence without self-absorption. I suppose in the end, we are required to do what’s best for us and our child(ren), studying them for their learning styles, getting involved with educators without becoming that parent. After all, we have to be the change we want to see. I just wish the process didn’t come with so damn many variables! And wait lists! And residential zoning requirements!

If your kids are young like mine, have you begun considering what’s important to you and what’s not as it relates to education? If you’ve hit the Kinder/1st grade era, what kind of environment are your kids in? What was your thought process? Are they thriving or have you had to tweak things? If you have older kids, say upper junior high or middle school, have you been pleased with your choices? Would you have done anything differently?

This year, after experiencing a not-so-relaxing trip with moveable toddlers, we decided we wouldn’t take any trips or vacations as a family until after the kids are at least two, save quick trips to the burbs to PawPaw Jimmy’s swimming pool or special occasion visits to San Antonio, both less than the maximum three hour drive limit. We’ve simply learned that unless we are staying at Grandma Gloria’s in San Antonio, it is not worth it to attempt to stay overnight anywhere other than our own home. And even then, we have to weigh carefully if the amount of work to pack, plan, and drive is even worth it.

So when Jennifer had the opportunity to go fishing in South Louisiana a few weeks ago, we decided she should go. Alone. She went. Fished for three days. Had a great time doing something she loves. Brought a whole bunch of fish back, most of which we gave to my co-workers, a bag of speckled trout which we kept for a fish fry for when the weather cools off.

Jennifer thought I should take my own trip, too. And hello? I agreed. First chance was Las Vegas for my sister’s 30th birthday, but the airlines wanted too much money for a flight on too little notice. So, no. A few days later, my sister told me she was headed to New York City on business and since I had never been, and had always wanted to go, can I crash in your hotel room, and by the way before you say “no”, I just want you to know I’ve already booked my non-refundable plane ticket.

It worked.

Also. My dad was going to be there. Random! And my sister’s husband. And my sister’s husband’s bromance from DC. But I hardly saw any of them. We each had different agendas and very different paces. Quite honestly, it was the perfect way for me to discover New York City, unbound by anyone else’s preferences or agenda, my nomadic self free to roam and get lost and be fine with it all. I hadn’t felt that adventurous since trying to hitchhike from Gunnison to Creede, Colorado back when I was a granola college student.

All I needed was four things: my MetroCard pass for the subway, my New York City Pass, a credit card, and my iPhone loaded with the following apps:

Safari – preloaded browser on the iPhone. What was the name of that restaurant? That store? I could search on Safari, get an address or phone number, and geolocate.

Open Table – a great resource for restaurant reservations, available both on desktop and as an iPhone app. With foodie friends having recommended dining locations, I was able to make reservations using OpenTable while on the go.

Maps –GPS locator with Google maps rocked. And in New York City, the actual names of museums and buildings show up if you drill down far enough. If there was somewhere I wanted to get to, I could enter the address, click on “directions”, and it would show me how to get there from where I was. Or I could just click on “locate” and it would tell me where I was. Because all those buildings in Manhattan? They kinda start to look the same.

CityTransit ($2.99)– Per the iTunes store, City Transit is a comprehensive guide to the New York City subway system. And it’s the only subway system guide that includes the official MTA licensed maps, line data, and GPS station finder and live service advisories. It freakin’ rocked and I didn’t have to carry a paper map all looking like a tourist.

Compass – While the GPS locator service didn’t work underground, the Compass did. And with all the multiple levels of the subway system, or how 55th street hits 5th avenue and you forget which way was south, the Compass was a nice thing to have.

TweetDeck – Live tweets and picture posts during my trip. And how my sister kept up with my activities while she was trapped in meetings discussing derivatives.

Facebook – mobile app for updating status and posting pictures.

That’s all I needed to navigate New York City. And here’s how it turned out:

08.19.09. HOU-BWI-LGA, arriving at 3:30. South Street Seaport. Taxi to Hilton Millenium. Walk around WTC site. Battery Park. Wave to Statue of Liberty. Subway to Times Square.

Times Square

Pick up New York City Pass at Planet Hollywood. People watch in Times Square. Dinner at Two Times Square with the crew. Marginal food, but nice views. Walk to Grand Central Station. Subway back to hotel. 08.20.09. 8:30a out the door. Subway north to Rockefeller Center. Walk around NBC Studios. GE Building. Top of the Rock observation tower. Pictures of Empire State Building and Central Park.

Looking North over a Hazy Central Park

Sit in Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Taxi to lunch at Balthazar in SoHo. Excellent food. Have the skillet macaroni. Meet dad at a pub for a drink. Chinatown. Little Italy. Part ways with dad. Vintage European threads for the kids. Subway to hotel. Shower. Change. Taxi to dinner at Nobu Japanese on my own. Excellent food. Have the black cod appetizer. Chat up a model and her handsome hedge fund owner. Taxi to pub in Union Station to meet sister. Taxi back to hotel around 11:00p. 08.21.09. Subway north. Brunch at Carnegie Deli. Walk up 7th Avenue to Central Park. Through Central Park to Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mini Masters Board Books for the kids. Walk back through Central Park to the Upper West Side. Meet best friend from elementary school for drinks at 2:00. Catch up on the last 25 years.

Hadn't Seen Each Other In 25 Years

Tour the neighborhood after the thunderstorm. More drinks at The Blue Donkey. Wait for the motley crew to meet us. Dinner at Carmine’s Italian Restaurant in the Upper West Side. Subway to hotel around midnight. 08.22.09. Breakfast at Embassy Suites. Pack up.

Underpass

LGA-BWI-HOU flights. Two hours of delays. Home in time to see my sweet babies before they went to sleep.

Want to see more photos from my trip? Click here.

Matchy-Matchy

More Photos!

The Aforementioned

LesbianFamily.org
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