Pee and Poo and Potty Parties

Potty Training. In case you’ve been following my IG stories and wondering why we’ve been living in PJs and no pants and never leaving our house, this is why.

It’s time to face the music. I’ve just been putting it off and off. This bruise has been ready for a while now, and we finally took the dive and committed fully this past week. (We weren’t anticipating committing fully – at least I wasn’t – until I got off a work call and randomly found my hubby with this guy on the mini potty. “He said he wanted to go potty.” One week before we all go back to school and daycare. Sure, that sounds like the most optimal and convenient time to attempt potty training!) I’ve been knee-deep in pee and poop ever since.

So let’s rewind for a bit. Flashback to two years ago when we potty trained the oldest bruise. Mike and I agonized over when to do it. Should we do it now? How about now? Is now a good time? Do you think he’s ready? What about now?

We ended up setting a goal: If he doesn’t come around to it by Christmas break, we boot-camp-it-out over the holiday. Well, turns out this kid just started doing it on his own the first week of December. He was a little over 2.5 years old. And for whatever reason I don’t remember it being so bad. We stayed at home for 2 days just so he could learn to wear underwear and get used to it, and he did great.

We ventured out to Chipotle on day 3 (we figured this was our safest bet) and I vividly remember being down on my hands and knees cleaning up a massive puddle of pee under his high chair while the rest of the joint continued eating around me. I was mortified but I’m not really sure anyone else noticed? Maybe they did but just honored me with grace knowing what was going on. Yeah, let’s go with that.

But honestly, after that day we never looked back. It was a lot easier than I had anticipated. Occasional accidents here or there but it was rare.

Fast forward to now, with my middle bruise. I can’t even begin to tell you how different it has been so far. While this kid has been able to sit on the potty and make himself go pee for a few months now, Dominic has been having trouble noticing the urge when it comes naturally. And it takes everything in my silent willpower not to get frustrated.

So, what’s my secret?

Wish I had one. Things with Luca just kind of fell into place on their own. But here are the things we’ve been doing this time around to hopefully help our cause.

Treats. I’m kind of worried he’s going to force himself into a UTI because he is so enamoured with treats that he literally jumps up and yells “Time to go potty!” every 20 seconds because he knows he gets a treat right afterwards. I can’t figure out if I’m harming him with this reward system or if it’s going to pay off.

Nudity. Yup, good ole fashioned no pants parties and potty parties. At first it’s super cute seeing a little butt playing all over the place. But after a while I feel like the joke’s on me – especially when we are firehose peeing all over the ground (or secretly peeing in random spots only for Mommy to find a few hours later because of the stink), and especially when his older brother regresses because he sees all the attention on the little guy. Basically everyone is running around my house naked or in underwear right now. Not just my house either, all around the yard too – the neighbors must think we’re crazy.

Portable potties. Even when we are house-bound, portable potties are super convenient. If I want to take all the kids outside to play, it’s a lot easier to tote around a little portable potty than have to run inside every 20 minutes for potty breaks. Ones with splash guards (like the one pictured above) are a major plus, especially for boys! I have to be honest, I’ve been running around like a crazy person trying to find our portable potty for the car from when Luca was potty training. But think I can find it? Nope. Just ordered this one as a replacement from Amazon to go in the car. The replacement bags are also a must have to be able to easily dispose of portable pee and poop!

Lots of extra underwear. Especially because this bruise is having a heck of a lot more accidents than the first one ever did. It’s been a lifesaver to be able to throw poopy splattered underwear right in the garbage rather than trying to clean and disinfect everything. Maybe I’m just lazy?

Patience and calmness. I need to preach to my own choir with this one. Because when my child went pee pee on the potty and earned his treat today, I proceeded to find him outside standing in the front yard pooping in his underwear while eating his treat. (He’s successfully potty trained when naked; add underwear to the picture and it’s a different story.) It took everything in my power not to lose my sh*t. On one hand I feel like the little bugger knew exactly what he was doing. On the other hand, I have to consciously tell myself he’s 2 and learning – every kid’s journey is different. Woosahhhh.

This moment today is also when I went back to Dr. Google out of frustration to refresh my memory on potty training. It can take 3 to 6 months, they say. Respond to accidents with kindness and calmness, they say. Each kid will potty train differently and at different ages, they say. Have kids clean up their own accidents, they say (Uhhhh this sounds like a terrible idea to me – I envision my 2 year old playing in his poop….anyone else?). Be patient and offer lots of encouragement, they say.

I was hoping to write this blog post once we were considered officially potty trained and it was considered a success. But I’m quickly realizing this might be a longer journey for Dominic, so we’re in it for the long haul and I’m practicing patience. In the meantime, enjoy this video of my kids mowing the lawn in their underwear. (And if anyone wants a good laugh these days, just take a drive by our house.)

Building Math Muscles

Tara, this one’s for you!

First of all, I kind of feel like I’m a big cheater with this post. Cheating on my books and my literacy passion. Cheating on my soulmate. I guess that means I’m a pretty faithful and loyal woman, right? Nonetheless, I’m gona cheat, and it’s gona be ok.

I’d also be a fraud if I only ever talked about books and reading and writing on the “books” section of this blog because my roots with math go deep. Way deep.

When I was a little girl, math was HARD. I was the little girl who absolutely loved school – woke up on weekends disappointed it wasn’t a school day, played school with my fisher price chalkboard and stuffed animals (I even stole my first grade teacher’s chalk holder – I guess that makes me a thief, so yeah, there’s that.). But every day, when it was time for math, my heart sank and my stomach did somersaults.

I fell victim to the whole ‘women in math and science’ conundrum. Elementary school turned into middle school and high school, and by high school I was just trying to get through algebra and physics memorizing every formula. I still did well because formulas were rote and as long as I memorized I did ok enough to at least pass. I was never stellar, and despite AP and honors courses in humanities, I was much slower with math. And any time I had a novel problem that required me to think about what was needed to solve the problem rather than just apply a formula I had memorized, I failed. Epically. I cried and I stayed after and I doubted myself and I gave up. I HATED math; I’d never be a math person.

Looking back, I was so concerned with doing well in school that my strategy for memorizing only got me so far. I (nor my teachers) never took the time to actually help me understand what it meant. I didn’t have the number sense to make sense of numbers! I’m still the type that will pull out my cell phone calculator to figure out tips at restaurants or use my fingers for simple addition or subtraction.

Luckily I married a math guy so I don’t think my kids will have it too bad. Needless to say, I swore this off for my own kids. I wouldn’t let them fall victim to my own shortcomings, especially Tessa. I’m a mom on a mission with this one.

So we do math. We do math a lot. Not like “Hey it’s math time get your whiteboards ready!” But lots and lots of conversations and games and play based activities involving math. By golly these kids will have number sense if I kill myself trying. (And funny enough these activities have all helped me build my OWN number sense at 32 years of age..shh don’t tell anyone.)

I went back into my archives and pulled anything and everything math related with my kids that I ever documented. I organized it all into the math standards via Common Core, plus some add-ons. It’s not perfect…I’m much less confident in my math brain than I am in my literacy brain! (And I also know that making mistakes – mommys included – is ok, so I’m not afraid to be imperfect.) Hopefully I get your math brain going, and give you some ideas for what you might want to try with your own littles.

Counting and Cardinality

Operations and Algebraic Thinking

Measurement and Data

Geometry

Math Talk and Math Language

(Honestly, ALL of what I do includes math talk and math language – I could have put every single photo in this gallery.)

Patterns

A couple odd notes because it’s Friday night and I can’t really organize my brain…

I try my best to incorporate executive functioning and fine motor practice into many things we do. Executive functioning is a set of mental skills that refers to one’s ability to organize, be flexible, plan, recall, and maintain self control. As adults, we use executive functioning skills subconsciously as we manage, plan, and monitor the many tasks that we must accomplish each day. It doesn’t come as naturally to kids – they need to be provided with experiences that help them struggle (in a good way!) through challenging tasks with the appropriate help and encouragement from you along the way.

Similarly, I think in today’s day and age we often take fine motor skills for granted. Fine motor skills are the coordination between smaller muscles. Think pincer grasp, cutting with scissors, threading beads, writing, buttoning, zippering (on the contrary think of gross motor skills like walking, running, throwing…). Therefore, I try and build these into as many activities as I can as well, especially and most importantly for the 2 year old.

Lastly, most (if not all) of what I do with the 4 year old is adaptable in some way to the 2 year old. That way I’m not planning double the activities, and they can use/benefit from the same materials. I tried to include the 2 year old in as many of the photos above so you can see how I tweaked activities slightly to match his developmental level. If anything, I ALWAYS let him participate even if it’s just free play with the same materials his brother is using. The brothers are each other’s biggest motivators, so I play on that as much as I can!

If anything, I hope this can be a good resource for you to come back to when you’re in need of something to do. Bookmark this page now so you don’t have to come digging later!

Boy Toys: Cars and Dinos and Blocks…Oh My!

Ok so I have to admit I have a major case of third child syndrome. Don’t know if that’s a thing, but we definitely had/have second child syndrome with Dominic, so poor Tessa doesn’t even stand a chance.

I did everything to a T for that first child, followed ALL the rules. Kept up with all the cleaning protocols, didn’t use a single product that wasn’t all natural. Talked to the pediatrician before trying anything new and talked to the pediatrician about every little worry or question that creeped into my mind. You know the drill. Back then, Whole Foods was my jam; now I consider it a weekly win if I make it down the organic or all-natural aisle in Stop & Shop. (For the record, Whole Foods is still my jam, there just isn’t one close enough to me right now for me to consider it a worthwhile trip.)

Second child meant the 5 second rule turned into the 60 second rule, we no longer carried the high chair/shopping cart cover with us everywhere we went, and Welch’s fruit snacks vs. Annie’s bunnies = same difference. Ditched the Babyganics shampoo and body wash for good ole-fashioned Johnson’s baby shampoo and body wash because it just smells so damn good.

You get the picture, let me cut right to it. This poor girl lives out her days playing with toy cars, dinosaurs, legos, and trucks. I wish I could say it is because I’m ignoring gender norms and raising this bow to shatter all the glass ceilings. That would be noble of me- and philosophically the beliefs and values I want to and try to instill in all my kids align with this. You better believe I want her to shatter ALL the glass ceilings. But this was just serendipity I suppose – causal result of laziness on my part.

I was talking to my mom about it – feeling guilty I don’t really have any feminine (girly?) play things for her. She made a good point. She said, “That’s not true all your baby toys are gender neutral, you just don’t bother to actually take them out.” New Year’s Resolution 1: make an effort to take out the baby toys more often (I’m allowed to make a New Year’s Resolution in August because I’m a teacher so technically my New Year starts at the end of the month.).

I thought about it more; it’s still kind of weighing on me. On one hand, there is zero reason I need to add any more crap to the already-overflowing playroom we have. But I do sort of have big girl dreams to be able to play dress up with my girl, to watch her play with a doll house, to see her take care of her baby dolls. Or at least let her have the option of choosing this (because I know if she chooses diggers over dolls or dinos over dress up, I’m totally fine with that too – believe it or not I was the BIGGEST tom-boy athlete growing up!). And if this is the case – to even give her the option to choose what toys she wants to play with – then I need to drastically overhaul the playroom. It is head-to-toe all things BOY right now. Time to make way for girl! New Year’s Resolution 2: Clean, purge, clear out (not a bad excuse to do this!).

No need for me to rush into buying all playthings girl right now, she’s still too young for it to matter. But thinking about Christmas and her birthday in January, I’m going to need all the ideas from all the girl moms out there. What’s the best girly gift for a one year old? Is there even one? Or is it really completely gender neutral until the toddler years? Do I just wait till she’s old enough to realize what she wants and wait for her to ask for it? Would love for you to drop me a comment below or follow me on Instagram to give me your insights!

Insta handle is Bruisesbowsandbooks. See ya there!

Taking a Toddler Through the Stages of Writing

So writing. Yeah. Probably the most hated subject by kids in elementary school. For lots of reasons – it’s hard! It takes lots of executive functioning to transform an idea into a plan into a draft into a revised draft into a published version. Not to mention the mechanical side of it – the physical act of handwriting (or typing if your kiddo is older!). It takes a lot of effort and a lot of patience.

But I LOVE writing (duh, blog!), and I LOVE to teach it. And I absolutely love to teach it to the kids who struggle with it the most.

And writing is for all ages…looks more like language development and storytelling for babies and morphs into pictures and drawings for toddlers and finally transforms into conventional writing as kids move up the grades in elementary school. And it has such a reciprocal relationship to reading, that when you see a reader fall in love with writing or a writer fall in love with reading, your little teacher heart just melts.

I’m so happy that my own kiddos have taken to drawing and writing so much. My 4 year old is my little artist, and my 2 year wants to do everything he does. So it works. We do “drawing lessons” most days, and we’ve done quite a few full on books, whenever the 4 year old asks to!

This is my first foray into vlogging/visual blogging, so enjoy watching the stages of writing through the mind of a toddler!

No age is too young to start. His little brother is his shadow, so of course I incorporate him into our activities too. And since big brother is doing it, he usually eats it right up!

Like I said, there are so many other ways to encourage writing in young kids too – you don’t have to co-write big long books all the time. We do interactive drawing and writing all the time, and sometimes even directed writing too. Here’s an example!

And lastly, no need to just stick with fiction. Can do nonfiction too! Here’s an example!

(Still working on left to right directionality with that one!)

HAPPY WRITING!! 🙂

The Isaias Diaries

On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, we got hit with tropical storm/hurricane Isaias, resulting in the longest I’ve gone without power since my kids were born (it’s a lot harder when you have littles relying on you!). Knowing I wouldn’t have internet for the foreseeable future, I kept a diary on Microsoft Word (how archaic!). I decided not to go back and edit these entries to keep them as real and raw as possible, and to be honest I don’t think this post is going to draw a lot of interest. But sometimes I think life’s ordinary challenges end up being the most reflective opportunities for growth, so for that I think it’s worth it.

Disclaimer. This isn’t a pity party! I know there are people who have and will experience far worse than a week long power outage in the middle of summer. I’m always one to count my blessings, and this is no different. It’s just my own emotional rollercoaster put into words for me to remember and to reflect on.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Hiding from the tomato in our basement

Day 1. Oblivious. Luca’s camp is canceled for the day, even though all weather forecasts told us it isn’t going to hit bad until between 2:00pm and 10:00pm. We know we are getting the “wind” side of the storm, and not the “rain” side. When the tornado warning comes through at 3:11pm, telling us to seek shelter, we bring all the Goldfish and Smartfood and iPads downstairs into the basement with our flashlights and make a treat out of it. The boys have fun with it; we keep it really lighthearted and even bring a bottle of wine down for the adults. In Dominic’s words, a TOMATO is coming! By 4:00pm, the “tomato” warning is over even though the winds are still pretty bad. We get word from our neighbors that a massive tree branch is down across our shared driveway, so the boys put on their rain boots and plow through the debris to check it out. Afterwards, I hop on the grill to prep burgers and dogs since we now have no power, while dad heads over to help the neighbors chainsaw the tree up. Bedtime goes smoothly, then for whatever reason I down a bottle of wine…I think for two reasons: (1) my mom-tuition knows we are kind of in for it the next few days, even though my real brain refuses to accept it, and (2) UTI symptoms start (sorry, if TMI, then stop reading now, but this is unfiltered) and hell no I’m not going to deal with this through a hurricane during a pandemic. I am going to mind-over-matter the sh*t out of this UTI.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A good excuse to use a good Anthropologie candle

Day 2. Dumbfounded. We awake to still no power, and the first obstacle is explaining to my creatures of habit that they can’t have their morning milk or watch youTube kids. A few protests but overall they take it pretty well. Here goes being totally unplugged for the foreseeable future. It being Wednesday and a workday and Mike having just started a new job this week, he HAS to go into the office. Surprisingly, camp is open so while Mike treks into work I trek to camp. A normally 20 minute drive takes me 1 hour and 20 minutes, of which I pass (I’d say) between 10 and 20 downed trees/telephone wires. Luca’s camp is only a few miles away. Damn. I guess it is A LOT worse than we thought. We make our way home, and Dominic, Tessa, and I decide to go for a walk since there is nothing better to do. We turn out of our driveway and manage around the corner to be stopped by a massive tree across the road with power wires strewn all over the place. Like a tangled-up delicate necklace. In shock, we head over to our brother and sister-in-laws for dinner and showers, since somehow they are the only house in their entire vicinity to not lose power. Meanwhile, UTI symptoms still lurk despite my best out-of-sight-out-of-mind attempts. We drink more to stave off reality one more time.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Day 3. Hopeful. At this point we realize we are probably in it for the long haul. So Mike wakes up extra early and literally goes to the stream behind our house to fill coolers with water. We have well water, so no power means no water. He heads to work, I to camp. Once home with Tessa napping, Dominic and I decide to help Daddy out. We head outside to clean the yard. For every adult tool, we have a little one to match. First we pick up sticks and branches, then we rake, then we wheel-barrow, then we sweep. Three hours later with the baby still sleeping, this mom is feeling like superwoman because not only do we do a whole lot of cleaning but my Dommy is such a champ the whole time. We get Luca from camp and wait for Daddy to get home. After realizing I forgot to eat lunch, we whip up a pretty darn good dinner using just our grill – steak and baked potatoes with fresh cukes and tomatoes from the garden. And while at work, Mike is able to see on Facebook that our area of town is on track for lights on by 11pm. Hallelujah! Wine to celebrate! We go to bed feeling realllly hopeful.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Day 4. Hopeless. Wake up at 4am with UTI symptoms so bad I sleep on the bathroom floor in fetal position covered by a towel till 6am, and still no power. Bummed and exhausted, but realizing this was inevitable, we have to figure out what to do with the two extra freezers full of breast milk that were now 3 days into defrosting. Mike’s argument is to just throw it out (?!?!?!?!), since Tessa won’t take a bottle anyway. My argument is HELLO SHE STARTS DAYCARE IN TWO WEEKS WHETHER SHE LIKES THE BOTTLE OR NOT. So, we make plans to drive the freezers 40 minutes away to my parents’ house who have power, but luck is on our side. Turns out the in-laws regained power overnight, 1 mile down the road. We load the freezers, the kids, and whatever food and gear we scramble together into the car to house-squat at Nana and Papa’s for the time being. And this is when the waterworks start. I think the stress and anxiety (and going on day 4 of no coffee) is finally getting to me. Plus, naptime isn’t going well and Dominic tore through the toys here in an hour, leaving us 4 hours till camp pick up with nothing to do on a rainy-ish morning. We throw rocks down the drain and walk to the end of the road to watch cars and trucks go by – I’m pretty sure people driving by are puzzled and maybe even concerned? Unkempt, unshowered woman with a baby and a toddler sitting on the curb on the side of a busy road? Just us, no need to worry! Not to mention my UTI is now roaring but with no cell phone service I can’t even call my doctor to have him order meds. I cry off and on all day, while Mike calls my urogynocologist (yes they exist and yes I have one…that’s what baby 3 will do to ya) and beg for meds, only for them to deny unless I go for a urine test but QUEST WON’T LET YOU IN WITH ANYONE BECAUSE OF COVID AND I HAD 3 KIDS TO TOTE AROUND. I think the doctor feels bad because the nurse calls him back a little while later asking me to call if I could so the nurse could talk to me – NO I CAN’T CALL I HAVE NO POWER AND NO SERVICE. I call back while picking Luca up from camp and finally get her to agree to call in meds if I promise to give a urine sample the next morning (Saturday). Needless to say, I forget to eat lunch again, and hubby shows up after work to Nana’s and Papa’s with a variety pack of hard seltzers, a bottle of wine, a few pizzas, his Xbox, and Trolls World Tour so the kids can finally watch something and give us a good 20 minutes of FREEDOM for the first time in 4 days. Dang, what a day. And thank god it’s the weekend, because I think today is definitely my rock bottom.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

LOVE my MIL’s cute sense of style!

Day 5. Grateful. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep, coffee, and antibiotics does for me. I feel like a new woman. And by 9:30am the tree around the corner from us is finally cleared, leaving just the mess of wires. A good sign. But Eversource released the estimates by town and we’re not scheduled to be back on the grid until 6pm Monday. And we still only have cell service for what seems like a few hours in the evening so we spend most of the morning off the grid completely. Breathe, just breathe. Decide to get out of the house so the whole family goes to the lake for the afternoon. Even though the amenities here are also without power, crews have the snack shack up and running with generators and the weather is beautiful. Things finally feel a little normal, even though they are far from it. Gets me thinking, of course.  Healthy and safe kiddos, in-law’s down the road to escape to if needed, no tree damage to the house or property, mango hard seltzers, ruffles cheddar and sour cream chips…you know counting my silver linings.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Day 6. Apathetic. We do our normal wake up run back to the house to grab clothes and any needed items for the day and to check on the power situation. And today it’s same old…no power. So we hit the lake again and meet up with some friends, and we immediately notice all the amenities at the lake have power again. You’d think it’d ignite some hope, but for whatever reason I’m just over it today – maybe just emotionally drained – so I feel like I’m not really feeling at all. Head back to Nana and Papa’s to make an early Sunday dinner, and we stop at home to grab some food items we need. We’ve gotten in the habit of driving down the road to check on the tree and wire situation, so we do what we normally do…TWO LONELY LINEMEN WORKING ON THE WIRES!!!! Mike yells, “You’re my hero!!” out the window as we drive by, and sure enough a few hours later we have power. By this point, the kids are in bed so we decide to just stick here for one more night and migrate home in the morning.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Day 7. Mixed emotions. You’d think I’d be elated that power’s back on and we’re headed home, which I am! But I’m also extremely overwhelmed. Nana and Papa’s house is a mess and we’ve been living out of my car with essential items packed in re-useable shopping bags. I pack up what I can, leaving the mess to return to and clean after bedtime tonight. I get Luca off to camp and get home. We walk in the door and I’m excited to be home but I’m gob smacked in the face with a war zone of a mess. I don’t really remember leaving the house because everything is such a daze, but apparently we left it torn apart. Everything from dirty dishes in the sink, rotten fridge, stinky garbage, cluttered playroom, laundry. And still no cable or internet so I do the best I can to call into two work meetings despite looking like I got hit by a bus. I just can’t keep up. Dominic and Tessa take a killer afternoon nap and internet finally comes back on.  And ultimately I come to realize that while this whole Isaias saga is over, it’s still going to take me a few days to catch up and return to normal. I gotta learn to cut myself a break sometimes. And judging from the pictures I snapped each day, I don’t think my kids ever even picked up on the stress and anxiety of this whole thing, just the excitement of the TOMATO warning, real life flashlight using, and the big-bed sleepover at Nana and Papa’s condo. Pizza for dinner because we just survived a tomato and its aftermath (and really because I haven’t restocked the fridge yet).

WFH

I had every intention of doing a Books post today. Lot’s to share about toddlers and emerging writers. It’ll have to wait until tomorrow because this is how my morning went trying to work from home to prep curriculum for the start of the school year. I could tell the morning was going to sh*t so for the first two photos, I happened to set my phone up in the corner and pop the self-timer on. The other photo was a result of me hearing my 2 year old excitedly sing, “Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, up, up!” from the kitchen prompting me to wonder what he was riding.

(Please note: No animal was harmed in the making of this photo, I quickly yelled for him to get off the dog once I was able to snap the picture.)

Let’s play Where’s Waldo? Or seek and find. Whatever you want to call it.

1 point for spotting the stressed out teacher mama on a work zoom meeting in the middle of summer.

1 point for spotting the dog, who came to the playroom to check us out for all of 2 seconds before this happened. Haven’t seen him the rest of the day.

1 point for spotting the bruise who thinks it’s funny to ride the dog.

1 point for spotting the jumping bruise who knows exactly how to quietly break the rules when Mommy steps out for a second.

1 point for spotting the chalkboard that lists the daily routine we should be following but haven’t been following for the past 3 months.

3 points for spotting the caffeine – mom juice in my book.

3 points for watching the video below, in case you wanted more perspective on my day.

3 points for spotting the Hurricane Isaias forecast, hence canceling oldest kid’s day camp for the day and confining all kids indoors for the day – this mama’s worst nightmare. (At least at this very moment we still have power!)

25 points for spotting the perfectly behaved bow (or the baby monitor that shows she is sleeping upstairs like the angel that she is).

100 bonus points for counting the number of toys this mama will NOT clean up today, but probably step on or stare at until one of the bruises decides to actually take me seriously and actually clean up.

250 bonus points for posting a picture of your WFH situation in your IG or FB stories and tagging bruisesbowsandbooks!

An additional 500 points if your WFH situation trumps mine.

109309890345094385 bonus points for telling me this is a productive and efficient work environment, and that it’s possible to work from home and carry out your job responsibilities well while simultaneously parenting young children.

Who wins? Would love to see your point values below. Honor system! And go give your fellow working mamas a hug or a shoulder to cry on, knowing this is what they are experiencing daily. Heck, go give your fellow SAHMs a hug or shoulder to cry on, too!

The Magic of Summer Camp

Before Camp (T-shirt linked – click on photo)
After Camp

Can I just start by saying, I sent this bruise off to summer camp this morning for the first time this summer and the only thing missing when he came back was his socks. WIN!

Preface

Before I get into it, I feel like I need to give lip service to the current COVID situation. I DON’T feel like I should have to defend my decisions for what I do or don’t do with my kids in regards to COVID. Nor should I have to explain them, so I’m not going to. We all need to practice getting in the habit of honoring and respecting others’ decisions, rather than judging or questioning them. So when I tell you I sent my kid to summer camp, your response should simply be, “Wow, I’m really proud of you for making that decision! I know it must have been really hard.” (Because trust me, this is the nature and reality of any decision-making surrounding families with kids and camp/school/daycare). No room for hate or judgement when families are already dealing with all sorts of stress and anxiety as it is.

Now for the magic of summer camp.

Summer camp is one of those growing-up memories lots of kids have, whether they went because they wanted to or they went because they had to. I grew up going to day camps all summer long because I had two working parents who did everything they could to provide for us. I’m lucky in the sense that I chose to be a teacher, granting me summer vacations to spend with my own kids. But I want them to experience the magic of summer camp, just like I did, so we compromise…I’ve sent Luca (and I’ll send Dominic next year when he’s old enough) to a half-day (9:00am-1:30pm) program for Scouts (preschool age) at the lake we belong to for two weeks in August right before we all go back to school.

But let me let you in on a little secret: No one ever tells you that when you hear “the magic of summer camp”, it’s really the parents who experience magical bliss while their kid(s) is off burning energy and exhausting themselves just in time to come home for nap, dinner, and bedtime.

First and foremost, by August, this Mama is spent. By this point in the summer, I’ve spent 2+ months of my year changing diapers, wiping butts, preventing life-threatening injuries and accidents, eating leftover mac and cheese, ignoring temper tantrums, putting bandaids on boo boos, not ever showering, and not using a single adult brain cell (HUGE shout out to all the SAHMs out there!!). And this is night and day compared to my day job during the rest of the year – despite what most people think – this is a far cry from teaching! So sending 1 out of 3 off to summer camp for a few hours a day and consequently only having to deal with 2 kids instead of 3 is MAGIC.

You want to know what else is MAGIC? It buffers the transition back to school. Gets Luca back into a normal routine – getting up in the morning, brushing his teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and getting out the door. Mama and the rest of the kids get to do camp drop-off in our pjs. Starting slowly by getting one out of five family members ready for the day is a lot easier than trying to transition back to doing all five of us at once. That’s why I’m super systematic about it and only send him at the end of the summer when I need a break and when he needs to get his butt back into school mode.

It’s also pretty great when everything you’ve been fighting with your toddler about doing himself this summer just falls into place because Mommy’s not at camp with you to help you wipe your butt. Or put your swimmies on. Or spread your towel out. Or open your lunch. Or carry your backpack. Or change back into your dry clothes. Or put your socks and shoes on (probably why we came back with no socks today, but I’ll take it…). Literally he fights us tooth and nail about getting himself dressed. “But Mommy shirts are a little tricky!” (Insert Mom eyeball roll here.) But somehow, MAGICALLY, he can do it all by himself at camp!

And am I the only Mom out there who, most days, literally counts down the hours until bedtime just because I know I’ll finally get 30 seconds to myself and go pee without an audience? I really hope not. Guess what? Summer camp is MAGIC for that too because Luca comes home at 2pm so dead tired that he immediately takes his rester (thanks, cousin Ryan for coining the term to describe laying comatose on the couch watching youTube kids on the iPad) while the rest of the kids are actually napping. On a good day, no one wakes up till 4 and Luca will go back and forth between youTube kids and independently playing with his toys during this whole time. Giving me some earned hours back in my day, and also that much closer to bedtime!

Honestly, I can’t wait until NEXT August when I can send BOTH the bruises off to summer camp, giving me very rare girl time with my bow. That sounds like an absolute dream.

Really though, BIG shoutout to all the high school and college kids who agree to spend hot summer days with toddlers at a lake…during a pandemic.

Daycare Haul

Everyone knows teachers absolutely dread August 1. It’s August scaries. Think Sunday scaries but for teachers about to start a new school year. And now think about it THIS year. August 1 came and passed like a faint blip on the radar this weekend for most people, but you better believe that for teachers it sounded the alarm. This is real, and we are going back to school very soon, one way or another.

But for me, August 1 didn’t just trigger the August scaries. My mind started to go bonkers about what my own kids are going to do when Mommy goes back to work. We haven’t decided a thing yet. In fact, our daycare provider for Dominic and Tessa hasn’t even announced whether or not she’s opening in the fall. I can’t even begin to think about it without feeling like I want to puke. There is no good decision. But these first two paragraphs are really just anxiety-driven ramblings that are better suited for a different blog post entirely.

SO.

My way of maintaining my sanity is by approaching things like normal: at the end of the month Tessa is going to start daycare for the first time ever. And if you’re anything like me, daycare requires its own wardrobe, because nothing ever comes home looking the same as how it left. Because Tessa hasn’t ever been to daycare, it’s time for me to start building her daycare wardrobe – basics that I don’t really care if she ruins or not. I’m also more flexible and don’t care as much about colors or patterns or prints with daycare clothes.

Today I escaped for three hours by myself and it was glorious. I hit up Old Navy (love the ruffle butt leggings!) and Gap (love the bubble shorts!) because they have huge sales going on right now – or so this is what I told my husband. They always have huge sales going on so someday this excuse isn’t going to fly anymore….but until then…. I built a shopping cart online first, and if I found it in-store, I deleted it from my shopping cart on my app. I was mostly in search of onesies, shorts, and pants that are easy to mix and match and will be (1) comfortable for my bow while she’s away from her parents all day and (2) easy for Miss Darcy to undress/dress for diaper changes or other accidents. Here’s my haul.

The warm weather haul was decent. I didn’t do as well with my cold-weather haul. I was actually a little surprised that everything was still mostly summer season – my guess is it’ll change over to fall very soon (online already has lots of fall new arrivals). Also, is it weird that for cold-weather clothes for bows I prefer sets (tops and bottoms) rather than one-pieces? With the bruises I was all about one-pieces and always found lots of cute ones. They don’t seem as feminine to me for some reason. Maybe I just haven’t found ones my style yet.

Once I come home I always spread it out to inspect (admire?!) like in the photo above. Did I double up on colors accidentally? Did I grab the right size? Is it REALLY something she needed? I make my return pile and the rest immediately gets de-tagged and de-stickered to go right down in the wash. Once it’s all washed they go into the daycare drawers. Yes, her dresser will now be split into two sides: daycare clothes and fancy clothes. There’s not really much fancy to the fancy clothes, just clothes I prefer she doesn’t wear to daycare so she doesn’t ruin them.

Now that you’ve read half a page of writing about what goes on in my brain when I’m on a mission shopping for something (I’m split between whether or not this is actually interesting for you to read or if this was just a waste of a post), I do have some questions.

If your kiddos go to daycare, do you just have one big wardrobe and think I’m way too anal retentive and need to loosen up a little bit? If you do, does your kid come home in clean clothes and really I just have sloppy kiddos? Or do you split your kids’ wardrobes up and send them in different clothes to daycare than you would to…I don’t know…some place where your kid would be in fancy clothes? And I really need your help with this bow thing. If you’re a #girlmom, do you send your baby to daycare wearing a bow? I’m really struggling with this one. Part of me thinks it’s silly and not practical…like Miss Darcy would totally roll her eyeballs at me and take it off immediately once I leave, because what childcare provider wants to deal with that? And the other part of me can’t contain my obsession – I’ll just send her in her bow because she’s my daughter and I’ll do what I want and I’ll tell Miss Darcy she can take it off whenever she wants if it gets in the way. Would love to know your thoughts so drop a comment below!

Empty Threats (And Other Discipline Techniques That Never Work)

Send help. I damn near lost my mind last night. We went to the drive-in and, I swear when I say it, the bruises were the craziest kids on the block. They were SO BAD. I was straight up embarrassed – like throw-my-hands-in-the-air-and drink-a-whole-bottle-of-wine kind of embarrassed. I even accidentally butt-dialed my boss (Sorry Carrie!) mid-curse rampage because Dominic decided to act like a puppy all night. The poor, poor people who happened to have spots around us. We were THAT family.

I don’t know why the automatic preset for this video is to display it the wrong way. Need blogger help. At least when you click it, it plays the right way.

So it got me thinking about all the things we do for discipline…which never seem to work. I’ll admit, for some of them, I know why they don’t work. Others, I really don’t. I’m just trying to survive and keep my kids alive over here. And I have a two year old who doesn’t listen to a word I say. EVER. Like a puppy. I’ve compiled a list of all the discipline techniques we use, ordered most used to least used.

  1. Empty Threats. You know. “If you don’t stop wrestling you’re brother we are going home right now.” And, “Dominic. STOP. If you want to go to the lake you need to STOP. Ok you’re not going to the lake. I guess you’re staying home all by yourself.” *Whole family leaves for lake 20 minutes later.* This is one of the ones I know why it doesn’t work. Follow through. No follow through means they don’t believe a word I say.
  2. Time Out. Luca responds to time out really well! I deliver the time out and he heads right over to whatever spot I’ve designated. He sits and waits, and most of the time I forget he’s even in time out. He eventually politely asks if he can get out yet and I quickly remember he’s there. Dominic though. I deliver the time out and the little devil stares into my soul and smiles or laughs maniacally. So I deliver the time out again, this time a little sterner and a little louder. He straight up runs away, to the point where I chase him and drag him to the designated spot. If I happen to go in the other room, he’ll slither his way out or quickly find Luca to continue poking and prodding.
  3. Take away the item or toy or food in question. Usually results in immediate (crocodile fake) tears from Luca, and immediate attempted biting from Dominic (followed by tears post-bite). It seems to work for a hot second, until they find something bigger and better to be sword fighting with.
  4. Ignore completely. I believe the experts call this extinction. If you ignore something long enough the behavior supposedly happens less and less over time and eventually becomes extinct. You’re telling me the beat-each-other-up will become extinct if I do this enough? Ha. I think my kids would be dead before this happened, thus defeating the entire purpose…right? Side note, everyone knows when I ignore completely it’s because I’ve lost all energy and am waving my white flag.
  5. Tell them Santa’s watching, or tell them Elfie’s watching. Christmas. Don’t mess with Christmas. I have to say, this one DOES work if it’s close to Christmas. But when I whip it out mid-May, Luca will come back with some fresh response like, “But Mommy it’s not even winter yet.” Touche kid, touche.
  6. Mimic them. This one usually just results in a good laugh or doesn’t register with them at all. And I don’t do this one in public. I don’t think it’s a good idea to flop myself down in the toy aisle of Target and scream and cry till I get what I want. But if one of them is throwing a tantrum, have you ever tried flopping yourself down on the floor next to them and doing the exact same thing? They look at me like I have five heads and ask, “Mommy what are you doing?” They don’t even realize I’m copying them exactly. Whiney voice too – if I talk back to Luca in the same whiney voice he’s using he’ll innocently ask, “Mommy why are you talking like that?”
  7. Scream like an absolute maniac (but close the windows so the neighbors don’t hear how loud it really is). This is that last straw, I’m-gona-lose-it, are-you-ok, do-you-need-a-second kind of thing. The one where I hope and pray that the volume as well as pure and distinct rage in my voice is going to strike a chord and they GET it. Also the one I’ll never admit to anyone I actually do here and there. Usually, both boys immediately start crying – not because they feel remorse but because I scared them, and then my heart melts and I feel terrible and I run over and hug and kiss and apologize and proceed to have mom guilt for the next month and swear I’ll never do it again. Yes, I do need a second.

So I guess if you’ve figured out something that works for your toddler boys, send it my way. I’m begging you. Otherwise I think I’m just going to be a hermit and not allow my kids to leave the house ever again. Either that or I’m running away. Far, far away.

Inquiry with Toddlers

Purposeful and authentic learning is good for the soul. The mama soul AND the teacher soul AND the kid soul.

Parent-supported remote learning is hard. Really, really hard. It’s hard for me, and I’m a teacher. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for working parents not in the field of education. Some of the best times with my bruises this past spring stemmed from learning experiences driven solely by them – their curiosities and questions (rather than the purely academic and pre-created tasks, activities, and/or worksheets). During these times, they were learning and growing and engaging in “school” without even knowing they were engaging in school. That’s the best kind of learning, and I’m here to hopefully give you enough info and background knowledge to at least get your brains wrapped around it, so you can hopefully try it out too.

First, let’s understand inquiry, in it’s true sense of the word and in relation to the educational world. Here’s dictionary.com’s definition of inquiry:

What does this tell us? A few important things. First, it stems from questioning – and how many questions does your toddler ask per day? If they are anything like mine, it’s 39084094857450 billion. And lots of times toddlers especially can get fixated on topics that they don’t quite understand, but are trying in their brains to organize and sort information to help them understand it. (Right now my 4 year old is trying to understand death/dying/dead….need some advice on this one [perhaps a future post] so help a sister out if you have any ideas!) How amazing is it that I’m telling you, instead of you trying to answer these questions and not really knowing what to say, there’s a way you can turn it around on them and let them discover it themselves? Second, it requires investigation. It’s not just straight to google. Kids learn to answer their questions by doing – and ‘doing’ in all sorts of ways. Reading, writing, researching, experimenting, building, revising, reflecting.

Now, simply put, here’s the inquiry method as a teaching philosophy:

Kids go through a series of stages in order to investigate and answer their own questions. Ask and investigate are self explanatory. The creating stage revolves around finding some way to share work publicly. The best questions to investigate are purposeful – the answer to the question helps you DO something with it. And when you DO something, you get to share it with the world. This is extremely motivating for kids of all ages, but especially toddlers. Think about how proud they are of that massive lego tower or that painted self portrait. Discuss is important because we know as educators that kids learn best when they are able to socially construct knowledge – i.e., two brains are better than one mentality. And lastly, reflect is so important, now more than ever, because it signifies to kids that just because you may have ‘finished’ you project or ‘answered’ your question, it mostly likely will lead to more questions, ideas for how you might make it better, or how you might replicate it in bigger or better ways.

Sounds great, right? Well, sounds more like something you’d see in a high school or college classroom. Wrong. We use this model in the elementary classroom too (not like traditional school – way different than what you and I remember from when we went to school). I’m going to show you a few examples of how our family has made it work for a 2 and a 4 year old, and I think you’ll begin to see it better.

Exhibit A: Our Vegetable Garden

This one launched naturally and has been a larger project that has continued over time. It was around March, and we started to see the first daffodils of the season pop up. Dominic would see it in our driveway and scream “LOOK AT THE FLOWERS!”. And Luca would follow up with “Mommy how did those get there? Where did those come from?” Because he’s 4 and he asks questions about everything. Teacher brain kicked in, and over the next several days we researched flower and vegetable gardens, decided which one we wanted to try, and got to it. This part was amazing, because it required us to read and to watch and to write (literacy!), and measure and plan and price (math!). And it’s ongoing, with daily opportunities to engage in literacy and math in order to move forward – we’ve had to ask and answer more questions along the way. Like why our first ripe strawberry mysteriously went missing overnight (animals!) and what we could do to keep them away (coffee grinds!). Or how we keep tomato plants from bending and snapping due to their own weight.

Exhibit B: Hearts for Healthcare Heroes

This one came out of left field one day, in the early days of shutdown due to the pandemic. And it was shorter – only took us one morning to complete from start to finish. We had been watching the news at night, and Luca and Dominic would pick up on a lot of it. So we ended up having kid-appropriate conversations with them about what was going on with COVID (there’s a bad sickness spread easily by germs right now, school’s canceled and we have to stay home so other people don’t catch our germs and we don’t catch theirs!). One random day Luca asked what we could do to help people get better and feel better. A BIG question coming from a 4 year old, and I didn’t have any answers in my back pocket lined up. So we talked a lot about how there were heroes that were working really hard to help people get better and feel better while the rest of us stayed home. And he said, “Like doctors?”. Yes buddy, exactly. And nurses, and hospital workers, and lots of other people too. You should have seen his eyes when I asked, “Do YOU want to help too?”.

“But Mommy, I’m too little to help!” No, sir, no you are not. Enjoy the progress photos below to see what I mean. 🙂

Hands down, the best part about these projects? The pure JOY that radiates from these kids’ faces when we go out every morning to see if we have any fruits or veggies ripe for picking, or that moment they turned around outside and looked at our front door full of hearts for the first time. And can you imagine the excitement they had when they then noticed hearts appearing in our neighbors’ windows?!

Epilogue

Guys, I get it though. I really do. These moments described above are amazing. But also remember they aren’t every day. There are plenty of days where we did discrete academic activities or tasks, and days where I didn’t know what to do at all. And days where we actually did do NOTHING AT ALL. I did find some resources that helped me come up with some fun science and engineering investigations that I thought would be interesting and engaging for the kids, so of course I’m sharing them below. Click on the photo to be taken right to Amazon to fill your cart. Happy shopping!