The best (worst) kid Santa picture ever.

I’m convinced Santa Claus has no business mingling with toddlers. Or rather, parents (like me) should know better than to think their toddlers are going to get anything out of a trip to see Santa.

Case in point this weekend. We took the twins to see the big guy on Sunday. We were hoping for a good experience considering their first trip to see Santa ended up not so special. (Last year we took them to an unjovial, cut-rate Santa, who offered our then 9-month-olds candy canes.) Whatever. This was a new year and a new, more festive place.

Still, I started to get a bad feeling when we had to wait in line nearly 45 minutes to get our face-time. The boys hated every second of it. They were rowdy, whiney, and sassy. Like any good parents, we bribed them with fruit snacks. I almost bolted from the line mid-way through – I hate small, hot, crowded spaces – but made it to the end. The boys looked delighted at first to that guy in the red suit who we had been pointing out all week in some Christmas books we have at home. But things went downhill quickly, as the picture shows. Happiness turned to terror in an instant. Tears ensued – them because they were scared out of their minds of Santa; us because we were laughing so hard.

Really you have to have a sense of humor about this sort of thing. Who were we kidding?Our kids are too young for Santa. We made that trip for us, not them. And turns out, it wasn’t that fun for us either. I’m not sure what we’ll do next year, but for now we have this memory. Most of my co-workers and Facebook friends have seen this, but it was just too good not to share with the world.

Merry Christmas!

Get me out of here!


SURVEY INSIDE: Thinking bigger for family attractions

It was Father’s Day – an extraordinary summer day in Fargo-Moorhead if you happened to miss it – and my husband and I were looking for something fun to do with our 15-month-old twin boys.

We couldn’t stand the thought of sitting inside the toy-cluttered house while the world around us frolicked in the sun. And since we don’t own a lake place or have family or friends who do (we’re an anomaly, I know), we found ourselves having the same conversation we’ve been having the last four weeks or so.

What should we do today?

So, like almost every other Sunday of late, we coerced the boys into the minivan (they aren’t a big fan of car seats these days), and headed for the zoo.

I love the zoo. Always have. But as our luck has had it on recent trips, pretty much all of the animals were fast asleep in the shade. As we were leaving, I realized the only animals we really saw out and about (other than birds, which don’t really count) were the farm animals. The boys seemed to like them – especially when one of the horses stuck its face down by their stroller (frightening for me, but nevertheless exciting for them). Still, I have to say I left feeling a little bummed.

It’s not the zoo’s fault. They seem to be doing all they can with the resources they have. I applaud their hard work and support it, but I have to wonder, is that the best we can do?

I’m talking to you, Fargo-Moorhead.

For a city that touts itself as a great place to raise kids, I have to say we come up a little short in the cool-stuff-to-do-with-your-kids department. For a community this size, we should have more or at least bigger. Looking around, I’d say we cater more to the business man than to the bustling mom.

I’m not trying to pick on Fargo. I love this community, which is why I think discussion on this topic is good. Still, I’m sure many of you reading this are making mental lists of all the things there are to do with your kids so you can fire back at me. I know, I know. There are places to go. I’ve been to most of them actually. That isn’t really my argument, though.

My point: What if we really put our heads to work as a community and dreamed bigger … what if Fargo-Moorhead had a true family attraction capable of drawing people from all over the region. I’m thinking a really cool aquarium with elements for kids and adults, or a big water park/ amusement park with things for wee kids and big kids, too. Or what I’d really love is a full-sized children’s museum with state-of-the-art exhibits that changed from time to time and provided an interactive experience every time.

I brought this idea up with a group people when I got to work Monday. Several – even one or two without kids – agreed with me. One called me “high maintenance.” That’s fine. I’ll take that jab. I explained that I didn’t think it was too much to ask that family friendly attractions also be interesting enough to hold an adult’s attention.

Another co-worker joked that my kids have really high standards. No. They’re 1. They’re fine with a horse in their face. But, I explained that I have high standards for them and their future social and intellectual development. I don’t want to have to drive them to Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, or even my much-smaller hometown of Watertown, S.D. (which supports an ever-expanding zoo and an awesome water park) for a top-notch Sunday adventure.

I will say, though, I’m excited to see where this idea of an indoor, year-round playground in Fargo will go. It seems like the Park District is fairly serious about the idea, as was reported in this newspaper a few weeks back. That would be a good start. And I know other such ideas, including a year-round aquatics park, have been discussed before but always seem to fizzle out.

So I don’t know. Maybe I’m alone here. Maybe I am just a high-maintenance mom. But what’s so wrong with thinking big?

I’m curious what you think.

Get Away From My Mommy!

We’ve got a bit of a jealousy issue going on in our house. It’s between my little guys. The subject of their desires? Me.

I always thought it woud be so precious and sweet to have a kid hanging on me and hugging me at every turn. And it is. But I’ve got two of them, who happen to be the same age and who both seem to be going through one heck of a time with separation anxiety. Or at least, that’s what the Internet tells me it is when I Google this stuff.

It’s often just me and them in the evenings, and it’s to the point where I can’t even go to the bathroom without a complete and total meltdown by one or both. Last night, I even ended up slightly injured when I got down on the floor to change Gray’s diaper (since last time I tried changing Gray on the changing table, Graham launched himself behind the table and wailed so loudly I’m pretty sure the neighbors could hear him through the closed windows). Anyway, Graham got upset that I was paying attention to his squirmy brother and this time threw himself at my head, snapping my neck out of place - or so it felt. I could barely turn my head to the right today. But this is common now at night (they don’t really act like this for other people, and it’s not near as bad when both my husband and I are home), and I don’t know where or when it started or how to help them. Honestely, if Grayson even comes near me lately, Graham dives headfirst into me and tries to knock Gray out of the way. Likewise, Gray will get downright violent with Graham and will grab him by the collar and knock him to the ground to get a clear path to me. Keep in mind, they’ve never actually seen physical fighting, so this behavior isn’t learned. I don’t even allow “Tom and Jerry” to be on.

Of course, as parents we always start to ask ourselves “is something actually wrong with them?” (OK, maybe it’s just me who always assumes the worst.) “Is it something I did?” “Is it because I’m not spending enough time with them?” “Are they not getting enough sleep?” (that happens to be my latest theory and so put them to bed a half-hour early tonight to experiment) I realize it’s quite possibly just typical 14-month-old behavior, and I am experiencing a double dose.

In the meantime, assuming this is just a good, old-fashioned case of pre-toddlerhood, I’m curious how others have dealt with this phase? What’s the best approach? Do I ignore it? (I feel horrible looking the other way to a pouty lip and tears. My instinct is to scoop them up and hug and kiss them but maybe that just makes it worse) Or, is there something you’re supposed to say or do? How long does this last? So many questions. Very few answers. Just another day in the life of a parent. :) Gotta love it.

We won’t be summer shut-ins

One year olds can be a tough crowd. They’re discovering independence and yet don’t have the words to express what they want and when they want it. On top of that, they have small attention spans.

So with that in mind, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to spend my downtime with the little guys this summer. We HAVE to get out of the house more than last summer. I swear our neighbors probably though we were animal-hoarding shut-ins or with the Witness Protection Program or something. I was just too terrified to leave the house with newborns.

This summer, I’m still terrified but for different reason. They’re just a whole lot more difficult to manage now and a whole lot more likely to have a tantrum – or two – in public. (I thought they had to be at least 18 months before toddler behavior kicked in. Not so. Their favorite thing right now is to scream and launch their bodies backwards, often slamming their heads against the floor. Yep. Happens daily.) And yet, they’re also at the age where they are starting to find wonderment in the outside world. And as a parent, that’s what makes it all worthwhile, right?

A trip to the Red River Zoo this past weekend gave us a glimpse of that. The boys were smiling, pointing at everything, and babbling the whole way. I have no clue what they were saying, but I imagine it was something along these lines:

Graham: “Hey, Gray, did you see that llama? Remember when mommy read us that book about llamas and red pajamas? ”

Grayson: “Cool, bro. I wonder what his fur tastes like?”

At any rate, they seemed to be enjoying their time.

We also bought some baby/ toddler swings this past weekend for our backyard play set. This, too, was a big hit with the boys and a good way for mom and dad to have an excuse to be outside on Sunday.

But that’s where I run out of ideas.

This was on my mind again today after reading a blog post from my co-worker, Sherri Richards. She was relating how when her daughter was 14 months – the age of my boys now – she feared she and her husband would never be able to enjoy the ballpark again. Turns out that wasn’t the case. Now they’re enjoying baseball games in a whole new way – through the eyes of a 3 year-old girl. I couldn’t help but think … I can’t wait until my boys are three!

I know I shouldn’t say that and don’t really even mean it. I never want to wish time away. But I am eager to be able to experience more things with them and to be able to take real family outings again to places other than to the store to get diapers. The day will come, and it will be wonderful.

In the meantime, I’m curious what other local activities and events are suitable – and manageable … if it’s too stressful, it’s not fun – for a 14 month old. Make that two 14-month olds. I’m determined to make the most of the next three months.

The Balancing Act

I have an issue with this term “work-life balance” I keep hearing so much about. It implies there are just two things: work and life. It implies that life is simply the opposite of work, and that everything that isn’t work is life.

For me, that’s just not the case. For me, work is life and life is work. The balance I seek isn’t specifically a work-life balance, it’s simply balance.

Believe it or not, I actually feel like I have the work-motherhood part of the balance equation working pretty well. No, it isn’t perfect. Nothing is. But this issue actually isn’t one I agonize over too much aside from the occassional feelings of guilt that I can’t spend just a little more time with them each day. And it goes both ways. I also feel guilty on the occassional day where I have to stay home with a sick kid and inconvenience my coworkers. Still, I’ve more or less accepted this is part of life and I deal with it.

But what about everything else? I got to thinking about this over the weekend, when for the first time in well over a year my husband and I went out on a “date.” We were originally going to meet up with another couple, but when one part of that couple ended up sick, we decided to keep our babysitter and just enjoy ourselves.

Within minutes of being out, I turned to my husband and remarked that it felt good to just be Mary Jo again, even if just for a night. I realized that I’m always either “work Mary Jo” or “Mary Jo the mom” – two very different personnas, by the way. I have made no time in the last year to just be “Mary Jo the person.” (Did I seriously just talk about myself in the third person three times in one blog post? Sorry about that.) You get the idea, though.

Saturday night I had no kids pulling at my legs and whining. No deadlines, no work to get done. It was just me and my husband. Turns out we still like each other. 😉 Granted, the most we could go without talking about the boys was 36 minutes and we were home before 11 p.m., but still. It was progress. I needed a night away to help me feel more balanced. I think my husband did, too. After all, it’s not just women who feel the pressure to balance a million things. I just can’t believe it took us more than a year to make it happen.

The bonus of the night? The boys played nice all evening and went to bed with no tears for the babysitter. And they slept all night. Now if only that could happen more often.

Civility lives!

I didn’t grow up dreaming of a fairy tale wedding or a fairy tale life. For some reason, I’ve always been fairly rooted in reality. I didn’t hope to meet a prince; I just wanted to find a really good guy and live a happy life (so far so good). Still, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the wonderment of today’s royal wedding. It truly was a spectacular event.

One of the things I was most struck by was the bride herself, Kate Middleton. She had so much poise, grace and confidence. But on top of that, the tradition of the day calls for modesty, and she wore that well, too. It got me thinking how lucky young girls over there are to have someone like that as a role model.

I don’t have girls, but if I did, that’s what I’d want them to aspire to. It seems like so many think they have to be dumb or mean or skanky (yes, I said skanky) to be well-liked. I hate it when I see young girls – or grown women for that matter – doing that kind of thing for attention. So I thought about it a bit, and couldn’t come up with really any young American celebrity types who come even close to Kate Middleton.

Would I want my daughter to be like Miley Cyrus? Nope. Would I want her to be like Britney Spears? Nope. Sure, there are still a few untainted Disney tween girls who are decent role models, but it’s probably only a matter of time until they fall from grace. (I’m holding out hope for you, Selena Gomez!)

I sound like such a prude, and actually, I’m not. Or maybe I am. Regardless, I like that there’s still a place for traditions like royal weddings, and that there’s still a time and place for civility, modesty and sophistication. Even though I’m not into fairy tales, I was happy to see that stuff alive today.

You hear that, Lindsay Lohan? You can be a classy lady and still be cool.

Bumper Beware

There’s nothing that lends itself to more confusion than parenting. I’ve many times longed for some sort of manual to spell out the do’s and don’ts of it all.

No such luck.

So what I have a really hard time understanding is why if something is deemed potentially “dangerous” for children, why in the world is it allowed to be manufactured and sold? If you ask me, that just opens the door for confusion and, dare I say, panic (I’m kind of high-strung). Just what parents need.

I’m talking specifically about things like crib bumpers. I read this story in USA Today about a family that lost their 7-week-old son last year – a death they believe was caused by asphyxiation from his face being wedged between the crib bumper and the mattress. Child-safety advocates are calling for crib bumpers to be pulled from the shelves completely, saying the warning labels do not good. BUT, the story also says a new study refutes that there’s a connection between dozens of infant deaths, like this one, and the use of crib bumpers.

Who should we believe?

My personal feeling is that if there’s a question about whether something is safe, side with caution. Seems logical to me now. But when my babies were a few months old, it wasn’t so crystal clear. I remember feeling so torn about what was right or wrong and what things I was just being paranoid about.

In our nursery, we started with the bumpers off. Then, around 5 months old I put them on the boys’ cribs after having to maneuver a chubby baby leg out of a crib slat. I was terrified someone was going to lose a limb! (Of course, I also thought they looked cute in the room.) Then one day I walked into the babies’ room and saw little Graham with his face pressed up to the fabric and freaked out again, promptly removing the crib bumpers that, by the way, were not cheap (if I could do it all again I would not buy a bedding set … why did no one tell me this?). I decided the only thing worse than losing a limb was losing a baby. But the saga continued. I then tracked down something called a breathable bumper, which I thought was the best thing ever. They are mesh, so even if the baby puts his face against it, he can breathe. Of course reading the USA Today article, I now see these aren’t tested so they aren’t really recommended either. Turns out after all of my attempts to do the right thing, I still might have missed the mark.

Who knows. It’s sort of a no-win situation. I would prefer none of these inventions existed. That way I could save my worry for some other cause.

It isn’t just crib bumpers. The article also mentions the sleep positioners. Apparently not so safe either. I never bought one of these luckily, but it crossed my mind a few times.

And then there’s my favorite: the infant snowsuit. I’ll never forgot showing up at a one-week appointment after the babies were born and having a nurse kindly tell us that we were putting the twins in danger – and breaking car seat rules – by putting the babies in the cute little suits (it was March when we had them … still very cold, as anyone who lives around here knows.) As a new mom, I was traumatized. I had no idea. Why in the world do they sell them if they aren’t safe? When else would my newborn baby need to be in a snowsuit if not while being transported?

The rational side of me realizes that there are plenty of children out there who have survived blankets, crib bumpers, sleep positioners, snowsuits and stomach-sleeping. The results of these things aren’t always tragic. Still, I can’t help but think parents have plenty of other safe things to spend their money on.

And on a side note, yes, I have been a neglectul blogger as of late. Seems sometimes that living life gets in the way of writing about it. :)

Minivan meltdown

I had a true minivan moment this morning. Or should I say, a moment with my minivan.

Yep, my gentle beast got stuck in the snow. Didn’t take long. I got out of my driveway in my attempt to get to work, but didn’t get much beyond that. As soon as I moved the thing into drive, I was stuck. Luckily we (and when I say “we”, I mean my husband) had plowed the driveway and were able to get the mom-mobile back to safe ground. I have to figure the plows will eventually come, and the middle of the road is no place to be. Unfortunately, there are two other vehicles that appear trapped in the cul-de-sac at this moment. This could be a long day. The odd thing is I didn’t think it looked all that bad when I looked out the window this morning.

So of course, I was cursing the beloved minivan this morning. “I (insert choice swear word) hate this thing,” I said at one point. You see, when we sold our souls for a minivan, we got rid of a 4 wheel-drive vehicle. What a bunch of crazy people! All for that third row of seating. Sigh … We even looked at a minivan with all-wheel drive but decided to go another direction. Next time I buy a car, I think I’ll do in during the winter when my mindset is on snow and ice.

I probably would be more relaxed about this all if I weren’t so mad at winter. This has to be the last of it, though, right? Then, on to flooding. I imagine by then I will have made up with my minivan.

Lunch hours off limits

I learned yet another important lesson in parenting today: Just because the lunch hour is the most convenient time for you to take your kids to the doctor, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea … especially when your kids have recently started refusing morning naps and hit the wall by 1 p.m.

This, my friends, is called a parental sacrifice, and it’s something I didn’t do today. I learned my lesson. I was absolutely shot (no pun intended since we were, in fact, going in for shots) when I got back to the office today. I felt like I spent my lunch hour at the gym instead of at the clinic. I actually contemplated sneaking a quick nap in my van in the Caribou Coffee parking lot after we were done. No joke. My husband was no better. He was in charge of the boys today, and all three went home and slept.

Here’s the deal: To make the most of my time and so that I don’t cut into my daily productivity, I try to schedule necessary activities and appointments around my lunch hour. I even find myself doing some essential shopping over the lunch hour lately because I just don’t know when else to do it. So, I didn’t think much of scheduling the boys’ doctor appointments around the same timeframe. In fact, I was pretty proud of myself for landing appointments that wouldn’t interfere much with my day.

Turns out, I had it all wrong. The whole thing turned out to be a bit of a circus. The scene: Two wiggly, squiggly, squirmy, overtired monkeys. Two already-tired parents who were overdressed for the occasion and who hadn’t yet eaten lunch (the hazard, I guess, to scheduling myself over the lunch hour. I forget I actually have to eat.) Plus, it was Graham and Gray’s 1-year appointment meaning lots of shots. There was screaming, there was sweating. I think we stood during most of the appointment just because the boys were more still if we were up moving around. Who needs a workout when you have a 23-lb. child to wrangle?! Thank goodness for very kind and patient doctors and nurses, who probably see this sort of thing a lot, especially when dealing with two babies at once. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

The good news is that G&G are both doing really well and are in good ranges for their height and weight. And, so far no major side effects or troubles from the shots. (Of course, that will probably change around 2 a.m. or something. That’s what happened last time.) Anyway, we all survived, and I picked up some more mommy know-how along the way, so I guess the day wasn’t a total bomb. Proof: I scheduled their 15-month check-ups for the morning. From now on, I’m going to stick to errands over my lunch breaks.

First year, lessons learned

Well, we made it! Yep, the twins turned 1 today. The first year is in the books. (insert sigh of relief here)

I have to say, it feels good. After all, we’ve come a long way from this day one year ago. I remember looking at those sweet, needy newborn faces in the hospital and wondering how in the world I was going to manage everything that I knew to be ahead. Yeah, yeah. I get it …The real work is really just beginning, but there’s something about that first year that’s unique and difficult. I imagine that’s even more true for first-time moms like me.

There wasn’t much fanfare over the birthday today. We did the big celebration (you know, the cake smushing, presents, etc.) on Sunday, so today was low-key. It was OK, though. I actually found myself to be introspective, thinking about where I was last year at this time. I didn’t expect to be sentimental about it, but I kind of was. The reality is that I have changed a lot this past year – in a good way – and learned a lot about myself in the process.

I learned … that poopy diapers aren’t that big of a deal when coming from the butt of someone you love. That I actually kind of like the smell of spit up on my clothes. That I can get by on four hours of sleep. That I do significantly better when I’ve had six. That I have a short memory – I remember the good stuff from this past year way more than the bad stuff. That I can love two people the exact same. That I worry a lot. That kids really are sick a lot and that taking care of sick kids really sucks. That I enjoy being a working mom and refuse to feel bad about it. That it does no good to compare myself to others (or my kids to others, for that matter). That I have more compassion for others than I thought I did. That my family really is more important to me than anything else and that my most important job each day to make sure my kids know that. Oh, and I learned that minivans aren’t all bad.

It’s been a roller coaster for sure, but overall a good ride. I wouldn’t take back a minute. Happy Birthday, G&G!

Newborn Grayson

Newborn Graham

We're 1!