Monthly Archives: December 2014

Holidays – Then and Now

Christmas TreeI love the holidays.  Truly my favorite time of year.  The festivities, the crisp in the air (well SoCal crisp, anyway), the music, the food, the lights – all of it.  I look forward to it all year, and then miss it once it’s gone.

And having children has only heightened (changed?  evolved?) my joy of the season.  Never will I look at Christmas the same way again.

Then, during a typical pre-child holiday season… After a leisurely Thanksgiving feast, we would enjoy another glass of wine and begin thinking about our Christmas plans.  Should we travel?  Hawaii for the holidays?  How about Aruba?  Is Australia too far?

Now… You take the kids and I’ll do the dishes.  Hey, we don’t throw pumpkin pie in this house!  We need to start getting ready for Christmas – so much to do.  Did you get the decorations out of storage?  Do you have a list?  Add the kids’ x/y/z events to the calendar.  Don’t hit your brother!

Then… We’d take a quiet stroll around the neighborhood to enjoy the holiday lights.  Look at that house – that’s creative!  Should we put up our lights?  Eh, we’ll get to it.  Oh, I booked our flights to Hawaii.  Need some new clothes!

Now… Daddy, what are THOSE lights?  Mommy, wow, look at these lights! LOOK DADDY MOMMY LOOK LOOK THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS LIGHT!  Daddy, STOP TALKING TO MOMMY AND LOOK AT THE LIGHTS!!  Ohhhh wooowwww, purple lights!  Look MOMMY DADDY LOOK IT’S PURPLE LIGHTS SEE IT IS PURPLE SEE MOMMY DADDY STOP TALKING AND LOOK!  Daddy, when are you putting up our lights??  Can we get purple lights too?  I help you Daddy.  Can we put lights up tonight??  Let’s put lights now!  I want PURPLE!  MOMMY GO HOME WE ARE PUTTING PURPLE LIGHTS UP NOW!  OH LOOK, RUDOLPH!  Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle allll the wayyy….

Then… Okay, let’s start our Christmas shopping.  What should we get so-and-so?  Maybe we can personalize something.  I will look at a few catalogs and check out a few stores.  Oh, and maybe we can stop by that cute little specialty shop in Santa Barbara this weekend.  What would you like?  A weekend away?  How about a new TV?  Surround sound?

Now… Hurry up, we have a lot more shopping to do!  Sit down in the cart, boys!  What?  Yeah, yeah that’s fine.  It’s ripped?  Oh it’s fine, it’s the last one, they won’t even notice – throw it in the cart.  Quick – grab that sweater!  We don’t throw things out of the cart!  How many more people do we have on the list?

Then… Yay, wrapping night!  Honey, can you make me a candy-cane-tini?  Turn up the holiday music.  I can’t wait to wrap this gift in the fancy paper and with that adorable tag idea I found on Pinterest!  So pretty.  I can’t wait until she sees it!  Let me take a picture of it under the tree.

Now… Put the kids to bed.  I’m running to the Dollar Tree to stock up on a mountain of wrapping paper and gift bags.  Okay, I’m back.  Quick – help me wrap these.  Only have a few hours.  No talking – just wrap!  Cover the tear with tape; he’ll never know.  Throw them under the bed.  WTF – no more gift bags??  We need more bags!  Go get more bags!  My back hurts.

Then… [In the mall] How adorable!  Look at those sweet children sitting on Santa’s lap.  Isn’t that cute?  Imagine if we had children, and they were waiting in line to see Santa.  So darling.

Now… Where’s Santa?  Mommy Daddy where is Santa?  He is on a break?  Why?  Whyyyyy?  Why do we have to wait?  Is that Santa’s brother?  Santa went potty?  I want Santa NOW!  Mommy, is he in the North Pole?  He went on a break to the North Pole?  Where is Rudolph?  Is he outside?  MOMMY HE IS COMING BACK THERE HE IS!   LOOK LOOK THERE IS SANTA!  Is it my turn?  When is it my turn?  After that boy?  Now?  Is it my turn now?  Now?  After her it is my turn?  Now?  Can I see him now?  Yes? … Noooo!  I don’t WANT to see Santa!  NOOOO!!!  NO!  No SANTA!  I don’t want a candy cane!  I don’t WANT TO!  AAAAAHHHHH, NOOOO!!!!  I no LIKE SANTA!!!!  WAHHHHHH!!!

Then… Holiday parties!  Lunches!  Cocktails!  Dress up!  Dancing!  Music!  Bubbles and fun!  Presents!  White Elephant!  Mistletoe!

Now… Threats.  Santa is watching you ALL THE TIME.  You need to be good or Santa won’t want to bring you gifts.  Yes, Santa saw you hit your brother.  Yes, the Elf tells Santa what he sees.  Stop that right now!  If you don’t stop that right now, I am going to be making a phone call to Santa!  I talked to Santa last night and he is NOT happy.

Then… Ahh, Christmas Eve.  Let’s have a drink in front of the fire and watch the lights on the tree.  Tomorrow, Hawaii!  One more drink and then let’s call it a night.

Now… How is it already Christmas Eve!?!  Here’s the game plan: I’ll take the kids to the park and you wrap the remaining gifts; I will come back and drop the kids with you and then run to the store for the gifts I forgot to buy you this year; then when I come back we’ll put the kids down for a nap and I will wrap the new gifts and you can go buy a few gifts for me and then we can start on Christmas dinner.  OH NO – tree!  We need a Christmas tree!  Okay, go get the tree and I will find the lights.  YES BOYS, Santa saw that and he is NOT pleased right now – we do not throw toys in this house!

…. And at the risk of cutting this piece awkwardly short, just know that I could go on and on but, frankly, am exhausted.  And let’s face it – these gifts ain’t gonna wrap themselves so Mama’s got some work ahead of her!  I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and joyful holiday.  And restful.  Did I say restful?  Get some rest and relaxation in there as well.  🙂

6 Reasons Why I Love Having my Boys Share a Room

Throughout pretty much my entire second pregnancy, one thing – of the hundreds – that I worried about incessantly was having my two sons share a bedroom.  We only have a three bedroom house which means a room for Mommy and Daddy, a room for the office (a requirement of my job since I work primarily from home), and a room for the kiddos.

Moving was not on the table, and the layout of our house made a potential addition impossible.  Even alternative options such as cornering off a portion of the master bedroom for a small office were not feasible (hey – we live in a small house!)

So what to do?

I couldn’t fathom the boys sharing a room.  The horror!  Isn’t every child entitled to their own bedroom?

Beyond that, what about the logistics?  We don’t keep babies in our room for very long, so what if the toddler was trying to sleep and the baby woke up crying?  Would we have a double meltdown on our hands?  Worse still, what if the toddler taunted or woke the baby?

But the weeks went on, and at some point we were forced to face the fact that there was no other option.  So the boys would have to share, at least for a while.  I just hoped that one day they would find it in their hearts to forgive us.

We decorated as best we could, keeping the two cribs strategically separated to prevent book-throwing (our toddler forgoes a teddy bear  to instead sleep with about 40 books each night).  We divvied up the closet space in half for each.  And picked up another dresser.  It would have to do.

Fast forward 11 months and now, I have to say, room-sharing was the best thing we could have done for them!  In fact, should we move to a larger house with an extra bedroom, I would continue to have them share a room.  Why?

  • They’ve learned to tune each other out.  This, my friends, is something that will continue to benefit us for years to come.  All my worries about one waking the other up?  Completely moot.  Within a week of sleeping in the same room, my toddler had learned to sleep through crying, screaming, lights on, lights off, feedings in the rocking chair right next to his crib, smelly diapers, and general raucous while we tended to all things Baby.  In fact, during those early weeks I was a bit worried about him – and would gently tap him just to make sure he was actually okay… and he was.  The baby, similarly, adjusted quickly.  Tantrums?  Crying?  Banging on the wall?  “Reading” books?  Nothing phased him.  At worst, he would startle, take a deep breath, and fall back asleep.

 

  • They comfort each other.  Perhaps the cutest thing I hear on the baby monitor, to this day, is my toddler comforting his little brother.  If the baby begins crying, and my toddler is still awake, I will soon hear him with his little high-pitched voice of concern: Don’t cry… It’s okay… Mommy will be coming soon… Are you hungry?  The baby, for his part, comforts the toddler in a different way.  At times when the toddler is tantrum-ing in his room, I will hear the baby start to laugh (why can’t I have the same response??)  This is effective at often stopping the toddler mid-tantrum to ask what is funny and why he is laughing; and then forgetting the tantrum altogether.

 

  • Mess/smells/dirt are confined to a single room.  A wonderful silver lining indeed!  Two boys = double the mess, double the dirt, double the stinky diapers.  How nice to be able to shut the door to one room to block it all out.  And to only clean one room with eventually two boys helping.

 

  • They are bonding.  The highest quality time the boys spend together (read: when they are not fighting over toys or for attention) is when they are in their room alone together.  We do keep them both in cribs until we trust that the toddler won’t throw his heavy Tonka trucks into his brother’s crib, knocking him out.  But they both walk over to the corner of their cribs to see each other and communicate.  The toddler “reads” books to his brother, and the baby claps in appreciation.  The baby pulls down the baby monitor, and the toddler laughs with delight.  Half the time I don’t even know what they’re doing, but I hear one laugh, then the other, then some banging, then more laughter.  As long as they’re not killing each other, I am grateful for the bonding opportunity.

 

  • All supplies in one place.  This wouldn’t have occurred to me except I was recently at a friend’s home as she tended to her son in his room. She couldn’t find his hat and was looking, looking, looking until it was finally reclaimed in her daughter’s room.  I, for one, will never have that problem.  Sure, there may be an item that is misplaced within the room – but it is only one room to search vs. multiple.

 

  • They’re forced to figure it out.  Now that I’ve gotten beyond the hardship I’ve forced my poor boys to endure with sharing a room, I’ve begun to embrace it.  I can’t seem to find when the law was implemented mandating separate bedrooms for all children.  Look at the Brady Bunch boys – three to a room!  And they all turned out okay.  Maybe it’s not a bad thing to prevent the option of escape into one’s own territory (cue slamming doors).  Maybe learning how to share and negotiate while being considerate of other human beings in tight quarters isn’t such a bad thing after all.

So if you are (or will be) in a similar situation, don’t stress it!  I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying about what ended up being a non-issue and, in fact, a benefit.

Now off to look for bunk beds….

TV for Toddlers? (Or, why I love the Roku)

TV for toddlers?Roku3

In our case, it’s a YES.

A Yes that we are aware of the “no screens” philosophy.  A Yes that as first time parents, our toddler likely watched less than 80 hours of television during his first three years of life.  And a Yes that we have now loosened the reigns, and allow him to watch (probably way too much) more.

And, after much indecision, a HUGE Yes to the Roku 3 and the Roku Streaming Stick.

Until 6 months ago, we enjoyed the granddaddy of cable packages with DirecTV.  Truly – more channels than we could ever watch nor even want.  Once the kids went to bed, we would flop on the couch in our zombie-like state, and flip through channel after channel, staring at (but not really watching) the screen.  Trash reality TV for me, cheesy sci-flicks for the hubby, and international home buying programs for the both of us.  Fun stuff.

Alas, our contract was coming to an end and in our new spirit of minimalism, the price increase was steep.  In fact, the price we had already been paying was steep.  Considering the fact that with two young kids, our time spent watching television had dwindled to mere minutes a day, it just didn’t make sense.

But we hemmed and hawed.  We were not the Cable Cutters type!  That seemed a bit extreme.  Hippy-ish.  Tree-Hugger-esque.  Millenial-like.

But the savings were attractive.  I’m talking over $100 a month.  Plus it might be cool to put our super high-speed ISP to the test.

So we bit the bullet and cancelled, ultimately opting for the Roku 3 as our replacement.  We looked at Apple TV, Fire TV, and Chromecast but a few things about the Roku 3 stood out.  First – it’s performance.  They’ve been doing this a while now, and have got the speed and issues mostly figured out.  Apple and Fire were still a bit buggy, and Chromecast doesn’t really achieve the same purpose (although it is definitely the best choice for screen mirroring and casting).  Secondly, I am not completely committed to the Apple eco-system, which would have made it tough to go with Apple TV – especially considering the fact that their programming was much more limited than Roku.  Where it got difficult was deciding between the Roku 3 and Fire TV.  Because – unlike with Apple – I am completely committed to the Amazon eco-system.  I am a happy (make that thrilled) Prime member, I spend a significant portion of my shopping dollars on their site, and I simply love their Kindle Fires for media consumption.  At first blush, Fire TV was the leader of the pack.

But it was still so new.  We could live with that, but there was one thing we couldn’t accept.  Amazon’s Fire TV didn’t have a clean option to display Prime titles on the device.  In other words – we couldn’t search or filter by Prime only.  WTF?  Free media content is one of the best things about our Prime membership, but to not allow filtering capability on Fire TV basically eliminated the edge that Amazon had.

Fortunately, Roku DOES provide Amazon Prime filters.  And that was the tipping point.  We purchased both a Roku 3 for the living room and a Roku Streaming Stick for the bedroom.  Difference between the two, you ask?  Really not much.  I do think the Roku 3 is marginally faster (although not enough to really notice unless you were comparing the two); and I like that it allows for an ethernet connection – an option we do take advantage of.  But if you have a strong wifi signal throughout the house, save yourself the $50 and get the stick.  An added bonus is that the stick is portable – plug it into TVs in hotel rooms, friends’ homes, etc.  Easy peasy.

Both units come with a separate remote (different than the Chromecast, which uses your phone as the remote), although you can download the Roku app for your phone/iPad to control the device that way.  The remote is nice and surprisingly easy to navigate.  I had been worried about typing out titles in the Search box, but it is quick and easy.

Set up took all of 5 minutes.  Plug it in, enter your network details, and wait for the initial load.  Boom – you’re ready to go.  Begin adding channels offered on the device and also do some Google searches for the so-called “Secret Channels” you can add as well – there are hundreds if not thousands; something for everyone.

What about the paid channels?  In our case, we already had a Netflix subscription at $7.99/month, so we kept that.  We also already had an Amazon Prime membership, so kept that.  The only paid channel we added was Hulu Plus, at a cost of $7.99/month.  Not sure if we really needed it, we took advantage of the 3 month trial and found that we did like the programming offered.  Even better, new episodes of popular shows become available the day after initial broadcast, so you can stay current with all your faves.  The downside is that there are commercials.  BUT there are only 1-2 commercials at a time (rarely 3) between segments, far fewer than regular television.  You can’t fast forward through them, but we don’t really mind.  It is not as big a deal as we had anticipated.

Between the three paid channels, the additional free channels we’ve selected, and some of the secret channels we’ve added, we don’t feel as if we’re missing much.  The only exceptions for us would be HGTV (we are admittedly a bit obsessed and Hulu Plus doesn’t yet offer the shows we’re most interested in), certain sporting events, and some local programming.  As far as the sporting events and local programming go, we have been able to mitigate much of that impact by purchasing a Mohu Leaf 50 Indoor Antenna, which picks up over 250 additional channels in our area.  Well worth the extra cost.  So overall, I would say we have replaced about 95% of what we would normally watch – at a savings of over $100/month.  Definitely a good trade-off.

Now – how does this all relate to our toddler?  As far the TV-sphere goes, we have realized some amazing unanticipated benefits of making the switch:

  • No Commercials.  Let me repeat: No Commercials (exception being, of course, Hulu Plus).  This isn’t about us worrying about our toddler’s impatience as 30 second ads flicker across the screen… It is about zero marketing.  No commercials for toys, movies, sugary cereals, junk food, or annoying cartoon characters.  Nothing for him to ask for, beg for, throw a tantrum for, or to even realize is available.  It is wonderful.  We select a show, he watches the show, and all is good with the world.
  • The free channels alone have more childrens’ programming than we could ever want or need (I’m talking to you, PBS Kids).  Free TV!
  • When we want something different, Amazon Prime and Netflix both offer a plethora of shows just for kids.  Seriously – anything that anyone could ever want.  And again: No Commercials.
  • There are many shows that are less than the standard 30 minutes slotted for regular television programming, and they tell you how long the programs run upfront.  Shows for 6 minutes, 12 minutes, 8 minutes.  This is great for us as we are in the midst of potty training, and unabashedly using the TV as the mega-award for going #2 in the potty.  Since mega-award doesn’t mean I want him plopped in front of the TV for 30 minute intervals at a time, it is great that I can select a short cartoon of 7 minutes to reward him and then move on.
  • Control.  The ability to truly control what he is watching.  With traditional television, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever they’re broadcasting at the time you start watching.  But with the Roku, we consciously pick everything we and the children watch.  Which means there is no more mindless vegging in front of the TV.  And, for the toddler, means that I can at least try to select the most educational options available.
  • Wifi issues.  I know this doesn’t sound like a perk, but hear me out.  Until we connected our living room Roku via ethernet (using Powerline – which I highly recommend as long as you remember to encrypt it), we were having some intermittent wifi issues in that dead zone area of the house.  Definitely annoying.  But our son, not knowing any better, began to simply accept that sometimes “the TV is not working.”  And move on.  Yes – a toddler – accepting and moving on.  Suffice it to say that that since we have picked up on this, there may be times we use this to our advantage… “sorry Honey, the TV is not working right now….”
  • The other cool things you can do with the Roku.  We’ve downloaded our Pandora stations (including the kiddie stations, which the boys love), our YouTube channels, and other media for a more personalized experience.  It’s nice to have everything consolidated in one place on the “big TV”, leading to more than just television watching.

So for all these reasons and more, I give an enthusiastic Thumbs Up to the Roku (the 3 or the Streaming Stick).  More conscious television watching, limited to no marketing, a personalized media experience, and a significant cost savings make for one happy mama – and little guy.