Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fantastic Four

Did you miss me?

Well, I've been around. But babysitter-less, swamped with summer activities, and left with little time to sit down to write.

And more importantly, I've been immersed in birthday world. Because a certain little girl just turned four.

I know four isn't a teenager. It's not double digits. Heck, it's not even elementary school age. But four definitely, in all minds, takes her firmly out of toddler-town and plants her into kid-ville. And since she's my oldest, every birthday is a cause for nostalgia.

It should be noted, that since Reagan is my YOUNGEST, every milestone SHE hits is ALSO a cause for nostalgia. Madison is my first foray into a stage, Reagan is my last goodbye. So basically, I'm emotional and nostalgic every time either of them does anything.

This birthday was the first time that Madison had real, definite, and unwavering opinions on the matter. Last year we got a taste of it, but she was pretty open to suggestion. I'm not certain she really knew a birthday was on the horizon until we started planning and talking about the event. This year, she knew it was coming and she knew what she wanted. She was one of the youngest in her preschool class and had spent her final six months in preschool attending party after party, picking out presents (noting that Brooke likes Belle, Will likes orange), playing in bounce houses and slip and slides and participating in party games, eating pizza and cupcakes, whacking pinatas and collecting goody bags. She saw her friends, one by one, celebrated as the "birthday boy!" and the "birthday girl!" and she's been itching, waiting, wanting her turn to choose a special way to celebrate. She had all these plans in plans in place for when it was finally her turn to be the birthday girl.

As I started planning this Elsa-Anna-but-don't-forget-I-love-Belle-and-I-really-love-this-play-place-but-it's-a-Frozen-party-right-mommy party, I realized something I hadn't realized fully before.

Summer birthdays kind of suck.

I didn't use to think this way. I was a winter baby, so I had more than one birthday party postponed for snow. I had plenty of outdoor summer get-togethers with friends, but I had that teeny bit of jealousy for those who could have a birthday pool party. I remember wishing that I had a warm weather birthday, only to have my summer birthday friends lamenting their lack of a special "school birthday", back in the day when you were the classroom hero for bringing cupcakes, or your friends decorated your locker.

Turns out they were right. Summer birthdays have their own issues.

I definitely got that, when I was thirty-eleven weeks pregnant in a sweltering July, and when I was frustrated that my official six week maternity leave was when I was technically already off from school for the summer, but then Madison arrived with the ferocity of the thunderstorm we drove to the hospital in and I didn't think about it too much. Sure, Madison's first few parties also took place during raging July thunderstorms, but after the first year of a house full of sweaty, damp party goers and grilling under an umbrella, I smartened up and started outsourcing and having her parties in indoor locations. It wasn't a big deal. This year, however, we realized the real stinker of the summer birthday. And it's not the weather. It's the season.

Her friends were all on vacation. All. On. Vacation.

I'm serious. RSVPs started trickling in, and my heart sank with every response, because out of the first eight kids to respond, only ONE was a yes. When about half of the responses were in, I felt like crying. Here I was, wanting to make sure we would have a space for all these friends and finding a venue that would accommodate us, and that was seeming like a true fool's errand. Parents would love for their kids to come, but they would be away on vacation. Or were leaving that day - if only her party was in the morning! Or were coming home that day, but wouldn't be back in time. They were in Maine, Cape Cod, driving to visit family, driving to theme parks, flying across the country. Totally legitimate reasons to miss a party. I certainly don't blame these families for being away on vacation, but it broke my heart anyway. Of all the preschool parties Madison attended this year, a very low percent were able to reciprocate and share her special day. She'd waited all year, through endless celebrations, for her friends to come celebrate her, and I was very worried it wouldn't happen for her.

But before I could worry too much about the party, we kicked off the celebration at the pool. The day before her actual birthday, the pool hosted a "Family Fun Day" - basically a cross between a crazy pool party and a carnival. We hadn't been our first two summers. It always fell right on Madison's birthday and we figured we'd do something special with family....not to mention that we didn't know how much a younger kid would enjoy all the activity. But this year, we knew it would be a hit. We even made arrangements to bring in a cake to share with her pool friends.

Bubble dance party? Hunt for gold coins? Bounce area with a cow to ride? AWESOME.

The day may not have been for Madison, but that didn't stop her from crowing that THIS IS THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER!!!!!!!!

We had to have a Barbie cake at the pool, because the pool is where she got her very FIRST Barbie

Last Monday, her actual birthday, was a secret "yes" day. I had decided, without officially telling Madison, that I would do my best to say "yes" to everything she suggested. She, of course, had a full day of activities, but we crammed in a good amount of fun.

Personalized purple pancakes? Yes! A grown up manicure? Yes! A Happy Meal for lunch? Yes! Dinner at a "grown up restaurant"? Yes!

Not to mention a boatload of Frozen toys, which we'd finally managed to snag on Amazon after weeks and weeks of staring at empty shelves.

Toddler Elsa and Toddler Anna. Not to be confused with Baby Elsa and Baby Anna. Which she also received.

As the week went on, I scoured the party stores for Frozen party goods (you would have thought I'd think ahead and order from Etsy or Amazon, but alas, I'm clearly not that smart) and continued to worry about the guest list. I knew she wouldn't really notice and would have a great time, but I still worried that the number of friends would be woefully small.

Party day arrived, and with the siblings we'd welcomed along (hey, we had the space!), we had a decent number of kids running around (including the two she claims as her best friends - thank God those two were around and available). They had a great time, the party lasted the perfect amount of time for preschoolers, and we left to open gifts at home with both sets of grandparents - tired and happy, just the way you should be at the end of a day of fun.

Bounce house, games, dancing with frogs, a Frozen cake, and the star of the show pinata. She could not ask for more.

And now she's four...the celebrations are over and we're starting the fun of the next year. I've already been informed that four is OLD. She'll need to start wearing a watch now (Daddy started wearing a watch when he was four). She will have IMPORTANT work to do. She is a REALLY big girl now (this may be because she thought for a long time that I was four and Adam was five). We talked about how four year olds are plenty old enough to have jobs around the house, and she's excited (hey, it's new. Using a stick vac is still exciting). I've had many moms let me know that four is a great age - the toddler trials are (mostly) over and you have a loving, learning, happy little person.  

I've also had many mothers tell me that four is EVEN WORSE than three. These are pretty much the people who told me that three would be EVEN WORSE than two. And I'm sure they'll tell me that five is EVEN WORSE than four. So to those people I say "la la la la I can't HEAR YOU!"

I let her choose the picture. I figured she'd go with her birthday pics...nope. Ballerina all the way.

Watch out four, here comes Madison!

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MomAssembly: Hey, I Found the Instruction Manual!

*The following post is brought to you by MomAssembly. All opinions are my own.

I am a planner. I am a reader. I am a researcher. I am a direction follower. I was a good student. I like to be prepared.

When we knew Madison was on her way, I signed up for websites. I joined message boards. I had piles of books on sleep, nursing, behavior, milestones, health and happiness. I had three different pregnancy and parenting magazines arriving at the house every month. It was like I was daring the universe to quiz me. Go ahead, ask me a hard one! Teething remedies? Got 'em! Sleep schedule? Done! Nursing? Please.

I was totally prepared.

Then she arrived and I couldn't believe that the hospital was just letting us leave with this tiny human. I had studied and studied and I wasn't sure I was ready for this. How could they think I was? Somehow, even with all my studying, when it came down to it, I was clueless. What I really wanted was for someone to just tell me what I was supposed to do.

And it turns out that for all my planning, babies don't actually come with instruction manuals. All that reading I'd done? Neither of my babies seemed to agree wholeheartedly with the literature. And as I sat on the floor of the nursery one night, with a squalling seven week old, repeating the mantra crying peaks at six weeks crying peaks at six weeks crying peaks at six weeks, I found myself wishing for a real instruction manual, one that could get me through the tough spots when the books weren't cutting it. I wanted one again when the teething started. And when the toddler years hit. And, please God, when the potty made an appearance. And sibling rivalry. And preschool power struggles. The quizzes keep coming and I can't find the darn manual!

At MomAssembly, co-founders Jill Spivak, LCSW and Jennifer Waldburger, MSW have come up with the next best thing. In 2012, Jill and Jennifer brought their nearly two decades of experience as family and parent educators and created an online Parenting University with over 70 hours of video courses taught by nationally renowned experts in their fields.

The courses are organized in helpful categories such as, Birth to 4 Months, 4 to 8 Months, 8 to 12 Months, 12 to 24 Months, Your Preschooler through Age 5, and even a section, Just for You, with courses on balancing motherhood and marriage, finding balance, and even coping with postpartum depression. There’s also a list of topics in the sidebar, like Discipline, Feeding and Nutrition, School Age Children, and Special Needs.

When I heard about this initially, I wasn't sure if videos were the way to go. Remember, I'm a reader. Online courses? That means finding the time to take them. Could I sit at my computer, watching a video until it was over while the laundry piled up? Wouldn't that actually make my stress level worse? Would there be a quiz at the end?

Turns out, no quiz. And no huge time commitment. Each class had a few segments, most of which fell into the 5-10 range. And if the baby starts to cry or the two year old needs a diaper or your four year old wants a water refill, just stop the class and pick it up again whenever time is available. I love that the courses are just as helpful to listen to as to watch, meaning that I can set-up my laptop or tablet or even my phone, on the kitchen counter while I make dinner.  It’s all online, so whatever is easiest for you is what will work. Multitasking: a mom's best friend.

The course that really hit home for me was How to Turn Sibling Rivalry into Sibling Camaraderie. Now with two kiddos, it's not just dealing with their individual issues, it's dealing with them together. They love each other, then they're pushing each other's buttons. They fight, I separate them, and they both wail for their sister to come back to them. I needed some tips to help my close in age sisters get along for more than five minutes at time. I also made sure to check out Master the Art of Balancing Love and Discipline for some peaceful parenting techniques and naturally, Discipline Dos and Don'ts. Check that one out here.

You can either get a month-to-month plan for $7.99 or a yearly subscription, which comes out to $3.99 a month. Both plans include unlimited access to over 500 classes, downloadable handouts, and workbooks. You can add up to four family members or caregivers to an account (hello grandma, babysitter and dad)! They also both come with a seven-day free trial.

But as a special offer to readers of From Meredith to Mommy, MomAssembly will give the first 10 readers who purchase either one of their plans a free month’s membership when they use this link.

Check MomAssembly out on Facebook!
Check MomAssembly out on Facebook!
No matter how much you cram ahead of time, babies test you. Toddlers test you. Preschoolers test you. And I have a feeling the testing won't stop.  MomAssembly gives us the instruction book we all wish the hospital had remembered to include when we brought these babies home.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Crafting for the Non Crafty Mom

So here's the thing. I'm not super crafty. I know I'm not super crafty. Sure, I pin plenty of things to try with the girls, but we don't do much. And when we do, it's much more about the process, not the product.

But now that Madison has a year of preschool under her belt, she likes to process and the product. She likes to do projects. She likes the experience, but she also likes to have something to take away.

Beading? I can handle that. Play dough? Right up my alley. Painting? Sure. Basically, if the prep is light and it's focused on play, I'm in. We make and play with rainbow rice. We make and play with cloud dough. I'm planning on making this Frozen inspired silly putty.

Anything beyond that where you get to walk away with something you can hang up or play with? Ummm...yeah, not my strength. The prep alone kills me. Best leave that to preschool.

Oh, but preschool is over. Shoot.

I can do the free play, I can do the teaching, I can do the sensory stuff, but clearly, I need to step up my game on the craft thing and fill that void. Not daily, maybe not even weekly, but at least a few times a month I need to let this kid make something.

So I'm cheating a little. Just a little. Just enough to get me started.

I joined Kiwi Crate. I'd seen their posts on Facebook. You know, where it says which of your friends like things. Turns out a lot of my friends like Kiwi Crate.

By the way, this is NOT a sponsored post. They did not send me a free box or pay me any money to talk about them. But once I knew how much I liked this, I did join their affiliate program. So if you join, I get some credit for that.

You know what? I like them too. Enough where I wasn't cancelling once my free trial was over.

We get one box a month, and right now, we only get it with enough craft supplies for one kid (you can ask for extra so two or more kids can do it together). Their age range is 3-7, and Reagan isn't at the point yet where it's worth it. Twenty bucks gets us a box containing supplies, instructions, extension activities, and stories that will make two separate creations. Usually one is clean and easy and one is a little messier and more involved. I started over the winter, and we had fun with snow projects, but by far our favorite is the farm project.

Now, if you are a crafty mom, this probably isn't the subscription box for you. I know some of my friends are already shaking their heads and saying things like "You know, you can pick up all that stuff at Discount School Supply or Amazon or the Dollar Store". Yes. You are right. You can search for a project on Pinterest, pick up the supplies, prep them yourself, and do a comparable project for less money.

Here's the progression of the farm animal finger puppets we made.

See all those little pieces of sticky felt? I would have to cut all those out. And make the bodies for the finger puppets. The prep alone would have made it a no.

Totally capable of doing all this herself, once it was laid out.

That was IT for clean up.

Ready for a show!

But for me, my time is worth something. I don't want to not do crafts because I know that I don't have the time to spend cutting out pieces of felt to the right size, scouring the Dollar Store for the right supplies, finding a place to store all the excess. If I'm going to do a craft with the girls, it's one that they can be involved in 90% of. Cutting out sticky felt isn't in their capabilities yet, and I don't want to spend my crafty time getting all finicky. Simply put, I would not have done this farm project on my own. I would have seen it on Pinterest, pinned it, and then when we were itching to dive into the craft supplies, I would have reverted back to something where the parent prep is low and the kid involvement is high. We wouldn't have done something like this. Would that have been just as ok? Sure. But looking at how much she loved this project, I feel like I owe her one like this a month. We got a month by Kiwi Crate subscription - you can get a better value by prepaying, but I like having the ability to pause when it looks like life is getting busy.

Some projects are messier. Some require more set up. Some are as easy as this one. What's cool is that with the two projects you get, you get a meter telling you what to expect. You also get a little "magazine" and directions for a few projects that you can do on your own. For an almost four year old, getting THIS much mail with THIS much stuff inside is the best.

For one week only, if you use the code GET10 you'll save $10 off your first crate, plus, you'll get free shipping.

If it can make a non crafty mom seem crafty a few times a month, I'll take it! Pin It
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