Dec 29, 2011

Gendered Toys, Lego and Pink

There has been a lot written lately about the way most toys are very strongly gendered so that they are either "for boys" or "for girls". Parents have long found this frustrating and have worried about the impact. If your little boy likes Dora, or your little girl likes Ben 10, tough luck - you cannot buy any "gender neutral" merchandise for these characters, whether it's toys, clothes or lunch boxes.

Lego Friends
This month Lego launched a range for girls, which has attracted some controversy. Lego's market research showed that girls' interests are beauty, community, design and friendship; girls like to play make-believe in an indoor-worldy setting, while hanging with friends and looking pretty. Hence the Lego Friends range to meet this "need". (In other words, Lego has found a way to make its toys look just like Strawberry Shortcake and other existing toys for girls).

Lego Friends - Stephanie's Outdoor Bakery.
Yay, we girls love baking!

As a mother of girls I can attest that yes indeedy, they do like these things. But whether this is "innate" or whether it is what has been fed to them since they were one, is an unknown thing. Like most mothers I think it is a bit of both.

We all know little boys who have enjoyed playing with dolls and girls who play with trucks and Lego; at a young age all kids play with everything. Sadly and perhaps (perhaps) inevitably, this tends to disappear around 3 years of age when kids tend to gravitate towards the toys "for" their gender.

So is this necessarily a bad thing? I'm not sure. Is it limiting? I have no doubt. Is it "natural" or inevitable? I think to some degree yes, but I've no doubt we exacerbate it.

Whose fault is it?

When I found out I was having girls I happily and excitedly bought up clothes and wraps and linen in loads of pink, lemon and mauve. Having never been fond of pink, I found myself buying up pink clothes and pink everything and loving it. If I was having boys, I would have happily and excitedly bought up everything blue and green. It's natural and fun to celebrate whatever gender your kids are in this way.  I always had other colours including blues, and the girls had toy cars, trucks, trains and blocks which were their favourite toys as toddlers.

Now the girls are six, they do strongly gravitate towards "girly" toys, and I do get annoyed at ads for whatever latest toys are marketed at them with emphasis on clothing design, beauty, "makeovers", baking, hanging out with pretty friends walking miniature dogs, etc. Because when they see these things, they do want them. And when they see things that are clearly aimed at boys, like Flick Tricks, Ben 10 stuff, or the rest, you can sense the peer pressure making them shy of expressing interest in these things, even if they are initially interested and even if I encourage it.

This works on boys too, of course. Squinkies look fun and exciting to all kids, but are "clearly" "for girls" - hence "Squinkies Boys" with motifs of skulls, garbage cans, ghouls etc. Hence too girls play with "dolls" while boys play with "action figures". (And why it's funny in Toy Story 3 when Ken is picked on for being "a girl's toy").

I am not too fond of Bratz dolls, but am not too bothered by Barbie. I loved Barbie when I was a kid (and Sindy - remember her?), and at least now you can buy Barbies in sporty swimsuits with flat-soled feet. Most of what I find distasteful in these toys is around the pushy marketing and the emphasis on playing with collections - a couple of dolls and a car/house/pool/camper are never enough!  I get a little sick of the saccharine emphasis on friendship and the kinds of girly fun that these toys all have together such as eating cakes, having sleepovers and doing makeovers. What's wrong with having an adventure, or saving people from danger, or travelling to other worlds?

When my girls play with their Barbies, they are always going to balls, going on dates with boyfriends, or occasionally attending musketeer school; all the scenarios come from TV shows or the Barbie movies they've watched (I know, I know - but please, have girls before you judge me!).  I have to admit I am shocked at how every TV show and movie for kids these days has "boyfriends and girlfriends", dating, or even marriage themes. Was it always this way?

Pink Stinks

In 2009 sisters Abi and Emma Moore started the "Pink Stinks" campaign, to protest the "pinkification" of little girls and offer more alternatives. Two years on it doesn't seem much has changed - yet. But there is definitely a feeling out there, that things are too limited for both boys and girls, and we don't want to go backwards after so many gains made in gender equality over the years.

Will the marketers catch on?

Interestingly, I have noticed that while little girls love everything pink around the ages of two to four, from the age of five or six they start to "move on" to other colours - usually via purple. (When I was a kid in school I remember it was from pink to baby blue). Thanks to school and peer pressure, my kids are now starting to reject pink as too "babyish" for them, at least in public. They'll still choose some pink things at home, but are more likely now to favour purple, tourquoise, white, blue or green.

Has the very saturation of pink created a self-limiting effect I wonder?
We can but hope.

Here are some of my favourite recent tweets on this subject:
(Apologies I have not yet worked out how to embed them prettily - will fix later if I can)

@tammois My girls are 6 and "moving on" from pink which they see as a little-girl colour; now love purple, blue & green. Yay!
@JackieK_ I was so grateful when my daughter moved on. She is now vocal that . :-)

    9yo girl: "Can you think of a good name for girls who don't want to be girly girls but aren't tomboys?"

    Kate @kateburge    
    @tammois The idea of Monopoly changed for girls with beauty salons and malls? Oh wow. Isn't that mental?
    I especially love this one - a good reminder that being diverse is normal, not "tomboyish" or strange:
    My daughter is perfectly conventional. Loves horses, dresses, hairclips, dogs, footy, cricket, utes, dinosaurs, pirates & Lego.

    What do YOU think?

    Dec 17, 2011

    20 Questions

    Hello, dear blog that I haven't posted on for many moons.
    I am sorry I haven't sat down and sorted through all the half-baked posts swirling round my head, various bits of paper and phone voice memos.

    It's Christmas - I'm busy!

    Meantime - this week I played 20 Questions with Dr Bron Harman at The Modern Family. Hop on over and take a look!

    Nov 17, 2011

    Why I have no interest in seeing "I Don't Know How She Does It"

    I Don't Know How She Does It is on at the movies.


    While it should be kind of nice that our daily juggling act is the theme of a movie (though a mainstream movie would never be approving of "working mothers", would it?) this movie has, from what I am hearing, got it wrong.

    I'm sure the book was really really good and timely when it was published, and I know it is loved by many.  So if this includes you, or if you have seen the movie, please feel free to let me know if I have got any of this wrong.

    But I have no interest at all in seeing this movie.

    I normally try not to judge something without seeing it, but since I had kids I see, like, one cinema movie and one DVD movie every three or four months. And I've already seen The Eye of the Storm and Bridesmaids within the last 2 months. So I have to be choosy, and my movie quota has been filled for this quarter.

    Here is why I won't be seeing the movie:

    1. The idea is outdated. The book it is based on was published in 2002. Yup, back then everyone was wondering how on earth "those" women juggled working and parenting. Nine years later, more of us are working, more of us are juggling, and... it's no longer an oddity.

    2. It won't be complimentary of working mothers. Movies never are. If it was, I would have heard that, because it would be so unusual.

    3. It pitches just two extremes: high-flying careerist workaholics "versus" stay-at-home mums (because of course, it's a war between those two). Yes I know plenty of people live those lives, but more people don't. Aren't there many many other options in the middle? Full-time workers in simpler jobs? Workers with flexible hours? Shift workers? Part-time workers? Split and blended families? I suspect most mothers these days, and many fathers (hooray!) work differently during different stages of their kids' lives - sometimes working full-time, sometimes part-time, sometimes not doing paid work for a time - and changing hours and arrangements as they are able.

    4. The movie has a scene where the mother is asked whether her son likes broccoli and she doesn't know the answer. Please. First of all, I know the answer: he doesn't. Second, when I was working full-time and running myself ragged juggling stress and responsibility at work and also parenting my kids, I was still fully engaged with my kids and knew them backwards just as I do now. Yes, when you work full-time and someone else cares for your kids sometimes, you do outsource some child-rearing. But this myth that persists in pop culture, that this means you lose touch with your kids or don't know what they need, like or want - so, so untrue. So tedious. So nine years ago. Can't we move on?

    5. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people who loved the book talk of the scene where the mother bashes store-bought pies or biscuits or some such with some implement or utensil late at night, to make them look home-made for the next day's bake sale. I get what this scene means - the time pressures, the added pressures to do 'home making' (and prove it to others) as well as working a demanding full-time job, the desire to still be a 'good' mother and provide the same things for your kids as the other mothers, etc etc etc. I get it. I see why that touched a chord. But I can't get past the image. Bashing store-bought pastries is never going to make them look home-made - they won't look anything other than bashed.

    6. The mother is 'saved' by giving up her career and devoting herself full-time to her family. I do get a bit sick of the idea that women with careers are not really happy or fulfilled. They're not usually - but neither is anyone else. And neither is giving up work a solution, in itself. Think back, people. 1950's, 60's, 70's - even 80's - vast histories of unhappiness and frustration are there for the remembering, if we ever get nostalgic for a "simpler" past. Of course it is wonderful to be able to "step off" for awhile, if resources permit. It is wonderful to be able to change your life if your life is making you unhappy. But neither are all mothers with paid work unhappy, and I get sick of pop culture (especially movies) pushing this barrow.

    So, that's it from me. I like Sarah Jessica Parker and will await her next movie instead.

    Meanwhile, here's a clip from I Don't Know How She Does It:

    Nov 6, 2011

    Some Reasons to Consider Full Time Work

    As some readers will know or can deduce, I am not always at ease with my position working full-time while raising young kids. There are times - not few - where I am deeply envious of mums who are working part-time or are at home full-time with their kids. And neither of those is a lay-back picnic either, I know - I have done them both.

    While I do believe in the value of paid work and what it gives women and families, I am also 100% understanding of and supportive of anyone who takes a different path, because managing a paid job while meeting all the requirements of children and parenthood without going crazy is very, very difficult.

    Most parents who "opt out" of paid work, or work part-time, have made a considered choice, are making considerable sacrifices to do so and work hard to manage their environment and expenses to enable them to do it. Most also are only able to do this for a short time, having to return to work or increase their hours once children are older or when circumstances change.

    But. Without negating all that, I think it is important for parents making these choices to consider financial and career long views carefully, and not be ashamed to factor these into their decisions.

    Our society rightly values childhood and the nurture of children - more in fact than it ever has. Overall society is gentler than it was even 10 or twenty years ago. Watch an old movie, read old news articles or books and it is clear that childhood was a much rougher experience at any time in our past. This is all good.

    But on the flipside, we value the nurturing of young children to the extent that parents now probably feel pressured to stay home full time and forget that part of raising a family is financial stability, building a future and all the daily nurturing that is needed throughout the children's whole lives. Most families can't afford for one parent to stay home full-time forever. If the years from 0-5 are deemed critical, for example, and one parent stays home for those years, what happens after that?

    Often at that point, that parent is "forced" to go back to work in a way that probably feels sudden and must be incredibly difficult and stressful, even if that parent might want to go back to work. And many many times, they must not want to. After all, do the kids stop needing you when they start school? When they start high school?

    I returned to work part-time when my twins were 8 months old, building up over a few months from 3 days to 4 days to 5 days (which is a good way to do it by the way - each time I added another day was hard but it was helpful to "ease" into work over that period). While I would have preferred to stay home longer, I also had it in mind that I wanted to preserve the option of scaling back later when they started school, as I have always thought that "kids need you when they're in school".

    Conversely a friend of a friend (who was the only person I have ever met who was openly judgemental to me), felt that the 0-5 years were "critical" and was planning to work full-time once her kids started school. I was stung that she said my working was "unusual" (it was not, but I still felt guilty so did not stand up to her to say so), but also felt vaguely smug myself - my little twins, happy and loving their 2, 3 or 5 days at daycare, and affectionate and well-adjusted at home, were "proof" that she was wrong - but I "knew" they would "need me" when they started school...

    Of course the truth is that kids always need their parents, and no one time in their lives is more critical than any other. So most parents need to find ways to nurture their kids while also holding down the work that is necessary for building a life for the family.

    With so much in the pop culture about "balancing" work and family, I often think of the majority of parents in this country and the world over who have no choice but to work. In countries like ours where it feels like you should have choices and control, I am sure that many waste a lot of time feeling anxiety, guilt, and anger that they cannot stay home, even while it is a minority who are able to do it these days.

    Michelle Griffin in The Age wrote an article this week called The Working Mother Myth, about this issue, and highlighting some of the things we don't consider often enough about full-time work. Some quick quotes from the article:

    "In the real world, very few women with children can afford to opt out of the rat race for the sake of their families...
    And the brutal truth is that even fewer should consider it...
    In our anxiety to support a mother's choice to stay at home, we haven't been frank about the consequences."

    These include reduced long-term income (you never catch up), reduced employability in future, reduced superannuation, and the widening pay gap between men and women.  Obviously this is not news, and obviously, raising kids involves sacrifices. Most parents are more than willing to sacrifice personal career achievements and higher salaries for the benefits of raising a family.

    But these are not trivial or unimportant things either - neither is this a question of "making sacrifices" versus being "selfish" or "greedy". Protecting your family's income and employability is not about "money", it's about stability and security, both of which are helpful for kids.  The fact is that these days both parents need to be nimble and employable throughout their lives, not only in the event of death or divorce of the breadwinning parent, but just to be able to change tack and cope as a family with whatever life, health and the economy sling at us over time.

    For this reason too, you can't weigh up one parent's salary against the cost of childcare, and conclude that "it isn't worth it". The true equation when looking long-term and factoring in the whole family salary, superannuation, taxes and family payments, impact on mortgage repayments, and investment in future work choices, is far more complex than that. Of course there are times in our working lives, where the weekly struggle and the costs incurred in time, expense and mental health may leave us feeling like "it's not worth it". In some cases it may not be. Clearly taking a break is better than having a nervous breakdown for instance. But it is also worth remembering that the years where we are raising young children tend to coincide with maximum mortgage, financial and career pressure - "the decade of stress" as Berndard Salt calls it in his book The Big Tilt. It is hard, but the worst of it is temporary.

    My comments here are not, in any way, "against" parents who stay home, work part-time, or take breaks from work. Hats off to all mums and dads, whether in paid work or not, all work hard, give their all for their kids, make sacrifices, and do great stuff every day. But we ought not automatically dismiss the benefits of full-time work, or assume it is the least best option.

    Your thoughts?  (Be kind!)

    Oct 18, 2011

    Kids in the City

    Photo by Aarwen Abendstern via Flickr CC

    Today I was at a cafĂ© on my lunch break and saw one of my favourite things.  A man in a business suit was having lunch with his daughter, who was about 7 years old. She was sitting very tall and straight in her chair with her croissant and milkshake and both she and her dad were enjoying themselves immensely.

    I love seeing children in the city. I love the way wait-staff smile at them and other customers smile knowingly at the parent and each other.  I love how the kids feel special and excited to be visiting Mum or Dad in The City.

    You may disagree if you are trying to hurry down a busy footpath to a work meeting and have to weave around assorted prams and toddling youngsters on the way, but children breathe life into the CBD and in fact everywhere they turn up.

    Photo by Lievensoete at Flickr CC

    A little while ago I read an article about the Docklands precinct in Melbourne – I can’t remember the source, but it was about planners and councils wanting to encourage families to live in the city, because children bring life and growth to residential areas. And when you think about it, a residential area without children – while blessedly quiet – must be fairly stagnant. The exception might be the small vibrant enclaves devoted to nightlife, but these are usually tiny parts of a bigger area, with very few residences anyway.

    Of course I don’t think children belong everywhere. I have no problem with some restaurants having child-free policies because there are places where it’s hard for kids to sit still for long, people have paid a lot of money to relax and enjoy their dinner, and they rightly expect to do so in a certain ambience.

    But cities are made for vibrancy, variety and humanity. They’re not just for suits, or students, or hipsters, or anyone in particular. They’re for everyone.

    Photo by Infomatique at Flickr CC

    Last school holidays during my husband’s week minding the kids (we take turns), he brought them in to meet me one day for lunch. The kids dressed up in their favourite dresses, and were pleased as punch. And it absolutely made my day. I thrilled with pride as the cafe staff smiled at us all, we had a lovely sandwich lunch, and I beamed like an idiot all the way back to my desk.

    What do you think? Do kids belong in the CBD?

    Oct 13, 2011

    Lights, Camera, Action!

    Image: Denise Cross, Flickr Creative Commons

    Our primary school is doing its school musical this month. Tickets have been purchased, for mum, dad and grandparents. Costumes have been purchased and labelled meticulously – which means I actually brought out the iron and ironed on printed name labels, instead of scribbling names in ballpoint on the laundry tag as I usually do. The kids are excited. They have been rehearsing their song and dance routines for months at school and in the lounge room, and I reckon I know all the words and dance actions now myself.

    Yesterday we got a notice of last minute items for the Big Night. Such as:

    “The stage lights require that both girls and boys should have a light tan or suitable foundation make-up. Girls can wear pink or soft red lipstick.”

    A facial tan – interesting... And I thought we attended a sun-safe school…
    So as I’ve decided a trip to the solarium is out, what is “suitable foundation makeup” for five-year-olds? Will my CoverGirl Aqua Smooth in Buff Beige do? What if I apply too much and my kids look like contestants in a Texas children’s beauty pageant? What if I apply too little and they look pale and sickly under the stage lights while everyone else’s kids look amazing? (What if I just over-analyse and over-stress the whole thing for a change?)

    “We kindly request that there is no photography or video recording during the show, as there is a professional videographer recording during the performance.”

    But of course. I had wondered whether it would be OK to take a photo of the kids performing (I had no intention of recording a movie), and had already assumed probably not. These days you tend to avoid taking photos of your kids if they’re in a group with others, unless it’s a birthday party. (Privacy, school rules, online predators and all that).

    Happily, we can buy a CD for $30.
    So we can sit through this 90 minute musical not just once, but again and again! What luck!

    In The Olden Days

    Things in the past were less glitzy but probably harder.
    (That line probably goes as well for anything, not just school musicals).

    I remember some sort of musical when I was probably in grade two and my sister in prep. I don’t think it was school but the year-end extravaganza for our callisthenics classes. (Remember callisthenics? Or jazz ballet maybe?)

    So it was the mid-seventies, and my mother was given a pattern for sewing the costume. She also had to make a satin-covered cardboard headpiece with sequins and I still remember her being told off by an officious Organising Lady for sewing sequins in the wrong formation on the headpiece, and having to re-do it.

    In those days mothers didn’t tend to tell officious Organising Ladies to get stuffed and make the costume themselves if the placement of sequins was so bloody important. Instead their cheeks burned with shame and humiliation and they hurried home to repair the damage while fuming about officious Organising Ladies to their husbands and kids.

    I sometimes get frustrated with the school now for what they expect from parents who are so busy – have I mentioned the recent Crazy Paper Hat Day extravaganza? With two days’ notice to make a Crazy Paper Hat?  Have I mentioned that I work full-time? – But how much harder it must have been to be a working mum with primary school kids back in the seventies, when everyone expected all mums were home and had oodles of time and family or neighbourly help to hand. At least these days, as hard as it might get, you know you’re not in the minority.

    At least the school musical “costume” is easy – the remit was just a dress or skirt and top in bright light colours, and ribbons or colour spray for hair. Whew! Even I can do that!

    ...And, just because I am still traumatised, I'm going to throw in a picture of the hats I made on the night before last day of Term 3, for Crazy Hat Day.

    Oct 6, 2011

    A Week in My Working and Parenting Life

    Planning With Kids is a great blog and resource for parents with loads of practical advice and things to do. Maxabella Loves is a really well-written blog by a woman who knows what it's like to juggle full-time work and parenting. Last month these two good things came together when The Planning Queen hosted a guest blog by Maxabella called Working and Mumming which detailed a week in her life and "how she does it".

    I liked this idea so I thought I should copy it.

    As Maxabella says, it takes a lot of organisation and strategic thinking to manage full-time work and parenting, as well as a support network. No one does it alone (or if they do, they deserve some kind of award and government compensation immediately).

    So here is a week in our lives - work, school and everything else.

    We have twin girls who are in their first year (prep) at school. I work Monday to Friday at an investment bank in the city, and my husband Y. works 4 to 5 days a week (it varies) at a cafe in a suburb 20 minutes drive from home. Y. has Thursdays and Fridays off, and works Sundays and sometimes also Saturday.

    Our kids go to the local government school which is a five minute drive from our house.
    They do before-school and after-school care on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
    On Friday afternoons they go to Greek school, which goes from 5pm to 8.30pm (poor things!)

    Y. takes the kids to school or before-school care every day, as I really need to hit the freeway before 7.00am to make my 8.00am start at work.

    I drive to work rather than take the train, because where we live doesn't link buses to trains very well so I already have to drive to a train station, and because the commute home takes me an hour and a half using the train so I prefer to drive in 40 minutes and be home that much earlier.
    However the cost of driving is high, what with road tolls, petrol and parking, plus the hidden costs such as wear and tear on the car, increased risk of accidents, etc etc. This is one of the reasons I would like to work closer to home next year.

    Y. picks up the girls from after-school care on Mondays, and from school on Thursdays and Fridays. I pick them up from after-school care on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    When we get home on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays it is after 6pm. The girls are tired and hungry, and we need dinner to be ready right now (I discussed that here). I'm not big on cooking double and freezing on weekends (tried in the past, not my favourite), so on Sunday I'll cook something for Monday night, and on Monday night after the kids are in bed or while they're having a bath I'll cook something for Tuesday night. On Tuesday I don't usually cook a full meal for Wednesday night but cook some rice or pasta spirals and make sure I have enough bits and pieces in the fridge for a "picnic dinner" on Wednesday, or I do scrambled eggs, baked beans or similar on Wednesdays. Takes the pressure off us all. Currently I have a small number of meals on high rotation and I keep meaning to set aside some planning time in the evening to go through my recipe folder and come up with more, as I know I used to have a much higher number of 'favourites' back when I worked part-time and was a little more into the forward-planning.

    On Thursdays and Fridays Y. cooks dinner, usually a barbecue or his current specialty, meatballs slow-cooked in spicy tomato sauce.

    Monday through Thursday the evening routine is the same: dinner, homework, bath or shower, bed. While I wish we could let the kids just hang and relax a bit more, we have to do the homework, and they have to get to bed at a reasonable hour to manage school. While their teachers bang on about preppies needing to be in bed by 7pm, there is not one family I know which manages this (even without work), so we do 8.30 and it seems to work.

    Each night I do the reading homework with the girls while Y. cleans up the kitchen and gets their beds ready for night-time (he has a special touch creating a cosy, neat bed). While they're in the bath they play a bit and I get their lunches and drink bottles ready for the next day, and do any school notice admin required.

    On Fridays they're allowed a lunch order so the kids and I sit together and write up the order on Thursday nights.

    On Fridays Y. takes them to Greek school and I pick them up in the evening. Friday nights they are very tired so Saturday morning they sleep in till whenever they want - generally around 9.

    On the weekend I try to keep our time unscheduled.

    Y. cleans the house on Thursdays and I do laundry a couple of times during the week and approximately one million times on the weekend.

    Online supermarket shopping is not super convenient for me as there are always a couple of (essential) items out of stock or you have to plan too far in advance, so I tend to stop at the supermarket on my way home from work one night a week and duck out again on the weekend or take the girls with me (if there is no other way!).

    My mother is of loads of help very often - she visits weekends and entertains the girls while I catch up on some housework or duck to the supermarket, steps in when we need help, and babysits on the two or three nights per decade that Y. and I have a night out.

    On school holidays, Y. and I take a week each, or if we can't get enough time off, my mother will have the girls. Last school holidays my cousin who works two days a week, had the girls for a day with her and her kids which was wonderful - they got to spend time with their "cousins" and do something different. She wouldn't accept any prepared lunches or the like so I dropped off chocolates and a bottle of wine with the kids.

    In terms of reciprocating my mother, she won't accept anything, but we do take turns to pay for coffees and lunches when out with the kids and I try not to ask for her help too often (try - don't always succeed...)

    So what are the challenges and the compromises?
    • It's hard when kids are sick - we take turns taking sick leave or rely on my mother to help us out, as she has many times
    • There's the constant feeling that you're only just managing it, only just keeping up with it all
    • The housework definitely suffers. I put most of my time into parenting, "being there" for the kids, chatting, helping, homework etc. Once the kids are in bed and the essentials for the next day are prepared, we don't want to do anything.
    • As Maxabella says, you say "no" to weekend stuff a lot. Or more accurately in my case, you don't seek stuff out. There is no way I am doing anything on weekends without my kids, even to "look after myself" - exercise sessions etc are out, much as I would love to sometimes. A friend and I try and get to a movie once a month, but there have been times where I have had to call off, if I've been working late and not seen the kids as much, or one of the kids has been going through a difficult time.
    • If there are parts of my life which are not "in balance" it is friends and socialising, and exercise. Honestly you just can't do it all. I am trying to get up early to walk in the mornings, and recently bought a treadmill - which at some stage soon I am definitely going to unpack and get assembled!
    • You have to limit extra-curricular activities for the kids too. They need all the down time they can get. As Y. is Greek and it's important to him, the girls started Greek school this year. It's earlier than I would have chosen but they are managing well. But it has meant no swimming lessons since they were young so the girls are not yet able to swim. I'm hoping to talk Y. into alternating Greek and swimming by term... I have vetoed karate, ballet and other suggestions while the kids are doing Greek school. They are doing swimming for one week out of the two these school holidays and loving it - also enjoying the break from Greek school! I'm also grateful for the 'Active After School' program which allows the kids to participate in a team sport or physical activity after school one day a week during term, within the after-school care hours
    • When you have people helping you care for your kids, there will always be some little things that are done which would not be your choice. Our kids spent between 2 and 5 days a week in daycare (varying) since they were 8 months old so we got used to this. We never had any problems or real complaints, but there is the odd little thing you're not wild about. This is the pay-off for having help. The flip side is all the benefits and the fact that often the carers will do something great that you would not have done. Plus my kids have beautiful manners which I know came from daycare more than from me, much as I value them.
    • Worry - I'm always worrying that the girls are not getting enough sleep, that maybe they need me around more, that maybe I will miss things that are affecting them
    • Guilt - I'd love to do school runs more often, help out at school more than the occasional day, and attend every school assembly. I would love to be able to offer my kids the SAHM lifestyle and leisurely afternoons after school that I had. But we are never going to live this life (apart from in small bursts on days off or between jobs) and my kids are happy and thriving, so really what is missing?

    And that seems as good a place as any to end.

    What about you? Do you work at home, part-time, full-time, self-employed?
    Or are you a SAHM busy enough just managing that?
    How do you juggle it all?

    Oct 3, 2011

    Some Beauty - The Perfection of Green

    I took these photos in my mother's garden - unlike ours her garden is of the cultured, beautiful variety. (Ours goes more for that "wild untamed beauty" look).
    Of all the colours in the garden, my favourite is the cool, relaxing green.

    And this one is 4 years old - but is one of my favourite pictures. A., enjoying her grandmother's magnolias.

    Sep 30, 2011

    My PC Life

    "Despite what my children think, I was not always a mother."
    So Dr Bronwyn Harman starts her post "My PC Life" about her life pre-children. I hope she won't mind that I have "borrowed" this idea for my own "PC" post.

    Check out Dr Bron's blog The Modern Family for her "PC" post and more. She does great work researching family life and presenting the results in layman's terms on her blog.

    So here is a run-through of my life pre-children.

    The last stage of my PC life

    I grew up in Melbourne, Los Angeles and Auckland.

    I studied Social Anthropology at Auckland University and also Spanish. I was fluent in Spanish once but can't speak it now.
    While I was at school and in the first year of uni I worked one day a week shelving books at my local library and I sometimes worked full time there on the holidays. In my second and third year of uni I worked part time at a shoe shop in the city and loved it so much I started there full time after graduating.

    It was the nineties recession and there wasn't a lot of work in New Zealand for Spanish-speaking Anthropologists who specialised in Melanesian cultures (there's nothing like free tertiary education for encouraging esoteric study choices).

    I had a great couple of years in Auckland then moved back to Melbourne but not having lived there since I was a child I didn't really fit in that well. I worked for awhile in a pub and then got a job there hosting children's birthday parties. I absolutely loved it though I had no idea about kids and didn't always know what I was doing, but it was a lot of fun. I was not at all clucky and most people I knew thought it was very funny that "I" was working with kids.

    In 2003 I went backpacking to Europe with my cousin and her friend. After travelling for a couple of months we set down in London and I lived and worked in a pub at Twickenham for a year. That was a fantastic time and I made great friends there; unfortunately this was all pre-Facebook and we lost touch over the following years.

    My cousin did more travelling and we arranged to work for a summer in the Greek islands. We ended up staying in different parts of Santorini, her at one of the beach resorts and me in the main town. I worked for awhile as a cook in a big restaurant, at first helping the real cook and then working the kitchen by myself when he stormed out one day - until I stormed out one day a couple of weeks later. I worked one more cook's job and then scored a great gig waitressing evenings only at a beautiful restaurant on the caldera. I absolutely loved it and stayed there the whole season. Halfway through I met my future husband, who was on a working holiday from Thessaloniki with some childhood friends from his village.

    So that was that. After the summer he and I went to Rhodes for a holiday then Thessaloniki, and I spent the next 3 years going back and forth between Greece, London and Melbourne as I could only stay 6 months at a time. We worked on Santorini every summer and I worked at the same restaurant each time. My second year was the hardest, working 12 hour days 7 days a week at the restaurant. My third year was the best: I started working in the cafe bar attached to the restaurant and that was far cushier - fewer hours, I could wear my own clothes, and much easier swanning around in my new stylish Euro clothes with a drinks tray than running back and forth with plates of food.

    After 4 years overseas though I wanted to come back to Australia and get "proper" work. We got married in my husband's village (civil marriage at the town hall only - no way were we spending our hard-earned Santorini money on a wedding), and came to Melbourne.

    Not being qualified for anything else I worked a couple of years in restaurants which I enjoyed but it was hard work physically and I knew I couldn't do it forever. I decided to become an English language teacher which I had toyed with in London. I got a TESL qualification at RMIT but again my timing was off - the Asian economic crisis hit and the influx of foreign students to Australia slowed to a trickle, and teaching work dried up. I worked for awhile in the RMIT library, did some exam invigilating and emergency teaching work, and got a term's contract classroom teaching, but I could see it was going to be very difficult competing with experienced teachers for the little work that came up.

    I went to a temp agency and got an admin job at a stockbroking division of a bank and there began my glittering career in finance.

    After a few years I got a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance and thus completed my tertiary education I believe.

    So the jobs I did pre-children are:
    • library assistant
    • shop assistant, then assistant manager
    • receptionist
    • bartender
    • children's party hostess
    • cook
    • cleaner
    • waitress
    • English language teacher
    • personal assistant/administrator
    • stockbroking operations roles, then supervisor, project manager and other manager roles

    What about you? What was your life like "PC" ?

    Sep 22, 2011

    Cartoon Capers

    There has been a bit about cartoons in the "news" (my Twitter stream) lately.
    A study found that Sponge Bob Square Pants could lower kids' concentration after watching it, and Scooby Doo was named "the most active and healthiest" kids' cartoon.
    All that running away from innkeepers-dressed-as-mummies, it seems.

    Image from Cartoon Clipart

    This got me thinking about cartoons. Which ones are good and which ones suck? Are they bad for kids? Can they ever be good for kids?

    People have always been suspicious of cartoons and comics. Limited exposure for children has always been deemed best.

    I quite like cartoons. I think they are great entertainment for kids and they are more irreverant than any other kids' shows so they can be a bit freer and wilder (and engaging for young minds who love to belong to a no-adults club).

    That said, there are some shockers that I hate, and I don't let my kids watch cartoons all day.

    But one of my absolute favourite things is when the kids and I get up on a Saturday morning, put on the TV and they watch cartoons while I read or play on my laptop. I'll come and join them on the couch for Ben 10, Symbionic Titans, My Gym Partner's a Monkey, and other select quality fare.

    I can't stand LazyTown - too preachy - but the kids like it. I'm bored by Batman which they love, but we all like The Secret Saturdays (crime fighting blended family).

    When the kids were smaller, they loved Little Einsteins (which A. called 'Little Stones'), Dora The Explorer, and Charlie and Lola. They are still weirdly entranced by In the Night Garden.

    Currently, they are obsessed with Scooby Doo. For awhile I was bewildered by this - to me Scooby Doo is pretty silly, the animation is very average, the female characters are unfairly depicted, and it is so freaking predictable! (It's the caretaker / innkeeper / janitor guy. Every. Single. Time!)

    But then I remembered my own childhood, and what was mine and my sister's favourite cartoon? Yes, Scooby Doo. Oh, we would happily watch Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and the like, but I still remember the buzz of excitement when one of our A-list best-quality favourites came on: that feeling was reserved for Scooby Doo, The Flintstones (and to a lesser extent The Jetsons), and Josie and the Pussycats.

    My kids are not into most of the old cartoons that we used to watch, and I don't blame them. Most of them are terrible. The new cartoons are cooler, with better animation and more interesting storylines, or they are fast-paced crazy stuff like Sponge Bob that are probably funnier for adults than little kids.

    I am pretty appalled that my kids love The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. I loved it as a kid, but watching it now it is dire. I am glad they don't like The Flintstones. They find it 'boring' which is good - clearly they see nothing in it to relate to. Watching it now it is like watching a film of a (thankfully) lost world, its (narrow, sexist) lifestyle seems so remote.

    I gag a little at things like Strawberry Shortcake, with so much emphasis on 'girly' pursuits and its saccharine lessons on friendship. But kids and parents don't always like the same stuff, and that's as it ever was.

    For instance, I laughed myself stupid watching The Road Runner Movie a few months ago and my kids barely cracked a smile. They will watch Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Daffy Duck, but they don't really get those cartoons.

    So here is what my five-year-old girls love at the moment:
      • Scooby Doo
      • Batman
      • Ben 10
      • Stoked
      • Sally Bollywood
      • Symbionic Titans
      • Codename: Kids Next Door
      • Sponge Bob Square Pants
      • The Secret Saturdays
      • The Simpsons
      • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop
      • My Gym Partner's a Monkey
      • Curious George
      • The Powerpuff Girls
      • Sea Princesses
      • Strawberry Shortcake

    Here is what I used to love as a kid:
      • Scooby Doo
      • The Flintstones
      • The Jetsons
      • Josie and the Pussycats
      • Rocky and Bullwinkle
      • George of the Jungle
      • Yogi Bear
      • Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies: Bugs Bunny / Tom and Jerry / Sylvester and Tweetie ("Hello, Breakfasth!") / Speedy Gonzales ("I like heem. He's seelly")
      • Top Cat
      • Quick Draw McGraw
      • Hong Kong Fooey
      • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop / The Laff Olympics
      • The Wonder Twins ("Wonder twin power, activate!")
      • Kimba the White Lion
    I couldn't watch most of these now, but they were great at the time. And I have fond memories of my parents sometimes watching and laughing along with us (Dad's favourites were Laff Olympics, Huckleberry Hound, and Foghorn Leghorn; Mum liked Sylvester, Daffy Duck and Donald Duck).

    Good times!

    What about you? Do you like cartoons?
    Do you let your kids watch them?
    Which ones?

    Sep 19, 2011

    Dinner - Now!

    When you work full-time, you are often not picking up your baby/toddler/child from daycare/after-school-care until late. And when you get home, you need to have dinner ready. And I mean as soon as you get home.
    Here is the scene. You leave work at 5pm (to the envious glances of colleagues who have no idea what you are about to face). You bolt for the car/train and make the dash to the daycare centre/school, knowing you have to be there by six. Every minute you linger at your desk to finish an email, every missed traffic light, every late train, sets your heart racing and your mind stressing.
    Against the odds, you arrive on time. You park the car and race inside, to your little one(s), which is a great moment - they smile, yell "Mummy!", run to your arms, and show you what they've been doing. You hug and kiss them, marvel at their achievements, catch up on their feed/sleep status with the carers, sign them out, grab their stuff and you all head to the car.
    From that moment, the nice bit is over.
    Assuming there are no dramas getting the kids into the car (big assumption - but let's move on), the drive home quickly turns into a battleground. The kids will start off happy but within five minutes it starts - "I'm hungry!" - "I need to do wee!" - "Stop it", "You stop it", "Mu-u-u-m!".
    I chose a daycare centre close to home rather than close to work, and I am glad I did - that evening drive home is just awful. I love it now that school is only a five minute drive from home, and am thankful we went with our local school every night I make that drive (which is only two nights a week, but that is so enough).
    When you get home, you need to get the kids out of the car, and into the house.
    This is your only goal, though the need to move quickly onto dinner-homework-bath-bed is tapping at your skull like a woodpecker. "Come on, out of the car, come on, inside please, come on, come on, come on," you parrot endlessly while the kids fight, slump in their seats "I'm tired..." or fight over who is going in the front door first.
    When they're babies you might have one fall asleep, or both crying by the time you get home.

    So you get them in the door, and it's after six. They're hungry, they're tired, they're grumpy, and they have no tolerance for waiting fifteen or twenty minutes while you cook something from scratch.
    You need to feed them ASAP or lose them to sleep, tears, your temptation to turn on the TV for them, or they start playing with toys and you can't get them to the dinner table.

    So what are some really really quick ideas for dinner? Try these:
    • scrambled eggs
    • baked beans on toast
    • macaroni cheese (yes, the one in the box)
    • picnic on the table: pull out what you have in the fridge and put it on plates on the table for all to share: boiled eggs, left over rice or spaghetti/spirals cooked the evening before, slices of ham and cheese, cut up fruit, yoghurt, etc. Works well as little kids don't even like their food very hot - lukewarm is best (and easy)
    • fish fingers and vegetables (cut up two veg and chuck in microwave/steamer while the fish fingers cook, so you don't have to wait for water to boil)
    • half an avocado and a spoon, and some toast
    • we always have a tub of tzatziki in the fridge and put it out with bread - the kids love it
    • chicken tenderloins cook really fast - couple of minutes either side in a pan with a splash of hoi sin and soy, or butter and honey, and serve with rice and/or veg.
    • (On the weekend when you have more time you can coat chicken tenderloins with egg and breadcumbs and make 'chicken nuggets')
    • my kids love spiral pasta - on its own as a side dish. They're not big on potatoes, but we serve rice or spirals with dinner often.
    • fried rice is fast - if you have cooked rice in the fridge. Chuck in some frozen mixed veg or if you only have fresh pick two veg and chop up a handful. Fry up 1-2 eggs, add the rice and veg and a splash of hoi sin and soy sauce, five minutes in the pan and it's ready
    • in summer time, barbecues are great. We ate a lot of grilled/barbecued meat with rice and carrot and broccoli. Requires designated barbecue operator to be home at same time as parent bringing home the kids
    In the evening after the kids are in bed, you ideally cook the next day's dinner, so it is in the fridge and ready to heat up when you get in the next night. If you are super organised you could freeze stuff like spag bol or stews. But this is not sustainable every day, you will sometimes (often) be too tired, or you won't have ingredients, or whatever. When my kids were toddlers they liked cooked carrots and broccoli so we often had par-boiled carrots and boiled eggs cold in the fridge. We did more than the occasional dinner of carrots, broccoli, eggs, bread and tzatziki.

    You don't need to plate up meat and three veg, or produce a bowl of something made from all the food groups.

    Especially when kids are at daycare, they get a cooked meal at lunchtime, and food throughout the day. My kids sometimes had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. Sometimes they got spag bol or risotto I had cooked the night before. At least one day a week they got scrambled eggs and toast, and one day was baked beans on toast. The other 2-3 days we did the 'picnic' meal of boiled eggs/carrots/whatever from the fridge.

    I also took advantage of the toddler years when my kids didn't mind eating the same thing for dinner two or three days in a row (no longer the case, alas).

    I noticed evenings went a lot better once I took the pressure off myself to produce a "dinner" and just focused on easy fast and basic food.

    Kids love simple food. So do mums.

    Sep 11, 2011

    September 11th, 2011

    I was going to post something off topic about September 11, but decided anything I said would be annoying or irrelevant. Way over here in Australia, what could I possibly say? But I also don't feel like I can post something else and not mention the significance of this day.
    My feelings are approximately these:
    Heartfelt warm wishes to the people of the US today
    After 10 years, it does finally feel (from way over here) as if something has changed, a corner has turned, and things are moving forward in a new way. A decade of fear and war changed our world, but things are feeling a bit different, brighter somewhat at last. I think the death of Bin Laden has helped. The GFC also shifted everyone's focus - nothing like an economic crisis to subvert all others, no matter how powerful!
    Here's to a BETTER next ten years.

    Tips and Tricks for Managing Twins

    These ones are fairly easy

    Now I have to warn you - I don't have much.

    That's because, as I have learned, there are limits to what you can do, juggling two crying babies for example. (And what about triplets?? Eeek!)
    Accept that there are limits, accept that it is sometimes hard, and get on with whatever you need to do until the difficulty passes. (And if doing what you need to do is shutting the door and sitting crying on the floor for 20 minutes, then do it. Been there, done that!)

    So anyway, for what it's worth here are my suggestions. I hope they are helpful.
    If you have twins and there are things you are struggling with, I would love to hear about them. What has worked for you? What would you like advice on?

    Managing two crying babies
    The biggie. When mine were bubs, this was my biggest problem, and one I searched for help with the most. I rang my parent co-ordinator in our twin club for some tips. Her advice? "I always made sure I had someone else with me." Hmm. Thanks. Good idea, not always possible!
    I did finally come across some helpful advice on this - are you ready?:

    Comfort the calmer baby first.
    This is counter-intuitive but it is right. You will calm the less-worked-up baby quicker, and prevent her escalating to the point where you have two screaming babies (at which point, you are pretty much screwed).

    Use equipment if you have it.
    BEST THING EVER for me was my two simple rockers. I used these all the time and was so fervently thankful for them I don't know what I would have done without them. They cost us $70 each but at cost per use over 18 months probably worked out at about $0.000000001.

    Yes, they're both girls.
    But I loved that black and white growsuit!
    They were great for settling or for popping the babies into for 'playtime' or relaxation, and you can rock them with your foot if you're busy on other things. I put them in the rockers and had them near the kitchen while I was cooking, in the bathroom while I showered, or in the loungeroom in front of a window while I showered. They were always happy in them and as they got older they could rock themselves.

    When they were one and a half and sitting up in the rockers while watching TV, I had to admit to myself we had probably outgrown them.

    A in the swing

    Second best thing ever for me was a baby swing loaned to us by a lovely lady in my mother's group whose baby didn't like it (bless him!!). I swear we used that thing until M was 6 months old and the swing mechanism was groaning under her weight. By that stage I was willing to pay whatever it cost to buy a replacement if we broke it (we didn't fortunately).

    Managing two screaming, really really upset babies
    Fortunately this doesn't really happen very often. Mostly you will have one more upset than the other, or two crying but not both screaming and unmanageable. It does happen though.

    There is no solution to this one. You just have to "choose" one baby and comfort it first, and leave the other one till next (in a safe place such as a cot of course). And yes, it's horrible. But here is where you use one piece of really useful classic wisdom that I used to chant in my head like a mantra:
    "This too shall pass."

    Settling two babies
    Can I just say that having taken myself and my twins to sleep school as soon as we could get in and having only really cracked the sleep thing consistently when our girls were four, I am not in a position to offer advice here. But the following bits and pieces were genuinely helpful to me.
    • have them in the same room when they're little, especially if you are alone at nights a lot (as I was). It's so much easier to tend to two babies, go between two cots, sit and hold hands or pat backs, as well as read stories, use the change table etc, if everything is in one room
    • have them in seperate rooms when they're older. We found one definitely kept the other awake, and should have seperated them much earlier than we did.
    • try and always settle them in their cots, rather than faff about with bassinets, rockers, prams and the like as I did (thinking I was making things easier, when in fact I wasn't). You need a routine and you need it fast.
    • routine, routine, routine. But not one of those crazy regimented ones down to the minute. That will just make you feel inadequate when inevitably your babies don't fall perfectly into line. You also need to be able to accommodate the occasional trip out or unexpected event, so a routine that is a bit flexible is best (but don't hesitate to lay down the rules you need either - for instance I never went out in the morning with my babies as it didn't suit our routine and they were not 'morning' kids). My routine was "11-3-7" feeding times, "feed-play-sleep" with "play" after dinner being bath and cuddle, and the 11pm feed being the "sleep feed" in the bedroom. I had a cheap wicker rocking chair in the bedroom between the cots, and fed one at a time in my arms, or used the rocker for the second one if they were both awake. If my husband was home we'd feed and cuddle one each and whisper to each other which helped keep them settled. The nightime and 7am feeds were my favourite ones - both are a lovely time of the day, even if you are exhausted.
    • soft ambient music or lullaby music in the room works well and is relaxing for you too
    • however tempting it is when you're exhausted, try not to rush the settling because it will backfire and take you longer!
    • once we had the swing, I used to put M in the swing while cuddling A, sing them both a song then put A in her cot, then pick up M for a cuddle and put her in the cot (usually asleep). Yes I did feel guilty that A got more night-time cuddles than M on the nights I was on my own, but at the end of the day you need to get them both to sleep using whatever works, and this worked for us
    • dummies, especially once they're a few weeks old. Newborns keep dropping them out of their mouths and then they wake up.
    • logic. Remind yourself, "Eventually, they will sleep." When I was really exhausted and at my wits' end, I used to look at the clock and think, "OK, this will take me one hour, probably. So by .... o'clock I will be able to go to bed and sleep." Oddly enough I found this very helpful.

    Controlling two (or more) mobile babies while busy, or taking one at a time to the car
    Use a playpen. Don't even try not to.
    If I was taking one baby at a time to the car, or if I needed to go to the toilet, or if I was ironing (I believe I did do that once), I put the babies in the playpen while I was out of the room or busy with the other one. They weren't crazy about it, but it was only ever for a few minutes at a time, and was instant peace of mind.

    Feeding two babies: bottle feeding
    One word: rockers!
    I used to hold one baby in my arms and feed her, and have the other in her rocker, rocking it with my foot, while she fed. Then halfway through I'd burp the first baby and pop her in her rocker to finish feeding, then pick up the second, burp her, and finish feeding with her in my arms. So each got a turn in the rocker and in my arms. These were the times I always felt most competent and kick-arse as a twin mum.
    When the babies were really little I just used to feed one at a time, in my arms.

    Feeding two babies: breast-feeding
    Have to say I did not rack up much experience in this so am not qualified to give advice. But you basically experiment until you find what works. You can feed one at a time but as breast feeding tends to take longer than bottle feeding, you might not be able to do this - eventually most twin mums prefer to find a way to feed both together. Sitting on a couch or propped up on a bed with lots of pillows and twins propped up is the way most go. It takes some getting used to.

    Most mothers I know ended up doing a mix of breast and bottle feeding, as breast feeding twins (or more) exclusively can be very difficult.

    Taking twins to the supermarket
    Avoid where possible. In a word, horrendous. You can have one baby in a sling and one popped in the baby seat in the trolley, or somehow manage to juggle both of them out of the car and all the way over to one of those twin baby trolleys (to this day I can't figure out how you're supposed to do that - leave babies in the car, go into supermarket, find the one trolley with two baby seats in it, and bring it back to the car?). I took my twin pram in, and limited my shopping to what could fit in a basket - but carrying a shopping basket while pushing a pram is not as easy as you may think. Factor in one or both babies crying and it is a nightmare.

    Once they're too old for the pram, it's one sitting in the toddler seat in the trolley and one in the main part of the trolley, sitting on the sturdier groceries as their balance is not the best at that age.
    My girls are nearly six now, and I can honestly say I have only recently not absolutely hated every second I was inside a supermarket with them. They're quite good now - but I still go on my own unless completely unavoidable.

    Keeping track of feeding, medication, who had which breast, who had what solids, who did what bowel movements, etc.
    Keep a diary. I had exercise books I just ruled some columns down, one double-spread page per day (one page per baby). Each day I ruled up the columns and wrote in my little heading initials, I toyed with becoming an internet mumpreneur, sourcing and selling custom-made baby diaries so that I wouldn't have to write up the columns and headings every day.

    But they were very helpful and also made entertaining reading later on, when I could chuckle at my foggy panic over quite normal little variations in their day to day lives. ("A had very loose poo and looked unhappy. Sick???!")

    Even keeping a diary I did suddenly realise one day that on the previous feed I had inadvertently fed one baby twice and the other not at all. No lasting effects thankfully.

    Feeding Solids
    Unless one of them is sick (and sometimes even then), just use one bowl and one spoon, and feed alternate mouthfuls to each. Have the odd spoonful yourself if it's an especially delicious mix of mashed veg. On the other hand, use seperate bowls if you find that one is eating faster than the other and you want to make sure you don't short-change one (see paragraph above).

    On solids, two great pieces of advice from Robin Barker, whose book Baby Love I adored:

    (1) Don't bother freezing mash into ice cube trays, as it is a lot of trouble and they don't defrost well. Just make a big bowl of mashed veg and keep in the fridge for 4 days. This is excellent advice and I would add, to make your busy lives as easy as possible, make an extra large bowl, and each evening for dinner the parents eat a piece of barbecued or grilled meat and a big helping of the mashed veg. Delicious, easy dinners.

    (2) Her avocado recipe (great simple recipes in this book by the way) goes like this:
    "1/2 a ripe avocado (you eat the other half mashed with garlic and lemon juice or just splash in some balsamic vinegar). Mash avocado with a fork."
    I love that - love that she thinks of the mum too, with a quick and healthy pick-me-up that is also a practical way to use up all the avocado. Thanks Robin Barker!

    Non-Matching but Similar Outfits
    Not easy you know. You don't want them to be dressed the same, but you have to get TWO (or more) of each KIND of thing. For instance, 2 long-sleeved tops. 2 pairs of soft pants. 2 coats. 2 sets of summer pyjamas, preferably low fire danger, and of same type (2 shorts and tees, OR 2 nighties) and similarly cute motif /colour to avoid arguments. But, if you have the energy to be fretting over outfits, you have mastered the harder stuff, right?

    A couple of other things
    Warming bottles without using a microwave
    Boil water, pour half a cup into a plastic jug, and sit the bottle of formula in the jug for half a minute. Shake gently before testing. Very easy. Naturally you need two plastic jugs.

    Formula out and about
    I used to boil water, let it cool slightly and fill the bottles while it was still quite hot, then take formula with me in one of those little formula dispensers. By the time I had arrived where I was going the water had cooled to room temperature, and I just mixed the formula and away we went.

    Sterilising bottles
    I keep waiting for new advice that tells us we don't need to do this. Because what we do does not really end up with the bottles being sterile. What do you dry them on after sterilising? A sealed vacuum? A tea towel? The draining rack? (I used paper towel, but that's still not sterile. Sometimes I even tore off a couple of squares first to get a really 'clean' square that hadn't been exposed to the air! Even while I knew this was silly). Do you meticulously wash your hands with soap and hot water every time before touching the sterile parts? Do you really use those little tongs to pull the whole teat completely through the ring? C'mon, admit it! If you make up formula in a jug (which the hospital recommended to me, so I did for awhile, until I realised how much easier it is to make up the bottles), do you sterilise the knife that you stir it with every time before you pour?
    But, of course, until they come out and debunk it, we're not game to stop sterilising, when the babies are little.
    I stopped sterilising around 5 months when we started solids, because no one sterilises bowls and spoons!

    So anyway, those are my suggestions and opinions. I hope they are helpful, or bring back memories.

    If you have twins (or more!) and there are things you are struggling with, I would love to hear from you.
    What has worked for you?
    What would you like advice on?


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