Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lake View Nature Center & Parks, Parks, and More Parks

I've been to four different playgrounds with the kids in the past two weeks, but I only remembered to bring my camera with one time. I took pictures with my phone camera, but I don't have the right adapter to download them to the computer, so this post will just have a lot of text. I've included links to the parks if you want to check them out.

In between the cold, wet, rainy days, we've had sunny, bright 60 degree days in the Chicago area this month. So, when the sun in up, we try to get out of the house. If we don't drive somewhere, the kids spend several hours in the backyard, riding bikes, swinging, sliding, and pretend playing.

Last week, we had a wonderful day at Proksa Park in Berwyn with my friend M and her son J. Just last year, I remember being so nervous when the kids climbed up the tall ladders and climbing walls. Now, they hang from top rungs and jump off. They always manage to find friends at playgrounds, and this day was no exception. At one point, Jared and a little girl were digging for dinosaur fossils. They played with other kids almost the entire time, something I'm not used to as they usually want me to play along, too. I was able to talk with my friend for a while, who is going to have her little girl in a week. Before we left, the kids spent a half hour at the pond feeding the ducks. We forgot to bring bread, but we found out ducks also like to eat peanuts and raisins. Who knew?

Another day we went to the Lakeview Nature Center in Oakbrook Terrace. I really wish I had my camera this day because I took so many cute pictures with my phone. We went to see their winter exhibit, Sharks in the Suburbs. It was really well done for a small nature center. The kids examined real shark teeth, Alexa and I made shark puppets, Jared played in a little swimming pool with stuffed sharks, while wearing goggles. They also stood next to the jaws of a real megalodon, and checked out the other animals in the center including a rat, turtles, a rabbit, walking sticks, chipmunk, and tarantula. Then we played in the playground for a long time, and Jared got really muddy pulling up stones along the bank and tossing them into the creek.

We also went to a new playground near our house. The pictures from this post are from the day we went there. Jared wanted to bring his cape, which is really a red vest. He puts his head through one of the arm holes and pretends it's his Batman cape. Well, when we got there, he realized he left it at home and had a good cry and pout for the first 15 minutes. Eventually he got over it, after much cajoling on my part. I ran and played with them the entire time.  It's my own built-in workout.

And just yesterday, we went to Smith Park, which is about to be torn down and relocated across the street next to the Lyons Village Hall and the ball fields. All the swings were torn down already, it's next to a basketball court and the kids were swearing loudly most the time, and it really looked run-down, but none of that mattered much to the kids. They just cared that I play tiger with them; so I chased them and ran the whole hour and a half we were there. Soon we attracted a small crowd of kids, and I chased a few more kids as well, while their mothers sat on the bench, talking on the phone, and probably thinking how weird I was.

Fun Around the House in March Part 2

We've had a lot more concerts around here this month. I'll sit at the kitchen table making out the grocery list, and Jared and Alexa will come in make up a song, wait for me to clap and yell out, "Bravo," and then go into their room to change costumes for the next song. Well, in Jared's case it's usually just changing hats and weapons because he's usually naked. I tried to take at least one above the waist picture for the blog.

The picture below is of Jared singing a song titled: I am a Chinese lady. Don't ask. I don't know why either.

Alexa has continued to be a huge help in the kitchen. Jared usually drifts in and out, doing an occasional stir or mix, but Alexa has the staying power to complete an entire dinner prep. She loves anything to do with breading meat or fish. Here she is dipping the catfish first in milk, then flour, than milk and finally in a breadcrumb, Parmesan cheese mixture.

I try to get laundry done on Mondays, with one or two other loads thrown in over the week. Without fail, for the past three weeks, and sporadically before that, the kids have helped with the laundry. This is always done without me requesting any help. I guess it seems like some fun game. The white pile is easy to make. Alexa reads the tag to tell whether the other clothes should be in the warm or cold pile. This week they also offered to strip down all the sheets and pillowcases. Of course, the favorite thing to do is spray stains with the Shout and Spray.

They take turns pouring in the detergent and handing each other clothes to throw in the wash. When the wash is done, we head down to throw the wash in the dryer and to start a new load. I'm beginning to think it won't be very long when they can do this entire process all by themselves. Won't that be nice?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Grammy and Papa's Moving Day

March 13th was the last day I set foot in the house I had lived in for the past sixteen years before I was married. Surprisingly, I didn't feel as bad as I thought I would. I guess it's true; it's really the people that make the place. Plus, all the furniture from the old house fits in nicely in my parent's new home, and I can imagine all the wonderful memories we'll make in the years to come.

Steve woke up early to help pack the truck, and I drove over with the kids a few hours later and helped clean out my grandma's fridge (she lived in an apartment above my parents).  Alexa helped me for a while, attracted by the spray bottle and water.

Later, my sister came by with O. The kids watched so much T.V. that day. I think it was almost six hours, almost as much as they'd watch in a week. It made me feel so bad, but when we went to the new house, Steve and I helped set things up, and my sister had the portable DVD on most of the time, so the kids were glued to it.

I forgot to add, the day before I babysat O for my sister while she and her husband helped my parents move the first day. While he didn't care to read books with us during lunch and was really missing his mommy, O did have a good time playing outside for a few hours with Jared while Alexa was inside taking a rare nap.

I was thankful it was a nice day outside. March has been so crazy weather-wise, fluctuating between the 30s to the 60s within 24 hours. Jared wanted to dig up some worms, so we did that before the boys slid down the slide. They even gave the worm a trip down the slide, too.

It was sweet to see O riding around yard on the tricycle, using his feet on the ground to move the trike. It's hard to believe that was just Jared at the beginning of last summer. It seems like he's been using the pedals forever now.

O got a bit dirty playing in the sand and water, but the look of joy on his face was worth the mess. It was a wonderful afternoon to get closer to my nephew.

The Gift of Twins

 Most days I love having twins, especially boy/girl twins. I remember the day we went in for an ultrasound and the technician told me I would be having two boys. The month before that they had told me we would be having a boy and a girl. I daydreamed for hours both of wrestling with them, and also playing house and dolls. I pictured having long talks with a daughter when she was 16 and hearing about her first kiss. So, when I heard I would be having two boys, I broke down crying for a good 15 minutes.

 I remember praying, God, you can do anything, right?  You could even change the sex of one of the babies if you wanted to, right? Crazy, I know. But I had really gotten used to the idea of both a boy and a girl. Then, when my doctor came in the room, read the ultrasound again and said they had been right the first time, I said a little prayer of thanks.

Lately, the kids have been in the habit of telling stories to each other. Or rather I should say making up stories with each other. They sit face to face on the couch, and one of them will start the story, usually Alexa. She'll say a few lines, pause, and then Jared picks up where she left off. One day they did this for almost a half hour.

Not that having twins is even close to being easy. The first six months of their lives is still mostly a blur to me. I've had quite a few people tell me they prayed for twins, too. Well, before you say that prayer, take a look at the list below and think twice. Here are just a few things the kids have done, just off the top of my head, that I could have done without.

~ took an entire tub of butter to the playroom (which had just been newly carpeted), and threw handfuls of it all over the walls, carpet and ceiling. Yeah, I just sank down and cried for a few minutes before getting a bucket of water and soap and scrubbing for the next hour and a half.

~ Alexa strips naked, gets into the shower, and dumps almost an entire bottle of shampoo over her head, while at the same time Jared strips down, pees into a measuring cup, and when I slowly try to take it away, dumps in all on the hallway floor

~ find an old lipstick, cover themselves with it, and squirt perfume all in their hair

~ Jared melts a chocolate bar in his hand, rubs in all over his face, clothes, even the bottom of his socks, and then sits on the new couch

~ when they were a few months from turing two, while I'm in the bathroom, Alexa dumps an entire container of salt on the coffee table, then proceeds to take a huge lick from the pile and screams her head off. While I'm washing out her mouth, Jared dumps all the pepper out, takes a huge lick of that, and then screams his head off.

Believe me, there are plenty more stories where those came from.

But seriously, twins really are a gift. They can get into so much mischief in such a small amount of time, but they also have a constant playmate. They bounce creative ideas off each other all the time, and the ideas they come up with together are truly remarkable.

Sure, they fight. Some days they reduce me to tears with their bickering and teasing. But, to watch them play together, hug and kiss each other, also brings tears to my eyes. And the thing I'm most thankful for? They will be able to have a strong relationship because they are growing up in an atmosphere of freedom with large amounts of time to know themselves and family better. Unschooling  gives them the precious gift of time: time to realize their gifts to the world, time to become truly great at things, and time to live and love life.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fun Things Around the House in March Part 2

There's been a lot of reading around the house this month. Alexa's reading has taken on another new level. By 3 she could read simple books with large letters and four to six words in a sentence. Now, at almost 4, she's started reading simple chapter books on her own.

We've been reading some of the books in the Magic Treehouse series. So far we've read the book about Louis Armstrong, the pirates and now, the first book in the series, about dinosaurs. I read the first three chapters during lunch today, and then, when I said I needed to get work done, she proceeded to read aloud the next five chapters to me.

Although Jared was very interested in letters before he was two, knowing the letter names and sounds, his interest hasn't progressed too much. He's very good at memorizing entire pages from books, though, up to five sentences at a time, pretty much word for word. I've been running my finger along those sentences to show him what those words look like, and have noticed his eyes following me do that, so I think he seems a little more interested now. He loves to read long, detailed picture books, like the DK history ones, particularly about castles and pirates.

There's also still a lot of pretend play about pirates. Jared creates different ships around the house, from the old changing table to turning the small, plastic table upside down.

The kids are also still into making mounds of things. At least lately, they're limiting what they use to make the mounds to pillows, blankets and clothes for the most part. The picture below is of their "cave." Sometimes they pretend to be Fantastic Mr. Fox and duck down into their hole before I can shoot their tail off.

The beginning of the month was pretty cold, so we tried to get to a local bounce house/jumping gym when we could. The last time we went I ran around for two hours and must have gone down that slide about 75 times. The kids wanted me to play tiger with them, and soon we attracted quite a crowd that wanted to join in the game, too. It was tiring, and I was the only adult playing with the kids like this, but we really had a fun time, and I've been meaning to lose a few pounds!

Our car went out and had to be taken in to the shop. It really was interesting how many things the kids learned from this experience: new vocabulary, what different parts of the car are used for, and how much things cost. When I told Alexa that one of the belts broke in the car, she wanted to see what I was talking about. So, when we got home, Steve showed her some things under the hood of the car. It's always so facinating to me to see what things interest the kids.  It kind of makes me giddy sometimes to think I'll be able to see this first-hand, every day for at least the next 14 years.

Alexa's been in a Chutes and Ladders kick the past few weeks. Sometimes I can persuade them to take a little break and play one round of Cariboo Island, but usually it's Chutes and Ladders - the never-ending game. Those darn slides.

First Seedlings

We've always had a small vegetable garden except for last summer. This year, I got my act together early enough and was able to buy seeds and a seed starter kit early enough to start some seedlings indoors.

Alexa loved the whole process, from making a little hole, to dropping in the seeds, to pushing the dirt over the seeds. Jared planted a few seeds, but when he realized he couldn't just fling twenty seeds at the container, he lost interest.

We planted three rows of tomatoes, on row each of thyme, basil and rosemary. I just hope I get two plants of each. The summer the kids were one they loved picking the tomatoes off the vine, biting into them right in the garden. It'll feel so good to see a garden again and eat food we've grown ourselves. Hopefully we'll have tomatoes, several herbs, melons, eggplants, and later pumpkins, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers.

I think we live in a perfect spot. We have a big enough backyard for a vegetable garden with plenty grass left to spare for a small pool, sandbox and running round. Yet, we're within 15 minutes of everything downtown Chicago has to offer. The kids are signed up for a program where they get to visit a working farm once a week and help out with the baby animals. They are SO excited for this.

It Feels Like Spring

It won't officially be spring for another three days, but two weekends ago, it certainly started to feel like spring around here. That was the day the kids took out the trikes for the first time in almost four months. Alexa could barely pedal the end of last summer, and then hasn't had much practice in the past six months, so it's surprising to see her jet around the yard. Jared just flies by everyone. We really need to get him a regular bike. He looks out of place on a trike.

Poor Steve. While we enjoyed the warmer air, he worked away replacing the fence post I hit during the winter. Not good.

The swing set we bought for the kids second birthday is already looking small on them. When I'm in the yard, they want me to push them on the swings, but by themselves, they swing on their bellies.

We've taken walks around the block three days in a row now. Well, actually rides. Yesterday, I took my bike out, too, but one tire was almost flat. The hard thing is keeping track of the two of them. Jared rides so fast and doesn't want to slow down for us, and Alexa, poor girl, is working her little legs off trying to keep up. I just get worried a car will back up down the driveway and not be able to see them.

I just about had a heart attack today. This big dog, a boxer, I think, came running around a house and straight towards Jared. He was on Jared before I could pick him up. Thank God he just sniffed at him, but I was seeing stars for awhile. Things are better than last summer, though. Both kids stop at the end of the block, and for the most part, will stay close by and not run off.

Then, of course, there's been lots of climbing up the tall bushes in the back. Last year they called them "Tigger's Trees" and would go back in their "woods" to look for him. They wish we had a real tree (we do, but it's not at all low enough) to climb.

My goal is to take the kids out much more than last year. We did a good job of getting out every day, but I'd really like them to be able to run around larger areas, like the woods and creek.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fun Stuff Around the House in March

There's no end in sight to the endless concoction-making. Yep, they're still going strong. I cringed when I saw three packs of brand new play dough broken up into pieces with water and oil poured on top. I have to tell myself to breathe; it's their play dough to do with as they wish, they just have to realize their play dough supply just won't last that long then.

The kids really love to help around the house, especially with cooking. Alexa spent almost an hour cutting up beef into small pieces and dredging them in a flour mixture. She also loved helping to bread the catfish for dinner. Jared sometimes joins in cooking, too. We made lasagna in the crock pot, and he enjoyed piling on the cheese.

Alexa was beyond thrilled when I pulled out this little vacuum. She LOVES to help me vacuum the house. She doesn't have a play kitchen, or vacuum, or broom or mop, because she uses the real ones to do real housework. Why pretend play when you can do the real thing?

We've also been building skyscrapers and robots with Legos....

...and playing lots of dress-up. Jared has the natural gift of picking up an item of clothing and making it fit whatever he is pretending. He saw the shiny piece of black material and thought, knight helmet. He saw a red vest, put his head through the arm sleeve and it became a superhero cape.He's been asking for a Batman costume with crime-fighting tools, but he's so creative in designing his own costumes, I wonder if the real thing will kind of be a let down after a while.

Physical Play

I walked in to the above picture a few weeks ago. I suppose many mothers would gasp in horror, forbid their child from jumping inside, and ban them to the yard.

I put some pillows on the floor between the dresser and the bed and pulled out my video camera.

In some ways it's hard for me to watch my son climb up a tree, fling himself off the high inflatable slide onto the mat below, or climb the plastic rock wall at the playground. I can still remember, almost four years ago now, the little IV's in his arm, feeding tube in his nose and little 3 pound body. On the other hand, it gives me a thrill to see him come this far, to see his courage.

Not that Alexa hasn't come far, either. She too has come along way from 2 pounds 10 ounces, jaundice, and pneumonia at 2 years. She just needs a little more support right now. At least in the physical department, although, she can play rough right along with the rest of them. In fact, just last week at the bounce place, I had to intervene when both she and Jared were pushing kids down the slide uninvited, even little toddlers who clearly didn't want to be pushed.

I am so glad it's going to be spring in a few days. Jared is so physical and needs a lot of time and space to move. Alexa is very active, too, and I notice a difference in how whiny or impatient she is based on how much time she's had outdoors. If you haven't read Last Child in the Woods, please do. Richard Louv's points about how nature has a calming effect on children, even helping improve attention spans, really resonates with me. It's something I think we all intuitively know, but the instinct to let kids be free in nature gets drowned out by our endless busyness and, well, just life.

We had a discussion about whether rough play is important for children at the  relaxed learning group I attend. I wholeheartedly agree with allowing kids as much time and room to be physically active as they need. In fact, I don't know how I could stop their physical play. My kids need, no, they demand to play physically. Not all the time. We have long periods of time reading books, playing board games, painting, and other sitting down type play, but, more often than not, at some point in the day, there has to be active, prolonged physical play.

Here's some games the kids and my husband have come up with.

Le poisson - The kids pretend to be a fish. Steve is the French chef who seasons them up and then flips them backwards onto his grill

Belly Walker - The kids walk back and forth across Steve's belly, and they have to not fall off until Steve picks them up and throws them backwards onto the couch.

Then there are the usual Hide-and-Seek, Batman and Batgirl fight the villains (Steve's usually the Riddler and I'm Joker), Tickle Monster, Tag, and all sorts of other chasing games.

While it's very exhausting sometimes to keep up with them, I really will miss this time of joy in simply running across an open field. Maybe I won't ever have to miss it.