Road Tripping with Preschoolers

We just got back yesterday from two weeks on the road visiting family and friends in Iowa, South Dakota, and Mississippi. We road trip to the midwest every summer, and I think this was the first time that I wasn’t dreading being on the road or in strange bedrooms with the twins. They did SO well on this trip.

Of course, there were some tough, cranky moments in the car when we were all feeling cooped up, bored, or frustrated. That’s a given. Bur for the most part, we were a really good traveling team. I’m so pleased.

A few Iowa highlights:

  • The kids got to run around and play outside on the farm as much as they wanted. With grandparents, two uncles, and an older cousin around, there was always someone to play games with or to help them “drive” the tractor or the combine.
  • We went to see Toy Story 4 in the theatre downtown, which was a charmingly small-town experience. They only have one theatre, so it’s one movie at a time. It cost like $20 for tickets for six people and less than that for everyone’s snacks. If we lived here, we’d be at this theatre every week.
  • Thomas, the world’s friendliest and most tolerant cat, enjoyed being petted and loved on by everyone.
This panorama involved a very careful camera handoff in the middle so that everyone could get in the shot. I still can’t believe it worked!

Highlights from South Dakota:

  • We were visiting some of my husband’s best college friends. It had been long enough since the last time this group all got together that a total of FIVE new children had been born among the three families and a sixth one is on the way. We had a total of fifteen people staying in one house.
  • The weather was mostly just bakingly hot and perfect for the backyard pool, but one day we got a cool, windy day and we took the opportunity to head out for a (short, kid-friendly) hike through Good Earth State Park, which was just beautiful.
  • The older kids were so kind and patient and good with the younger kids that we grownups got to sit on the deck and drink wine and enjoy the view of the pond and wetlands while they played downstairs. Actual relaxation!

Our return to the south required three more days on the road, involving one hotel night and then a night with my BFF, Brilliantone and her family in Mississippi. Such a relief to get in from the road into a friendly oasis. They grilled veggie burgers and played Clue with us after the little kids went to bed and it was just what we needed to re-charge and get ready for our last day in the car.

It feels amazing to be home, but this time I’m also feeling a bit sad that our summer road trip adventure is over. I loved seeing how the kids took in new things and got so excited about, for example, wind turbines and corn fields and wildflowers that were taller than they are. They slept in new beds in strange rooms and tried new foods and made new friends. Thinking back to the first time we traveled with the twins when they were about 7 months old, we are worlds apart. It really does get better.

What’s Going On

Fall semester starts today, technically, but for me it starts tomorrow. I’m in back-to-school mode, which is one of the best modes of all. I love the start of a new school year, don’t you?

Here’s what’s been happening this spring and summer:

I went to New Orleans with my BFFs! we all turned 40 this year, so we decided to ring in the new decade with a ladies’ trip. We rented a lovely and perfect house on the bayou where we could hang out at night listening to the noises of the wildlife or relaxing in the hot tub. In town, we ate all the delicious food and drank all the beautiful drinks and had generally an amazing time. We need to do this every year now.

My kiddos started a new daycare/preschool. They started attending at the beginning of the summer, during the “summer camp” mode, which meant they got to have splash days and popsicles on Fridays and they loved it. Now the daycare’s new preschool year has started and E&L moved up to a new class and started taking Gymnastics (they offer classes as part of the preschool extracurriculars) and it feels like basically the next time I turn around they’ll be off to college. They’re doing wonderfully. They’re mostly daytime potty trained at this point now, too — one twin completely; the other uses a pull-up at naptime — and that’s probably not something I’ll write much more about here on the wide-open internet, but suffice it to say: YAY.

We took our summer road trip to Iowa to visit my in-laws and survived the long days in the car thanks to my iPad and Netflix’s selection of animated movies available for offline viewing. The kids had a blast playing on the farm and riding all the various farm vehicles with Papa.

I’ve been reading exclusively women writers this year, and although there are a couple of books on my shelf waiting for when the man-ban is lifted, it’s been completely refreshing. These are a few of my favorites so far.

So what’s new with you?

Use Your Words

Do you ever just feel like making some inarticulate screaming noises? Yes? I do. And so I have total sympathy for my toddlers when their feelings well up and they have to just let it out: low-key whining, flailing, screaming, or full-on wet-noodle tantrumming.

A lot of the time, I can cut off the crying loop if I interject to remind them that I would be very happy to help them but I can’t understand what they need if they’re whining; could they please use their words instead? It’s impressive how often this works. They can stop and say, “MAH CHOO-CHOO” or “NO-NO DOGGIE” or “MO DJOOSE” or “HEP PEEZ.” Of course, they’re at a stage where this trick only goes so far — a lot of the time, the source of their turmoil is as yet inexpressible to them. Still happens to me on the regular, honestly, so I get it.

There are a lot of things they can’t say yet — their own/each other’s names, for example. the names of some of their toys and books and of some of the foods they like. Usually, pointing and asking for “dat” is what helps. “Dat” book on the high shelf, “dat” box of crackers, etc. Several times recently, E&L have been playing together in the playroom when all of a sudden L bursts into tearful wails. When I ask him to try to tell me what’s wrong or what he needs, he just turns to his sister with angry tears in his eyes and points at her emphatically, “DAT.”

And that’s when I see that she has taken the structure he’s been painstakingly building out of his Mega Bloks and threw it on the floor and smashed it. “All my hard work!” “Why does she like to annoy me?!” “Now I have to re-build!” L isn’t able to express that all just yet, so an accusing point and an emphatic “DAT” are the best he can do. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t crack me up every time.

Gifts for Two-Year-Old Boy/Girl Twins

Shopping for birthday gifts for the twins is kind of tough, since Christmas is just three weeks after their birthday. I now have a new respect for my parents (who dealt with the same situation, with my birthday being just two weeks before Christmas). Discussing possible gifts with my husband and our parents (who are all also trying to shop) makes me feel a little itchy and overwhelmed. I don’t consider myself a good gift giver. I struggle to pick the right thing and I wait until the last minute and I always have SO many possible ideas when a holiday is nowhere in sight, but when the giving season rolls around I come up blank every time.

The current task: trying to come up with suggestions for my in-laws (who asked for some ideas) while also trying to figure out what WE want to buy. (My dad & stepmother have already picked and sent stuff.)

I am going to post a list of ideas and then I would love to hear additional suggestions here (or get me on twitter, @ravelingout):

Birthday

(this is coming up in a couple of weeks, so we need to get our shit together)

Backpacks for “school”: (sounds boring, but they’ve never had their own before and they are recently very interested in playing with bags and have learned to say “ba-pa,” so it’d be cute as well as useful). Any favorite brands that make toddler sized backpacks to recommend?

Baby dolls: My husband thinks dolls are “weird” but I loved them as a child and the kids are really interested in both babies and baby dolls (they have some at school) and it’s developmentally appropriate, so. I’m thinking the Baby Stella brand is good, yes?

Books: I already bought them a few Christmas-themed books and coloring books, so I’ll probably wrap these up for them to open.

Grandparent gifts include: some cute stuffed elephants from my dad & stepmother and…we still need to suggest something for my in-laws.

Christmas

(we have more time to decide but now I’m starting to feel stressed)

A play tent for indoors (I’m thinking we could put some pillows and blankets inside for reading books? or whatever?) or a plastic play house thing for outdoors, probably on our porch (I’m not as jazzed about this idea because I don’t like the look, but I’m trying to look outside myself and think about whether this would be more fun for the kids?). Thoughts or ideas?

A wooden train set. I grew up with Brio, but I see there are several varieties now. (E&L have not been exposed to Thomas, yet, so likely will not care about that particular brand). Any good/bad experiences with specific brands? Is the beginner pack enough for a start? We could also suggest expansion packs from the in-laws.

Stockings: Probably some new bath toys (ideas?), toothbrushes, socks, candy, and an orange in the toe, as per KO-family tradition.

Grandparent gifts will include: two plastic trikes, Mega Bloks, a Mozart Magic Music Cube, and something we will suggest for my in-laws.

I also just ordered some Kohl’s magic blankets (on super sale!) for the whole family, so they’ll get theirs at some point this season, probably as a gift.

Any help or advice you have would be appreciated! Especially if you have brand recommendations, good or bad experiences to share, or thoughts about what kinds of gifts your two-year-olds were most excited about, use most, or have continued to love after many years.

 

Early Birds

It’s Saturday morning and I have been up since 5:00 because L woke up at 5:00 and woke everyone else up along with him. Sometimes he doesn’t wake E up, so one of us can sneak into their dark bedroom and airlift him out of his crib and let her sleep later, but not today. Today they were both up and both hopping mad. We let them come into our bedroom and watch an episode of Daniel Tiger so we could lie down (CW went back to sleep but I couldn’t because once I’m up, I’m up).

Why is this happening?! It’s been happening since the time change — in the days immediately after that, he was waking at 4:30 instead of his usual 6:30 — and I don’t understand why. He’s getting an hour less sleep now and it doesn’t make sense. It would’ve made sense to wake ONE hour early for the first few days, but he started waking TWO hours early and then shifted to one hour early. Both kiddos have been shortening their naps recently, too. They used to nap for at least 2 hours, sometimes as much as 3, but now it’s 1-1.5 max. I’m not pleased.

I don’t think they’re old enough to understand an “OK to Wake” type alarm clock yet, are they? (They’ll be two in two weeks.) we can’t really let L cry in the bedroom for long in the morning, either, because if we do he’ll eventually wake E, who usually needs/wants more sleep. I’d be fine with letting him hang out quietly until at least 6, but he gets mad and starts yelling and won’t settle back down. Shifting their bedtime later doesn’t cause them to sleep in, either. It’s just makes for an angry and exhausted shitshow. I have no idea what, if anything, to do. I guess this is just when I get up, now.

Outside

The kids absolutely love a playground and we are lucky enough to have one in our neighborhood. It’s a frequent outing on weekend mornings: plop them in the jogging stroller and head down to the playground a mile from our house. We stay and play for a while and then head back home. Everybody gets outside, everybody gets some exercise, everybody wins.

Except yesterday, when we got there to find that the gate had broken and been zip-tied shut. It’s the kind of gate that takes an ID card to open (the playground is for HOA members only, which 🙄), and it seemed like when the mechanism broke, rather than leave it open and available to everyone, someone decided to shut it completely and prevent ANYONE from getting in. (Sure, we could “just” cut the zip ties, but who carries scissors to the playground?)

I hate this attitude and it’s not the first time I’ve encountered it with our HOA. We’re constantly hearing about how people who don’t even live in our neighborhood want to come use our pool and playground. Allegedly, people try to “jump the fence” on the reg. I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard our HOA president promising to build a wall around the neighborhood soon slash claiming it will be paid for by the less affluent neighborhood to the south.

So anyway, we of course had two very broken-hearted toddlers in our hands who cried the entire walk home, L wailing repeatedly, “ow-SHIIIIDE! ow-SHIIIIDE!” It was little consolation to his soul to be told that, although we were not at the playground, we were still technically outside.

And that is how today, when it started pouring down rain just as we arrived at a public park (not taking chances with our neighborhood playground again), we wound up at the McDonald’s PlayPlace — you can bet we were not going to break those children’s hearts again. You want to slide? You are god damned getting to slide. And mama is buying some warm chocolate chip cookies and a giant Diet Coke.

Friday Night’s Alright for Posting

It’s Friday evening and work was too busy today for me to dash off a post. Now that I’m home and fed and the kids are in bed, I’m hanging out with my husband watching TV, which is also less than ideal for blogging. But that’s what we rugged NaBloPoMo people do, you see: we blog every day in November no matter what! Hashtag brave. Hashtag blog warrior.

Here’s something: on weekends, we like to try to get out of the house with the kids at least once if not twice (before and after nap) per day. We do a lot of parks/playgrounds and the library as well as taking them out on whatever errands or shopping we might have. This is all fine. But every weekend, we’re like, “What are we doing? Where should we go?” and all of our options feel a bit boring. But staying home gets boring and restless and frustrating, so we try to minimize that.

Here’s where I’d maybe like some suggestions: what are some toddler-friendly activities we might not be thinking of? Think simple, small-town, and preferably free. For example, we don’t have any museums, zoos, aquariums, etc. What basic stuff am I not thinking of? I’m sure there’s something.