Best Toys for Five Year Olds

      I should have done a better job keeping track during 2018, because I always like thinking about ideas to share for gift ideas. Overall though I think this is a pretty good list!

By far, the most “played with” thing in our house is plain old copy paper! Our boys love drawing, coloring, writing notes, cutting out shapes, folding fortune tellers, making little paper books. And ONE MILLION PAPER AIRPLANES OH MY GOD. They also demand that we print out coloring sheets of various themes and characters. (We have over a dozen actual coloring books, but do they care? No, they do not. Do they color in them? No, they do not. Harrumph.) Oh, and for awhile now, our boys prefer markers over crayons (though we have both of course).

twins coloring

I picked up all of these paper airplanes from several rooms in ONE DAY!

paper airplanes

Fortune teller labeled Yellow, Red, Brown, Blue.

fortune teller

This is a “phone” that they “press buttons” and “play games.”

Rainbow Loom: We got these for the boys for Christmas last year, because they loved them at daycare. They play with them a lot, in phases. One time E made a long rope of them that was literally longer than our house! Isn’t this a pretty photo? But look how it’s a big ole pile of tiny rubber bands and imagine how they get spread out EVERYWHERE.

rainbow loom rubber bands

Hot Wheels: They must have at least twenty cars by now, and man they get everywhere. They’re still playing with the car loop track they got as small toddlers, and they also use them in their magnatile playing sometimes (like building a car garage or ramp). Really good to keep in the car or backpacks for traveling!

Magnatiles: Still very popular and fun! We got them when the boys were not yet three, so it’s true what everyone says about being an excellent, long-lasting gift for little ones. We love seeing the creative things they make!

Games: There are so many great games! We love Outfoxed! (which is a cooperative game combo of Clue and Guess Who), Blue Orange Ring It!, Guess Who?, Chutes & Ladders, Memory, Uno, Go Fish, Pass The Pigs: Big Pigs, The Allowance Game. They don’t do great with losing games though (especially E). They can do 100 piece kid puzzles! They are good at checkers and like chess too (I don’t like chess so I refuse to play with them).

the allowance game

Legos: They don’t play a *ton* with them yet but they do like them. Once again, they get very creative–often making some kind of airplane/ship/flying craft.

Arts & crafts: In general, the boys like painting things, making bracelets and other things. Sometimes they create neat things out of cardboard boxes!

Scooters and bicycles! They have Razor Scooters and these bikes.

Books! We love books around here! Have I mentioned The Princess in Black books? They’re “chapter books” but they’re pretty short, and tons of fun. The sixth one just came out this fall (we have all six). (Yes, to confirm–we have little boys and they love reading books about princesses!) The little early reader books (like Biscuit, or Marley, or Frances books) are pretty popular at our house because the boys can start reading them a little!

little boy reading

 

So tell me–do you agree or disagree with this list? What do your five-year-olds love to play with? I’d love to hear in the comments!

 

*Amazon affiliate links help keep the blog running. I strongly encourage you to support your local toy and book stores, but if you do shop online, please use these links!

Our Favorite Toys for Toddlers, 18-24 month edition

When I went to the big twins club re-sale in 2013, I had a very specific list of items that I knew our 5 month old babies would need in the short term. When I saw the huge area of big toys, I froze. I tried to think about the next 5-6 months and what the babies would do or learn or want or play with. And I had utterly no idea what, say, a 9 month old could use.

So I figure that as I go along, I’ll keep track of the toys we use in age-ranges of our babies, in hope that someday, another parent will find it useful! This isn’t an official review or sponsored post, it’s just what our babies have liked and used a lot. Amazon links are affiliate.

(Previous gear lists: Pregnancy, New Babies part 1, New Babies part 2, New Babies part 3 Toys for 3-6 months, Toys for 6-12 months, Toys for 12-18 months)

Also, FYI: Baby Cheapskate does an annual roundup of “Toys that get played with” for all age ranges, based on reader polls/surveys. Here’s the 2013 list for 13-24 months. You should follow them on Facebook--they find and post tons of deals on baby gear every day!

Things they’re still loving from last time: Water Table; Learning Towers, baby broom

Tricycles!

The Radio Flyer Fold 2 Go Trike is perfect for younger toddlers, because it’s a little smaller. I think our boys started riding them before they were 18 months, actually. (Read the post about it)

DSC_6964_WEB

Haba Blocks: We got some of these from a friend, and the dudes love them! The duplos still got good use too. The wooden Haba blocks don’t stick together, but that means that they can build tall towers and then knock them over. And what’s more fun than that? 🙂

IMG_9109_WEB

Play Kitchen: We received one when they were about a year old, and kept putting off putting it together until they were a little older. We finally did it when they were 23 months, and oh my goodness, THEY LOVE IT. I’d meant to move it upstairs to their room, but they play with it just about every day here in the living room. They LOVE it. And they probably would have loved it just as much a few months earlier! It is so much fun to watch them play pretend, and it’s so freaking adorable I can’t even stand it.
IMG_8156_WEB

Spoons, empty containers, dried pasta or beans: Part playing pretend, part sorting and pouring, and part percussion practice. We have a bunch of empty oatmeal canisters that they can play with, and we give them real spoons and Pyrex bowls, and they “stir stir stir” and scoop and stir. If they have some they can pour and scoop and move between one place and another–water, dried beans, dried pasta–they will play with it for a loooong time, very happily.

IMG_9028_WEB

IMG_7005_WEB

Push toys: When we go out on walks, they still love their push toys! We have the musical one musical one (we call it the “jingly walker”), the wooden one (“clacker”), and until recently we had this Fisher-Price Mower. (It finally broke and they got a newer, more realistic looking one for Christmas.)

IMG_4943_WEB

The umbrella strollers work very well too!
IMG_4729_WEB
Basketball hoop and other athletic stuff: The basketball hoop is a lot of fun, but even when that’s not out, they’ve enjoyed played with the mini basketball and a couple other balls we have. They figured out kicking and dribbling balls, so the soccer ball was a good addition. I also had two cheap frisbee-type things, which they love to play with and throw.

DSC_0411-11_WEB

Buckets/containers:

Good for headwear, beach trips, and generally collecting things. Gathering and unpacking is a big thing for them.

DSC_1587_WEB

Baby Guitar/Ukulele: Our nanny (who is in a band) sometimes brings her ukelele and sings to them, and lets them play with it. They will happily sit on their baby couch together, strumming and swaying back and forth. They never ever want to stop playing, and anytime it’s been here, they ask, “More le-le?” over and over again.
IMG_4722-1_WEB

Mama’s wallet:

This is my secret weapon toy. If I need them to chill out/I’m out of ideas/they’re stir-crazy, they get to play with Mama’s wallet! They methodically take all the cards out and then play with putting them back in and handing them back and forth to each other. I don’t get it, but I’ll take it!

DSC_2536_01_WEB

Rocks:

Every toddler’s favorite!

*     *    *

I’d love to hear what your young toddlers love to play with–leave a note in the comments!

Our Favorite Toys for Babies, 12-18 month edition

When I went to the big twins club re-sale in 2013, I had a very specific list of items that I knew our 5 month old babies would need in the short term. When I saw the huge area of big toys, I froze. I tried to think about the next 5-6 months and what the babies would do or learn or want or play with. And I had utterly no idea what, say, a 9 month old could use.

So I figure that as I go along, I’ll keep track of the toys we use in age-ranges of our babies, in hope that someday, another parent will find it useful! This isn’t an official review or sponsored post, it’s just what our babies have liked and used a lot. Amazon links are affiliate.

(Previous gear lists: Pregnancy, New Babies part 1, New Babies part 2, New Babies part 3 Toys for 3-6 months, Toys for 6-12 months)

Also, FYI: Baby Cheapskate does an annual roundup of “Toys that get played with” for all age ranges, based on reader polls/surveys. Here’s the 2013 list for 13-24 months. You should follow them on Facebook--they find and post tons of deals on baby gear every day!

DSC_4147_WEB

Activity Table (until 15 months or so) and Exersaucer: Yes, they just kept playing with these! I was really surprised. I suppose because they make noise, and have things that can be moved/pressed/manipulated.

DSC_4161_WEB
Books: Obviously. Lift-the-flap books have been especially fun.

2014-04 (Apr)_WEB

Broom and Mop: It was only after they started playing with the full-size broom and swiffer in the kitchen that we realized we should get them some kid-sized ones. They still prefer the big ones, but will happily play with the little ones most of the time. Of course they fight over who gets the broom.

IMG_4367_WEB

Balls: They love watching people play soccer and basketball, and they love trying to throw and catch. Or just holding them.

DSC_4674_WEB

Mega Bloks: Our twins received a set for Christmas, when they were 13 months old. I figured they wouldn’t be able to use them or interested in using them until they were at least 18 months old. But I was totally wrong–they started playing with them right away and quickly seemed to understand what to do! And they’ve only gotten better since, so it’s great they started kind of early. It’s got to be great for motor skills and spatial reasoning!

DSC_7324_WEB

Toy Shopping Cart, wagon, horsey, stroller: These are HUGE hits in our house. Our twins would probably be psyched if they could push the shopping cart around for most of a whole day. When we go outside for a walk they fight over which ones they get, and they always want something to push.

DSC_7522_WEB

Charley Harper Flash Cards, Clif Bars, anything with smaller parts inside a box: Take them out of the box, put them back in the box, throw them around. Good times!

DSC_6262_WEB

DSC_1721_WEB

Water Table: Apparently we got this for them in April and they loved it immediately. They played all spring and summer.

IMG_4406_WEB

Train table (at the bookstore): I think we discovered this by accident, but what an amazing accident. They are OBSESSED. Sometimes I wish we had a big basement play area so we could have one of our own, but then I think it’s nice that it’s out of the house, so that it’s a rarer experience and therefore more special.

DSC_9580-1_WEB

Learning Towers/Kitchen Helpers: I would see people posting about these on Facebook, that they were super awesome for little kids. I also noticed that they are WAY EXPENSIVE. Especially the idea of two of them.Then someone in a group posted that her husband was making DIY versions. I waffled for a bit and then decided we should go for it, and get two. It was totally worth it and I’m so glad we did. There are posts all over the internet about how to make the DIY versions (here’s one), so ask around for someone who might be handy. Even paying them to do it will be worth it. (And PS, since I’m finishing this so late, I can tell you that we’re still using these after they turned two!)

IKEA Table and Chairs

DSC_9903-1_WEB

Not exactly a toy, but they do really like their little table and chairs, just the right size for them!

What do your littles this age love to play with? Share in the comments!

One good thing about me

If I am out with other people at a restaurant and the server asks about dessert, I will always immediately say, “Yes.” Many women hesitate and waver and make excuses and apologies and justifications. Not me–I raise my hand as a proud dessert-haver. No excuses, no guilt. JUST DELICIOUS DESSERT.

So if you’re out with me, you never have to worry about the dessert question, you never have to worry about having a reason. We will have dessert, we will enjoy it, the end.

Life is short, people. Cake does a body good.

Note that this post is tagged with “advice” and “health.” On purpose. 😀

PS: After I drafted this, I found this link snippet on Joy the Baker: “Eating: A Manifesto: Hey ladies, we can stop torturing ourselves about the brownie and just eat the brownie.  My goodness the way we torture ourselves.” AMEN.

Before and After Baby Tips

What I’m glad I did before babies were born:

Joined the local twins’ club (the classified section was a huge help; we got to shop early at the club consignment sale; we got to meet other new and expectant twin families in town)

Took photos every week to document my belly growth (see them here!)

Shopped at the big consignment sales (got tons of stuff for a fraction of the price!)

Got a new car (originally we thought we’d wait til about a month after they were born. Thankfully we came to our senses!)

Prenatal chiropractor (I could hardly walk for weeks, with this weird back/hip thing causing me to limp like an elderly person. My OB referred me to a prenatal chiropractor–I had no idea that was a thing! But thank god it is! My chiro was so friendly and she FIXED me!)

DSC_7464-1_WEB

 

What I wish I had done before babies were born:

Taken more time off (I only ended up with one real day off. There wasn’t much to do even when I was working, so I should have just let myself relax more.)

Gone swimming like everyone told me to (I didn’t have a swimsuit and I couldn’t shave anything. Dumb excuses that I should have worked through and figured out.)

Bought and worn more/better clothes (I had one nice pair of maternity jeans, plus maternity leggings, and a handful of maternity tops. But especially toward the end, I was in a maternity tshirt and sweats, and looking back, I looked so sloppy. I wish I’d enjoyed some more ‘real’ clothes a little more often.)

Prenatal massage (because duh.)

Did less stuff (I should have slept in more often.)

Done professional maternity photos (I couldn’t afford to do both maternity and newborn…but maybe I could have gotten a package deal. Above is one of my DIY maternity photos.)

Journaled more (Because I have the world’s worst memory, and blog posts don’t tell the whole story.)

Taken more regular photos (and videos!) of me and us, out and about with the belly (I wish I’d done more of my whole self, of the both of us. I did make sure to take a bunch on our cross-country road trip!)

 

What I’m glad I did after babies were born:

Had our first few days be just us (I didn’t want anyone else around while we got to know our new babies. I wanted us to be a family and focus on the four of us. No extra noise, no extra personalities, just us. Later on we had visitors and that was wonderful–made even better because of our just-family time at the beginning.)

Did professional studio photos of babies (They were so very tiny. We had no idea. I knew in theory they would change and grow a lot, but man, it happened so fast! We have a storyboard (three 8×10 images on one print) up in our room and we just treasure it. The babies themselves even like looking at it.)

Bought a new bra, undies, and jeans (This was probably my favorite thing I did. Two months post-partum, I went to Target and got some new, non-maternity jeans that actually fit properly. Same with a new bra and underwear. I knew that none of these would fit for very long, but I had been haaaaating wearing all the ill-fitting, loose and baggy everything. I seriously felt like a new person with clothes that fit my current body! Truly, it was amazing, and the cost wasn’t very prohibitive.)

Bought new socks (Just because all my socks are years old and I decided to just treat myself to brand new ones. Plain white ankle cut, 6 in a pack, nothing fancy at all. But soft new socks are such an inexpensive delight!)

Went out for groceries and Target by myself (I started doing this after the first month or so–I would go late at night, like 10 or 11pm. It was so nice to get in the car by myself, and be invisible, with nothing/nobody else to carry. It was a little melancholy, but it was such a relief too.)

Took a shower regularly (it felt great to be clean (and be off the couch), plus it was a good place to cry in private)

DSC_1616_WEB

What I wish I had done after babies were born:

Eaten more (It probably would have helped take the edge off a bit–physically and emotionally. I wasn’t actively hungry until about a month post-partum. I knew that I should be eating, but with our ridiculous schedule, I just couldn’t work up the energy enough to care, let alone the energy to find something to eat and the time to eat it. I should have done it, or I should have prepared my husband to make me do it.)

Rested more (after the first week or so, I started moving/lifting more because I felt bad about my husband doing everything. I shouldn’t have, and should have stayed more sedentary when it mattered.)

Had a post-partum doula (It was expensive, my husband had paid paternity leave, my mom visited a few times, and my husband’s parents visited for a week. So I/we had help. But it might have been a little different/better to have a third-party helper come in and help us out too.)

Made a list of chores for visitors to help with (Although really, who cared. I certainly didn’t. I thought that I *should* care if the house was a mess. I’m a terrible grown-up that way.)

Called/emailed people who reached out (I didn’t know how; I didn’t know how to articulate what I was feeling. I couldn’t articulate much. I really appreciated the reaching out and I wish that I had just picked up the phone and done something.)

Had my husband take more photos of me and the babies (I have ONE good photo of me with the babies, when they’re about a week old. [Which I had to ask him to take for me.] None from the hospital. I have lots of phone shots, mostly selfies of low-quality shot in the horrible lighting in our living room. I hate asking people to take pictures of me, because it’s annoying. But I always love to have real-camera shots, and I should have just asked more. I would treasure them. There is no such thing as enough good quality photos of a mama and her baby/babies!)

What about you? What are the best things you did or wished you did before and after you had a baby/babies? Please share in the comments!

The Mama Matters

I’m in a lot of online groups, and many of them revolve around parenting or babies/kids. Often there are posts from moms who are exhausted and frazzled and emotional. I never have much actual advice, but I like to chime in and say something like, “Your mental health and sanity is really important. You matter too, mama!”

A few weeks ago, it hit me like a brick: I’ve been talking to myself.

*I* matter. My subconscious has been hard at work trying to convince me, all this time.

The first few weeks (months? I have no idea) of life with twins, I cried about many things (though I did my best to do it quietly or out of the way. It wasn’t all the time or anything. I don’t think?). I felt frustrated at many things, and I was trying really hard to do All The Things. I kept trying to make my husband take it easier, or not do as much–like go take a nap, or watch some extra tv or something. And he never listened to me. Which I found (and still do find) extremely, extremely frustrating. He would say something about me taking a nap or taking some time ‘away’ or whatever, and I would say, “No, I don’t matter.”

And then I would tear up or actually cry. Because at the same time, I felt two conflicting emotions: that I and my needs truly did not matter, and that it made me fucking sad that I thought I didn’t matter.

Now, my husband was and is pretty much the best partner in this baby thing as anyone could dream of. It’s never been a question that he does the babycare/parenting work. He’s not a babysitter or an “involved dad”; he’s just a parent. No question. So even though we have twins, which is fucking hard, our twins have been good babies, and I’ve had it really pretty good. We got a nanny two days a week when the babies were 2 months old, mostly so that I could do things like take a nap and go outside by myself. Seriously, I have nothing to complain about.

But those first few brutal weeks, I still felt like I didn’t matter. That I was not important, unworthy. The least important person in the house. I stopped saying it, because it made my husband upset (rightfully so!), but I continued to feel it.

Once a new baby arrives, all the attention is directed there. When new twins arrive, there is lots and lots of attention! Not just out at the grocery store, but at home. And not just between the nuclear family, but also the extended family. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, everyone’s so excited and thrilled about the adorable squishy baby! And well they should be–babies *are* exciting! (Well, more in theory than in practice; generally they just sit there.) But the parents–especially the mother, I think–get lost in the baby shuffle. Nobody  pays attention to the new mom.

Plus there is or was some remnant in my head of the idea that anything the dad did, was extra, bonus, not to be expected. So I felt guilty, and extra grateful, and extra dependent, and extra beholden. And I was beholden–I physically needed him to do a lot of work those first days, as my body recovered from the c-section.  But I also didn’t want to put him out too much. I didn’t want to be helpless.

Listen to me: I didn’t want to put him out too much? Like I would have to tiptoe and hope and beg for such a favor as to please change diapers today because my torso was sliced open a few days ago and my drugs aren’t doing enough?

There’s a lot of culture at play here–I would have sworn I was immune to this patriarchal nonsense. But look at these words coming out of me without even realizing it! It’s a real thing that women, especially mothers, do and want to and should (????!!!) put themselves last. Because they don’t matter. Or because what their kids or spouses want is more important, and the mom has to make sure to accommodate all of that and mitigate all of that, because her own needs have to take a backseat.

It’s hard to really see and escape this kind of thinking that’s embedded in our society. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get political, but it’s kind of really the core of the issue here.

I didn’t think I mattered.

If that’s not something to make you/me tear up, I don’t know what is. It’s heartbreaking! But apparently it’s taken me this long, and the impartiality of a social network screen, to learn the lesson that I matter. That I was and am an important person, not just for the sake of my children, but for my own sake, as a fully functioning human person. I’m not a vessel or a robot. I’m allowed to have space, time and opinions of my own. (How very 20th century of me!)

So, listen. No matter what: YOU MATTER, MAMA. Always. Along with your partner, you are one of the two most important people in your new baby/ies’ life. Of course your baby needs a lot of attention, and grueling, tedious attention it is for the first few endless weeks. (But you’ll also get to snuggle with your sweet new baby!) Parental needs get pushed to the back burner for awhile.

But, please please remember: You are a person too. You are not just a feeding/diapering machine. You have wants and needs, and you are allowed to have them. And! you are allowed to get them. Sleep is a biological need, not a selfish want. So naps aren’t indulgent, they’re necessary! You deserve to be at your struggling best–you probably need some rest, time and space away for a few minutes. Away from everything and everyone, blessed quiet for your frazzled new-mama mind. It doesn’t have to be a day at the spa (though you certainly deserve a massage at the least!). Just a few minutes to breathe. A few minutes to take a shower, walk through the grocery store aisles, feel the sun on your face–all without a tiny person all up on you, demanding all of your attention and energy. A few minutes to be YOU.

Maybe that means your partner hangs out with the baby/babies solo for awhile. Maybe it means that your free time is only in the evening. But go find that time. Ask for it, demand it. Figure out a way for each of you to get some naps, some alone time, to get some you time, to get that space and that silence. It is so, so important.

You’ll feel better, and you’ll be a better parent for your sweet new baby. Your baby deserves healthy, rested parents

YOU MATTER.

How We Keep Our House Clean

Hang on a sec, let me finish laughing.

Hahahahaha. “Clean.” Hahahahaha. That’s hilarious.

We are kind of slobs. Wait, that doesn’t sound right; we aren’t dirty or living in filth or anything. We just get lazy about things like vacuuming and dusting. It’s not a priority for us. And I’m hoping that we’re not the only ones. 🙂

But here’s what we do to keep a semblance of clean…ish.

1. After the babies were born, I kept noticing that the upstairs bathroom counter was in need of cleaning. But the cleaning stuff was all downstairs. I would think briefly about going to get it, but almost immediately dismiss the idea. And then by the time I got back downstairs, the idea about cleaning stuff had gone clear out of my little head. Partly due to baby-fog, no doubt, but also because I’m just forgetful.

But one day I finally realized that I needed to bring the mountain to Mohammed, so to speak. I got a spray bottle and poured in some all-purpose cleaner from the bottle downstairs. I grabbed another roll of paper towels, and set both of those to live on the back of the toilet. So all the cleaning stuff is RIGHT THERE, making it no excuses and really fast and easy. (I now wonder if this is just What Adults Do and I never knew?) And now I’m pretty good at seeing when the counter is starting to look a little icky, and taking the sixty seconds to wipe everything down. I do that a little more than once a week.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2. I can handle things like dust, because it’s small and it doesn’t get in my way. And I make a lot of piles of things, which then can become “invisible.” But if there’s enough clutter in the way of things, I get all hand-flappy and just can’t take it.

When we rearranged the living room, we had a big empty space for baby stuff. (We call it the Baby Carnival, because originally there were several “stations” of baby activities to rotate through.) And when we put the babies to bed upstairs, all the stuff was…still everywhere. I hated it and it felt suffocating. So we started piling things/boxing things/moving things around so it wasn’t everywhere.

Our system now is great. Every night after baby bedtime, we put away the baby carnival: We have a bin where all the books go. We have a bin for small toys (stacking cups, rattles, that kind of thing) and a bin for bigger toys (the bubble mower, the clacker walker toy, the musical drums). There are two smaller bins for the two kinds of blocks. So everything gets thrown (sometimes literally) back into a bin or container during the bedtime routine or right after the babies go up to bed. The exersaucer moves out of the way, the foam mats moves off to the side, the baby corral gets folded up.

All of this takes maybe five minutes, and we both work on it together. It feels SO much better. It’s like a physical demarcation between baby/family time, and grown-up/relaxing time. I swear, I take a nice happy sigh every time, because the floor is CLEAR and the clutter is out of sight! Or at least off the floor. (Well, that particular clutter, anyway.)

IMG_3456_WEB

It all gets set out again later at night to be ready for the morning, so one might argue that it’s a bit pointless to put it away for a few hours. But it really does make such a difference to see a clear floor, if only for a bit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

3. We finally made ourselves a chore chart. Like we’re little kids who need a sticker or something. We listed out all the chores that need to be done in each room/area of the house each week, though some we specified bi-weekly or monthly. (Note that this does not include extremist shit like wipe down baseboards and other craziness.) There is a column for each week, to put checkmarks when the chore is completed. Now….the most we’ve ever done is probably 90% of the weekly list. And…that is not the norm. Did I mention that we’re kind of lazy?

However, I do like having: a) a visual reminder of what needs to be done and b) the satisfaction of checking off an item. The list has definitely encouraged a lot more to be done than would have done otherwise. Plus it helps equalize the work.

We (well, really “I”) have definitely gotten better with the frequency of things like sweeping the kitchen, though vacuuming is still not done very often. (But I can say that when we FINALLY got a grown-up vacuum, it made a WORLD OF DIFFERENCE. It’s a Shark from Costco and it pulls up so much! It’s very satisfying (if a little gross)!)

When we lived in NYC, we were better about doing chores more regularly and more purposely–we would designate a day/timeframe to do the cleaning, and we would both work on it at the same time. However, now there are two more small people in the house with us, and it’s not at all easy to do most cleaning with babies around–they try to chew on the broom, they were afraid of the vacuum cleaner for a long time, etc. So the cleaning has to happen either after baby bedtime, or one person cleans while the other supervises babies. But our “free” time sans babies is so short, and that there are much better things to do during that time, such as eat dinner, take a shower, watch tv and read the internet.

So now things are a little (okay, a lot) more sporadic. We’ll get better again, eventually. Probably.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4. Tools:

For awhile we used Seventh Generation all-purpose cleaner, but a new bottle had a new, terrible scent that I hated. I switched to the orange-flavored Method all-purpose cleaner and like that a lot.

We are (well, I am) definitely a fan of cleaning with vinegar.

OxiClean is fucking amazing. Baby clothes get a lot of stains, as you can well imagine. Soaking them in OxiClean makes the stains gone. LIKE MAGIC.

I was AMAZED when I finally tried Magic Erasers in a bathtub. But OxiClean is just as good, and without nearly as much physical effort/scrubbing. BECAUSE IT’S MAGIC. Like vinegar, you can use it everywhere.

We use swiffer cloths to ‘dust’ and sweep bathrooms. Not even on the swiffer pole handle thing, we just hold the cloth in hand. We get the big box of them from Costco and they live in the hall closet, right next to the upstairs bathroom. Easy to grab, pulls up lots of dust nice and quick.

I recently realized that cotton burp cloths (the plain Gerber ones, which are seriously the best burp cloths ever) are also great for drying and ‘polishing’ surfaces like the sink and the stove. That helps get rid of the last bit of moisture and residue, and makes everything shiny.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

5. Good inspirational reading can put you in the mood to clean!

I love Unfuck Your Habitat — it’s simple, no-nonsense, and generally encourages you to just do it already. Some good specific cleaning tips can be found there too. The 20/10 idea plus “no marathons” are great too. And after scrolling through the befores and afters, I almost always go clean or tidy something. I have the app, too, but don’t really use it. (Because I’m lazy; the app itself seems great.)

For something a little more tasteful, Unclutterer is a good resource. It talks more about methods, options, upcycling/reusing materials, and other thoughts and resources for staying organized. Plus hilarious “unitaskers.”

Last year sometime I found this blog to read occasionally, called I Heart Organizing and I kind of enjoyed going through her posts about challenging herself to do some more detailed home cleaning chores.

Also, apparently, writing about/thinking about cleaning puts you in a mood too! The night I drafted this, I did some kitchen basics later that night, and the next day did a whole bunch of cleaning I’d been putting off. I felt good and excited to make some spaces shinier and cleaner, and then of course I got to check a bunch of things off the chore list! (The problem is that I will probably never re-enact that happy daytime cleaning bug. Oh well. Gotta strike while the iron is hot! Oh that reminds me, I have some ironing that I’ve been putting off….wonder when I will get to that.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Child labor:

IMG_4206_WEB

IMG_4205_WEB

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So what are your favorite little tips to make cleaning faster/easier/better? Any websites or apps that you like for some cleaning inspiration? Or just tell me that we’re not the only ones who let dust accumulate. 🙂

Our Favorite Toys for Babies, 6-12 month edition

 When I went to the big twins club re-sale last spring, I had a very specific list of items that I knew the babies would need in the short term. When I saw the huge area of big toys, I froze. I tried to think about the next 5-6 months and what the babies would do or learn or want or play with. And I had utterly no idea what, say, a 9 month old could use.

So I figure that as I go along, I’ll keep track of the toys we use in age-ranges of our babies, in hope that someday, another parent will find it useful! This isn’t an official review or sponsored post, it’s just what our babies have liked and used a lot.

(Previous gear lists: Pregnancy, New Babies part 1, New Babies part 2, New Babies part 3 Toys for 3-6 months)

Also, FYI: Baby Cheapskate does an annual roundup of “Toys that get played with” for all age ranges, based on reader polls/surveys. Here’s the 2013 list for 6-12 months. You should follow them on Facebook--they find and post tons of deals on baby gear every day!

I’m calling this 6-12 months because it’s a nice round number, but honestly, the babies are still playing with almost all of these toys at 14 months!  Also, they aren’t walking yet, so they’re not taking advantage of those kind of toys yet.

Also note that I got almost all of these things from craigslist or consignment sales. Baby stuff can get expensive, and secondhand gear is often just as good for the wee ones, but way better for your wallet! 

DSC_9581-17

Activity Table (ie, crack table) Man, did they love this! We called it the crack table because it was like a magnet–if we turned it on in an adjacent room, the babies would come crawling! And they would just keep playing with it, so when it was time to wind down at the end of the day, we’d have to move it to the kitchen to ‘hide’ it. I could see them practicing their gross and fine motor skills with all of the different ‘activities’, and I really think this helped them develop their standing stamina, too. Thankfully, the intensity of their love for this toy finally dimmed a bit. It’s still in our kitchen, and they still play with it a bit here and there. The Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker would be a good alternative to this–I’m not sure if both would be necessary.

IMG_1549-19DSC_0949-1_WEB

Riding toys: like our horsey that I found at a resale for eight bucks (newer version on Amazon) or a wagon. We have a vintage Fisher Price wagon (from a different resale), which I love for its simplicity.  Here’s their ‘new’ version, with lots more crap on it. These seem like they will continue to be played with for quite awhile.

DSC_8455-2_WEB

Anything to bang together (measuring cups, bottle caps, wooden spoons, plastic blocks, giant pasta shells)

IMG_1799_WEB

Musical toys: The babies seemed to love the music aspect of the kick n play piano mat, but I hated that there were only four keys and that you couldn’t just play a note. Any time you hit a key, it made a note but then also a jingle. I wanted some kind of musical toy/piano that is JUST MUSIC. Well, those pretty much don’t exist anymore. Everything sings and talks, plus does the ABCs, or talks in Spanish, or counts numbers. I just wanted them to push a key and hear a single note! Happily, I found one of these piano/xylophones and a teeny cheap little keyboard at the local Value Village for around ten bucks altogether. Some bleach and some qtips, and they were good to go! They don’t play with these a ton, but I like that they have the opportunity to “play” “music” with their own little hands, and I hope that they will keep playing with musical toys as they get older and more coordinated.

2014-01-11_0005

Bins of things: (books, toys, linens). I like the 56-quart clear bins from Home Depot or Target. We keep the baby books in one of these bins, and it turned out to be a perfect size for climbing into and on top of. 🙂

DSC_4147_WEB

Exersaucer/Jumper: (to sit in or to stand on the outside of). We had one of each before they were six months, since there were two babies that needed activities to rotate through. One was borrowed and one was from craigslist–we could not have afforded both otherwise! The babies LOVED the jumper for a long time but kind of got over being in the exersaucer sooner. However, it’s on my list because we still have it in our living room–they still like going over to it and playing with a few of the toys, especially the one where you push a button for some music. They start bouncing their little legs and smile. 🙂

Rattles We like to put popcorn kernels in empty containers and let them shake shake shake.

DSC_9243 (2)_WEB

IKEA Foam blocks/wooden or plastic blocks: Self-explanatory, I’m sure.

IMG_2048-17_WEBDSC_4095_WEB

Stacking rings (plastic or wooden) and stacking cups from IKEA (see above re: banging things together): I always heard these were good toys for babies but they seemed so boring! I have been proven wrong–the cups in particular were an instant winner for our babies. They’ve gone through different stages of playing with them: first to eat, then to bang together, then nesting together, and attempting to stack them. I’m telling you, three bucks, endless fun and entertainment.

DSC_4134_WEB

Shape Sorter Bucket: The pieces can be used for chewing and banging together first, and then the babies will learn about dumping out and putting in again. Good times! It’s also an excellent hide and seek ‘mask’, according to E.

Sharky brush: Teether/toothbrush that the babies love to chew on!

Foam playmat: We keep this on our living room rug to cushion falls and tumbles, and to prevent messes from getting to the carpet. It does trip them up sometimes when they’re pushing the riding toys.

IMG_2948_WEB

Bath letters:  Who doesn’t want fun bath toys to chew on and throw over the side?

Touch and feel books, lift-the-flap books. They love lifting the flaps so much that they rip them right off!

I’d love to hear your additions to this list–what do your 6-12 month olds love to play with?

10 Surprising Things I’ve Learned This Year

DSC_7945
(two weeks old, E on left, M on right)
One of the scariest things about being pregnant was not knowing how it would be to actually have a baby, and not knowing how I would deal with the various challenges. Being new at this, I was pretty worried that everything would terrible and horrible and super crazy hard. And some of it *was* terrible and difficult. But some of it hasn’t been so bad–in fact, there has definitely been some good stuff. And I have learned a lot–some practical, and some philosophical.
1. Turns out I love babies.

I never hated babies, but I was never a baby-fever kind of girl. Some people dream for years of being a mom–that wasn’t me. But now that I do have babies of my own–babies are awesome! I can never get enough of them. They’re so tiny and cuddly and sweet! That’s why I am so excited when I find out someone is pregnant–they get a sweet little baby to snuggle! There is NOTHING better than cuddling a tiny baby.

[I now know that there are “baby people” and “non-baby people”, which makes me even more nervous for the toddler/older kid stages, if the baby stage was my favorite.]

2. I can be a lot more patient than I thought.

In general, I’m not a terribly patient person–I hate slow walkers and slow drivers, and other things that seem to take too long. But as it happens, I’m a lot more patient with babies (most of the time). I think it’s because the babies don’t know any better and they can’t help it. They can only cry, and they have zero tolerance for frustration, because they’re like proto-people still. (I am worried about how I’ll be with bigger kids who DO know better.)

Juggling one or two babies is hard. Especially when it’s the middle of the night, again. Or when both babies are crying at the same time. Talking it out loud helps me get out some of the energy and I always hope that something is reaching the babies–at least my voice if not my arms at that moment. Also, when they were smaller, this is when the baby swing or the sling were lifesavers. (Why can’t they make stationary swings for toddlers??)

When I do get overwhelmed, sometimes my husband is around to help or take over if I need a break. And when he’s not, I just try to take a deep breath and try to get through it, remembering that at some point it will be over. Sometimes I panic and feel really annoyed and frustrated–I’m no saint! Sometimes, honestly, I have to just laugh because it’s so ridiculous and there’s nothing to do. I took a video once, when I was home alone with babies, I was pumping and they were on the couch on either side of me, screaming. And we were all just kind of stuck. I couldn’t do much but roll my eyes and shake my head. And then record it for posterity. 🙂

3. Baby farts and burps are funny.

I’m not one of the tomboy girls who thinks it’s funny when grown-ass dudes burp and fart all over the place. However–that same fart ripped from baby butt is somehow hilarious. I guess that means I’m not as grown-up as I thought. 🙂

4. Babies are noisy in general.

I knew that babies cried, and that they most likely would cry a lot, all the time, for no reason. I didn’t know that when they weren’t crying, they still make a lot of noises. Especially while sleeping, our babies made all kinds of sounds–it was like a barnyard! We heard pigs, horses, hyenas, and sometimes an old movie villain.  There were also squeaks and peeps and snorts and grunts. At night, these sounds would startle us awake to go check on the babies–who were often still asleep! It also made it hard for me to nap while they napped nearby–too noisy!

5. I can indeed survive on less sleep.

This was honestly one of the things that scared and intimidated me the most about having babies. I love to sleep in (which was never as often as I wanted) and I also love to stay up late, which meant that I rarely got enough sleep. The prospect of being awake all night every night for months on end was a little (a lot) terrifying. The reality wasn’t much better. You’re thrown in to a new situation–a time when you really need as much as rest as you can possibly get. And then you get hardly any. The first couple weeks, we would ‘go to sleep’ after a feeding at like 2am and set an alarm for 4am and good god, it’s like torture. Inhuman.

Things did get a lot better, eventually! (Partly because my husband and I built ourselves a better schedule.) But god, it’s really hard sometimes. (There’s another sleep regression coming soon….help me!) A lot of times, there’s nothing to be done, you just have to get through it. And that *sucks*.  If an opportunity for you to nap comes up, TAKE IT, FOR GOD’S SAKE, TAKE THAT NAP.

As an aside, I tend to believe that sleep is necessary for sanity, so I would encourage parents to do whatever they need to do to get more/some rest.

6. New babies are boring.

I mentioned this months ago–but I didn’t realize that since newborns just sleep and eat…they don’t do anything else. Which means that, in many cases, you can’t do anything else. [C-section recovery plus the logistics of lugging two babies and their stuff meant I didn’t do anything or go anywhere at all for at least four weeks. An easier birth/recovery and a single baby means that you can use a carrier to get out and about easier and faster.]

I always figured that since new babies are so overwhelming, it would mean that you’d be busy. And you are, for some parts of the day. But if the baby is sleeping 16-20 hours a day (which is what newborns do, especially pre-term babies, I think), then you have a lot of time to just sit around. In small chunks. However, you’re way too braindead to *do* anything with that time, since you’re not getting any sleep (naps often made me feel more tired and groggy, so I didn’t try to sleep every time the babies slept). This is why you want a Netflix subscription.

7. I do not have those classic attachment issues.

Some people don’t sleep well in the first few months even when they’re able, because they worry about the baby, or they want to constantly check on the baby. I have never had that problem. If I had the chance to sleep, I slept, and I slept hard, thank you very much. Yes of course, I checked my babies’ breathing every night before I went to bed. But once it was bedtime, goodnight ma’am, I’m out. If there was a trusted visitor here for a chunk of time, see ya, I’m taking a nap. (Again, sleep is precious!)

That’s another thing–some people are anxious about other people caring for their babies. I am not one of those people. As long as it was a trusted family member or friend (or a qualified childcare provider), I knew things would be fine. I wanted to sleep, or to go outside by myself for a bit for some air. Possibly it makes me a bad or selfish mama, but I have not had any issues with putting some of my own priorities at the forefront for a few hours and leaving someone else in charge.

8. I am not quick to accept change.

I like to think I’m adaptable and can easily go-with-the-flow. In some ways I can be, but in a lot of ways, I hate change and new things (especially if they aren’t my idea). I tend to gripe and groan, and I definitely tend to hold on to the past. None of this is actually a surprise, just one of my bad qualities that has played a part in this baby-having adventure.

There are plenty of good changes that we’ve had (sleeping more! adapting schedule!), but the sheer amount of change has been startling. *Everything* is always changing! I’m not ready to give up my little babies yet! Not fair!

Ahem. I’m working on taking in the details every day and enjoying things as they are right now. It’s tough sometimes. 🙂

9. There is no such thing as too many photos.

Okay, anyone who knows me knows that I love taking pictures. And that I take too many pictures. In the last thirteen months, I have taken thousands of pictures of my babies. And I still want more.

Most importantly, I desperately want more quality photos of the early days of *me* and my babies. I have a number of dark, crappy iphone selfies and only a handful of photos from my real camera (with the speedlight flash, because it was December and practically always nighttime). Since I’m the photographer in the family, I had to set up the camera and then ask my husband to take a picture. Who wants to do that every other day?

I also really, really wish I had more photos of me interacting with the babies. Most of the ones I do have together are the posed on the couch type, where I’m smiling at the camera. Over the months, I have captured a lot of adorable moments of my husband and a baby or two playing together, just casual snapshots that captures them having fun and loving one another. I have hardly any of me having fun with the babies, because again, since it’s my camera, I have to set up the thing and ask for it to be captured. My husband is always willing to do it, but there’s something about expending the mental energy to ask, and of course losing the spontaneity of the moment. And really, it’s hard when I can visualize the photo I want, but I can’t magically import that vision into someone else’s mind to take it the way I’m thinking, so there goes more time and effort and shots and babies are done now.

However–see point number 8. I need to remind myself that I *do* have some precious photos of me with my babies this past year. And that I can resolve to do better in the future.

But please, learn from me. Take pictures, and then take more pictures. And videos of noises and movements are so especially priceless! Make sure you AND your partner look to capture fun and beautiful moments of both of you and your new snuggly babies. 🙂 (And then print them out. But that’s another post!)

10. Did I mention how awesome baby snuggles are??

 

*

 

Did you learn anything surprising about yourself or about babies in your first year of parenting? I’d love to hear it! And/or–what interesting things have you parents of toddlers learned about the second year of parenting? I know there is SO MUCH still to learn and experience! [But don’t scare me more than I already am! :D]

Gear for Babies and Twins, Part 3: For the House

All pregnant ladies want to know: What are the must-haves for babies? When expecting twins, that question is a little more daunting, because two babies are more daunting and more complicated! I’ve put together a list of the things that we use and like. Hope it will be helpful to anyone else expecting, no matter how many. 🙂

Previously:

Pregnancy Must Haves

Part 1: For You

Part 2: For the Babies

And now, the exciting conclusion!

Part 3: For the House

This is where the ‘stuff’ starts accumulating. I said in Part 2 that babies themselves don’t need much, and that’s true. Except somehow there is so much of their stuff around the house! And I don’t even think we’ve been excessive!

Anyway, here are the things that have made our lives easier around the house, day-to-day.

In General

Amazon Prime: We order so much on Amazon it’s ridiculous. We also have Prime (from a family member–thank you!!!). It is completely worth it to get free, fast shipping. We’ve gotten diapers, baby gear, and a bunch of stuff on this list, in fact. 🙂 And Costco for baby stuff–the prices on their brand of diapers, formula and wipes cannot be beat. The cheapest formula option on Amazon is $0.80 per ounce–the Costco brand is something like $0.42 per ounce! And of course their prices on most everything else is fantastic.

Bedroom/Living Room

Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper: This was our babies’ first bed. We had set up a crib in their room a few weeks before they were born, but while we were in the hospital we realized that we would rather have the babies in our bedroom so we wouldn’t have to go as far when they fussed. So the day before we went home, I sent Andy to go buy a co-sleeper (a used one from someone in the multiples club). We didn’t have enough room on either side of our bed, so we set it up at the foot. Plus that way it was equidistant for both of us.

IMG_7134-180

Rock n’ Play:I’ve mentioned before how these are different from other bouncers and how great these are. We switched our babies to sleeping in these when they were a week old, because they needed to be propped up a little after they ate. The incline angle of the Rock N Plays meant that we didn’t have to physically hold them at an angle for 20 minutes after every feeding. Plus they seemed to sleep a little better snuggled up in these as opposed to flat in the co-sleeper.

DSC_7779-216 DSC_0131-1

One week vs four months. So big now! Sob.

Swing: I got a used one at a consignment sale back in October, but we only started using it about a month ago. It’s a fantastic way to calm a baby who won’t otherwise calm down, or when both babies are crying at the same time and you can’t hold both, one can go in the swing.

DSC_0995-1

Boppy Pillow: (2 or more) Duh. You’ve no doubt already heard of these and probably bought at least one. At first I was only going to get one, for some reason. I thought maybe both babies wouldn’t need to be on it at the same time? I don’t know why I thought that. First of all, our babies sat/slept on these on our couch for their first week, because we had nowhere else to put them when we weren’t in our bedroom. Second of all, we use them at all the feedings–two boppies makes double feeding as easy as possible. Sit in the middle of the couch, with one baby+boppy on each side. Use rolled up blankets to prop, and then adjust and burp back and forth. It’s a pain in the ass for sure, but the boppies make it possible, and make it easier.

IMG_8978-2

Plus you can use two to fashion a seat support!

Changing Table: Instead of just open shelves, this one with drawers and laundry hamper is so much more efficient. Plus the stuff isn’t out and visible.

Bed Risers:If the changing table is too short to be comfortable for your back, raise it up a few inches. So cheap and so very worth it.

White Noise Machine and Projector:

A silent room makes little noises really stand out. And babies make a lot of little noises, let alone big ones. 🙂 Background noise is helpful for the babies–when I first turned on the machine, I swear that the babies sighed–and it’s soothing for us too! We use the ocean setting on this machine, and when the babies are still awake at bedtime, we turn on the projector function.

Diaper Champ:Everyone knows about the Diaper Genie, but when I saw how small the bag part is, I was like, two babies are gonna fill that in half a day! Then I found this awesome contraption at a consignment sale. (Ours looks a little different than the picture.) It doesn’t use special trash bags (so it doesn’t cost any more as time goes on) and it holds a lot. And the two babies still fill it up quite fast. (Even faster now that the diapers themselves are bigger.) The only downside is that, even though no part is open to air, it doesn’t contain the smell.

Waterproof Crib Pads:I had never heard of these, but they are awesome. We got several sets (we registered for them) in different sizes. We put the small square ones under the boppies to protect the couch. We put two medium-small ones side by side in the co-sleeper to protect the mattress. We use the full-size ones as a ‘blanket’ on the grass outside.

DSC_1022-1

Kitchen

Soaking tub, and fragrance-free dishsoap: A couple years ago I realized that the strong scents of dish detergents gave me a headache and sometimes left a residue on our dishes that I could smell and taste. We switched to Seventh Generation Free & Clear dish soap and that made such a difference. Once we came home with lots of baby things to wash, I never worried about the dish soap causing an issue. While we were in the hospital, there was a plastic dish tub for soaking bottle parts, and we were able to take it home with us. Good thing, too, because it is in use most hours of every single day. We do have a dishwasher, and our stuff is dishwasher safe–but we use so much feeding  paraphernalia so often that we don’t even bother trying to use the dishwasher. If you have a lot of bottle stuff and only one baby it would probably be easy enough to put some in the dishwasher.

Fragrance-free laundry detergent: Again, I hate strong smells for myself, and figured that babies don’t need that either. Seventh Generation makes a free and clear detergent, and so does Costco. I know there’s a fancy ‘baby detergent’ but eh, no need for that label markup.

Dr. Brown’s Bottles: Once the babies graduated from the tiny (90ml) Snappies bottles, we moved to the Dr Brown’s 4 oz plastic bottles. They feature a vent that allegedly creates a vacuum and reduces or eliminates air intake, therefore reducing gas. And I do think they got less gassy after we made the switch.

Babies can be really particular about bottles–the type they’ll accept and when they’ll accept them. Ours started using bottles at 2 or 3 days old, thank goodness, and have never had a problem. When I was also attempting to nurse here and there in their first 6 weeks, they didn’t have any problems or confusion.

Dr. Brown’s Formula Mixing Pitcher: I’m not even joking, this thing changed our lives. Even at the beginning, when we were only using formula for one set of bottles a day, it was a pain in the ass to measure scoops into tiny bottle openings and then shake shake shake, trying to see past the foam for an actual level. Mixing in the pitcher is fast, super easy, and no foam. You just pour it right out into the bottles, and you can pre-mix a whole day’s worth if/when you need to. SO FAST AND EASY.

Lawn Drying Rack: This is a cute accessory and all, but it’s become more than that for us. For the first few months we put everything on a dishtowel on the counter to dry. Which meant things constantly toppling over, everything in disarray, ugh. The plastic ‘blades’ of grass of this drying rack keep things upright and it’s so much easier to have everything orderly while also drying/being stored. As you can see I like to build a ‘fortress’ of bottles around the edge to contain the small items in the middle. (We recently added a ‘tree’, which is a plastic branch bit thing, to corral some of the bottle nipples.)

IMG_8537

For Going Out

Car Mirrors: for car seats. Makes such a difference to be able to glance back and see if those little faces are awake, asleep, cranky, etc.

Baby Jogger City Select: Ah, the stroller wars! Our first twin friends recommended this one and I think it would win. I’ve never used any other stroller, and I’ve never felt the need to, and even better, I’ll never need to. This stroller has car seat adaptors while the babies are in infant seats, and then once they’re sitting, there are ‘regular’ seats that snap into place. Those can be configured in many different ways, and you can easily just use one seat to make it into a temporarily single stroller. The initial expense is worth it in my opinion, because a) it’s a quality stroller–really easy to maneuver considering its size; and b) this one will last us for around two years. If you’re having twins, you need this stroller. If you live in the NYC area, they come up on craigslist all the time. I was lucky to get one on craigslist here in Portland–they don’t come up often and everyone pounces!

DSC_1509-1

Double Snap-N-Go: Only get this if you don’t have a car seat adaptable stroller yet or if you don’t know what large stroller you’ll be getting. They’re cheap (only buy them used!) but they’re not sturdy and they’re tough to maneuver/navigate. But they’re a lot better than nothing for the first few months!

And there you have it! Phew! We’ve accumulated a lot of stuff for these babies. And now we’re moving into the toys/play equipment age, so at some point down the road I’m sure I’ll do a roundup of that.

Please share your household/miscellaneous must-haves!

Note: These are Amazon affiliate links. I have only featured products we’ve actually used and loved.