Archive for the ‘Family Life’ Category

I love after holiday sales. This year I snagged not one, not two but SIX chocolate bunnies. The initial plan was just one for myself, but then I started thinking about how they’re best by date wasn’t until the end of the summer, and how excited the girls would be to surprise them with a chocolate bunny in the middle of the year. I wasn’t sure how I would surprise them, but I was confident an idea would come to me.

A few days ago Nicole started telling me about a dream she had involving a treasure hunt. She followed a map to chocolate coins. Hello, idea!

We thought we’d do a treasure hunt with the girls. We’re not reading yet, and riddles are a bit advanced for them, so we opted for what I dub picta-clues: picture clues that told them where to go.

The idea was to exercise their spatial reasoning skills while playing a fun game. I took the pictures from all kinds of different angles. There was the areal view of the rocking chair and the behind the couch of the fire place. The next clue was hidden in an area circled on the photograph. Ironically the only one that posed any kind of challenge was the straight forward, eye-level photo of the windowsill behind the dinning room table.

Nicole enjoyed the hunt so much she was actually disappointed to find the bunnies after the fifth clue because it meant the hunt was over. When I asked her how many clues we should have next time, she quite emphatically told me twenty. I’m not sure there are twenty places to hide clues in our house!

The experience got me thinking again about one my business venture ideas. A few years ago I got this idea for “Mathematical Mama”, a website for parents of preschoolers and elementary aged kids with fun activities to promote stem skills. I even purchased the domain, (Well, technically I misspelled it and purchased the correctly spelled version just last August. Curse you dyslexia!) I was hoping to differentiate myself from other early learning websites by picking concepts like numerical literacy or base counting and breaking down the concept so a parent who isn’t particularly stem inclined can understand what it is their trying to impart on their young child.

If only it didn’t take so long for these websites to grow organically. Even if Datayze continues at it’s current rate of ~30% a month, it’ll be another 20 months to reach my goal. The original plan was for Datayze to be just one item in my business portfolio, but that may have been naive on my part.

April 5, 2017

Potty Cheer Squad

Teddy bear potty

Alexis has always been Nicole’s mimic. When Nicole announced she didn’t like pants with buttons, Alexis went through a phase of insisting “no buttons!” while getting dressed, even though none of her clothes have buttons in the first place. So it was no surprise she showed an interest in using the potty after watching big sister Nicole do it. Shortly before turning two she would announce “Potty!” while running to the bathroom whenever she had to go. Alexis would then sit down on the little kids potty and use her diaper. We were sure potty training in earnest wasn’t far away. Before she ever gave us enough advance warning to remove her diaper in time, however, she lost interest.

Domingo and I like to use mini rewards to encourage emerging behaviors like peeing in the potty. Nicole’s always liked the fruity, gummy candies best so she got gummy bears. For our little chocolate lover, we decided to offer M&Ms when her interest in the potty returned.

At first Nicole was a bit miffed to learn Alexis would be rewarded for using the potty. Four year old logic is all about equality, not equity. She had forgotten all about the days of gummy bears, and wanted the same reward for the same deed. While I could understand where she was coming from, it seemed rather indulgent to give Nicole, whose been a potty pro for over 18 months, a reward for continued potty use. Our compromise was to give both girls the same reward when Alexis successfully peed in the potty. Rather than risk a jealous divide, we thought we’d try to unite them onto the same team. The result was a big sister cheer leader who was the first one to tell Alexis she could do it, and sing her praises when the deed was done. We needed to make sure Mom and Dad were aware and could dole out the rewards, after all!

As two STEM parents, Domingo and I want to raise children strong in the sciences. To that end, we’re always looking at STEM toy recommendations online. Trouble is, I often disagree with what counts as a STEM toy. One list had My Pal, Violet as a “STEM” toy. It’s electronic, sure. But STEM? I just don’t see it.

Here’s this data scientists pick for STEM toys for young kids.

Different kinds of Building Toys

Building toys are the staple of any stem list. Everyone knows building blocks like legos are great for their budding engineer to learn spatial reasoning, and develop of love of design. Peg based connector toys (Lego, Duplo, Mega Blocks, etc) are great but why stop there? By varying the type of toy and how the pieces connect, you’re reinforcing the concepts by introducing new types of challenges, new ways to design and new ways of thinking to your little engineer.

There’s magnet based connectors like Magformers and SmartMax. Gear connectors like Gears! Gears! Gears! is another fun one. You can also go with disc connectors like Brain Flakes and Mighty Molecules. A big hit in our home right now is Think n’ Link.

Curious George the Astronaut

To me a good STEM toy is one that gets a child interested in a STEM topic, and not necessarily building a critical STEM skill. If you don’t encourage kids’ interests they can sometimes fade. One way to do that is to include a plushy toy they can role play with. When the girls showed interest in space we encouraged it with a Curious George the Astronaut plushie and an Astronaut custom. We build rocket ships for George out of Mega Blocks.

We noticed a similar impact with our Alexa. It sparked Nicole’s interest enough to get her thinking about robots. Even though it’s not a toy, we did get a STEM benefit from it.


Anything that helps kids look at their world differently is going to help inspire them to think about their world in different ways. In this category I really like the Geosafari Miscroscope and Geosafari Kidnoculars. Both are designed well for little faces, and don’t require focusing which make them very easy to use. The binoculars in particular are a favorite because the rubber grip eye piece makes it super easy for even Alexis to use.

We take our Binoculars (or nock-lers as Alexis calls them) to the Zoo and in the back yard. Even though they only have a 2x magnification, they proved a huge hit at the zoo. We were having an issue where Alexis would lose interest and want to move on to the next Animal before Nicole was ready. By introducing the Binoculars everything is new and interesting. If Alexis got bored with the Animals, she’d use her binoculars to people watch, or examine the trees giving Nicole all the time she needed.

We’ve looked at all mannors of things though the Microscope, including our princess necklaces and bugs. My favorite thing to look at through the microscope, however, is cereal. You can see the holes in the rice krispies!


Still dreaming, I opened my eyes. I’m in bed. It’s night. No, not quite. The faint light from the window indicates morning isn’t far away. What did I wake up? Was I dreaming?

“Mommy!” The faint voice comes over the baby monitor again. Nope, wasn’t dreaming.

I check my phone. 15 minutes before ‘wake up’ time. I get up and trudge down the hall.

“What is it, Alexis?”

“Bunny asleep!” Alexis jesters to her sleep trainer clock. The bottom half of the clock, depicting a sleeping bunny, is illuminated, indicating it’s not time to wake up yet. “Alexis go back to sleep!” she states proudly with an implied ‘by myself!’ before laying back down in the crib herself.

I love the bunny clocks. They helped both Nicole and Alexis through a few rough sleep patches. In both cases it seemed to curb the number of night time wakings, and help reduce the extra early mornings. I still remember one time I happen to check the baby monitor just as Nicole’s head was popping up from the pillow. She looked at the bunny, verified it was still sleeping, and lay back down. All by herself. The bunny doesn’t stop them from calling out if they need something – diaper change, potty, water, whatever – but it does seem to reduce the number of random wake ups that seem to happen for seemingly no reason.

Occasionally the clock has back fired on us. Once Nicole came in our room distraught that the bunny had forgotten to wake up (she had just woken up extra early and was tired of waiting.) But, overall, it’s clear the bunny has had a positive effect on their sleep, and, by transitivity, on our sleep as well.

One positive unintended consequence of the bunny clock? Explaining daylight savings time. Last fall we told the girls the bunny would be waking up later. This spring, we told them the bunny would be waking up extra early. When you’re two and three years old, the concept of a changing a clock’s time is rather abstract. At four, Nicole has a better understanding of daylight savings. It’s easy to just blame the bunny, though.

February 28, 2017

“Moo” and Other Things

Six-ish months ago we made the decision it was time to start weaning Alexis off of her binky. I fallowed our dental insurance advice to poke holes in her existing binkies which would break the suction and reduce the sucking satisfaction Alexis received from them, allowing her to break her binky habit more gradually.

The first time Alexis put the modified binky into her mouth it slid right out. It started slipping out of her mouth at night time as well. I’d sneak into her room to find Alexis holding her binky in her hand rather than keeping it in her mouth. Things were going according to plan. Until…

Alexis learned to bite down and chew on her binkies to keep them in her mouth. She ended up chewing through a few binkis. We ended up replacing them twice, before it became clear that we needed to take the next step. Enter the Binky Fairy.

For the uninitiated, the Binky fairy works by having the child gather up all his/her binkies. At some point when the child isn’t looking the binky fairy turns the binkies into toys.

The Binky fairy helped Nicole kick her binky habit, though there were a few rough nights. Nicole was more attached to the binky than Alexis when it was time to give it up, and there were a couple nights where she’d wake up in the middle of the night having forgotten about trading it for toys.

I had learned from my mistakes. We sang the “bye, bye, binky” song (or at least the refrain) while she gathered up the her binkies and put them on the ottoman for the binky fairy. The fairy replaced them with a new bath time toy, and new night time snuggle buddy, and owl she named “Moo”. That way when it night time approached we could easily keep reinforcing the idea that she traded her binkies for fun new toys.

Despite all that she didn’t 100% grasp what was happening. She asked for her binky during bed time story and cried “Alexis needs it!” when I reminded her that they were all gone. Fortunately the tears were short lived. I reminded her about Moo and she was content to hold him during story time instead. I was surprised that she did not ask for a binky when she awoke in the middle of the night!

The next day Alexis asked for her binky again, and again I reminded her about Moo. There were no tears, but she held Moo to her face, frowned, said “don’t like Moo” and tried to hand him back to me.

“Aww, Moo likes you!” I said, wrapping Moo’s wings around her in a big hug. That did it. She grabbed tightly and lied down with a huge grin on her f ace. So far she’s been asking about the Binky, but other than that first few minutes of that first night there have been no tears, only questions.

February 23, 2017

Soon to be Kindergartner

One of Nicole’s School Picture Day Photos.

A few years ago when Domingo and I went to daycare together to pick up Nicole we stumbled on to a preschool graduation. The neighboring school was having a graduation ceremony for their five-year-olds. The soon to be kindergartens were wearing caps and gowns, and marching in procession for their parents. I told Domingo how silly I thought that was, since the only requirement to graduate preschool is age. Domingo said I’d feel differently when it was my kid.

Okay, so they’re darn cute in the caps and gowns.

I registered Nicole for the big K. In just a few months I will have a kindergartner. Kindergartner. It’s still feels so unreal no matter how many times I say it. Kindergartner.

I’m a bit sad that the girls will be in different places next year. It was inevitable, I know, but having them at the same school program has been really special, especially in the last few months. Now that Alexis is in the twos room, she gets to spend drop off and pick up time with Nicole’s class. That includes some outside recess time, as well as inside art time. The two of them really seem to enjoy having each other around. I love how much Alexis idolizes her big sister, and how Nicole looks after her little sister. Alexis is picking up so much from Nicole!

Nicole is ready. Her teachers have been saying since last summer. She’s also excited.

So we’re three quarters of a year from officially starting school. In the mean time we’re continuing to get Nicole ready by continuing “homework“, and talking about all the cool things she’ll get to do in her brand new big girl school. So far she’s most looking forward to riding the bus, and building her own rocket ship to take her to Disneyland. Apparently that’s what you do in Kindergarten these days.

February 20, 2017

Mommy Naps

There are few things in life as perfect as a child sleeping in your arms. The way they snuggle into you as they find that perfect position, as though no matter how hard they try they can never be close enough. They way the go from squirmy to still as the sleepies take over and they drift of to sleep. The rhythmic breathing. The warmth of their little bodies. Tiny head resting in the crook of my neck. Fine baby hairs tickling my chin smelling of baby shampoo. Rocking a sleeping child is one of my favorite mommy moments.

This stage doesn’t last nearly long enough. Blink and it’s over.

I was caught off guard when it ended with Nicole. She was a feverish two and a half year old, used to napping in her bed but would take a “Mommy nap” whenever it was offered. This time she couldn’t get comfortable. I remember the way she cried when she couldn’t fall asleep until I lied her back down in her bed and sat next to her. I had had my last mommy nap with my first born, and never knew it.

So here we are with my youngest, two years and three months old. She’s not quite at the point of giving up naps, though she’s spent nap time in the crib waiting out the bunny clock before. Her nap days are numbered, as are her mommy naps. She’ll struggles to get comfortable in my lap, struggling to find a position where her feet don’t get squished against the cushions. But she still asks for Mommy naps, she still wants them, and I’m happy to oblidge. Who am I to say no?

I’m soaking in these moments while they last.

February 9, 2017

Platonic Love Languages

Before becoming a parent it’s always been important to me that I treat all my kids equally. I’ve been slowly recognizing equal isn’t always fair. Kids have different personalities, different needs and respond differently to different parenting techniques. I want them both to feel equally loved, and equally supportive, but it may mean spending quality time with them differently to get there.

The concept behind love languages is that there are different ways to express love, and individuals generally has a primary way they express and feel love. By understanding another’s primary love language you can build a deeper relationship. Usually Love languages are generally discussed in terms of romantic relationships, but it seems to me the concept could be extended to non-romantic, familia love as well.

The five love languages are:
– Words of Affirmation (the platonic relationship version might be praise)
– Acts of Service (making their favorite breakfast)
– Reviving Gifts (new toys)
– Quality Time (building puzzles together)
– Physical Touch (rocking, holding, hugging, etc)

The girls are both still pretty young. I’m not sure if they’re love language is a reflection of who they are as a person, or where they are in their development. I’d expect all babies respond best with physical touch, for example. But I hope that exploring love languages can make me a more responsive parent who adapts to what each child needs.

Figuring out Nicole’s love language was pretty easy. She’s always loved her quality time, especially one-on-one quality time with mommy. I think it helps her feel overall more secure. Getting one-on-one Mommy attention can get a little tricky when you have a sibling. When we keep up with the quality time, however, she seems more secure and is less like to seek attention later by acting out.

Alexis’ primary love language is a little harder to deduce. She gets one-on-one quality time by virtue of being the youngest and less independent, and because she’s less independent Mommy and Daddy do more things for her. It’s part of being two years old. My guess, though, is that she feels most secure with physical touch. Lately she’ll wake up in the middle of the night and call us into her room so she can have an extra goodnight hug and kiss. After she receives said kiss she always says “Thank you, Mommy! Good night.” It’s adorable, although a little exhausting.

One thing I’ve noticed about the love languages is that jealousy is more likely to show up if we give a one child’s love language to the other. Obviously Alexis still needs one-on-one quality time, and Nicole needs to be held and cuddled at times. But now that we know what can trigger the jealousy, we can be a little more prepared for it.

January 27, 2017

Violating my Parent Rules

Like with all my other time my pre-child never-ever-would-Is, I find myself once again eating my words.

Nicole’s pre-kindergarden class has started assigning homework. She’s occasionally had art projects to do at home, but now they’re giving her a few activity pages a week to help prepare her for kindergarden, which is now only a little over six months away.

I’ve been using it as an opportunity to praise process. We reiterate that it’s okay to not know the answer, and okay to get the answer wrong, but it’s not okay to not try. We also get big praise whenever we come up with a new strategy to solve a problem. When we started she was inclined to just say “I don’t know” and guess randomly. Now she only guesses randomly when she’s over tired and having troubles focusing. She knows to sing the alphabet song to see what comes next, or find a number line if she’s having troubles associating a number with it’s written form. She’s getting better at trying, and she’s enjoying the extra one-on-one Mommy time. Often when Mommy decides we’ve reached our homework limit for the night, it’s met with protests and requests for “just one more.”

We’ve found that her homework fits in nicely with our bedtime routine after bath and before story time. We ended up purchasing some additional activity books so we can keep doing “homework” on a more regular basis. I’m still worried about over doing it, and I don’t want to break the positive association she has with homework, so we keep it to just a few pages a days. Sometimes we’ll skip it all together if she seems overly tired to begin with.

So what does homework have to do with my never-ever-would-Is? Before kids I was aghast to learn how lax the late homework policies in grade school have become. When I was growing up, I’d be docked a whole letter grade for each day late. Here, you can turn it in months after the fact without much penalty. Never ever would I let me kids turn in their homework late. Never ever would I let them turn it in incomplete.

This never-ever-would-I lasted until week four. I picked up her homework late this week, so we didn’t start her official homework until Wednesday night. Nicole was in need of an earlier bedtime this week and really struggling to concentrate. I figured sleep was more important so we’d turn it in a day late. Then the next day I figured we’d turn it in incomplete.

Pre-kindergarden doesn’t count, right?

January 11, 2017

More Alexies

Despite this being my second go around, I’m still constantly amazed how quickly language developes. Just a few months after our last ‘Alexies’, we have a whole new round.

Goldfish for Dinner
A constent topic of conversation in the car on our drive to and from daycare is what’s for dinner. (It doesn’t help that there’s a McDonalds on our route, and Alexis recognizes their sign.) The other day we were driving and Nicole asks what’s for dinner.

Nicole: What’s for dinner mommy?
Me: Fish!
Alexis (hopeful): Gold fish?

Nice try kiddo.

I knew we’d hit the why phase with Alexis, but I kind of expected it to happen a little later when it was easier to understand her toddler-speak. Often she’ll say a long string of sentences of which I understand only a few words, and then ask “why?”. If I say I don’t understand, she’ll repeat the same syllable sequence, syllable for syllable of which I still only understand the same few words.

Other times our “Why” conversations usually go a little differently. I present to you an actual conversation with my two year old.

Alexis: Alexis wants Donalds (McDonalds)
Me: Not today. We had that yesterday.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Because you asked for it yesterday.
Alexis: Why?
Me: I assume because you like it.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Probably all the fat and sugar in it.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Fat and sugar is yummy.
Alexis: Why?
Me: … that’s a good question.
Alexis: Why?

Alexis Funny
Alexis is definitely a little goof, and she knows it. Sometimes she’ll start laughing for no apparent reason. I’ll ask her what’s so funny and she’ll respond “Alexis funny!”

Alexis do it
A very common phrase around here is “Alexis do it!” She’ll insist she be the one to request a new song from echo. Only Echo doesn’t quite understand that “echo, ay luv is open door-ah” translates to “Echo, play ‘Love is an Open Door'” in toddler-speak. I’ve gotten into the habit of making the request when Alexis’ request fails. She scream “no, Alexis do it!” and then repeat her request when echo is thinking. Then, when Echo starts playing the song she beams with pride saying “Alexis did it!”

Recently we had a meltdown over a band-aid coming off in the bath tub, including tears down the cheeks. Nicole tried to cheer her up by hugging her, when that didn’t work, Nicole pretended to sympathy cry. Alexis came to a dead stop, said, “No, Alexis do it!” and then resumed crying at the top of her lungs.

She did not understand why we all found it so funny.

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