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    By lizmcg | July 25, 2008

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    The other night we went to an outdoor concert here in Chicago. The featured attraction was a free “” concert.

    I think the are pretty much just a Chicago phenomenon. Wiggleworms pretty much consist of music and movement classes for preschoolers offered by the , concerts, and cds of their music.

    My kids could hardly wait to boogie at the concert. It also helped that lead singer for the event, the “Elvis of Wiggleworms”, is the father of a boy in T~’s preschool class, so we had a brush with fame.

    The concert was great, really much more entertaining for adults than I expected. They’ve adapted lots of popular songs to include a toddler message — who knew The Smiths had a song about manners?

    The highlight of the evening, however, was the discovery of the . The bike pulled up inconspicuously at the outer edge of the concert. A few kids were curious about it and stopped to check it out.

    At the end of the show things started to happen. The puppets came out to dance — and these puppets can really dance! They danced with each other, danced separately, and just generally danced up a storm. They really had some moves.

    My two little ones were enthralled, and have been talking about it ever since. We’ve thought about what the puppets might do during the day when not performing (do they have day jobs, go to school, what?), as well as where they might be found. T~ has insisted we continue to visit the same park so we can keep an eye out for it.

    I thought readers might enjoy a peek at the website. It’s definitely unique and extremely fun. If you live in the Chicago area, be on the lookout… and it seems they go on vacation, too!

    Topics: toddler activity | No Comments »

    Teaching toddlers to count

    By lizmcg | July 22, 2008

    I recently compared notes with a couple of friends about how to teach toddlers and preschoolers how to count.

    My kids and I have a little tradition at the playground that very easily teaches counting. It’s so easy. We do it when I push them on the swing. Every time I push, we count. We count forwards, backwards (especially when we’re getting ready to get off because mom is exhausted). Recently my three-year-old has been practicing counting up and down to 20. She likes to skip from 13 to 40… we’re working on it!

    Do you have a great way to teach counting? Be sure to leave a comment so other “minivan mommies” can find out!

    Topics: parenting | No Comments »

    Great resources for new parents

    By lizmcg | July 21, 2008

    Looking for great resources for new parents? Over the weekend I ran across a couple of fantastic ideas that you’ll want to check out.

    First mention goes to . They create very birth announcements that look like movie posters — an amazing idea with all the “supporting cast” listed, too. Definitely cool… they are so memorable.

    Second is , where parents can create a blog about their baby. As someone who struggled to update far distant friends and family about our baby’s development (way back when before blogging and websites were an option), this is a great option.

    Third, and just because new parents need lots of fun, check out . The recent post takes a look at popsicles… perfect for a summertime laugh.

    Topics: parenting | No Comments »

    Should the Webkinz be kept alive?

    By lizmcg | July 18, 2008

    Yesterday, my oldest got into big trouble. She did something incredibly stupid, something she admits was just plain dumb. Part of her punishment is to go for a month without computer privileges. Even she agrees this is appropriate.

    There’s a problem, though. After the discussion, held in measured tones by her father and me because we were so genuinely angry about it, she quietly pointed out with tears in her eyes that this is a “death sentence for her Webkinz.” Yes, she is nearly a fourth-grader, so you can imagine the angst.

    A split second before going ballistic at this comment, I realized that E~’s Webkinz mean everything to her. They take a second place only to Miley Cyrus, and if you know little girls this means they are HUGE.

    In case you don’t know, Webkinz are little stuffed animals. Although they are cute, cuteness is not the reason to buy Webkinz. They each come with a little code, which kids log in, and then they can go to “webkinz com” as my kids call it.

    Once within “webkinz com”, each animal has his or her own room with furniture, decorations, food, activities – it’s like a resort. You can send messages and gifts to your friends, earn “kinzcash”, and play games.

    If you’re almost nine-years-old, Webkinz is a huge status symbol. When meeting new kids, you compare how many Webkinz everyone has and the number of rooms.

    When softball began this spring, after the first practice E~ had no idea what her coaches’ names were but she could tell me without blinking how many Webkinz every girl had. It’s that important.

    So after a month of no care, apparently the Webkinz will be seriously neglected and possibly dead. This is probably an exaggeration, but they would suffer in their own virtual little ways.

    To add to the drama, E~’s Webkinz are named for family members. This means that her cousins, aunt and uncle among others will be the ones silently enduring this famine. How will I explain to my brother, his wife and children that their namesakes died as a result of neglect?

    I’ve tried to work out what the best option might be. Yes, I do think she needs to serve out her punishment. But is a punishment served at the expense of the innocent a worthwhile lesson? Should someone (me, her sister) be allowed access to provide minimal care?

    What would you do? Leave me a comment, and I’ll let you know the decision in the next couple of days… I’ve told her I’d think about what to do about this Webkinz death sentence.

    Topics: parenting | 1 Comment »

    Why babies cry, and what to do

    By lizmcg | July 17, 2008

    Generally speaking, babies cry for just a handful of reasons. Some babies have a slightly different cry for each reason – others may just scream equally loudly for every situation. Here are the general reasons babies cry:

    • Hunger – Whether you are bottle feeding or breastfeeding (or doing a combination of both), most babies will loudly proclaim when it’s time for dinner.

    • Diaper – Some babies can live with a wet or dirty diaper, others will have a fit. As you get to know your baby, you’ll soon find out which camp your baby belongs to.

    • Pain – If your baby is suffering from colic, constipation, has a fever, or you have any concerns regarding a health issue, you need to call your pediatrician and get your questions answered about what to do. NEVER administer medication to your baby without consulting with your pediatrician first. EVER.

    • Surprise/Fear – Everything in your baby’s environment is new, so at times there are going to be some surprises. Most often, a few quiet minutes of soothing will do the trick here. Consistently soothing your baby now will help allay fears in the future.

    • Over-stimulation – When baby is too tired, such as after a long day or an interesting event, you may have a crying baby on your hands. If mom or dad is trying to do too much during the day – going too many places, trying to get everything at home done – the result is over-stimulation and crying. Try to set a peaceful mood throughout the day and allow yourself plenty of flexibility in your schedule. Don’t force it, and your baby may be more peaceful, too.

    • Boredom – Sometimes, like it or not, your baby may just need to cry. If you suspect boredom, try reading a book together, playing with a toy, turning on some favorite music, or interacting in a way that your baby usually enjoys. For some babies, a ride in the stroller or car (in a car seat) can bring relief for both of you!

    What to do when your baby is often fussy

    If your baby seems constantly fussy (aka, just seems to cry an awful lot), you should discuss this with your pediatrician. Keep track on a notepad what time(s) of day the fussiness is occurring. Note what happened before  the crying began, and what your baby ate (or what you ate if you are breastfeeding). This information will help you be ready to have a good discussion with your pediatrician.

    If you just need a few minutes to yourself, that’s understandable. It’s OK to let your baby cry for a while in his crib, as long as you know he is safe and can’t reach anything to hurt himself. If you take care of yourself, you will be better take care of him.

    Every parent also needs others who can help, so enlist help as soon as possible. Call your family, best friend, babysitter, neighbor… you get the picture. Ask them to come over, or ask if you can go to them. Give them any instructions you need to, make sure they have plenty of bottles and diapers, and if you are breastfeeding let them know when you’ll be back.

    If you don’t know anyone who can do this for you, or if you need more time than your network can give you, consider finding a regular babysitter who can help. Having even just a couple of hours every week away from your little one (or even an evening out) may help you feel much more able to face day-to-day responsibilities.

    Topics: infant care | No Comments »

    Cleaning up

    By lizmcg | July 15, 2008

    Last year, to my delight, I found a dresser that I judged to be the perfect entertainment center. It had drawers for storage, was tall enough that little people wouldn’t constantly be messing with the electronics, and I thought that with a good paint job it would be fine.

    Our old entertainment center is about to fall apart. Every day it seems will be its last.

    After I hauled the dresser home — by myself, I might add — my husband flipped out. You see, my new solution was free. One of our neighbors had set it out to be picked up as trash.

    He reacted as if I’d brought home old cabbage from the dumpster for dinner. Apparently repainting and using a perfectly good piece of furniture was out of the question. Thus, our entertainment center situation hasn’t changed.

    So for a little short of a year, the dresser sat on our patio. While it lurked, waiting for the fresh coat of paint I had so optimistically promised, it started holding all sorts of outdoorsy stuff that also needed a place. Soon, it had become indispensable.

    Well, last week I decided to give in. I noticed that since the dresser took up about 1/3 of the space on the patio, my kids were squished onto the outside edge. Not exactly a welcoming situation. So I finally called the city and faced up to the $25 charge for hauling away my “free” piece of furniture.

    I agree with the folks at … what a good feeling to complete a big clean-up! If you haven’t visited their blog, you should, and be sure to leave a note about what your project is. I liked the lady who cleaned her dining room… maybe that’s my next one…

    Topics: parenting | 2 Comments »

    Potty training secret

    By lizmcg | July 13, 2008

    Recently I’ve been looking at a lot of books and internet information about potty-training. I have to say, there’s a lot of stuff out there (books, audio downloads, ebooks, equipment) that doesn’t seem too worthwhile. Even potty chairs have become quite expensive, and having just thrown out a perfectly intact three-piece potty chair because it was too hard to clean, I’ve come to the conclusion that simpler is better.

    Many of the resources I’ve found try to squish potty training into a very brief period — some even tell you to try to accomplish this in three days or less. Those that have this short time-frame also recommend that during those handful of days you send your other kids somewhere.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a magical place I can just send my kids for one-to-three days while I only deal with my little one. When I do have the luxury of time with just one kid it’s usually for less than four hours — and it’s usually so I can play super-fun games like “find that smell” or “clean out the basement before free-bulk-garbage-day-pick-up.”

    So I’ve settled on the fact that potty training, at least for me, needs to be a much more organic process. It has to happen, but no way am I enforcing a three-day window… using up a summer’s-worth of “me” time by sending the other kids to their Godparent’s… and then spend the morning modeling how a teddy bear should go to the bathroom. I think I’d go crazy (and my toddler definitely would).

    We have a terrific Dora the Explorer potty seat (found at Lowe’s), pull-ups, a tiny one-piece (from IKEA for $3.99, possibly the most brilliant piece of furniture ever invented), and we have stickers and M&Ms for rewards. We also have a potty book, and some brand-new panties for once we are getting successful. We’re all ready to go. And, if you read my last post, we’re making progress.

    I must admit that I also have a secret weapon. My sister-in-law imparted the greatest piece of wisdom ever relating to potty training, which I’ll now pass along to you. Here it is:  THE SECRET IS THE SOUND. Don’t refer to it as “peeing” or “pooping”, call it “making music.” You go into the bathroom to “listen for the music.” It works like a charm.

    About 15-20 minutes after having something to drink, get a few picture books, go into the bathroom, and wait for the “music” to happen.  The big potty is great, because when she “sprinkles” it sounds much cooler than it does in the plastic potty chair. We have the potty chair because she can get onto it quickly by herself. She can also sit on it while one of her big sisters are on the big potty, thus using peer pressure to the fullest extent possible.

    With little boys, whom I’ve never had to potty train so I don’t know this first-hand, my sister-in-law told me she gave her son a big jar to aim into (like the super-big kind with a wide top that you buy spaghetti sauce in). Filling up the jar makes an awesome sound, and it’s much more like a game. Then start aiming in the big potty once filling up the jar has become routine. I’m sure that my nephew, now nearly 30 and a newlywed, will be delighted that I’ve shared this with the world.

    Making “poo” is a little harder and is often the second skill in potty training that kids aquire, although I find it easier to predict since kids tend to get this “poo look” on their faces or start making a definite sound or movement. If you can get to the potty in time, waiting for the splash to happen in a big potty can be quite fun. It’s also incredibly fun to flush… the whole process is very Freudian.

    Well, I hope this helps (and I hope it hasn’t ruined jars of spaghetti sauce for you). If you have potty training secrets, I’d be happy to post your comments. Take care.

    Topics: potty training toddlers | 1 Comment »


    By lizmcg | July 11, 2008

    My oldest comes running in… “Mommy! C~ pooped!”

    At the moment I’m trying to figure out how (a blog I absolutely adore and one you should visit) ended up at a place where she can get over 42,000 hits to a single blog post… thrilling stuff. My oldest has been given the task of helping her sisters get through breakfast and not kill themselves before 9 am each morning, at which time I have agreed to call it quits on my work. Her compensation is well worth it - it basically keeps her in Webkinz, lipgloss, and gum.

    “Where?!?” is my pathetic answer. I can barely get out of my chair fast enough, imagining what has happened and how gruesome it’s going to be to clean up.

    “On the potty!”

    Imagine my shock. There, in our itsy-bitsy first floor bathroom, proudly sits C~ on the real potty. I am told that she said she had to poop and then made a run for the bathroom herself.

    There is clapping and much high-fiving. The bottom is wiped, and proud sisters and mommy gather around to view the poop. The pooper herself gets to flush. Stickers are awarded.

    This is the long-awaited culmination of weeks of patience. Now if I could only get my husband to make the bed…. do you think stickers would work?


    On a complely different note, read the post from on how to use swimming pool noodles for making your home toddler safe. It’s absolutely brilliant.

    Topics: potty training toddlers | 1 Comment »

    To those who recorded the Aly & Aj concert…

    By lizmcg | July 9, 2008

    The other day was out in the sun for four hours so my daughter could see one of her her all-time-favorite groups, Aly & Aj. They were the last act at the Taste of Chicago.

    Now you should know the Taste is an event I truly despise. It’s a neighborhood street fair gone terribly wrong. It’s all about obese Chicagoans and tourists walking around in the hot sun together to get an un-recyclable Styrofoam container of usually fried food that they purchased from some mother of 10 kids hired to work a booth and delighted to have a job for two weeks even if the income will probably cut her food stamp allotment for next month in half. People are walking around with pieces of corn stuck to their faces, eagerly looking for the next overpriced item they can buy.

    To make this scene even better, there were four gang shootings earlier in the week, so police presence was absurd. A police helicopter was circling overhead. Streets were closed off about two blocks around, presumably to eliminate drive-by shootings. As we left there was an unmarked van that pulled up on one of these streets and out popped about 8 National Guardsmen in combat fatigues. I don’t think they came for the barbecue.

    So you can see why I was thrilled to bring my almost-9-year-old to the Taste. But that’s just me. Millions of other people actually seem to like it.

    Anyway, I’ll do this for my kid. Our wonderful friend had gotten us two tickets to this Radio Disney event, bless her, so we were fortunate to have seats rather than having to sit on the lawn far from the show.

    We got there early and sat in the sun for three hours listening to opening acts. The entertainment was great, but I’m not a big fan of summer-open-admission concerts. We were squished in the 11th row next to a woman who really should have planned to take up two seats (at one point she actually put her elbow in my ear) and a family of what seemed like 15 trying to take up five seats. At one point they were all eating frozen bananas which quickly thawed and then they were wearing bananas. Lovely.

    Finally, Aly & Aj came on.

    After a few minutes I looked over and E~ was in tears. She’s sometimes a kind of emotional kid (it’s not unusual for her to sob on the last day of school because she’ll miss her teacher so much), so I wasn’t sure it was because she was happy or sad (she also cried at the end of the concert because she didn’t want it to end).

    It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was going on. Turns out the poor kid couldn’t see a thing. There were plenty of dancing pre-teens in front of her, no big deal, and she wasn’t too upset with them. Their heads moved enough to the beat to allow brief unobstructed views.

    But directly in her view was a grown-up lady holding her digital camcorder up high, carefully moving it to make sure she had the performers centered on her screen. Every time one of the stars moved, she stayed directly in E~’s line of vision and blocked what she could see. I’m not kidding, this woman recorded half the concert this way.

    Police presence or not, I seriously wanted to give this woman a piece of my mind. Eventually (and after lots of shouting from myself and others behind her), I think her battery died and she mercifully put it down.

    I looked on YouTube, and found something that’s both sad and hilarious. There are at least 10 (probably many more) recordings from the same concert. The one from our section of the crowd isn’t the recording from this woman - it’s from someone who was sitting behind us. In it I could clearly see a girl who was sitting just in front of us, and I could see my daughter’s ponytail.

    Have we become this sick, that we have to record and post songs on the internet rather than actually enjoy the moment? That we have to ruin the experience for anyone unfortunate enough to be behind us, just to get some hits to a website? Is it necessary for adults to stand and record a concert intended for kids, even if doing so will ruin it for the actual kids because they can’t see?

    Aly and Aj are incredibly talented young women, sisters who clearly have a good relationship and who have their heads screwed on right. Shouldn’t we sit back and allow our girls in our lives - and the boys as well — to soak up this experience rather than using it for commercial gain?

    Shame on you, lady in the white t-shirt and all the others who filmed this concert. Your behavior disgusts me.

    Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

    Full-time ballet school

    By lizmcg | July 8, 2008

    Yesterday we were on our way to the store to pick out birthday party invitations. On the way we passed a ballet school with a big dancer on the sign.

    Now you should know that my daughter T~ is so excited. I’ve told her she can begin taking ballet this fall.

    At the tender age of almost-four she already has sacrificed her dream of professional figure skating. She didn’t like falling down on the ice, and when she learned that this happens regularly to figure skaters she literally couldn’t get those skates off fast enough.

    She’s watched ballet classes with enormous interest at our local park district. She wears her ballet shoes everywhere, in preparation. She wears her ballerina costumes at home. It’s as if at a moment’s notice she might be plucked out of the living room or the Starbucks parking lot to star in Swan Lake. She’d definitely be up to the challenge.

    T~ mentioned from the back seat that she’s looking forward to starting ballet, then bravely added with a little twinge of sadness ”I’m not going to miss preschool at all.”

    This prompted me to ask, very matter of factly, what she was planning to do this fall if not going to preschool.

    “Mom,” she answered without hesitation, “I can’t go to preschool anymore. I’ll be doing ballet.” Apparently she was also ready to sacrifice all friendships and connection to the outside world for the higher good of THE BALLET.

    “T~, you know that you’re going to be able to go to preschool during the week and to ballet on Saturdays, OK?” I answered with a smile. It reminded me of the discussion I had with E~ when she graduated from kindergarten… she thought school had been a good experience. Being a graduate, she was pretty much settled on the fact that she needed to see about getting a job. She was somewhat shocked to learn that first grade would follow.

    “That’s OK, mom,” T~ answered. She thought for a moment and then added, “You know, Mrs. C~ will let me practice my ballet at recess, so it won’t be too bad.”


    Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

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