A Lesson in Thanksgiving

Two years ago we were spending Thanksgiving in the pediatric intensive care unit.  Mia fell down and then suddenly had a huge hematoma.  Before her eyes we watched her body be covered in unexplained bruises and dark red spots.  At the hospital we found out that she had no platelets left.  Over the course of days they diagnosed her and worked on treating it.  This all happened the day after we arrived at our new duty station.  So we found ourselves with a sick child in a new city CAM00167with no friends or family celebrating Thanksgiving and just being grateful that our children were alive and we were together.

And so at this time of year when we are being grateful for our blessings, I think back to that scary time and to the lessons I was reminded of during it…

I am thankful for my faith.  Riding in the ambulance with lights flashing, Mia looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not scared.  I know that God is with me.”  And she was right.  As our minds started to fill with panic our hearts were filled with faith.  God doesn’t make us sick and He doesn’t necessarily heal our body, what God does is walk beside us, loving us, giving us strength and preparing us for the way ahead no matter what it might be.

Our brave patient with her best buddy

Our brave patient with her best buddy

And I am thankful for the love with in our family.  Zoe would not leave Mia’s side.  When they wheeled Mia up to her room, Zoe rode next to her hugging her.  She laid in her bed, played with her, brought her food, and cried when Mia screamed in pain.  She was everything a sister could be.  I am proud of both of my daughters.  And I am proud of the family we have created and the love we all share for each other.

I am thankful for our friends and family, for all those who love me and love my children and love my husband.  People may be far away at times but our lives are filled with loved ones who will pray for us during our sorrows and celebrate with us during our times of joy.

And I am thankful for the generosity shown to us by both friends and strangers.  That Thanksgiving one of the doctor’s arrived with his family and a Thanksgiving dinner for us.  It was an act of such pure kindness I still tear up thinking of it.  But I am grateful not just for grand gestures like that, but for every time a stranger held the door open for us, gave my family a smile, picked up a dropped cup.  People are kind and we need to remember that.

I am thankful that my daughter is healthy again, yes.  But I am also thankful that our family survived the challenge and that we have learned and loved through it.  It has been a reminder to me of all that we should truly be thankful for–faith, love, friendship, and kindness.

Car Bucks

If you are traveling this holiday season, you might want to consider bringing some car bucks.  They have definitely brought peace and joy to our car.  🙂

20150512_101611This past summer we went on TWO major road trips, hitting both coasts–I am proud to say that during the course of the summer I drove on the I-10 in every single state it passes through.  All told we visited 15 states (but really Texas should count as like 10 different states since we drove from one end to the other).   And most of it I did alone with the kiddos. Two six-year-olds and a baby can make for a LONG trip.  Trust me.  Enter car bucks…

Car buck tickets

I got the idea on our first trip and we used imaginary ones.   By the second trip, I had my husband design actual “car bucks” for us.  The girls loved them!

So, how do you earn car bucks?

  • Being good during the drive,
  • Helping out when necessary,
  • Passing things back to siblings,
  • Being quick at rest stops,
  • Having good listening skills,
  • Good manners at our stops, etc.

With the baby in the car, my girls earned quite a few by helping keep Colton quiet and happy.  And I’ll admit that I pass the bucks out very freely.  I would rather reward good behavior throughout the trip then have grumps riding with me.  And this gives them more to spend.

Travel tickets

But what do you spend the car bucks on?

  • Buying souvenirs
  • Treats at rest stops
  • Special snacks

    Enjoying a rest stop along the way

    Enjoying a rest stop along the way

These were all things we would buy anyways but this way it was connected to good behavior which helped prevent whining and begging.  The souvenir money wasn’t an arbitrary amount and it allowed the children to practice good financial skills when deciding how to spend their money.  But don’t feel like you have to do a $1 to 1 buck ratio.  Make it work for you.

As for the snacks, of course our regular snacks were all free.  I just also picked up some extra special ones.  Like oreo sticks with creme dip (yum!) and the cups of cookies.  (I’m not very health concious on the road.)  The kids loved being able to choose when they could have something special like the cookies.  They tend to know best when they need a little pick me up.

Print on green paper to make them look more like money

Print on green paper to make them look more like money

Download Car Bucks

Car bucks have made our road trips easier.  I hope they help you!

 

Family Magnets–Stay Close When Far Away

Even though we have always lived away from our family, with our recent move the girls felt as though we are even farther away.  And of course they had to leave their friends behind.  family magnetsSo to make it easier and remind them of those they love who live far away, I made these magnets of their family and friends.

Using photoshop, I cropped recent photos and then resized them so that they would look similar when I printed the wallet sized photos.  I also added the names to each picture to make it a pre-reading activity as well.  We’ve also used the cards to make family trees and talk about relationships.

magnets closeThis is just a great way to keep family that lives far away close by.  I wish I had done it sooner when the girls were babies and recommend it to all my friends with little ones who are growing up far from loved ones.

 

 

Putting away Baby Jesus?

Like many of you we have the Little People Nativity set by Fisher Price. My girls LOVE it! Last year after playing with it all through Advent and the Christmas season, it was time to pack it up with all of our other decorations. As we cleaned I would put it in the storage box and my girls would pull Baby Jesus out and put him back with their other Little People. They complained that they wanted to keep playing with him and after a few times I realized just what I really was doing. As the holiday season comes to a close for some of you and you are putting away decorations, consider the lesson I learned that day–don’t put away Baby Jesus.

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Many think of Christmas as one day but really the Christmas season extends until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, when the wisemen came. You know the song “The 12 Days of Christmas”? These are the 12 days. Some cultures even wait until then to exchange presents.

I have some friends who won’t even let their children play with their Little People Nativity because Jesus is one to be revered not tossed around.  And while I can understand what they are saying I disagree.  This past year as I watched Baby Jesus be pulled around in a tractor and attend princess parties I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly what I want for my daughters–for them to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I want my girls to feel him throughout their day-to-day lives, not just on Sunday.

Baby Jesus

Jesus taking a ride

Another nativity set our children love

Another nativity set our children love

Now I know my children need a great deal more in their spiritual upbringing and this is just a toy, but those toys are a great reminder for us adults to make sure we continue to make Jesus a focus in our lives as we get back into the “normal” swing of things.

So when packing up your children’s nativity set this year, consider leaving it out for a little while longer.  Let your kids continue to play with the Holy Family with the rest of their play things.  I hear Jesus can be a great influence on the other toys.

This is why it's a good idea to have a children's nativity.... otherwise they will play with yours.

This is why it’s a good idea to have a children’s nativity…. Here are my girls playing with our “fancy” nativity.

P.S. If you don’t have a children’s nativity, consider getting one in time for next year.

My Little Dependent Variables

The other day I took Mia and Zoe to participate in a research study at the University of Arizona.  Personally I love to say that the girls were in an experiment but my husband thinks that makes them sound like lab rats.  I also think it’s hilarious on the days of the study to say that the girls are going to college because they need to work on their research project.  I know, I’m a dork.

Mia checking her brain waves during a hearing study.

Mia checking her brain waves during a hearing study.

This most recent study dealt with language development and was pretty interesting.  One at a time I took the girls into a room where they sat in a little chair infront of a computer screen and next to the grad student running it.  There was a camera to film it all and a seat for me out of the way.  The researcher pulled out a puppet named “Sheepy.”  Sheepy had trouble pronouncing words and it was the girls’ job to help her.  Together they looked at pictures of animals on the screen–a dog, cat, bear, etc.  If Sheepy said the name correctly they gave her a little plastic treat and if she said it wrong they gave her a black rag that she coughed on which the girls thought was funny.  After the familiarization round they then learned completely new animals.  These were ones created by the researchers that appeared on the screen multiple times teaching the girls and Sheepy the made up names.  After that Sheepy was quizzed on the new names just like before with the girls deciding if she said it correctly.  Finally, after a brief break, the girls were quizzed themselves naming pictures on the screen.  For all their hard work they each received a certificate and a toy (both chose a little pony).

This was by no means our first study.  The first time we went the girls were about four months old.  Since then we have made over 20 such visits.  Many have been performed at the same lab or their sister lab with the girls returning as they reach different age ranges.  One required multiple visits over the course of six months.  Another included a home visit.

Why do it? 

The girls usually receive a book or toy, occasionally monetary compensation.  Still that’s a lot of effort for a board book and not why I do sign us up at all.  So, why?

P1020599To be perfectly honest, the first time I did it becuase it was some place that seemed to welcome newborn twins and I needed to get out of the house.  But the main reason we kept going is because I love exposing the girls to higher education.  I love that college (and the University of Arizona) is already part of their vocabulary.  I want my children to be lifelong learners and value education–exposing them to the university and research early on supports that goal.

I also learn more about my own children.  This is a different environment with activities different than what we do at home.  I like seeing how the girls respond and it helps me pick up on subtle differences in how the two learn.  For instance, in this latest study, I was able to see that Zoe is a little more verbal, repeating the names of each animal even though she didn’t need to, whereas Mia is a little more careful, trying to check her answers with the researcher.

Zoe doing baby sign language

Zoe doing baby sign language

And it’s interesting.  I think the studies are neat to see.  One time I was reading a book that referred to studies going on that we had been a part of and I just kept thinking “How cool is that?”  I find brain development fascinating (just check out some of the books on my booklist).  Babies are so little that it’s amazing what they can do.

For instance, did you know that babies understand the laws of physics?  When shown magic tricks, things that appeared to violate the laws of physics, babies were surprised.  They were shown a block floating in midair, objects that disappear and reappear somewhere else, and a box placed behind a screen that had disappeared when the screen fell back.  Babies will look longer at the magic tricks than they did at the similar scenes that followed physical laws.  They know that what they are seeing is not right.

And did you know that babies can do basic math?  When they watch one doll placed behind a screen and then a second doll placed behind the screen, five-month-old babies were surprised to see one or three dolls when the screen dropped.  They knew it was not right.DSCN1559

Baby studies have also shown us how compassionate they can be.  Babies respond more to the cries of other babies than to a recording of their own crying.  And starting at about one year old, they will try to soothe others who appear in distress by patting them or handing over a bottle or toy.

Babies can tell right from wrong.  In one study nine- and twelve-month-olds were shown movies of geometrical characters interacting with one another.  In one, a red ball would try to go up a hill.  Sometimes a yellow square would try to help the ball up the hill and other times a green triangle would try to push the ball down.  Afterwards when the ball approached the hindering triangle the babies were surprised and looked longer than when the ball went over to the helpful square.  Later babies were shown the same scenario but with puppets.  Afterwards the puppets were brought over to the babies, almost all of whom picked up the helpful square.   Similar studies have even shown that in addition to telling right from wrong, babies will reward the good guy and punish the bad.  They also prefer others who reward the good or punish the bad.

There are also studies with more immediate practical applications.  For seven months we made regular visits to the Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences department that included observing how the girls respond to certain sounds and measuring their brain waves while tones were played.  Researchers are studying infants with normal hearing in order to develop methods to identify and help infants with hearing loss.  Results from studies like this will help doctors develop a hearing test for babies and will tell us if their hearing aids are working.

How do we sign up?

I’m sure you are thinking, “That’s cool for you, but how do we do that?”  Okay, maybe you aren’t.  But if you are, I recommend contacting your local college or university.  Most of our studies have been done through the psychology department, specifically the child cognitive lab.  Once you get on one list, you usually can be contacted by other departments and labs as well.  It also helps to just keep your ear out.  Maybe friends are already participating (I’m also telling people they should sign up) or ads are listed with your local parenting group.

We actually had paperwork included in our packet when the girls were born asking if we wanted to be put on a contact list.  That’s how they first found us.  But when we did the first study we again filled out paperwork where we could initial that other studies could contact us.

My girls in a brochure for one of the labs we've attended.  I was such a proud mama when I saw their picture in it.

My girls in a brochure for one of the labs we’ve attended. I was such a proud mama when I saw their picture in it.

I don’t know if the studies my daughters participate in will produce breakthrough results but I like that they are contributing to science and human understanding.  And I like that my children are being exposed to higher education and to people dedicated to learning since I want learning to always be a part of their lives.  I know that these studies won’t make my children any smarter, but, from what I hear, babies are already pretty smart.

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