My kids haven’t seen my brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew ever since the shelter-in-place started. In the beginning, I did suggest to my brother to come drop off stuff for us when the kids are awake but he feels that seeing the kids through the window is going to make the kids more upset than not. So they come whenever the kids are down for the day already or napping. My kids’ favorite person is my sister-in-law, who they call “Kau Mo”, which means their mother’s brother’s wife. Pre-pandemic, they would see her and the rest of the family at least once a week if not more often. My SIL sometimes meets up with us at the indoor gym to play with the kids. We sometimes head over to her place to play with her toys. The very last time the kids saw her was the Friday prior to shelter-in-place order. She came to Golden Gate Park with us for a walk. Kids and she were drawing pictures in the dirt, picking up leaves, playing hide-and-seek, and basically just having a grand time hanging out. In the beginning of the stay-at-home order, the kids would FaceTime with my SIL once in a while. A few weeks later, we had a Zoom meeting during Easter dinner with the rest of my SIL’s family. The kids stayed on the call with Kau Mo for a bit longer. Ever since then, Kau Mo has been on a Zoom call with the kids once a week, usually on a Saturday morning. As an experienced teacher who is very creative, she knows how to capture the kids’ attention. She prepares books, toys, drawings, drumming to keep the kids entertained for over an hour. Sometimes the sessions last for an hour and 15 minutes. During that time, I could usually do chores like folding laundry, preparing for lunch, etc. Last weekend during the Zoom call, Bob was sitting there assisting the kids, and I dusted, vacuumed, and mopped our master bedroom, bathrooms, and the kids’ room. Kau Mo is the best babysitter ever. I always joke that she should make this into a business because the kids really have a lot of fun with new activities every week with her. We are so blessed to have her as an auntie to the kids. And my brother has been a great brother too. He has come numerous times to drop off stuff for us. One time I asked where he got his toilet paper. Instead of letting me go shopping somewhere myself, he helped me order some toilet paper from Amazon Fresh (since we signed up but haven’t been allowed to shop yet). He received the toilet paper the same day and delivered it to us (by walking 15 minutes from his house) that evening. We didn’t even have to leave the house to get those toilet paper rolls. Even though we haven’t been able to really spend time with them physically, we can see and feel the love from our family in so many ways. We hope that the kids will be able to finally touch them and hug them some time soon. When they ask to go to Kau Mo’s house one day, I hope that I can tell them yes instead of saying that it is “closed”.
Parenting has been very difficult ever since sheltering in place started. Since the kids are home most of the time, the frequency and intensity of meltdowns and tantrums have increased dramatically. This is particularly true for Okra. Some days in the course of a morning, he could throw a tantrum 10 times. Some of them could last as long as 45 minutes. Sometimes a little something could set him off, but some other times he seems to just throw a tantrum out of nowhere, all by himself. He would bite, throw anything within reach, push things down the floor, hit, scratch. At times, Bunny seems scared of him and would walk really far away from him when he does any of that. Recently my mom is also a trigger. Okra somehow started not liking having my mom around and would start screaming and saying “No PoPo” when she enters the space he is in. After a couple of months of this, I started to get angry and agitated when he hurt others, especially biting his sister, hitting me, or scratching my mom. I would yell at him and then immediately regretted it. It was such a vicious cycle and I hated the person/parent that I had become. I was at such a loss and waking up in the morning brought anxiety and stress because of the tantrums and meltdowns that I anticipated. Bunny also has her moments but she is emotionally a bit more mature and can be persuaded to listen without a full blown tantrum or meltdown most of the time.
This year I met a fellow mom of two through our local Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. She has worked with this Christian parenting coach in her own parenting journey and asked this coach to host a virtual parenting session with some of her friends. I joined that particular session and found some helpful tips to use in my parenting with Okra. When this parenting coach offered a weekly parenting session in the month of May, I quickly jumped on it. The prerequisite is to listen to these audio clips prior to each session. I have attended two sessions as well as a personal phone call with the coach to discuss additional strategies to use. The following are some principles that I have learned and tried to apply:
- Consider yourself a life coach of your children
- Keep high goals in mind as a life coach: what character traits do you want your children to have when they are adults? Especially the fruit of the spirit mentioned in the bible: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Keep in mind the goal of cultivating godly behaviors, even at this age
- Do not be reactive to your children’s behaviors, i.e. do not get angry and react to your kids by being angry or yelling at them. Remain calm and speak to them with gently with a bright face
- Negative behavior is a habit. When there is a tantrum, whining, or meltdown, backtrack and find a peaceful time to re-do the scenario so the child practices calmly communicating with you
- The most important part of this is prevention: Pre-train your child such as using role play for certain situations that might be triggers for negative behaviors
These are some of the main points. There is so much more… but these principles are enough to get me started. Ever since that first session, I have not been mad at Okra (or Bunny) even once. The Holy Spirit has helped me not be reactive to the kids’ meltdowns. This is such a miracle because I was getting so angry with Okra and couldn’t control my yelling when he hurt another person in the family. The past 1.5 weeks I have been able to remain calm and pleasant with him. At times I have to hold him from behind and hold onto both of his hands so he can’t scratch me. When I sense that I can’t safely hold onto him without being hurt, I put him in his crib. Once he has calmed down, I take him out and re-do the scenario with him so he learns the non-tantrum/non-whiny response. I have also been working on pre-training. For example, sometimes when he is playing happily and peacefully with his trains, I knock down one of his trains and we work on saying “Oops, it’s okay. Let’s pick it up again”. Or prior to his nap time, we practice saying “Hi Mama” pleasantly when I open the door after his nap is over (because he sometimes whines and cries for a long time when I get him from his nap). Or we practice saying to Bunny to “Give me room” when he feels that he doesn’t have enough space. Those are all things that could trigger him and I try my best to practice these scenarios with him. Some days are better than others. There were quite a few days last week he had one tantrum after another. I didn’t even know where to begin to redo or pre-train. But I am proud to say that I still remained calm. I was extremely tired handling all of the tantrums, but I knew that my strength would be renewed once I got some rest. And I have been earnestly praying for wisdom and patience to keep the high goals for my kids in mind. And then yesterday was a delightful day. There were only a few instances of tantrums and everyone had such a peaceful time bonding. And when Bunny throws a tantrum, I am better equipped to handle her better. I know that this is not a sprint but a marathon, but I am just grateful for the support that I get from this parenting coach and my friend who introduced me to her, so that I don’t feel as lonely and lost in this phase of parenting twin toddlers.
This Mother’s Day was about celebrating with friends/family who finally became mothers after a long journey of infertility and standing by those who are still struggling. In particular, I celebrated with my friend who finally got to have her premie twins at home with her after they spent 3 months in the NICU. I wrote about her here and here. (Recap: Twins were born via gestational surrogacy at 28 weeks and my friend and her husband were many hours away from the hospital. They had to fly in right away but had to miss their kids’ birth). The NICU time was a crazy roller coaster with difficulty feeding and a host of health concerns for baby girl. My friend and her husband stayed at Ronald McDonald House and the kitchen was closed there because of COVID-19, so she bought a microwave to heat up canned soup for meals. Imagine living away from home caring for premie twins with health concerns. Now the NICU days are all behind them as they are safely home as of three weeks ago. New life with twins is definitely difficult. They didn’t have time to prepare for the twins’ birth. They had no baby shower and hadn’t had the time to clean out the tiny one bedroom apartment in the city to accommodate two new lives. But they are resilient people and make do with what they have. One year ago was when I first met her via my own reproductive endocrinologist. This friend had just lost her first baby when her GC’s betas started dropping. She lost so much of her hope and couldn’t fathom her situation turning around. When we first met and had a phone conversation for two hours, I told her what my dear friend A. always told me, “Things don’t change until they change”. She would not have imagined in her wildest dream one year ago that she’d be a mother of two babies who repeatedly puke all over her. It has been hard taking care of twins without any help amid a pandemic. But she is taking it in stride. I am just so joyful for her that she gets to celebrate her first Mother’s day snuggling her own babies. A friend of mine I met on a food tour in Hawaii has also been struggling with making a baby. Despite her being in the trenches, she always writes me a Happy Mother’s Day message. She had made some embryos prior to the pandemic shut down and I really wish that she can start transfer again as soon as possible. I also reached out to my friend who has been trying for years, and to my cousin who had three miscarriages last year and will start a Clomid cycle soon. I know how hard this day could be for people who want to be a mom, and I hope that my reaching out to them has brought some love and warmth to them on this difficult day.
My son Okra has long curly hair. My husband and I agreed to get him his first haircut when he turned two. After his second birthday, my husband had second thoughts about it and asked to extend the haircut to when Okra turned 2 years 3 months. When that time rolled around in December, he again couldn’t bring himself to saying yes to cutting Okra’s hair. Once again, we talked about cutting Okra’s hair when he turns 2 1/2. Well, little did we know that the world suddenly changed and going out for a haircut is no longer an easy thing. Okra’s hair remains long and he continues to be called a girl when we are out or even when we get on Zoom calls. People on the street (when we take our walks) or strangers on Zoom (story time put on by some mom’s group) would say “Hi girls!” to my twins. I actually do not mind people calling Okra a girl. I have stopped a little while ago to correct people about that. However, tying his hair up for a man bun is a chore every single morning. The struggle is real. This would be the biggest reason why I would want to get him a hair cut. You may ask, why don’t YOU cut his hair? I dare not touch anyone’s hair in my house. I mean, I can braid and tie a man bun or ponytail. But cutting hair? It’s way out of my league. Even Bob asked me to cut his hair as it is getting long as well, and my answer is No. Look at Okra’s hair:
This was his hair after a bath with the front part of his hair pulled back. I know curly hair is extremely hard to cut. So I am not going to tempt fate and take things into my own hands. Even when shelter in place is lifted in the future, I don’t think I’d want to take him anywhere unnecessary, haircut included. A friend of mine is fascinated with his hair. She keeps on telling me that I am never going to cut that hair because I will deprive him of becoming a teenage heartthrob one day. She said that he is going to get all the girls (or maybe boys) with those curls. Hahaha. I guess I will have to continue my battle with him (and sometimes Bunny) each morning until the world is a safe place for a haircut one day.
Grocery shopping used to be a simpler weekly chore. Since the world changed 1.5 months ago, feeding my family has become a stressful event. I used to meal plan on a weekly basis, mostly on the day prior to grocery shopping. These days I try to make our groceries last two weeks, which means that weekly meal planning has turned into monthly meal planning. I printed out blank calendar sheets I found online and filled out a month worth of meals. Instead of using my phone meal planning app for the grocery list like I did pre-COVID-19, I write the grocery items down on a piece of paper of which I can dispose. I’d rather not touch my phone at all inside the grocery store. Buying two weeks worth of food means the little piece of paper is filled with items to purchase. The day of shopping I have to gauge what time to get to my store. The store’s first hour is dedicated to seniors. I have to decide if I should get there 15 minutes prior to “regular” people being allowed in or if I should go a little later in the morning to totally bypass the last group of seniors. Either way, it is guaranteed that I will need to get in a line and wait at least 30 minutes if not longer. After I settle the kids down with my husband (and then my mom after my husband “goes” to work), I put my mask on, grab a pair of gloves, put a change of clothes in the garage, and drive to the store. I stand in line and start texting friends and family that I intend to catch up with that morning. I even listened to music last time when I waited in line. It may sound weird but I no longer listen to my own music these days. I usually listen to children’s songs or podcasts. However I didn’t want to spend my mental energy on understanding words while waiting in line. Music was so much more enjoyable. After the senior line dissipates, my line usually starts moving pretty fast. I like it that our grocery store allows only a few people in each time so I don’t mind waiting in line 6 feet away from the people in front of and behind me. The store workers constantly sanitize the carts. They also give you a squirt of hand sanitizer before you enter the store. Inside the store things are very manageable because like I said, only a few people are allowed in each time. I like to go in the morning so that I have a chance to find all the things on the list. The store used to have these extra large carts. I wish they still have them. Every time I go, I fill the cart to the brim and some things have to overflow to the bottom. Don’t underestimate how much grocery one has to buy to feed a family of five (my mom included). Most items are in stock, which I am thankful for. A couple of things are still missing, such as canned kidney beans. Lately I have been buying one bottle of wine each time because… well, sheltering in place with twin toddlers. Enough said. I also have to be mindful of the space in my fridge and freezer. The check out process is also a breeze. There is basically no line. At most you only have to wait for the cashier to finish with the person ahead of you. Last time I jokingly apologized to the cashier for my very full cart because I try to buy groceries every two weeks. She said she appreciates that… as some customers go to the store everyday. Can you imagine waiting in line to get into the store daily? I don’t see how that is necessary. Some people just have to go out on a daily basis. I can understand taking walks, but to the grocery store? Personal reusable bags are no longer allowed in the store, so everything is packed into the store’s paper bags for us. When I get home, I have a whole production to go through. I park the car in the garage, get off, and wash my hands. I remove my mask, dispose it, and wash my hands again. I then change my clothes in the garage and put the worn clothes in the washer directly. I then start to move all the grocery bags to the kitchen. That often takes several trips. I used to let the kids unpack the groceries with me. Since COVID-19, I don’t allow anyone to touch the groceries but me. Putting away the groceries takes a long time. A couple of weeks ago, I’d use disinfectant wipes to clean packages. I no longer do that. I feel safe to leave things in the fridge or in the pantry as long as I take precaution to wash the packaging when I use it or wash my hands after I open something. So that cuts down on the time it takes to put away groceries, although trying to fit everything in the fridge is a balancing act in itself. Once that is done, I shower and wash my hair. I know that it is not necessary, but I just feel cleaner after being out in public for a long time. This whole thing takes so much more time than before. I am thankful that my mom is here to help so I can go shopping without worrying about childcare. Otherwise, Bob would have to take time off or I’d have to go on the weekend when he has time off. It often makes me feel so good to see a fridge full of food. That means that my family will be fed for the next two weeks and I don’t have to worry about grocery shopping again for a little while. I never thought that a fridge full of food would give me a sense of security. This is a whole new world that we are living in.
The meltdown that I am referring to wasn’t the kids’. It was mine. I had my first meltdown since the shelter-in-place started.
We have been doing well all things considered. No one lost a job. We are healthy. The whole family gets to be together. There are many things to be thankful for. But having two toddlers at home all the time can be stressful. I believe that the kids feel cooped up and their behaviors show it. Okra has been acting out much more frequently than pre-shelter-in-place. Sometimes he throws a tantrum seemingly out of the blue and starts throwing toys or jumping up and down in frustration for no reason. There is no trigger that I could see. Or a little something can trigger him into a hot mess. He hits people, especially me, really easily when he is not happy. Bunny has also started to hit me when she is upset, which is a new behavior. Sometimes when one is acting out, the other one comes to interfere. And then there are also the usual fights between the two of them. Day in and day out, this has become too much for me. I am sometimes at a loss as to how to deal with the kids’ tantrums without losing my cool.
Well, I failed miserably yesterday. Dinner last night was pizza that I had to go pick up. The kids were watching a toy train video on YouTube with their dad. When we stopped the video to come have dinner, they were already a little bit upset. They both sat down and started complaining about the dinner. One wanted “mommy’s pizza”. The other one wanted “big pizza”. I tried my best to fulfill their wishes but the end results were them throwing the pizza or tasting the pizza and starting to wail because they didn’t like it. I tried to calmly tell them that they could choose to not eat and go play, but they just wouldn’t have it. Both of them were whining and Bunny continued wailing loudly. After this back and forth of asking for something, me offering them what they asked, and them not wanting it, I lost my cool. I started yelling at the kids which made them cry even more. It was one chaotic scene. Bunny’s crying is usually especially annoying. And she cries for a long time usually. Bob couldn’t stand the crying and told me to give them screen time. I am really against that because to me they are learning that they get to watch TV as a reward for not eating dinner. However, because I was already losing it, I doubt that I could remain calm to turn the whole thing into a teaching moment. What I needed to do was to walk away. Screen time offered me a time to walk away without the kids killing each other. However, I was so upset with the kids and my husband offering screen time to them, as well as the accumulated effect of one month of shelter-in-place, I turned into a crying mess. I went inside the kids’ room and cried and cried and cried. It was a much needed release of my emotions. After I calmed down, I know that giving them screen time last night was not going to ruin them forever. The kids get plenty of face-to-face time with us playing, reading, and drawing. We are trying our best as parents under these circumstances. I just hate myself for melting down, losing my cool, and turning into a maniac. I am thankful that this doesn’t happen often at all. But I do need to seek the Lord’s help in having patience and knowing strategies to handle the kids’ emotions. I do not want my meltdown to become a regular occurrence. Parenting is such a huge responsibility and it is at times overwhelming. I constantly feel like I am doing something wrong. The other day Bob and I had an opportunity to join a zoom parenting session with a parenting coach and got some pointers. It reminded me that God does not leave us to be parents without resources or help from Him or others. Being humble to seek guidance is a good first step.
I bought a used learning tower about eight months ago so that the kids could cook and bake with me. We had used it a couple of times for pizza making but not much else. I think the infrequent use is mainly due to my lack of confidence in controlling the mess. With one child, I might feel a bit more comfortable with preventing the little sticky hands from flinging ingredients all over the place. With two kids the same age, the chances of chaos were too great for me to make the experience worthwhile. Plus we had activities every morning even on rainy days so it made it hard for me to plan for baking with them. Now that the kids are 2 1/2 years old and we are home all day long, I have been looking for ways to kill time with the both of them. I feel that they are mature enough for me to trust them with dumping ingredients in a bowl for baking. So the other day I invited them over to climb on the learning tower to make some muffins. They were so excited! They first put silicone liners in the muffin tin. I let them take turns pouring both wet ingredients and dry ingredients in the bowl. They got to learn the names of all the things we put in the muffins. I am quite pleased with how well they followed directions. They took turns pouring each ingredient and didn’t fight over it. They also helped me mix the batter together. Mess was totally minimal. They watched me patiently as I portioned the batter in the muffin cups.
They drew and colored while waiting for the muffins to be done. At one point they were impatiently sitting in front of the oven to wait for the muffins to finish cooking.
I gave them each a freshly baked muffin for snack that morning.
They both looked so proud of themselves. Since then, Bunny has been telling me “I am a chef!” and was pretending to cook with baking powder in her toy kitchen. She even threw a tantrum the next day when I gave her a muffin for snack because she thought we were going to bake muffins instead. I hope that this has planted a seed for them for their love of cooking and baking in their lives. And now that I know they have enough self-control, we will experiment baking different things in the future.