Virtual Twinning

I Change My Mind

More from the frontiers of virtual twinning:

Rory does something Wyatt hates. (Don’t worry, Wyatt does PLENTY that Rory hates!) Whenever there is ice cream–and only when there is ice cream, and only, in fact, when there is a selection of popsicle ice cream stuff, like you find at a swimming pool or ice cream truck or, frankly, in our freezer, she chooses–and then, once he has chosed, frantically changes her mind and gets whatever he got.

I have no idea why.

She doesn’t do it with snacks, or with dinner in a restaurant, or lunch things, or drinks, say, on one of those rare occasions when I’m letting them each choose a bottle of soda from a gas station or something. She doesn’t have to have the same as him then. She doesn’t do it with candy, if they bring their money to the pool and get to use it to buy something. She doesn’t do it–well, I don’t think she does–if I buy them each something in a store, although I can’t actually remember the last time I did that. Probably the bookstore and they each got a book. She doesn’t do it then. She doesn’t even do it if we are somewhere where you choose a flavor of ice cream to have on a cone.

Only popsicle/ice cream truck ice cream.

It just clicked for me last night, although Wyatt’s been complaining about it for a while. All through our last vacation, when that kind of ice cream happened probably five or six times in a week, she got the same thing he did EVERY TIME, even if he changed his mind after she asked for the same thing he had–she just changed her mind too. I was going through these crazy fantasias of ordering. “Are you sure? Are you sure?” with both of them switching so much, but even though, like I said, he kept pointing it out, I was just blowing him off. “She can have whatever she wants, Wyatt! It’s ok if it’s just like yours!”

But last night, when she tried to put her already unwrapped popsicle (the one she’d been gloating over, because it was the last one of a kind Lily particularly liked) back after he chose an ice cream bar (we don’t have air conditioning, ok? We have popsicles.) so the SHE could have an ice cream bar, all those other times kept rushing back. I think I’ve mentioned this in passing, but it wasn’t until now that I realized how pervasive it’s become.

I have NO IDEA why.

I sympathize with Wyatt (I had a grandmother, oddly enough, who used to order the same thing I did in a restaurant every time and it made me crazy) but not really enough to make her stop–I mean, she really CAN have whatever she wants. Only, of course, she’s not having what she wants. She’s having what he wants. Which is what she wants. Which is fine.

This is just a random oddity, really. I don’t think it means anything. I’m sure it will stop soon enough, too.

It’s doubly funny because for years now, she’s looked to Wyatt for her cue to how to behave in any new situation (even if it’s new to him, too) but ice cream–now, that is so not new. In fact, I don’t think she did this last summer at all.

Maybe she’s doing it just to mess with him. I kind of love that.

KJI Change My Mind
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Privileges and Responsibilities, Part 462 (or thereabouts)

In theory, our kids have responsibilities. And they do—they pack and unpack their own lunches, they each have a weekly chore, they’re responsible for cleaning up their toys and getting their laundry in the bin. And, of course, they have privileges. We feed them, right? And take them places. And periodically buy them stuff.

We’ve been having some trouble, Rob and I, figuring out how those things were supposed to be tied together. Surely if you didn’t do your responsibilities, something should happen—but what? We kept looking for consequences that were tied to the responsibility, rather than just a punishment. Fail to pack your lunch, and the consequence is obvious. But fail to put your breakfast dish in the dishwasher and—what? Mommy tells you do to it or does it for you, that’s what. I though maybe it could mean I carried your dish upstairs and put it in your bed, but I’d still be the one who washed the sheets. Plus, mice. Then I thought, well, what if you always eat at the same place, and it’s still there when you go to eat again? That seemed like a decent plan, but I’d have to live with a house full of messy dishes all day. And what if you don’t care? Just like it’s cool with you to leave Lego all over the living room, because, if you’re five, why not? If you had your own living room that’s exactly what it would look like.

Apparently we skipped a key moment in the manual. In most families, that’s a joke, but yeah, we actually have a manual. When it comes to this stuff, we struggled for so long to get some rules and consistency going that we now rely completely on Parenting on Track to tell us what to do to teach the kids the things we already know we want to teach them. We know how to teach them a lot of things about become the adults we’ve become, but some things elude us. “Why you should clean up after yourself if failure to do so doesn’t lead to a punishment” was one of them—until I read this blog post, from a fellow Parent on Track, and realized: all the privileges are tied to the most basic of responsibilities. The link doesn’t have to be clear. It’s more of a “you live in this house, you have responsibilities, and if you can’t manage them, we’re going to treat you like you’re too young to do anything” sort of thing. You just have to tie in something the kid thinks he or she is old enough to do. I can’t believe I missed this. I feel dumb.

(I also feel like I should be able to figure this out myself, but no. Left to my own devices, I either come up with dippy star charts and end up buying everyone cheap toys, or I just spend all my time yelling at them or punishing them. I can be a good parent on the upper level stuff, but this nitty gritty just eludes me.)

Here’s the result:

Behold, the Privileges and Responsibilities Board.

Here are Wyatt and Rory’s basic responsibilities:

Wyatt's are the same, minus the piano practice.

If they can’t do it, they can’t play video games on the weekend. They love video games, and they’ve been allowed to play on Saturday and Sunday. I hate video games (well, not for me, but for 5-year-olds, although I owe this one a debt for being the first thing that every bonded the faux twins in cooperation rather than enmity). I take them away at every opportunity. They’ve lost them in the past for video game related transgressions (say “no” when it’s time to turn it off or get caught playing it without asking, and the whole house loses it for a week) but I never thought to link it to the other stuff, and I can’t imagine why not. It clearly makes sense to them. They didn’t question this for a minute. I’ve been so blind.

Both Wy and Rory also have a special job this week. They need to stop making me crazy. But that’s a little unclear (and hard to measure), so we put it a little differently. In essence, Wyatt needs to stop picking on Rory, and she has to stop reacting to him as though she’s been shot. This is a huge and old problem. You could argue that as the initiator, he’s to blame, but you’d be wrong. This is a game only two can play. If Wyatt brushes by Lily too close or pokes her in passing, she either tells on him or blows him off. Rory throws herself into a wailing, drama-filled explosion of emotion. You’ll scarcely be surprised that he then does whatever he just did (call her poopyhead, blow a raspberry in her general direction, hit her stuffie) again, with even greater enthusiasm.

They initiated this show in the grocery store Sunday, and now they’ve lost the privilege of going to public places until they can go five days without engaging in this dynamic. For the board, I told them no fighting, screaming or crying in the car (which they’d stopped after losing the privilege of riding in other people’s cars, but are on the border of starting again) AND they need to treat each other at home they way they do at school—but they know exactly what it is I really mean. And there is no way they are going to have the Wii back next weekend.

As for the older kids, Lily’s dying to be allowed to sleep over at a friend’s house, so if she can meet her responsibilities for seven days (because she’s almost seven), she’s good.

Lily's Responsibilities.

I think she’ll probably lose the privilege of going to other people’s houses at all by throwing a raging tantrum soon, but for now, this is her goal, and watching Rory and Wyatt wrestle with their demons will spur her to temporary good behavior.

That leaves Sam, and he’s a problem, largely because Sam makes a point of never being the problem. The whole point of this is that the “privilege” isn’t a “reward,” it’s something you’ve shown yourself to be old enough to do, and so you can do it. Lily isn’t working for one sleepover, but for me to say “yes” to all sleepovers. Once the Wii is back, it’s back, unless responsibilities go down the tube. These are your most basic jobs. Do them, and the real reward is more and harder jobs. The board is a reminder, no more—which it already is for Sam.

Sam does most of his stuff (it’s the same stuff as Lily, for now, with way more homework). He doesn’t necessarily do it without being reminded, but he does it. Cheerfully. Without complaint. And he’s responsible, so responsible that many privileges, like that of being able to walk from the other kids’ soccer practice to a friend’s house and be trusted to come back on time, are already his. Neither he nor I could think of an age-appropriate privilege that isn’t already given him, and so although I would like him to learn to meet his responsibilities without a reminder, I don’t necessarily want to take any of those privileges away in order for him to earn them back to get there.

And I don’t want to invent another privilege, like additional TV time, or any computer time, or (I considered this) the right to control the iPod in the car, that he hasn’t asked for. I might consider letting him earn the right to download some new songs to the family iPod for the master family playlist (I know, in other families, at almost ten, you have your own iPod and playlist, but not in ours). But again, he hasn’t asked. I did ask him: is there anything you want to work towards? Anything you want? I even offered to consider working for a reward for the more difficult task of completing responsibilities without a reminder. He said “No, I’m good. I think I’ll just do them.”

So I’m not quite sure how to push him to the next level, or whether, given that soon it will be summer and many responsibilities, although not all, will go by the wayside, I even should. Now Sam has no number chart, and no pushpin to move towards a goal. He’s in the happy position of having everything he wants. It doesn’t feel quite right to me, but I think that’s because Sam has naturally achieved a state of zen that I still only dream of. Long may it last.

KJPrivileges and Responsibilities, Part 462 (or thereabouts)
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Blowing Off Birth Order: Great Result, Bad Plan

When we adopted Rory, almost two years ago now, she was 3 1/2, 6 months older than our youngest, Wyatt. All of our other kids were biological kids (Sam was 7 and Lily 5), and Rory was our first (and only) foray into adoption. We “adopted out of birth order,” and as I remember it, the decision process went something like this: our social worker, Kathleen, a big, comfortable woman with shorn white hair and a confident, rolling walk, had begun to do what we were paying her to do, which was to pry enthusiastically into our personal lives and backgrounds to ensure that we were fit parents. She asked how old a child we planned to adopt. Wyatt was two then, so adopting a younger girl, as you no doubt know, was likely to be a slow process. We’d rejected it, pretty much for that reason, before we talked to any adoption professional. Although our adoption agency, always happy to be able to place even a slightly older child, sure didn’t discourage us.

My husband was just a little hostile about Kathleen’s intrusion, and by “little” you can infer that he resented the entire process of having a stranger—a less educated stranger, and someone who’d chosen a mighty fuzzy and not at all lucrative profession at that—come in and ask him questions about his childhood and judge his parenting skills. He was more than willing to contradict anything Kathleen thought she might know what he did not, and so he explained our position on adopting “out of birth order” very clearly. Lily, then three, would clearly care if her position as a “big kid” was usurped, but Wyatt was the baby. If we adopted someone in between Lily and Wyatt in age, he would still be the baby. Thus, birth order preserved.

Kathleen (a lovely woman who should consider a career in poker, so impassive was her face at this moment) surveyed Wyatt, who was beautiful and blond and capable of saying “Lily put bow my hair,” but not yet “I no want ‘nother sister.” He sat on my lap. He looked at Kathleen, and she looked back at him. Wyatt chose this moment to slide a hand up under my shirt to grasp at my belly button, his favorite source of comfort. He jabbed a thumb in and began to knead, and I pulled my shirt down over his arm and smiled nervously. I was not yet as confident as Rob that he who signed the checks called the shots, and I thought she might press. But Kathleen just nodded and wrote something down on her pad before asking her next question.

And that was it. Had there been much debate before that? Nope. Much after? Not really. Our social worker is a pro, so I suspect she tried subtly to at least give us a heads up that there was more to this than we thought. But she didn’t break through.

The fabulous Dawn Davenport, who, in a different world where I am doing my whole adoption over again (but, of course, getting the same fantastic kid), has posted a set of rules on her website, Creating a Family, for Success in Adopting Out of Birth Order. They can be summed up as “Please, people, think about what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it” and that’s exactly what I wish we’d done.

Of course I’m glad we adopted out of birth order. Of course I’d do it again. Adopting out of birth order is the only way we could add this: to that ornery image above and get this: We had to adopt out of birth order. Call it fate, call it God, call it the universe ebbing and flowing behind the scenes, but our clueless assumption that we could handle anything led us to exactly where we want to be.


It was hard. To begin with, that “baby?” By the time we were heading to China, he was no baby any longer, and he’d seen enough friends get new members of their families to know that what you get is a LITTLE sister. He knew he wasn’t getting a baby—they’d seen pictures—and that was fine with him. He didn’t need a baby. But a “little” sister was just what he had in mind, and all of our assurances that he would be physically bigger didn’t help one bit. For months after Rory came home, he still got angry every time fate conspired to point out her advanced age, and he wanted us to fix it (so badly that I had mad thoughts of messing around with her birth certificate). But there was nothing to be done. Rory is six months older than he is, so for half the year, they’re twins, and for half the year, she’s older, and he’s relegated to “almost” whatever age comes next. He cared, indeed. It’s rare for the “baby” of the family to see the benefits of being the “baby.”

But harder still was the fact that having a child who was six months younger than Rory meant that I expected her to act her age, or at least his age. Every regressive behavior she seized on stood out in harsh contrast to the kid standing right next to her, not sucking his thumb, not having a tantrum, not begging to be carried, not asking to be fed or seeking out sippy cups and baby bottles. I knew, on some level, that those were natural things for a little girl in the middle of a harsh and sudden transition to turn to. I knew that she needed to be babied. But Wyatt made it hard for me to give her what she needed. I didn’t want him to roll back to babyhood, but if either of them was going to—he was the baby! What’s more, he was my baby. Rory was my almost-four-year-old. She’d never been my baby. I’m more than ashamed to admit how hard it was to let her take on that role, and if she’d really been the baby (always remembering that I would not change a thing about our adoption, because our family is perfect and she is perfect for our family) I think it would have been easier.

If Rory had really been the baby, I think it would have come more naturally for me to let her drop into that role. Now, almost two years later, I’ve changed my thinking. She’s the baby in family years, and in family years, and family things, I let her remind me of a toddler, because in some ways she is a toddler. She gets to be more clingy when there are guests and more needy when other things seize my attention. She doesn’t get the privileges of being the “youngest” when, say, a game’s instructions call for the youngest to go first, but otherwise, she does the baby thing she she needs to, and I don’t push her to act Wyatt’s age, or, for that matter, her age.

But I know, in my heart, that we blew off birth order not because, as Dawn suggests, we really thought through what was right for our family, or who Wyatt was and what he could handle. What we thought about was little more than how long it was going to take to adopt. We didn’t want to limit ourselves, in the eyes of China, to that small range of “ayap” girls who we knew were tops on many parents’ list in the waiting child program. Partly that was selfish—as I said, we didn’t want to wait. To the extent we did think about what was best for our family, we thought a child who fit right into the pack, rather than being three or four years younger, would fit right in. And less selfishly, we saw first-time parents, parents who a few years ago would have adopted babies, in line for those “ayap” girls, and wanted to be there for a child who maybe wasn’t at the top of everyone’s list. We did have our reasons for ignoring the birth order trope. But they weren’t great ones. Worse, because I didn’t think it mattered, I didn’t give any thought to how birth order might affect us when Rory came home. If I had, I’d have eased her transition (and, less importantly, mine) in a big way.

So: just because I’d adopt out of birth order again in a heartbeat (because I’d cut off my own arm in heartbeat to make sure Rory was the child who joined our family) doesn’t necessarily mean I think anyone else should do it. Anyone else in our situation—young parents with young children—I’d encourage to think harder, think twice, and at the very least to be ready. Because even if you DO adopt out of birth order, that’s still your newest baby who’s coming home.

Cross-posted to No Hands But Ours.

KJBlowing Off Birth Order: Great Result, Bad Plan
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This month’s Parents magazine has a piece on “How to Know If Your Child Is Gifted” (a newsstand headline if I ever saw one; my fellow writers will agree that the only thing better would be “10 Ways to Know If Your Child is Gifted”).

I get it in the mail, and yeah, I flipped to that one. I have a weird history with the whole “gifted” idea; we moved a lot and I was “gifted” in some places, and thus allowed to do fun stuff like learn chess or run the school paper, but not in others. And, yeah, I want my kids to be “gifted.” So shoot me. I mean, I’d rather they be happy—I’d love for them to all have Sam’s natural resilience and outlook—but that appears unlikely, as anyone who’s ever met Lily will agree. But gifted—that I think she’s got, at least as far as “gifted” means “school will come easily to you and you will be good at taking tests” goes.

And then there’s Wyatt, and this is a long-winded way of getting to him. He’s something special in the academic sense; unusually verbal, reading early, already doing math at, I guess, about a second grade level or something like that. He’s a smart kid. But “gifted” in a modern sense, as opposed to the one I grew up with, which just reflected your particular multiple choice test abilities? Maybe not. This article had all sorts of stuff on top of the ordinary academic stuff: unusually artistic, focused on particular interests, persistent in pursuing information or mastery and unusually empathetic. Has Wyatt got any of that? Eh, I don’t know. Not that I’ve noticed, I thought when I read the article. Maybe he’s just run-of-the-mill younger sibling bright (which would be fine. bear with me, I’m going somewhere with all of this).

And then, tonight. Rob and I are uniformly tired of children; we spent the past four days in a hotel with them at a hockey tournament. Today was a long day for a variety of reasons. We are mutually chock out of patience. So when Rory appeared (after Lily had already done a post-bedtime number) clutching her finger and insisting, with that little grin that says “ooh, I’m out of bed!” that it “weally weally huwt,” I looked at it closely. No blood. Nothing even scratchy. It will feel better when you’re sleeping, I snapped, go back to bed.

Oh, now she knew she was getting away with something before, but to not get what she wanted right at bedtime? Even if she didn’t really want it? Wailing, horrible catastrophe! But in her own bed. I could hear her, for some time. Howling. “But it weally weally huwts! It huwts! I not gonna go sleep cause it huwts! I not gon’ be able sleep!”

And so on. But I’m still in the middle of Sam’s homework, and tired, and grumpy, and tired, and I go in my room (where he is working), and I can’t actually hear her any more, and I forget about it until Wyatt appears.

“Why won’t you give Rory a band-aid?”
“Because she’s not bleeding.”
“But she says it really really hurts.”
“Yeah, but it’s not bleeding,” Sam interjects.
“A band-aid won’t help if it’s not bleeding,” I say.

Wyatt thinks about it for a minute. He sees truth, but:
“I think it helps her.”

He’s right, of course. I sent him up with a band-aid. And—and this was the point of this whole thing—gifted or not, I know one thing. He’s way smarter than I am.

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Faux Twins: an Unintentional Side Effect

Yesterday I had just Wy and Rory in the car on an afternoon ride home (about 15 minutes) and, unusually, Wyatt fell asleep. Usually it is the other way around.

And Rory began to chatter. She told me a little about her day (Ava—I think—lost a tooth!). She had some commentary to offer on the snow (lots) and the day (warmer than usual) and our plans (can we go to the grocery store and buy … um … um … me: Popsicles? Yes!) and Daddy (home later) and babies (how do you make those again?) and even on the need to make a baby to have a kid (our babysitter just had a baby).

We even touched on her having a “birth mother” (often subject to some confusion around our house, because of her having a foster mother she remembers very clearly and who we know)—briefly, because Rory doesn’t like to be too introspective about China. And we got home, and all was as merry as can be, in spite of my having lost patience with her at the end of ice skating and her holding a grudge over a small incident with her coat that’s too dull and complex to explain here. Wyatt woke up (was I asleep? Where’s Sam? We dropped him off?) and the rest of the day was smooth.

And I realized I almost never get to have a conversation with just Rory. Wyatt interprets for her a lot, and gets his words out quicker, so that in any three way conversation he dominates. Rory contributes, but less, and subjects are usually chosen by her siblings. And just because of the circumstances of their lives–same school, same activities (by choice) and relatively few playdates—they tend to be with me at the same time. I make efforts to do bonding things with Rory (and just Wyatt too), but they don’t necessarily involve talking. Books, puzzles, cooking, stuff like that. And even if we go get a snack together or something like that, it’s harder, I think, to talk when it’s obvious you SHOULD be talking. And Rory doesn’t like being asked questions–as in, how was your day, what did you have for snack, who did you sit by. She likes to lead, and she just doesn’t get that many chances.

I think more one on one activities are in order, probably for everyone (I’m spending two nights with just Sam at a hockey tournament, so he’s pretty taken care of for a while). I used to be very good at having a specific time every week when all the other kids were at an activity and just one was home with me, but as there are more of them and they spend more time at school, that’s become a challenge. Anyone have any brilliant ideas for finding a way to just be together and, hopefully, talk?

KJFaux Twins: an Unintentional Side Effect
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