The $2 hack to make my kids sleep on vacation

“Vacations are so relaxing and easy!”—said no parent of young kids. Ever. We recently spent four days in Newport, Oregon, which was lovely but not restful in the least. On top of all the prepping and packing and passing back of 18 varieties of snacks on the drive to the central Oregon coast, neither kid sleeps that well away from home. Somehow, though, despite feeling a bit run down on vacation, my creativity remained intact, and I am now obsessed with the parenting hack I pulled off to make my kids sleep on vacation.

Like on most vacations we take, I couldn’t make my kids sleep on the first night. Although I had brought noise machines and loveys and special blankets, we didn’t have the blackout curtains we rely on at home. Once morning dawned, with both kids wide awake, I knew I had to try something different.

My protests of “it’s too early” didn’t cut it.

Family travel can destroy sleep habits. Fortunately my $2 hack to make my kids sleep on vacation totally worked! Zzzz - Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Peeper opened the blinds and begged to differ. “Look mama, it’s sunny!” She said. “It’s not too early!” So we spent the early-early morning semi-conscious on the couch, praising the geniuses who invented Saturday morning cartoons.

Then on my way to the drive-through coffee shop (OMG CAFFEINE THANK YOU), I stopped at the dollar store down the street. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I dropped $2 on aluminum tin foil and pulled off one of my best parenting hacks yet—which not only helped make my kids sleep on vacation but also stopped me from swearing off family vacations entirely. (Win!)

This $2 hack to make my kids sleep on vacation is a game-changer for family travel and vacation! Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

In her own words: Raising a multilingual child

Ever since she was a toddler, Peeper has had the gift of gab. She was making puns, telling stories and naming all her letters before she turned 2. I had always dreamed of raising a multilingual child—but that vision has turned out a little differently in reality. (You’re shocked, right?)

Now that she’s nearly 4 (?!?!?!?), Peeper is using language in ways that make us laugh—and translate more words online than I ever thought I would.

The most hilarious way this kid uses language: According to her, she is multilingual.

Sign language for kids

English is her first language, of course. Her second is sign language. Teaching my kids to sign seemed a reasonable place to begin raising a multilingual child.

Like many families, we used sign language with Peeper before she could talk. And when we used ASL with Kiwi, Big Sister picked it up again.

My kids use sign language to better communicate // raising bilingual children. Ten Thousand Hour Mama
When we didn’t know a word in sign, we’d look it up. The whole family’s sign language vocabulary grew and grew. The girls continue to sign even though they can speak with their words just as well.

Then one night while I was putting Peeper to bed, I could barely keep my eyes open as I sang her Frosty the Snowman. Yet my supposed-to-be-sleeping preschooler was jiggling and wiggling in the bed.

I opened my heavy eyes and saw her hands were flying around, flitting this way and that as I sang.

Soon enough I realized she was “signing” the words to the song. The movements of her hands matched the action of Frosty—and her little face was intent with concentration. She stacked her fists atop one another for “snowman” and tapped her head for “hat.” My favorite of her made-up signs: for “dance around,” she’d shimmy and boogie under the covers.

Her interpretation of Frosty the Snowman may not be understood by anyone who uses real sign language, but I certainly followed along—and appreciated her creativity.

Learning Chinese in preschool

Next step in raising a multilingual child: In Peeper’s school, the kids learn a bit of Mandarin, starting as early as preschool. They sing songs, learn basic words like colors and “friend” and count in Chinese.

In an attempt to become multilingual myself, I studied Mandarin briefly in middle school when I lived in Singapore. It was hard. Granted, Peeper and her classmates aren’t learning to write characters (which was the most difficult part for me!) but even still, Mandarin isn’t the simplest language.

Learning Chinese in preschool: Raising bilingual children. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Yet Peeper is soaking in this new language. Sometimes I hear her counting in Chinese, and I swear she can count higher in Mandarin than in English.

The other day Kiwi and I picked her up from school. As we walked down the hallway, my multilingual child pulled on my arm.

Wo ai ni,” Peeper told me. “I love you.”

“Oh honey, wo ai ni!” I replied.

One of the school’s teachers, who is Chinese, walked by at that moment. She was almost as thrilled as I was!

The rest of the way home, Kiwi practiced some Mandarin of her own. “Ai ni ” she repeated over and over.

“Kiwi is saying ‘ai ni!'” Peeper praised her sister the entire way home. Before long, Little Sister will be listing the reasons she simply will not go to sleep or wants the Paw Patrol sippy cup, not the Cinderella one—in Mandarin.

A child’s version of Spanish

The final language Peeper “speaks” is Spanish. You’d think raising a multilingual child with Spanish would be easier, considering I used to be mostly fluent and am now conversational. But I hardly spoke Spanish with her, despite knowing that raising a child to be bilingual or multilingual has tons of benefits, including a boost in school performance, empathy, executive control and an appreciation of diversity.

Even still, we sprinkle a few words here and there. “That’s how you say ‘let’s go’ in Spanish,” we’ll say, or “that means ‘where are you?'” We often check out books with Spanish sprinkled throughout, so Peeper has picked up a number of palabras en español. She’s definitely picking up on the fact that you use different words to talk in different languages.

Proof: One afternoon Peeper got our attention.

“Want to know how you say ‘yes’ in Spanish?” she asked with her too adorable lisp on her s’s.

“How?”

Instead of saying “,”—or anything else for that matter—she wiggled her eyebrows up and down like Groucho Marx.

So now that’s how we say ‘yes’ to each other.

Eyebrow wiggles from Catherine Ryan Gregory on Vimeo.

“Do you want some bunny crackers?”
“Should we go to the playground?”
“Did you just konk your sister on the head with that block?”

Eyebrow wiggle.

The humor in raising a multilingual child

My host parents and host sister from when I studied abroad in Argentina have been in town this summer. We haven’t seen them since Peeper was just two months old, so it’s been nearly four years since I last saw them in person.

Recently we met up in Salem. It was wonderful to see them again after so long and for them to spend time with the girls, especially Kiwi, whom they had only met on Skype and Facebook.

When my kids met my study abroad host parents, they communicated through the universal language: laughter. Ten Thousand Hour Mama
About halfway through the day, though, Peeper told me, “Mama, stop talking like that.” She of course couldn’t understand our conversation in Spanish. (Reason #589 that I should do a better job of raising a multilingual child.)

“Honey, that’s the language Abuela and Abuelo speak,” I explained.

Then I told my host parents that Peeper could say “” in Spanish. They looked at Peeper expectantly.

Peeper, who had gone from hiding behind my legs to holding onto Abuela and Abuelo’s hands, didn’t hesitate. She wiggled her eyebrows up and down, looking at my host parents all the while. The whole table—including Peeper and Kiwi—cracked up. Then Peeper and my host dad took turns wiggling eyebrows at each other, barely containing their giggles.

As it turns out, laughter sounds the same in every language.

According to my preschooler, she is not only bilingual—she speaks four languages! Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Meals for new moms: Bring just what they need (& want!)

Everything you need to make delicious meals for new moms - Ten Thousand Hour Mama

When each of my girls was born, the steady delivery of meals was an enormous help. I couldn’t figure out how to breastfeed, much less feed myself, so the food friends brought nourished me in a way I deeply needed. In addition, their visits proved to be a much-appreciated and reliable contact with the regular adult world whose primary concern was not how many wet diapers the baby has had today. So if you’re considering making meals for new moms, I say to you: DO IT.

Since my big girls are no longer babies, I’ve had the opportunity to pay everyone’s kindness forward. I’ve brought quite a few meals for new moms and their families, and in the process I’ve learned a lot about what to do—and what not to do—when delivering meals to new moms.

So if you’ve signed up for a meal train, YOU ARE AWESOME. Know that by making a meal (or bringing takeout—that’s totally not cheating!), you are showing this new mama that she is loved, supported, cared for—and that her village will help lift her up as she undertakes the most monumental change of her life.

She is a new mom, and you are helping her become the best mother she can be.

(And that’s a big deal.)

If you’re not quite sure what to bring or what to do, though, you’ve come to the right place. When it comes to making meals for new moms, I share these 12 tips to help you make life easier for the family more focused on umbilical cord scabs than dinnertime.  Read more

6 ways to avoid body shame in kids: Body positivity for families

“Look at how big my belly is!” Peeper exclaimed. Never has anyone in the history of the planet uttered these words with such joy. As I cheered for her (“Yay, your belly is so big!”), it struck me that her innocent celebration of her body managed to avoid body shame.

I want to protect her body positivity as long as I can. I want to raise both my girls to be confident. I want to continue to avoid body shame in my kids.

How to teach kids to love their bodies, grow a positive self image and avoid body shame. Read more

New moms: Survive your first day on your own with kids

It’s a small mercy that I barely remember my first day on my own with both kids: Predictably, it was a disaster. The day involved a lot of tears, boiling over macaroni, leaking boobs and at least one text informing my husband in no uncertain terms that we were done having kids. But we survived—and you can, too, when it comes time for your first day on your own with kids.

After all, as hard as that first day was, it wasn’t all bad. I managed to put Peeper down for a nap (success!). And as I was rocking both kids in the rocking chair, Peeper kept reaching over and petting her newborn sister’s fuzzy head. It was beautiful. It was tender. It was a moment that kept me from completely giving up.

To get through your first day on your own with kids, New Mom, I’m offering a few tips. Some of these helped me during the early and hard months of having two kids, and some I’ve heard from others.

Until it gets easier—and it will get easier!—here’s how to make it through your first day on your own with kids.

You can survive your first day on your own with kids! Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

“Thank you for remembering me”—cherish your loved ones

A while back, I’d had a hard day: Kiwi had hardly slept, and I was tired. So tired. It was nice outside but I’d been at my computer all day, so I strapped her in the carrier, leashed up Finn and went for a walk. I decided to call my grandma.

She answered with a wary, “Hello?”

“Hi Grandma, it’s Sweet Dolly,” I said, using the nickname she gave me when I was little. She must not have my number programmed into her cell.

My grandmother immediately recounted her day—how she was watching boring TV, that she had walked along the beach in the Gulf like always and didn’t even need a heavy jacket, that the big log in the fire helped heat her house, that tomorrow was bread ministry, that she was dubbed the Potato Lady because she always served the spuds at the church soup kitchen. The details from her quiet life spilled out as if they’d been just waiting for someone to call and listen.

Then—almost out of nowhere—she said, “Thank you for remembering me!” She was nearly in tears.

Her outsized gratitude nearly broke my heart. And her gratitude was an important reminder to cherish your loved ones.

The other day I was reminded to cherish your loved ones when I called my grandma. I'm so grateful for her. Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more

Rainy day things to do in Portland with kids

The other day, as my kids were scream-fighting over a bouncy ball and I was hiding behind the kitchen island/taking a lie-down on the floor, I realized I had not been beyond a one-block radius of my house in seven days. Here I was, getting a very close-up view of all the crumbs along the baseboards, because I hadn’t done anything outside the home in a week. I know I’m not the only rainy day stir-crazy mom out there, so for all y’all desperate parents, I thought I’d put together a resource list of indoor kids activities in Portland, Oregon and the Portland metro area.

Many of these places we have tried; others I can’t wait to visit. And there are indoor kids activities in this overflowing-with-fun list for just about every flavor: activities for toddlers, preschoolers, big kids—and even parents who may or may not want a mimosa on a weekday. (Hey-o!)

Arts studios that will clean up mashed clay for you? Check.

Restaurants that include play places (and aren’t McDonald’s)? Check.

Gyms that encourage your kids to literally climb the walls? Check.

These indoor kids activities in Portland equal your sanity-saving plan for all the rainy, snowy, sleety weather we still have to endure. Winter, eat your heart out, ’cause this family is now prepared with plenty of indoor family activities that don’t include lying facedown on the floor.

55 of the best ideas of indoor kids activities in Portland, Oregon, including restaurants, museums, play gyms, arts and crafts studios and more! Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more