The Brookline Parent: A Grand Day Out

Late Fall in Coolidge Corner

Originally published November 27, 2012

A grand day out 1

Mid-November is an odd time for activities. It’s no longer really apple-picking season; the leaves have mostly fallen so leaf peeping is not a viable activity; and the weather is getting less predictable. Darkness comes early, and the colder weather often precludes extended outdoor activities. And sometimes you don’t want to travel particularly far away for amusement.

This past Sunday, we didn’t have any specific plans for the day. We had some tentative plans to get together with an out-of-town friend, but when those fell through, we weren’t sure how to spend the day. Michael thought it might be nice to take the girls out to Rubin’s Kosher Delicatessen, but Muffin and Squeaker had a different idea – they wanted pizza, and they wouldn’t be convinced otherwise. Not even the promise of a hotdog or hamburger would sway them. So off we headed to Café Eilat, or, as the girls know it, “the pizza store.”

(As an aside, it’s not like they don’t have pizza regularly. I frequently buy pizza dough at Trader Joe’s and cheese at The Butcherie and make pizza at home. But sometimes they enjoy going out for pizza as well.)

We had a lovely lunch at Café Eliat, as we always do. The girls ate an entire pizza by themselves, plus all the cucumber out of Michael’s salad and my sushi. Muffin finished lunch and wanted to wander around the restaurant, so Michael followed her on her adventures. I, meanwhile, stayed with Squeaker, who is skilled in the art of making a meal last as long as humanly possible. While Squeaker was eating, we were joined by a friend who had also come to the restaurant, and he stayed with us for part of the rest of our day.

a grand day out 2

Also while Squeaker was still eating, one of their preschool teachers saw us sitting in the restaurant and stopped to say hi. Muffin seemed a bit confused by seeing her teacher out of context, though this teacher was a friend before she worked at the girls’ school. Our friend took it in stride, though, and told Muffin she looked forward to seeing her and Squeaker in school on Monday.

Once Squeaker finally finished lunch, we headed to the playground at the Devotion School, which the girls know as “Firetruck Park,” where we have been many times before. Unlike most trips to this or any other park, Muffin and Squeaker were content not to spend time on the swings, instead deciding to have fun on the various slides and climbing structures around the playground. Eventually, however, we all started getting quite cold. We gave the girls a choice about what we would do next: the library, the bookstore, or stopping for ice cream. Their answer might surprise most people but not people who know the girls well: they wanted to go to the library before it closed.

So off we headed to the Coolidge Corner branch of the Public Library of Brookline. Muffin and Squeaker enjoyed drawing with the paper and markers available in the children’s room, playing with the large animal-shaped stuffed pillows, and choosing books to take home. We stayed at the library until they were closing and turning out the lights.

The girls, at that point, were still not ready to go home. Since they had a large, late lunch, Michael and I were not concerned with feeding them a real dinner, so instead we headed off to JP Licks. There the girls enjoyed their usual orders: a kiddie-sized chocolate ice cream for Squeaker and a package of chocolate chip cookies for Muffin. After eating, Muffin enjoyed one of her favorite activities at JP Licks, cleaning the table with a wet wipe. Other wet wipes were employed to clean up Squeaker, who often ends up wearing a significant amount of her chocolate ice cream. I was pleased to see that, in true New England fashion, JP Licks was busy on Sunday night despite the outside temperature being in the low- to mid-40s.

After ice cream, our day was still not done. The girls wanted to go to Brookline Booksmith to pick out some books we wouldn’t have to return, unlike the ones we got from the library. At first they picked out about fifteen books between them, but Michael told them to winnow that number down. In the end, each was left with three books. As we were headed out, Muffin spotted a Dora the Explorer activity book, and she immediately declared that she wanted it. Squeaker followed suit. So Michael told them we would be willing to buy them the activity books if they could choose one of their three previously chosen books to put back. With minimal fuss, both Muffin and Squeaker chose a book to put back and happily took a copy of the activity book. We then went and purchased the girls’ books, giving each girl a bag containing her books to carry home.

Even with the Green Line arriving just as we returned to the Coolidge Corner T stop, by the time we arrived home the girls were noticeably exhausted. They got through putting on pajamas and brushing their teeth with only a small amount of drama, and then they listened as Michael read two of their new books, one from each girl’s bag. Not long thereafter, the girls drifted off to sleep, having had a fun day of adventures in Coolidge Corner.

Much to our delight, they skipped their common nighttime shenanigans of laughing and talking until very late or popping out of their room for random things. Perhaps wearing them out by running them all over Coolidge Corner is a viable answer to the question of keeping them in their room at night.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Voting as Family Tradition

Instilling Civic Duty at an Early Age in the 2012 Election.

Originally published November 9, 2012

Voting as family tradition 1

My grandmother, Clara Baker (known as Clara Baker Cohen after she got married), grew up in Somerville. She attended junior high and high school with Harry Ellis Dickson and convinced him to follow her to the New England Conservatory. Years later, she toured the country with a violin trio, while Dickson joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted the Boston Pops. Dickson also became father-in-law to Governor Michael Dukakis, who as we all know, was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988.

I thought of my grandmother last week as the election was approaching, because I recalled my role in getting her to vote in an election that took place a few years before she died. She was feeling tired that day and disinclined to schlep out to the polls. Even though I was too young to vote, I already knew how important it was to cast one’s ballot, and I tried to think of a way to convince my grandmother to go.

And then it occurred to me. My grandmother was born in 1907, thirteen years before 1920. For me, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote, was part of history. For her, it was part of adolescence. She actually lived at a time when she saw the women around her legally refused the right to vote. When I pointed this out to her, she agreed to go to the polls and called one of the local campaigns that was providing cars to assist voters.

Why was I so convinced of the importance of voting? It was thanks to my parents, but mostly to my mother. When my brothers and I were kids, Mom would make a point of taking us with her to the polls. I still remember trekking to the gymnasium at P.S. 101 in Forest Hills, Queens, and walking into a voting booth with big red curtains. Mom would pull the large lever, the curtains would close, and she would push the small levers in the booth to select her candidates. When she was done, she would let me pull the large lever back. With a satisfying “KA-THUNK!” sound, the votes would be cleared and recorded as the curtains opened, and I felt as if I too had been a part of the process.

Nomi and I are dedicated voters, having voted in every single election we could from the time we were of age. I want to make sure that Muffin and Squeaker will be just as dedicated when they turn 18, and last week we pondered whether or not to bring the girls to the polls for their first presidential election. We have brought them to the polls before, for the special senate race of 2010 and for local elections in which I was running, but I felt that this might be the first election they actually have a chance of remembering when they get older. I put the question to Nomi, who felt that the logistics of walking the girls from home to the polls would be challenging, and I agreed with her. But I also put the question to friends on-line, and overwhelmingly they recommended we bring the kids with us.

Even Brookline Selectman Jesse Mermell got into the act, with a Public Service Announcement advocating that parents bring their kids to the polls.

So this year, Nomi and I changed our plans. Instead of voting first thing in the morning, as we usually do for presidential elections, we voted after work and took the kids with us. Sure enough, the logistics were problematic. It was a cold night, and Squeaker threw a tantrum about wearing her coat and gloves. She insisted on wearing my gloves, which kept coming loose, so as we walked she continued to throw more tantrums. Eventually, I just picked her up and carried her. Muffin, to her credit, did not throw a tantrum, but she did slow us down by saying she had to use the potty. Nomi had to go back to the apartment to get the diaper bag.

Voting family tradition 2

Once we got to the polls, the girls looked around with great interest and enjoyed displaying the “campaign” signs Nomi had made for them, which encouraged people to vote for snacks. For the most part, the girls waited patiently on line. After we got our ballots, we showed the girls how we filled in the bubbles indicating which candidates we wanted. I offered the girls the chance to feed the ballots into the counting machine (“SLURP!”) but the girls declined. They were delighted by the “I voted” stickers, however. And on our way home, they insisted on a stop at the Shaw’s grocery store for melon, strawberries, and cucumbers, and that’s what they ate for dinner.

Voting family tradition 3

Will the girls remember going to the polls for the 2012 election? I hope so. But if not, I take comfort from knowing that if we take them every year, when they get older they will remember that going to the polls was always an important part of their childhood.

Even if their memories will conclude with “SLURP!” and not a “KA-THUNK!”

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.


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Shutting Down the Bully Pulpit

Working to Help Our Kids Feel Safe in School

Originally published October 25, 2012

Shutting down bully pulpit

Last school year, when Muffin and Squeaker were two years old, we enrolled them in a playgroup that comprised six two-year-olds. While they loved the playgroup, many mornings Muffin would resist getting ready to go, as she wanted to stay home with our beloved babysitter and didn’t want to be separated from her.

However, as soon as she arrived at the playgroup, Muffin threw herself wholeheartedly into the activities, sometimes not even waiting to say goodbye before plunging in. She and Squeaker both thrived in the playgroup, making friends that she still asks about now that they are no longer in the same preschool program. And Muffin became a leader of the children in the playgroup, with all the other kids jockeying to sit near her at snack and lunch time.

When Muffin and Squeaker started at preschool this September, we anticipated a similar dynamic. And when we visited the school for the orientation days, Muffin really seemed to be interested in the activities, while Squeaker, true to her nature, held back, waiting to see if Muffin thought it was a good thing to do. So we were quite surprised when, about two weeks into the school year, things changed.

Suddenly, Muffin was resistant to going to school. And it was a different resistance from the previous year. Whereas for playgroup Muffin’s resistance ended at the playgroup leader’s front door, for preschool it continued at the school door and into the classroom itself. Something was clearly bothering her, but she was unwilling to tell us. When we asked her about how school was, she would spin fanciful tales about chasing tigers or she wouldn’t say anything at all. And Squeaker was not much more forthcoming, staying silent when we asked her about school.

Finally, the babysitter asked Michael and me if we had talked to Muffin about school. When we said we had been unable to find out anything, the babysitter told us that Muffin had told her that one of the boys in the class had “bonked” her, or hit her. And from what our babysitter could tell, it was not a one-time accidental thing. Muffin was afraid to go to school because of this child. And when the babysitter first spoke to the teacher about the incident, the teacher’s reaction seemed to be that it was simply a case of the interactions of an active boy and a sensitive girl. While it was early in the school year and the teacher did not yet know the students as well as she might later in the year, this was a red flag to me, because “sensitive” is not the first adjective that comes to mind when I think of Muffin. She is bold and outgoing, ready to try anything at least once.

And having been the target of bullying when I was in school, though not at as young an age as Muffin and Squeaker — and at a time when bullying was not treated as strictly as it is now — I did not want Muffin or Squeaker to ever fear going to school. When I had been the target of bullying, my parents spoke to the teachers and school administrators and made sure that the bullying behavior stopped.  Since it was during the period of the fall Jewish holidays and there was little continuity of school attendance, Michael and I decided to give the school until the end of the Jewish holiday period to resolve the issue.

One morning, we got the opportunity to address the issue head-on. The girls had had a particularly bad night, and they were extremely clingy to Michael. They did not want to let him go to work; they were afraid, they claimed, that he would go to work and not come back home. And his promising them that he would come home as he always did was not sufficient. So he agreed to accompany them to school along with our babysitter, who usually gets them there. While there, he got an opportunity to talk to the teacher and to the school administrator and to express our concerns about Muffin’s fears. And the school, to their credit, stepped up.

Since then, we have not had incidents of Muffin being afraid to go to school. When we ask her about the boy, she still says that he “fights,” and she does not list him among her friends from school when we ask who she plays with, but she is not afraid of him. And Squeaker, while acknowledging that the boy bothered Muffin, does consider the boy a friend and in-school playmate.

I am glad that the we and the school were able to address and resolve the issue, but I am sorry that Muffin had such a scary experience in school. While I know that it is impossible to believe that Muffin and Squeaker will never have interpersonal issues at school, I hope that they will be few and that they can be resolved in a similar manner in the future.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Clean-Up Time

Contradictions in Cleanliness

Originally published October 10, 2012

clean up time

Before Nomi and I had children of our own, we knew from visiting friends of ours who were already parents that children lead to clutter.  Now, Nomi and I are used to having some clutter around, but in general we manage to control it somewhat. Our general rule is a pile for everything, and everything in its pile.

Muffin and Squeaker don’t have a good sense yet of how to control their clutter in the same way. Part of playing with their toys or reading their books seems to be figuring out how to fill every square centimeter of the floor with stuff. I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t have to step on the floor occasionally without piercing my feet. And as they’ve gotten older, it’s gotten to be more of a problem.

When the kids were babies, we accumulated a lot of stuff for them, but we understood that they weren’t yet at the developmental stage of being able to clean up after themselves. If toys got scattered around, Nomi and I would do what we could to move the toys back into their appropriate boxes. Frankly, the clutter of toy cars, wooden blocks, and stuffed animals that accumulated in odd places was probably just as much our fault as theirs.

But the girls are preschoolers now, and they not only understand the difference between a clean space and a messy space, they’ve learned that after playtime comes clean-up time. They even know the clean-up song that every preschooler learns (not the one by John Lennon). They know that they have the ability to clean up their own messes.

Assuming, of course, that they are willing to do so.

I’m not sure why it is, but Muffin and Squeaker don’t seem to want to clean up their Legos, or card matching games, or spaceships after they play with them. And I don’t think it can be blamed on their age, because on the other hand, they do love to clean.

As some of you may recall, Muffin and Squeaker took to the broom just last year, even though they didn’t yet have the dexterity to use it correctly. A few weeks ago, at my request, Nomi bought a Swiffer brand Sweeper because I had been reading about them and it sounded like a useful cleaning tool for our hardwood floors. (And to be clear, we bought our own, and the company doesn’t even know I’m mentioning their product here.) Muffin and Squeaker saw the Swiffer, and immediately it became their new favorite toy.

I think it might be because the girls have been dropping a lot of crumbs on the floor, which attracts the occasional ant. When they see an ant, they get very upset and take personal umbrage at the insect that has dared to invade their personal space. So, realizing that the Swiffer would get up the crumbs easily, they both insisted on sweeping up the dining room floor immediately.

Now, with a broom, there’s no extra cost to a second sweep. But the Swiffer uses dry cloth refills, and neither girl was willing to keep using the Swiffer while the old dry cloth was on it. Otherwise, they’d miss out on all the fun of attaching a new dry cloth to the sweeper! And then they want to do it again, and again, and again… by which time, the dining room floor is spotless, and their own room is still a hazard to navigation.

In short, the cleaning up we want the kids to do, they don’t. The cleaning up that we can handle just fine, they insist on doing themselves, and they do it by wasting as many resources as possible. Not to mention the fighting over who gets to use the sweeper next. Seriously, I don’t understand the appeal.

I’m just hoping the girls will remember how much they love doing chores in a few years, when my friends Tom and Huck need their fence whitewashed.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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A Brookline Day Adventure

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Originally published September 27, 2012

Brookline Day Adventure 4

Every Sunday is a challenge for our family. As we’ve mentioned before, the days of us lazily spending our Sundays at home, perhaps vegging out in front of the television, are long gone. We have a responsibility now, to Muffin and Squeaker, to give them a stimulating Sunday every week.

This past Sunday, we were trying to decide what to do for the day to amuse them. One of the families with whom we have had a number of play dates this summer said they were not available because they were attending Brookline Day at Larz Anderson Park. We hadn’t been thinking of going, due to us not having a car and Larz Anderson not being particularly accessible by public transit. However, the town was running shuttle buses from various locations, including the Reservoir MBTA station, so we quickly got everyone ready and rushed out to catch the last shuttle bus at 12:45 p.m.

On arrival at the park, we immediately saw the large trucks, including backhoe loaders, dump trucks, and other large earth-moving equipment, parked outside for people to look at and for kids to get an opportunity to sit on. Neither Muffin nor Squeaker wanted to sit on any of them, and Muffin was a bit scared by the noise that some of the trucks were making, so after a brief stop by the Fire Safety house – where the girls were given Junior Firefighter hats and sticker badges – we entered the main park to check out the Brookline Day celebration.

Our first stop was at the booth set up by the Clay Center Observatory. Michael and I have known the folks from the Observatory since we instigated the local fight to save Pluto from demotion. Now that the girls are older and getting interested in space, we hope to take them some day soon to one of the Clay Center’s regular Tuesday Open Telescope nights.

Brookline Day Adventure 2 Brookline Day Adventure 1

Michael and I wanted to check out some of the other booths that were set up on the field, but Muffin had a definite goal in mind. There was a bouncy castle set up, and she was going to bounce. So after a brief stop to let the girls try their hands at tossing basketballs into a hoop, we headed over to the line for the large bouncy castle. There were a lot of families waiting, but the staff was efficient and kept the line moving.

As we got farther ahead in the line, Muffin told me that she was nervous that once she went in, she wouldn’t want to come out and that we’d have to go in after her because she was having too much fun bouncing. I explained to her that every group got a turn and that she would have to come out, and after some thought she accepted that. Meanwhile, Squeaker was holding Michael’s hand and performing some practice bounces on the ground.

Brookline Day Adventure 3

As we approached the head of the line, however, Squeaker bounced less and less. And when Michael lifted her up to remove her shoes before she went in, she got apprehensive. Muffin went in and started bouncing away, and Squeaker watched from the side of the castle. After a brief time, however, Squeaker decided that bouncing looked like fun, after all, and she joined Muffin in the bouncy castle. At the end of the girls’ allotted time, they came back out of the bouncy castle with no fight (though Muffin was a bit apprehensive of coming back out through the small door in the castle), and we put their shoes back on and continued exploring the venue.

We visited a couple of booths before Muffin let us know about her next goal for the day. She wanted a balloon. Vehemently. Would she settle for going to see another inflatable game? No – she wanted a balloon. Could we talk to someone at a booth? No, she wanted a balloon. So we walked around the grounds looking for the booth giving out the balloons.

Finally we found it. And they were out of balloons. Muffin was sad but grudgingly accepting of her balloonless state.

We continued to stop at booths and talk to people, and finally we came to the booth representing the Public Library of Brookline. As did many of the booths, they had balloons decorating their tent. Muffin was still sad about not having a balloon, so the people staffing the booth, whom we knew because of Michael’s connection to the library, offered both her and Squeaker balloons. We tied the balloons to the girls’ wrists and headed off to see other booths.

After another booth or two, Squeaker started to whimper. Apparently, her balloon had come loose and was quickly making a break for it. I tried but failed to grab it as it rose. From our luck getting the first set of balloons, I felt confident going to another of the town-sponsored booths and asking if I could impose on them for a balloon for my bereft three-year-old daughter. The person staffing the booth agreed to give me one whole bunch of balloons from the booth, from which I was welcome to take as many as I could untangle. As I stood there untangling a new balloon for Squeaker, another family came up and asked whether they could have a balloon as well. I offered them all of the remaining balloons after I untangled Squeaker’s replacement balloon, and they took me up on the offer.

Now fully stocked with well-affixed balloons, we finished our circuit of the booths, mindful of the departure time of the final shuttle bus back to Reservoir station. We stopped at the Recreation Department’s booth, where a golden egg from Magic Beans had been hidden. I spotted the egg and asked if I could have it, as Magic Beans was giving coupons for merchandise to anyone who returned a golden egg. The man at the Recreation Department booth let me take the egg, and I offered it to the girls to carry. Muffin took it from me, and at first she wanted to keep it, but I convinced her to return it to the man at the Magic Beans booth.

She happily walked between the booths, clutching the egg. Squeaker asked me to give her an egg, too, but I explained to her that we only had one. I suggested to Muffin that she carry the egg and then let Squeaker give the egg to the person at the booth, but Muffin was determined to return the egg. So when we got to the Magic Beans booth, after Muffin returned the egg, I asked the person collecting the eggs if he could give me one that I could give to Squeaker to give to him. He was game, and he provided an egg to Squeaker that she could then return.

The booths were all winding down, and the time was approaching for the shuttle bus, so Michael, Muffin, Squeaker, and I headed for the bus stop. Weary but happy, we boarded the shuttle for home, glad to have spent a lovely afternoon celebrating the Town of Brookline.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Cooking with Kids

Fostering comfort in the kitchen – for everyone involved

Originally published September 13, 2012

Cooking with kids

When Muffin and Squeaker first started walking around the apartment, I instituted a strict rule: no kids in the kitchen. This was primarily a safety precaution. While we had worked to childproof the majority of the house as much as possible, it was virtually impossible to make the kitchen child-friendly. By design, the kitchen contains very sharp knives, appliances that get very hot, and drawers that, while attractive to small kids, contain items that are not meant for unskilled hands.

This rule carried through, with some violations, until the girls were almost two and a half. During this past winter, my parents lived for approximately two months in Brighton, and we visited over there a lot. My mother, who (obviously) has more years of experience of having kids in the kitchen, started having the girls keep her company in the kitchen and allowed them to participate in small ways in the food preparation process. Their ability to participate in kitchen work and listen to instructions gave me hope that I could try the same thing with them at home.

Following my mother’s lead, I started allowing the girls into the kitchen on a supervised basis. The first thing I taught the girls to do was help me put away groceries that I bought at the supermarket. They enjoyed this task immensely, especially when an item–such as yogurt–had a specific location where it went in the refrigerator. The girls enjoy seeing what ingredients I buy and identifying whether they like it (for example, bananas or tomatoes) or they don’t (for example, mushrooms).

Then, one day this spring, I decided to start making pizza at home. It was the day after Passover ended, and Michael and I and a friend took the girls downtown to the Museum of Science. After our museum outing, we wanted pizza for lunch. But since Cafe Eliat, the kosher pizza place in JFK Crossing, was not open until the afternoon, I bought pizza dough at and brought it home to make pizza.

Squeaker followed me into the kitchen and watched avidly as I removed the pizza dough from the grocery bag and left it on the counter.

“Whatcha doing, Mommy?” she asked.
“I’m going to make pizza,” I told her. “Do you want to watch?”

Since pizza is one of her favorite foods, this piqued her interest, and she stayed in the kitchen, watching me prepare the dough and stretch it into the cookie sheet that would, for this instance, substitute for a pizza pan. She watched me put sauce on the crust and then take the shredded mozzarella out of the refrigerator.

“What’s that, Mommy?” she asked.
“Cheese,” I said. “I’m going to put it on the pizza.”

Once she saw that I was taking handfuls of shredded cheese out of the package and sprinkling them onto the pizza, she wanted to help. So I helped her wash her hands, and then I brought the pizza down to her level and helped her help me put cheese on the pizza.

(During a subsequent pizza-making session, Squeaker was adamant that I use the closed cheese package, though there was still cheese in an open one. “The closed cheese will become the open cheese,” I explained to her. “It’s all very mystical.” Mysticism aside, she trusted me, and I was able to finish off the previous package of cheese before opening the next one.)

Near the end of this process, Muffin joined us, and she helped add cheese as well. This started an almost-weekly ritual of the three of us making pizza together. They help me spread sauce and add toppings, which they love. They’ll even help with the mushrooms, though they don’t like eating them. They know to stay well away from the oven when it’s hot and to listen to me when I say to be careful or not to touch something.

Since the pizza making has been so successful, I have branched out to teaching the girls other kitchen skills. Their first task was to put pre-measured items into mixing bowls. (My mother reports that this was an early task she taught my sister and me, as well.) So, for example, I would measure out the proper amount of flower or sugar, or crack an egg into a cup, and guide the girls in dumping the contents into the main bowl. Since one of the favorite pastimes of a toddler is filling and dumping, it did not take them long to master this task.

So I then moved them along to the next skill – stirring. Each girl, armed with a spoon, learned to blend dry items and then mix again carefully once I had added the liquid. They get very excited when we finish putting something in a pan and I put it into the oven, because they know that in a little while I will call them over again as I pull it out of the oven to see what has become of the food we put in. They have helped me bake cakes and make lasagna, and I hope some day in the not-too-distant future to teach them, as I was taught at an early age, to peel carrots and other vegetables.

Because I have set rules in the kitchen, I am comfortable having the girls help me as much as they can, and I look forward to expanding their skill sets in the future.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Fifty First Drafts

Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet?

Originally published August 31, 2012

50 First Dates

Believe it or not, has reached a major milestone today, our fiftieth column. In its honor, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of the topics we’ve covered over the past fifty columns and contemplate the column’s place in the world.

Or, as some of my friends might say, it’s time for a clip show.

Ahem. Brookline Patch approached Nomi and me about writing this column. We were relatively new parents, with our daughters a little over a year old. You might think that we wouldn’t have time to take on another commitment, but we jumped at the opportunity. Why? Well, on personal note, writing this column seemed like a nice way to help us process all the changes in our lives and share them with others. But, more broadly, it also seemed to be a good way to hold a lens up to a lifestyle that is becoming more typical for many people in our society.

As odd as it sounds to our ears, our family represents a trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national twin birth rate has skyrocketed. In 2009, the year Muffin and Squeaker were born, there were 137,217 twin births out of 4,130,665 total births, roughly 3.3%, a U.S. high. This may not seem like much, but since 1980 the rate of twin births has jumped 76%.

What was once a rare event is starting to seem more commonplace and is mostly credited to the older age of many new mothers and the use of fertility treatments. Furthermore, Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of twin births in the country, possibly due to the laws requiring insurance companies to cover a certain number of those fertility treatments. Nomi and I are no longer surprised to meet so many other local parents who have welcomed twins into their family in the last few years.

Given these trends, we realized that this column would have appeal beyond that of our own small circle. If you’re a twin parent already, or simply expecting twins (or triplets, or quadruplets, or…), our column might provide you with some insights that could be directly helpful. And even if you’re not a parent yourself, chances are you know some parents struggling with the issue of, well, their multiple issue.

So what topics have obsessed The Brookline Parent?

Well, true to the column’s name, Nomi and I do focus a lot on what it’s like to be a parent in the town of Brookline. We’ve written about taking the girls to Brookline parks, shopping with them at Brookline stores, and seeking out play dates with other Brookline parents. Early on, I even examined how easy it is to raise kids in Brookline without owning a car. I’d say that the column more than lives up to its name.

The next topic that seemed to dominate our columns was sleep. I’ve mentioned before how I noticed that we were discussing sleep quite a lot in this column. This past week has actually emphasized yet again how much we think about sleep, or the lack of it, as Muffin and Squeaker have woken up wailing in the middle of every night this week. They’ve done this before, and I expect they’ll do it again.

Another popular topic we’ve explored is the Jewish holidays. There’s no surprise there, and it’s delightfully relevant to Brookline, as our town has a large Jewish population that I’ve seen estimated at about 35%-40%, compared to a nationwide percentage of about 2%. We’ve written about costuming the girls for Purim, costuming], celebrating Passover without disrupting bedtime, introducing the girls to Rosh Hashanah, and enjoying the girls’ obsession with Hanukkah. We even when the girls were finally old enough to appreciate it more.

Finally, there have been columns that focus on our own personal interests. Nomi and I are both interested in language, and so we’ve written a bit on Muffin and Squeaker’s language development, both early and late. We’re also very interested in science. Nomi has written about how the girls are natural scientists, and how we’re trying to encourage their scientific curiosity. Very early on, I expressed my hope that girls will grow up in the world where no one would still question the thought of women becoming astronauts, and to this day it remains one of our most popular columns.

And, of course, no retrospective of our column would be complete without noting that I read to the girls every night, frequently about superheroes.

Thank you for joining us for the first fifty columns of The Brookline Parent. We’re looking forward to how Muffin and Squeaker surprise us in the next fifty, and we hope you’ll continue to come along for the ride.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Up in the Sky! Superheroes!

Introducing Children to Earth’s Protectors

Originally published August 17, 2012

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I can’t remember a time when I did not know about Superman. I was introduced to comic books and comic book superheroes at a very young age, and to this day I still have my entire comic book collection, which numbers in the thousands. (Nomi is very understanding.)

Naturally, I wanted Muffin and Squeaker to develop my love of superheroes. I thought I might buy them some superhero comic books, casually leave them scattered around, and let them discover the comics “on their own.” But as babies and early toddlers, Muffin and Squeaker’s first impulse was to rip pages out of books. I didn’t want them extending this impulse to my own comics.

Also, superhero storytelling in comic books has changed from when I was a kid. At that time, DC Comics and Marvel Comics mostly aimed their stories at kids. No one would give a second thought to my buying a copy of Superman orAction Comics, because everyone knew that these stories were safe for kids. There was even a seal of approval from the Comics Code Authority!

But today, superhero storytelling is drastically different. Superhero comics are aimed at an older generation. The stories are darker and more violent. When I was four years old, I could choose any comic off the rack and my parents would know it was okay for me to read; today, that’s no longer an option.

So what was I to do?

Salvation came when I discovered SuperHero ABC by comic artist Bob McLeod. It quickly became one of Muffin and Squeaker’s favorite books. In the book, McLeod presents twenty-six superheroes of his own invention, such as Goo Girl and Laughing Lass, to teach kids the alphabet.

As McLeod has illustrated superheroes for much of his career, I asked him what he thought about introducing kids to superheroes at a young age. Were my kids too young to learn about superheroes?

Not at all, according to McLeod: “Any age is fine, as long as it’s in the proper context, with no violence or threat. Young kids just mainly like to see the costumes, and the heroes flying.”

McLeod did agree with me, however, that today’s comics are not for kids anymore.

I also asked writer Keith R.A. DeCandido about introducing kids to superheroes. He has written many genre and tie-in novels, and his first book was a Spider-Man novel.

“Superheroes are great for children,” DeCandido said, “because it gives them a good example of right and wrong. With superheroes you have fairly unambiguous good guys fighting fairly unambiguous bad guys, and more often than not, good beats bad. That’s something it’s never bad to expose kids to.”

But wouldn’t such a conflict be too intense for a toddler?

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“Depends on the toddler, really. Some can handle it better than others – but that’s true of older kids and adults, too. Certainly the lack of ambiguity is an easy way to show good vs. evil without overcomplicating it. Even if a toddler or child misses the nuances, they can appreciate the basic setup that Spider-Man is a good person who is stopping Dr. Octopus from doing bad things.”

Of course, the fact that Spider-Man, or any hero, is fighting a bad guy might be a problem for some parents. Our fellow Brookline Patch columnist Shanna Giora-Gorfajn, who writes the Bounty Hunter column, asked me how we explain the bad guys to our kids. Well, Muffin and Squeaker already know what it is to be naughty or nice. So rather than tell them, say, that the Lizard is planning to kill a lot of people and take over the world, we just tell them that he’s naughty. If they want details, we tell them that he’s taking toys that belong to other people, or that he’s refusing to go to bed at bedtime. That they understand.

So how can parents introduce their young kids to superheroes today? I found a few possibilities beyond Bob McLeod’s excellent book.

First of all, the I Can Read! and Step into Reading series of books include titles about superheroes. It’s not that hard to find books for toddlers about heroes such as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. Most of these books are for Level 2 readers or above, but as long as I’m reading the books to the kids with them, that doesn’t really matter.

Secondly, Bob McLeod suggested showing the kids some of the older, more innocent comics of an earlier era. I’ve actually begun showing the kids the Spider-Man cartoon from the 1960s, which led to a fascinating question from Muffin when she saw Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson with a cigar in his mouth: “Daddy, why is that man eating a crayon?” The older cartoons and comics were aimed at young kids, as opposed to the comics and movies of today, so it’s easier to find superhero stories that are age-appropriate. Even if you have to explain away the occasional cigar.

Thirdly, we can introduce superheroes through play. From the time they were little, I would lift both girls up in the air and sing a song about “Super-Muffin” and “Super-Squeaker” to the tune of the John Williams 1978 Superman movie theme. I’m confident that when they finally see the film, the music will make them feel happy, even if they don’t know why.

Finally, I’m glad to say that the comic book companies themselves started to realize that there was a problem. After all, you won’t be able to continue to develop an audience if you have no entry-level stories to share. So a few years ago, DC and Marvel started new lines aimed specifically at kids. By the time my kids are reading on their own, I know there will be modern age-appropriate superhero comics to show them. I can only hope that by then they’ll still love superheroes.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Stop! In the Name of Science!

Getting Girls Interested in STEM from an Early Age

Originally published August 3, 2012

Stop in Name of Science

With the recent death of Dr. Sally Ride, I have been thinking a lot about what science education was like for me as a kid and what it might be like for Muffin and Squeaker as they grow up.

Muffin and Squeaker have been interested in how the world works from as early as they could ask questions. As the girls have gotten older and more mature in their understanding, Michael and I have started giving more sophisticated answers to their questions. And now they have reached a point at which we can ask them what they think the answers might be. This often means that instead of answering the same question for the tenth time in five minutes we ask Muffin, “What do you think the answer is?”

As it happens, “What do you think the answer is?” is a perfect entry point into talking about the world in more scientific terms. So, for instance, last weekend I told Muffin that I wanted to put her leftover watermelon from lunch into the refrigerator so she could eat it later.

“Why?” she asked, as usual.
“Because it will get yucky and you won’t be able to eat it,” I said.
“No it won’t!” Muffin insisted.

Squeaker, meanwhile, came over to find out what Muffin and I were talking about.

Rather than arguing with a three-year-old, I took a different approach: “Let’s do this,” I said. “I’ll put one piece in a zippy bag and we can leave it out, and we will see what happens.”

Muffin agreed to this, so I took a small bag, wrote “Warning: Science in Progress” on it, and put a cube of watermelon in it. It has been sitting on our dining room table since, and Muffin looks at it regularly to see what has happened to the watermelon. Squeaker, realizing that Muffin had something going on with Mommy and wanting in on the action, asked me to put a bag with watermelon on the table for her, too. So we now have two parallel experiments going on, separated by approximately 24 hours.

But even before the start of Squeaker’s watermelon experiment, she had kicked off a separate experiment. Muffin is quite fond of seltzer or, as we call it in our home, “fizzy water.” Squeaker is much less enamored of it, because the bubbles tickle her nose. Last week, Muffin had abandoned a cup of seltzer on the table and had wandered off to play and was disappointed to find that it had lost its fizz. For Squeaker, however, fizzless fizzy water is the ideal. So we now also have a small cup of seltzer sitting out on our dining room table so that we can see how long it takes for it to lose its fizz.

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I love that Muffin and Squeaker want to know how things work and that they have even a tiny budding interest in science. There has been much written regarding the myths and truths about girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In September 2011, the White House and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a plan to support new flexibility to allow scientists to maintain their career goals while starting families. One goal of this is to keep girls and women with an interest in science from feeling that they cannot advance in their fields if they wish to have children.

The NSF is also funding research to “understand and address gender-based differences in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce participation through research, the diffusion of research-based innovations, and extension services in education that will lead to a larger and more diverse domestic science and engineering workforce.

It is my hope that by the time Muffin and Squeaker have to decide what they want to study in school there will be less of a gender bias in STEM fields. With famous role models such as Dr. Mayim Bialik (with a Ph.D. in neuroscience) and Danica McKellar(with a mathematical theorem partially named for her), it is easier to show girls that they can go far in any field.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Muffin, Squeaker, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here

Scenes from a visit to the BU Child Language Lab.

Originally published July 20, 2012

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It seems strange to me today, but according to what my parents told me when I was in my teens, “truck” was my very first word. Apparently, I was quite fond of a toy truck my parents had gotten me, and I played with it quite a lot. So, not surprisingly, “truck” ended up being my first word. After all, it was one of the most prevalent objects in my tiny universe.

I saw this sort of thing replicate itself last year when Squeaker and then Muffin spoke their first words. We fed them each a sliced banana every day, and when it came time for them to speak, “banana” was their first word. It doesn’t hurt, I suppose, that “banana” is a rather easy word to pronounce.

As all of our friends know, Nomi and I are fascinated with language. Nomi has written before about , and then she noted less than a year later . As it is, from the day that Squeaker first uttered the word “banana,” and Muffin followed with the same word a week later, we have been tracking as much as possible the words and phrases that they have used. (That list of words and phrases, by the way, is available to anyone who asks, though we’re not sure it would be of interest to many.)

So when we found out that Boston University has a laboratory devoted to studying child language development, it was a no-brainer for us to sign the kids up as possible subjects. Brighton resident Dr. Sudha Arunachalam (who lives so close to Brookline that the town line sign is posted just in front of her building) is the director of the Boston University Child Language Lab, and she emailed us after we got in touch. The research center is studying how children acquire language, and they are always searching for new subjects. As it is, we didn’t sign up until the girls were already two years old, so that meant that there were already studies they had missed.

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Fortunately, the lab was starting a new study in May, and our kids fell right into the age range they needed. It took a bit of juggling, but we managed to get an appointment for them to test the kids just before they would have aged out. We were very excited about participating, and we tried to interest Muffin and Squeaker by telling them all about how they would have a chance to watch some videos, which is a treat for them.

We arrived on a Friday morning, met one of Dr. Arunachalam’s research assistants, and were brought into a waiting room with decorations on the wall and a box of toys on the floor. As the girls played and tried to assimilate their unfamiliar surroundings, Nomi and I read over and filled out a variety of forms, including a Research Consent Form. I don’t think the lab had previously had any parents read the forms as intently as we did. We didn’t care so much about the permissions we were granting; we were much more interested in knowing what they were trying to learn. According to the forms, Dr. Arunachalam was working on a study of the mechanisms underlying word learning in children. To put it another way, what visual cues do children rely on when learning new words? It’s a question Nomi and I have pondered a lot, such as when Muffin uses the wrong gender pronoun for her sister.

After we signed the forms, Squeaker volunteered to go first, and she requested that Daddy come with her. I went with her into the study room. A chair with a car seat was set in front of a video monitor for the child to watch. Squeaker didn’t want to sit in the car seat, and she was a little frightened, so instead I sat in the chair with her on my lap.

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The study requires the researchers to track the child’s eye movements, so I was required to wear a blindfold. Otherwise the scanner might have mistakenly tracked my eyes instead of Squeaker’s. The researchers showed Squeaker a calibration video to make sure they were tracking her eyes correctly. If you watch the videos that accompany this column, you’ll see that the red dots show you what Squeaker or Muffin is looking at. You’ll also see how funny I look with a blindfold on.

The research team showed Squeaker a series of videos in which a narrator explained what was going on in the video and then asked Squeaker questions. She answered by pointing to the videos. In order not to contaminate future studies, I can’t really say too much about this part, but I can present the gist of it. The narrator told Squeaker what someone was doing in a video, and then the screen showed two videos at the same time and the narrator asked Squeaker which side showed an activity similar to what she had just seen.

Squeaker was too uncomfortable to go through the whole series of videos, and when it was her turn Muffin stopped “playing the game” in less time than Squeaker did. The team assured me, though, that they had the data they needed. As a reward, each girl got to choose a toy from a box. Squeaker chose a stuffed dog in a Boston University shirt, and Muffin selected a mini football with the BU logo.

As Muffin and Squeaker have just turned three years old this week (and how did that happen?), they are aging out of most of the studies at the lab. But if you’re a parent with a young child, I urge you to sign up your child to participate in a study. It’s fun, and it’ll give you a new perspective on how we communicate.

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This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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