Saturday, November 26, 2011

Best Baby Toys - 8 to 24 Months Edition: And Just in Time for the Holidays!

James is like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin. But replace money bin with crib of toys and a sister. (21 1/2 months)

Some baby toys are exciting the first ten minutes and then rarely picked up again. Everything on this list was used and used and used and used and fought over and used some more. And sometimes the toy in question was rediscovered and used in an unexpected way!

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Learning Home
It's a little pricey but totally worth it. I recommend scouring Craigslist for a used one. We were lucky to get ours as a gift (thanks, Mom!). This is a great toy for babies who are learning to pull up or cruise - it's sturdy and won't topple on them - and it's great for a long time afterwards, too. Because of this toy we found out that the babies could follow directions - among them, opening the mailbox, ringing the doorbell, and opening the window. They love to dance to "Itsy Bitsy Spider" too. A few months later I bought the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Learning Farm at a garage sale for $20. It's also a really good toy but the babies and I prefer the Home.

Julia crawls through the door of her Learning Home for the first time Christmas morning. (12 1/2 months)

James prefers to climb the Learning Home. (15 months)

Julia has a closed gate policy when it comes to feet in her farm... (17 months)

...and also James.

Playskool Busy Gears
The babies took to this toy right away, and sometimes even worked together to put the gears on the pegs. James likes putting different toys on the middle gear while it rotates to see what will happen.

"I can hold 6 gears at the same time. Yay!" (17 months)

James's latest experiment: putting his Magnetic Bug Stackers on the middle rotating gear. (18 months)

Stacking Cups
They're so simple and cheap and the babies love them (thanks, Mom!). First, when the babies were under a year they just liked holding them. Then sometime after their first birthday they realized they could stack them. I'd put out four or five cups and they'd stack them and eventually they could do all eight. Next I had to buy another set (bowls this time, which look cool but don't stack as cleanly) because there was too much fighting over the most prized toy in the land. (We had the Especially for Baby Stacking Cups but almost any will work.)

"Julia, you want this stacking cup?" (11 1/2 months)


Julia does her best pig nurse imitation from that one Twilight Zone episode. (12 1/2 months)

Mega Bloks
We were lucky to get a huge tub of MegaBlocks from our friend April. I regret not giving the babies the Mega Bloks earlier (14 months would have been perfect) because they like them more than the other block sets I've bought for them, and - even better - these connect together so they're easier to use.

Julia's still learning how stacking works. (22 months)

Fisher-Price Go Baby Go! Bounce & Spin Zebra

The twins constantly ride their zebra and their rocking horse with great enthusiasm. The zebra also comes in pony form and may have just gone out of stock. Try to find it on Craigslist - ours was $10 at a garage sale. While I like our Radio Flyer Soft Rock and Bounce Pony (looks like the one in the link but ours didn't come with sound), if one of the twins (ahem, James) rides too vigorously they can fall off. (This has only happened once or twice.)

Julia goes for a bounce and spin on her zebra. (19 months)

James does some stunt riding on the pony. (20 1/2 months)

LeapFrog Learn & Groove Music Table
There are lots of music tables around. I don't know if ours is better than the others, but everyone seems to have this one. In fact one night, Mark and I were driving through the Town of Los Altos, which doesn't believe in street lights, when suddenly our headlights illuminated something in front of us: the Music Table sitting in someone's gutter. It truly is everywhere. My friend Stacy introduced the twins to hers and they took to it right away, so I sought it out at my first twins' garage sale and scored one for $5. One nice thing about it is that it comes with removable legs so the babies can use it when they are (barely) sitting up and also when they can stand.

Julia takes her Music Table playing very seriously. (11 months)

As soon as she turned 18 months, Julia just wanted climb the Music Table... (18 months)

...Even without the legs. (21 1/2 months)

There are a lot of good wooden puzzles out there. We have three of these Melissa & Doug ones (thanks, Leslie, for 2/3 of them!). Another I *really* like is the Melissa & Doug See-Inside Numbers Peg puzzle, which I got for $1 at a garage sale (I should just make a typing shortcut for "$1 at a garage sale"). Even though the puzzle is for ages 2 and up, the babies immediately liked it (in fact it's been their favorite toy period for the last couple months) and found it easier to place the pieces than other puzzles marked for the under 2 set. But best of all, it got them really interested in numbers! I didn't even try working with them on numbers other than giving them the names of numbers when asked, but now they're really into naming all the numbers, especially their favorite, 8, and now they're counting, too. The alphabet version of this puzzle is marked for 3 and up, which makes me think the parts are chokeable. It's too bad they don't make a version for their age group.

James in his puzzle corner... which happens to be in the middle of the room. (21 months)

It doesn't look impressive here, but Julia was carrying her favorite number puzzle
and all the pieces. (22 months)

This Maxim EverEarth Arctic Wooden Puzzle is pretty cool too (thanks, Lila!). Each animal is created by putting two shapes together and then that resulting shape can be placed into the puzzle (to understand you should probably see the link). The pieces are double-sided (one animal on each side) which ups the complicatedness factor. It's a little above my kids but they've been growing into it. At first I'd make the animals for them so they'd just have one shape to put in the puzzle, but now they're able to put the puzzle together themselves for the most part.

We also have the Melissa & Doug Farm Sound Puzzle which is fine but doesn't warrant a "must buy." I'm only mentioning it as a non-sequitur so I can talk about how it scares the crap out of me every night. The rooster makes a sound whenever I turn the light off. It's our most haunted toy - sometimes it just goes off on its own. (We also have a pets sound puzzle - I can't find a link - courtesy of Bubby, with bigger pieces that are easier to manipulate. This puzzle seems to be only slightly haunted.)

Edushape Rollipop Advanced Ball Drop Set and Tomy Ball Party Bounce
(second link includes other toys from a hall of fame best toys list as well)
I got this sort of Franken-version of both sets at a garage sale for $6. (Mark finally figured out by looking online that the toy I had bought had pieces from two different sets of toys.) The twins like it a lot and I can see them playing with it for quite a few more years, especially since it's been popular with visiting 4 and 5 year olds. It's pretty cool to watch the balls run down multiple ramps to get to the bottom. I wish the Tomy version wasn't discontinued but maybe you can score one on eBay.

The babies playing with their Franken-toy. (20 1/2 months)

Melissa & Doug Deluxe 10-Piece Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks

James particularly likes this toy from Bubby. He can stack blocks, and as soon as he's done he can nest them. You know he likes a toy a lot when he gets mad if Julia even gets near it because of course she'll mess everything up by pretty much existing. The other plus to this toy is that it includes letters of the alphabet.

A blackberry mustachioed James shows off the box holding the alphabet nesting and stacking blocks.
(23 1/2 months)

I also mentioned two toys in my post, Baby Gear I Couldn't Live Without: Part 2 (a.k.a. Don't Be Surprised if I Give You These Things as Baby Gifts) that are still awesome. (Go to the Baby Gear link to find out why they're so awesome):

Sassy Look Photo Book
Early Learning Centre / Stacking Faces bath cups

Honorable Mentions

AquaDoodle Mat
It's hard to make a good scribbling surface for the babies that doesn't involve your floor or table getting covered in crayon (usually I tape paper to their high chair tray and let them do it there). But this mat means they can scribble whenever they want with the water pen. This is an honorable mention because as much as I like this toy, it hasn't been all that popular with the twins.

Julia depicts the candles from Many Days, One Shabbat. Her drawing is like looking at a photograph. (23 months)

A standing toy is essential at this age and the best one the babies have that is a standing toy only (more on a great standing and riding toy in the next paragraph) is a shopping cart. We have the Step2 Little Helper's Grocery Cart. Second place in the standing toy division is their doll stroller that I picked up for $1 at a garage sale (I cannot find our Graco one online). Another plus for both the shopping cart and the doll stroller is that they both can do double duty as "pretend" toys. While I like our shopping cart, another brand might be cheaper and just as good. I wish I could find fake food for it that wasn't marked as 3+ years (that always makes me think it's chokeable). I had to keep the teddy bear in the doll stroller for awhile because if it was empty, Julia would try to sit in it.

Gears are Julia's favorite food at the grocery store. (18 months)

(21 months) (Thanks, Stacy, for the doll stroller pictures!)

The twins started playing more and more in the backyard at this age so it's good to get a ride-on toy. With regards to ride on cars, their favorite is this one, the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe (I have an older version of the one pictured). It's kind of like a Flinstone car in that they sit and power it with their feet. The only problems are that 1) it's hard to get in and out, and 2) at first they constantly need to be pushed and this thing is hard to maneuver. I prefer that they use their other vehicles because they involve less Mommy participation. Those would be their Little Tykes Push and Ride Doll Walker and their Playskool Step Start Walk 'n Ride (this one can also be configured to be a walker). It's pretty easy to find ride-on toys at rummage sales. Actually, our Fisher-Price Go Baby Go! Stride-to-Ride Dino is probably the best ride on toy of all. I know I should put it in the backyard (that's what my parents intended when they gifted it), but it looks so nice and new I hate to do it. It's both a walker and a ride-on, but the babies were already strong walkers when they got it so they missed out on the walker part.

Julia tries out a Cozy Coupe for the first time with Daddy. (17 1/2 months)

Julia seems to drive pretty well, but she could use a little help with her backing up skills. (19 months)

Julia and James on their Push and Ride Doll Walker. (Julia at 18 months; James at 19 months)

Julia has an unorthodox way of checking the engine on her Step Start Walk 'n Ride. (19 months)

James likes to engage in some stunt Dino riding. (23 months)

Another essential toy to have is a shape sorter. I really like the classic Tupperware Shape O Toy Ball. In fact, it's the only toy that was once used by one of the twins' parents - this was Mark's toy as a baby. I like that it has harder shapes to put in. However, the big design flaw for me is that the two halves to open the toy are hard to pry apart - even for an adult! So even though it keeps the twins entertained, they keep coming to me to open it for them to get the shapes back out. And we all know the whole point of toys is to keep the kids out of our hair for awhil, er... I mean, to promote self-reliance... or something? We have another shape sorter ($1 at a garage sale - I know: shocker!), Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Baby's First Blocks (ours is an older version with 4 instead of 5 shapes). It's good in that they can open it themselves, but it doesn't have as many different types of shapes to challenge them as they get older.

James sorts some shapes. (19 1/2 months)

Two Toys I Want to Get

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Latches Board
Whenever I see this toy I joke that it teaches kids to unlock doors and escape. It teaches fine motor skills and is kind of like several puzzles in one. If someone has this toy at a playdate you can bet that James will immediately find it. Not knowing this, my mom recently e-mailed me that she had purchased this toy for the twins' birthday, and that James would really love it. She knows my boy well.

James heads to the latches board at someone else's house like a moth to flame. (20 months)

They've just started to like crawling through tunnels at other peoples' houses and at Gymboree. We plan to get one with our Huggies points. It seems like all the ones on Amazon have chokeable warnings. Maybe it's me, but I think that a tunnel is a little big to fit in their mouths.

James's first tunnel. (11 months)

Julia's first tunnel. (She's usually our daredevil, but it took a nearly a year for her to be interested in trying one out). (21 1/2 months)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Questions I Get Most Often (and Some Other Ramblings)

Are they twins???
Yep, sure are. I know they don’t look that much alike but they’re twi...

But he’s so much BIGGER than she is...
Well he’s big for a boy and she’s small for a girl.

He must be older. How much older is he?
He’s one minute older.

Obviously that one minute is why James is nearly 4 pounds heavier. While it’s true that the first twin out in a vaginal delivery (Twin A) is usually bigger, any differences after the first few weeks due to birth order go away. I’m not sure what people who ask me about it are thinking - that James came out two months early and fattened up while Julia luxuriated inside my womb eating a spa diet of tofu, arugula, and tomato wraps?

But let’s go back to my twins not looking alike...
While James and Julia looked more alike when they were first born with their blond widow’s peaks and wrinkly newborn faces, they don’t look much alike now. Both are pale with blue eyes but the similarities end there. James has dirty blond hair and definitely looks like my side of the family while Julia has medium brown hair and definitely looks like her Daddy. I think it’s fun that they look so different and we get to see such different genetic combinations in them.

They actually look alike the first month...

Stretching out on the warming table, just after birth, the babies still look alike because they look like every other wrinkled Caucasian newborn. (1 hour)

Kickin' it in the car seats and showing off matching blond widow's peaks. (2 weeks)

Still looking pretty much alike the second month...

According to James Lipton, the appropriate term of venery is "an armload of babies." (1 month)

Julia and James practice their "Walk Like an Egyptian" poses. (1 month)

Different lengths and head shapes by 4 months...

James and Julia go head to head... Uh oh. I've been spotted. (4 months)

But then by 6 months you can really see the different in the twins' hair color...

The awesomeness of Jean Diapers. (6 months)

Most twin moms I know have babies that definitely look more alike. I really only know two sets of twins that look less alike than ours. They would be my friend Kathy who has one twin, Ava, who looks Sicilian like her daddy with dark hair, big dark eyes, and a stocky build (Kathy's words, not mine) and the other twin, Bella, who looks Irish like Kathy with red hair, blue eyes, and a build like a beanpole. (No, this Kathy is not actually me.) One other interesting set of twins I know is my friend Tesin’s. She is Chinese and her husband is Irish, and one twin, Kimai, looks totally Chinese, and the other, Caitlin, looks totally Irish. By chance they happened to give the Irish name to the Irish-looking baby.

Least alike twin competition winners: Ava and Bella.

And tied with Ava and Bella for least alike: Kimai and Caitlin.

Surprisingly I’ve only gotten the boneheaded question asking whether James and Julia are identical or fraternal once, which I’ve heard boy/girl twin parents get asked a lot. Incidentally, Mark and I watched a National Geographic special on twins and apparently you can have identical boy/girl twins. As I understand it, all twins undergo mutations so they’re never completely alike. In very rare instances, one of those mutations can affect the chromosome that determines the sex of the baby.

Do twins run in your family?
Actually, they do. My mother’s first cousin Beverlee was the surviving twin at birth. And my father’s Aunt Veronica had identical twins, Karen and Susan. On Mark’s side there are two sets of Pilloff twins: Grandpa Herschel’s first cousin, Lawrence had twins as did another first cousin's (Benson) son Steve.

My cousin Beverlee is on the far right in the first picture and on the left in the second with her daughter, Debbie. Incidentally, she looks so much like my mom they could be sisters. (In fact I've heard stories about my mom borrowing Beverlee's ID. I wonder whatever for...)

Here's my mom for comparison. She only wears over-the-top floral hats when she's out for tea.

However, this probably had nothing to do with it since our fertility clinic had me take a drug to increase the possibility of my getting pregnant. Thankfully the first drug they gave me - Clomid - worked so I didn’t have to go down the path of self-injectable drugs or IVF. My nurse told me that taking Clomid would give me a 8% chance of getting pregnant with multiples. I was given an ultrasound after taking Clomid and two eggs were visible. Then I was given a steroid shot in my butt (not too unlike Jose Canseco) with doctor’s orders to go make a baby the following night. (Side note: the month before this attempt, FIVE eggs were visible and I told the nurse I did not want to try that month. The doctor was disappointed with my decision when he found out, which makes me think: bad doctor.)

Asking if twins run in your family is a loaded question (as mentioned in this awesome, awesome video that’s a must see for twin parents). A lot of people who ask this are clueless, but there are others that are surreptitiously asking to find out if you had ferility help. I was actually asked this during my Jeopardy audition in front of a room full of people, and sort of stammered an answer ("no, well yes, but no...").