Body by Baby

Before I had a baby, I wasn’t really in great shape, but I worked out pretty regularly. After my oldest was born, I was back at the gym, regularly, by the time Alex was four months. This was mainly as an escape from the baby every now and again. I never really got back to my pre-pregnancy weight after Alex since he was seven months old when I got pregnancy with baby #2. (I can hear the sighs now. Yes, I know that was crazy!)

After Anna was born, it took me six months to get myself to the gym. But upon my reemergence into the workout world, I discovered that I was already in shape. I could run a good 20-30 minutes on the treadmill without too much work and wow, I could lift weights like I could back when I was working out regularly. How, you ask, is this possible? Let me explain:

  • Baby in Baby Bjorn, toddler carried on hip, diaper bag on back
  • Baby in infant carrier, toddler on hip, diaper bag on shoulder
  • Baby in stroller/Baby Bjorn, toddler riding on shoulders, diaper back balanced on knee
  • Lifting toddler into/out of stroller with baby in Baby Bjorn
  • Carrying both kids on hip, toddler carrying diaper bag

Ok, so you get the point. I was a regular workout junkie without even knowing it. I could lift and squat with the best of them with at least 40 pounds of baby/toddler on me at a given time.

Alex and Anna are now 3 ½ and 2, respectively, and really babies no more. They either walk everywhere or catch a ride in the stroller that they can climb into themselves. But this week I was forced to resort to one of my old positions of baby in stroller and older baby on shoulders due to a hurt foot and paid for this later. After a few months of workouts limited to running and kickboxing, I realized I had neglected to do and weight training. Today, on a whim, I decided to go back to the old weight routine (the one I could do when Anna was six months old) and found out that I am, indeed, out of baby shape.

While taking care of two children less than two years apart is a lot of work, what once was physical work has now become mental and emotional work. Now it’s about negotiating, scheming, creativity and planning, instead of balancing, lifting, squatting or running. For the past four years, my body which has been defined by babies—nine months of pregnancy, recovery/breastfeeding, nine more months of pregnancy, recovery/breastfeeding, heavy lifting of two children—is now defined by me. Guess, I should start going to the gym more often. Thank God they have childcare there.


American Preschools: Surely we can do better

A recent Parents magazine article compared preschools in various countries around the world, including Sweden. We are recent converts to Swedish life after spending, regretfully, only a year in the Stockholm suburbs. My first experience with preschool was with two very different Swedish preschools. One was an English-speaking Montessoriesque school and the other was the true-to-form Swedish preschool, aka ‘dagis.’

For those that send their kids to preschool here in the U.S. or ever have, you would be shocked at how much your kids are missing after seeing these schools. While I thought far more about the Swedish school, than the English-speaking Montessori one, both are far above what I’ve seen here on any level.

In Sweden, preschool begins at age 1. That’s right, your little 12-month old child can hobble off to school before he can even use a spoon. No worries though because the Swedish teachers will teach him how. Most families do not pay more than $80-100 a month. I paid $50 for my son to attend 20 hours a week. I actually only sent him for 12 hour—the staff could not understand why I would do that. Because cost of living is so high in Sweden, both parents really must work so the government (taxes) help pay for preschool. There is no childcare available to children, as far as I know, before age 1 since every mom is given approximately one-year maternity leave and fathers get at least a few months in addition to that.(also noted in the high taxes).

My son started dagis (preschool) right before his 2nd birthday. They had a 2-week program where we came with the children everyday and sat with the other parents while our kids got acquainted with the school. They wanted to make sure it was an easy transition for all the children. Alex had no problem adjusting to school since he had recently started at the Montessori while waiting for a Swedish school slot.

The school buildings are amazing. They are bright and clean and full of windows and lots of light. Children take off their shoes upon entering, as they do everywhere in Sweden, to help keep the floors clean and put on slippers. Moms here choke when they hear about the food Alex was served. Children are given fruit to eat in the morning. Different types during the year. In the summertime, he would eat the nice fresh Swedish strawberries. I used to come in and find apple peels in the sink for what appeared to be a million apples. For lunch, each child received a hot catered lunch. Every meal included salad, sometimes soup. There was fish, meat, chicken, meatballs, hot dogs (korv), pizza, spaghetti. Things that you would hardly ever find in a preschool here—a part time one anyway. They all ate on real plates (no plastic), used metal utensils, and real cups. Many of the schools used to eat their meals by candlelight. They all sit and talk of the mornings’ events and chatter on like a happy group of kids. Was it surreal? You bet. Did I love it? Absolutely. My son learned to eat with a fork, spoon and knife. Yes, that’s right, a knife. He learned to drink out of non sippy cup and on the side, learned to speak Swedish.

The children had special clothes for every type of weather. When it was hot, they were allowed to play in the hose and the nearby lake. When it rained, they had special rubber pants and boots to wear for the daily walks or playground trips. When it snowed, layers of clothes and a snowsuit allowed them to play in the snow. They even had special dryers to dry the mittens and hats. When it was beautiful, they were outside all day…snack, play, walk, etc. In Sweden you only get about 5-6 months of beautiful weather so they take full advantage of it. The rest of the year with some days only having 6 hours of daylight, you have to take it when you can get it.

Since our arrival back to the U.S., my tours through many preschools in the area prove one thing. We are no where near where the Swedes are. No lunch for our kids unless you send it yourself and sometimes having to pay $10 more just for the extra hour of babysitting. Snacks are cookies/crackers and juice. One school told me they served saltines and water for snack. I was like, is this prison? Very little outside play unless the day is nice. And very little mingling with kids of other ages. I loved in Sweden that Alex was in school with kids 1-3. Very Montessorisque that the little ones learn from the older ones and the older ones can teach.

The Swedish schools are actually very Montessori like to begin with. And during a recent tour through a local Montessori, I found it hard to swallow the $800-per-month fee for preschool that looks just like the $50- a-month Swedish preschool. Seems like our preschools here might take a page from the European schools.


Considering a double stroller? Read this!

Please check out our Baby Bunching site if you're in need a double stroller advice.

Double strollers are everywhere these days. Either a result of children close together or innovative stroller company employees to expand beyond the Graco DuoGlider. Pretty much any configuration of stroller you can imagine is now available. So if you’re in the market for one, where do you start? Which one will work the best for the longest period of time and not put you in the poor house? As a mom who is almost out of the stroller phase completely, I will share my wisdom of 2 years of double strollering + input from friends.

The good news: there is a nice variety of double strollers to pick from these days that will take you through most of your double stroller years.

The bad news: there is no perfect stroller.Strollers are not merely a form of transportation for your wee ones.

Strollers are highchairs, beds, places to strap in a child when you need to help the other, or respite from a long walk. I only wish it was about getting from point A to B. Strollers are probably the single most important piece of gear that you own—next to your car and dishwasher of course.

For those with two so small, a stroller is essential in getting you out of the house and about your daily life. So, why isn’t there a perfect stroller out there? If a stroller could grow and change as your children did, perhaps there someday might be a perfect one. [A few recent strollers now do come close to this.] A 6-week old baby who sleeps 90% of the time uses the stroller to nap. An 11-month old baby who is ready to see the world, may use the stroller to play with her feet. An 18-month old 30-pound baby defies any reason to be in the stroller. But you all know this, you have older children.

I am a stroller fanatic. I am to strollers like my husband to cars. In fact, if they had a stroller magazine (aka Stroller and Driver), I would seriously subscribe to it. Double strollers are no different. When my two were little (ok, before my youngest was even born), I research strollers like crazy. I was the proud owner of a Mountain Buggy Urban, which I will most definitely say is one of the best investments we ever made. But at $350 I wasn't ready to part with it after the birth of my daughter or invest another $700 for the double version. So, I got by the best I could on what I had and could afford. Which ended up being a compilation of many different things, all the while wishing I had the “perfect” stroller.

If you have two children less than two years apart, in your early or even later months of pregnancy you may ask if you even need a double stroller. The answer is a resounding YES. If you children are 14 months apart, your oldest will be walking probably, but you will still be doing a lot of carrying him or her around as they tend to not walk in your desired direction. If your children are 22 months apart, he may be a more skilled walker, but I guarantee he will still poop out in the middle of zoo. It may be a long walk back to the car.

They now make every type of stroller imaginable. Tandem (front to back), twin (side-by-side), sit and stand, double jogging strollers, double 3 wheel (front to back), toddler attachments for the front and toddler attachments for the back. My first piece of advice is that if you can’t afford one of the expensive multi-purpose strollers that you can take to the mall and for a walk, then I would go the second-hand route and buy strollers as you need them as your needs change. (You would be surprised how much people give away on Craigslist or Freecycle.) In the end you may still come out ahead. We started out with a single stroller and the Baby Bjorn until my daughter was about 4-5 months old. We then moved on to the double. My youngest loved to sit in it, by my oldest wanted to have nothing to do with her sitting so close. We had a few months where they would sit together. Soon, I had to abandon the double altogether due to constant fighting (hitting, leaning, picking, pulling, pushing). When my youngest was about a year, we sold our double stroller (InStep Safari TT), and bought a double umbrella stroller. It was then, my two decided it was OK to sit next to each other. The problem with this, was they were both so heavy by now (27 and 35 pounds) that I could barely push the stroller with both in it. Now that I'm in the later stages of stroller life, my biggest regret was not making an investment in the Phil and Ted E3.

In research for our book, I asked moms of two under two on several yahoo groups what strollers they found to be the best.

Best strollers and why:(all feedback from moms)

Phil and Ted E3
Pros: Single stroller width with a double stroller attachment. Maneuvers like a single. All terrain. Great for the mall too.
Cons: Expensive. Small storage space. One child sits low to the ground.

Mountain Buggy Urban Double
Pros: Very easy to maneuver. Great on all terrain.
Cons: Expensive. Bulky in the trunk. Harder to use at the mall. Double stroller width.

Peg Perego Aria
Pros: Easy to maneuver. Light and small for in and out of car.
Cons: Not great for walks on anything other than sidewalk. Can be hard to push once older child starts getting close to 35 pounds.

Graco DuoGlider
Pros: Great for a newborn since you can clip on a carseat. Easy to get through aisles. Lots of storage space.
Cons: Harder to maneuver. Takes up lots of trunk space. Not great for long walks.

Jane Powertwin
Pros: Compact for a double stroller. One-handed push. Plenty of storage space. Fits carseat. Stadium seating.

Joovy Sit and Stand
Pros: Can fit infant car seat, older child can sit or stand. Lighter than the DuoGlider, takes up less trunk space than DuoGlider, can essentially turn into a DuoGlider though when you need that configuration.
Cons: Harder to maneuver. Not great for long walks.

NEW Kolcraft Contour Double Stroller
Pros: Easy to navigate, great flexibility with seat configurations.
Cons: Heavy, seats much face a certain way to fold all the way down.

Knowing what I know now, which one would I have invested in? Either the Phil and Ted or the Jane Power Twin. For my needs, both shopping and walking, the investment would have been worth it. The weight of any of these? If you have a garage to store them in, a good multipurpose double stroller to use for a few years, is worth the money and weight.


13 days and counting . . .

. . . until both my kids start school for the fall at United Christian Parish preschool. This will be the first time in 3 1/2 years that I have 2 mornings a week free of children. It couldn't have come at a better time because I'm about to place some postage on them and leave them out for the mailman to pick up.

I had such high hopes for the summer months of doing some homeschooling projects and taking some fabulous outings. We did some of those. In three months we managed to get to the aquarium, 2 museums, 2 trips to Meadow Lark Botanical Gardens, at least 10 trips to Frying Pan Park, a trip to Richmond to see the grandparents, a plane ride to Dallas, many, many trips to the pool. But as the summer went on, I seemed to lose steam and enthusiasm with the activities. Andrew's new job caused us to change our schedule since he now doesn't get home before they go to bed, and my mom's health has really been at the forefront of my mind during August. I can't be grateful enough for the fact that both kids will be attending the same school on the same days. It's really "the most wonderful time of the year."

Oh, the drama…..

Anna has always been one with the drama. While Alex has/had his fair share of tantrums, Anna has always come out ahead in this game. Even as an infant, something small would require at least 10 minutes of screaming full force. Over the years, I have learned to ignore it and roll my eyes.

Yesterday was the one of the better tantrums. We went to the pool after nap to use up some of the afternoon hours, and Anna started screaming over blueberries. I brought a container of blueberries and strawberries to share with other kids there. When I opened the bowl, she insisted that she eat “whole fing.” I told her no. She says, “I eat whole fing, mommy.” Again, I tell her we’re going to share with the other children here. And that it’s nice to share. She stormed off about 5 feet away, and screamed at the top of her lungs and threw herself down. Luckily, she didn’t do the usual throw-her-head-back-on-the-ground thing since the poolside is concrete. Ouch, that would hurt. But she screamed and cried until my friend pulled out a cup and poured a few blueberries in the cup. She sobbed and whimpered for a bit, but seemed OK, until she spotted the crackers. Again, she insisted she have “whole fing” of the entire box of crackers. Same explanation, same tantrum.

A few minutes later after she was finally calmed down, she tripped and fell by the pool barely skinning her knee. She started again. Cried and cried and sobbed and wept about the scrape. I finally asked the lifeguard for a band aid. She immediately stopped the sobbing when the hunky Polish lifeguard asked to see her knee and tried to console her. He did laugh at the scrape and insisted she didn’t need a band aid, but she managed to convince him otherwise. After being bandaged by the nice man, we continued the drama of sobbing and complaining about how her leg hurt, her knee hurt, her foot hurt, etc. When she was playing, she was fine, but the minute she stopped for a second to relive the moment, the drama started all over again. After about 45 minutes of crying, we finally had to leave the pool and I think I even heard someone sigh a sigh of relief upon our exit of the area.


What are we feeding our kids?

We are overhauling our pantry. We’re on week 3 of the low-junk-food consumption plan. I have become so tired of the goldfish crackers (that horrid orange color can be found in the strangest places) and fruit snacks. I can’t imagine that anything in there is good for them and it’s just filling them up on poor ingredients. I decided the best way was to handle this was to go cold turkey.

Andrew and I are so careful about what we eat, it only seems fair to be that way with them. We try to buy organic, fresh, no preservative foods for ourselves. Shouldn’t we do the same for them?

I figure I can’t do much about the playgroups or picnics we have with others, but I want to do better about their eating habits at home. So we’ve started substituting fruit, cheese, crackers, milk, veggies, cereal for the more snacky foods. The result: pretty decent success. Once they realize we don’t have cookies, goldfish or sugary snacks, they go to the their favorite “healthier” snacks. As a result, we’ve had better success with dinnertime habits. They will eat the carrots and peas and even try the spinach and salmon. And when they go to playgroups, they can enjoy the treat of goldfish crackers, Shrek fruit chews and yogurt-covered whatevers.


Living in Make-Believe Land

My kids have discovered the world of make believe. I would suspect this is a little early for a 2-year old to fully engage in it, but since Alex shows her how to play it, they’ve actually gotten to be quite the little actors.

Our dress up area consists of the 2-year old Halloween frog costume from 2 years ago. Last year’s homemade giraffe costume which loses a brown spot about every minute. It’s really be reduced to yellow PJs with the few felt brown spots hanging by a glue thread. However, their imagination seems to put the pieces back enough to skip around the house in animal costumes.

Lately, we’ve added a few fairy princess outfits, wings, crowns and our latest is the knight costume, complete with sword. They run around the house “slaying” things or going on “great missions.” I’m not completely sure where they’re going, but Alex manages to enlist Anna to do just about everything. They take along bags, suitcases, food, etc. trying to find things or discover new places. So I’ve been told.

Yesterday he explained to Uncle Dave that the sword was only for slaying dragons. He then proceeded to tell him the story of Saint George and the Dragon. But he reiterated that it was only to be used for dragons and not people (This is my attempt to teach him not to slay his sister.) Won’t he be surprised when Auntie Cara sends the dragon costume she had leftover from Halloween last year. We’ll be so medieval here in our make believe castle.


SAHMs vs Working Moms

A recent topic resurrected itself in the news recently about Stay at Home Moms vs. Working Moms. Ahh….the ever persisting debate (one that I think the media likes to fuel more than we do). I started thinking about why this topic resurrects itself every three months or so. My guess is that news programs, newspaper, magazines are in need of readership.

So what is the debate about? The debate should be about why can’t people just do what’s best for their own children and stop comparing lifestyles. Moms who go back to work do so for a number of reasons.

Financial: Perhaps mom makes more money than dad or both incomes are needed to sustain an acceptable lifestyle. Places like California, New York, Boston or DC are perfect examples of this.
Mom wants to work: There are many women out there that need the separate work/home life in order to manage their households.
Mom loves her job: So many women now wait to have children later in life and have well-established careers by the time the baby comes around. They love what they do outside the home and want to continue it.

Why stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) care about this, I will never know. If the set up works for their lifestyle, home, spouse, children and bank account, so what? All moms—whether working full time, part time or “at home”—all have the same issues with kids. We deal with poor sleeping habits, potty training, illnesses, teaching them to read and discipline. Working moms have the added challenge of being away all day long, coming home and doing all the same stuff we SAHMs do—laundry, dinner, bath time, cleaning, etc.

For most SAHMs it’s not a luxury all the time to stay at home, ok, it is fun to shop at the store during the day when it’s empty or have lunch out with the kids now and then, but we make sacrifices too. I do miss the extra money! Sometimes all day with kids is just too much for any person to handle. Who has it harder? Probably the working moms do. Although many days I wish I could go into work and leave the kids with Andrew.

Do I feel tension between working moms and SAHMs Not a bit. I’m sure there are many days that the working moms would love to be at home with their kids. They made their choices just like we made ours. You do the best you can with what resources you have and hope for the best for your kids. I salute all the moms out there. It’s the hardest job, by far.


Seatbelts, carseats, chaos . . . peace at last

Managing two kids in and out of carseats for the last two years has been one of those tough but necessary activities. Multiply that by the back and forth in the car several times a day and you have instant headaches.

But my day has finally come. I never thought I’d get to the point where my kids could open the car door themselves, climb in to the carseats, and strap themselves in. We did it today!

Flashback on the past 2 years:
The early days . . . Anna was in her infant seat crying most of the time. Alex used to cry because Anna was crying. I would put Alex in the car, back it out of the garage, then run in the house to get Anna’s bucket seat (since the garage was too small for loading everyone in together.) Reverse on the way back in.

As Anna got older but still faced the back, she would cry since she couldn’t see me. Alex would get irritated that she was crying and then throw things at her. That would piss her off more. I would still always load Alex in first on the way in and last on the way out since she sat nice and neat (not quiet) in her infant seat.

The day that Anna moved up to the big girl carseat, I had a meltdown. I would load her in first to make sure she was secure while Alex spring boarded off of my nice leather Volvo seats. At this point she was about 9 months and he was 2 years old. Neither one had a concept of traffic so as long as we were going from stroller to car or car to stroller we were doing OK. Sometimes, poor Anna was halfway strapped in, hanging out of the car while I sprinted to get him as he wandered to the end of the driveway. This was when we stopped running errands together as a threesome.

When Anna’s car seat turned around and they both could read books, getting in was a lot easier. Alex, by then, could climb in himself and spent a good deal of time trying to get the buckle fastened. This gave me time to get her in without the fear that he might make a run for it. The trips themselves were bad as they fought over books and toys in the back of the car. Sometimes shoes would fly past by face into the windshield if I ignored their pleas for books on the floor.

About the time Alex turned 3, he was able to fully get into the car and fasten the belt himself so I only had Anna to contend with. She fought and pleaded, arched her back and did everything in her power to make sure she didn’t have to seat in the carseat. I fought back with a vengeance and made her sit! But, I only had the one now to deal with.

Most recently, the game had become musical car seats. Both kids would climb in and switch carseats, switch again and then switch again. Once we started backing out, they would cry that they wanted to be in the other seat. This game got old quickly and I finally just told them that Alex was too big to ride in Anna’s seat. That seemed to fix the problem.

Yesterday was the milestone. Both my kids went to their side of the car, opened the door, climbed in, shut the door, got in their carseats and buckled themselves in before I even managed to get all my gear in the door.


Toxic toys need remedy: Smarter toy shopping

I am amazed at the number of toy recalls within the past few months—even within the past few weeks there have been two from Mattel. I’m happy to say that the only things we had to remove from our toy buckets were a few Thomas the Train pieces that my kids don’t play with anyway.

So beyond the conversation of what to do about these toxic toys making their way out of China, perhaps the discussion might be about the actual toys. I’ve seen blogs and online sites saying we need stricter regulations for China. Maybe that’s the answer, but as parents maybe we should take it to the next level—what we buy our children.

Every time I set foot in Target or Toys R Us, I am dumbfounded at the amount of crap that is available to our kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop for toys and buy them. What I don’t enjoy is bringing them home, having them played with for two seconds and dumped aside. So perhaps, as parents we should be more strategic in the types of toys we buy, this might even involve some research. [Gasp] Looking up online where things are made or even reviews off of Amazon. I have decided against many toys after reading parent reviews of small pieces coming off or things not working properly.

I have come to accept that my 2- and 3-year old do not really play with toys. But instead, they wander around the house making toys of everything that shouldn’t be. So as a result, I have had to become more strategic with my toy shopping. Dora the Explorer figurines or Elmo dolls are exciting for a few minutes, but get tossed aside so quickly that aside from my biased against commercial products there just isn’t a point to these things our house.

If we can pull ourselves away from the dollar aisle in Target (I know it’s hard, but that section calls out lead paint to me) and drive to one of the nicer toy stores in your city--the educational one, the one that has the “overpriced” toys, but the truly fun toys—we might all be reminded of what other options there are out there. While many of those products are made in China too, you can often find ones made in Denmark, Germany, Italy, France and our great USA. You might get more for your buck if you can purchase toys that not only grow with your children—whether they are wood or plastic—but ones that help develop their imagination without the scare of lead paint.

Tree Top Toys in the DC area is one of my favorite stores. In Austin, Texas, Terra Toys just can’t be beat. Both shops have wall-to-wall toys, books, clothes that spark the imagination and contribute to local business as well.

Here are some brands to look for which are NOT made in China:
Little Tikes
Brio (some products)
Haba (some products)
And many others in this European Toy shop.


Buying for Baby #2

People always ask me what gifts are suitable for friends having their second or third babies. Like most moms having first babies, we easily received gifts to outfit a set of triplets and then some. But what do you buy a friend, relative, office mate who’s having a second or third baby? What do you request if you are having another baby? Here are the top 11 things discussed amongst my playgroup moms as the top gifts to give/receive:

1. Dinners: You thought there was no time to cook with the first baby, there is even less this time. Making dinners that can be frozen are so helpful during those early weeks. If you want to put some more umph into it, check out places like “Dinners Done Right,” or “Let’s Dish.”

2. Babysitting: Come on, let’s face, the best gift is the gift of time. Even if you can only take the older child for a playgroup, you’ve given your mommy friend a little time to check up on email, write thank you notes or just rest.

3. Personalized items (blankets, frames, lovies, etc) since the first baby probably has tons baby #2 and #3 might like a thing or two with their names on it. Check out: http://www.twotinas.com/, http://www.redenvelope.com/, http://www.littlepinkpansy.com/

4. Sling: You might have tried the sling the first time, but believe me, you will want to make this work with another one. You will need your hands free as much as possible. They have tons of great slings on the market now that are fun and chic. Check out these site for some fun ones. http://www.kangarookorner.com/ or http://www.hotslings.com/

5. Towels (personalized): A new towel for the new baby can be fun. I’m sure mom is tired of seeing the same old towels. A new one with the baby’s name makes it easy to know whose towel belongs to whom.

6. Diaper bag: Mom might be tired of her diaper bag that now has goldfish ground into the bottom mixed in with some dried, sticky apple juice. A new diaper bag is always welcome for the second baby. Diaper bags, like slings now come in lots of fun colors and sizes. Check out http://www.pokkadots.com/ or http://www.babybungalow.com/. I love the new Skip Hop ones that can fold up and go into your current purse/bag or clip to the stroller.

7. Play yard: Your new wee one might need some protection from the older one or you might want to trap in the older one (depending on the age) if you need to quick take care of something and ensure their safetly. Check out this play yard from Right Start: www.rightstart.com/global/store/product~item~1877.html

8. Second car seat: Moms might not be thinking ahead to the bigger carseat. Sometimes they think they’ll be moving the older one out into a booster in time for the younger one to step up to the convertible car seat. Unless the kids are 4 years apart, you might surprised. The number #1 carseat is the Britax Marathon. It does everything, but costs a pretty penny. It holds kids up to 60 pounds and is supposed to be super comfy. I don’t know since I don’t sit in it, but it’s the Cadillac of car seats and sometimes moms can’t stomach buying another one.

9. Newborn baby toys: Those toys just look gross after the first one. They’ve been sucked on, thrown, chewed. Doesn’t a new baby deserve a fresh “chew toy.”

10. New gadgets: Bumbo seat, Snuggle Me wraps. The latest and greatest gear that has come out since the last baby.

11. Replace the old: Bibs, washcloths and even soft shoes like Robeez get worn out after one baby. New, fun ones for the second are appreciated.


Playgroup etiquette

After numerous playgroups this month to keep us busy while Andrew is away, I started thinking about the dos and don’ts of hosting/attending a playgroup. (I, too, have been hosting quite a few). In the 3 ½ years of having children, I would bet I have attended/hosted close to 1,000 playgroups. What can I say? I’m social. I like having an easy opportunity for my kids to play and me to chat with other moms.

My general piece of advice for attending and hosting is that you need one of two things to happen in order for it to work. 1) Either all the kids need to be close in age. When they are little that means really close in age, but as their older it means within the same year or so. 2) Or the moms all need to be friends to begin with or have a common denominator between them all. (i.e. Our neighborhood has a playgroup and it works because we all sit and talk about the neighborhood.) If one of these two things doesn’t occur, you’re going to have a harder time making for a successful playgroup.

Tips for hosting:

  • Always provide some kind of food. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but kids get hungry and for the older ones who have done this thing before, they know playgroups tend to mean fun food and drink. It might not should be that way, but it is. Have some food and drink available for your little guests.

  • If you want to make a big impact, provide some non-kid food for the moms. I love going places where someone has thrown in some mini-quiches or put out a nice loaf of bread with cheese. It’s so nice to eat something other than goldfish.
  • Make guests feel that they can be at home. It’s hard with toddlers who explore cabinets and closets not to get farther into a house than you might feel comfortable. The host should make the guests feel like it’s OK if their kids explore a little more than they should.

  • Have the toys out and ready. There’s nothing worse than getting to a house and not having age appropriate toys available. If you have little ones coming and you can pull out the extra bouncy seats or playmats, do. If you have older ones, you might set up some older toys as well.

Tips for attending:

  • If your kids are old enough, explain beforehand the boundaries of the playgroup. (ie “No hitting, biting, pushing.” “No going upstairs.” “We’re staying outside so don’t ask me a million times about going inside.”

  • Bring a snack and drink for your child. I have been to countless playgroups where no drink or snack was offered. It’s embarrassing to have your child go up and ask the host for snack. It’s primo if you can pull it out of your bag before they do that.

  • Don’t throw dirty diapers in the trash unless you ask. There’s nothing worse than finding a poopy diaper in a trash can you only empty once a week. Eewwww.

  • Part of playgroup is letting children interact with each other. Obviously throwing sand or dirt at each other is a no-no, but if a disagreement breaks out, wait a second and see if they can work it out before you jump in to save the day.

  • Don’t discipline other people’s kids unless you ask. I hate when people tell my kids not to do something that I’ve told them it’s OK to do.


Crocs take a bite

I have a love/hate relationship with Crocs. You know those ugly rubber shoes that come in every color shoes should not be. I relented and bought each of my kids one pair. It was the hardest $50 I’ve spent on them. But four months later, I am still pleased with my purchase. They are great summer shoes for just about everything, except the playground. The amount of mulch that collects is unbelievable. They can put the shoes on and take them off. No tying, no velcroing, no socks. When they’re dirty, you wash them off in the sink. When they’re wet, they’re almost instantly dry. I have not a bad word to say about them, oh, except that they are the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.

But yesterday, a friend’s own experience gave me pause in my selection of children’s shoe wear. She sent an email saying her child’s shoe was completely eaten by an escalator. They barely got her foot out in time as the Croc was shredded to pieces in seconds. The mother was in disbelief that this could happen and so quickly! Apparently it just got stuck as they were coming up and the heat and pressure on the rubber just didn’t stand up. She was sure her daughter’s foot would have been destroyed. Apparently there is a whole blog dedicated to Croc accidents. Look at your own risk, but be aware. Perhaps sandals and shoes are better.


Blowing Bubbles

So I had to share this story. Alex started swim lessons yesterday. He’s doing pretty well at learning to kick and blow bubbles. We’re working on him putting his face in the water and practicing to blow bubbles since this is his least favorite activity. He spends a good amount of time with the instructor (who is also the lifeguard at our pool) negotiating deals. “I’ll jump off the side of the pool if you jump off the diving board,” he’ll say. Or “I’ll race you, but if I win I can use the noodle. If you win, you can go down the slide.” He’s all about racing and competition and making deals where he benefits. You can’t blame the guy for trying. I watch him and think, what a little grown up he is until I heard him say, “Oh, now the bubbles are coming out of my swimsuit.” [Giggle] The instructor had to hold back from cracking up.

Keeping a steady pace?

In my life before children, I hardly ever saw the moms walking with children and having great difficulty. There was mom and there was child in stroller, and everyone looked fairly content. I used to imagine my own walks out with kids in the nice weather or skipping with my child to the playground. Why does my journey out with the monkeys always end with frustration?

When Alex was an only child, I struggled with the stroller. He despised it. I nearly croaked when he fussed about riding in the $350 Mountain Buggy, but was happy as a clam in our $30 cheapo from the discount store. At some point along the way, he decided walking would be better, but would never hold my hand. When Anna came along, I got strict about the stroller rules. Alex was required to ride in the stroller while she hung in the sling or Baby Bjorn. That definitely slows the pace even though everyone is fully strapped in. When they could both ride in the stroller, I spent time stopping to break up fights or feed them snacks to prevent the fights. For quite a long while, our trips in the stroller moved at a snail’s pace. The day Alex was set free of the double stroller, I quickly had to readjust the pace to one of a triathlete – sprinting ahead, running down the street, darting between cars and splashing through water—just to keep up with him all while maneuvering the most awesome Mountain Buggy. (I knew that stroller would eventually work out for me). On the days I set Anna free from the stroller, I just lose my mind with the North/South or East/West direction they both take.

Today, on our way to the pool, I realized our pace has slowed again. Alex straggles behind with sticks, rocks or picking stuff off the ground. All the while I kept trying to hustle him along to our destination—the cool pool in 100 degree afternoon heat—and frustrated that he couldn’t keep up with even my slow pace. Then I stopped and thought. Slow, fast, slow, fast. All this time dreading the stroller trips because my kids can’t keep up with me or I can’t keep up with them. I should feel lucky I get to spend this time with them. In 10 years or less they won’t even want to walk next to me for fear everyone will know that I’m their mother.


Tutus for Two Twos

When I signed Anna (age 2) up for Baby Ballerina classes at our local ballet studio, I did so to even the score. My son had completed spring soccer so I felt she needed a chance to do something new. She really hadn’t shown interest in ballet. She certainly hadn’t asked for this, but I thought, why not? The first class went great. She followed the teachers lead and seemed to enjoy herself. By the time we reached the fourth class, she was darting for the door, crying, “No ballet. Go home, please.” We took a week off from class and did one more go of it today. She loved it. She followed instructions. She danced and played the games. I even had one mother tell me how good she was. I had to laugh though when I remembered 2 weeks ago how I wanted to pack up and just go home.

I honestly think organized classes for children this age are ridiculous. Hey, I’ll admit to signing up and paying the money. Alex started music classes at 5 months, and he just completed the saddest season of soccer. (I wanted to run and hide from that, too.) Now Anna has started the dance. I feel that children this age (before about 3 or 4) need to just be—besides going to preschool, which I wholeheartedly endorse. But it’s hard to have a parent attend a class—whether it’s music, Gymboree, dance, crafts, etc—and expect the child to behave in a certain way. This class is no exception. It’s for 2 year olds. The girls wander around the class and play with things and don’t follow the teacher. We’re expected to get them back in line and listen. It’s hard on the parents when the child doesn’t do what “is expected” of them. For 3 classes, Anna would cry, fuss, throw tantrums, play with the equipment, play the piano, try to change the CD, etc.

These classes will go on for our peers are breeding little overachievers that need to to pliĆ© before they potty. I realized how silly it was when my neighbor, who is a professional dancer told me that she didn’t start dancing until age 9. I suppose we do it for special time with our children or to give us an activity to help pass the morning. And I suppose our kids might be better served by a picnic in the park or turning up our favorite tunes and dancing around the living room.