Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mothering a newborn vs. a toddler

I do not think I'm a very good mother of a newborn. Lest you think I'm losing my self-esteem or trying to solicit your sympathy, let me add: I'm a fantastic mother to a toddler. I've been grappling with this a lot lately. I share my thoughts on this not because I need you to say, "But Stephanie, I am sure you're a fantastic mother of a newborn," but rather because these are things I feel few people I know share out loud, though I think a lot of people feel similarly.

Newborns are easy and hard to deal with, as are toddlers. But I'm much better at the difficulties of toddlerhood than I am at the newborn stage. I schedule formal and informal activities for the toddler. She attends classes. She has an art bin full of quiet activities that keep her interest. I read to her. I make her laugh. I challenge her to conquer her fears. I teach her many new words each day. I do what you'd expect a parent of a toddler would do, plus I'm getting not too shabby at this whole toddler discipline thing. But this second time around with a baby I feel I'm an even worse mother of a newborn, mostly as a result of the attention I give the toddler.

Also, the newborn is a fine sleeper, but he's taking longer to become an excellent sleeper the way his sister was at this age, so that factor is no doubt clouding my judgment. I think we are all a little less chipper when we are waking up in the middle of the night. I am trying not to compare my kids all the time, as I know this is setting me up for a life-long struggle, and I know it's just generally wrong to do/not fair, but I'm human and I can't help it.

Because the newborn isn't staying asleep all night every night, I'm left wondering what I'm doing wrong. Is he not sleeping enough during the day? Is he sleeping too much during the day? Should he get a bottle before bed? (He almost always does because I'm usually working during his bedtime.) Is he eating enough during the day? Would he sleep better if he had formula or started solid food before six months? Should my husband take over night feedings? So far we have done everything practically identical to what we did with his older sister at this age, but it has not yielded the same results. I know every baby is different, but I feel like I've already exhausted (pun intended) my bag of tricks. I was afraid of this.

I also worry that he's not stimulated enough during the day. I try to read a few books to him at least twice a day. I sing, put him on his belly some, and dangle colorful toys for him to grab. We recently brought the Exersaucer out from storage, and he's grabbing all the toys a lot more than his sister did at this age (yay, Adam, you win this one!). But a lot of his daily activity involves watching his sister, tagging along to her little classes.

Sometimes I realize that when the toddler is napping and the newborn's awake, I barely talk to the newborn. Am I smiling at him enough? I wonder. The fact that he's a boy also makes me worry about conditions more prevalent in males than females, such as autism, ADHD or speech delays. So, even though he has no signs of any concerns, I still feel like I should talk to him more, do more activities just for him.

A friend recently shared her anxieties regarding stimulating her second kid as much as she did her first. In a moment of clarity, I reassured her that I am a second-born child and I turned out just fine. Plus, in many cases our second kids' experiences will be even richer than our first-borns' because they'll be exposed to more toys, books and activities from an earlier age. And, as our babies absorb us speaking all the time to our toddlers, maybe they'll learn even more than our toddlers did at this age. When I'm feeling like a confidence parent, this is what's running through my head.

I'll admit I wrote part of this post on a crappy day and part of it on a better day, which might explain the duality contained within. But rather than deleting what I wrote when things weren't so hot, I think this post is, if nothing else, an accurate window into the mind of a parent in the trenches. In one day I can go from feeling like I'm doing everything perfectly to feeling like I'm barely doing anything but feeding and dressing my kids and I just want bedtime or my work time, whatever comes first, to arrive.

So, I've decided in the past week to also start scheduling some activities for the baby that the toddler will tag along to, just for equity's sake. This could be a giant disaster, but I'm hopeful that my toddler can exercise her patience on such outings and we can all emerge better for it.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Laundry miracle: Removing stubborn stains

You can now refer to me by a new name: Laundry Master. Let me explain how I earned this title. I just did something I've been trying to do for years -- I successfully removed arm-pit/deodorant/spit-up stains from a bunch of my shirts and my kids' clothes. I feel such a sense of accomplishment after being embarrassed by these clothes and prepared to either donate them to a charity or throw them out.

My secret is learning to mix patience with a product I've been using ineffectively for a couple years: Clorox Stain Remover and Color Booster. (Buy it at Costco for the best price.) (This is not a sponsored post for anything.)

I had seen my mother bring back to life a number of articles of clothing that had seen better days. She told me this is what she uses, and I just couldn't figure it out because I'd been using this same product to no avail. Turns out my mom knew a few tricks to make the product extra effective, so after a phone call consultation with my mom, I decided to try her strategy. (I forgot to take before shots, so you'll just have to trust that these items were totally yellowed before I worked my magic.)


So, if you want to get rid of deodorant stains, spit-up stains, or even dryer-set stains as the outside of the bottle claims, follow these steps:

1) Soak your color-sorted items in cold water with a cap-full of Clorox Stain Remover in the washing machine for about an hour.

2) Remove each article of wet clothing one at a time. Apply the Clorox Stain Remover directly onto the stains while the clothing is still wet. I used a tiny spatula to help me rub the Clorox product into the stains. Make sure the product is rubbed in well.

3) Let the Clorox product set into the clothes for about 10 minutes.

4) Add the clothes back into the water in the washing machine. Let it soak for 24 hours. Yes, that's right. Be patient.

5) The next day, run the washing machine on whatever setting you typically use. (I almost always wash everything in our house on delicate).

6) Pat yourself on the back when you remove clothes from the washing machine that look nearly as perfect as they did on the day you bought them.

I ran one load of white/light colored clothes and another load of darker items. Though the entire process took over 48 hours, I am thrilled to not have to retire all the white or otherwise stained clothing my family owns. It's a domestic miracle.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reflections from a Disney Store

I grew up playing with Barbies. I owned at least eight dolls and two lunchboxes full of Barbie clothes. A Barbie townhouse with operating "elevator" stood next to my bed for most of my childhood, and I remember learning my first lesson about budgeting when I saved up $20 from allowances and report card rewards to purchase a Barbie kitchen.

So, because you can probably see where this post is going, I need to explain that I am not opposed to dolls and frills and princesses. I am, though, annoyed about how much it's in my face these days as the mother of a toddler girl.

We walked into the Disney Store yesterday to make a princess-item return. At 2 years, 4 months old, Natalie has never watched more than 20 consecutive minutes of TV (in fact she has watched one episode of one TV show ever), so we are far from the feature-length film phenomenon. She doesn't know any specific Disney or Pixar characters aside from Mickey and Minnie Mouse. My goal was to exchange the princess item for a similar Mickey and Minnie item so she could have more characters to play with on top of her retro Fisher-Price garage. I figured this would be an easy proposition, as I used to frequent the Disney Store when I was in elementary school and I remember lots of little figurines and other tchotkes Natalie would probably enjoy.


I was not prepared for the gender-divided experience that is the Disney Store.

At our particular Disney Store at Tyson's Corner, the message is clear when you walk in the door: girls to the left, boys to the right.

I walked in to make our return, got a giftcard for store credit, and assumed within five minutes we'd have our replacement item. Natalie found the small section of the store that contains Muppet characters, and she knows Kermit well, so we talked about him for a while. But I wasn't going to spend a lot of extra money on a nearly life-size Kermit doll, so we moved on.

Although we stayed firmly grounded in gender-neutral territory in the store's main aisle, it didn't take long for us to hit the princess explosion and the friendly Disney Store employees trying to push their wares on a female toddler.

"Ohhh, what special princess are you looking for today?" the employee said as she crouched down to Natalie level. At this moment, my super talkative toddler became silent. I could see the gears turning in her head, and I heard her mutter something about Elizabeth, which would be a reference to the only princess she knows from one of our favorite books, The Paper Bag Princess.

"She doesn't really know about the princesses," I said to try to prevent the princess-pushing from escalating.

"Well, we have lots of princess beach towels on sale and...." the employee continued as she rattled off a bunch of other items as I tuned out and nodded politely.

When she finally asked, "Is there something in particular I can help you find?" I jumped in with, "Actually, yes, when I was a kid you all used to sell little plastic figurines of Mickey and Minnie Mouse and the other classic characters. Do you still have those?" She enthusiastically took me to the girl side of the store.

"We have these great sets! Here's the one for Minnie Mouse." As she handed me the Minnie set, I immediately noticed how Minnie is holding a mirror. The set rested upon a display arranged as a tower containing hundreds of other figure sets, all with some kind of girly bent. I couldn't believe these were the only figures in the store. Not surprisingly, they weren't.

As we made our way to the other side -- the boy side -- of the store, our employee assumed we must be leaving and wished us a good day. When we made it to the boy-side figurine set tower I discovered everything I'd been looking for. There were the Peter Pan sets, the Toy Store sets, the Finding Nemo sets; all the items I assumed would be sold in the Disney Store, even if I wasn't specifically planning to buy those items for my child quite yet. And, of course, within the boy-side figurine tower there was a set with Mickey and his friends.

As I was recounting this story to Matt last night, explaining how I was directed to the girl set with Minnie holding a mirror, he said, "What, did the Mickey set involve construction work or something?"

Yes, mindreader, it literally does.

Overwhelmed by the political implications of any Disney Store purchase I could make, I walked out of the store with my son attached to me in the Ergo and my toddler daughter holding my hand, unfazed to be walking out without a replacement present, chatting away about getting a "special treat [aka food] from the mall."

I'm not sure when childhood became so gender divided. Maybe childhood has always been this gender divided and when I was a kid I just assumed this was normal. But when I look around the toy store or even the book store, something in my gut tells me the marketing surrounding our kids has attempted to steer them further and further toward clearly gender-specific items. I think there's value in kids having a well-rounded upbringing, which includes girls and boys playing with toys designed for their sex and the opposite sex, and kids reading books with prominent male and female protagonists. As Natalie gets older, I'm happy for her to play with princesses. But I want her to be the one to make that decision.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The unswaddling of Adam and other updates

You know when people stop blogging? When they have two kids. I like how blogging helps me keep my life in order (and gives me something to look back on) so though I miss blogging more frequently, I'm going to try to do it at least sometimes. (No concrete goal right now.)

Here's what's been up.

So many babies: 
In addition to our one baby, we have about 25 friends having first, second or third babies all within a span of about six months. Four of those babies were all born the other week, which has made for some fun hospital visits and virtual correspondence and a much more adorable Instagram feed.

Spring break: 
Matt had a lovely 10 days off, and I had a reduced work schedule, so we took advantage of opportunities for family time and occasionally nice weather to make our annual venture to the cherry blossoms in D.C. and to the National Zoo.

We took Natalie to the zoo over the summer, but the experience didn't stick as she was only 18 months old and not nearly as communicative. At the zoo Adam needed to be fed, so I found a little bench near some primates and deemed it an appropriate place to nurse my little man. (I would have chosen the inside of the small mammal building, which may have been an even more appropriate place to nurse my small mammal, but it was pretty crowded inside.) I'll admit, I used to stare at women who would breastfeed uncovered in public, not because they offended me, but because I was trying to figure out how they could be so stealth and expose essentially zero skin. Well, all that paid off at the zoo because it was only about 50 degrees at the time, but I was wearing a black nursing tank under an all-black long-sleeve shirt, and as I managed to somehow not freeze and not get spit up on me I felt like I'd finally arrived. I just can't do covered nursing, and I've gotten much more liberal about rarely bringing a bottle with me when I leave the house with Adam.

Fastest home repair in history: 
Last week after dinner while watching some TV show (currently: Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Silicon Valley -- the newest addition that I'd highly recommend if you're a nerd and/or you have nerd friends) Matt and I heard a horrible crash from somewhere in our house. It sounded like a mirror or cabinet or perhaps baby fell. After we confirmed the kids were fine and everything in our house (including laundry room and crawl space) were in complete working order, we figured maybe the noise came from our (annoying, incense-burning) neighbors. The next morning, on our way to the zoo, we solved the mystery: our garage door wouldn't open because some springs busted and some piece of the contraption broke away from the garage ceiling. Amazingly, a repair person came within 30 minutes of making the call, and 20 minutes later he'd repaired the door. Problem solved, $200 later.

Vitamix: 
We got one. Matt's been wanting one, and after about three years (and some sacrificed rubber spatulas our child may have ingested in her smoothies) I agreed it was time. He's frugal enough, so he bought a certified refurbished one that costs nearly half of the retail price of a new one and still comes with the standard five-year warranty. I'm now waiting for him to perfect my favorite Smoothie King recipe, Peach Slice Plus.

Craiglist and consigning: 
We got rid of the old blender on Craiglist, and that reminded me that we already have some baby items to begin selling/donating/giving away. Of course, people on Craiglist are notoriously flakey, so that can be annoying, but man, people want your aden + anais swaddle blankets, let me tell you. Because we're done having children and we have lots of baby and kid clothes, I've recently entered the wide world of children's clothes consigning. Getting started is a bit (ok, a lot) of work, as Matt can attest after watching me go a little crazy the other week Baby Oxicleaning away stains (tip: buy Baby Oxiclean at Target or Toys/Babies R Us, where you'll find it for $9.99), but it feels good having a plan in place and making back some money on our kids' clothes that I can then justify putting back into future clothing purchases. When I have more experience I'll share my tips and mistakes.

Speaking of baby clothes...my new favorite brands are:
1) Zutano

2) Burt's Bees

3) Offspring

Watch out, you'll probably be getting one from me as a gift.

Also, Baby Gap: thumbs up to you for using a golden snap on some of your snapped baby clothes. Having that one gold snap standing out from all the silver ones makes baby dressing one bit easier. Seriously, simple genius move.

Dishwasher and washing machine: 
Both are running constantly these days. Our water bill tells the story. (And we only run them when they're brimming over -- two kids, I tell you. Who chooses to have more than two?)

Ants: 
We have some. Isolated to one small area of our kitchen, but still, some, and with torrential rain that some is starting to become a lot as they seek shelter in our house. The irony here is that our kitchen is the cleanest it has ever been because it's the one thing I consistently clean these days (and the cleaning ladies leave the floors spotless) so why we have some ants now is baffling. So far my solution has been to kill them with my bare feet because grabbing a paper towel while holding a baby and entertaining a toddler seems like too much work. Any eco-friendly solutions for getting rid of ants in a house with two kids and two dogs? Otherwise we'll be Raiding them tonight.

The toddler:
She's off the bottle. Only took her until 2 years and 3 months old, but now she exclusively drinks her milk from cups. I really didn't mind the bottles for most of her existence even when her little buddies had moved way beyond the bottle phase. She never used them as pacifiers (she never really used pacifiers, either) and she'd never have them for more than five minutes of serious milk chugging. Even our pediatrician wasn't particularly concerned. But then we had a second baby who legitimately needs my toddler's bottles. So, to get her to change, we did "the countdown," which is our best parenting tactic with her: any time there's about to be a transition, small or large, we try to build it up with adequate warning to help her anticipate what's about to occur. For one week we told her she had X many days before no more bottles. Somewhat magically, with only a few tears, the transition went smoothly.

She's also done with sleep sacks. That happened only a couple weeks before the end of the bottle. Seriously, she loved those sleep sacks, but like bottles, they were becoming a bit ridiculous. So, she's got her comfy quilt and that's enough.

She is not done with tantrums. Oh no, those are only beginning.

The next transition I plan to force on her is installing the toddler rail onto her crib. I love that she loves her crib, but all these signs of babyhood must come to an end. I figure the toddler railing is a way to get her a little more independent without forcing her out of the crib quite yet. I have a feeling even when the railing is up and she can get out of bed on her own she'll choose not to, at least not immediately. I used to selfishly not want her to have a toddler railing or a regular bed because I feared she'd be up too early in the morning, but now that I'm up early enough with Adam she can just join the party. That crib needs to eventually go to Adam as he's going to quickly outgrow the Pack N Play.

Further down the road we'll force potty training, but for now she's content in diapers. By this summer when she's two and a half it will be time to require it, and by then I'll want Adam to inherit all the cloth diapers. I know my child well enough to know that she needs baby steps to move toward big changes, but at some point we just have to rip off the Band-Aid (or diaper) for her to make a change.

The baby: 
As the title of this blog suggests, another transition of late involved the baby deciding he's done being swaddled. Specifically, a week and a half ago when he was almost exactly 3.5 months old, Adam woke up four times in one night. We'd been down to one night-time wake up for a pretty long time at this point, so it was a rough night. Every time he started crying, though, he'd broken out of his swaddle (having never swaddled Natalie we were too lazy to learn to truly swaddle Adam, so we solely used the Summer Infant SwaddleMes for wrapping him at naps and night). So, we decided to unswaddle him cold turkey. My experience parenting Natalie thus far has taught me that cold-turkey transitions when kids are super little are the easiest way to make a transition (see "The toddler" section above for our later-in-life failures). And, like any responsible parents, we'd already hired a babysitter for the night we were planning to unswaddle him cold turkey, so we just prepared the babysitter for the worst. Again, miraculously, the child slept wonderfully from 6:45 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. in nothing but his pajamas and size small fleece Halo Sleep Sack, and neither the toddler nor the baby even saw the babysitter during the three hours she was playing security guard (and we were enjoying a lovely meal at Mussel Bar in Ballston).

As he steadily marches toward four months old, Adam continues to be a total joy. I really am embracing babyhood much more this time around, probably mostly thanks to 1) knowing what I'm doing and 2) knowing this is the last time I'll have a baby. (As the ladies on the beach in Miami said to me, "They get older, and then they get lip.") He's exiting the blob-like phase now that he's grasping objects and paying attention to books (I think we're going to have another little reader on our hands) and giggling and cooing and getting more vocal. He is not interested in rolling over, though he's done it a few times, but he is interested in standing up. I think it's about time to break out the old Exersaucer to give him a new experience and work those little legs.

His night-time sleep continues to be wonderful, and his daytime sleep is good, just not consistent. I am starting to see patterns emerge, like the early morning nap, and I can say definitively right now that he has two-hour awake windows. When he was super tiny he was predictably awake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, but we've turned that corner into greater awakeness.

Oh, and he's still super portable and loves the Ergo, so it is in full effect.


Two silly baby organizing tips:
I cannot believe it took me nearly 2 years and 4 months to get to these two, but:

1) hang your baby tub -- one of my friends who just had her first baby told me she and her husband had hung up their infant tub in their bathroom. "Seriously?" I said. Yes, they are smart and realized that the Fisher Price whale tub is meant to be hung up! Genius! I tried using a Command hook on the tile in the kids' hallway bathroom, but it would always fall down right after the cleaning ladies' visit. Umm, it's because they were legitimately cleaning the tile in our bathrooms, a thing I just obviously don't do. So, that scrubbing/hot water was causing the Command hook to fall. So, geniusly I looked at the linen closet door in the same bathroom, and ta-da!


2) organizing breast milk in the freezer -- our freezer overfloweth with breast milk. Now I have a bin for each month (four total at this point). I lay the bags flat until they're completely frozen, then place them upright in their appropriate containers, with the oldest milk in the front so we can use that up first. This is not rocket science, but the 20 minutes I spent to get this together has been totally worth it.

See you some time in May!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Newborn sleep 2.0

I will admit: we are a sleep-obsessed family. Take the old adage, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," change it to, "If baby ain't sleeping, ain't nobody happy," and you get an insight into our little world.

The past 10 weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions and expectations, nearly all of which boil down to concerns over sleep -- not getting enough, when will our lives return to normal....ohmygoddidwemakeahorriblemistake. The conclusion is that no, in fact, we did not make a mistake; we have another wonderful sleeper on our hands, but it just took us some time to adjust. In many ways learning to be patient with newborn sleep was a lot harder for Matt and me this second time around because Natalie set the bar so high with her excellent sleep habits from early on, and we were unrealistically eager to get that show on the road with Adam.

We had forgotten some things along the way and we tried some new tricks this time, too. Ultimately, we had a really successful time with Adam's newborn sleep stage even though in the thick of it all we wouldn't have admitted so easily that things weren't that bad.


Here's what we forgot:
Newborns can typically only stay awake for 1-2 hour stretches for the first few months
Adam would cry, and we'd think, "Well, you have a clean diaper and a full stomach, but maybe you still need to keep eating?" Wrong. He really needed to sleep. Rereading my favorite baby sleep book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child corrected that mistake fast and we started putting Adam down for naps and bedtime much more quickly. We discovered that Adam has a 1 hour, 15 minute awake cycle. By about 1 hour of being awake he needs to start his soothing to sleep routine.

Try to put babies down drowsy but awake
In those earliest weeks it really doesn't matter what you do; a baby will sleep whenever and however it feels like sleeping. But, out of parenting necessity, we wanted to get Adam aboard the Better Sleep Habits Train as early as possible, so we started trying to put him down drowsy but awake starting when he was about 5 weeks old. This meant that, though he would often fall asleep while nursing or even having a bottle, we'd wait until the feeding was over to swaddle him so that he'd be awake but ready to fall asleep by the time he got into his crib.

Here's what we did differently this time:
Adam slept in his own room when he was less than 2 weeks old
I already mentioned this, but this point bears repeating. If I was doing it all over again, I would have insisted on Natalie sleeping in her own room much earlier. Even though she was in the nursery for bedtime by the time she was 6 weeks old, I think we all could have been a lot happier if we'd ripped the Band-Aid off sooner. This time around we did, and we were much happier.

Adam got an early bedtime at 6 weeks
Natalie didn't earn an early bedtime until she was 3 months old. This time around, we knew we wanted to do that differently. I already also mentioned, though, how in our haste we tried to force an early bedtime on Adam when he was only a few weeks old. That was a major failure. We tried again, though, when Adam turned 6 weeks old, and despite a few rough nights at the beginning of that effort, Adam has maintained a bedtime that falls between 6:30 and 7 p.m. and it has led to some seriously good sleep habits (sleep begets sleep!). We must start his bedtime routine early to account for the possibility that it could take him some time to wind down, but by his second week of an early bedtime he stopped waking up before midnight. This meant he was consistently getting at least a 5-hour stretch of sleep every night beginning at 7 weeks old. His first incredibly long stretch of sleep (longer than 6 hours) came when he was 8 weeks old and slept for 9.5 hours straight. Now that Adam's 10 weeks old he seems to be in a holding pattern of waking up around 3 a.m. (meaning he's asleep for 8-8.5 hours) feeding for about 15 minutes, and then waking up "for the day" from anywhere between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. One blessed night a few days ago the child actually slept from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The skies parted and the angels sang.

Adam takes most of his naps in his crib
This is another point I mentioned that once again bears repeating. We treated newborn Natalie as our portable little baby, not really concerned with whether or not she napped in her crib. Because Natalie has her own nap schedule though (typically between 1 and 3:30 each day) we are more homebound and therefore have gotten Adam to take nearly all his naps while at home in his crib. He's a champion at sleeping in the Ergo carrier, which is great because Natalie still has activities and trips that get in the way of him always sleeping at home when he needs to, but I'm glad that he has some solid napping experience in his crib already.

The pause
We sort of did "the pause" with Natalie, but we are really following this technique with Adam, partly out of necessity and partly because we now know better. Basically, as the book Bringing Up Bebe reveals, European parents are more likely to use this technique of waiting approximately 5 minutes after a baby makes his initial sound before entering the baby's room. We do this with Adam, both at naptime and at night, and on many occasions have discovered that he puts himself back to sleep in that 5-minute window. It may be challenging to hear a baby cry and not respond, but we have to remember that our baby is better for learning how to put himself back to sleep and not having his sleep interrupted before he's really ready to wake up.

Adam sometimes cries a little to put himself to sleep
I think when I only had Natalie, I believed that if a baby cried some while going to sleep, that was "crying it out." No, "crying it out" is truly when parents just leave their babies in their rooms to let them cry for as long as it takes to fall asleep. As Dr. Weissbluth points out in his book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby, "extinction" or "gradual extinction" are two methods most parents actually use that people often confuse with "crying it out." In both these methods, babies are only allowed to cry after all their needs have been met, and these are techniques that Dr. Weissbluth recommends only using once a baby has reached 4 months old. In true "crying it out" there's no real regard for whether or not a baby's needs have been satisfied. With Natalie I really thought I couldn't let her cry while falling asleep before turning 4 months old. But upon rereading Healthy Sleep Habits, I was reminded that it's quite normal for tiny babies to still need to cry (fuss) a little before going to sleep. So, we've discovered that sometimes Adam needs up to 5 minutes of crying to get to sleep. Once he hits that 5-minute mark, though, we know he's reached the point where he won't fall asleep without our help. Often he only needs something as simple as one of us holding him for a couple minutes, and then he's truly out.

But we have been impatient
Considering how great Adam is today in terms of sleep, you'd think our lives have been perfect of the past 10 weeks. As I said earlier, though, we were sort of brats about his sleep habits before they really turned the corner around the 7-week mark. I definitely crashed at week 5. I felt like I had 5 weeks' worth of adrenaline, and then I hit a wall at week 5 and felt like I couldn't function. I definitely cried a number of times, once several times in one day, and I even went so far as to tell Matt when he got home from work one day, "If you were wondering what's the number of children a couple should have, the correct answer is no more than one." I was sleep deprived, I wasn't being nice, and I wasn't thinking straight. A set of ladies and their toddlers bounded up to me at the mall during this sleep-deprived period when I was able to run a few errands with only Adam in tow. The ladies, assuming I was a first-time mother, looked at me wistfully and said, "Once you get over that 6-week hump, the hardest time is over." I knew this was true, too, but I could not imagine a life in which I would ever sleep again. It's so easy to take whatever you're experiencing that week with a newborn and think this will be the rest of your life, but it's so important to remember how quickly babies change.

Now I just hope the changes we have ahead of us are for the better, not for the worse.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Helping new parents

The other week a good friend alerted me to a great post: 100 Ways to Encourage a New Mom. This list really speaks to me, especially now that we're exiting the earliest of newborn weeks (and crossing our fingers that "the worst is behind us" as so many people have tried to remind me).

The author of the list invites everyone to share her post and add their own thoughts. I have to say that after now having had two newborns two years apart, we've experienced a tremendous outpouring of love and support from so many friends and family. I've learned from their example in discovering what is most (and sometimes least) helpful for parents of a new baby. So, below is the compiled wisdom of my friends and family. Though this list is mostly geared toward helping a new mom, because, let's face it, much of the physical toll falls on her, this is also applicable to all those great fathers like my own husband who are in the trenches too. Some of the items on my list likely overlap with the list in the link above. Please forgive me for any repeats; I'm the mom of a newborn.

The guiding philosophy behind dealing with parents of a newborn is: Don't enter your interactions with any selfish motives. You want to see a cute little baby, one likely tinier than you've ever seen, but they just want to get through the day (and the night...oh, the night). Make everything in your visits and offers of help about the parents, not about yourself, and you'll be the most helpful.

Here are some more specific ways we've been helped:

Gifts

  • When giving a gift after the baby is born, tell them no thank you note or email is necessary. My good friend who sent me the link above reminded me of this one. I try to say this to my friends, too.
  • Provide gift receipts for baby clothes
  • Buy 9 or 12 month baby clothes
  • Bring diapers and baby wipes
  • Don't regift them items you know they won't like/need, and don't give them your leftovers of items you know are not the best quality, like cheap diapers that don't actually hold leaks
  • Give her a robe she can wear for late-night nursing sessions
  • Give her a nursing tank she can just wear (and sweat through) at night (seriously, my night sweats need to end already)
  • Give her beauty items she can use on days when she doesn't shower or just wants to feel a little better. A friend brought me these Say Yes to Blueberries Age Refresh Towelettes and they're awesome.
  • Share your Amazon Prime membership with them (it can be shared between two mailing addresses)
  • Bring toys or other activities to entertain the toddler that: don't make really loud noise, don't require batteries, don't require parental supervision



Gifts don't have to be new!

  • Bring any of your leftover, unused baby essentials, such as newborn or size 1 diapers, breastmilk storage bags, nursing pads, extra breastpump parts, formula
  • Offer to loan her big-ticket baby items she may not own, such as a swing, bouncer, carrier, infant gym, Snap n Go or Pack n Play


Food
The most appreciated gifts often come in the form of food. Really, you can't go wrong here, but here are a few additional ways we've been shown kindness:

  • Bring food in disposable containers or containers you don't except returned
  • Bring food that can be easily frozen. Don't have time to cook? A friend brought us frozen meals from Dinner Done. See if there's a similar service where you live.
  • Bring breakfast and lunch food they can eat with one hand -- muffins, bagels, fruit that doesn't require cutting or peeling (or that's already cut/peeled)
  • Bring food the week that she and/or her mate returns to work
  • Bring gift cards for places that offer takeout and/or delivery
  • Bring coffee


Helping around the house

  • Offer to do the chore they hate the most
  • Hire a cleaning service to come by when they've been home from the hospital for two weeks and the house has gotten sufficiently dirty
  • Take care of their animals -- take the dogs for a walk or the cat to get its nails trimmed (or, dear god, someone figure out how to make my dogs' breath not smell horrible...)


Emotional support

  • Tell her you've also cried in the shower
  • Tell her it gets better
  • When asked, couch any advice in, "What worked for us was..."
  • Help connect her with other moms who have babies roughly the same age as hers
  • If you're going to send her links about parenting or babies, make sure there is not a hint of judgment in what you're sending (i.e. the benefits of breastfeeding to a mom who's formula feeding or the dangers of co-sleeping to a mom who's co-sleeping)
  • Send her links to articles and websites that have nothing to do with motherhood or babies
  • Watch the baby, even if only for an hour, so she and her mate can leave the house together and do something without the baby
  • Give her the benefit of the doubt -- she is likely unable to maintain coherent conversations, she might have a meltdown in front of you. (True story: my dog stole my hard-earned sandwich off my plate while one of my best friends was visiting, and I started crying rather irrationally in front of her. She understood.) Don't take it seriously or personally. Just say, "I've been there."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Leaving the house with two kids

Today I completed my first by myself out-of-house adventure with my toddler and my baby. I wanted to write it all down for myself so I can remember the steps of this quasi-routine for the future. I did not really plan ahead for today's outing, except to set my alarm, and somehow the cards fell into place.

Here's photographic evidence of our excursion:

Here, now, for your amusement, an account of my nearly two hours of preparation for a 45-minute toddler music class:

7:33 a.m. Human alarm clock (aka baby) goes off seven minutes before my iPhone is scheduled to wake me up. Oops, false alarm. Baby just let out a cry and put himself back to sleep. Still, I rush downstairs, turn on the coffee maker, get out a bottle for Natalie, fill up the diaper bag while waiting for coffee to brew. Put cereal in a snack trap for toddler, fill up a sippy cup with water and ice for toddler, grab more newborn diapers for baby, pull my wallet and keys from purse, fill up my water bottle, and add all those items to the diaper bag. Finish just in time to pour myself a cup of coffee.

7:43 a.m. Baby and toddler are still miraculously asleep, so I turn on shower and hop in. I manage to even do my hair when...

8:05 a.m. Baby is legitimately screaming now, and I'm at least partly dressed, so I go grab him.

8:10 a.m. Bring baby downstairs to nurse while I drink coffee and watch Today Show.

8:30 a.m. Baby is done and sufficiently burped and has even drifted back to sleep. Put baby in bouncer seat that is upstairs in our master bedroom. Take bottle to toddler who of course wants to read books in her crib. She reads while I put on a shirt and brush my teeth. I also lay out all needed diapers and clothes (even remember socks!) for baby in nursery and toddler in big girl room. I run downstairs, Ergo, Ergo infant insert, baby's hat, and diaper bag in tow to throw in the car during this rare moment when neither child needs me.

8:40 a.m. Time to dress toddler. She wants to take her bunny (aka her "lovie") out of her crib. Then she wants to put him back in the crib with his friends. Then she wants to analyze all the colors of all her new socks.

8:50 a.m. Baby's still sleeping, so I take toddler downstairs to put her hair in ponytails while she watches videos on her YouTube channel. I make it through "Five Little Monkeys" with her and then set up the videos on autoplay. I run downstairs to grab toddler's coat, scarf and shoes, then put them on her while she watches the "Old McDonald" video. As I rush upstairs to change the baby, I hear toddler say, "Please may I watch more videos please?" (this is a new, shocking development -- the complete sentence, polite request) and, with perfect timing, the next video in the queue comes up. Wish granted!

8:55 a.m. Baby has an especially dirty diaper and isn't pleased to be aroused from sleep. He's especially not pleased when I put his onesie over his head and cram his tiny, refusing-to-bend arms through the long sleeves. He wears a pair of socks for the first time. Those Trumpettes are amazing. They only sort of fit, but the elastic is so quality that they still don't fall off his miniature feet. I grab baby's burp cloth, and oh, yes, baby, and head downstairs.

9:07 a.m. I tell toddler it's time to leave for music class. "NO!" she whines. I say, "OK, well, then Baby Adam and I are going to music class and you can stay here." "Natalie go to music class too, please!" she whines. "Great, then follow me," I say. I open the baby gate while holding baby, toddler grabs my hand (she's finally getting the hang of going down stairs but still needs assistance at least some times). Toddler makes it down about three steps before letting go of my hand, so I go ahead and put baby in car seat. With perfect timing, by the time baby is in car seat, toddler is all the way downstairs. I get toddler into her car seat. I run back inside to get my shoes. As I'm getting into the car, I realize I'd like a scarf but decide it's too much trouble. I reach into diaper bag to hand toddler snack trap full of cereal and sippy cup right as toddler says, "Blue and red cup!" Eureka! Another wish granted. Then toddler asks for Rufus, the teddy bear who spends 90 percent of his life in our car. Rufus, though, came inside two days ago and has been residing in the living room ever since. I'm not going back inside. So, I say, "Rufus didn't make it. Sorry." Yes, I tell my toddler the teddy bear is a casualty of this morning. Ha.

9:12 a.m. I turn on the car and we're on the road, seven minutes after the arbitrary, imaginary time I gave us for leaving.

9:22 a.m. We pull into the rec center parking lot.

9:28 a.m. We have made it past the rec center front desk just in time to walk down the stairs to the music class.

Two minutes to spare! Seriously, where is my medal.