Friday, November 15, 2013

Books about having a second baby

If my second pregnancy had a tagline, it would be this: "No one cares about a second baby." This sounds harsh, I realize, and it's not how I feel about my second baby who will be born in the scarily near future; rather, it's a statement about how nearly everyone else reacts. Sure, my family and closest friends are supportive and excited, but there is a certain feeling from strangers and acquaintances alike that a second-time parent is a pro and therefore not much to celebrate. For example, whenever I find myself out running an errand or out on the town without Natalie, strangers assume I'm about to have my first baby. "Oh, is this your first baby?!" they say in a high-pitched voice. When I say, with a smile and excitement in my voice, "No, this is number 2," the tone immediately shifts and the typical response is, "Oh."

Of course, the truth is that as a second-time parent, while I do not have all the answers (or most answers), I do have a better sense of what to except the second time around, and therefore the months ahead seem almost more scary than they did as I anticipated my first child. My eyes are fully opened, so I know about the physical recovery from childbirth, the sleep deprivation ahead, the serious commitment breastfeeding requires, the reality of being covered in spit up, and the fears over whether or not the baby is gaining enough weight and developing normally. On the flip side, I recognize with hindsight that these challenges and worries will hopefully last for an exceptionally small portion of our son's early life, and I have at least a few more coping mechanisms and previous experiences this time around to inform my parenting.

Still, I'm a firm believer in preparation through reading. This time, instead of feeling the need to read about pregnancy or breastfeeding or newborns, I have sought out books specifically focused on having a second child. In trying to gather books on this topic, I found that there are few books to choose from, and nearly all these books have mixed online reviews. I selected the four books I could easily acquire through my local library. Having completed reading four books on this topic, I will just be adding to the mixed reviews of these books, but here goes.

Here's what I found these books to say (so you don't have to read them)...

Universal advice:
The universal point all these books emphasize is that preparing yourself, your relationship with your spouse, your firstborn, and your house before the arrival of baby #2 is the best way to make the transition as smooth as possible. My rational brain that loves to be organized said, "True," and I worked hard to find specific advice within each book that went beyond basic organizational strategies such as babyproofing in advance, learning to manage a weekly grocery and meal list, having a division of household tasks between spouses, maintaining routines with your older child, keeping a firm place in your life for time by yourself, with your spouse, and with your friends.

In terms of sibling preparation, every book recommends, as my doctor and plenty of friends have recommended as well, making any changes in the older child's life well in advance of the arrival of the baby so that the older child has time to adjust and doesn't associate the newborn with all things upheaval. This for us means moving Natalie into her new room as quickly as we can put it together, hopefully sometime in the next few weeks.

Universal criticism:

Overall, my main criticism of these books, as I observed in many online customer reviews, is that they mostly provide common sense advice that you've probably heard before. Perhaps because so many people have such wildly different circumstances, there's no good way to present super specific advice in a published format.

I also feel like the picture these authors paint on the whole regarding welcoming a second baby to the family is one of doom and gloom, and I feel like I've heard enough doom and gloom from friends and acquaintances and TV and movies that I don't really need more extremely negative reminders about the realities of life with two small children. I want honesty, but I also want some balance of optimism and pessimism, especially since I have made such major strides in the past few years in living my life in a more optimistic way. 

Either way, I've tried to compile what I found to be some of the most specific information from these four books below.

Welcoming Your Second Baby
by Vicki Dansky
3rd edition, 2005
This book is focused on the most immediate aspects of preparation for a second child and life with two children, including, for example, a whole chapter about having the firstborn present at the birth of the second child. (For the record, Natalie will not be witnessing her brother's birth.) Much of this book is written in bulleted-list format, which I can appreciate because it makes it even easier to pick and choose what to read. In any of these books, you'll find lots of ideas that no doubt do not apply to your circumstances.

Here's what I found most helpful from this book:

  • Hospital advice -- Your first child may not be able to visit you at the hospital for any number of reasons, so the book recommends not building up a potential hospital visit in case it doesn't work out. Additionally, if your child does visit you, ideally you will not be the one holding the baby so that you can give your older child attention when she visits (26).
  • Dealing with jealousy, when the baby is a newborn -- If possible, find ways to give your older child special time with you by staggering when you feed the baby and put the baby down for a nap (70). Of course, following this advice would mean you would likely never get a break yourself, but I guess that is an idea.
  • Regression -- I'd heard and read plenty before about regression in toddlers after the baby arrives, but I was surprised to read that regression is most common seven months after the baby's arrival (73). The author does not elaborate on this claim, though, so I don't know about this statement's accuracy or helpfulness. We're not planning to touch potty training for the time being because we figure Natalie would just regress, anyway.
  • Encouraging positive sibling interaction -- The author recommends specifically praising positive play between the firstborn and baby by saying something like, "'Look how happy your brother becomes when you sing to him'" (81). I like this because it offers the older sibling specific praise and may therefore encourage more positive interactions.

And Baby Makes Four: Welcoming a Second Child Into the Family
by Hilory Wagner

Maybe it's just me, but this book felt like the most negative of the four books I've read on this topic. For that reason, it would be on the bottom of my recommended titles list, but I'm reviewing these in the order in which I read them so I can remember how I saw ideas building or conflicting among the books.

This book is divided into three parts (1: Planning for Two; 2: Pregnancy and Preparation; 3: Your New Family) with multiple chapters within each section. My review of this book is incomplete because, as in the case of the previous book, several chapters do not apply to me (most notably, I don't need to read chapters about deciding when to have another kid or about being pregnant a second time). I focused most of my attention on the chapters about sibling preparation and managing life with two children. Thankfully, the whole book uses helpful subheadings and bulleted lists so readers can easily pick and choose what to read.

Here's what I found most helpful from this book:
  • Baby doll care -- Teach your firstborn how to properly care for a baby by giving the toddler a baby doll to pretend play with (77). The book specifically recommends showing the toddler how to support the baby's head. Natalie loves to sing "Hush-a-Bye Baby" to her stuffed bunny, but I'm planning to get one of my two old Cabbage Patch dolls out from the back of the crawl space (when I finally blaze a trail through there) and let her have it as her baby doll.
  • "Our" baby -- Refer to the baby as "ours" (89). It turns out we've been unwittingly following this advice because one of Natalie current favorite books, I'm a Big Sister, refers to the new baby as "our" baby, and so that language has stuck in our house as well.
  • Keeping a toddler occupied while mom nurses -- Read books or watch videos with your toddler while you nurse your newborn (130). At this moment, Natalie has a shockingly long attention span when it comes to books, and I think I could realistically manage feeding a newborn while Natalie reads beside me. Who knows how long that will last, but I will milk it (ha!) for all that it's worth come January. Also, who knows how nursing will go with baby #2. I'm not setting myself up for disappointment with that one.
  • With toys, sharing is not always caring -- Teach your first born to understand that many of her toys are not suitable for the baby, and while it's nice to share, there are times where sharing is not good (146). We sort of went through this when trying before Natalie was born to teach the dogs the differences between baby toys and dog toys. I've already put all the baby's toys into a special red bin that Natalie can easily and safely access, and we'll work on teaching her that it's OK to hand her brother toys from that bin only. (Stay tuned.)
  • Outings with the firs born -- Try to arrange as many special outings for the firstborn as possible once the baby arrives (149). The book recommends a special weekly outing for the toddler. That sounds awesome, but likely unfeasible. I could see myself trying to ensure that between Matt, me and babysitters, family and otherwise, someone gives Natalie a special outing whenever we can.
  • Don't overplay the concept of "mommy's little helper" (150) -- I thought this was a great point. Nearly every book or article I read emphasizes making the firstborn feel important in the life of the baby, but realistically, there's only so much my two-year old will be able to do. Once the baby can see and focus more, Natalie can play a bigger role, as the book points out, in keeping her brother smiling and entertained.
Twice Blessed: Everything You Need to Know About Having a Second Child -- Preparing Yourself, Your Marriage, and Your Firstborn for a New Family of Four
Joan Leonard
After reading the relatively Negative Nancy of a book above, I found Twice Blessed refreshing. Of course, it's not surprising that a book with the word "blessed" in its title might take a more positive approach. Still, I salute you, Joan Leonard, for not scaring me like everyone else.

This book is structured in a remarkably similar way to Wagner's book above, making it easy to select the most relevant parts of the book for reading or scanning.

Here's what I found most helpful from this book:

  • Siblings are good for helping kids mature! (57) -- Yes, thank you! Not exactly advice, but at least affirmation that my family's life as we know it will not be forever destroyed. Specifically, the author highlights how: "Even if the oldest temporarily regresses back to thumb sucking or wetting the bed after the arrival of the baby -- which is very common -- in the end the child may mature more quickly. Studies reveal that kids show signs of more grown-up behavior...after the birth of a new baby, even if signs of regression are also there" (57-58).
  • Brush off your firstborn's baby album (63) -- Natalie is loving looking at her baby book these days. Of course, she's mostly enamored with pictures of herself and her family and friends, but it gives us a nice way to talk about the hospital, and how small babies are, and what babies need, and how babies grow.
  • Don't move your firstborn out of the crib if she's not ready (68) -- We have been planning this all along, but it was affirming to read we're not crazy for not wanting to transition Natalie to a regular bed yet. Natalie has loved her crib since she was about four months old, and now she is especially attached to it, contentedly babbling in there for about an hour each morning before she's ready to get out. When I get her up for the day or from a nap, she often asks to stay in her crib. So, I leave the door open, do a few things upstairs, and then in about 15 minutes she's ready to get out. Rather than force her out of her comfort zone, we're going to move Natalie's crib to her new room, and we'll use the Pack N Play as the baby's crib until either Natalie's ready to give up her crib or we decide to force her to give it up (or we decide sound sleep is what matters most of all and we suck it up and buy/borrow a second crib for a while).
  • More good news: Sibling fights are good -- Specifically, these fights over such topics as toys and parental attention teach coping and negotiation skills (182). Again, not something I didn't know, having grown up as the middle child in a family with relatively strong personalities, but still a great reminder that, again, both of my children are going to be fine and perhaps better because they have each other.
From One Child to Two: What to Expect, How to Cope, and How to Enjoy Your Growing Family
Judy Dunn
This book's horribly outdated cover threw me off at first, but this wound up being the book with what I felt was the most specific advice for making the adjustment to two children. As with all the previous books, there are chapters readers can easily skip based on individual circumstances. I valued, though, the way that this book considers the adjustment to a growing family in stages: the first few weeks  (chapter 5), the first year (chapter 6), and the rest of the time the siblings will spend under the same roof (chapters 7-10). The tone of this book is somewhere between the optimism of Twice Blessed and the general pessimism of And Baby Makes Four.

Here's what I found most helpful from this book:
  • Two does not have to mean twice as difficult -- Instead, this author claims the workload is more like one and a half (17). Having kids closer together in age can actually make the adjustment easier because parents aren't too far removed from the baby routine. Even though I haven't given birth yet, I can relate to this sentiment because I really do feel like Natalie was just a baby yesterda.
  • Savor these pre-baby moments with your firstborn -- I'll just quote this one directly: "Rather than fuss over preparation, enjoy your child now, and think about his current interests and the things you like doing together" (49).
  • The firstborn can get a gift when the baby is born, but don't say it's from the baby (59) -- I really, really appreciated this point. Every book (and nearly everybody I've spoken with) recommends having a special gift for the firstborn, but the other books say parents should say it's from the baby. Although this book does not state it so bluntly, saying the present is from the baby is a lie, and an unnecessary and confusing one at that. Natalie will be thrilled that her brother's arrival also means she gets a few special treats of her own; she won't care (nor will she likely understand) where they're from.
  • Be prepared for a child's response to the baby to be ambivalent -- I was happy to see the author point out that your firstborn's attitude toward the baby will likely be more nuanced than we often are willing to admit. Dunn writes that the response could involve, "a combination of anger, distress, increasingly mature behavior, and genuine interest in and affection for the baby" (69).
  • The beginning will be rough, but then it's over (72) -- Right, I need to keep telling myself this. Specifically, the first month will be bad, but that's why my husband will be off from work, splitting all baby and toddler duties with me.
  • Babies as young as six weeks might be adaptable to changes in feeding and napping schedules (89) -- I like the idea of raising flexible children. Likely through luck, Natalie turned out pretty flexible, and I hope baby boy can be somewhat as obliging. Of course, the book points out that more difficult babies might take two to three months to become more adaptable.
  • Firstborn jealousy will likely be apparent when the baby is three to four months (93) -- This makes sense, as this is around the time babies start showing more personality, doing tricks, and generally exit the solely-a-blob stage into something a little more entertaining.
  • An increase in fearfulness in the firstborn is normal -- Specifically, the book points out that about one-third of firstborns show an increase in pointed fears during the baby's first year of life (95). This could include, for example, a new fear of water, which may require parents to temporary minimize or even suspend baths and revert to sponge baths before re-acclimating the firstborn to the fear-inducing stimuli.
  • Handling baths for two kids -- One solution: bathe on alternate days (109). We already bathe Natalie every other day, so we could easily bathe baby boy on the opposite nights. Or bathe them together with the newborn in a tub anchored with suction cups to the floor of the tub (109). Because we do not have such a contraption, we'll probably see how the alternating bath days works first.
The end result of having read four books on the subject of having a second child is that I do feel more confident and relaxed about the prospect of our son's arrival in a few short weeks.

As if to solidify this sentiment, I find myself a lot more emotional these days as I anticipate the joys of a newborn. When I was pregnant with Natalie, our friends gave me the book Oh, Baby, the Places You'll Go! (A Book to be Read in Utero) by Dr. Seuss. I felt a little silly when pregnant with Natalie to read it out loud more than once. Now, though, totally by her own volition, Natalie has been gravitating toward this book on her bookcase. So, we've read it at least 20 times to baby boy. And I really can't get through the last page without choking up:

So now, as my voice
burble-urps in your ear --
with a bump-thumpy sound
that is not very clear --
the words I am saying
you hear in your heart,
and know that I wish you
the very best start.

It's a scrumptulous world
and it's ready to greet you,
And as for myself...

I can't wait to meet you!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Smartphone battery life: helpful link

Matt upgraded us to the iPhone 5s a couple weeks ago. Because I never upgraded my previous iPhone to the iOS7 system, I'd forgotten that this phone upgrade would mean an automatic software upgrade, too. I really don't have a major preference between the iOS6 and iOS7, but I had heard that iOS7 can seriously eat up some battery life. I'd already felt that my old iPhone was losing battery life way too soon with the old operating system (which is not surprising given the phone was two years old); so I was especially looking for ways to treat my new phone's battery nicely.

Enter my husband, who is great at tracking down helpful technology advice via the interwebs.

He found this helpful article on Gizmodo that I thought deserved a reposting, both because it addresses iOS7 battery concerns thoroughly and because it ends by going back to an earlier post from June about maintaining smartphone battery life in general.

In case you don't have time to read it all, here are the highlights for me.

To preserve some iOS7 battery life, specifically:

  • Turn off that parallax function (a.k.a. that motion-swooping feature that has supposedly made some people dizzy). I was happy to know exactly how to do this, mostly because I find that feature annoying.
  • Turn off all unnecessary location services. If there's no reason for GPS to work for you in a specific app, turn it off. I find that this applies to nearly all my apps.
  • Keep your phone set to the lowest possible brightness. I love how iOS7 allows me to bring up the Control Center easily from the home screen. This is perfect when I wake up in the middle of the night and need 15 minutes of reading The Washington Post to put me back to sleep, but I find my phone's normal brightness setting overpowering.

To preserve smartphone battery life in general:

Do not charge your battery fully, and do not allow your battery to die. I had heard the advice about not allowing your battery juice go all the way down to zero before recharging, but I had not heard the other advice. The Gizmodo article recommends keeping your battery charged above 50 percent, with single charges bringing the charge from  around 40 percent up to 80 percent. Easier said than done, but still something to strive for. If nothing else, I'm doing a better job not letting my battery dip below 20 percent, which is probably a good idea in general. Of course, I am sure there are plenty of times when I'll want my battery fully charged, but on a normal day when I know I'll have easy access to a way to charge my phone, I'll consider this advice.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Miami hotel review: The Fontainebleau

So, we decided to go all-out with our Miami trip, and we wound up staying at the Fontainebleau, a hotel that appealed to the Rat Pack back in the day and most recently achieved legendary status as probably the most expensive hotel we've stayed at to date.

But it was worth it.

Everyone and their mother on Yelp is going to have something negative to say about virtually everything, so we decided to book this hotel mostly on its reputation and no specific recommendation. Once we found out that the hotel was running an October special for one free night with three paid nights, we made the fastest booking decision we've ever made. It went something like this:

Matt: "There's this special. Should we book it?"
Me: "We can cancel the reservation for free up until the day of check in. Let's book it."

I figured that unless our child got seriously ill or I went into majorly premature labor we would not look back, and we did not.

The hotel is practically impossible for me to criticize, but in the spirit of fairness I'll share the good and the not-as-good. Still, keep in mind that for our five-day, four-night stay, Matt and I kept saying to each other, "I'm so glad we booked this trip," and, "Can you believe how awesome this is?"

The good
The beach is beautiful! This is one of my key desires for an ocean-front hotel.

The grounds are well-maintained. There are basically six pools, two large hot tubs, an outdoor bar, an outdoor restaurant with deck and bar, and plenty of (astroturf-covered) lounge areas with abundant seating (and palm trees to boot).

The rooms are beautifully decorated and immaculately maintained. OK, here I should mention that we scored a free upgrade from a king-size bedroom to a suite. I maintain we got this because we'd paid for a king-size bed with an ocean view, and by the time we arrived there were none left. I guess we are not 100% sure that's the case, though, which is why Matt claims instead that we played the pregnancy card on this one. (Specifically, while checking in, I pointed out an advertisement for an open-bar event at the hotel taking place in a few nights, pointed at my belly, and said, "You know who would go crazy at an open bar? This guy." This did cause the hotel clerk to begin to openly talk about my pregnancy [she was being super polite so as to not insult me, I suppose, before that]. Then she said, "Well, this is your first time in Miami, right?" when she was telling us she'd upgraded us to a suite. So, I claim we played the never-been-to-Miami card, but whatever.)

Our suite had a balcony with plenty of space as well as pool and ocean views; a sitting area with a sofa, wingback chair and coffee table; an office area with a desk and computer; a king-size bed; and a large bathroom with a large vanity, big shower, and separate jetted tub.

The little details add up. I'm not used to a whole lot of pampering, so maybe the average guest would take these items for granted, but I took special pleasure in:
  • All the staff with whom were interacted were incredibly pleasant and sometimes even amusing
  • Plush robes in every room
  • An iMac with free Internet access in every room
  • Molton Brown toiletries (shampoo, conditioner [so happy to find good hotel conditioner], body wash, lotion and soap) in five awesome scents
  • Free fruit-flavored water dispensers throughout the pool area. The flavors changed between lemon, watermelon, and pineapple, the most exciting by far being the pineapple water.
  • Great shower water pressure (seriously, this is something we care about)
  • Full-size gym that offers group exercise classes
The not-so-good
Just be ready to pay for it. Most of the quasi-criticisms I could give of the Fontainebleau come down to price. I feel, though, it's a little unfair for me to criticize costs at a place that is not expected to be budget-friendly. We knew we'd be spending some money, and we were prepared for that. Still, here are a few points to know:
  • Added to your hotel room cost (anywhere in Miami/Florida) will be comparatively exorbitant resort taxes. In our case this added about $50 per night to our room's cost.
  • The Fontainebleau also charges a resort fee of $20 per day.
  • If you rent a car (in our case, a sweet Toyota Yaris, a.k.a. the car with the world's smallest engine) it will cost you $40 per day to valet park it at the hotel. Matt did some pre-trip sleuthing and discovered, though, that there's a public parking lot with metered spaces one hotel down the street from the Fontainebleau. There it costs $10 per day to park. The downside: if you move your car on a weekend night and plan to park it there later that same night, you might be out of luck as those spots fill quickly. We managed to park there three of the four nights and therefore only needed to splurge on valet one day.
  • You can rent beach umbrellas, beach beds, and beach canopies, but again, it will cost you. We opted for an umbrella three of the days we were there. The sun in Miami is so intense, even in October, that I thought it was worth the $25 per day investment. Your beach chair, beach chair cover and towels, though, are included in your daily resort fee.
  • You can also have a waiter bring you a $20 cocktail on the beach, if you like. In an effort to live vicariously through him, I encouraged Matt to treat himself. He did this...once.
Early beach chair set up

Our little piece of the pie

People treating themselves

There isn't much in walking distance from the hotel. If you're not renting a car or you just don't feel like traveling particularly far for food and other attractions, you won't find much right outside the hotel's doors. There are many restaurants and shops inside the hotel, but because we found them especially overpriced and we wanted to sample some other Miami food, we happily made reservations elsewhere and hopped in the Yaris for nearly all our food ventures. We did manage to find, though, a good New York deli with a reasonably priced brunch menu less than a mile from the hotel. It was a nice little walk, and along the way we passed a Walgreens, where we picked up a few snacks.

A few other points
Be prepared for a super clubby environment. I knew this place would be a little clubby, but it was a lot clubby. That was OK with me, though, because I rather enjoyed pretending to be young and carefree once again as I surrounded myself with a bunch of 24-year olds attending bachelorette parties. I could have done, though, without some of the accompanying cigarette smoking on the beach. We got a kick out of people watching one night outside the hotel's famous club, Liv, where I observed lots of scantily clad, attractive women for some reason entering the club with a bunch of 20-something men-children wearing flannel shirts and Vans. Seriously? I've only been to about five clubs in my life, I'm about to have a second baby, and even I scoff at a guy wearing Vans to a club. Who does that?

Miami's hottest club is...

The hotel at least claims to be kid friendly. I really was not expecting to see any kids at our hotel. That was naive, but the place was definitely not overrun with families, and from what I could tell most of the families there with kids were European or South American, which makes sense to me. Americans just seem a lot more likely to stay at a Hampton Inn while visiting Disney World (I imagine this is somewhere in my future), whereas my stereotype of European parents in particular is that they're cooler than me and they'd be more likely to bring their kids to a clubby hotel where a fair number of guests are wearing thong bikinis. It's neither good nor bad; it just is. Tangent aside, there is a dedicated kid pool with a fun looking slide, there are plentiful beach toys provided by the hotel staff, and there are kid activities that seem to be scheduled each day.

Of course, the only kid I brought with me was in utero, but he seemed to have a great time.
Happy travels!