Friday, October 3, 2014

Changes for a second baby

I am pretty good at nesting. Although it's been nearly 9 months since my most recent nesting experience, I thought I'd share some of the physical preparations we made for welcoming a second child. These changes were more specific than what we needed to do for our first child's arrival. We already had a nursery and most of our baby gear, so we tried to plan ahead for a few other ways that we could smooth the transition to a two-kid household.

Investing in a double stroller
I could write a whole post about this, though I probably won't ever get to it. We searched for a reasonably sized tandem-style double stroller. The options in this realm are pretty limiting. I'd eyed some other lady's Phil and Teds double stroller a few times, but we ultimately decided we didn't like the way that the second seat seemed quite small and the second kid would always look like an afterthought in that tucked-away seat. So, we opted for the City Select.

We love the flexibility of the City Select because it's really a (large-ish) single stroller that can be easily converted into a double. There are about 10 different ways you can configure the seats. The seats are easy to remove and adjust.

The biggest drawback of the City Select? It's incredibly bulky when the infant car seat is attached. Even though I know in my mind that the stroller is quite safe, I always felt like it was going to tip over when we had the infant adaptor attached. Thankfully, those days are short lived, and a little before he turned 6 months old we put Adam in the second upright seat.


We kept Adam facing toward us for the first couple months he was in the upright seat, but we recently switched him to forward-facing, and now he seems to enjoy the ride more. Natalie mostly likes to face forward, too, in the seat furthest from the handle, but for the sake of novelty she sometimes likes to recline backward.

Fixing cloth diapers
I knew the elastic in our Bum Genius 4.0 diapers were busted. Thankfully, I stumbled upon this post about getting diapers ready for a second child. The author had such success with the company Tinkle Traps (ugh, horrible name for a great company) so it seemed like the perfect endorsement for me.

I got a quote for $3.15 per diaper to replace the elastic around the legs and on the back. This seemed quite reasonable to me, seeing as a local seamstress quoted me at $25 per diaper (the new diapers cost $17.95, so, no). I had 20 diapers I wanted fixed, as I decided to keep 4 of the newer diapers that didn't need immediate replacement as possible underwear covers during potty-training time. I paid for shipping to Ohio, and I added insurance least the precious commodity get lost in the mail. The invoice I received from Tinkle Traps was for $74.30, which included return shipping. So, all in I spent less than $90 to get 20 diapers back to working order. Fixing 20 diapers for the cost of 5 new diapers seemed like a worthwhile investment, and so far it has paid off.

The diaper repair, though, didn't end there. Unfortunately, once we started using the diapers on Adam we discovered they were all leaking. After much trial and error and many clothing changes I called Cotton Babies, the makers of Bum Genius diapers. After we determined that the diaper shells themselves contained no damage, the customer service rep recommended that we stuff the diapers with more liner located near the front of the shell. A couple days of that trick proved we still hadn't uncovered the culprit, which I then correctly determined was the liner itself.

Because our Bum Genius liners hadn't made it to over two years of use without flaking out on us, I did a little research on liner materials. I had heard a lot about hemp, and being hopeful that sort of liner could also stay dry at night (it does not, at least not for us), I invested in two types of inserts from Geffen Baby: a 12-pack of Quick Absorbers Plus (made from hemp and cotton jersey) and a 12-pack of Super Absorbers Plus (made from hemp and cotton fleece). When I purchased them this meant I was paying another $120 to rejuvenate our old cloth diapers.

Now the cloth diapers are working perfectly (except at night) and I'm happy to be putting fewer disposable diapers in the landfill. Cloth diapering is still more expensive than most advocates claim it to be, but it ultimately still works with our lifestyle.

Separating clothes into outfits
In the early days after Adam's arrival, Matt would usually be the one getting Natalie dressed, and as any mom knows, when the dad dresses the daughter he usually gets an A for effort, a sideways look, and then the daughter gets a prompt clothing change. To my husband's credit, he's not a female, and our daughter's clothing choices contain many clashing patterns and color combinations.

So, to save everyone time and take the guesswork out of dressing our daughter, I started folding Natalie's clothes into outfits. Instead of having a drawer full of shirts and another full of shorts and skirts, Natalie can easily pick out a matching outfit. I am sure she'll rebel against this system soon enough, but lately it's been making our lives a tiny bit easier. I don't have to do this with Adam's clothes yet because he has more flexibility when it comes to potential shirt and pant combos.

A better Dust Buster
The original Dust Buster we had from when we first got married bit the...dust, so we knew we wanted a reliable, hand-held vacuum in the kitchen for all the inevitable extra mess a second kid would bring. Now that Adam is eating solid foods three times a day, we are definitely getting our money's worth from this contraption: Black & Decker Platinum BDH2000FL 20-Volt Max Lithium Ion Flex Vacuum. It's much more costly than a standard Dust Buster, but its amazing suction makes it well worth it.

Faux booster seat
Although Natalie will still happily sit in the amazing Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair, we figured it would be time to pass it along to Adam, and we didn't want to invest in a second high chair. Instead of getting an actual booster seat, which I had been considering, I decided instead to get Nat a faux booster seat -- an outdoor seat cushion which not only lifts her up an extra couple inches but also has the added bonus of being waterproof and easy to wipe down.

Right now she just has a regular placemat at her seat, but I am getting really close to investing in a second Stokke Table Top.

It's the most ridiculously priced piece of baby gear that we own, but it contains messes so well that it might be worth it (plus, we use it as a craft placemat, and for that it is amazing as well).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Making working work for us

Ever since Matt and I opened joint bank accounts a month after we got married (eight years ago next week!) we made a goal of saving money for an emergency fund as well as for a maternity leave fund. The idea was that I'd take one year off teaching after our first baby arrived and then I'd return to the classroom. Matt always said that even when I was "taking time off" from teaching I'd probably still be doing some kind of work (of course he thought that -- he's an eternal optimist). Being a pessimist, though, I always said let's plan as if I am not working at all during my year off.

But then I had a January baby. So a year off turned into 19 months off. And during that time I became a self-employed private tutor. Oh, and I also got pregnant, again, so I extended my maternity leave again, and 24 months after I temporarily left the classroom I had baby #2, the final installment. Because I was already heavily involved in my tutoring business while pregnant with baby #2, this time around I was responding to essays the night before I went into the hospital for my c-section, and I even did some work a few hours after delivery. Within four weeks I was back to working with my students.

Though this may or may not sound intense, depending on your vantage point, I have to say that I love my job and I love my work-life balance. My choice to leave the classroom temporarily and start my own business has had a monumental impact on our family life. It is an ideal situation for our little family. I know everyone's situation is different, but I share our pros and cons to add another voice to this ongoing work-life dialogue among modern parents.

I tutor middle and high school students in a variety of subject areas. I work between 20 and 28 hours a week depending on my current client list. I can work as many hours as I do because my husband is also a teacher, so his schedule mimics the schedules of the students I teach and therefore he can be home just in time for my work to begin. I work Saturday through Thursday, only pausing for breath on Fridays, which I've made into my official work-free day. During the summer I work four days a week, morning, afternoon and evening, which I can do because my husband is off work. We're able to then enjoy three-day weekends as a family in the summer months. My students come to my house for tutoring, and we did a slight renovation to our downstairs living room that has now officially transformed into an area solely used for my tutoring business.

This whole gig is rather perfect, and here's why:

Pros
I am working just the right amount -- If I was still in the classroom, to be the kind of teacher I'd want to be, I'd need to work long hours grading and planning. Something would have to give, as I wouldn't be able to devote myself to my job and still spend time with my kids, let alone my husband, relatives and friends. I couldn't, though, be happy not working at all. When I was on total maternity leave following Natalie's birth, neither teaching nor tutoring, I was not very happy. I needed an outlet, and we needed money, so this time around with Adam I was eager to get back to tutoring as fast as possible.
We do not pay for childcare -- Financially we are in a much better situation than I ever could have imagined while having two little kids. This is in large part due to the fact that the only childcare we pay for is when we hire a babysitter on a weekend night. Additionally, besides the money, we do not have to experience some of the anguish associated with finding and maintaining good, reliable childcare.
We have equal parenting -- Matt spends every afternoon and evening, Sunday through Thursday, with the kids. He spends every Saturday and Sunday morning with them, too. If you tallied all the time each of us spends with the children while they're awake, our hours would come out as being fairly equal. Yes, I still spend more hours with them, but I also work part time, so it makes sense. Matt always does bath time. He almost always handles dinner. He reads to our kids just as much as I do. And, he makes our dinner between the time when the kids go to bed and the time when I stop working each night, which is crucial.
No commute -- In the Washington, D.C. area, this is also crucial.
I'm my own boss -- I never thought I would be self employed. I am not a risk taker, and being your own boss is inherently risky. But I'm really understanding that cliche idea so many self-employed people say about the joys of not having to answer to anyone else (except my clients).

There are, though, many drawbacks to this lifestyle. Here's what we've experienced:

Cons
We don't have much "down time" -- I'm not sure any set of parents with two small kids gets down time. If anyone does, though, we are certainly not in that group. Matt and I both have great jobs and great schedules, but we work opposite schedules. Some days when Matt's work schedule and my work schedule are particularly packed, I am literally handing the kids off as I begin working with a student. Part of being a parent, I think, is learning to get everything done in way less time. So, we've simply adjusted. (Side note: Our latest favorite show is "The Americans," and in a recent episode Keri Russell's character told her daughter that being an adult means doing things you don't want to do when you don't want to do them. I couldn't agree more.)
I have to work weekends -- I guess I could decide to scale back my tutoring business, but right now I'd rather not; therefore, I have to work weekends. I get Saturday afternoons and nights and some time on Sunday to spend with family and friends, but I've missed out on many baby/wedding showers, picnics, parties, and other events because of my schedule. Unless I have major advance notice on an event or I get a last-minute cancellation from a student, I have to RSVP "no" more often than I'd like. To protect my professional reputation I try to keep my work schedule as consistent as possible, only taking time off for illness or special occasions.
Our home needs to be clean -- This really a pro-con. My clients come in through our front door and stay on our entry-level floor. I don't want them to see a mess or dirt. This isn't, thankfully, that hard to do because that level only get used for my business, but it's definitely something I spend time each day straightening so as to keep a good appearance.
Sometimes working from home is more stressful than having an office to retreat to -- Matt is fantastic at keeping the kids entertained, fed and clothed while I'm working, but there are inevitably times when someone's having a tantrum or someone's fallen down and screams, and I can hear it downstairs. As a mother I feel that pain of knowing something's wrong but I can't do anything about it, or I feel annoyed that I'm just generally hearing noise while I'm working.

Ultimately, the cons are heavily outweighed by the pros, and for now this is our life. It's a good life as I can't imagine a better situation for our family. No situation is perfect and everyone figures out what works for them. Fortunately, we've found something that works for us.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A two-and-a-half year old's moment of gratitude

Yesterday Natalie was eating the (unusual) snack of crackers and feta cheese. She said she was done, so I took the remaining feta and put it back into its container.

"What's Mommy doing?" she asked.

"I'm putting the leftover feta away to save for later," I explained. "Food takes time to make and money to buy, so we don't want to be wasteful. We want to be grateful."

She was paying careful attention to what I was saying. I've told her before that "we don't want to be wasteful," but I don't think she really got it. Also, annoyingly, in the past she'd say back, "We do want to be wasteful" just because she wanted to be a defiant toddler. But yesterday was different. She was in a good mood. So I kept going.

"Actually, did you know there are some people in the world who don't have delicious food to eat? Isn't that sad?"

I could see the gears turning in her head. I expected her to respond with something silly or break into song or grab a toy or do some other age-appropriate activity. Instead, she kept talking.

"And we have a house that protects us from thunder and lightning," she said.

I was rather shocked. Perhaps she was getting the whole gratitude thing, at least a little.

"And we have a beautiful house," she said.

She got me. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes.

"And some kids don't get to do special things like make crafts," she said.

The tears just fell down my cheeks.

"That's right, in fact most kids in the world don't get to do all these special crafts," I said.

We hugged, she ran away to grab a toy, and soon after it was nap time.

Not every day is perfect, but yesterday was.

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.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Two kids, one adult

For the past four weeks, when friends and family would ask how we were doing adjusting to life with two kids, Matt and I would respond that things were going shockingly well. Nothing has changed in that regard, except to say that life got a lot more real yesterday when Matt returned to work full time. Adam's first four weeks of life will forever be referred to as our "honeymoon" period because it really was quite easy having two adults at home managing two kids. Now that Matt's back at work and my work is picking up again, I can't say we're going to have the same easy experience.

So, I am trying to adjust to the new normal. With Natalie, the new normal came at times as a bit of a shock. I had to feed her just the same amount any newborn needs to be fed, but as a first-time mom it felt like I was just always feeding my child. Now I see breastfeeding Adam as a quiet break from the sometimes-chaos of the day. But with two kids the constant question in my mind is, "What do I do when they're both freaking out at the same time?" To this, I have no good answer, other than to say that kids are just going to cry at times, and they'll have to be patient (I know, not really something either of them understands) because one adult cannot handle two kids' every needs at every single minute of the day. I just try not to cry with them.

A particularly good moment


Of course, as I said at the beginning, the transition to two adults and two kids and now one adult and two kids has been majorly easier than I thought it would be. Here are some key points from our new life thus far:

The morning shower necessity
Somewhere between 7:30 and 8:45 a.m. Adam and I are "up for the day." The point is, newborns don't have schedules, right? And newborns sleep the majority of the day anyway, so to say that Adam will or won't be awake at any given time is a crap shoot because he's only awake for about two hours at a time max.

Although I feel about 95 percent recovered from my c-section, I am still experiencing the notorious postpartum night sweats and they absolutely suck. I am so tired of waking up (or really, being woken up) in the middle of the night in a pool of my own sweat. Add to this the fact that it's the dead of winter, so the sweats make me super cold, and I'm just unhappy in bed. The point of this is that for me right now skipping a morning shower is just not an option. As tempting as it is to get in 10 more minutes of sleep, I've been trying to orchestrate a shower for myself every morning so I can not feel disgusting.

There are mornings like yesterday when Adam wakes up at 8:25 am., does a quick feeding, and then sleeps in his crib for another hour, giving me a perfect window for taking a shower before tending to Natalie.

Then there are mornings like today when Adam wakes up at 8 a.m. just as I have started running the shower water and I have to quickly throw on a robe, change him, feed him, soothe him, and manage to get him to sit in his bouncer seat in our bathroom for 10 minutes while I get myself together.

Either way, it's not bad, and I'm not complaining. There's just no sure-fire way for me to get in a shower unless I'm ready at a second's notice when there's a moment of peace.

The obliging toddler
Of all the things in my current bag of tricks, here's the best one: my two-year old happily hangs out in her crib until 9 a.m. I know. This is insane and absolutely not normal, but I am hoping to ride this wave as long as possible. Because Natalie is so obliging, on mornings like this one I was able to feed Adam a second time while Natalie played with her (now eight) stuffed animals who have taken up residence in her crib in her new room. I handed her five books from her bookcase, and while I was in the nursery adjacent to her room I enjoyed eavesdropping on her reading Peter Rabbit and Llama Llama to herself. There's something about hearing her say "Floppsy, Mopsy and Cottontail" that makes me smile.

After Natalie's officially done with her books in her crib for the morning, I get her dressed and then bring her downstairs for a morning bottle (yes, she is still drinking milk three times a day out of a bottle -- it continues to be her final vestige of babyhood). We sit and watch a few videos from her YouTube channel while I put her hair in ponytails (still haven't gotten her a first haircut...probably should). Adam may or may not be with us during this time.

She is still a horribly picky eater, so breakfast may or may not happen, with cereal or berries or a bagel. If I suggest cream cheese on her bagel, she says "no cream cheese." If I assume that she does not want cream cheese on her bagel, based on her track record for the past two weeks, she'll of course insist that I get out that cream cheese and slather it all over her bagel. Such is life with a toddler.

Natalie oversees Baby Adam's activity gym time


In addition to showing a positive interest in what Adam's doing for at least a portion of each day, Natalie has been totally into using her art supplies, which is amazing. I just strap that child into her amazing high chair and let her go to town. I have a whole bin of art supplies stationed above our fridge since Nat's art happens exclusively in the kitchen. That bin and its contents will have to be the subject of its own blog post. What I can say now is that art supplies can keep this child happy for up to an hour at a time, and it is glorious.

Breastfeeding 2.0
Although I could probably also write a whole post about breastfeeding Adam, I'll give you a quick update.

I briefly alluded in Adam's birth story to the fact that I have such better supply this time around. This is definitely thanks to him being with me since birth. This is also likely attributed to the fact that apparently in subsequent pregnancies many women have increased breast tissue. Whatever got me to this point, I am grateful. At Adam's two-week appointment he was already a full pound over his birth weight, which means we are not concerned about growth charts the way we were forced to be when Natalie wasn't up to her birth weight after three weeks of life.

Part of my routine each day is to meet my goal of pumping twice. Some days this happens, some days this doesn't. If both kids oblige me with a mid-day nap, then pumping is something I'm able to do fairly easily after putting Adam down (he's almost always asleep after Natalie gets down for her nap and rarely before she goes down). I had to relearn the fact that I should pump after feeding Adam, not before, and not an hour or two between feedings. This is one of those facts I forgot in the span of the last two years. I also pump at night while Matt is giving Adam a bottle. We've been successfully meeting our goal of having Matt give Adam one bottle a day, right now at night, so he gets accustomed to being fed by someone besides me. Of course, this means that I had to disregard the admonition of the lactation consultant at the hospital, who cautioned me against pumping or bottle feeding before Adam hit the one-month mark. He's still a couple days shy of one month, and I've been pumping practically since the day I returned home from the hospital, and he's been getting a bottle a day since he was about a week old. Breastfeeding has not suffered as a result -- no nipple confusion here. My philosophy with pumping and bottles is definitely to start as early as possible. That means that I now have in our freezer after about four weeks of pumping as much as I ever had in the freezer throughout Natalie's entire life. This will come in handy in the next couple weeks as I resume my work schedule.

As a quick sidenote, the pump itself has turned into a symbol of the latest healthcare legislation. When Natalie was born I rented a hospital-grade pump -- the Ameda Elite -- from where I delivered and kept extending the rental until Natalie was over 10 months old. I planned to do the same thing this time around, but then I discovered that the hospital I delivered at with Natalie no longer carries that pump for rental, and the prices for Ameda pump rentals from there have increased dramatically. Remembering too that under the Affordable Care Act legislation women are able to get coverage for breast pumps, I looked into what my insurance offers. After getting conflicting information from six sources -- the HR person at my husband's work, the head nurse at my practice, two customer service reps through our insurance (whose statements contradicted what our statement of benefits says), our insurance's lactation consultant, and finally my own doctor -- I realized that because our insurance plan was "grandfathered in" and because the employer mandate does not kick in until 2015 (though the individual coverage mandate kicked in this year) I was going to get zilch in the way of breast pump coverage.

Wanting to have a breast pump at our house the moment I got home from the hospital, I researched online breast pump rental options. The best deal I could find came from the AmedaDirect website, which allows users to rent an Ameda Elite pump for 6 months at $240. This offer also includes free shipping (normally $15) and a free accessory kit (normally $50). This is the best deal, as monthly rentals run $50 and do not cover shipping or the accessory kit. So, we're paying for my pump rental out-of-pocket with no hope of reimbursement, but in the grand scheme this is fairly cheap. I know I could buy a single-user pump for the same cost (or even less) but I just love this breast pump. Yes, loving a breast pump is an oxymoron I suppose, but hey, it's super-duper efficient so it takes me just minutes to pump a lot of milk. Renting from the AmedaDirect site has been really easy -- I did not, as the site suggests, have to send in the rental agreement via snail mail but instead scanned and emailed the completed form, and then the pump shipped out the same day I sent the email, arriving at our house within three days of placing the order.

The dual nap
Natalie has been taking one nap per day since right around the time she turned one year old. She goes down for this nap sometime between 12:30 and 1 on a typical day. I've been trying to get Adam to oblige me with a solid mid-day nap at the same time. Yesterday he did not, so I held him for the two and a half hours Natalie was sleeping. Not bad, but not productive. Today, though, he's contentedly snoozing in his room while Natalie tries to fall asleep. Whether Natalie really falls asleep or not during her nap is a little up in the air lately. She used to religiously sleep for about two and a half hours for her nap, falling asleep within moments of me leaving her room, but now she seems to be entertaining herself and taking an hour or more to fall asleep. She's clearly tired when I leave her, but she's no doubt experiencing a little sleep interference thanks to her brother's arrival (they do share a wall, after all). Whether she sleeps or not, though, Natalie is quiet and content in her crib, and she needs this quiet time in order to make it happily to bed time.

When the dual nap occurs, I can eat lunch using both my hands. If there's no dual nap then I need to figure out what I can easily eat in stages, often while standing. Thankfully, the dual nap occurs more often than not.

Because Natalie stays in her crib until at least 3 p.m., and because Matt is usually able to be home from work between 3 and 3:30, the afternoon is pretty manageable. It will not be as easy in a couple weeks when I resume my afternoon and evening work schedule, as Matt will have to rush home, walk the dogs and be ready for a dual-baby hand off within a matter of minutes before I have to get to work, but he will figure out a way to make it work just as I'm learning to care for two kids during the first half of the day.

Nighttime "routine"
Although we're raising Adam in almost an identical way to how we raised Natalie as a newborn, here's something that's different: Natalie stayed in her bassinet next to our bed for about six weeks, whereas Adam spent a little more than two weeks next to our bed before we decided it was time to make the switch. I am way less concerned about whether or not he's breathing (I watched Natalie in the middle of the night like a hawk) because I know that worrying isn't going to change anything. That helped making his transition to his bassinet in his nursery less difficult for me. Adam? He did not notice the change at all. I'm glad we did this as early as we did. I'm sleeping better, Matt's sleeping better, and Adam wasn't affected positively or negatively -- he's just a typical newborn.

One aspect of newborn life that Matt and I kind of forgot is that newborns don't have much of a routine when it comes to sleep and "bedtime" (what is bedtime to a newborn? Isn't their life one perpetual bedtime?). So, we tried a couple weeks ago to get Adam to go to sleep for the night starting around 8 p.m. so we could enjoy some evening adult time. After a few nights of doing what Matt correctly dubbed "chasing our own tails" as it would take a couple hours to get Adam to go to sleep, we finally realized we needed to accept the fact that for at least the next few months we don't get an evening break. We have to trade off who's eating dinner when and live with the fact that one, if not both, of us will be eating cold food.

With Matt back at work, though, we have been trying to change Adam for bed and give Adam a bottle sometime between 9:30 and 10. Ideally, Adam would fall asleep after having a 3-ounce bottle, and then he'd stay asleep for at least a few hours. But, nights like last night remind me that Adam is most content breastfeeding. So, he took the bottle, but then he fussed, and fussed, and fussed. Traditional soothing methods did not calm him down, so I resorted to doing what I do not like to do and breastfed him for comfort rather than nutrition. He barely fed -- because of course he was totally full -- but he did fall asleep within a matter of minutes.

So last night Adam slept for 3.5 hours, then woke up at 2 a.m., breastfed for 15 minutes, and immediately fell back asleep in his bassinet for another two hours. He woke up at 4:30 a.m., breastfed again for another 15 minutes, but wouldn't fall back asleep in his bassinet. Not wanting to experience what we did a couple weeks ago when it would take him at least two hours at a time to fall asleep each time he'd wake up in the middle of the night, I resorted to putting him to sleep in his swing. He slept contentedly in there for another 3.5 hours. This is, for the record, one of his best nights of sleep. Although I don't like to put him anywhere but his bassinet at night, I need to remember -- as my current rereading of my favorite baby book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, reminds me -- that there's really no such thing as establishing bad habits for a baby under four months old. A line I reread last night said to "do whatever is necessary to get your baby to sleep." Duly noted!

Sometimes I wonder if Adam is going to be a good sleeper or not. It's way too early to tell. But I am meticulously tracking his eating and sleeping habits on my iBaby Log app just as I did with Natalie. I can still see all of Natalie's data from two years ago. It's reassuring to see that Adam and Natalie are so far practically identical in their newborn sleep habits. In fact, Adam wins bonus points for the fact that he's willing to take at least one nap a day in his bassinet in the nursery, whereas Natalie basically never did that for the first six weeks of her life, and rarely even took naps in her crib before she was four months old.

Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses?
I'm writing this blog post on a good day after a really good night, so I know it sounds like my life is easy and everything is perfect. And my life is pretty easy and I am pretty lucky as well. But I've also just spared you from another post I drafted on a really crappy day. It sounded really complain-y, so I'm happy to have something real but less annoying to share.

Also, I have yet to venture out of the house with the two kids by myself. That experiment will take place later this week when we (attempt to) attend Natalie's music class. We have done plenty of family-of-four outings, and Matt is getting the hang of the Baby Bjorn carrier we borrowed from our friends (I'm still rocking the Ergo, but Matt's not comfortable getting that on by himself, hence the Bjorn loan). So, for now, while I contentedly hang out at home with two kids, I feel like I have things somewhat under control and will wait to tackle the next challenge of the outside the house adventure in a couple days.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Adam's birth story and my recovery (part 1)

Adam's birth story really begins at the start of my pregnancy. When I found out I was pregnant, my first feeling was, "It's a boy," and my next thought was, "Am I going to have another c-section?" Natalie's birth story was actually, in retrospect, fairly traumatic, and I was very emotionally upset by it for a long time. A lot of my emotion was tied up in the fact that I knew that a first c-section has a high probability of turning into a repeat c-section for a second birth.

For a long time I was leaning toward attempting a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). I tried to find reputable information about the pros and cons of attempting a VBAC versus choosing a repeat c-section, but I found a depressing lack of information in both print and electronic form. The best information came from my midwife friend who sent me a 48-page document from National Institutes of Health titled, "NIH Consensus Development Conference Statement on Vaginal Birth After Cesarean: New Insights" published in March 2010. The abstract of the paper really spoke to me when it said:
The data reviewed in this report show that both trial of labor and elective repeat cesarean delivery for a pregnant woman with one prior transverse uterine incision have important risks and benefits and that these risks and benefits differ for the woman and her fetus. This poses a profound ethical dilemma for the woman, as well as her caregivers, because benefit for the woman may come at the price
of increased risk for the fetus and vice versa. 

This is exactly how I have felt when trying to make this decision. I can see the benefits and drawbacks of each choice, and I didn't want to make either choice lightly.

Finally, after being honest with myself about my emotional state after trying and failing to have a vaginal delivery with Natalie, and the unpleasant aspects of (what still amounted to, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively easy) recovery, I opted for a repeat, scheduled c-section. It took me the majority of my pregnancy to reach this decision, but once I did, I found great peace with my choice. The conclusion of my entire delivery story this time around is that this experience was almost therapeutic -- it really helped me come to terms with my previous labor and delivery.

This peace was only amplified on delivery day. Yes, I cried as I left home, saying goodbye to my mom who was there to take care of Natalie during our two-night hospital stay. I cried as I realized this was the last time I'd see Natalie as an only child. But I also cried because I was a little scared. Sure, I'd had a c-section two years prior, but last time I didn't have time to really think about what was happening to me because it all occurred so fast. This time I had plenty of time to psyche myself out. Despite my fragile emotions on the way to the hospital, once we were there and I was getting prepped for surgery, I went back to a peaceful feeling, knowing that in a matter of moments we'd have our son out in the world.

With a scheduled c-section, my doctor gave me two important instructions:

1) Do not eat anything after midnight (which was 12 hours before my scheduled c-section the next day).

2) Take a shower the night before the surgery and the morning of the surgery using Hibiclens, this weird, super strong pink liquid that can be purchased at pharmacies (or apparently online). According to my doctor, using Hibiclens this way has been clinically proven to significantly reduce the risk of catching a hospital-borne infection. She also advised me to wear clean PJs the night before surgery and to sleep on clean sheets and use clean towels and washcloths. 

So, I did the following:

1) I ate an Italian sub at midnight, and I drank three big bottles of water, knowing that I might not eat again for a really long time. The fact that I went without food or drink for so long during Natalie's labor and delivery is just one of the many reasons that experience was particularly trying, and I didn't want to repeat that.

2) I went into a final cleaning frenzy the two days before my scheduled c-section, cleaning all sheets and towels. Fortunately, in a particularly not-organized move, I also waited until the last possible second to pack my hospital bag, so I was also washing everything I'd need for the hospital in the final two days before my surgery. We slept on insanely clean sheets the night before going to the hospital.

Here's the timeline from there:

Monday, January 6, 2014 -- Adam's birthday
10 a.m.
We arrived at the hospital. We realized we didn't know exactly where to check in (somehow that tiny detail had been overlooked by us and my doctors) so we had a 15-minute walking tour of the hospital, during which Matt joked, "You should walk up to someone and ask, 'Where can I go to get this baby taken out of me?'" 

10:15 a.m. 
We sauntered up late to the nurse's station in labor and delivery where we were greeted with, "Oh, we thought maybe you'd changed your mind." Good news: the hospital was running a little behind, so our being 15 minutes late didn't change anything. I filled out two super simple forms and got taken with Matt to a pre-op room.

Final pregnancy picture...ever

Here's something I didn't know how to answer before the day before my surgery, so I thought I'd share it here: If you're having a planned c-section, take as little as possible with you into the hospital before your surgery. For us, that meant me bringing a purse containing a consolidated version of my wallet with my ID, my insurance card, a little cash and a credit card, just in case, as well as my phone. Matt brought our DSLR camera and our car keys and his phone. Otherwise, we had nothing on us. My nurse, Mindi, took my clothes and put them in one of those patient's belongings hospital-issue plastic bags and stored them in a locker in the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) where I'd be recovering for a couple hours after the surgery.

10:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.
We spent these two hours in the pre-op room, where I changed into a gown, was hooked up to a fetal heart monitor, had my blood drawn, had an IV inserted in my arm and was given my first round of fluids, and had the surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurse, and a medical student ask me a series of (relatively redundant) questions. Everyone was super nice, and the only time I was unhappy was when the nurse put in my IV. I do not do well with that last step, so when I started to feel faint after she'd put in the IV, I asked for an ice pack on my head and all was well again.

12:20 p.m.-12:30 p.m.
The operating room was ready and my blood work was back (this is apparently the step that can hold up the surgery) so the nurse draped a sheet over my back and had me walk in my hospital-issued non-skid socks to the OR. Walking to the OR was a surreal experience. It's also the time during which I was separated from Matt. He was taken to a "weird tiny room with nothing but a chair," he says, while I was in the OR getting my spinal block. Here's another scheduled c-section fun fact I learned in this process: Most doctors and anethesiologists prefer a spinal block to an epidural, the reason being a spinal block takes effect much more quickly than an epidural, and the effects of the spinal block wear off more quickly than an epidural. Having experienced both an epidural with Natalie's birth and a spinal block with Adam's, I can say that my spinal block definitely took effect fast. In fact, as a nurse was holding me up while my spinal block was inserted, I started laughing because I couldn't feel my feet basically the second the anesthesiologist put it in. All this time, I kept noticing how peaceful the OR felt this time. Last time, during Natalie's birth, it felt like there were about 20 people in the OR. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but I was so traumatized and out of my mind that I felt like my body was being taken over by hordes of people in scrubs. This time, though, there were a couple nurses, my surgeon, my anesthesiologist, and two ladies (a nurse and a pediatrician?) there to take care of Adam when he emerged. Everyone was happy and calm, and that really set me up for such a better experience than last time. To make sure that my spinal block had taken full effect, the anesthesiologist took an alcohol swab and asked me to tell her if I felt hot or cold or nothing as she swiped the swab across different parts of my body. She's swipe my forehead, where the swab felt cold, and then my chest or my legs or my stomach, where I either felt a slight warmth or nothing at all. This felt like a test, and I couldn't tell if I was failing or not. Good news: You should feel cold on your forehead, but you shouldn't feel cold anywhere else. I passed! Whew.

12:30 p.m.-12:53 p.m.
Matt arrived in the OR. The blue sheet went up, separating my head from the rest of my body in what is perhaps one of the most bizarre aspects of a c-section. The anesthesiologist kept telling me that as soon as I felt nauseous I needed to tell her and she'd "give me something" in my IV to make me feel better. I asked Matt to tell her about five times during these 25 minutes that I was beginning to feel nauseous, a common reaction to the spinal block.

I reminded the anesthesiologist that during Natalie's birth I felt pain, not just pressure, when they took her out of me. She reminded me that the spinal block doesn't block out pressure, but she would give me fair warning when I should start feeling pressure. She was super great about walking me through everything I should be feeling and when. I think thanks to her narration, and the fact that Adam was nearly 2 pounds lighter than Natalie and therefore not as tightly lodged underneath my rib cage, this time I truly did feel pressure and not pain, and for that I am so thankful.

12:54 p.m.
Matt and I heard a cry, and we both broke out in tears before they even brought Adam around to the other side of the blue sheet. I didn't know if I'd have as emotional of a reaction this time as I did last time, given the fact that this was such an insanely orchestrated procedure, but in some ways I was perhaps even more emotional the first time I heard Adam cry. I think I not only felt happy to know we had a healthy baby, but also to know that we are so lucky that this is the second time in our lives that we get to experience this. It's like lightning has struck twice in the best possible way, and I don't want to take it for granted. 

12:55-1:40 p.m.
During this time, Adam was getting cleaned off and measured and having his two rounds of Apgar tests (8 and 9, respectively -- good job on your first assessments!). I was being sown up and given my first round of Pictocin to help my uterus shrink back down. My world's-most-amazing anesthesiologist was chatting us up and taking some pretty awesome operating room photos. This time I delivered at a different hospital (not by choice, but by insurance policy necessity) and I am so glad I was in a different hospital because during this 45-minute post-delivery period in the OR this hospital keeps the entire family together, unlike my previous hospital for Natalie's birth where they almost immediately whisk the father and baby away, leaving the mother awkwardly alone and pretty scared (or maybe that's just me). We got to just admire our son and talk to the medical staff and it was glorious and so happy.

Adam's first photo
 Our first photo of the three of us
The photographic evidence from Adam's birth says what words really cannot express. Last time, I did not want any pictures of me, and we didn't even bring our nice camera into the OR. If we'd gotten photos that involved me in the OR (besides the top of my head, not my face), I definitely would not be sharing them here. This time, though, I love the fact that we have these early pictures.

Now, on to recovery...
I'll begin my recovery story, which is an ongoing story, seeing as Adam is now only 9 days old, with the PACU.

1:40-3:45 p.m.
We spent these two hours in the PACU, where my nurse for my c-section continued to be nearby monitoring the baby and me. At 2:30, the nurse brought me ice and a little water to see how I could handle it (basically, without throwing up). I took down the first cup slowly but with no problems, so she brought me another round soon after, this time with more water and less ice, and I drank it faster.  Somewhere in this time I breastfed Adam for the first time, and he did really well.

4 p.m.
By now I'd been transported to my official post-partum hospital room. I scored a super-spacious accommodation thanks to the c-section. Although it wasn't the world's most comfortable sofa, Matt was happy to see a full-size sofa in addition to a rocking chair and several other chairs in the room. My new nurse, Chrissy, said I could order from the liquid-diet menu, so she brought me an Italian ice, some lemon Jello, and apple juice, all of which I took down super fast.

6 p.m.
At this point I was allowed to order off the regular-diet menu, so I put in my request for a turkey sandwich and some sides. I was thrilled to have only gone about 14 hours without liquids and 18 hours without solid food, compared to my experience with Natalie's birth when I didn't have liquids for over 24 hours and didn't have solid food for something like 48 hours.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
2 a.m.
My night nurse told me that I'd be getting my catheter removed and getting out of bed to walk to the bathroom for the first time. I was really afraid of this moment, because last time with Natalie's birth it took three different women supporting me to get out of bed, and I experienced a decent amount of pain as I tried to sit down. This time, though, I only needed the nurse to hold my hand when I was getting out of bed. Once both of my feet were on the floor it was smooth sailing.

I won't bore you/gross you out (though it's probably too late for either of those) with every last detail, but let's just say that before I could get my IV taken out I had to prove that I could go to the bathroom unassisted. I passed those tests -- hooray! I most wanted my IV removed so I could take a shower. 

7 a.m.
An OB/GYN came by to check me out and took off my bandages over my incision. This is also when the doctors started really pressing down on my stomach to check the size and texture of my uterus. It is not the most pleasant experience, but I was on pain meds by then and didn't feel too much discomfort.

10 a.m.
My IV was out and I was showering, ready to turn back into a quasi-normal person. It's seriously so liberating to get that IV out and get out of the hospital gown and into my own clothes, PJs though they may be.

2 p.m.
I attended a breastfeeding class, something I never had the chance to do at the other hospital where I delivered Natalie. At first I thought going to a breastfeeding class as a second-time mom wasn't going to be particularly helpful, but as I soon realized I missed out on much of the first week of breastfeeding Natalie due to her week in the NICU. When the lactation consultant would say, "Well, you already know what it's like to nurse a one-day old baby," I would say, "Actually, I don't," so she refreshed me with some pointers on positioning and realistic expectations for a baby this age. It was a mostly positive experience.





Wednesday, January 8, 2014
1:30 p.m.
Our discharge papers were complete and we were ready to leave the hospital with our son who had just turned two days old. We took a few parting shots in the nice afternoon sun that was filtering through the hospital window (just after the Polar Vortex had come to a close). As we walked out the sliding glass doors toward our car, our son in his carseat carrier, we kept waiting for someone to stop us and tell us we had to come back. It was such a different experience to leave the hospital with our baby than to leave without him.







Here are a few other recovery-related details:

Swelling -- Before I left for the hospital on Monday, I took iPhone photos of my hands and feet to track what I expected would be out-of-control swelling like I had last time. This time, though, I hardly experienced any swelling. I even arrived prepared this time with flip flops and my husband's socks, and I didn't expect to wear my tennis shoes home. But I didn't need his socks, and I wore my tennis shoes home. Most importantly, I was so much more comfortable this time and not the Pillsbury Dough Boy like I was with Natalie's birth.

Walking and stairs -- Last time I had residual pain down the lefthand side of my body for about three weeks following Natalie's birth. It turns out that my pain was more a result of the 3.5 hours of pushing I did for Natalie rather than related to the epidural or the c-section, as I originally thought. I have experienced zero pain while walking, and I had no discomfort this time with the stairs in our house. In fact, just now I practically ran up the stairs.

Pain management -- By late Monday night or early Tuesday morning in the hospital, I was taking two pain meds: Percocet every 4 hours and Motrin every 6 hours. At first the nurses had me on two Percocets at a time, but after a few rounds of that I was practically feeling drunk, which I didn't think was particularly safe for me or the baby, so I went down to one Percocet every 4 hours and stuck with the Motrin regimen. By Thursday night I was taking no more Percocet (I just don't like the side effects and I didn't think I needed it anymore). I took one Motrin two days ago, which was exactly one week after Adam was born, and I haven't taken anything since then. With Natalie's birth I stayed on pain meds quite a few days longer, likely because I was more beaten up, having experienced essentially both types of deliveries, and I was having to go back and forth between home and the NICU, which wasn't conducive to recuperating.

Breastfeeding -- This warrants its own post, and hopefully one day I'll write it, but for now I'll just say that having my baby by my side for virtually his whole life has made breastfeeding a heck of a lot easier. Last time I was mostly pumping for the first eight days, and I think my supply suffered as a result. Fortunately, I didn't have too much breastfeeding difficulty with Natalie, but (knock on wood) this time is infinitely easier.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our week at home from the hospital as a family of four! (even if big sister Natalie doesn't look thrilled here, she's been shockingly sweet and well-adjusted so far...)