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:

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:

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.

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 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?)

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!