Thinking and talking about Race with kids: Our Friends at We Stories

This post that is a bit off our normal programming, but seems especially appropriate this week. Unfortunately, the topics are evergreen. 

As our then-two-year-old became increasingly observant, we were suddenly no longer been able to hide in a world where we didn't have to talk about race or other obvious physical differences between people. Living in a diverse city, taking public transit, and seeing people with all sorts of appearance, abilities, and cultures made the issue quickly a topic of everyday conversation (and occasional embarrassment on the train).

Because our children are still very young, and because we have the privilege of being able to choose at times not think about race (i.e., we are white), this is an issue where we are very far from experts. Luckily though, I grew up with someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about these issues professionally. For that reason, I would like to take this post to highlight some of the great resources at We Stories.

Note: We Stories's primary activities are focused on a) the St. Louis area and b) figuring out how to make race something that white families think and talk about. That said, the resources, posts, and other materials linked to by them are appropriate across geographic areas and many are intended for audiences of any race or background. 

Consider this post mostly a round-up of links with commentary by me.

Why talk about race at all? Aren't kids color-blind? 

Post: It turns out they're not, even (in fact, especially) if we never talk about race. 

You can also read more about this in NurtureShock - a book we discussed in a post of our own: Some Stuff Science Says about Parenting.

Just thinking about how to do this is terrifying. 

Post: Where to Start: 12 Small Steps for White Families who Want to be a Positive Force for Change on Racism 

While I like all of their suggestions (really, go read that link), numbers 7-9 on their list about diversifying your bookshelf and mixing up your media really stuck with me as it’s something I’ve confronted over the last year. I know I was startled when I realized just how few black (and other) voices I was hearing - let alone my children - without ever having consciously chosen one way or the other.

Side note: Thanks to the past year’s changes at Comedy Central, we’ve all had the opportunity to experience some new perspectives about the news. Much as I loved Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the cast of the Daily and Nightly Shows have brought to the fore voices and experiences otherwise lacking in much mainstream media. (see Roy Wood Jr., especially at the 2:50 mark for a moving example).

This whole book thing seems doable. What should I get? 

Post: How to use Children's Books to Talk to Kids about Racism 

One day our daughter came home from school talking about pink and brown people. The next day, she assumed (loudly and in public) that a black man busking at Park Street was the same black man on our Green Line train. We knew books would be our first attempt at discussing the topic. From We Stories, we saw recommendations for The Skin you Live In and We're Different, We're the Same and our daughter has loved them both.

Side note: The latter book is a Sesame Street book from the 90s, which means it
  • a) has someone with a flattop, 
  • b) has characters that are no longer on the show (looking at you Barclay), 
  • c) does not have new characters (Abby), and 
  • d) is pretty awesome all around. 
One more aside: It's easy to think of Sesame Street as old, boring, and square, but they have consistently and justly discussed diversity, accepting all people (including yourself, see Segi's I Love my Hair for a powerful example), and living among density and occasional grime (bonus for our target audience).

Any other posts I should be sure to check out? 

Post: What they See. What we say, and don't

That post is a bit of a manifesto for We Stories and helps me understand their mission and how we’ll take their lessons and apply them at home. The stories we tell our children and the stories we tell ourselves matter. Many of us chose urban, vibrant environments for our families in order to engage with diversity. But that choice (or even frequent trips to the Korean grocery market) can't be the end of our story. For our family, it's something we spend a lot of time thinking about, and increasingly, it's something we're spending more time talking about. It is also one (of many) topics that came up in my appearance on the recent TransitMatters podcast.

These guys seem great! How can I find out more? How can I help them? 


For readers on the East Coast: St. Louis? Didn't they lose to the Sox a lot recently? 


Fear not, childhood friend and co-founder Laura Horwitz has spent significant time in Boston, NYC, and Philly.

For readers in St. Louis: Sounds like an Outsider... What High School did this person go to? 

Where was I during Jose Jimenez’s almost second no-hitter in 2 weeks against Randy Johnson? Laura’s basement, as the party drifted toward the TV and away from whatever else was going on. Also, the whole high school thing seems a lot less cute when you realize why it's such a useful statement about your childhood. Our city/county school systems are disturbingly tied to race, income, religion, and other factors that really homogenize childhoods, whatever part of town you are in. 

Totally nerdy policy wonk note 

I absolutely love that the site includes a section on the "Theory of Change." Program Evaluation for the win!

      

Listen to us on a Podcast! (TransitMatters episode 30: Kids on Transit)

I had the pleasure a few weeks back to discuss kids, transit, living carfree, and other urban issues with the folks on the excellent podcast TransitMatters.

If you're not familiar with TansitMatters, check them out - especially if you're in the Boston area. They are an advocacy organization "dedicated to improving transit in and around Boston by offering new perspectives, uniting transit advocates, educating riders and promoting a level of critical analysis normally absent from other media."

The family-centered episode I appeared on went live this week and you can listen to it here: PODCAST 30 - KIDS ON TRANSIT WITH LEE BIERNBAUM

Subscribe to their podcast on iTunes, your favorite podcatcher (yeah, I'm holding on to that term), or at their RSS Feed.

Also find them on Facebook, Twitter, donate, or volunteer.

If you liked the episode, be sure to let them know too.




P.S. If you are familiar with TransitMatters, know that I spend days considering what Parks and Recreation reference I was going to make following the intro and I came up with nothing. I hope I can go back on someday just so that I can reveal my inner Perd Hapley.

Practical Advice for How to Fail and Be a Good Parent

The child is clearly not strapped in... but IS learning social skills!
Parenting is an exercise that humbles everyone. Once you find out that you are going to become a parent, whether it's by peeing on a stick, hearing the results of your partner peeing on a stick, receiving a phone call, or accepting delivery from the stork, you vow that you will do everything right for your soon-to-be progeny.  And it's that sense of responsibility, and setting of high expectations, that can be so crushing when things don't go as you planned.

The sense of parental failure is often exacerbated by looking around and seeing all the parents who you think aren't failing (oh and know-it-all bloggers, of course).  But, when you observe parents who seem calm in the face of a volcanic tantrum, brave in the face of a daring climber, equipped in the face of a hurt child, you are only seeing them in that one shining moment.  You can never know if they are ashamed that their child threw the tantrum, climbed too high, or got hurt in the first place.  That parent may very well be snatching victory out of the jaws of parental failure.

And that there is the secret all experienced parents everywhere know - the measure is not in avoiding parent fails, but in the response. Some days the best you can do is hold it together until bedtime (look for my recommended wines that pair well with self disappointment, coming soon!). Other days, you can aim to fail in ways that cancel each other out.  So here are some real life examples of turning parenting lemons into lemonade.

  1. 1. Does seeing the ever present and insurmountable piles of laundry stress you out? Put the hamper in the closet and stop worrying about it.  Let's be real.  Your kid will love nothing more than wearing a pajama top and a tutu to school and everyone will compliment his creativity and brave sense of style.

  2. 2. Did you wake up in the morning refreshed only to realize the baby monitor has been off the whole time? You win - the baby sleep trained herself and you got a good night of sleep. Enjoy it!
  1. 3. My daughter went through a phase of hating the bath and this really bothered me. Eventually I just shrugged and let her bathe infrequently, figuring it saved time and built her natural immune system.

  2. 4. I constantly forget to give my baby his Vitamin D supplement. Then I remember that I forget to put sunblock on him too - it's called letting nature take its course.

  3. 5. Skip the headache of baby food.  Is your baby eating food off your plate? Congrats! Chili fries is now baby food (beans totally have protein and are a vegetable, right?) and you have an excuse to eat chili fries. 

  4. 6. Proudly parent your second child in the relaxed way you always wished you could parent your first. By "relaxed" I mean that your second child will be largely left to their own devices while you attend to the heretofore unimaginable antics of your first.  I think this is called "encouraging independent play".

  5. 7. Finally, teach your children how to make amends after losing your temper by modeling that behavior yourself.  After all, losing your temper is inevitable. (If your kid hasn't unscrewed all the light bulbs in your room while they were supposed to be napping, or poked the baby in the eye a couple of times, just take a moment to picture them doing it... feel that need to scream yet?). Demonstrating to your child how to act in the face of strong emotions is the real victory.

What Nursing Moms Really Need, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kindle (Guest Post)

My friend Kate and I met in a birth class more than 3 years ago when we were pregnant with our daughters.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her as one tough cookie of a mom and an all around wonderful lady.  I’ve been lucky enough to have her calming thoughts in my life, and would love to share them with you, our dear reader.  Take it away Kate…

**************************************

It’s 3 a.m. Your baby has woken you for the umpteenth feeding of the night. You’re sore and you’re tired but you think, “Hey, at least I get to catch up on some reading.” So there you are, with your sweet babe nestled into her Boppy, while you do finger gymnastics trying to turn the pages of your book with one hand—until, inevitably, you lose your spot, the book goes splat on the floor, the baby snaps out of her milky reverie and starts screaming.

You think: Why won’t someone just invent a book that you can read one-handed in the dark already?

Dear reader, someone has. It is called the Kindle. Perhaps you already have one. Or perhaps, like me, you have a sentimental attachment to paper books. Perhaps you feel that e-readers violate the sacred intimacy between book and reader, that their tracking software intrudes on your private mind-space. Perhaps, like me, you tough it out with paperbacks and hardcovers while you nurse your first baby.

And then, pregnant with your second, you realize that you no longer require the crisp and creamy paper of a “real” book; you realize that privacy is a luxury that belongs to people with two free hands; you realize that, for about $100, the one thing you really, truly need to survive those sleepless newborn nights can be on your doorstep in one to two business days. You realize that you are ready for an e-reader.

So, what should you look for in an e-reader? If you want to read without having to turn on a lamp and wake up your partner, look for one that lights up. (Note: if you desperately want to wake your partner, I hereby empathize with and absolve you). The Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo Glow, and Nook GlowLight are among the readers with built-in lighting. You can also buy a clip-on light; there are plenty of choices under $15. Also recommended: a reader that features wireless downloading, because when you finish one book in the middle of the night, you want another one immediately, and good luck finding your USB cable with an infant attached to your chest. Do be aware that your book-buying judgment may be compromised by sleep-deprivation, and when you emerge from the postpartum haze a few months later, you may wonder why, exactly, you spent so many precious newborn moments reading Dune.

Actually, I take that back. You will not wonder, because it was awesome.

So, thank you, Kindle. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for 1:00 a.m. And 3:00 a.m. And 5:00 a.m. And 5:45 a.m. I do still love my real books—you know, the ones made of paper—but maybe, just maybe, I am learning to love you, too.


   



Kate Becker is a science writer who spends most of her time writing about astrophysics, cosmology, and other mysteries of the universe, like toddlers. Read more and get in touch at facebook.com/katembecker or http://www.spacecrafty.com/.

Getting Chores Done with a Toddler

I have two facts for you today:
  1. 1. Chores are REALLY hard to get done when kids are awake and generally being kids.

  2. 2. Toddlers LOVE doing what adults are doing.
So let's take advantage of these two facts, get some quality one-on-one time with your kiddo, and teach a bit of responsibility and/or life skills while we're at it.

The way we split up our household duties, I generally have the most Sisyphean of tasks: dishes and laundry. Forget any old gender-normed jokes - anyone doing a family's dishes can safely be called Dishyphus. Anyway, their frequent repetition (and in the case of laundry, spread of the task throughout the day) and extreme similarity from day-to-day makes them great places to solicit some toddler help.

Why have your toddler help? Won't that just make moderately unpleasant tasks unbearably sloowwwwwwwww?

Yes, it will be slow. Of course, just about anything your toddler does is slow, so this isn't really much of a change. But, more importantly, this is a key case of "compared to what?"

Can you empty the dishwasher by yourself in less than an hour? Of course, but do you want to spend your precious time when the children are asleep doing it? Or, more realistically, you can now spend their sleeping time doing the inevitable additional dishes (there are always more dishes), but with a much smaller stack.

And even if it does take an hour to do "together," so what? My daughter pretends in her ever-elaborate toddler ways to do the dishes anyway. Why not at least play together and wind up with some clean real dishes at the end?

Also, of course with practice, they'll need less supervision and be faster. Continuing with the emptying the dishwasher example, we've approached a speed pretty close to having me do it alone, but with all the benefits of having her help too.

How about just playing with your kids? 

So first, who says that play and chores aren't the same thing? But even if I accept the premise, kids and family and chores and everything else live in the real world. Dishes and laundry and grocery shopping and cooking and all the other things have to get done. I'd much rather live in a world where we have a good time doing these things together than have the weight of the list on my shoulders while Trying Very Hard to HAVE FUN and then having a million things to do after bedtime and no time to relax. Less anxious parents are also better parents.

PLUS... the line between play and work is pretty fine for kids of this age. Left entirely to their own devices, kids playact the things they see in their lives. Just today my daughter has, when playing, pretended to cook dinner, wash dishes, bring all her dolls to the bathroom, and have them line up for the potty just like they do at daycare.

And if that wasn't enough convincing (and let's be honest, anyone who knows me knows that I don't understand the concept of "enough convincing"), experts and even science agrees with me. One-on-one time, even when done as a joint project, or smooshed into other activities gets the approval of Dr. Harley Rotbart (of No Regrets Parenting, a book I haven't read, but have heard of) and this New York Times article. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal cites multiple studies, scientists, and experts who find kids who do chores (and start them earlier in life) are more empathetic as well as more able to be self-sufficient.

So let's give this a shot, what kinds of activities do you do? How do keep it useful, safe, sane?

Laundry

From about when she could walk, our daughter was interested in watching and helping with the laundry. Given that it's a long series of small tasks, it's pretty easy to find something for almost any age kid to do for at least part of the cycle.

Sorting

  • * Do they know clothes types? "Put all the socks in this bin," since they're all washed warm anyway.
  • * Do they know their colors? "Help me find all the white shirts and put them in this pile."
  • * Working on shape recognition? Learn the laundry symbols together! "Can you count the dots or lines on this tag?"
  • * Early reader? "Can you find the word 'Warm' or 'Cold'?"
  • * Plus a dive or two into a pile of dirty clothes is admittedly pretty fun, and no grosser than anything else they'll do.

Filling the machines

  • * Living on one floor, with hardwood floors, and with low-friction laundry baskets, our daughter started insisting on dragging the (lighter) hampers to the laundry room on her own before she was two.
  • * She's also found great joy in me turning the hamper on its side, her crawling in, pulling out a few items, and placing them directly into our front-loading washer. It's slow as hell, but my back has also found great joy in this too!
  • * If she can put them in the washer, she can take them out and hand them to me to put in the dryer (stacked way too high for her at this point). My back thanks her again.
  • * Like all modern washers, ours has a multitude of buttons. For now, I do all the setup, but she knows where the start button is and when to press it. She's also getting the hang of the soap dispenser; she's not quite ready to empty soap into it or pour from the bottle (though she offered this morning). Depending on your interface, you may have other buttons or knobs that you can use to match the laundry labels or practice some reading.
  • * While I haven't done this one yet, I remember the first thing my parents had me help with is cleaning the lint trap. I think I'll wait until she stops sucking her fingers before teaching her this one...

Putting away clean clothes

This may be something you only want help for the kids' loads, but it's another great way for them to take some ownership of their lives and to give you a hand.
  • * Sort the clean clothes into what goes into the closet vs. the drawers
  • * Sort own clothes from any applicable siblings
  • * Learn to fold pants
  • * Match socks!
  • * Or even just hand you one item at a time to hang, again helping out your back.
We just lowered the baby's crib, so maybe this back thing is just me...

Dishes

Just because you're doing chores,
doesn't mean you can't wear a fun hat!
Obviously the dishes present more safety challenges than the laundry, but there's still plenty to do. First, and most important, we put her cups and bowls in a bottom drawer of our pantry so that at mealtime, she can get her own things out and help us set the table.

Because of this, our first stage of helping with the dishes was putting away her own clean plates, bowls, and cups (after washing her hands, of course). I'd take them out of the dishwasher and put them somewhere she could reach (first placing them out one at a time, and then later in a stack). Busying herself running back and forth to the pantry one plate at a time bought me lots of time to empty out the rest of the dishwasher.

Next, she's started helping put away all the silverware, which is frequently all I have left after the time she spent putting away her own things. After I first put away all the knives, she sits in one of our high stools and matches forks and spoons from the dishwasher basket to what's in the drawer. As of right now, she still doesn't have much intuition for what goes where, but it's a great opportunity for me to suggest she "run a experiment to see where it fits."

With that under her belt, she became more interested in how things get put into the dishwasher. So now, when I start loading the dishwasher (usually while she's still sorting cutlery), I set aside two piles:
  1. 1. I place all the dirty cutlery (except knives) on the open door of the dishwasher for her to place back into the basket once it's empty and returned to the dishwasher 

  2. 2. Her plates/bowls/cups for her to place where I point to in the dishwasher.  

Other household tasks you can do together

  • * At the grocery store, help steer the cart (this also helps them stay close with a hand on the cart).
  • * Also at the grocery store, carry the box/can/etc. to the cart and place in or hand to another adult. Helping at the grocery store is also a good way to keep little bodies active and little minds from getting bored enough to start causing mischief.
  • * Help set the table for dinner. Even if you don't want her carrying your fine china (you don't), she can place napkins, bring over her own plates and cutlery, and as you trust her more, carry small containers of food or toppings/condiments to the table. 
  • * And as you loyal readers know, they can help cook!

Carrying cheese home from the grocery store

The Caveats

Ok, so, after all that discussion of my amazing help with chores, I have to remind you, this is the real world with a real kid. 
  • * Some days she disrupts my ability to get anything done. She's a toddler, and like all parents, I do some combination of roll with the punches (preferred), fume (acceptable backup plan), and actively get frustrated at her (we all do it sometimes). 
  • * Some days she has no interest in helping and prefers to play by herself while I get some things done. This is obviously fine and the fact she can articulate her preferences and feel confident playing alone is great! 
  • * Some days she will want to help with one step of the process but not others. That's fine too; we're still too young for these to be chores/responsibilities and we're not forcing her to do any of it, so if she wants to help sort but not fill the washing machine, that's great. I got help sorting!
  • * Something will get broken at some point. Life will happen.
Regardless, the final upside to all this is that my child has some basic understanding of what it takes to run a household - clean dishes and clothes don't just appear out of thin air, and neither do groceries or dinner. In our house, they take work. At this age she can help or she can entertain herself while that work happens. Either way, she sees that the world doesn't entirely revolve around her moment-to-moment desires.

And, of course, we get to spend some great one-on-one time that fills her need to feel like a big girl and my need to have clean pants for work.

Get ready for summer! (aka how to apply sun screen to a squirmy baby, toddler, or child)

As we approach Memorial Day weekend here in the US, we can officially declare summer to be upon us.  If you live in the Northeast, where winter this year has been mild but very very long, it's about dang time. Perhaps only a week or two ago, you were likely still wrestling your wee ones into their jackets, and may have been caught off guard by the sudden switch to needing sun gear.

And so, we come out of our hibernation (as in we've recently gotten some actual sleep) to tell you everything you need this summer to keep your kids outside instead of destroying your house.
  1. 1. Sunscreen for home.  Putting sunscreen on a baby is really hard and it doesn't get easier as they get older.  Let's face it, kids are squirmy at all ages and the last thing they want to do is stand perfectly still while you make sure every nook and cranny of their delicate skin is covered in cream.  For that reason, I could not recommend using MD Moms Baby Sunscreen Wipes highly enough.  Are they a little expensive? Yes.  Totally worth it? Also yes.  One wipe has a ton of cream on it.  Enough, to put on big sister, little brother, mom and dad.  It requires much less cooperation from the littles, gives you peace of mind, and stores easily and cleanly in your diaper bag. In my book, this is a baby product totally worth throwing a bit of money at.

  2. 2. Sunscreen for day care.   Did you already buy sunscreen and are totally regretting it because you hate the 20 minute fight to get it on your kid and have only just found out about the wipes? Send the tube of cream to day care and go buy yourself some wipes. Fact - day care teachers are ninjas! They somehow magically get 8 kids to line up peacefully and stand there while they douse them from head to toe.  I don't know how they do it, but I'm so happy they do.  And for that reason, we do not splurge on wipes for day care. Instead we buy tubes of Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen

  3. 3. Hat. Hats and jackets are items that somehow invite the general public to comment on your
    child's attire.  If you thought you were done with community comments when you were done being pregnant,  you were wrong.  Be prepared for every little old lady on the street and bus to helpfully chime in when they think your child needs one, whether they actually do or are willing to wear one. Some kids just hate hats and others love them. If you have the former, don't worry, I promise they'll survive childhood somehow. You on the other hand, should do your best to let go of the guilt over that.  If your kid loves hats, or is willing to wear one, nothing beats the wide brimmed comfy ones of iPlay. They come in a variety of colors and prints, are adjustable, and offer a lot of sun protection.

  4. 4. Swim/water wear.  Once again, this is a place where iPlay just dominates. Their bathing suits with built in swim diapers are a must for hitting the beach.  I would also recommend getting some swim shirts and shorts (often sold as "rashguards") to reduce the area on which sunscreen needs to be applied (see photo to right for one of their shirts).  And as always, these are the kinds of things that are best purchased at the end of the season for next year if you want to save some money.
Happy summer everyone!


    

Still Kicking...

Just a note to let you know we're still around...

We're 3 weeks into the sleep training and things are definitely improving. This past week we cut out the last of the overnight feedings and wakings are down to 1 (or fewer!) a night. We've even had two sleep-throughs this week.

We've got some ideas cooking about new posts and we'll be back to our usual non-schedule in the next week or two.

Topics include:
  • - sunscreen for home and daycare
  • - how to pick a day care
  • - tips for work life balance
  • - how to encourage independence
In the meantime, we did use our sleepless nights to remember that lots of people interested in parenting things use Pinterest. So we set up a minor presence on Pinterest and, perhaps more importantly for you, add a "Pin it" button at the bottom of every post if you want to pin our stuff.

Happy sleep to you, and someday to us too...
Picture not related, just an excuse to show off the kids in Cardinals gear.

Pardon the interruption... Sleep Training in Progress!

Sleeping soundly in the stroller, one of the many
moving objects he prefers to a boring old crib
Those of you who are regular readers may have noticed that we are fairly open about the trial and error that is involved in our (and probably all) parenting. All issues regarding sleep for our second child have been more "error" than not. When he joined our family, we implemented all the same wonderful advice from Baby 411 that worked so completely for our first child. As a result, our sweet, happy, laughter-filled child learned to go sleep on his own every night. He knows how to self-soothe, we have a consistent sleep ritual, and we put him down while he's still awake. And despite all of this, without fail, he wakes up every 3 hours, mostly inconsolable, all night long. He is now more than 8 months old and we are very tired.

We've tried many things. Beyond the tools we acquired from Baby 411 and the stuff we wrote about in our post about sleep, we went back to the source and implemented some more techniques from Ferber. We Googled and Googled and Googled (we may have even Binged once). We've owned and burned out the motors on multiple swings (though our Fisher Price Snugabunny is still going strong, if you're looking for a recommendation on swings). We've stepped up and down many different interventions, to only mildly improving avail. And so, now, we've finally gone to a professional and hired a sleep consultant. Did I mention how tired we were? Very, very tired.

We are now a week or so into implementing a new plan and things are improving overall. However, as with many behavior modification techniques, in the short term the medicine can be worse than the disease. Which is to say, our overnight sleep is getting worse as he's learning to put himself back to sleep in the middle of the night; we are all experiencing more interrupted sleep and more crying than we've had in the past. This, plus the upcoming Passover holiday, makes getting new content here a bit more than we can achieve.

We will be back in full force in a few days, once we've slept enough to at least remember which child is which. In the meantime, feel free to do one or all of these things:

Check out the Archives

How to drink a cup of coffee while caring for a 6 week old baby
Monitors: say no to the Kid TV channel
The nerdy mom's pregnancy reading list
Striking the balance between street urchin and sterile bubble kid
Out and about when you don't lactate (or choose not to)

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Guest Post for Us

Have you been reading and thinking "I know about this topic!" or "I tried this awesome thing that solved a problem and everyone should know about it" or just "The internet should hear my opinions more often"?

If so, send us an email stairwell @ acrossb dot com. Let us know what you'd like to talk about and we'll be happy to discuss a guest post.

Less messy art supplies for toddlers - creativity I can live with!

I may have mentioned once or thirty times on this blog that I have trouble doing art projects with the kids. Part of this is because I am not an artistic person myself and found art projects boring as a child. But if I'm being honest, much of my hesitance stems from not wanting to spend an hour trying to get paint out of all the floor cracks.  It's not that I'm neurotic or own priceless artifacts, it's mostly that I'm lazy.

But of course kids probably need some art supplies (right?). So here are products we've found that are at least somewhat entertaining to children and don't cause you to have to declare your place "condemned" and just move out. As a bonus, art supplies that aren't too messy are usually good for travel, so that's win.
  • Melissa & Doug On The Go Water Wow Books. Of all the things in this post, these have got to be my favorite.  These are special books that come with a plastic tube that you fill with water.  The child then uses the tube as a pen to reveal the colors in the picture.  When the water dries, the picture goes back to blank/white - reusable products for the win!.  The only possible mess is the spilling of water, which is awesome.  There is very little fine motor skill involved so it's great for even the youngest toddlers.  Plus, these books are amazing for travel since they're compact and can be brought through airport security because the pen can be emptied and refilled. Melissa & Doug have about a billion versions of these, so you can keep a stack and rotate to eliminate boredom.

  • Crayola Color Wonder Markers. These look like regular markers but they are not -  they only work on special Crayola Color Wonder Paper. On the one hand, toddlers love to draw on anything but paper (hello grandma's couch!) and this way, they can't. On the other hand, this can be a downside, since you have to keep buying the paper (or coloring books) only from them. I personally think this product is sheer genius. Coloring is one of those activities that should be quiet unsupervised play time for kids, and now it can be with peace of mind. The only limitation of this product, as far as I'm concerned, is that the child has to be fairly confident holding and pressing a marker. Also the color only shows up once the marker dries so there is a several second delay between making a mark and seeing it. It's not a problem once the kid gets used to it but kids younger than 2 are probably going to get frustrated.

  • Crayola Washable Triangular Crayons. These make excellent starter crayons for kids.  The large triangular shape makes them easy to hold and they won't roll away when set down.  Their washable nature makes for easy clean up.  These are a great tool for even the youngest budding artist.

  • Magnetic Tins for Pretend Play. Ok so this is not, strictly speaking, "art supplies" in the classic sense of the word. However, it is a versatile toy that allows for expression of creativity and open ended play.  There are many different versions of this toy out there, including character based and dress up doll varietals. These too are perfect for travel, doctor's offices, and restaurants since they are quiet, non messy, and self contained.

  • Do A Dot Art in action
    Do A Dot Art! Washable Paint Markers. These markers are something between a marker and paint.  They are are definitely messier than a crayon but less messy than full on water paints. There is no potential for spilling with these guys but there is definitely ample room for adding flair to your curtains. Parental supervision is heavily advised, but they are so easy to use that they are a more fun art supply for producing bold creations.  We can confirm the paint came out of a tablecloth in the washing machine. Proceed with caution, but overall a thumbs up.
   

Baby proofing for the lazy or 'reasonable' parent

Balancing hovering with letting go, aka "parenting"
If you ever looked at a website that told you about themes for your nursery and gave you a list of 101 things you must remember to pack in your hospital bag, then you’ve probably already been urged in ALL CAPS to remove anything sharper than a ball from your house. I personally find babyproofing
to be a very uninspired topic of conversation.  My theory on babyproofing was something along the lines of

“I don’t want the kid to die, but also don’t want to spend 20 minutes getting into my own cupboards for the next 5 years.”

So with that in mind, here is a list of products we’ve used, liked, and hated. And since our house doesn’t feature stairs prominently, we’ve brought back guest poster Alice whose house resembles an MC Escher palace of staircases.

  1. 1. Outlets.  This one is real. Curious babies or toddlers can actually hurt themselves here but… many ways of making outlets safe are extremely inconvenient to you, the parent.  The problem with solutions that are very inconvenient is that with time, it’s easy to stop implementing them (see every time you’ve ever seen outlet covers on the floor of a room), and then what you’ve done is actually nothing at all.  For this reason, I am not a fan of outlet covers.  Instead I recommend putting in modern outlets. Basically, these have little internal gates that don’t give way unless they have equal pressure in both holes, easy to do with a plug, hard to do with a paper clip or finger.  They are formally called “Tamper-resistant electrical receptacles,” are available from multiple manufacturers (look for the “TR” on the outlet), and you can get more information from the National Fire Protection Association.

  2. These are super easy to install yourself. Or you can, of course, invite an electrician or “helpful” (aka meddling) parent-in-law to your house to do all of them at once. At a minimum, I urge you to do this with all the outlets in  your child’s room so that it is a safe place for them to explore on their own. Someday, before you realize it, you may be putting someone in there for a time out and you want to minimize the damage from that experience.

  3. Practicing climbing on the playground to implement
    on your bookshelves when you're not looking!
    2. Attaching heavy things. Please do attach your bookshelves (and anything else a resourceful little monster can climb or tip over) to the wall.  Many furniture items come with the brackets to do this (we previously had a whole drawer of IKEA provided ones), but if you have a piece that did not, you can get something like these 40mm Angle Brackets. This is another good project if you’re learning some DIY, or you like power tools, or have an over-eager relative who needs to find some way to help. And once again, this goes double and triple for anything in the child’s room. 

  4. 3.Also take a look at your television.  The transition to flat-screens has turned TVs into large, precariously balanced, light-enough-to-tip-but-heavy-enough-to-injure devices.  Given that they are usually in prominent locations within a room, kids can easily hit their stand with a running start and cause an accident. There are two major ways to address this, straps to hold a TV down on its current surface or mounts to permanently attach to the wall or furniture. Mounting your TV to the wall is pretty standard these days in various room types, but for those of us without an obvious location to do so, there exist TV stands/entertainment centers that contain an upright arm and standard mounting bracket so you can still feel confident with a TV in the middle of the room. You can find many such things on Amazon, though the subset with doors is frustratingly small. 

  5. We actually own one of each, a stand (no longer manufactured) for the living room and a Parent Unit Anti-Tip Anchoring System in the home office. This is a non-standard type that allows you to mount the strap to the top surface of the stand as the cardboard back of the cheap rolling TV stand would not support any tension. 

  6. 4. Stair gates - We live in a 1 floor condo and thus did not have to solve this problem ourselves. So, take it away Alice: 

  7. We live in a split-level condo with a living/play room at the top of one steep set of stairs and our dining room at the top of another. So, while I hate the extra inconvenience, this is a bit of baby proofing we really couldn’t do without. Gates at the top of stairs also have more stringent requirements than those at the bottom or in regular doorways. For one, you want to make sure these gates are screwed into the wall, not pressure mounted, since you don’t want a kid to bring the gate crashing down the stairway while roughhousing or trying to climb over it. You also particularly want to avoid trip hazards, like a bar along the bottom of the gate. For this reason, we chose Retract-A-Gate mesh gates. These gates are extremely flexible. They can be made to fit almost any size opening, and can be installed at an angle, where the gate is not perpendicular to the wall -- particularly important in bizarre old attic spaces like our place. They are easy to open and lock once you get the hang of it, and you can even install multiple frames and move the actual gates between them depending on where in the house you’re located, although we just splurged and got two gates for the two frames. And it is a splurge - these are definitely some of the more expensive gates on the market. The only other negative is that these gates can be a challenge for guests, since they may not know to release the lock before pulling the gate open, or may forget to lock it when closing. Then again, chances are that most gates on the market won’t be great for visitors.

  8. We don’t use gates for the bottom of our stairs, and also don’t gate the 3-step mini-flight that leads to our hallway - if the kiddo wants to experiment with falling down the stairs, this is a better place to do it than most. (Yes, he has already fallen down a set of stairs in his 15 months of life. Yes, he was fine. No, I don’t think he learned a lesson yet, unfortunately. Yes, mom was far more traumatized by the experience than he seemed to be.) If you do want a gate between rooms or at the bottom of your stairs, I’ve heard good things about the Summer Infant Gate. 

  9. 5. On to the little things
    1. a. Corner guards.  We honestly hardly have these because we wanted our kids to learn to be careful and that hitting their heads hurts. Of course, there is a difference between an “ouch” and “child needs stitches” so we did get a couple of Rhoost Corner Protectors for the really sharp corners.  They have mixed reviews on Amazon precisely for the reason we like them - they merely make sharp corners dull. We also like these because they attach to furniture without glue and so won’t damage it and also because they come in multiple colors to blend in really well so your house doesn’t look like a padded room in an insane asylum… at least not for that reason.

    2. b.Cabinet locks. We didn’t use these at all because our kitchen is a separate room and our children aren’t allowed in there without supervision. Once in the kitchen, our toddler is allowed to open and close the cabinets, but not take anything out.  We are there to enforce this and remove her if she doesn’t comply. However, if you live in a home with an open floor plan, constant vigilance may not be an option and locking up the cleaning supplies may be a necessity. For this reason, we turn to Alice yet again…. 

    3. If you only have cabinets with side-by-side round knobs you can use a multitude of products - heck, you can use a rubber-band and wrap it around the handles a couple times if you don’t need to get in there too frequently. But for other types of cabinets (and even for your toilet seat, if need be) you can use these latches. We ordered a bunch and have been using them freely, as well as handing them out to the grandparents as needed.

    4. c. Spout cover. This is Alice again adding a link to this tiny bath-time whale. We don’t yet have this guy because we’re still using the infant tub with our under-sized toddler, but I look forward to getting it - there aren’t too many child-proofing products that actually look good. Of course, a mat for the tub is also a must. We have this alligator one from IKEA.