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.


    

Hot Lunch for Your Kid on a Busy Morning: Review of Microwavable Thermos Containers from Zojirushi

Rice and tofu main course, with crunchy chickpeas and raisins for snack
My daughter recently started preschool. How could my tiny little baby that used to fit in the crook of my arm be in... preschool?

She's learning so much. ("Did you know mama that rain comes from clouds?") She loves it! I have had no choice but to be happy despite my wistful disbelief. It's been an emotional experience all around... And then we come to the practical side of things.

In Preschool the Teachers Do Not Heat Food for the Kids

First day of preschool, sob!
As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, my daughter has been going to day care since she was 3 months old. This means that ever since she's started eating solid food, for the past 2 and a half years, I have been packing her lunch. The process and menu are well established and routine.  The food gets put into the sealed containers and labeled the night before.  She gets basically one of 5 things (3 of which would generally be served hot) and a snack/desert. In the morning, it just gets thrown in her lunch box with an ice pack and we're good to go. When you combine this fact with the limited number of items the girl is guaranteed to eat, the lunch routine has little room for error.  

In the toddler room, the teachers were happy to heat the food.  In preschool, there are more kids per teacher and the school encourages independence in the kids by having them serve themselves.  This is all perfectly fine except for the fact that it ruins (RUINS I SAY) our routine. The school handout helpfully suggested that parents send hot lunch in a thermos. However, our mornings are hectic, and ideally fast.  I do not have time to microwave the food and then transfer it to a thermos, before packing it. 

Oh the first world problems this causes... cue the deep internet searches....

The Thermos with Removable, Microwavable Containers

I was so excited when I realized that a Zojirushi Thermos was exactly what we were looking for.  It comes in multiple sizes.  All of the sizes have 1 or 2 containers that stay inside the thermos part (and thus can be kept hot or cold) and 1 or 2 additional containers that stays in the lid at room temperature. The diagram shows the biggest one - Zojirushi SL-JAE14SA Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar. We picked the smallest version - the bizarrely sexistly named Zojirushi SL-MEE07AB Ms.Bento Stainless Lunch Jar. It has just one of each: a thermos container and a room temperature one (the room temperature container comes with a removable divider as well). This fits with what we typically send to school (main course and snack).  

It's perfect for our needs.  The thermos size we got fits nicely into her lunch box, as though it was designed with that in mind (I am very certain it wasn't). I pack and label the lunch the night before in the microwavable container. In the morning, I throw the container in the microwave and then straight into the thermos - no moving of food necessary! Also, it does a great job keeping the food at the desired temperature.  The bits of lunch that remain uneaten at the end of the school day, are still warm when I'm emptying the container in the evening.
Thermos in lunchbox

My only quibble is that the containers are not dishwasher safe, but such is life.

If you have a hot-lunch-loving, school-going munchkin in your life and are looking to keep your mornings simple - I really recommend this thermos.



 

Toddlers and Toothbrushing a.k.a. Baby's First Toothbrush

So kids and oral hygiene is not exactly the world's most fun topic, but like needing to know how to clean poop off things and picky eating, it comes with the territory. And since we've had to think about it, we're here to tell you what has helped us.
From the first week or so of toothbrushing.

Our favorite baby book (Baby 411) will remind you that one really should start wiping down a newborn's mouth after every meal and switch to a toothbrush as soon as they get their first tooth. I suppose I just reminded you of that too, but also, it's more-or-less as realistic as when your dentist tells you to floss after every meal (or the even more laughable advice to floss your kid's teeth after every meal)... So let's get real...

We added toothbrushing to the bedtime routine at around 14 months, when our child could reliably climb up the stool, stand in front of the sink, and do something that approximated the motor control consistent with tooth brushing.

So, When Do I start Taking my Child to the Dentist?


Referring to the American Association of Pediatric Dentists, approximately 12 months is when you should first take your child to a dentist. Even without necessarily tons of teeth, the reasons are pretty good 
  1. 1. Someone can check for unlikely, but important medical issues regarding her teeth.

  2. 2. It gives your child a "dental home" in case you do have some urgent/acute need later on. 

  3. 3. It helps your child acclimate to a strange (and often scary) environment. Because very little needs to happen medically on the first few visits, it allows time to see (and hear) the equipment and doctors and everything else. We picked a pediatric dental practice which has been amazing. She has a great time and has been surprisingly compliant with all of their requests.

Toothbrushing Routine

Yeah, talking a toddler into toothbrushing, even with the promise of something that tastes like "Bubble Fruit," is not easy. For a while we got away with with making up relevant verses to "If you're happy and you know it." (If you're happy and you know it get on the step stool... if you're happy and you know it brush your back teeth... And now you know how your parents went from the normal people of their 20s into the crazy people you know today.) When that stopped working, we started to make nightly use of our Time Timer, setting 5 minutes for toothbrushing at the risk of losing a bedtime story. This strategy, learned from 1-2-3- Magic, generally works well enough that we're not messing with it for now. Perhaps someday we'll write up the whole bedtime routine for those interested.

Children's Toothbrushes

To make things a bit easier and fun for her, we went with the Baby Banana Toddler Toothbrush. It's made of silicone so it's ok for teething kids to chew on, and, of course, looks like a banana. We went through a couple of these as her chewing eventually began to take a toll on the bristles. After her 2.5 year dentist's appointment, we officially switched to the regular style (kid-sized) toothbrush she picked out there.

Obviously after letting her have some fun chewing on the brush, we'd do some actual brushing on her behalf, but the practice is paying off. At 2.75 years, she now does something that's pretty darn close to brushing her own teeth with some follow-up from Mom or Dad.

Kid's Toothpaste and Fluoride

Now what to put on the brush? If you're like me, you have vague memories of very sweet "Children's toothpaste" one could smear everywhere and was OK for kids to swallow as it had no fluoride. Those products still exist, but the latest recommendations from the AAPD suggests all kids use fluoridated toothpaste from the beginning. Of course, fluoride is still not great to swallow so the official guidance is to use a "smear" or "single grain of rice's" worth of toothpaste for kids under 3.

That said, we're still using a children's fluoridated toothpaste for the sweet flavor (and slightly higher fluoride content per volume). One smear at a time, it's taking us quite a while to get through the tube. In fact, we're still using the first one we bought a year and a half ago. I'm pretty sure we picked whatever sounded like the least disgusting flavor available at the CVS we stopped by, but for what it's worth, we have the Colgate Kids oddly-titled Bubble Fruit flavor.

Avoiding Anti-Science

It wouldn't be an authentic blog post by me if it didn't include some righteous indignation. Today's target is the anti-science wing of the natural/organic folks. Long ago, on my first foray into the parenting blogosphere, I read a website I had previously assumed to be reputable - BabyGizmo.  I then discovered a pseudo-science review by them of a toothpaste "so natural, you can swallow it." It was a perfect storm of anti-science fallacious thinking. (Let's start with the fact that fluoride, the reason you shouldn't swallow too much toothpaste, IS A NATURALLY OCCURRING ELEMENT. I could go on, but will not.) I found myself commenting and engaging them on Twitter. When their response was effectively "it's what the manufacturer said, don't blame me," two things toward this blog were set in motion. 

  1. 1. I realized I could not trust BabyGizmo as they apparently uncritically passed along manufacturer-speak, leaving us with one fewer source of reasonable information on baby gear. 

  2. 2. Our previous one-way love affair with Grounded Parents became two-way as they published an article on the topic. Since then, I've been lucky enough to guest post my own rant there too.

In any case, find a dentist, listen to the folks at the AAPD, find some ways to make it a fun part of your nightly bedtime, and toothbrushing won't be at all like pulling teeth </dadhumor>.