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 since 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>.


 

Tales from the Trenches: Parenthood means relinquishing control

The key responsibility of a Product Manager, which is my current job title, is to manage the road map for all the future features one plans to build for the product.  I guess, I was born to be a Product Manager, because my life has always come with a road map.  Sure, that road map has taken some sharp turns.  There was the turn it took when I fell in love with physics in college and abandoned the idea of becoming a doctor.  There was the swerve when I realized that academia was going to crush my soul and I dropped out of my Harvard PhD program with a Masters and never looked back. But those changes were ones that ultimately I myself initiated.

Motherhood, and the avalanche of changes it brought, threw me for a loop because I was in control of none of them.  Many of them were the usual things that first time mothers never expect but almost universally experience. I was rocked by the deep love and simultaneous fear I feel for my children, the depths of the ineptitude I was thrust into when trying to calm a baby's hours of crying, the expanse of guilt at largely irrational things that strikes in the wee hours of the morning.  But of course, every family's journey is also unique, and mine has had a heavy dose of the truly unexpected.

Here is just a brief list of the uncharted roads the self-driving car of motherhood has taken me on.

After nine months of working hard to prepare for a natural birth, my daughter was born by emergency C-section. All the prenatal yoga and hypno birthing classes were great at helping me cope with the pain, but did nothing to prevent her from being tangled up in her umbilical cord.   For the first 20 hours, my labor progressed normally... until it didn't.  The urgency with which the medical staff had to remove her from my body to save her life haunted my dreams in the months that followed her birth. The whole enterprise resulted in a lot of soul searching, with a side serving of PTSD.

When she was five months old, someone walked into the office building that houses her daycare with an active case of tuberculous.  This caused the Department of Public Health to mandate that all the children in the day care receive two months of prophylactic drugs. (The closest I've ever come to quitting my job and moving to a ranch with a shotgun was when we had to figure out how to procure and administer drugs not designed for babies... in the US.  Suffice it to say special pharmacies and mortars and pestles were involved.)

Finally, and most dramatically, when I was six months pregnant with my second child, my wonderful, fit, and healthy husband had a heart attack, just before his 33rd birthday.  He spent 10 days in the ICU and underwent open-heart surgery.  During the rest of my pregnancy, he went through rehab, which ended the week after my son was born.  At the time, as my belly grew, we joked darkly about him becoming more able bodied as I became more burdened with my pregnancy.  We joked because all the tears had been spent.

After all that life has thrown at me, it would be tempting, to try and and draw some grand life lesson. It's tempting to reach for reasons, rail at injustices, or search for karmic explanations. However, for better or for worse, my mind is not inclined to go in those directions for long. Sometimes shit happens and there isn't anyone to blame. Sometimes there is nothing to learn, except maybe the fact that I was not in control to begin with.

I am still the same person… and not.  I still love to work on interesting problems.  I still want to really dig into a juicy dataset that will reveal to me which feature our clients most need us to build. And I confess, that even in my personal life, I still like to make plans for the future.  But with all that has happened, those plans are fuzzy.  I’ve had to accept that there is no real road map any more.  I’ve had to learn on a very deep level that the future brings great uncertainty.  But then again, what is parenthood if not a lesson in great uncertainty, just one that some of us learn a little later than others?

Photo Credit to Victor - "A lost Couple learning the map" under the Creative Commons licence. 

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - How to Combat Picky Eating

As I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog already, I have a bit of a food obsession.  I love cook, to go restaurants, to talk about food, to think about what I'm going to eat, and pretty much every other activity surrounding food. And like all parents who have a kind of intense hobby, I wanted to groom my children to be into it too from the time they were born.

I had read the studies about babies learning to like the flavor of the food mom ate because it was reflected in the amniotic fluid.  I knew that data showed that babies were most receptive to the taste of new foods between 4 and 8 months, and that items introduced at this time would feel like culinary home to them for the rest of their lives.  I had seen the papers describing the fact that children who grew up in homes where adults consumed a varied diet would be far more
likely to grow into adults who did the same. I had done my reading and I was ready to raise little gourmands.  

I ate a healthy, varied diet full of fruits and vegetables while pregnant and breastfeeding, I made all my own baby food, and we fearlessly fed our first born from our plates once she developed the pincer grip.  When my daughter was a year old, she ate everything. I remember bragging about this to my boss at the time and him saying 
"Oh yeah, my daughter ate everything too until the day she didn't."
"Obviously" I thought to myself, "this will not be MY precious snowflake of a child.  I have read the studies and perfectly executed the plan.  My child will continue to be an amazing eater forever!"
Have I done enough foreshadowing here? Do you see where this is going? I think you do... At roughly 15 months of age, my daughter started dropping foods she previously ate with gusto.  First it was a refusal to eat blueberries, then beans, then eggs, and so on.  Foods previously eaten with joy were taken off the list of acceptable foods one by one until she was only willing to eat a handful of foods.

Eating what's for dinner - quinoa and tofu!
This was a dark time filled with much gnashing of teeth and soul searching in my house. I mourned the loss of my voracious eater. I wondered what I did wrong.  Then, after I had decided that I had wallowed in self pity long enough, I started to look for a book with answers. That is how I came across Ellyn Satter.  All across the internet, grateful parents whispered her name. I got one of her books - How to Get Your Kids to Eat: But Not Too Much and I started reading.

Ms. Satter is a nutritionist and a compassionate writer. She talks at length about the separation of duties between parents and children.  Parents have a responsibility to present their children with appealing nutritious food.  Children have the responsibility to eat how ever much they would like to eat.  This is exceptionally wise advice but very difficult for parents to internalize.  It's hard to sit at the table, having rushed home from work and prioritized cooking above everything else, only to have your child whine at the mere sight of what you've produced.  It's almost impossible not to feel like a monster when the toddler eats nothing at dinner.  Though, of course, Ms. Satter is right that no child has ever starved in a house with a full refrigerator.

It took awhile for our family to go "full Satter."  Once we did, it took about a month for our child to accept that the food on the table was all that was on offer.  However, in the last month we've had a real breakthrough. My daughter is trying (AND EATING!!!) new foods right and left - mangoes! green beans! horseradish cheddar! quinoa! This is a child who refused white rice a year ago. This method has not only been incredibly successful in getting our daughter to eat, but it has also reduced much of the stress around food in our house.  I plan and cook meals without obsessing about whether they'll be eaten.  After all, that's not my job. If you're struggling with this, I very much recommend her books.  She is a kind-hearted lady that saved this Mom's sanity at dinner.

   

Taking Transit with Kids: Boston MBTA

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of guides for riding public transit across the world with your kids. Would you like to help add information about your city? Drop us an email at transitinfo at acrossb dot com.

It doesn't matter how long you've lived here, there are some new things to think about when riding the MBTA with kids...

Taking the MBTA with your little ones will make you think about the MBTA in new and unexpected ways. Maybe you've never really cared much about "new" vs. "old" style Green Line cars, or why using an elevator at South Station forces you to go outside when switching from the red line to the commuter rail, or which exit from Harvard involves the fewest street crossings when connecting to your bus. Now you are going to see a slightly different version of the MBTA.

Our system
  1. a. Is proud of being among the oldest in America (the first subway!) but also 

  2. b. Lacks any sort of standards in stations, vehicles, or much of anything else. 
Consequently, unlike a roundup for, say, WMATA in Washington, D.C. (which has a handful of station types and more-or-less the same trains throughout), we'll have a lot of variations along the way. But at least it's simpler than the old token/quarters-only Green Line fares before 2006... progress!

Also, have you read our guide to getting started on transit with your stroller or non-strollered toddler?

Kids ride the T for Free! 

Kids 11 and under are free with an adult (maximum 2 kids per adult).


Pay Attention to Close Stops!

Because the system is not fully accessible and because dragging a toddler onto and off of various vehicles might be less fun than walking outside (at least on a nice day), it's time to take a look at a good Boston map with the MBTA routes on it. Especially downtown, lots of stops are closer together than you may think if you haven't really walked around much. The canonical example here is Aquarium is a short walk from all the other lines without having to transfer to the Blue line.

Stations and Boarding

Red, Orange, Blue, and Underground Portions of the Green and Silver Lines

  • - Most stations in the MBTA are accessible now (check the MBTA map for the latest), which is really quite impressive (even if it took a few lawsuits to get there). Keep your eyes peeled as you head toward the station because elevators may be at the same entrance as the stairs (Porter), or just a few feet away (Copley), or somewhere else entirely (South Station). In other cases, elevators may be inside the fare gates (Charles/MGH).

  • - In recent years, more elevators have been added to secondary entrances (Harvard, Porter) and to make transfers more direct (Park Street).

  • - Every station has at least one "Reduced Fare" gate that's extra wide for wheelchairs and strollers. It's also good for kids walking through while holding your hand.

  • - Each two-car Green Line train is usually made up of one "high floor" car and one "low floor" car. 
    • * If you have a stroller, you should aim for the low-floor car to avoid having to lug it up the steps. Head to the middle doors and there is a large open wheelchair bay right by each set of doors. This is the place to camp out. 

    • * With a mobile kid, take your pick of cars and seats though you may prefer the high-floor Green Line car as it has pairs of forward/rearward facing seats rather than sideways seats. This way you can worry less about interactions with others on the train (i.e. opportunities for your kid to kick people).
  • - On the Red/Blue/Orange lines there are not any obvious places for a stroller but you can either try at the front/back of the car (where there may be seats missing to accommodate a wheelchair) or the area at the doors is usually workable. Just be aware of which set of doors will open at each stop so you can be sure to get out of the way.

  • - Silver Line buses are all "low floor" so enter at any door. Check out the bus discussion below on flipping up seats.
  • - Final note of interest: we've used station staircases and escalators as places to learn to go up/down lots of stairs and to learn escalator safety (and also about removing escalator grease from kids... fun times). That said, while we're willing to go down Harvard's many stairs during peak times, we still use the elevator at Park Street given the large hurrying crowds arriving from all directions simultaneously.

Green Line Surface Branches

  • This is similar to the situation above, but the need to pay up front creates a few wrinkles. To recap, each two-car train is usually made up of one "high floor" car and one "low floor" car. 

  • If you have a stroller, you should aim for the low-floor car to avoid having to lug it up the steps. The front of the train is NOT low, so you'll have to reach up to the farebox to tap your CharlieCard. The driver will generally open the back two doors for you (if they're not open already) and you can walk back on the train and enter one of those doors just a (usually) short step up (sorry outer bit of the B and C-lines). There is a large open wheelchair bay right by each set of doors. This is the place to camp out. 

  • With a mobile kid, take your pick of cars and board normally though you may prefer the high-floor car as it has pairs of forward/rearward facing seats rather than sideways seats so you can worry less about interactions with others on the train.

Buses (including Above-Ground Silver Line)

If you're with an unrestrained or carrier-contained kid, you don't really need any special information, though I will note that sitting in the seats on the steps or further back improves the ability of the child to see out the window so we aim for those. 

All buses are technically accessible though there are still a few "high floor" buses still rumbling around the fleet. They're being phased out as of early 2016, but I imagine you'll see them for a while. If you come across a high floor bus, board it the same way you would the Green Line at the surface - i.e. pay up front and then board with the stroller in the back door (and lug it up the stairs, sorry). The area of flip-up seats is directly across from the doors (generally 2 sets of 3 seats that flip up).

On a low-floor bus, you can board normally through the front. On most types of buses, the entire set of front seats folds up. With a small enough stroller, you should only need to flip up one of the four potential sets of seats. Note: There are a few variants of buses out there that have slightly different configurations including a brand new set of buses that basically just has a spot to park a stroller specifically.

In any case, there are two ways to flip up the seat. On some buses, there will be a ring underneath the seat. Pull the ring toward you and then pull the seat up (see picture to the left for how to find the ring). To lower the seat back to its original position once you're about to get off the bus (polite but not necessary), pull the ring up and push the seat down. On other buses, there is a lever behind the seat (sometimes left, sometimes right, but the back of a bus seat is probably not the grossest thing you've touched today anyway). Push the lever to the wall and pull the seat up. To lower, there is a knob on the bottom front of the seat, pull out and push the seat down.

Commuter Rail

Any readers have tips for the Commuter Rail? We haven't tried it with the kiddos.

Ferries

Any readers have tips for the Ferries? We've not tried it with the kiddos either.

Exiting the T

For the most part, you'll just do the reverse of what you did to enter the vehicle and station.

The Green Line technically does not allow rear door exiting during the off-peak, so if the driver does not see you waiting to exit, a shout of "REAR DOOR" is usually sufficient to get them to open it. Hey, it's Boston, you made it this far in the article before someone had to shout at someone else.

Wrap-up

So yeah, that was a lot, but you can do it! 

Other Bostonians, what did we miss? What did we screw up? Let us know in the comments below.

Are you interested in helping to develop a guide for your city? Even if you know only a part of the system, drop us a line. We will help you put something together and build out a great resource. Email us: transitinfo at acrossb dot com.

If you're a parent, why I'm begging you to buy life insurance!


If you're a person who's naturally prone to anxiety, the internet can be a scary place. Without even looking for them, horrible stories find their way to the page directly in front of your eye balls only to come haunting your dreams later in the day.  Often the scenarios described are not something you can reasonably protect yourself from, short of locking yourself in a bunker. Even locking yourself in a padded room eating nothing but toast won't protect you from some of the heartbreak that is an inevitable part of the human experience. 

A year ago, this month, I came all too close to heartbreak with the near death of my husband. This essay is a result of that experience. It is a plea for all parents everywhere to buy life insurance.  And before I go on, please do know that everything in this story ultimately turned out fine and my husband’s life insurance policy remains uncashed. (See the many posts he's written for this site). So here goes.


The unexpected can happen to anyone

When I was 24 weeks pregnant with my second child (my daughter was just shy of two years old at the time), my husband had a heart attack.  It was a total and complete shock.  He was 32 and a vegetarian from childhood. 

He woke up one night with searing chest pain and made his way to the Emergency Room not too long after. It took the doctors 2 days to determine that the crisis he had experienced was indeed a heart attack, that the the heart attack was severe, and that he would require open heart surgery. With someone so young and fit, the labs can often tell a very confusing story and that was the case with him. The 10 days my husband spent in the Intensive Care Unit - waiting to figure out what happened, waiting for bloodwork compatible with undergoing surgery, waiting to be stable enough to go home after - were the darkest days of my life. I am so lucky that during that time, and in the many weeks of recovery that followed, I had an amazing community of family, friends, and even acquaintances that went out of their way to provide us with childcare, home cooked meals, help around the house, and countless hours of support, love, and friendship.

This essay has taken me almost a year to write, and the words are still hard to type. During that year, I have had the time to consider what happened from every possible angle.  The initial terror I felt that my husband may not get through the 6 hours of surgery, never hold my hand again, never meet his son growing in my body, grew into a jumble of other emotions. I have felt angry, confused, and helpless.  I have been grateful beyond words for how our village swarmed in to help. And I will admit that I felt a glimmer of relief that we had purchased life insurance the year before all this took place. It provided a small nugget of certainty for me to cling to as I stared into the abyss.

Of all the infinite possibilities I worried about in the days and weeks that followed the heart attack, money was not one of them. Should the worst have happened, I knew that I could afford to pay the mortgage and keep my family living in our house. I knew that I could have kept sending my daughter to the daycare she had attended since she was a baby, the school where she was loved and cared for and happy to go to on a daily basis.  I knew that if I needed to, I could have taken a long time off from working to tend to myself in order to recover from the meteor that had just struck my family.


Prepare for the unexpected

The meteor is what life insurance is for, but there are many barriers that keep people from acquiring it.  So here I offer some advice about how to work through several obstacles and come out the other side with peace of mind.

  1. 1. Money. The cost of a life insurance policy depends on the health of the individual (and of course on how much insurance you want). If you are in good health, now is the time to buy it for a low price. It is absolutely worth it to inquire how much it would cost for you.  If you have health conditions that make it more expensive than you are able to afford, it is often possible to buy extra insurance through your employer, regardless of health status, and even keep it once you leave a job by continuing to pay the premium. Finally, it’s important to consider realistically what financial resources you or your partner have access to, should the worst happen.  It is worth making some sacrifices to know that your loved ones would be taken care of in that scenario.

  2. 2. How much do you need? If you're a household with two working parents, could you afford to pay for your housing and child care on one salary? If one of you stays home with the kids, think about how much it would cost to purchase the services currently provided by the stay-at-home parent (child care, household care, etc.). Everyone’s needs are different, but we roughly figured out the cost to pay off the mortgage, allow for the surviving parent to have a year with no salary, and to ensure that one salary would be enough for the long haul with a little bit of additional savings.

  3. 3. Choosing where to buy. Life insurance policies are largely interchangeable but life insurance companies all calculate your risk differently. As a result, it's worth applying to a couple of them to get the best price. The easiest way to do this is to go through a broker that provides the service of matching you, free of charge.  I went to AccuQuote*, filled out a simple web form, and after a brief phone call with a broker was recommended 3 companies that best matched my health profile.

Many people don't want to spend the money to face their own mortality and if this is you, I urge you to reconsider.  I know it's hard, but picture the practical aspects of what you would need should an accident befall you or your partner. The last thing you probably want to do in that scenario is to have to move out of your house, or further disrupt your children's routines by pulling them out of school. If you’re a single parent, knowing that whoever takes care of your children will have the finances to do so is even more important.

Nobody wants to think of the scary things, but as someone who's had no choice but to face the darkness, I implore you to make a plan for the worst case scenario.

* Most links on this site pay an affiliate commission. However, this topic is serious enough I don’t want anyone to think we’re doing it for the kickback. While we used AccuQuote (who is NOT paying us), I really don’t care who you go with, but please do go with someone.