Showing posts with label Organization. Show all posts

Potty Training in an Apartment with One Bathroom

If there was a top five list of parenting tasks that I wish I could outsource, potty training would probably take up 3 of the items on that list. (The other 2 places on there would be devoted to cleaning up other bodily fluids in the middle of the night and dealing with children during daylight savings time mayhem).

The conventional wisdom in the US (potty training is a developmental milestone highly influenced by culture) is that most children potty train some time between 2 and 3 years old.  I took that recommendation as a directive to spend the entire year panicking about... were we starting too late? to early? did we miss a window? how about now? does a window exist? do we have enough cleaning supplies? is there really NO way to outsource this? pretty please with a cherry on top?

When one considers this complete panic and barrage of confusing information, it was a super convenient excuse that our second child didn't sleep at all as a baby.  "We're too tired to deal with this" we told ourselves every time the topic came up for discussion.  Then finally, the baby started to sleep and we were ready to face my daughter's upcoming 3rd birthday.  We decided to our big parent pants on and just do it.  We signed up for a class at a local parenting center (The Loved Child, for the local crew), we bought some gear, and we got down to business.

Now because things on the internet are forever, I'm not actually going to discuss the details of potty training.  I will say however, that it went far more smoothly than I would have guessed.  I will tell you about gear you may need before you start, especially if you live in a house with only one bathroom and/or don't want to be trapped in your house for a month.

Potty seat for families with only one bathroom

When choosing a potty accommodation for your little one, there are many options, but all of them basically solve 2 problems - the kid is too short to climb on the toilet by herself without assistance and the kid's backside is too small to sit comfortably on an adult ring without falling through.  So here are the options we considered and what we ended up with:

  1. 1. Standalone kids' potty (for example). 
    1. Pro - it's easy for the child to get on and off by themselves and it adds a 'second' bathroom for those times, especially in the beginning, when the child is having to go constantly.

    2. Con - you have to clean it and god forbid it gets knocked over.

  2. 2. Separate child's seat for toilet and a step stool (screw on version, removable version, folding step stool).
    1. Pro - I think the screw on option is awesome if you have a dedicated bathroom for your kid and the folding step stool is easily operated by the child.

    2. Con - If you only have one bathroom, as we do, having an extra ring on the seat seems like a pain as does having 2 removable parts.

  3. 3. Ring and step stool combination (Mommy's Helper is the one we have)
    1. Pro - It's one piece of equipment that's foldable and easily operated by the child. It can be stored folded when not in use, thus not interfering with adult bathroom use.

    2. Con - It's a larger item to store than a ring and stool. Also the kid can and will figure out how to bang the stool legs on the floor while sitting on the potty. 

    3. That said, this is the set up we've been using for months and we've been quite happy with it.
You may also need other equipment for your bathroom - such as a separate step stool for your sink (if you go with the seat/stool combination or stand alone potty) and/or a faucet extender.

And finally, as with all child related things, you may have found the perfect piece of equipment for you only to find it rejected by the child.  Thus, the best potty set up is the one your kid is willing to use.

Teaching your child the potty ritual (aka "for the love of god wash your hands!")

There's a lot to learn when becoming a person. Things that are obvious to you - why you shouldn't dip your hair into the toilet - are not obvious to a child. It's helpful to have a couple books on hand when climbing this mountain.  Personally we've enjoyed The Potty Book for Girls (there's a boy's version too). Also the Daniel Tiger episode about going to the potty is particularly instructive (Season 2, Episode 10 - available on Amazon Prime Video).

Potty seats for families on the go

So that's all great but what do you do if you ever want to leave the house? I really recommend getting a portable, folding potty seat. (Note: Amazon has a bunch of identical seats like this one - down to the singing teddy - by purportedly "different" manufactures. It seems fishy to me and I'm guessing my link will be broken shortly. Regardless, the seat is good)  This seat folds and thus easily fits in your diaper bag or purse for convenient transport.  And it makes the child comfortable and confident in unfamiliar settings. It's also hard plastic and thus easily wiped down.

And with that - may the spirits of good hygiene and compliant behavior be with you!


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.


    

If you live in a small space you need a plan to deal with diapers

Diaper pail, seen in the background of this heartwarming
parenting moment... smells not included
I think diaper disposal methods are one of the lesser known battlegrounds of the parent internet (just Google "do I need a diaper pail"). Lesser known... but no less important or full of smug self confidence.  There are definitely those, otherwise of sound parenting judgement, who do not believe in "fancy diaper disposal" systems and tell you to use a garbage can. I think the diaper pail denialism stems from two places.

  1. 1.Different lifestyle.  Meaning, some people either live in large enough homes that they cannot smell the horror, or they run every poopy diaper to out to the garage once their kiddo starts solids (breastmilk fed babies have slightly less foul smelling diapers... slightly being the operative word). Of course, not everyone has a garage (I don't) and some of us live 2 floors up from the big garbage bins that would remove the diaper from our actual living space.  Walking down and up 2 flights of stairs every time the kid poops seems... impractical at best.

  2. 2. The belief that diaper pails don't do anything to control the smell. Having been around some different diaper pails, I would say that this is true if you buy a not great diaper pail and/or don't buy the bags that are designed to go with it.

I personally only have a lot of experience with the Dekor Diaper Plus Diaper Disposal System so I suppose I cannot speak so authoritatively to the efficacy of other systems (I have been in other people's houses though).  That said, we picked the Dekor for its excellent Amazon reviews and the glowing write up in the Baby Bargains book. Having now used it for almost 3 years, I will say that while not perfect, it totally 100% cuts down on the smell A LOT. I will also say that I like how easy it is to put the diapers in one handed (pretty much no different than a regular garbage can with a push lid and a foot pedal). I also like that it doesn't look like a baby item because once the kids are out of diapers, this bin will take regular garbage bags and can be used as just a trash can in their room (it now also comes in so-called "Designer Colors" if you want to match your decor better).

Don't be tempted to use the regular garbage bags with diapers though - the refills are made out of special plastic that is much better at controlling smell than regular garbage bags.  Using regular garbage bags will totally defeat the purpose of buying the pail in the first place.

This brings us to the lifetime operating cost of the pail, a.k.a. "omg how much does a refill cost?" How the refills (or bags) work was very unclear to me before I bought the Dekor and I  just assumed that I would pay a fortune for bags and that's that.  Not so! Yes the refills aren't cheap, but 1 refill does not equal 1 regular garbage bag.  This is because each refill cartridge is used to create many many bags by tying off and disposing of a Dekor-full of diapers each time the can fills. Even with 2 kids in diapers, it takes us about a month to go through one cartridge. Coming in 2-packs, $7 a month for diaper pail bags is not cheap, but definitely not that bad.

Finally, this is another one of those great items to register for (and don't forget to put the refills on the list) because it is pricey enough that getting it as a present is awesome.

  

Review of the Babyletto Bookshelf: The Book Falls too Far from the Tree

Sometimes even the most savvy of parents (and clearly you are already savvy since you're reading this blog) get taken in by something that seems cute but really fails to perform even very basic functions. Today is the story of one of these times...
Cute, right?

When setting up the nursery for our first child, we had trouble finding ways to add splashes of fun and color in a room that was too small for much clutter but also sparse (given the amazing custom-installed closets eliminating the need for dressers). Knowing also that books would be a key feature in our little one's life, we were quickly entranced with the babyletto Spruce Tree Bookcase.

Given that the babyletto Hudson Crib came highly recommended by the Baby Bargains Book (and looked impressive sitting in the nursery) and that their bookcase was a third the price of similar alternatives, we were IN.

It's true, assembling furniture with a newborn around is not for the faint of heart, however...

Bookcase Bottoms Should Not Be Round

The bottom of the bookcase was not flat. LET ME BE CLEAR. It's not that it wasn't level, it was NOT FLAT. It was instead rounded, making it rather difficult to stand up or support the weight of, you know, books. I guess they assumed that it would be entirely supported by the brackets they provided but that seems awfully optimistic.
...Strike 1...

Bookcases Should be Made for Floors as They Are

Like many folks living in old buildings, or medium-aged buildings, our floors are also not quite level. Had the folks at babyletto been on top of this and provided some kind of leveling mechanism, the problem with the bottom of the bookcase being round would have been mitigated. Unfortunately, we were left with a situation where even IF we'd just had some weird manufacturing error, there was no way to set up the bookcase to safely hold things. Plenty of furniture around the house has shims for leveling, but something designed for cute appearance should do better.
...Strike 2...

An Aside: Power Tools and my Awesome Wife

Undeterred, we went to work, purchasing T-Nut Furniture Levelers, an extra large drill bit, and finding time between not sleeping and cleaning up from our constantly pooping newborn to do some light carpentry. And by "we," I really mean my wife. Anything requiring a screwdriver or wrench, I'm your guy. All other tools, and especially power tools, are trusted only to her. Here you will see her a mere three-weeks post C-section going to town to make this freaking bookcase stand.
Pretty awesome, eh?

Bookcases Should be Made for Walls as They Are

So, to their credit, babyletto did supply brackets to attach the bookcase to the wall (we're not huge on obsessive baby-proofing, but we're 100% on attaching furniture to the wall). The babyletto engineers (rightfully) assumed the bookcase will be pushed up directly against the wall as it has no back and the wall would be the only thing preventing books from falling down the back.

However, the included brackets were very short. As a result, the bookcase makes no ability to leave space for a baseboard. So out came the drill again as we affixed longer curtain-rod brackets to the back. Lest you think I'm being unfair, other furniture manufacturers, such as Ikea, provide a space for a baseboard (see below).

The Ikea Billy bookcase, with space in the back for a baseboard;
still letting the back of the bookcase rest against the wall
(though without leveling feet as well).

Babyletto failing to anticipate a common household architectural feature...
...Strike three...

Bookcases Should Hold Books

Undeterred (and because we didn't know there'd be a baseball theme to a write-up 3 years later), we did not stop at strike three. But at least we have a cute bookcase, right? 

Turns out, shelves at irregular angles are hard to use. Some books only fit in some places, some places are too small to fit most any book, Moreover, the shelves were pretty shallow.

Put all that together and books frequently fell off in droves.
...Strike, uh... Four?

Kallax, a Bookcase that Works as a Bookcase!

Note the tree decals allowed us to keep the
general theme
Once it was time to do some re-engineering of the room for baby #2, we'd finally had it with the Spruce. For the same floor space, we got the Kallax at IKEA. It offered significantly more ease to build, brackets to secure properly to the wall, and tons of additional storage (including room for toys!). It will also grow with the kids as their desires (and the room decor) change. 

We stuck with white (and added accented inner shelves for some color and to give the bookcase a back), but it comes in many colors. Once they're a bit older and have decorating opinions of their own, we can easily add/remove various decals for additional (flexible) fun.

So there you have it. babyletto makes a great crib (we even bought a second of the same for baby #2), the chair you see is theirs too, but the bookcase is a strong Do Not Buy.

And once again, it's Ikea with the win.

Sheets and Things - or - how many layers can your child pee through?

Everybody pees...

But babies and kids have special abilities to pee on (and through) everything. So what is a good parent to do other than be prepared (or, pee-pared... ahem).

Consequently, the method here is to treat your child's sleeping arrangements like the many layers of the earth, all working in concert to protect the inner core, i.e. the mattress.

Wait, Wait, Mr. Earth Science - Isn't this why we use diapers?

Yeah, modern diapers are pretty amazing, aren't they? They swell to many times their original size, super gels absorb even the humidity in the air, and you get a nice snug fit. Alas, every child in every diaper type will have a blowout from time to time. Maybe the diaper wasn't on quite right, maybe they learned to open it, maybe they're too big or too small for the current size, maybe they ate something funny. Whatever the cause, it happens, and when it happens, you don't want to be unprepared.

But even if diapers were perfect, all this pee-proofing is necessary for two more reasons:

  1. 1. It won't always be pee. While diapers may catch other bodily fluids, it'll be no help for spit-up, vomit, nosebleeds, or whatever other foul things may (and will) emanate from your precious angel.

  2. 2. Hard is it may be to believe, someday the child will be learning not to use diapers and when that day (or, indeed, many days) comes, nap time and bedtime are likely to result in a frequent changing of the linens. So if something keeps you sane with your baby also and a toddler, that's a "go for it" in our book.

 The Inner Core - Mattress

So at some point we'll have a big write-up on mattresses, but for what we are discussing here, the key is preventing any liquid from getting INTO the mattress where Very Bad Things can happen (mostly mold, followed closely by breathing problems). And because mattresses are pricey, this is the last thing you want to replace.

Many mattresses out there are waterproof but check and double-check. There are some weasel-words describing, particularly, "natural" mattresses that may mention "protecting against leaks," but don't actually claim to be waterproof.

Because liquids will move to find the lowest point we also recommend finding a mattress without seams.  A seamless mattress doesn't give a place for liquid to pool and also doesn't provide an easy-opening to seep through.

Finally, remember that accidents are going to happen for years and you may find yourself changing the bed at 3am solo, so a lightweight mattress will be your friend.

We went with the Lullaby Earth Healthy Support Crib Mattress because it is waterproof, seamless, and only weighs 7 pounds. 

The Outer Core - Mattress Pad

So the mattress is waterproof, mission accomplished, right? No.

Let's say your kid pees through to the mattress. You strip the bed and wipe the mattress up to the best of your ability. But where does the kid sleep until everything dries? This is doubly an issue if you find yourself needing to disinfect something worse than pee. So, to the rescue is a mattress cover.

The mattress cover, aside from being another layer to absorb and stop whatever is thrown at it, is machine washable. Now the mess you have can be easily stripped from the bed and thrown into the wash (pre-treated with spray, as needed) without much additional thought. This is much better than dealing with a wet mattress.

We bought the American Baby Company Organic Waterproof Natural Quilted Fitted Crib Mattress Pad Cover but no matter what you get, be sure to get more pads than you have mattresses (we own three between the two kids) as this allows the quick change without waiting for the washing machine.

The Mantle - Piddle Pad

And now we get to the first line of defense... the lap/piddle/bassinet pad. These are bits of waterproof fabric you can lay down right under the sheets to sop up most (or all) if your mess. 95% of the time, when we've had to change things, we've only needed to change the sheets and the piddle pad.

Wonderful things about piddle pads:
  1. 1. They come in lots of shapes/sizes so you can put them in whatever orientation makes sense and you can use them for a bassinet, a play yard, a bed, or whatever else you need.  The mattresses in these things often have no waterproofing at all so these babies may very well be your only defense.

  2. 2. You can use them as a changing pad on-the-go or in some other pinch. (We've had a couple instances when ALL of our changing pad covers had been soiled.  We just plopped one of these down and used in the interim).

Consequently, it's worth having a few sets of these handy. We have a few hand-me-downs from other families, but when we needed more, we bought the MyKazoe Waterproof Bassinet Play Yard Pad & Lap Pads.  These are available in a variety of colors/patterns. Note that three pads come in the set.  

The Crust - Sheets

From a waterproofing perspective, these don't matter much. We have a bunch of sheets from Skip Hop.  That said at the moment of this writing they appeared to be discontinued. The reason we bought these is that they were soft the touch and very cute from the side of the crib, even if you didn't have a bumper on (which are no longer recommended).  For the record we also own some Summer Infant Printed Crib Sheets that we use for day care and they are much rougher to the touch.  Given that babies and kids spend a lot of time in their cribs, getting some comfy sheets seems like a good investment.
 



Photo credit: Earth Layers by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Zen of Diaper Bags

Diaper bags are one of those pieces of equipment that even non-parents have opinions about.  They can be a kinda ridiculous fashion statement, be literally big enough to fit a sleeping baby, or just a plain old symbol of your new lameness.  This is probably because they come most places with you for several years (or more if you have more than one child).  So here are some practical thoughts on how to pick one and what to put in it.

What should you have in your diaper bag?

Very little.  Ok so our diaper bag pretty much lives on the stroller, which means that I never have to carry it.  Even with that, I hate having a big over stuffed bag because it means I can never find what I'm looking for.  So we keep it light.  Here is what you actually need to have with you:
  • for all munchkins
    • diapers
    • wipes
    • change of clothes
    • a couple plastic bags (for disposing of poopy diapers or containing soiled clothes). Regular grocery bags will do or you can go with something like the Munchkin Diaper Bag Dispenser.
    • a changing pad
    • seasonally appropriate items such as a baby hat or sunscreen 
    • tiny hand sanitizer (soap and water is best for cleaning your hands after a diaper change, but for those rare times that you have to change a diaper not in a bathroom, hand sanitizer is needed)
  • for babies only
    • some way to feed the baby if you're a non lactating parent
    • nursing cover if you are the lactating parent 
  • for toddlers only
    • hand wipes
    • tissues
    • one non perishable emergency snack. (We are definitely a "no snacking on the go" family.  However, sometimes circumstances beyond your control necessitate a change in plan.  One time, my husband was on a bus bringing my toddler daughter home from daycare when all traffic stopped for an hour because the president had come to town. Delaying a tired one year old's dinner by an hour in a confined space is a recipe for all kinds of mayhem and a well placed granola bar can go a long way to keeping everyone's hearing intact.)

How do you pick a diaper bag?

In my humble opinion, you should pick the smallest bag you can find that both parents are willing to carry.

Why the smallest?

Nature abhors a vacuum and you will fill whatever sized bag you buy.  Thus, on those days when you do actually have to carry it, it's going to suck.  Also you'll never find the thing you're looking for.

Doesn't each parent deserve their own bag?

There is definitely advice out there that says mom and dad need their own bag.  I find this highly dubious.  Moving your kids things from bag to bag or making sure both of them are stocked is never going to happen, and most likely one of them is going to gather dust permanently.  Here are a couple of brands we've found that make bags likely to be palatable to both parents:
  • Lassig. We have their messenger style bag and love it.  Though, full disclosure, the messenger bag is kind of big and we only got it when we found out we were having a second child.  The need to carry both baby and toddler things simultaneously necessitated a bigger bag than the one we had to start.  That said, the bag has been awesome from the way it clips to the stroller to the extra wide shoulder strap that makes it easy to carry even when full.
  • L.L. Bean.  They're known for their high quality bags of all kinds, so why not diaper bags?
  • Skip Hop. They have a number of designs and sizes to match almost any kind of style or family.
  • DadGear.  This is a great brand for the most gender neutral of bags (all the way to full on "manly" cameo bags).
  • Ju-Ju-Be B.F.F.   These definitely run expensive but if you're looking for a diaper bag that truly converts from a purse into a backpack and has a fun design - this is your bag.
  • Any bag you are both willing to carry and can fit all the things. It's pretty easy to buy a changing pad and stroller clips and voila - you have a perfectly fine diaper bag of your very own!

Milk bags! (the kind that go in your freezer)

As we've discussed elsewhere on this site, if you're exclusively breastfeeding and have sufficient supply then it's a great idea to build up a stash in your freezer.  The best way to do that is by storing your milk in freezer bags.  (Here are some other good tips from around the web).

There's definitely good articles out on the Web comparing various brands of bags, and they are certainly worth a read. However, since this is my blog, here are my 2 cents on the topic.

What makes a good bag for freezing milk?

Having fed and pumped for one baby for a year, and currently being in the process of doing the same for another, I can certainly describe what my perfect milk storage bag would look like.  The perfect bag would

  • - Let me pump directly into it.  I've expressed (ha! there's some milk makin' humor for you) elsewhere on this blog that I like to have many back up plans for pumping at work that don't rely on perfect memory from yours truly.  Being able to pump directly into bags if you forget your bottles is definitely a great fall back option

  • - Have accurate volume markings.  This one is so obvious it seems like you wouldn't even have to mention it, and yet, so many bags fail on this criteria based on my own experience and also many Amazon reviews.

  • - Stand up on its own.  This is a great feature for when you're just finished and don't have an extra hand to detach and seal, etc.

  • - Have reasonable fields for you to mark, specifically: name, date, and volume. (The reason you need to write down the volume on the bags is that the volume frozen will seem bigger than the actual liquid volume... see: water expands when frozen, etc.)

  • - Never burst or leak.  Once again, being obvious here but it bears repeating.

  • - Store 6 ozs of milk.  You may ask why 6 and not any other number.  Many babies never eat more than 5 oz a meal at any point (which is why many bottles and bags top out at that number).  My babies are all gluttons.  My daughter definitely spent months downing 8 ozs a meal.  My son is still young but if he follows the trajectory he's been on he'll definitely match his sister.  So the more a single bag can store, the longer I can go using only one bag per meal.  I haven't seen bags that store more than 6 ozs and sadly they probably wouldn't fit in my freezer organizer.

  • - Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: My wife usually only fills, but does not empty, the bags.  Thus she left out another important criteria... ease of emptying the bag into a bottle, especially while holding a crying baby WHO WANTS TO EAT NOW. This may be the EXACT situation that created "crying over spilled milk" as an expression.

So which one do I use?

I have personally tried 3 brands:
  1. 1. Ameda Store'N Pour Milk Storage Bags.  These bags were supplied by my insurance company last time around, but I've bought a set for this time as well.  They kind of fail on most of the above criteria (don't stand up, have very inaccurate markings, only fit 5 ozs, and occasionally leak).  I have a set because the adapters that come with these guys screw on to any pump that takes Medela Bottles and let you pump directly into them.  I keep the bags and the adapters at work for emergencies.  I've also now used them enough that I can interpret their markings into much more accurate guesses at the volume. Oh and the fields to fill out on them are great. 
  2. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: These are the best for pouring. The tear-off section makes for a great spout and it's pretty easy to predict where the milk will go. On the downside, the tear section is below the seal, so once you open the bag, you're pouring all of it.

  3. 2. NUK Seal 'N Go Milk Storage Bags.  These guys are pretty much the inverse of the Amedas.  They stand up, are accurate, fit 6 ozs, and are super sturdy and leak free.  They do not however, allow one to pump directly into them.  Also, the fields they have you fill out are name, date, and time.  Time? What?  What possible purpose does that serve?  So this is the field I write the volume in.  These are the bags I use 90% of the time, which is to say, all the time that I'm not pumping directly into bags.
  4. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: I spilled about half an ounce of milk using these bags no less than 30 minutes before being asked to read through this post before publication. The zip-style seal provides an obstacle for the milk just before the top and frequently causes a double-steam, which is not good for a narrow-mouthed bottle.

  5. 3. Evenflo Feeding Advanced Milk Storage.  These are frankly the worst bags I've tried.  Originally I was optimistic because they advertised that they were made out of a thin plastic that heats quickly (this appealed to my husband for obvious reasons).  They also fit the Ameda adapters for pumping directly into bag so I thought I'd give them a try despite the fact that they only fit 5 ozs.  Well, it turns out that they are also leaky and difficult to use.  They don't stand up well at all, the markings are inaccurate, and the labels on top are upside down for some reason?
  6. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: The overall shape of this bag is reasonably conducive to pouring. The zip seal is further away from the spout so it's more predictable. although the flimsiness of the bag material does not make it a particularly rigid spout. While I didn't do any head-to-head tests, I did not feel that this bag heats more quickly than others, which would have excused the flimsy material if it had.
So in conclusion... I haven't found the perfect bags.  I wish the Nuks could be pumped into directly.  As it is, however, I use a combination of them and the Amedas and that works out ok for me.
Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: If you have enough of a backup in the fridge and/or at daycare and can cope with about one leaking bag a month (and want to simplify life for your spouse/non-pumping partner), add some extra credit to the Ameda.



  

2015 Gift guide - What all city-dwelling (and probably many other) parents REALLY want this season!

What gift do you get for your favorite set of parents who have everything and/or no room for anything else?  Here are some suggestions for gifts that are sure to be appreciated almost universally by parents, but most especially those tight on space!

Practical gifts that keep on giving

Food Delivery Gift Certificates

This one makes the rounds frequently for new parents, but everyone loves takeout/delivery. After a night when one kid wants to stand on the train seat and the other refuses to go to sleep, it's good to be married to "someone who knows when it’s time to order Chinese." (Also, seriously internet, no GIFs/memes on this Orange is the New Black line?) Better yet, to do that when already been paid for. Foodler is our pick for services, but your recipient's area may be better served by Seamless, GrubHub, etc.

Parents in a Pinch / Care.com

Every parent in the history of time could use the gift of a break from their little miracles.  However, finding reliable caregivers (and then being able to afford them) makes the prospect of planning an evening out more overwhelming than training to run a marathon.  This is a website that matches parents with willing and vetted caregivers.  It is an especially great gift to give if you are a non-local grandparent and cannot offer your own babysitting in person.

Amazon.com Prime

Ok, I surely don't have to explain Amazon Prime, but it's a great resource for families. It can feel like a splurge given the price, but that's what makes it a perfect gift! Free 2-day delivery is already a great deal, but add-in the additional discounts on diapers, the free TV/Movie streaming, and the Kindle free library, it's definitely worth the money. Bonus Amazon feature: you can download TV/movies to view offline, which means the kids can watch Sesame Street (or many other things) on a plane with no wifi.

Grocery Delivery/Farmshare

Grocery delivery is a luxury for urban dwellers and for those days when getting the newborn (or toddler) out of the house seems impossible, services like Peapod or your local grocery store's options can save the day. Find a farmshare, CSA, or other produce delivery service, and it can make cooking a "real meal" at home that much easier. Plus, it gives everyone in the family an excuse to try new (and in-season!) foods. For folks in the Boston metro area, we recommend Boston Organics which combines the best of a farmshare and a grocery store that delivers.

Zipcar/Uber/Lyft

On the topic of splurges, going carfree means knowing the cost of each trip you take. Having (gifted) credit for your transport method of choice allows you to be confident when you take a trip to the children's' museum in the snow, pick up that extra jug of laundry detergent, or hit that networking event after work because you can make it home quickly.

Entertainment gifts that last beyond the moment

Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Instant Video (both for parents and kids)

Any one of these is an easy win for the whole family. Once the kids are old enough for some screen time, a carefully chosen 30 minutes of streaming for the kids can be a serious relief after a difficult day (plus it's pretty fun to watch Sesame Street with the kiddos). Once the kids are in bed, sometimes all you can muster is sitting on the couch with whatever from your fridge doesn't require adding heat, a glass of wine (see below), and an episode (or 3) of the show from 5 years ago you were too busy to watch when you went out every night.


Childrens' Museum Membership

Childrens' museums can be pretty awesome in general (thank you Magic House in St. Louis for great childhood memories), but especially if you live somewhere with tough weather (too cold, too hot, whatever), many have great spaces for kids of many ages to run around and get everyone out of the house. The Boston Children's Museum (and their under-3 specific space) was a total godsend this past hellish winter.

Music Together 

Without oodles of space, experiences are a great gift for families. Music Together (franchised under many different names city-to-city) fits in the niche between music theory, silly songs/hand motions, exposure to instruments, playgroup, and place to meet other parents. Also, very welcoming of Dads, grandparents, and other caregivers. If you're in Boston, the local franchise is Groovy Baby Music, click here for a $15 discount.

Personal Care experiential presents

If you know that your recipient parent enjoys the occasional massage or trip to their salon of choice, this can be a great way to gift them a little "me time."  Especially if paired with a gift certificate for or offer of child care, you may become their very favorite person of the month.

Wine delivery/subscription 

It is a well known "tee hee wink wink" joke on mom blogs that moms just love wine. Ok but it's really true, and not just for moms.  Sometimes parenting requires alcohol for everyone's sanity. Whether it's because your 5 month old had explosive diarrhea all over the crib or your 2 year old screamed for an hour at bedtime, wine is the legal way to solve the problem after the ankle-bitters are clean and angelically snoozing. So if you know your favorite parent's preferred drink (it's Navarro Vineyards for us), go ahead and get them a case (many wineries will ship to many/most states).  Alternatively get them a membership to the Tasting Room so they can try lots of different things and keep that salve coming on a schedule.

Small things that pack a big punch of value

Pocket Nanny

Ok so it's not really a nanny in your pocket, which would be super cool, if a little creepy.  It is, however a nifty little device that helps sleep deprived parents keep track of when the baby last ate/slept/had a diaper change.  Sure there's tons of apps out there for that, but you can't clip those apps to the baby as you hand him to your just arrived-home-from-work partner as you run to pass out for a much needed nap. The nightlight, we've found, is just the perfect intensity for nighttime feedings. This is definitely one of those "not a necessity but it sure is nice to have" things, which makes it the perfect present, in our opinion, to bestow on your favorite expecting couple.

Thermos Travel Mug

Between middle-of-the-night feedings, teething, colds, and toddlers' habit of waking up with the sun, coffee is a necessity for any parent. And that often means coffee on-the-go: on the way to daycare/work, on the way to the doctor, or while the kid runs around the nearest playground in the cold. Thus, a great coffee cup is a great present. With all due respect to The Sweethome (who eliminated all mugs without a handle), this is simply the best mug. Here's 4 reasons why: 1) It keeps coffee hot for a LONG time, 2) When closed, it really is spill-proof, 3) It's cheap enough that you can forget it somewhere and not feel awful about replacing it, 4) I have 100% confidence I will not spill hot coffee all over my stroller (or baby) when it sits in the stroller cupholder over even the most uneven of sidewalk.

Headphones

Headphones are great for parents of babies (or expectant parents) because they spend an awful lot of time feeding them or sitting in a dark room trying to get them to go to sleep.  This is time that could be spent listening to music, podcasts, or audio books.  Parents of toddlers, on the other hand, may occasionally want to tune out some of the less than pleasant vocalizations their charges make.... for an hour.  In particular, I'd recommend some wireless headphones that your baby won't grab and yank while you're feeding him and that your toddler won't decide is a necklace when you make the mistake of leaving it somewhere within reach.  This is a good place where you can splurge on some high quality ones for the favorite parents in your life (Plantronics BackBeat Fit Bluetooth Headphones are a great choice).

Fitness Tracker

We recommend this with the following caveat - only get this if you know that the parent in question is into fitness AND would like one.  Ask yourself (especially if the recipient is a recent mother who birthed a child) if there is even the slightest chance that this could be taken as a "hint" to lose weight and if so MOVE ALONG, DO NOT GET.  Otherwise, go ahead and get the parent in your life a Garmin vívofit Activity Tracker. We recommend this one over the more popular Fitbit, because it does not need to be charged overnight.  Parents have a slight tendency to be absent minded, so go ahead and simplify this one thing in their life for them.  

Portable Battery

On-the-go in the city sometimes means pushing the cell phone (or bluetooth headphones) so hard you run out of juice before you get home. When the phone is your source for next bus/train info, your way to order Uber, or to listen to podcasts while the baby sleeps in the stroller, this is a near-catastrophe. Avoid/solve it with a portable battery pack you can keep in the diaper bag, briefcase, purse, coat pocket, etc. Also works great for a long airplane/train/bus trip without access to seat-side power (or just avoid the crowd huddled around the lone power outlet at the airport). For some specific suggestions and background, you can check out detailed reviews at The Wirecutter.

Wrap-Up

Those are our thoughts for 2015. What gifts did we miss or are you secretly hoping for? Join the conversation below or on our Facebook page.

Monitors: say no to the Kid TV channel

I am about to say something blasphemous. 

We do not have a video monitor. 

In an era of more and more devices that constantly report on the state of your children, we say no to anything other than the most basic of information. Frankly, I was skeptical of even needing any monitor at all - we live in an apartment after all. It's hard not to hear things. But I'll admit, it's given me the ability to go down to the basement storage unit when the kids are napping and has been useful in larger vacation homes or in adjoining hotel rooms. It was also good for peace of mind as we nervously moved our first child out of our room when she was a couple months old. 

Within a couple months of that, however, we turned off the monitor.  If she cries/yells hard enough that we can hear her in our bedroom, then she really needs us. Otherwise, I don't feel the need to listen and worry over every whimper.  

I (don't) want Kid TV

Almost every first time parent I know who has a video monitor ends up watching what I call "Kid TV." Kid TV is when you walk out of your child's room after bedtime and then spend the next hour watching them try to fall asleep. Entertaining as some antics may be, ignorance her has really been just fine for all parties. When I close the door to the nursery at 7:30 pm every night I assume everything is as it should be until 6:30 am the following morning unless proven otherwise. Questions which I blissfully have no idea how to answer - when does my daughter wake up? How long does she take to fall asleep? 

Anyway, you're a parent, isn't your "to do" list longer than the Oregon Trail (but with less dysentery)? Go eat dinner! Pack tomorrow's lunch! Take a shower! Watch actual TV!  Some people will say that they need the monitor to know if their kids are getting out of bed when they're not supposed to. Here's the thing - toddlers aren't subtle creatures. Do you think your 2 year old is actually able to play in the dark quietly (and if that's really the case, ask yourself why you care)? Do you think you won't know your kid got out of bed when they wake up in the morning hugging the dinosaur they took down off the bookshelf the night before?  I say that you should make your children's room a safe place (nothing dangerous within reach, safety outlets, bookshelves bolted to the wall) then walk on out of there with a spring in your step. I promise, anything you need to hear you will. 

An Audio-Only Recommendation

Unfortunately there are very few non-video monitors on the market these days.  We have the VTech Safe & Sound Digital Audio Baby Monitor. It's sound quality is pretty good, you can buy a kit with a second parent unit, it supports two-way audio (which is nice when a nursing mom needs something), and the audio feed is digitally encrypted (so your neighbors don't get to try out You Radio). We're using it as long as my son is still nursing at night. Once he's done, we'll put it away until the next time we travel somewhere and want to have a drink on the porch after the kids go to bed.  Everyone will sleep better for it. Cheers!


Have bag will travel - toddler edition!

That time of year is happening again when suddenly airports are filled with traveling families rather than business people and adventurers.  Traveling with children can be extremely stressful since disrupted schedules alone would be enough to turn many a toddler into a puddle of tantrum.  Add to that an unfamiliar environment, unclear expectations, crowds of unknown people and you have a recipe for mayhem.

So here is some basic advice based on our experience going to visit grandparents - a trip we've made with one or more children frequently over the last two and a half years.  This is admittedly the easiest destination to travel to, since it is a house full of people super excited for our arrival and who love nothing more than preparing for our visit (this certainly reduces our need for an extensive packing list).  That said, I think getting through the airport with little kids is a pretty universal experience of hell so hopefully this will be useful to you anyway.  But also here is some other good advice from around the internet.

Preparing yourself for traveling with kids

If you are used to traveling by yourself or just with your partner and considered yourself a jetsetter prior to having kids, traveling with the munchkins is going to require some adjustments.  The first thing to adjust is your expectations.  You will be a lot slower, louder, and messier.  That said, if you are anything like me, you may also suddenly acquire a much deeper well of empathy to dip into when stuck behind a family on your next business trip.  If you aren't used to traveling all that much, adding kids into the mix certainly doesn't help the pre-travel anxiety.  I don't have much advice for you here because we frankly fall into the first category.  However, I imagine the best thing you can do is read up on the current rules, think through the day, and talk to more experienced traveler friends.

Regardless of your travel experience, I highly recommend making a couple of packing lists.  We set them as calendar appointments for packing in the days before the trip, the night before, the morning of, etc.  We can then copy/paste them for the way home so as to make sure we don't forget anything while we're away. (The one time we didn't write a packing list, we forgot our daughter's comfort object at the grandparent's house...ouch).  We also make sure to pack a change of clothes for everyone in the family (adults included) in the carry-on, as children's accidents often land on adults.

Preparing your kids for traveling with you

If your toddler is anything like mine, then giving him or her a job, especially if it's like mom and dad's job, is key to getting cooperation. For this reason we got our daughter a Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Suitcase (other colors and animals are available). It has a number of great features, other than the fact that it is adorable enough to keep our daughters interest.  It fits comfortably under the seat, which is what makes it the perfect carry-on item for kids' things.  It's easy to roll, so much so that our 2 year old can do it (see photo above).  She's also able to retract the handle by herself.  Additionally, it has a strap in the back so that if an adult needs to carry it for a period it's easy to throw over the adult's shoulder.  Not only that, but the people at Skip Hop even thought to make the strap capable of being put away so it doesn't drag when not in use!  All around, this is a great way to take things on your trip while also teaching your kid some responsibility for their own stuff.

The suitcase also allows us to help our daughter prepare for our upcoming travel.  She knows that when the suitcase comes out we're going to go on a trip. We let her pick out the clothes we're going to take with us and pack them in the bag (obviously reserving editorial rights for weather and the like.) After bedtime, we move the clothes to the checked baggage and then repack her Skip Hop suitcase with things both of them will need on the plane such as toys, books, blankets, snacks  etc.

Why Amazon Prime is your friend

Frankly I think Amazon Prime is the friend of urban parents (and residents) everywhere.  However, when it comes to traveling, it can come in especially handy.  For example, rather than packing bulky items such as diapers and wipes or relying on the grandparents to find the brand my kids are used to, we simply have them shipped to their house in advance of our arrival.  (You may very well be able to ship to a hotel as well, which may be worth it if you're staying for a week).

Additionally, Prime comes with access to Amazon Instant Video, which is a fine enough streaming service with one major additional benefit. Amazon (unlike Hulu and Netflix) let you download content to watch offline which means you can let your kid watch things like Sesame Street on your device without having to rely on wifi connections. Note: getting this set up the first time is kind of counter-intuitive (you have to sideload a separate app), so devote 30 minutes to getting it set up sometime the week before the flight.

Day of travel/In flight entertainment 

The last time we flew somewhere we had to get the kids out of bed at 4:30 am and I was terrified that our extremely habitual little creatures would melt down for 6 hours straight.  I did not give them enough credit.  The baby happily slept in the carrier and the toddler was so excited about her own suitcase that she dragged it through the entire airport like a total champ (see picture).  We were also sure to pack lots of toddler snacks and and suspend many of the rules we normally enforce about screen time, eating schedules, etc.

When on the plane we make full use of the pacifier clips to keep toys in easy access of both children.  Additionally we re-purposed the old cell phone we normally use as the white noise sleep aid to treat the toddler to some coveted screen time.  We come prepared with downloaded Sesame Street episodes (see above) and games.  If the device your child uses is an Apple device in these situations, there may be more options for games (here's one recommendation that sounds great) as kids development studios seem to favor iDevices.  Our device is an (old) Android phone and our toddler really likes puzzles so she has lots of fun with this game.

Stay calm

Finally, the best advice for traveling with kids we can offer is to stay calm.  Travel, much like labor, has an end point.  The flight will not last forever and neither will the whining/crying/frustration, should that be something you experience. Eventually you will all get to your destination, and possibly even with a story that you will find funny with time.