Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just thinking about how to do this is terrifying. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any other posts I should be sure to check out? 

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Totally nerdy policy wonk note 

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

      

Getting Chores Done with a Toddler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about just playing with your kids? 

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

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

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

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

Laundry

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

Sorting

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

Filling the machines

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

Putting away clean clothes

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

Dishes

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

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

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

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

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

Other household tasks you can do together

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

Carrying cheese home from the grocery store

The Caveats

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

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

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>.


 

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.

   

Walking the line of pregnancy and fitness (Guest post)

I am super excited to run our very first guest post, written by my good friend Alice. I invited Alice to write this post because my own exercising tastes run far more mainstream (I heart pre-natal Yoga) and this is a very important topic for pregnancy. So without further ado, take it away Alice…

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

Everyone will tell you that exercise during pregnancy is great! Wonderful! Essential! Walking, swimming, and prenatal yoga are the best! But if you're pregnant and want to get exercise in a less orthodox way, it can be difficult to sort the fear mongering from the science. Before I got pregnant I lifted weights, played ultimate frisbee, biked, and went rock climbing. I didn't want to stop all of those activities as soon as I got a positive pregnancy test. Since the scientific research is minimal to nonexistent, I relied largely on other people's stories and on listening to my body to decide what was safe. (I, of course, discussed all of this with my doctor and got her OK. My pregnancy was low risk and I picked a data oriented doctor who is on the relaxed end of the spectrum.)

According to my doctor, contact sports are a risk after the first trimester. She explained that since the uterus moves up out of the pelvis at that point, serious impact trauma can harm the fetus. Because of this, I didn’t play Frisbee after 12 weeks, though I know some women who played in low key games all the way through their pregnancies. Some ab exercises are likely to be a problem. Everything else, however, still seems to be up for debate.

Surprisingly, the exercise that I found most comfortable and kept up most consistently during my pregnancy was climbing. People hear climbing and think of mount Everest, which is far cry from what I do, pregnant or not. The place I went was my local friendly climbing gym, complete with comfy plastic holds, a readily accessible bathroom, and even the occasional other pregnant lady to commiserate with. Top roping with a pregnancy harness from Mountain Mama felt safe and (relatively) comfortable into week 39, and I trusted my partner to give me a tight belay, so I wouldn't have any big falls.

So maybe heights aren't your thing, but if crossfit or archery or tennis are - don't let anyone's knee jerk reaction keep you from doing what you love. And, of course, take everything you read with a grain of salt. In searching for rock climbing resources I found several sites that told me to avoid climbing stairs while pregnant. I’m curious what those people would suggest to those of us whose apartments are on the second floor. It's pretty hard to get more fear mongering and less practical than that!

****************************************************
Alice is a software engineer, mom, and obsessive gym climber. She lives in Boston with her husband and son, in a small apartment increasingly overflowing with toddler paraphernalia. To talk about sports and pregnancy, or to chat about the local climbing scene, find her at alice@acrossb.com.

The amazing folding toddler carseat - lifesaver for Carfree families!!

2 year old in IMMI GO seat.
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I have a tendency to effervesce in the form of wild gesturing and Valley girl-style high pitched squealing when I get excited about something. Let me tell you, when I first read about the IMMI GO Car Seat, I reached full Alkaseltzer crossed with 1995 Alicia Silverstone. I was so excited! Since that initial love at first read, I've had the joy of using this car seat and being proven correct. 

Live carfree? You'll spend more time obsessing about carseats than your suburban friends...

Let's start with why car seats are the mortal enemy of city-dwelling families and then we can discuss why this particular one rises so far above the rest. What I need in a car seat is one that's light, foldable, easy to carry, and importantly, easy to install correctly - bonus if I can do it quickly enough that my toddler doesn't decide to bolt into traffic while my attention is elsewhere. Car seats, especially ones designed for kids after the infancy stage, are heavy, bulky, and not meant to be taken in and out of cars frequently. In fact studies show that most kids ride in car seats that aren't installed correctly, which means that more and more families are going to police departments to have their car seats installed professionally. This is all fine, but it in no way encourages car seat manufacturers to make these seats simpler to install correctly (again... improperly installed car seats aren't all that useful). And if they're so hard to install, then there's no reason to make them easy to transport. Add to this the recent trend to steel reinforced seats which are twice (or more) as heavy than regular seats... So car seats - the mortal enemy of the carfree family.

Aren't steel reinforced seats installed by professionals the safest thing for my child?

Yes? Maybe? Sometimes? The answer is, in fact, kind of murky.  First of all it's not actually clear according to the data that carseats are all that effective for kids over the age of 2 anyway.  Second of all, if you live carfree in a city, the overwhelming majority of the time you want to drive somewhere, you're driving on much slower-moving roads than if you live out in the middle of the country, in a state with very straight borders. (For good data on this look here - most fatal crashes occur on straight, fast moving highways... if you live in Massachusetts you have never seen one of those). Prior to the availability of the IMMI GO, many people have suggested things like a Car Seat Travel Cart or the Lilly Gold The Sit 'n' Stroll. These are fine for what they are, but they still require lugging a giant thing around, just on wheels. They also don't solve the problem of "I may need a car seat later so I'll just take one in case we decide to take a cab home for a quick get away".  These are not "maybe" solutions you'll just casually haul around with you - they are commitments.  (Also they are expensive so I've never gotten desperate enough to invest in either of them.)

How the IMMI GO changed my life!

Folded, the seat is about the size of a bulky briefcase
The IMMI GO fits all my criteria for a carseat and is totally small enough that I can carry it around as a "maybe". It folds, comes with its own attached carrying case, weighs only 10 lbs, is easy to install and adjust... correctly! It's brand new so you might not find tons of info about it but it is Carseat Lady approved (so I'm not the only crazy Internet lady who likes it).   

The only small, tiny quibble I have with it is that it only has a handle and not a shoulder strap.  But! We live in the age of the internet and such problems can be solved.  I ordered a strap from Mautto.com and was able to convert it into the ultimate portable carseat (pictured - Cotton Canvas Webbing Strap, 1.5" wide, 55" adjustable length).  At just 10 lbs, and carried hands free, I can take this on the train with me along with my toddler, purse, and whatever else I need.  I can know that if we're cutting it close to bedtime or dangerously approaching a toddler freak out, we're just a safe taxi ride away from home.

IMMI GO - you have this tired Mom's very sincere thank you!

This post is in the series of posts about carfree living. Other posts include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!

Boy, Girl, or Just Baby - Gender neutral clothing options

If you've spent even 5 seconds in a baby store you may have noticed something disturbing.  All the clothing, from premature baby sizes on up is neatly divided into "boys" and "girls" sections.  What's even weirder about this abrupt line is that eyeing the sections quickly will reveal that girls get one color (pink, with the occasional purple accent thrown in) and boys get all the other colors.  This is so incredibly limiting to both genders, but especially to girls.  There is a lot of science on how adults interact differently with babies and kids if they believe the child to be a boy or a girl (regardless of the truth).  Obviously, we don't "hide" the gender of either of our children (I'm not sure how that would even work). But we do want them to feel free to pick anything off the buffet of options that life has to offer.  You may think that dressing your daughter exclusively in pink isn't a problem as long as you get her blocks to play with (hey! they even make pink ones of those too... gag).  One problem with that, among others, is what happens when she encounters non pink toys and decides that they aren't for her.  It is this subtle segregation of kids by gender role that rubs me very much the wrong way. By the way, if you think "it's always been this way, why make waves?", I'm here to tell this is not true.  Toys are way more gendered now than they were 30 years ago.

Finally, if I haven't convinced you yet of the value of dressing all children in all the colors, then consider the following. Buying more neutral clothing is practical if you want to maximize the number of hand-me downs available for any other children in your future, whether they be yours or those of friends and family.  Finally, here is a great blog post on this whole topic from another mother.

If you're thinking that this is all very noble but highly challenging, then you are correct. For starters, well meaning people in your life will buy you whatever they feel like (especially as new baby presents).  The difficulty increases as you start to leave baby clothing. (At least some baby clothing is less gendered, due to the fact that a portion of people wait until the baby is born to find that out.)  Obviously, it's nearly impossible to control what other people do, but where does one buy clothing for one's own children to balance out the onslaught of frilly pink dresses? Here are some tips and brands we've found that present great options in this dimension (scroll to the end to find out how to make this affordable).

Brands that sell non-gendered clothing 

  • - Zutano: Available directly from their site, as well as on Amazon and Gigglethis brand sells really high quality clothing, with fun designs, that will definitely survive multiple children's antics.

  • - Magnificent Baby: This is a really wonderful brand (see their Amazon store) that sells clothing with magnetic closures (these are particularly awesome when traveling and trying to change a diaper in a bathroom on a moving train or airplane).  It's true that their clothing are all labeled "boy" and "girl," but we can look past this sad state of affairs due to the fact that the actual designs are really adorable and not actually gendered.  

  • - Boden: You may have seen their adult clothing line at Nordstroms or a British high street.  Their children's clothing, however, available here, is particularly excellent.  They sell a single line for babies under 3.  While the mini line (starting at one and a half years) are also divided by gender, most of the pieces are easily appropriate for all kids.  (Note to watch: the "boys" clothing runs a bit bigger so pay attention to the size chart when choosing which size to get).

  • - Polarn O. Pyret: This is a Swedish brand that sells fantastic clothing for active play, including great outerwear.  They even have a line called "uni" that is specifically not targeted.  You can buy it at their site or on Amazon.  Word of caution: their sizes run huuuuuuge because apparently Swedish children are giants in the making so pay careful attention to the size chart.

  • - Gap:  Ok so this one is a bit of a stretch.  Their clothing is most definitely gendered.  That said, their "playroom" line is really appropriate for anyone.  Absolutely a good option, that's obviously easy to find everywhere in America.

  • - Just buying clothing and putting it on your children.  Who said that trucks and flowers are just for half the children?

Oh My God! I just spent a king's ransom dressing my child!

Some of the above brands can absolutely run very expensive.  We are in no way advocating that you spend $24 on a t-shirt that your toddler will grow out in 4 months (or cover in escalator grease... that said, if they do cover it in escalator grease, here are some cleaning tips).  Here are some ways you can buy clothing that fit with your world view without breaking the bank.

  • End of Season Sales - You, as a member of modern society, are aware of how calendars work.  When all the high end brand websites and stores are clearing out their winter clothes, it's time to go to town on sizes that will fit your kid in 6 months.  This is the perfect opportunity to buy winter coats, sweaters, and pants at half off or more.  (Conversely, the end of August is great for buying bathing suits which are also really expensive for kids if they have a built in diaper.)  Sure, storage space at your house is probably at a premium, but this is the kind of thing that can get put in a bin that goes in that impossible to reach corner of your closet.

  • High end children's second hand stores.  Most major metropolitan areas have one (Fancy Pants is an example of one in Boston, The Second Child is great in Chicago).  All the high end brands we described above make clothing that way outlasts one child.  We bought an excellent Boden coat in one for $10.  The coat then went on to another child.  I'm sure that coat originally retailed for at least $50.  Plus, buying high end brands means you can often resell them to these very same stores, thus making back some of your investment (assuming your kid stays away from the escalator grease at least some of the time). If you don't have one of thoes places local, you can always try out threadUP, either to buy (Shop thredUP's Designer Looks Section Now!) or sell (Clean out your Closet with thredUP

  • Amazon Mom sales - Once you've signed up for Amazon Mom, keep an eye out for emails and coupons from Amazon with periodic sales as well as using their advanced search to find deeply discounted items.

This seems like a lot of work... is it worth it?

So I guess this depends on your outlook on life.  This seems worth it to me.  It's really important to me that my children know that they can climb any play ground structure, play with any toy, and try any new thing they want.  I never want either of them to think that their gender has anything to do with those decisions.  Clothing may not seem like a big deal, but it's amazing how small attitude changes affect children.  We let our toddler pick her clothing out every morning.  Some days she picks the fire truck shirt and other days the frilly dress.  Either way, for now, she knows that she can do anything!

Kicking and screaming to hugging - the saga of pregnancy pillows and Tums

Non-pregnant woman, sleeping peacefully.
When I think about the attitude I had towards pregnancy going into my first one, it's hard not to laugh.  I had this idea that I wasn't going to let pregnancy "change" me.  I was going to go about my life in exactly the same why I had been up to that point, and then eventually a baby was going to come out.  Then I would be the same exact me I had always been but with a cute new accessory.

Haggard pregnant woman, roaming the night, hoping to pass out in exhaustion.
One of the first places the reality of pregnancy really struck was when it came to sleep.  Pregnancy insomnia is a well documented phenomenon (here is a really great blog essay about it).  However, often throughout my pregnancy, even when I felt like I could fall and stay asleep, other things interfered.

Heartburn

Starting early in the first trimester I began to experience intense, fire breathing, life disturbing heartburn.   It would particularly peak any time I made the mistake of lying down.  Many women experience heartburn in their third trimester when the baby becomes big enough to press on the stomach.  Others of us are lucky enough to start with it a lot earlier.  (First trimester heartburn is caused by a hormone called "relaxin".  As the name implies, relaxin is released throughout pregnancy to relax the muscles and make room for the baby to grow.  However, it also has the unpleasant side effect of relaxing the muscles normally involved in keeping your stomach content where it belongs.)

Pass the Tums
Now being the tough cookie that I am, I was determined to just white knuckle my way through the pain rather than "endanger" my precious cargo with medication.  Thankfully, my husband had a clear head and a kind heart and did me the favor of looking up which antacids were safe to take in pregnancy.  This is how we came upon the incredibly safe (and obvious) solution of Tums.  Many of you are hopefully rolling your eyes right about now because who doesn't know about Tums?  However, since then I have spoken to enough pregnant women to know that many of them are suffering needlessly in exactly the same way I was.  Tums consists almost entirely of one simple and safe ingredient - Calcium.  That's right, it's a highly effective way to treat heartburn with a mineral that you're likely not eating enough of anyway.  Try it once and you'll likely be keeping a bottle on your nightstand, in your purse, at your desk at work, and anywhere else you can think of.

Note: If you also have to take iron supplements at some point during your pregnancy, be aware that calcium interferes with iron absorption.  This is unfortunate since iron supplements often exacerbate heartburn.  If you fall into this situation, I recommend taking the iron mid-morning.  That way you have something in your stomach so the iron is less likely to upset it, but you are hopefully far away in time from desperately needing the Tums to get some shut eye (the iron needs a 2-hour window to be absorbed fully).

Musculoskeletal pain 

This is a gift that just keeps on giving in pregnancy.  It is an extremely under-appreciated fact that a woman's spine literally shifts throughout her first pregnancy in order to accommodate the growing uterus (and never fully comes back to its original position).  Couple that with the weight gain, the round ligament pain, and a million other things, back and hip pain are extremely common, especially towards the end.  This can make getting comfortable in bed almost impossible. (I highly recommend prenatal yoga as a way to help your body cope with the changes.)

Many people will recommend that you sleep on your side, place a pillow behind your back, another pillow under your belly, and then another one between your knees to get comfortable.  Frankly those people are crazy because who sleeps perfectly still like that?  I will admit to resisting the pregnancy pillow for a long time because it looked huge and I surely wasn't going to need it and what was I going to do with it when I was no longer pregnant?  Then, somewhere around 6 months I broke down and got myself a Snoogle Total Body Pillow and haven't looked back.

The Snoogle makes sleeping without pain (at first), and later in your pregnancy with less pain, possible.  Also, unlike the pillow construction described above, it allows you to roll over (assuming you are at a point in your pregnancy where you're still able to do that). I will admit that it is quite large (my husband referred to it as "the great barrier Snoogle" when it was in constant use).   However, the Snoogle people undersell it as a purely pregnancy pillow.  It comes with a handy sheet that tells you all the different ways you can use it for more than just sleeping while pregnant. As a frequent sufferer of colds and sinus infections, it has been a convenient way to prop myself up in bed in the years since. We keep it in a storage bin under the bed for easy access when someone is sick.

I still can't sleep

Yeah.... yeah.  Anxiety about your future, the constant need to pee, the kicking from inside, the Braxton Hicks contractions - all of these will keep you awake much more than you previously thought possible.  I wish I had something helpful to say here but I don't.  Nap if you're able during the day or when you get home from work.  If you're passing out in exhaustion at 9pm (only to be maddeningly awake at 4 am) go ahead and go to bed at 9pm.  Maybe 4am can be a zen time for you to read?  In any case, this will all come to an end eventually (though you may continue to go to bed 9 pm because kids are kind of exhausting).  The baby will be born and babies can always be handed off to a partner/friend/mom while you go and pass out in the other room.

    

Some stuff science says about parenting

Perfect fairy child I was going to have.
I think one of the most shocking things that occurs to you as a first time parent is that your baby has a personality from the day they're born.  If you are like me and haven't spent much time around babies before your own, the shock of this is even more extreme.  Before I had kids I had all these "ideas" about what kind of mother I was going to be and how I was going to "mold" my perfect little children. (I know.... I know... but here is a great blog post about this written by someone else, so I know I am at least not alone in my naivete).

Actual spirited, goofy, wonderful child I have.
Eventually my daughter was born and parenting hit me like a car crash.  Suddenly I was sure of exactly one thing - I had no control over anything.  Then, about 5 months later, I was at a cocktail party hosted by my college alumni association.  While mingling with some slightly older alumni, the conversation turned to children.  I joked about how it happened that my daughter came out ready made and I was just along the ride.  One very nice, more experienced mother looked at me and said

"You can't change much, but you can certainly course correct some things if you go about them the right way.  There's a great book called NurtureShock about the science of the things you can instill in your kids."

I will admit to being highly skeptical about this assertion. However, this lady had been an engineering major and was now a successful VP.  I figured the book was at least worth considering and I have to say I am quite glad I did.

The book was written by science journalists who are themselves parents.  They look at what science actually has to say about the things we can affect.  The authors describe the studies that led scientists to their current best thinking on how children learn various types of things (persistence, problem solving, appreciation for diversity) and present parents with some heuristics for how to replicate these.  In many cases, it turns out, science dictates that the path to the desired outcomes is pretty different from what my natural inclination would have been.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my daughter is still quite young and so we haven't had the opportunity to try out many of the things recommended in this book as they apply to older children.  However, reading it helped center some of my thinking as to my role in her life.  Well written, complete with references, and full of seemingly excellent suggestions - I really recommend this book.


Striking the balance between street urchin and sterile bubble kid

Stock web photo, not my kid.
We are big believers in giving our children the freedom to explore their environment.  I've read the studies on germs being good for kids.  I know all this and yet when I see my toddler covered head toe in god knows what (escalator grease? mud? sand from the sandbox?) I see it as a prime opportunity to practice my deep breathing or lose my shit entirely.  So we do our best to enforce the following rules.

  1. 1. You can play with anything on the playground, touch every bush on our walk, etc.  However, if you do this, no putting your hands in your mouth.

  2. 2. Should you wish to put your hands in your mouth we have to either wash them with soap and water or wipe them with Munchkin Arm & Hammer Pacifier Wipes.
We never use these for wiping pacifiers both because we use pacifier clips when out of the house and because we just pick the pacifier off the floor and put it back in the baby's mouth when we're home (see: lazy, germs are good).  I think we sterilized them when we first took them out of the package, per the instructions, and then again a couple months later when we had a bout of thrush in the house. 

However despite being called pacifier wipes, these guys are perfect, in my opinion, for wiping hands when out and about.  The wipes are wet and just have baking soda on them so we are not constantly rubbing anti-microbial agents on the kids.  Because they are labeled as pacifier wipes, we know any other stuff on them is safe to put in the mouth.  It seems like striking the right balance between the conflicting pull of not wanting to see your kid eat dirt and freaking out if you do.



The nerdy mom's pregnancy reading list

Early on in my reproductive journey a couple of things occurred to me.

  1. 1. Most people have babies at some point in their lives.

  2. 2. Most books written for people on the reproductive journey make me want to throw them against the wall, probably because they are written with the assumption that the person reading them hates reading (see: women being condescended to in life).  You see I am a nerd.  You tell me a fact and I want to know why and how you know that and what the exceptions are and on and on.  Citations needed, damn it!  
Many pregnancy books are either:
Thus began my journey for a reading list that had some basis in reality.  I will confess here that I often have to read medical literature for a living and so if I have a specific question I can find the answer to it myself on Google scholar.  That said, prior to beginning and then partaking of my pregnancy journey I did want to read some comprehensive books on the topic.  And so, here are the ones that I have found the most useful, trustworthy, and worthwhile to read.

Trying to Conceive

Before trying to have a baby I really enjoyed reading a book called The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant.  This book described a lot of the data we have around fertility, including debunking some of the fear mongering about getting pregnant at an older age.  Additionally it explained all the science behind the various ways of tracking ovulation, research-based advice on mom-to-be nutrition, and some fun stuff about timing conception to increase the likelihood of babies of a particular gender.   I also found the chapter on miscarriage probabilities oddly reassuring.  It's a fun, easy read, written by someone who clearly knows how to do a literature search (the author is a Psychology professor) but is coming to it as an interested party and not a professional.

Pregnancy

I'm sure as a self-described nerdy mom, you've already heard of the book Expecting Better.  This book came out in 2013 and made many waves for its controversial stance that a couple of drinks in pregnancy are probably fine (I occasionally drank wine in both of my pregnancies because I came to the same conclusion and my OB was totally fine with this).  I enjoyed reading this book and think its conclusion to not worry too much that you're gaining excessive weight or that a piece of deli meat will kill you and everyone you love is really helpful in combating the fear mongering that is often directed at pregnant women.  I will say that I was a bit annoyed at the author for complaining about her provider all the time and not switching to a practice that would fit with her better.  Surely somewhere in the 7 million residents of the great city of Chicago is a more science-based obstetrics practice.  That said, I do recommend reading this book.

Another great book that contains a review of our current understanding of the science of fetal development is Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.  I really loved reading this book because it opened my eyes to processes I didn't even know were taking place inside me.  Written in a conversational style by a science reporter who is herself pregnant, it's a great balance of hard data review and empathy for her fellow travelers on the reproductive journey.  This book, like the 2 recommended above, provides the actual references for you to go look up, should you be inclined to do so - heart.  I cannot recommend this book any more highly.  It's also a great book for dads to read, in my humble opinion.

For a more general review of the various physical, medical, and emotional aspects of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, I recommend From the Hips.  It presents a lot of great information, helpfully organized by topic (ex. prenatal testing, nutrition, etc.), rather than trimester.  This makes it both easy to read in order or use as a reference.  Additionally, the margins have these great thought bubbles from recent moms and dads and their experience with the topic at hand.  I loved reading these most of all, especially when there was disagreement from one to the next.  The thought bubbles also normalized so much of the new and confusing feelings that arise when pregnant.  I don't know why this book is not more popular, frankly.  I think it is such a hidden gem.

Labor & Birth

Here, as already mentioned by my partner in his post on books for dads (and non-dad partners!), I greatly recommend The Birth Partner.  Technically this book is written for the person or people supporting the pregnant mother in labor.  However, I read it too because I found it to be the most comprehensive and clearest description of what happens in labor.  I also appreciated the judgement-free, concise descriptions of the various interventions that may have to take place when in labor.  This was a great starting point for conversations with my provider about those potential interventions.  Those conversations came in particularly handy when I needed medical help in my first labor.  There is also a great chapter in the book about nursing and other aspects of "the 4th trimester" (definitely the right name for the first weeks postpartum).





Photo credits - Wikipedian Protester under a Creative Commons license.