Showing posts with label Working Mom. Show all posts

Practical Advice for How to Fail and Be a Good Parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Preschool the Teachers Do Not Heat Food for the Kids

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

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

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

The Thermos with Removable, Microwavable Containers

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

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

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

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



 

Tales from the Trenches: Parenthood means relinquishing control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales from the Trenches: Day Care - I love you so!

When you're pregnant, people feel like it's their job to ask you inappropriate questions. When I had the joy of fielding them while carrying my first, I riddled off the answers on autopilot by week 3 of my second trimester.
"June 7th," I'd smile and say. 
"My husband IS excited it's a girl, thank you for your concern" I would mumble, rolling my eyes internally. 
"Yes I'm sure it's not twins," I'd growl while visualizing unleashing the full extent of my pregnant lady wrath.
Occasionally, someone would run out of inappropriate prenatal questions to ask and would move on to questioning our postnatal plans. Suddenly, everyone was interested in what we were going to do for childcare.

We had always intended to send our progeny to day care.  I don't remember why we had assumed this, but a nanny never seriously entered the discussion.  As such, we dutifully and proactively toured a couple well regarded centers in our area and got our names on the waiting lists for ones we liked. Well, it turns out that sending your kids to day care is perceived in some circles as being just shy of leaving them in the crib all day with a water bottle and an open bag of Cheetos. Day care, it seems, has a bad rap.

Three years and two kids later, not only do I have no regrets about group child care, I could not be more pleased. I know there are many fantastic nannies out there, and it's a great choice for some two-working-parent households, but I am here to speak up for day care and write it the love letter that it so thoroughly deserves. So without, further ado...

Reasons why I   day care

I don't want to have employees

Adding children to a family is already logistically difficult and comes with tons of paperwork.  Not having to add payroll into the mix is a huge win.  I know lots of people pay their nannies in cash, but that's not something I could really see myself doing.  If I was going to hire someone, I would want to give them benefits and pay taxes and do all sorts of other formal things I don't know how to do. I know Care.com has recently started advertising that they'll help you set all that up, and that's great but it still seems daunting.

Not only that, but having interviewed and hired people in my professional life, I know that not every employee turns out awesome.  Some have trouble showing up on time, some seem like they are going to be far more competent than they turn out to be, and some end up being jerks. Given that I needed childcare from the time both of my children were 3 months old and thus couldn't speak up for themselves, the idea of leaving them with an unsupervised stranger sent my first time mom fears into hyperdrive.

Day Care teachers are professionals

It turns out that people who dedicate their professional lives to taking care of children are on the whole amazing souls. They definitely don't do it for the money (as shockingly expensive as day care is, the teachers are grossly underpaid in my opinion). Sure, the skill and dedication is true for many professional nannies as well. This point, however, is largely directed at the lady who once said to me that "obviously all working moms feel really guilty about not staying home." Well, I would like to tell her, with as few choice words as possible, that I sure as heck don't. I love and miss my kids, but I like to work and I know my children are in excellent hands.

Not only have all the teachers we've encountered been kind, friendly, and amazingly loving towards our children, but they also know what they're doing.  They were able to get my daughter to nap in a stationary object, they taught her how to dress herself and drink from a cup, and they've had tons of suggestions for us as parents for things to try at home.  It's almost as if they have a degree in this stuff and do it for a living or something... crazy I know!

I send my kids to school so my house can remain intact (somewhat) 

I am not the kind of mom who can craft and get messy with her kids. If you can stay sane while your kid redecorates your house with paint, chalk, or glitter I say "Respect!" I just can't do it. My toddler and I cook together, both my kids spend tons of time playing outside with me, my husband takes them to music class, we have a great time.... but we don't do art projects.

The great thing about sending my kids to "school" is that they are equipped to let the little monsters be "creative".  The lovely teachers are willing to set up for, and clean up from, 7 toddlers using finger paint and play dough - bless their hearts.  They also have lots of great big toys like a water sensory table and a huge play kitchen.  Those are fantastic things for kids to play with, but I live in a condo that feels filled to the brim even without those behemoths.  As a result, I get the best of all worlds: children who have a wide variety of play experiences, a house that one can walk through while only tripping on a couple toys, and I don't have to scrape paint off the ceiling... win, Win, WIN!

They get all those diseases out of the way

Kids being sick all the time is a common concern voiced by "helpful" strangers (ok... and also my mom) about group child care.  And yes, their first year in day care was constantly full of runny noses and mystery rashes. But, keep them home until preschool, smugly proclaiming how healthy your kids are... And it turns out science says, they'll just get all those same diseases their first year of school. There's just no way out of the cesspool of disease that is early childhood. I figure since no one expects anything out of you when you're a new parent just back to work, you may as well cash in on those low expectations and stay home with your constantly sick baby then.

All the kids have working parents

Finally, all the children my children interact with live in households with two working parents. From before they could remember, Mom and Dad took them to school and then went to work.  There is no confusion as to why Mom and Dad can't stay and play with them.  They don't go to playgroups with a nanny where other children came with Mom or Dad. I'm sure at some point when they're older they'll ask why we have to go to work, but given how normalized it is in their world I'm guessing it's going to be a lot later. Frankly, my almost 3 year old has "why" and "what" on repeat already, so if we can cross one off the list - score!

I have a nanny/am a SAHM/have magical children who sit quietly while I work... Are you judging me?

Nope!

If you found a child care situation that works for you and your family I salute you because this stuff is HARD no matter how you slice it. I know that when we're being honest with each other, we've all had the experiences so universal, they are cliches. Like... wanting to run away from our children and join the circus when the toddler has spilled her third full cup of milk in one meal despite repeated warnings to be careful, or when you've bounced the baby for 2 hours to finally have him blissfully drift off to sleep only to start howling because someone rang the door bell and woke him up. Conversely, I know you've stood in your child's room watching her sleep at night, shedding a tear at the thought of how fast she's growing.

So no, if you love and care for your children I have no grounds to judge you no matter how you do it. Just know that day care is not an "only if you must option" for child care.  It is, in fact, a great option for many families.  As for my family, it will forever have a special place in my heart as the place that loved and cared for my children for those hours of the day that I could not.

Dressing babies and toddlers for the cold when they go to day care

My kids go to day care.  They both started when they were 12 weeks old and have been attending since with very few interruptions. We picked a day care that really puts a value on the kids spending time each day out doors.  Not only that, but it worked out that the day care is located in Dad's place of work.  This means that their commute to school on transit each day is as long as ours. As a result, for the past 3 years we've had to pick weather gear for them that would:

  1. 1. Withstand the Boston winter - complete with icy temperatures, wind, and snow.
  2. 2. Be as easy to put on and take off as possible.
  3. 3. Be something that travels with the child should their teachers take them on an outing.
Having now done this for 3 years, we have some recommendations. 

Cold Weather Gear for Toddlers

We've already covered high performance boots and socks for toddlers in another post. For coats we've really liked having the Columbia Sets for Toddlers. We've always gotten the coats that came with the firefighter style pants.  These keep the legs warm while staying safety in place with Velcro shoulders, whether the kid is going down the slide or doing the "ants in the pants" dance on the train. The Velcro also allows you to adjust the length of the pants should your tyke have a growth spurt in the middle of winter (these are very generously sized outfits). Additionally, having the pants be separate from the coat (as opposed to something like the Columbia Toddler Dude Suit) makes it possible to have an outfit for an intermediate temperature by being paired with a lighter jacket (pictured). In all, this is a highly practical way to allow toddlers to be outside, come what may.

Cold Weather Gear for Babies

Stroller straps can be placed over the coat
If you're expecting that you'll have a baby who is unlikely to walk before the end of winter, then something that's basically a bag for the baby is the way to go. As we mentioned in our post about the versatile winter blanket, we do not have stroller bunting for our kids.  This is because we need their cold weather gear to go with them and be usable for day care outings, without having to unstrap it from the stroller. With our first, who was born in June, and thus 6-9 months old in her first winter, we made the mistake of getting her the Columbia Sets for Toddlers described above.  This set, while really great for older kids, was kind of a pain to wrestle a baby into.  Not only did we have to stuff her into both parts of the snow suit separately, but we then had to get some boots on her feet as well. So, when planning for my son's arrival, I wanted something easier, especially since I knew I would have to get two kids bundled for any outing.

Straps disappearing inside the coat for a safe buckle
We settled on the 7AM Enfant Doudoune One Piece Infant Snowsuit. This brand makes all kinds of high quality weather gear from stroller bunting, to carseat covers, to carrier covers.  However, the snowsuit, in my opinion, is the best investment because it is one thing that can be used in any of those situations. The suit is essentially a bag with a hood. Unlike a true bag, though, the legs are separate and closed with snaps like a footie.  This means that the baby can both straddle the parent in a carrier as well as be easily strapped into a stroller.  Additionally, no separate mittens are necessary as the sleeves can be made to leave the hands covered or uncovered, as desired. It definitely wins points for ease all around. Just this week, a fellow parent in the day care infant room complimented the ease with which I was able to remove the outerwear from the baby while juggling all of his other possessions.

Best of all, a baby wearing this suit can be placed into a car seat safely.  You've doubtless seen the recommendations against strapping children in puffy coats into car seats because they can easily slip out in accident. However with this snow suit you can put the straps of the car seat inside the coat (thread the crotch strap between the leg snaps and attach to the shoulder straps before zipping up the sides).  This allows you to get away with not having a separate car seat cover, which for a carfree family is nice bonus.

Buying Smart

Thredup Inc.As we mentioned in our post about gender neutral clothing, we tend to buy seasonal gear at the end of the previous year's season.  We lucked out and were able to get the baby snow suit for half the price last spring.  Likewise, by shopping for toddler winter coats in the summer and/or at second-hand stores, we've never paid full price for those either. Since staying warm is one place where skimping on quality is a bad idea, it's always nice to get a good price on something you were going to buy anyway.  Buying high quality clothes second hand, whether at your local thrift shop, or from ThredUp, is always a good idea.  Children grow way too fast to wear out anything well made.



  

Tales from the Trenches: FOMO, Working Mom/Last Baby Edition

When my first child was born, I was not ready to be a mom. When you read a sentence like that, your mind probably jumps to thoughts of teenage mothers, unplanned pregnancies, and unstable relationships.  Yet none of them were, in fact,the truth for me.

I was 29 years old when my daughter was born. My husband and I had been married for exactly 4 years (she was due on our wedding anniversary, though she was too tardy to celebrate with us).  We lived in a condo we owned and I had a master’s degree and a blossoming career under my belt.  Not only that, but I had spent the year before my daughter's conception all but badgering my husband to declare that he too was ready for parenthood.

And yet... and yet...  though I had yearned to be a mom with every fiber of my being, I had no concept of what it would mean. I found my daughter's arrival, her constant need, the million decisions she forced me into making on her behalf utterly paralyzing. I suspect I am not the only mom to ever have had such a realization, though too many of us keep this to ourselves. I had a continuous anxious stream of doubt narrating everything I did.  The torrent could best be summarized with the words "I am moments away from failing the most important test life has ever presented me with."  And so it was with some relief that I handed my daughter over to the confident, warm, and professional care of ladies at the daycare.  They sent dozens of children home alive every day - surely they would do no worse by my child.

Fast forward two and a half years. I have grown much more comfortable in my role as a mother. This journey has taught me a million and one lessons in patience, humility, and our inability to control things as parents.  I now have a second child - a beautiful, cuddly, 5 month old boy. He is truly a delight and I know he is my last child.

I know this because we don't want to move to a bigger house.  I know this because I physically could not handle another pregnancy.  I know this because both my husband and I are ready to move onto the next chapter of our lives and leave diapers and naps behind when these kids are ready.  So I find myself aching, every time I leave him in the care of the very same confident, warm, and professional ladies at the daycare.  I want to hold him a little too tight and soak in every scent of his babyhood.

Now, instead of worrying that I am not measuring up as a mother, I am terrified that by going to work each day I'm missing out on giggles that I will never have the opportunity to hear again.  I know how all too soon he will be too mobile, too busy, too curious, too excited by the world to sit on my lap and play with my finger.  I can see this future because of the bold path forged by my fearless daughter. And so, at night, I nurse him a little longer.  I feel his body relax into mine and my inner monologue screams "remember this!!".  I know that as he achieves his milestones I will be proud and sad in equal measure.

I am sure that stay at home moms feel exactly the same way about their last babies.  I am sure of this because one of the many things motherhood has taught me is the universality of this pull towards our children. Also, I am sure because the phrase "if that's the last baby I ever snuggle, it will be too soon!" has never been said.

I love working. I find it fulfilling. I'm good at it. I also appreciate paying our mortgage. Quitting is not on the table any more than having more children or joining the circus.

And yet.... And yet... I fear missing his babyhood.  He is my second, my last baby and though I know this to be the right choice for me, my heart breaks for it.

Dealing with the Mom Guilt

Mom guilt... It's a gift that keeps on giving, an internet meme, a stark reality that really only comes into focus with impending or ascended motherhood.  It seems to be a fact of life when living with children in 2015.  In fact, it's not even really just for moms! Jim Gaffigan devotes an entire chapter to feeling guilty about his "insufficient" dad skilzzz in his hilarious parenting memoir, Dad Is Fat!

It would probably be easier to write a list of things I haven't felt guilty about as a parent.  However, recently, the constant nagging feeling of not measuring up has gotten tired and so have I.  So, 3 years and 2 kids into this parenting gig, I've decided it's time to do something to fight back the niggling feelings of inadequacy.  They say identifying the problem is the first step to finding a solution.  So, here is by no means an exclusive list of thoughts that have passed through my addled sleep deprived brain at some point, often in rapid, contradicting succession.

Things I've felt guilty about

Food

  • - OMG I'm not feeding my child sufficiently healthy food!
  • - OMG I'm depriving my child of a "childhood" because she doesn't know about cookies!
 

Relationships

  • - OMG am I doing enough to foster a good relationship between my kids and their extended family?
  • - OMG I'm a horrible, neglectful mother for how much time my daughter spends with her grandparents, aren't I?

Sleep

  • - OMG I just accidentally let my baby cry himself to sleep because I dared to use the bathroom for literately a minute... and he was crying... and then he fell asleep!
  • - OMG I'm not fostering good sleep habits because my baby is still not sleeping consistently...

Play

  • - OMG I'm an ungrateful parent because instead of getting on the floor and playing with my daughter I'm tooling around the internet while she plays by herself!
  • - OMG I'm failing at teaching my child persistence by not making her play by herself more!

Body Image

  • - OMG I need to lose this baby weight or my kids will never learn to respect their own bodies and value their health!
  • - OMG what if my calorie counting leads my daughter to have an eating disorder!

"Having it all"

  • - OMG What if my children won't know how much I love them because I am always rushing them out the door in the morning so I can get to work at a reasonable hour?!
  • - OMG But if I don't work I'll be a terrible role model for my daughter (also we'll get evicted)!

The best part of course is that often these opposing thoughts on a given topic enter my head within seconds of each other... all... the... time!

Ok crazy lady... so what's your plan?

Returning to the basics

We all know that many of life's problems can be solved with the obvious trifecta of sleep, therapy, and wine.  Sure the former is illusive with a toddler and a 5 month old, but even prioritizing just 10 minutes of "me" quiet time a day can do wonders for the psyche.  Making time for therapy can be hard too but worth the effort when necessary.  At least, wine is easier to schedule and always takes a rain check.

Finding my peeps!

Some people find their tribe in fellow parents at the playground, some strengthen their bond with their own parents once they are humbled by their own offspring.  These are all great, but ever since I was a nerdy little teenager, I have found solace in reading essays by people who've been there and done that.  For this reason I love, and often reread, the wonderful essay of how no one is failing at motherhood from Pregnant Chicken.  Likewise, the collection of essays in The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality is a fantastic solace.  This book normalized so many of the feelings I've outlined above, and others I hadn't even verbalized to myself yet.

Treating myself like I would a friend, or better yet my child...

Finally, it occurred to me recently, that if a friend of mine said any of the guilty thoughts I outlined above out loud to me,  I would instantly reassure her that she was a fine parent and silly to worry. But, I never extend that kind of charitable thinking to myself.  Better yet, when dealing with my children, I know that I need to parent to their strengths.  I would never advocate teaching a cautious child to swim by throwing them in the deep end (metaphorically speaking).  I know better than to try and talk or cajole my stubborn daughter into a new food, because I know that unless she thinks it's her idea, it's a lost cause.  Parenting to the child you have is a Parenting 101 move.  However, for some reason, I never use this most basic of techniques to reassure myself.  Instead, I feel guilty for not being crafty mom, a bento box ninja mom, a super involved school mom, etc.  

So here goes.  I am not, nor will I ever be, doing Pinterest worthy art projects with my kids.  It's not my thing and that's ok.  I have nothing but adoration and respect for parents who can entertain their kids at home with projects. I bow down to your patience and creativity... but that's not me.  My mom super power (and we all have a couple, if we're honest with ourselves) is getting everyone bundled out the door for an outing, in all kinds of weather.  I take my kids outside to play every day.  It's my thing... often we are one of only a few families out there in the Boston cold.  So if you pass me and my kids and think to yourself "I wish I could do that," know that I will never be making use of the puppetry kit you're taking home to your children. It's not my strength and I'm not that mom (though you should totally invite my kids over sometime... I'll bring snacks!).

So from now on, I resolve to focus on my super powers and appreciate yours, without guilt, as best I can.  And if that fails... there's always the wine.


Photo credit: Working from home - babywearing style! under Creative Commons License.

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.

Heaven help us - we're talking about mom clothes again

Dr. Crusher - inspiration to moms everywhere.
My new baby spits up.. a lot... all the time.  As a result I find myself having to change clothes much more often than I did when my daughter was a baby.  So I thought I would try ordering some clothes from Milk Nursingware.

I am sorry to say I was very disappointed with the result.  Unlike the Momzelle breastfeeding friendly postpartum clothing I wrote about here, these are decisively not friendly to the postpartum figure.  The fabric is plastic-y and clingy in places you do not want to be clung to.  The nursing design is also much less convenient.  It's almost as though the designers saw a picture of a nursing shirt and put no more thought into the design after that.  All of the shirts I ordered are basically just 2 layer shirts instead of one shirt with a clever opening - thanks guys, I could have just figured out to wear two shirts myself.  I was looking for something with a bit more style.


Here I am pictured in the least bad shirt I received (I suppose it's more of a tunic).  I can only guess the design was inspired by Dr. Crusher's Star Trek uniform, complete with the diagonal cut and blue and black color scheme (it didn't quite look like it on the website).  Hilarious opportunities to dork out aside, ordering clothing from here is definitely not worth it in my opinion.

Freemie pump adapters - because every mom can use an extra hand (or 3)

Eating and making food at the same time!
The first time you pump milk you may be shocked to find out that you have to hold the cones to yourself.  As you sit there for 20 minutes, bored, unable to even play tetris on your phone, your mind runs through all the things you need to do but are instead tethered to a machine making donkey noises (to clarify, the donkey noises are coming from the machine, not you). This combination of boredom and wasted time may inspire you to look for solutions advertising themselves as facilitating hands free pumping (things like the Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra are a popular choice in this category).  I tried to make this bra work for me, I really did.  But after somewhere around 5 attempts I gave up and it stayed at the bottom of my pump bag for the rest of the year.  The bra was then lent to a friend who I also believe used it pretty much never. It was just too hard to get in to it in a way that it was tight enough to hold the cones, and even then, the cones never felt secure.

By the time it came to equipping myself for another year of pumping for my son, some very smart people had come out with with Freemie Collection Cups. (Note: they also make the Freemie Freedom Double Electric Hands Free Breast Pump, but by now I am too loyal to my Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump to give it a try).

So now, after using these guys for about a month here are my thoughts.  These are a bit tricky to assemble, but once you get the hang of it they really and truly allow for hands-free pumping.  I think these are awesome for occasional use.  I don't think I would use them for every pumping session because one's ability to massage and pump is quite limited with them, and I would worry about my supply dropping.  That said, here are the two scenarios I've used them in and been very glad indeed.
  1. 1.  On the weekend my husband fed the baby a bottle at 6am, allowing me to sleep in.  Then once I got up, I was able to eat breakfast with the family (pictured) while also pumping to make up for the missed feeding - technology for the win!

  2. 2.  Many weekday mornings when we are in a hurry to get everyone out the door on their way to day care and work, I am able to feed the baby from one side while simultaneously pumping from the other.  This allows me to make it until approximately noon for my next pumping session.  
Other than the potentially unfounded fear about supply drop, the only other downside to these guys is that not all the parts are rated for steam cleaning.  As this is my preferred method of cleaning my equipment at work, I am mostly using them at home.  That said, I think every mom can use an extra hand at work or at home, so I give these a hearty thumbs up!

Cleaning your breast pump parts without losing your mind (work edition)

If you're going back to work after having your baby, it is almost surely a mixed bag of emotions.  You may be terrified of leaving your baby with someone who doesn't know how to interpret their every muscle twitch (even if that someone is your partner or mother or exceptionally well rated day care).  You may be thrilled about the prospect of taking as much time to go to the bathroom as you damn well please.  You may be devastated about the fact that you won't be able to cuddle your baby for hours as you have him or her fall asleep on your chest.  You may be feeling all of these things and a million others, all within a matter of seconds.  And yet, one thing I can almost guarantee you is that you are NOT relishing having to trudge to the company kitchen 18 times a week to scrub down your breast pump parts while looking over your shoulder to make sure the overly friendly guy from PR hasn't followed you in there... again.

Some people deal with this conundrum by bringing their pump parts home every night.  This to me seems like extremely risky business.  What if you forget them at work one day?  What if you forget them at home?  You may be slightly more absent minded these days than you're used to.  So play it safe and follow this step by step guide for how you can quickly sanitize your pump parts at work.


  1. 1. You only have to wash the parts once a day if you keep them in the fridge between pumping sessions.  I recommend getting a storage container or disposable bowl you can pop in the fridge  until you've pumped for the final time that day (hopefully you have a dedicated fridge at your job for pumping mothers).

  2. 2. Once you're ready to clean the parts, grab your Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bag  and your Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump and Accessory Wipes and head to the kitchen.  You want to wipe down each part with a wipe, rinse under running water and place in the steam bag.  If you truly want to minimize the time you spend in the kitchen, you can even wipe the parts down in your pumping room (then all you have to do is rinse and place in the bag once you're out in public).  I know some people online say that they use Munchkin Pacifier Wipes to wipe down the parts but honestly, I don't know how they do it.  The Munchkin wipes are much smaller, thinner and less wet than the Medela ones.  One Medela wipe is enough for me to clean the full set of parts I use in a day, whereas when I tried to do the same with the Munckins I was using approximately 5 to do it.  This method of using wipes and the steam bag (each steam bag can be used 20 times, i.e. for a whole month of an average work schedule) allows you to clean the parts at work without needing brushes, a bowl of soapy water, or 20 minutes.  Everything comes out sterile in approximately 5.  They can also be used with almost any commercial personal breast pump (a couple of the Freemie parts are the only exception to this that I've seen - some of them are not rated to be steam cleaned).

  3. 3.  Once the steam bag is done in the microwave, simply dump the water into the sink and the parts back into the now rinsed container you had been keeping the parts in while in the fridge.  Store the container open to the air overnight (hopefully in the pumping room) to give them a chance to dry out.

   

You've gone and had a baby and now none of your clothes fit...

I'm sure your birth class, know-it-all friend, and every third pregnancy website you visited gleefully told you that you will still look pregnant when you leave the hospital and that you should be sure to pack some maternity clothes.

"No problem!", you naively thought "I can stand to wear my cute maternity dresses for an extra couple of weeks".

Then, suddenly you were 11 weeks postpartum, crying on your bedroom floor, surrounded by your pre-pregnancy clothes (none of which fit) wondering what on earth you were going to wear to the office next week.  Whether you lost your your baby weight by then (all together now... hahahahah) or like me, were still 10lbs+ over what you were just a year ago, it's almost certain that your wardrobe is suddenly much more limited.  Why is this (other than because there is no justice and life is a bitch)?  Your skin hasn't had time to shrink back, and your bones and body have rearranged themselves ('member those birthing hips that helped carry that baby around at 40 weeks?).

So what do you do now?


Well dry your tears, chin up... here is some advice:
  1. 1. Repeat after me "It took 9 months to grow a baby, it'll take at least that long to get my body back."

  2. 2. Go order some clothes from Momzelle (or their Amazon selection).  This is a magical website that will sell you magical clothing that will have discreet openings for you to nurse your baby AND make you look amazing. The company is Canadian and so they delightfully undersell the fact that their clothing is, as they put it, "Designed to flatter the postpartum figure" (seriously, that's like saying that newborns are cute but a bit time consuming). I don't know what these people do when they design their clothes and I don't know why no one else does it, but they will seriously make you look like a person shaped person, even when you aren't yet.

And now, internet, because we've become close friends, I will tell you a not entirely appropriate story to prove my point.  This was my second pregnancy and I became pregnant at 15lbs more than I was before I had my first baby.  Then, when I was 5 months along my husband had a health crisis that
landed him in the ICU.  Needless to say, a toddler, a very ill husband (who is fine now... phew), and a heady cocktail of pregnancy hormones does not make for a calm couple of months.  And so, I made the very rational decision at that time, to eat my feelings.  And the feelings, all of the stressful, heart wrenching, "what will the future bring" feelings, they tasted like chocolate milkshakes.  I then stayed pregnant until 41 weeks, at which point I could have held my own in a seesaw contest with an Orca. Below are 2 pictures of me modeling 2 different dresses.

Me at 39 weeks wearing one of their dresses that is designed to be both a maternity and nursing dress (my daughter was decorating me with stickers)
Me 2 weeks postpartum looking like a person even though I was actually a bag of blubber
Not only will these dresses make you look great, they also have clever openings that make them super convenient for breastfeeding.  Good looking nursing clothes is so hard to find that these are worth every penny.

Also I was recently at a work event where a co-worker complemented me (completely inappropriately... seriously guys, NEVER COMMENT ON A COWORKER'S WEIGHT) for having lost all my baby weight.  Of course... hahahah, definitely had not done that, but I WAS wearing a Momzelle shirt.