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Showing posts with label Books. 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!


What Nursing Moms Really Need, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kindle (Guest Post)

My friend Kate and I met in a birth class more than 3 years ago when we were pregnant with our daughters.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her as one tough cookie of a mom and an all around wonderful lady.  I’ve been lucky enough to have her calming thoughts in my life, and would love to share them with you, our dear reader.  Take it away Kate…


It’s 3 a.m. Your baby has woken you for the umpteenth feeding of the night. You’re sore and you’re tired but you think, “Hey, at least I get to catch up on some reading.” So there you are, with your sweet babe nestled into her Boppy, while you do finger gymnastics trying to turn the pages of your book with one hand—until, inevitably, you lose your spot, the book goes splat on the floor, the baby snaps out of her milky reverie and starts screaming.

You think: Why won’t someone just invent a book that you can read one-handed in the dark already?

Dear reader, someone has. It is called the Kindle. Perhaps you already have one. Or perhaps, like me, you have a sentimental attachment to paper books. Perhaps you feel that e-readers violate the sacred intimacy between book and reader, that their tracking software intrudes on your private mind-space. Perhaps, like me, you tough it out with paperbacks and hardcovers while you nurse your first baby.

And then, pregnant with your second, you realize that you no longer require the crisp and creamy paper of a “real” book; you realize that privacy is a luxury that belongs to people with two free hands; you realize that, for about $100, the one thing you really, truly need to survive those sleepless newborn nights can be on your doorstep in one to two business days. You realize that you are ready for an e-reader.

So, what should you look for in an e-reader? If you want to read without having to turn on a lamp and wake up your partner, look for one that lights up. (Note: if you desperately want to wake your partner, I hereby empathize with and absolve you). The Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo Glow, and Nook GlowLight are among the readers with built-in lighting. You can also buy a clip-on light; there are plenty of choices under $15. Also recommended: a reader that features wireless downloading, because when you finish one book in the middle of the night, you want another one immediately, and good luck finding your USB cable with an infant attached to your chest. Do be aware that your book-buying judgment may be compromised by sleep-deprivation, and when you emerge from the postpartum haze a few months later, you may wonder why, exactly, you spent so many precious newborn moments reading Dune.

Actually, I take that back. You will not wonder, because it was awesome.

So, thank you, Kindle. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for 1:00 a.m. And 3:00 a.m. And 5:00 a.m. And 5:45 a.m. I do still love my real books—you know, the ones made of paper—but maybe, just maybe, I am learning to love you, too.


Kate Becker is a science writer who spends most of her time writing about astrophysics, cosmology, and other mysteries of the universe, like toddlers. Read more and get in touch at or

Working Through your Toddler (and Older Baby) Behavior Issues - Discipline

As our daughter turned about 15 months old, we realized we needed some idea about what we'd do for discipline. We really had no specific plan besides the obvious points of no hitting, always let her know we love her, and, um... she should do the things we want her to do. This obviously wasn't enough. We'd heard good things about the book 1-2-3 Magic from other parents, and I had some expiring United Airline miles that could be cashed in for eBooks, so we figured it was at least worth a read. (Note: 1-2-3 Magic really suggests a minimum age of 2, so we just ad hoc'ed our own variant that worked until her 2nd birthday.)

Broadly, 1-2-3 Magic is parenting information you have encountered or heard before. The parent counts when a child misbehaves.  If and when 3 is reached without the undesirable behavior ceasing, the parent gives a time-out or similar punishment (something akin to removing an item being banged or otherwise abused). What the book does provide you with is specific answers to questions such as 
"What do I do if we're at the grocery store?"
"What if they say no to the timeout?"
"What if they claim they don't know what they did wrong?" 
Having these answers helps you train yourself so that the system becomes a reflex. Importantly, because it establishes clear, consistent ground rules, the kids learn it by reflex too. This reduces the frequency of ever even getting to 3. Similarly, it helps you focus on the your goals for having discipline in the first place, which can be hard when your child is annoying the crap out of you. Example: What if my child starts playing with a toy during time out and wants to keep doing it after it's over? Answer: Be happy that they are no longer doing whatever annoying thing caused you to count them in the first place.

Explaining and working through the various iterations of count and do a time-out takes up about a third of the book. The next segment is devoted to helping find alternative punishments when timeouts won't do and/or that are more appropriate for tweens and teens. The final third focus is on promoting good behavior (getting ready in the morning, bathtime, etc.). Since she was pretty young when we started, we used those sections less, but it all seems reasonable and we reference it as needed (sticker charts and timers feature heavily). In fact, we have since purchased a Time Timer (to be featured in another post, surely) and that fixed some bedtime problems we had when she got to be about 2 years old

All around it worked pretty well, accounting for the adjustments we made since we started before she was 2.  (Main tweak: extra warnings that we were going to count, which the book cautions against for older kids because that's what the "one" is for.) It took a few weeks for her to get the hang of it, but she mostly stopped the behaviors that got her counted and usually at least paused them for a while when counting got to 2. Now that she is two and a half, just hearing a "That's one" from us usually elicits a "no time-out" exclamation from her as she stops the behavior.

Our two criticisms are relatively small, but worth pointing out:

  1. 1. You can easily skip any set of paragraphs where the book begins to get too self-congratulatory. The authors definitely recognized that they will make their cash by selling a "system" and so there's lots of asides about how many people's lives it fixed or how you can supplement it with other 1-2-3 Magic products (1-2-3 Magic for Teachers, 1-2-3 Magic for Kids, 1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents, 1-2-3 Magic Guacamole, etc.) and the first chapter or two are pretty heavy on this stuff. The book was good, but telling me in advance how amazing it is feels a bit like an infomercial and makes me want to continue reading it less. 

  2.  2. The book is pretty critical of treating your child as a "little adult." As both my wife and I were children who very much wanted to be treated as little adults, I bristle at this line of reasoning. That said, they are certainly correct about avoiding verbose explanations in the midst of undesirable behavior. We try to engage in "little adult" conversations once we have some distance on the event when things are calm and the children are able to think and communicate. During a wrap-up of the day (at bedtime or dinner) is good for this. 
These critiques are relatively minor and we are happy to recommend 1-2-3 Magic as a good first-line for developing your discipline strategy with kids of any age. It certainly has provided us the bonus of practically eliminating the need or desire to yell when in the throws of particularly intense frustration at toddler antics. Obviously once you need specialized information (be it by age, or by personality) there are plenty of other books that can help you build your full repertoire of strategies.

Note: This review is for an earlier edition of the book, though given the systematic nature of the book, I do not expect the major themes to have changed much. 

Note 2: Depending on what type of eBook person you are, this may be a good one to have virtual, rather than on paper, so you can quickly search/reference when needed.

Photo credit: Kid Daniel under Creative Commons License.

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - Tantrums

Despite the fact that I am a firm believer in the idea that toddlers are easier than babies, I would be lying if I said that everything was smooth sailing once the kiddo hit 12 months.  Obviously, toddlers just go through their own phases and weird behavior issues.  We have faced our fair share and have the reading list to prove it.  So this installment will focus on how we got through some truly spectacular tantrums.

How to deal with toddler tantrums

When my daughter was 21 months old I would have told you that I knew what a tantrum was.  We had a summer of many tantrums when she was right around 1 because her desires outstripped her non-existent language skills by a mile.  Usually, the outbursts peaked right before we hit a language breakthrough (ex. said her first word, learned some verbs, started stringing together simple sentences, etc.).  Once the skill had been mastered, she would go back to being a relatively predictable little girl who thrived on routine.

Then, not to go all cliche on you, and I do think it was largely coincidence... but... we hit her second birthday.  It turns out what I thought had been tempestuous behavior flares were mere match strikes compared to the volcano eruptions she was apparently capable of.  Our 20 minute bedtime routine that had remained unchanged since she was 6 months old suddenly turned into a hour and a half knock down, drag out fight.  We spent an hour one morning trying to convince, bribe, cajole, threaten and anything else we could think of to do in order to get her to put on a pair of pants.  There was screaming and crying on everyone's parts.  And don't even get me started on bathtime. We were completely shocked and lost for what to do.

Cue a lot of frantic Googling and soul searching about whether it was too late to get out of this parenting gig.... and we found our way to the book The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old. I will confess that I approached this book with a very high degree of skepticism.  The recommendation for how to talk to your child in simple exaggerated sentences seemed idiotic and frankly disrespectful to the child. Then again, we were completely at our wits' end and a lot of people seemed to recommend the book.

Upon reading the book cover to cover (it's quite short and easy to get through), I started to implement the suggestions at the next tantrum. Once I expressed my daughter's feelings to her in a way she could understand, her screaming instantly stopped.  I was so shocked and unprepared for that to happen that I forgot what the next step was supposed to be. This method helped us get through the month long tantrum phase (and as all things, it really was a phase) with all of our collective sanities intact.

Though a bit gimmicky, I recommend this book very enthusiastically to any parent out there struggling to communicate with their pint-sized terror.  I also found Dr. Karp's chapter on the "personality" types of toddlers incredibly reassuring.  He allowed me to re-frame my previously somewhat negative view of my daughter's willful character traits and see them as potential positives. There is a lovely discussion in the book around how giving children what they want often results in even worse behavior - a fact I have found to be true.  This has allowed me to strengthen my resolve around enforcing boundaries for my toddler even when, in the moment, this occasionally results in more screaming.  

His writing is so kind and wise that I often find myself referencing his ideas, far beyond the suggested communication method, in discussions with other parents. And when everything is said and done, Dr. Karp is quite forgiving of the occasional bribery tactic and has given me ammunition when trying to convince my husband that at least occasionally he should let my daughter win. We have no lack of willfulness in this house!


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


  • - 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!


  • - 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?


  • - 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...


  • - 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.

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.

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.


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.

If you want to be a know it all in your mom's group click here

Sometime towards the end of your pregnancy it may occur to you that soon you will be sent home from the hospital with an infant.  More disturbingly, you will, in fact, be the adult in that relationship and be asked to make all sorts of decisions you don't feel like you have any business making.

Cue panic.

So here is what you do - breathe deeply and buy yourself a copy of Baby 411.  This book is seriously most of what you need to get through the first year.  I read this book in my last month of pregnancy and have been using it as a reference continuously with both children ever since.  It has answers to all of the questions that will be discussed ad nauseum in your new mom's group (you should find yourself a new mom's group).  Questions like:

  1. "What's that on my child's head?" (answer: cradle cap).  
  2. "What's that burning sensation in my breast when I nurse?" (answer: thrush).
  3. "When can I give my baby his first bath?" (answer: when the umbilical cord falls off).
  4. "When will I be able to sleep in again?" (ahaha... trick question)
But in all seriousness, it has great discussions of many different topics such as developmental milestones, building and teaching your child healthy sleep habits, how to introduce solid foods, when to call your doctor and when to head to the ER etc.  The thing that makes this book such a convenient reference is that the information is organized by topic (ex. sleep chapter, solid food chapter, etc.) as opposed to by age.  Since babies are all different (thrush can strike any time!), organizing the book this way makes it much easier to quickly find the section you're looking for while your baby is screaming in your ear.  Additionally, when a medical problem is discussed there is always a clear chart that tells you which things are a true emergency and which ones are a "wait and see" situation.  Not only that, but every recommendation sites its source, so if you are inclined to dig through the actual literature on allergy prevention or autism early detection you know exactly where to start.

Furthermore, the sleep chapter has an incredibly concise description of the current science on baby sleep as well as full reviews of the most popular sleep books.  This chapter was so comprehensive (yet short and easy to read) that we were able to get our daughter through all her sleep hiccups without having to do further reading (score!).

The information presented in this book is clear, the answers easy to understand, and further books are recommended for topics that need more in depth coverage than what they can facilitate.  If you're only going to read one book about babies (and you should read at least one), this is the one.

Do I need a baby food maker to make baby food?

No!  There... shortest post evah!!  Just kidding, obviously I'm going to ramble on for a lot more words than that.

Confession: we never bought baby food because I am a freak who is a little (ok A LOT) obsessed with food.  I was SO EXCITED to introduce solids to our baby because I was totally psyched to let her in on all the fun things she'd be enjoying for the rest of her life (joke was on me because now she is a really picky eater as a toddler... sigh).  And so, when she was around 5 months old I started majorly lusting after all the adorable baby food making systems.  I'm sure you've seen them all too... the BEABA Classic, the BEABA Pro, the Magic Bullet Baby System, the Baby Brezza, the Nutribaby Zen food processor, and I'm sure a dozen others.

Then, my husband talked me down to earth.  All of these things consisted of 2 parts - a way to steam veggies and a way to blend them - that's all.  "But! But!" I protested, "the easy cleaning! we can keep using it post baby!"  Then, after just a minute of thinking, we realized that we could simply upgrade our steaming/blending abilities and not be restricted to the small volumes afforded by the baby food makers.  Now, having fed a child all the way through to toddler-hood, I'm here to tell you that babies also just don't eat purees for that long. Not only that, but there are lots of "real people" foods you can feed them. All the more reasons that investing in a system is a total waste of money and space.

That said, we did buy a little bit of new kitchen gear to satisfy my lust.  And so, without further ado, here is the fully complete set of things you need to make your own baby food.
  1. 1. A way to steam things, though frankly you possibly don't even need this.  Many "baby" foods (sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, pears, etc.) can also be baked in the oven you already surely own.  However, it is the most convenient way to prepare spinach, peas, and zucchini.  So if you're looking to upgrade your game here, I recommend the OXO Good Grips Silicone Steamer.  It stores small and works great.  And if you don't have some already, you may want to grab some Silicone Gripper Tongs while you're at it.

  2. 2.  A way to blend things.  Here I cannot recommend the Breville Control Grip Immersion Blender enough.  I've always loved making blended soups and this thing has changed my life (I previously owned a $30 Cuisinart, it was fine, but not true love).  You don't need a fancy blender to make baby food.  Frankly a fork will probably do, but sometimes mama deserves something nice, right?  

  3. 3. A way to preserve the food.  Lots of people simply use ice cube trays, but getting the food out of them can be a pain. Here I really recommend the Mumi&Bubi Baby Food Freezer Storage Trays.  The food really does slide right out of these guys.  The set comes with 2 trays so you fill 1 tray with the puree (or purees) of your choice and freeze.  The next day you can pop all the cubes of baby food out and into a quart sized Ziploc bag (don't forget to label and date the bag so you're not guessing as to its content a month later).  Then just throw the tray into your dishwasher.  This way you can rotate one tray in the freezer and one in the wash.

  4. 4. A way to know what the hell it is you're doing.  Ok so this one you really REALLY don't need.  However, if you're like me and want someone to spell out for you how to introduce solids to your baby, how to prepare and preserve food for maximal freshness and appealingness (it's totally a word, shut up), and assuage your neurosis, you can buy a baby cook book.  I really enjoyed The Wholesome Baby Food Guide: Over 150 Easy, Delicious, and Healthy Recipes from Purees to Solids.  If you're less neurotic than me, then the solid foods chapter in Baby 411 will almost certainly do the trick.  (Hint: you don't need to start with boring rice cereal - that's really old advice.  You can pretty much start with whatever you want.  We started with sweet potatoes.)
And now you are fully prepared to go off on your own culinary adventure, whether it be in your kitchen, the grocery store baby food aisle, or some combination of the two. 


Labor Day - Proceed with caution!!

When you're pregnant with your first baby, it's impossible not to wonder how your own labor is going to go.  Different people respond to this wondering in different ways.  Some don't want to hear anything about anyone else's story because they don't want to psych themselves out.  Others yearn to read/hear every story they can possibly get their hands on to prepare themselves for any eventuality.  Both of these are completely valid approaches.  Eventually your baby will come out of you and you will have your own birth story to share/terrify/encourage/regale others with. (It's generally considered polite to only share these stories when asked, btw.  It's also considered polite not to terrify first time mothers - just sayin'.)

In case it hasn't been obvious from spending 30 seconds on this blog, I was definitely in the "tell me all the things" camp when it came to preparing for my own labor.  The problem with this, of course, is that most sources of labor stories are friends (I have a limited number), websites like Baby Center (where most of the stories lack coherence or punctuation), your birth class (which has the agenda of not wanting to scare you).  For this reason I absolutely loved the well written, well curated, beautiful and brutally honest stories in the anthology Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers.  To be honest, none of the writers's names jumped out at me as ones I recognized.  But also to be honest, I cannot say that paid all that much attention to their names - so engrossed was I in their stories.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I read this book in between my 2 pregnancies (perhaps had I read it while pregnant with my first, I may have had a different response).  My first labor was difficult and had some unexpected twists and turns (everyone came out healthy, see the many pictures of my daughter on this very blog).  I cannot say that I entered my second pregnancy relishing to give it another go.  Perhaps for this reason I found reading these stories so cathartic.  Some experiences described here were like my own, some were not.  Some choices were not ones I would make or have had to make.  Some of the stories in the book were quite tragic (the table of contents does tell you which stories to avoid if you are pregnant and want to avoid the tragic ones). However, the great take away I got from reading this book is that birth, no matter the trajectory or outcome, is so deeply and profoundly transformative for all women that it occupies our thoughts even decades after the fact.  In this I found my solace and my community.

If you're reading this review while pregnant with your first (or contemplating this path), proceed with caution to this book.  Know thyself.  Regardless, if you are pregnant, soon you will have your own story to carry with you.

Sleep like a baby? You mean terribly?

Anyone who's ever used the expression "sleep like a baby" has clearly never met a baby.  Human newborns, due to a quirk of biology, are all born premature compared to other mammals.  In particular, when it comes to sleep, newborns have underdeveloped nervous systems which is why they have trouble settling themselves.   For a more in depth discussion of this check out the sleep chapter of Baby 411. However that is not the topic of this post.  The topic of this post is how to set up a great sleep environment for your child to help stack the odds of everyone in the house getting some shut eye. 

Black out curtains

Once you've read up on sleep, you'll notice that almost everyone recommends that the room where the baby sleeps be dark.  Often this means acquiring some black out curtains.  However, most people have the baby sleep in the same room as themselves for at least the first 6 weeks if not longer (this is both for SIDS prevention reasons and convenience of night time feedings).   As such, you've probably already acquired whatever curtains you're using for your room.  You may not want to mess with the decor of your room to accommodate its temporary occupant. Likewise, you may have found the perfect cute curtains for your children's room, only to realize they do nothing to shield the room from any light (cough cough... I may or may not have done this...).  Have no fear, this is not a trade off you have to make. You just need to get yourself some Thermalogic Ultimate Window Liners. The great thing about these guys is that they get attached behind your existing curtains. This means you get to keep your decor and have a pitch black room - score!  Additionally, if you've had to get some for your room, you can use the same set for the kid's room once you're ready for them to be on their own.

White noise

Turning on white noise for the baby is another super common (and excellent) recommendation. Not only will this help mask the sound of you shuffling around your apartment while the baby sleeps (and any street noise as well) , but it will also help build some sleep associations for him or her to signal that it's time for sleeping.  For this many people use things like the Sleep Sheep or myBaby SoundSpa.  We, on the other hand, have decided to go in another direction.  We've taken an old, no longer used, cell phone and downloaded a white noise app on it (we use the airplane noise setting but there are many options).  We prefer this solution for a number of reasons.

  1. 1.  You don't have to buy anything new - woot!

  2. 2.  Cell phones are much easier to pack than sleep sheep. (If you're going to stay at someone's house you may not have to pack anything at all if they have an old phone lying around).

  3. 3.  If you forget to pack the spare old phone you normally use for the kids, it's easily replaced with your cell phone. Sure it sucks to have to give it up for the night, probably starting at 7pm (most children's bedtime), but it sucks a lot less than no one sleeping.

  4. 4.  You can also use the old cell phone to play music to your baby (any music you want, not just whatever, if anything, came with the thing you bought). We've found for some reason that our second child naps better with lullabies playing than white noise (though we still use the white noise at night).  This was a trivial accommodation to make using the phone.
And one more bonus suggestion. If your old phone's speakers aren't great, you can always hook it up to a speaker in the kid's room.  We found an adorable GOgroove Portable Stereo Speaker Panda (other animals available) that we've been using for the past 2+ years when we're home (on the road we just use the phone as is).

Good luck, and may the sleep gods be on your side!

Pregnancy Books for Dads (and non-Dad-partners)-to-Be

Ok, parenting stuff for Dad is pretty dire in general, and doubly so for the pregnancy stage of things where everything assumes you're Family Guy's Peter Griffin or anyone who has appeared on CBS since 1994. An Amazon search of books for Dads-to-be includes a hearty helping of the word "Dude," advice to stop cheating on your girl / take your job seriously, and backwards-for-the-1970s expectations on gender roles.

I found two books that rose above the crowd.

I am not a bro-dad.
Don't be this guy.
First is The Expectant Father. Annotated with New Yorker cartoons (yeah, I feel like that makes the point about this book better than any other way), author Armin Brott goes month-by-month through the pregnancy covering the basics on symptoms and fetal development, sure, but also gets into your emotions, her emotions, how to react to her emotions, and dozens of other things. Sections include thinking about work-life balance (and how to talk to peers/superiors about your desire to be actively involved in your child), your relationship with your own father, baby gear, and sex life during pregnancy. It does a good job of covering some of the more "traditional" topics of finances, life insurance, and the like too.

Note: I read the 3rd edition before my daughter was born and the 4th edition has come out since then.

Also note: Brott has a whole series of books covering the first years of childhood as well as some other special circumstances. I enjoyed The New Father though it went longer between updates and the 2nd edition that I read was dated by that time. I imagine the brand-new 3rd edition is wonderful.

My second recommendation is The Birth Partner. This book is written by a doula about how to be the best companion for a woman in birth, either as a father/partner, parent, friend, or doula and was an invaluable resource for both births. The book is heavy on natural birth but entirely non-judgmental about those who opt for (or otherwise need) more interventions. 

Important point about "natural birth" that is often lost: We tried natural twice and wound up with a boatload of interventions both times, but having all the tools to try a natural birth made both of us (mostly her) more able to handle the various surprises, complications, and delays that made both of us (mostly her) need to fall back on various coping mechanisms. It also made the laboring "at home" portion before the hospital much more palatable (for her) that would otherwise be the case. 
Helpfully, this book is sorted by topic rather than month/trimester and key sections have pages with color edges, which makes it a great resource during labor. For this reason, I would recommend the print copy over the eBook one, even though I'm normally ambivalent about format.

Photo credits - Bad Dad: Rolands Lakis under a Creative Commons license