Showing posts with label Kids. Show all posts

Things to do - Music Together

So I played the violin as a kid. I also went to a million concerts in high school, owned too many CDs, and may or may not have used a lot of Napster in college (is that what us 1st wave millennials will say wistfully about college?). Suffice it to say, music is important to me...
That said, I didn't practice the violin, mostly went to radio festivals and other concerts in 1000+-seat auditoriums, and never heard of a band before you did (though my college roommate did, so I was like 6 weeks ahead of all of you on Modest Mouse). Suffice it to say, music isn't that important.

So how to find a good mix of goofy kids fun, some active dance, lots of instruments, and a dash of music theory without devolving into silly songs you'll hate hearing, or kids doing hand motions and forgetting about the music entirely? Alternatively, I don't need to pressure them to Carnegie Hall (ever, but especially in preschool). Music is important, but it's not that important.

Music Together

Music Together fits this niche pretty well. They use a mix of classic and new children's songs, sourced across many cultures, and with a rotating batch of instruments and other activities. The class is intended for a wide age range (6 mos - 5 years) so all the kids get some exposure to kids bigger and smaller and it's easy for siblings to attend together. They give you a CD (and MP3 download access) for all the songs so you can practice at home (or in your car, they say, but whatever). The attitude overall is "anyone can sing, anyone can play, and find fun ways to incorporate music into your life," which seems great to me.

It's not perfect, but my three criticisms are minor. 1) The attempt to be multicultural occasionally feels like it borders on cultural appropriation and/or parody. 2) Someone has clearly decided it's in their interest to tweak classic tunes just enough to make them copyrightable, which can feel a bit ridiculous at times. 3) The whole thing fits pretty neatly into a formula class-to-class and session-to-session, which is great for toddler brains, but I found that I had to take a couple sessions off once in a while to regain my enthusiasm and interest in going week after week.

To their credit, they are extremely welcoming of all sorts of family and work situations. As a Dad who works part-time and thus finds himself often in Stay-at-Home-Mommy-land, a program that expects/welcomes Dads, grandparents, nannies, or whatever other person you have caring for your kid is refreshing. The couple times I've dropped in on a weekend class to makeup for a missed session, it's been a lot of Dads too, which is great.

Music Together works as a franchise, so you'll need to find who operates it where you live. If you're in Boston, it's Groovy Baby Music and if you click through on this referral, it'll even net you a $15 discount.



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

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

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

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

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

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

How the IMMI GO changed my life!

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

Brands that sell non-gendered clothing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toys! (A Dad's Call to Action this Holiday Season)

If you haven't been paying attention to the latest freak outs about Starbucks cups or the fact that many media outlets have already published their gift guides, you may not have realized that the holiday season is fast approaching. But let's get real, you've noticed and if you're a parent, you're possibly dreading it. The "holiday season" means, among other things, an onslaught of conversations about kids' toys. Which toys are hot this year? What toys do your kids want? Would you mind if your aunt Dora got them a drum set this year?

So before all that happens, let's do some real talk.

Many kids' toys are awful.

I don't just mean the mountains of cheap crap that exist to drain $4 at a time from the drugstore (or the seasonal way to phrase that - "be used as stocking stuffers"). I mean the ones that are unnecessarily loud, inane, and randomly ill-thought-out. As a dad who is about to be on the receiving end of this year's onslaught of generosity directed at his children, I beg any of you who buy toys for kids to read this. Together we can fight the awful in the modern toy industry and maybe preserve some parental sanity at the same time.

Why Many Kids' Toys are Awful

I can identify at least 3 major causes that allow this to continue unabated:
  1. 1. Kids have no taste.
  2. 2. Parents, grandparents, and well-meaning friends are easily seduced by things that seem cute (especially if they are licensed by a favorite team, show, etc.) but were really designed in about 5 minutes.
  3. 3. Some families live in houses with "playrooms" far from earshot of the parents who then don't have to listen to the awfulness generated by the worst offenders. This is not my family, nor is it many families.

Examples of Just What's Wrong

Random and Not Really Fun

Here is a book - St. Louis Cardinals 101 (My First Team-Board-Book). What family member of a St. Louisan wouldn't want to buy that for their new-parent relative? And that is exactly the problem. You'll note Amazon doesn't have a "look inside" option for this book - probably because if anyone really did look inside they would sell zero copies. If the book is for babies, there's nothing really to read to them (captioned photos and drawings of baseball equipment aren't much of a read-aloud winner). If it's for the next generation of kid fans whose earliest sports memories will be from the late 2010s, a black and white photo of a pitching star from the 1960's is pretty irrelevant to them.

I love baseball, I love books, and I love the Cardinals. This book somehow manages to fail on all those fronts.

Not Age Relevant

Many Exersaucers/Jumparoos are adorned with lots of ABC's and 123's which I guess are designed to make them look like "educational" toys. But even if a child who is exersaucer age could/should be learning letters and numbers (they should not), why just three of each? You may suggest "it's just decoration," but the song- and noise-generating buttons on the one we had specifically focus on these letters (and JUST these). It's dressed up to look educational but provides no useful lesson to a kid of this or any age.

Side rant - I think Fisher Price employs only one woman to record all the talking and singing for their toys. I assume this is so she can haunt the nightmares of parents forever.

Needless Noisemakers

My baby is carrying my cheese
up the stairs in the bag.
Toys like the Fun Years My Workbench are insane. The hammer plays recordings of "realistic sounds." I'm pretty sure my kid can generate her own realistic banging sound by... you know... banging it like it's a hammer.

But remember, kids have no taste. They like things that make noise for its own sake. Why encourage them?

The Fisher-Price Sing n' Learn Shopping Tote is another prime example of a random noise making toy. My daughter loves playing with the various toy foods it came with and has even brought the bag to the store with us so she can participate in grocery shopping- great! But, you see, there is a giant button. It plays songs about grocery shopping and saying "please and thank you." They're nice lessons, but why does the shopping bag need to do this at all? She was already using it perfectly as a bag! "So turn it off," you say. But she's a toddler who understands off switches to be her mortal enemy.

So far, insane and insipid, but not ill-willed...

The World's Most Annoying Toy

If there is a special circle of hell for annoying toy designers, then the person at Fisher Price who designed the Lil People Little Movers Airplane should be admitted first. It's not enough that it talks and sings every time you interact with it in any way (god forbid children enjoy 3 seconds making their OWN noises)... no, no, this plane sings the same 30 second song any time the plane's wheels move... at all. Seriously check out this Youtube video! That song in the background, that's the song. The whole thing. Every time the wheels move. Every... time... the... wheels... move...

Sadism is truly the only excuse for this behavior.

Are you Just a Luddite and/or Grump?

No...maybe? I'm not opposed to electronic toys on principle. I spent my childhood playing video games and own a smartwatch, which is obviously the least essential technology of our day (and I love my smartwatch).

That said, things that make noise just for the sake of making noise are idiotic. Things that make illogical noises are infuriating.

Electronics are great. Pretend play is great. But electronics sprinkled into toys at random often crowd out pretend play.

How to Pick Toys that Don't Suck

Here are a few things I recommend you ask yourself this holiday season when picking out a toy for the special munchkin in your life:

  1. 1. Is it fun? Can you imagine it staying fun for a week? A month?

Cute is a good start, but it isn't enough. A good toy gets used a LOT, and when you're space constrained, a toy that's fun in multiple ways at multiple ages (even just 6 months apart) is a good sanity-keeper. If it does only one thing, it gets forgotten and becomes junk when the one thing gets boring. If it lets a kid do many different things (or best yet, encourages kids to come up with many different things), it can stay in our living room toy-box for months.

  1. 2. If it's electronic, does it have a reason to be?

  • - Toy smartphone? Yes. (Electronic in real life, electronic as a toy - sweet!)
  • - Toy drill? Yes. (See above.)
  • - Toy hammer? No!!!

  1. 3. Do the functions/sounds/whatever have anything to do with the actual thing?

We have a Fisher-Price Learning Kitchen that makes kitchen noises (running water, etc.) when the kid interacts with it. This is good.
The toy airplane (yes, I'm back at the airplane),  makes announcements that make me think the designer read a book about airplanes without ever having been in one. Why does placing the flight attendant in his/her seat cause the plane to tell you to fasten your seat-belt and make engine noises? Why? WHY?

  1. 4. Does it have an off switch and/or volume control?

Sometimes the baby is sleeping so we need to use it quietly. Sometimes we want to encourage kids to play their own way. Sometimes the kid may want to use the toy for something not planned by the designer.

  1. 5. If it claims to be for pretend play, does it give the kid room to actually use their imagination?

    Doing my best Judge John Hodgman impression: this really is the crux of the issue.

    If the toy has a "correct" way to play dictated by the manufacturers, it's not very good for pretend play. (I'm looking at you Melissa & Doug Stacking Train - the cars have differently spaced posts so the blocks can only be assembled ONE way. This discourages kids from building what they want.)
If the airplane doesn't stop making noise long enough to let a kid make her own noises or plan out her own flight, then what's the point? (Yes, I know, the airplane again, but really... it's just the WORST.)

ZOOM!

Have bag will travel - toddler edition!

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

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

Preparing yourself for traveling with kids

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

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

Preparing your kids for traveling with you

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

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

Why Amazon Prime is your friend

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

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

Day of travel/In flight entertainment 

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

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

Stay calm

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

Some stuff science says about parenting

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

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

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

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

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

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


Striking the balance between street urchin and sterile bubble kid

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

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

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

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



Jackets - your kid won't wear them, but you'll feel better if you own some

2 year old in styling rain coat.
When I was a teenager I refused to wear a coat on a regular basis, despite the fact that my family lived in the mountains of northern PA and not San Diego.  I had assumed that I would pass on this or some other annoying habit to my children, I just didn't expect it to manifest quite so early.  I am sad to say that we have begun the coat battles already.  (I know you're thinking that I should just let her not wear a coat and wait until she tells me she's cold.  However, she is very stubborn and has literally had her lip turn blue and hasn't asked for a coat.  I'm not waiting until the hypothermia kicks in).

10 month old in raincoat.
Anyway, if you live somewhere it rains periodically, your kid will need a good rain coat.  We've had a really great experience with Hatley Raincoats (Amazon) or Hatley Kids (Zappos).  Not only do they come in all sorts of adorable patterns, but they are super practical as well.  They have a soft terry cloth lining that feels good to the kid and provides some additional warmth for those days when it's raining AND 35 degrees out.  They are generously sized so we have been able to use the same coat for both spring and fall of a given year.  And they have lovely hood (tip: use a hair clip to keep the hood on your child's head if you live in a windy city).

While it's true that they can be pricey, you can often find them at "end of season" sales either in brick and mortar establishments or on Amazon.  Because of the generous sizing, you're likely to be able to guess your kids size (we already have our 3T coat ready for next spring).  Also, many of their designs are quite gender neutral and the coats are quite durable so if you do have multiple kiddos this is a great candidate for hand-me-downs.

What do you mean both children need to come with me?

If sometime in your first baby's toddler years, you looked at him or her and thought "Hmmm this one is cute, but getting big.  I guess let's make another one, but smaller!" you may want to read this post. It turns out that just because your oldest can walk and declare things like "No help Mama!!" does not mean you can just leave them somewhere while you go off with your new baby.  In fact, it means that you will be transporting both of them with you as you try and do previously simple tasks like dropping off the dry cleaning.

The traditional route for parents here is to get a double stroller.  However this solution may not work for you because
  1. 1. Your oldest is too old to ride in a stroller.

  2. 2. Your oldest is 2 going on 22 and has been going stroller free since she was 20 months because "strollers are for babies" (ask me how I came up with this one).

  3. 3. Thinking about attempting to get the double stroller through the door of the dry cleaner makes you hyperventilate.
So what's an urban family with 2 hellions to do?

Stroller Handle

This is the absolutely most genius idea ever, put out by the fine folks at Skip Hop. It is a Skip Hop Walk-Along Stroller Handle that attaches to the frame of your stroller for the toddler to hold.  They come in a variety of  colors so you can pick your toddler's favorite one.  Ours is obsessed with owls so this was a major win for us.  We have been enforcing strict hand holding with her ever since she was 12 months (not holding hands resulted in immediately being picked up, which for some blessed reason she thinks is punishment).  Thus, when the stroller came out of storage after the birth of our son it was easy to edit the previous "always hold hands rule" to a "always either hold hands or the owl" rule (she almost always prefers the owl handle).  We've been happily using this for 3 months without any problems.

Ride along platform

Admittedly our toddler is kind of amazing in her ability to walk long distances.  As such, there are really very few places we go that we can't just reach via a combination of public transit and our trusty
stroller handle.  That said, there are a couple of playgrounds in our town that transit doesn't make sense to and are still too far for her to walk both ways to.  For those occasions we pull out the
Valco Hitch Hiker Ride On Board.  This is a board that attaches to the back of your stroller that your child can ride on.  Most stroller brands offer this as an add on.  We have the Valco version because that is the brand of our stroller, though this attachment claims itself to be universal.  Looking at the construction, I would guess it probably can attach to most strollers if you're willing to apply some muscle.  Additionally, what's great about the design is that the board slides into braces that you attach to the stroller.  This means that once you attach the braces, you can take the board itself on and off relatively easily (figuring out where to put the braces and then securing them can take a bit of both brain and brawn, so it's nice to only have to do this once).

In the spirit of full disclosure, there are 2 downsides to using this board (or almost certainly any one like it).  If you have to bounce up the stairs backwards with your stroller in your daily life (like we do to get into our building), bouncing with the board attached can be a hassle.  Also, admittedly acquiring this piece of hardware can seem a bit pricey but there are a couple of things to consider such as the fact that this is definitely cheaper than a double stroller.

And with that, you're ready to go off on your adventures, be they near or far!

  

Excited your kid walks everywhere? Live somewhere it snows? You need footwear!

Boots

So maybe this is just the PTSD talking from having survived Boston in February 2015 (that picture was only after the first storm), but boots really are a necessity if you're going to keep walking, taking the bus/train, and living your life in a northern city. When our eldest was a baby, some fancy designer boots were a fun gift to get, but now that she's 2, going on 22, waterproof, warm, and easy to put on is a must.
Toddler, scared of walking on snow after the 1st storm.

We've had a great experience with Bogs Baby Boots (AmazonZappos) (which are a misnomer as the sizes really run all the way up to adults practically). All of them are quite appropriate for boys and girls. Styles are available that will satisfy everyone from the non-conformists to the folks out there gunning for more gender targeted products. The pair modeled in the picture are the "indigo" variant of the Flower Stripe boot. That link takes you to a search for all the various styles and colors.

Back to the practical, not only are they waterproof, but these boots are machine washable so even the yuckiest of slush is not a problem!

Socks

Ok, even a "normal" winter up here means good warm socks are needed for kids and adults alike. Our winner for the whole family is Smartwool. You can search for Smartwool for everyone here (Amazon) or here (Zappos), Smartwool socks have the feel of something thick and heavy but still fit into most shoes. They breathe pretty well too, so you don't have to talk your toddler OUT of wearing them on a warmer day when she REALLY REALLY REALLY WANTS green socks and these are the only green socks you own. For what it's worth, I also own a Smartwool sweater for the really cold days, so they've got me sold.

Note: This post is footwear focused, but in case you're checking this out in the midst of winter weather before we can write about coats/snowsuits. I'll let you know the snowsuit above (that we love!) is from Columbia Sportswear. Find their stuff on Amazon and Zappos.

  

So you want to have another kid over for dinner?

Have you noticed how when you were in your 20's you were constantly going to weddings?  Then suddenly, all those people who you partied with all night decided to go ahead and reproduce... bummer...  Or not! You can still see them!  Maybe your babies will even like each other!  Why don't we have them over for dinner?  Yes that sounds civilized!

....

Then you realize that you have only 1 high chair and where is the other baby/toddler/kid going to sit? Maybe you should buy another high chair? <cue laughter>  Obviously, this blog would never recommend something so wasteful.  Instead we would recommend a number of products that store easily and can be configured in a number of different ways, depending on the age (and constraint) of the visiting child.

Here is a list of common constraints you may face when trying to accommodate your pint sized guest and how to address each one.

1. Children are short.  You can raise (almost) any regular chair to accommodate this using a Kaboost Portable Chair Booster.  This thing is pretty nifty.  It's easy to put on, stores small, and will boost a kid enough to allow them to sit on a regular chair at the table.  (Pictured to the left - a regular chair next to a chair with a Kaboost under it.)

2. Children are messy.  So now your visitor can sit at the table, but if they are under the age of 5 they are likely to spill things all over the place as they eat.  If you have nice fabric covered chairs, this may pose a problem.  Have no fear, you can cover the chair with a SmartSeat Dining Chair Cover and Protector.  It's waterproof and washable.  (Pictured to the left - a regular chair with a covered chair next to it.)

3. Children are squirmy.  If your visitor is still too young not to just jump off the (possibly raised) seat and hurt themselves, then you can solve this problem too by using a Toddler Safety Harness.  This is a great way to secure a toddler to a chair.  We have one of these for use both with visitors as well as with our own child on our kitchen bar stools.

The great thing about the above recommendation is that you can accommodate any age child.  Use all 3 with a visiting 1 year old, just the cover and booster with a visiting 3 year old, and maybe just the booster with a visiting 5 year old.  Now what do you cook for the meal where everyone is a picky eater?  Alas... our wisdom only goes so far...