Sunday, November 18, 2007

Counting My Blessings

This week was a landmark occasion in the Fox household - we got to visit with BOTH grandmothers in one week. With my family in Texas and my husband's in Utah, visits with our parents are carefully orchestrated. While the in laws get along famously, since we see each other so infrequently everyone tries to space the visits so that the grandmothers see the children on alternating trips. This way they each have time to hog the kids to their hearts content without stepping on each other's toes.

Because we spent Thanksgiving with Bubbe (Aaron's mom) and Goopy (my mom - long story on the origination of the name) came to visit for her birthday in mid-November, we had the rare pleasure of a solid week and a half worth of grandmothering. I personally enjoy these visits for two reasons - free babysitting, of course, but more importantly - I get to see my kids in a new light.

The past three years of our lives have been a whirlwind, to say the least. We have been eating, breathing, and sleeping (or not) diapers, formula, baby gear, baby proofing, and baby puking for what seems like a very long time. It has been absolutely exhausting. Worth every moment, but exhausting nonetheless. When Drew was a tiny baby, I remember holding him and trying to MAKE myself slow down and savor every moment. But I was just too tired. And too busy trying to hold it all together.

Enter visits with the grandparents. With someone to play backup, we can sneak a respite from the constant caregiving. To have date nights. To sleep in. To go to the bathroom uninterrupted. To relax and unwind a little. To (gasp!) ENJOY our children.

In the grandparents' eyes, the boys can do no wrong. Cade's repeated pleas to play Elmo on computer make him "goal oriented and persistent" instead of annoying. Drew's crayon marks on the windowsill become a "creative use of art medium". When they sass me they are just "testing boundaries and asserting independence". Their refusal to eat any dinner that isn't mac and cheese make them "selective" eaters, not finicky ones. Drew's 50 million piece jigsaw puzzles strewn all over my living room floor at all hours of the day encourages the fact that he is "advanced in spatial orientation". Cade's obsession with changing batteries in every toy we own shows his "mechanical inclination". My mother even went so far as to correct me when I joked that he was in training to be an auto mechanic someday - huffily informing me that his fine motor skills were far better suited to brain surgery.

But all joking aside, their constant marveling at how smart, creative, unique, energetic, independent, and GOOD the kids are make me forget for a time that they are also messy, demanding, wild and defiant at times. It allows me to slow down and really savor the small joys in life through the eyes of my kids - Cade's love of fountains, Drew's love of animals, and their mutual love of each other - and of me. During these visits, they whine less, act out less, and demand less. Probably because I give them more of me.

So this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the miracles of my children. And their grandparents, who are responsible for this blessing in more ways than one.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fall Fashion Week

One of the best parts about having boys (and two boys close in age!) is that they are MUCH easier to dress than girls. I am a definite girly girl and adore girl clothing, which means that dressing a little girl would quickly become all consuming for me. I am notorious among friends and family for my poor shopping decision making skills. I started shopping for my prom dress my sophomore year of high school. No joke.

I am the type of mom that would hit every store in town (and the next town over, just to be safe) looking for the "perfect" Christmas/Easter dress and end up buying two because I couldn't decide (rationalizing that one dress couldn't be worn to church every Sunday all season anyway). Then I would start the whole thing all over again to find the perfect accessories for both dresses.

With boys I can knock it all out in one day. The Target Easter outfits look just the same as the Gap ones and the Gymboree ones and so on and so forth. This allows me just to pick the Target ones and be done with it since the boys are boycotting collared shirts anyway and I will be lucky if I can even get them to leave the precious little seersucker suits on for just ONE HOUR for church and pictures. And really, how excited can I get about the minor variations in boys' clothes anyway (essentially boils down to heaviness of corduroy fabric, placement of cargo pant pockets, and wash of denim)?

Fashion Week in the Fox household goes much the same every year in both the fall and the spring. It has four phases:

1) Drag out all end of season items bought on sale last year and bins of hand me downs and determine what can actually be passed to younger son. Since children will not allow me to try the clothes on to see what ACTUALLY fits, wait until they are sound asleep so I can lay them out spread eagle and lay clothes over them like paper dolls to see what is long enough.

2) Attend our preschool's consignment sale to troll for play clothes and deals on big ticket, rarely used items like Halloween costumes and winter coats. End up getting sucked into buying $50 worth of toys as well since I am trying to keep children entertained long enough to let me shop.

3) Finish up the next day with the semi-annual pilgrimage to the Dawsonville outlets (sans children), bearing in mind that Gap and Gymboree run big, Children's Place/Talbot's Kids runs a little small, Old Navy/Target shrink quite a bit after washing, and Carters/OshKosh make my boys look like girls. Wonder why the mall has a playground and who are all these dads at the mall since my husband would sooner carry our minivan over hot coals barefoot before spending an afternoon shopping with me and the boys. Intend to stop into a few stores for myself, but instead collapse of exhaustion from trying to visualize which size of each brand/item each of my children will need.

4) Be thankful I do not have to go shopping for Easter dresses tomorrow. Repeat next season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Target Market: Generation Z (or do they have a name yet?)

As a non-profit administrator with degrees in social work and public administration, I know NOTHING about marketing or branding. But I am rapidly learning, since my job description for running a small non-profit includes the roles of Chief Financial Officer, HR Director, VP of Fundraising, Clinical Director, and yes - Marketing Director. I've spent the past two weekends at a crash course in marketing at the University of Georgia's Continuing Education program. The class really made me see brand recognition in a whole new light, especially when we played a game that required us to draw two random cards featuring well known brands and present a brief plan on what would happen if the two brands crossed. The most entertaining presentation crossed John Deere and Weight Watchers - I kid you not.

But understanding more about how marketing folks target me made me think about how they are targeting my kids as well. Even though they can't read yet, my kids can very easily recognize logos for products such as their favorite cereals, Dora the Explorer yogurts (no - they don't even WATCH the show, but they love the yogurt!), Baby Einstein products (yes - they do watch the shows, but hey - now they recognize the books and flashcards too!), the Chick-Fil-A cows, and even Home Depot and Publix. They aren't old enough yet to respond to the Saturday morning cartoon commercials, but they can make a pretty convincing case in the store for Dora over the Publix generic yogurt cups. A 2005 University of Michigan article states that small children have a $50 BILLION annual influence over their parent's spending. No wonder companies spend so much time trying to figure out how to get inside the mystical minds of tots! That explains why anyone at Pepperidge Farm ever thought that rainbow colored goldfish were a good idea.

One of the reigning brand kings is Google, where my husband had the good fortune of interning this summer for his MBA program. Google hands out swag to employees like other companies hand out business cards, so in just three months he amassed a pretty impressive collection of t-shirts, water bottles, notepads, keychains, and every other product known to man. But still, imagine my surprise when this morning my TWO YEAR OLD pointed at dad's tshirt and said, "Is that Gooble, Daddy?".

Now THAT'S brand recognition.

More Cade and Drew Isms...

The (sometimes unwitting) sophisticated sense of humors that toddlers have never ceases to amaze me. Their latest:

Me: Time to clean up, guys! Let's get going!
Cade: A little music would really help me here.

Drew (pointing at Aaron's Google tshirt): Is that Gooble, daddy?

Drew: Come here, Cade!
Cade: Wait a second! I'll be there in 10 minutes!

Drew (looking at pot roast on dinner plate): I don't eat meat, mommy. I don't even try it.

My favorites are the ones that are at my expense...

Me: Cade - come over here, please.
Cade (walking around with soda can koozies on both ears): I can't hear you, mommy! My hearing aids are broken.

Drew: Oh no! Spilled milk on the floor! Can you take care of that, mommy?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Baby Einstein: Your Breast Friend?

In honor of Breast Fest, a virtual movement that encourages moms (and dads) to blog about the right to breastfeed in public on October 10th, I thought I'd dedicate today's post to nursing with two under two. For my political commentary on this topic, check out my personal blog.

One of the greatest obstacles I faced when I brought my second son home from the hospital was breastfeeding. What had been the easiest, most natural thing in the world with my first son was an absolute nightmare with the second. Mainly because I was chasing after a toddler who was so young that he didn't even appreciate my attempts to "buy" nursing time with a Baby Einstein video. As it turned out, the video could not hold his attention long enough for me to feed his brother anyway. That on top of a baby with a lazy suck and a mommy with a low supply (no time to drink water=low supply=just as well since I don't even have time to pee so probably shouldn't be drinking alot of water anyway - you get the point).

Those first weeks are so crucial for baby (re-gaining birthweight) and mom (establishing supply) that for any mom friend of mine facing this situation, I try to share what I wish I'd done differently:
  • Call in reinforcements. Have dad take that paternity leave, fly grandma in, hire the neighborhood teenager, use preschool, whatever. The mom of newborn thing will be old hat to you and you will feel comfortable with baby. As a second time mom, you probably even cook dinner the night you get home from the hospital. This time, rather than sleep/meals/laundry, you need someone to be the Toddler Clown Show so you can focus on baby! This was my single biggest mistake. A friend of mine with boys the exact same ages sent her oldest to preschool every morning for the first few months. Don't you know she made it a LOT longer breastfeeding the second than I did!
  • Strap big baby in the booster seat during feedings (at least then you know he is safe so you don't have to keep popping up to check on him when he leaves the room) and ply him with crayons, toys, raisins, and crackers.
  • Have special "nursing" toys that come out only during feeding time. These could be certain books, puzzles, PlayDoh, puppets, trains/cars, etc.
  • Settle big baby next to you with a doll (he or she can pretend to nurse/feed too) or a book (drag it out - talk ALOT about the pictures).
  • If worse comes to worst, try TV. You may nurse 8 times a day in the beginning but your toddler will be sleeping for some of them and if you have to park him in front of Baby Einstein for 20 to 40 minutes a day for a few weeks until you get the hang of things, it's not the end of the world.
  • Get a sling. You can wear tiny babies while you're nursing and still have free hands to make PB&J for the big baby!

I tried a few of these in a half-baked manner but was so frazzled that I didn't have the presence of mind to really fully implement some of these ideas (several of which I heard after the fact from friends in the same boat). Here's hoping this helps others be more deliberate in their plan of attack! Cheers, babies!

PS - Almost forgot my most important piece of advice. I am very pro-breastfeeding (if it works for mom AND baby), but if it doesn't work out, do NOT beat yourself up about it. I agonized over this for four months, finally giving up when my husband insisted that it wasn't worth the daily dose of tears I endured trying to balance the pumping/supplementing/cajoling baby to nurse game. I stopped at 4 months with baby number two and wouldn't you know it - this formula-fed baby turned out to be just as happy and healthy as his older brother!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Walk in the Park (or the mall...or the zoo...or the airport...)

I am a self-confessed stroller junkie. Throughout my 3 1/2 years of parenting, I have owned NINE strollers. Not including the two-seater Radio Flyer wagon with the seatbelts and cup holders. I collect strollers like other women collect handbags and at one point, my husband told me that I was absolutely NOT allowed to purchase another stroller until I got rid of one already in the stroller stable (formerly known as our garage). He put the same moratorium on my Halloween decoration collection, but I digress. This summer, I spent a good bit of the summer in San Francisco, where the stroller of choice is the super-stylish (and pricey) Bugaboo. Bugaboos are a very rare sight here in Smyrna and pathetically, I was more star struck by the chance to see a Bugaboo up close than I would've been had Brad Pitt walked up and kissed me on the lips. Pathetic, I know.

Now that my youngest is walking (running!) well, I primarily use my strollers as restraint devices for the rare occasions I am forced to take both children to the mall by myself. Like with any addict, my habit is hard to break. I actually experienced pangs of disappointment a few months ago when American Baby magazine did their stroller review and I realized I had missed on the super cool new Kolcraft Contours double stroller with swiveling seats. Bummer.

Believe it or not, I actually had valid reasons for purchasing every single stroller and used them all, but had I known that what I know now, I might have done things differently. I frequently get asked for stroller, especially double stroller, advice from friends who know how much I love my wheels. Rather than repeat myself a thousand more times when asked this question, I thought I would record what I've learned for posterity here or the fearless moms that will follow in my footsteps and need the skinny on strollers.

Naturally, there are several different types of strollers, ranging anywhere from the $10 umbrella variety to the aforementioned $900 Bugaboo and more! As with most other things, more expensive does not always mean better. A few thoughts for consideration on each variety of stroller:

Umbrella - A must-have, in my mind, especially because they are so inexpensive. Your baby can use this stroller as soon as he can sort of sit up and they are absolutely ideal for amusement parks and airplane trips since you will not care if they get stolen, lost, or beat to heck by careless luggage handlers. Some come with sunshade attachments, which are nice if you are going to be outside. They're not the most comfortable to "drive" for taller people (I am one, and this is my number one complaint about this breed of stroller), but I have seen ones with extended handles to accommodate taller parents.

SnapNGo - This is actually just a fairly inexpensive stroller frame (about $40) that you can pop your infant seat into and go! If I were doing it over, I would have done this. By the time your baby outgrows his infant seat, he is more than big enough to move into the umbrella stroller which is compact, portable, and cheap.

Single Stroller - Standard, garden variety stroller. In addition to comfort and a sunshade for baby, look for the all important cup holder for mom and a good-sized deep cargo bin. You will need a place to stash your 10,000 pound diaper bag AND all the stuff you buy at the mall. When I bought mine (my very first stroller), my husband and I test drove every stroller at BabiesRUs and hands-down decided on the Peg Perego Aria for its lightweight frame. There are other lightweight models out there and this should be a consideration as well - you may very well have to hoist your stroller into the trunk with one hand while holding your baby in the other arm.

Travel System - Essentially a stroller that includes an infant seat (car seat, for the uninitiated) in a matching print. And you can usually get a matching playpen, swing, etc. etc. We discovered a nifty trick when we bought our stroller - many infant seats are compatible with many strollers, so you do not necessarily have to commit to a travel system if you fall in love with another stroller. We ended up with a Peg Perego stroller and a Graco infant seat, which was half the cost of the Peg Perego infant seat and snapped in just perfectly! Also, if you absolutely LOVE a stroller and it is not compatible with any infant seats, you can always do it the old-fashioned way and (gasp!) unbuckle the baby from the car seat and buckle him into the stroller. Even very tiny babies can go in strollers as long as the seats recline, but be sure to look for a 5 point harness in the stroller if you are planning to do this.

Jogging Stroller - These are handy if you run/walk on trails or gravel or if you walk in your neighborhood a lot. We ended up buying one when our Peg couldn't navigate the sidewalk cracks or the railroad tracks in our neighborhood - the jogger provides a much smoother ride for baby. If you are actually a runner, invest in a super-lightweight running stroller since you will be running with baby and stroller. Otherwise, BabyTrend makes a great model for like $80 and we loved it so much we ended up buying a used double version of it later (I know, I know...I told you - it's a sickness! ) The reason you can't just get a jogger instead of a single stroller is because joggers are wider and heavier and difficult to navigate in crowds and crowded stores. If you are going to try to get one stroller to do double duty here, look for a jogger with a front wheel that unlocks to swivel - allows for better control over steering.

Double Stroller - Come in umbrella, jogger, and "regular" versions. Come in side by side and front/back models. Most moms I know seem to prefer front-back because they are easier to get through doorways and keep your kids from picking at each other. But they drive like 18 wheelers - I think the side by sides are easier to navigate. Look for one that's narrow enough to get through doorways, but even then, don't expect to be able to get it through most children's clothing stores at the mall, which are notoriously overstocked! These strollers are big, but just like your minivan, they come with all kinds of features - infant seat-compatibe, swiveling seats, stadium seating, and the uber-weird looking Phil and Ted's, where one kid actually sits UNDER the other, out of sight. Talk about a great way to keep them from bugging each other!

Triple Stroller - Can't speak to this - thank goodness I have not had to go there!

SitNStand - Again, wish I would've taken this shortcut from the beginning when my second was born. It's a two-seater stroller that actually has a bar attachment that allows you to configure the front seat for an infant seat. There is also a standing board in case the child in the rear prefers to stand. This also comes in a triple version (not good for triplets though b/c one child has to stand...). Support kids up to 50 pounds EACH, I think, so your toddlers can ride for awhile!

One final tip for you. Shop around a little and do some test driving, but before you run out and pay full price for your dream buggy, scout out consignment sales in the area or Craigslist (or even eBay but be prepared to pay shipping). Sometimes, for whatever reasons, moms use strollers for just a short time and then look to get rid of them (to fund their next stroller purchase, perhaps......). But seriously, I have purchased 4 of my strollers and unloaded 3 of them this way, so it is a great way to save some money in this area.

Anyone else have anything to add? There's nothing I love more than a good stroller story!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Are We There Yet?

This morning on the way to the gym, I was almost T-boned by some jerk running a red light at probably 60 miles an hour in a 45 mile an hour zone. Worse than that, this is the SECOND time THIS WEEK I have almost been hit by someone running a red light in addition to the idiot that tried to change lanes into my lane when he was only halfway past my car. All near-miss accidents with both of my kids in the car and less than a mile from my home. Which shouldn't be a surprise since we've all heard the statistic that almost a quarter of accidents happen within a mile of home.

Appropriate car seat safety has always been a pet peeve of mine, but it is not a user friendly obsession. Months before Cade was born, Aaron spent an entire afternoon in the driveway installing infant seat bases in each car, only to get to the fire station car seat check and have the inspector shred his work. Another non-surprise since she told us that 80% of car seats are installed incorrectly. Further, she instructed us to come back once the baby was born so she could ensure proper shoulder strap/breastplate placement. A college degree in engineering is no match for a car seat.

Because we know that we are both such poor installers, for the first three years of Cade's life, EVERY TIME we moved car seats or added a baby, we took both cars to the fire station to have the installation checked. There is a reason there was a 3 month wait to get your car seat checked - The Fox Family was hogging all the appointments.

And then came preschool. All of the sudden there were carpools and pickups of extra children and other moms picking up my kids and for the sake of convenience, my hard line approach to installation fell by the wayside. I would think to myself, "They're just going across the street - what could happen?" Until this week and my 3 near misses right here in the neighborhood, which has given me pause on who transports my children and how. And how responsibly I transport other people's children.

Today, as I crossed myself and said a little prayer of thanks for the third time in a week, I vowed to do these four things:
-Look left and right every time I head into an intersection instead of letting the stoplights put me on autopilot.
-Take my van over to the fire station for a car seat checkup - it's been almost a year since the last one and we've moved seats several times.
-STAY OFF THE CELL PHONE. It is scary when you arrive somewhere and realize that you don't remember anything about your journey to the place. In my mind, hands-free sets are worthless because it's not my hands that cause me to be distracted while I'm chatting on the phone and driving - it's my brain. Therefore, until they invent a brain-free phone, I'm staying off of mine.
-Slow down. My husband is forever making fun of me for my lead foot accelerating and braking style. Which I defend by saying that I have so much to do that I am always in a hurry. But that doesn't make sense. Speeding doesn't get me there faster and where am I going, anyway, that's so important? When I leave 10 minutes earlier than I think I need to, I am a MUCH better driver.

My experiences this week remind me of the age-old parenting adage issued to teenagers - "It's not you I don't trust - it's the other guys on the road!". I have realized the true meaning of that in recent days. And it has definitely made me realize the weight of my responsibility to be fully present and aware of what is going on on the road, whether my kids are toddlers in their car seats or teenagers behind the driver's seats.

NOTE: The Governor's Office of Highway Safety provides a listing of car seat check stations in Atlanta at If you're outside the city of Atlanta, check with your local fire station, hospital, BabiesRUs or even some car dealerships. You can also check out this site at

Monday, September 24, 2007

Atlanta's Top Ten for Tots

For my inaugural post on this blog (and since it is an ATLANTA parent blog), thought I would recycle something I wrote a few weeks ago for my personal blog since I've gotten great feedback on it from my friends. After 3 years of parenting in Atlanta and verbally reviewing the different sites around town for various friends, I finally sat down and compiled my "Top 10" (okay, 16) list of places to go/see/do with little ones. Whether you've lived here for awhile or you're new to parenting in this city, hopefully you'll learn from my mistakes...

Pros: Air conditioned, very well baby proofed, great for first time moms because the baby classes include ideas for things to do with your baby and Mommy discussion time. We are still in touch with our friends from my oldest son's Gymboree days.
Cons: Not cheap. Difficult once you have a second child because it is twice as not cheap and little sibling are neither welcome nor encouraged in a big sibling's class (classes are divided by age/ability).

Music Class
Pros: Air conditioned, songs on CD are only marginally annoying, second child can come for free up to like 4 months old or something.
Cons: "Ba, ba bup bup bup bup baaaaa" rhythm song will NEVER leave your head.

Library Story Hour
Pros: FREE! Air conditioned. Fosters love of reading.
Cons: Libraries, by nature, require a certain level of decorum that my children are not capable of.

Little Gym
Pros: Opportunity to practice stunts in safe environment. In the air conditioning. Can you tell the heat bugs me in the summer?
Cons: Expensive

Art Classes
Pros: No mess at my house.
Cons: My children seem to bypass the paints, crafts, metal sculpturing and other cool stuff and head directly for the markers, which we have at home. $10 an hour per kid buys a lot of markers.

Pros: Toddlers don't care whether the rides "go" or not - $5 worth of tokens will last hours. They also don't care that the pizza tastes like cheese covered cardboard - there is a salad bar for moms. They stamp your kids' hands at the door to prevent kidnappers from leaving with someone else's kids.
Cons: A little overstimulating - hard to supervise multiple kids depending on the layout, what with all the moving rides, loud noises, and blinking lights. Also, no hand stamp checking to get into the bathrooms, so it's not an entirely molester-free zone. I always have this fear that the hand stamps cause predators to target ChuckECheese for a challenge. Irrational, I know. But that's part of my charm. : )

Kangazoom/Monkey Joe's/Jumping Places
Pros: An air-conditioned way to wear them out for an affordable price.
Cons: Can get a little rough when school-aged kids are around - take toddlers in the mornings while big kids are in school.

Pros: You get to leave them there! Without you! Plus they learn stuff.
Cons: They close for the summer.

Pros: They are everywhere. You could hit a different one each week for forever. I never,ever thought I would spend so much time touring playgrounds.
Cons: It's too freaking hot for this in the summer!

Swimming Pool
Pros: Nice cool place to hang out in the summer and you can bring your lunch and camp out for the whole day.
Cons: Not so great for crawlers or early walkers - I found it exhausting to try to keep my kids from killing themselves on cement at this age. Also, I am not hot about teenage lifeguards who seem to spend most of their time twirling their whistles and inspecting their own tan lines. I feel justified in saying this because I was a teenage lifeguard at one time so I know how they think. Do NOT plan to go to the pool and leisurely read magazines while lifeguards "watch" your kids. Keep a vigilant eye on the wee ones at all times. No one is watching them but you.

Children's Museum
Pros: Air conditioned. Free for kids under 2, I think. Worth buying an annual family pass once they turn 2 if they like it.
Cons: The Atlanta one has kind of an open format, making it difficult to supervise multiple children at once by yourself. And the "security" guards are apparently guarding the gift shop, not children - they will let your kids waltz right out without you.

Pros: Atlanta zoo is nice sized - not too big, not too small.
Cons: HOT. Do not attempt this activity in the summer. Also I personally think the food is a little gross so we always bring our own lunch. Individual admissions are expensive, so buy the annual family pass once your kids are old enough that you have to pay for them.

Pros: World class aquarium! Right here in Atlanta! We saw the Monterey Bay aquarium this summer and Atlanta's holds it's own against this one.
Cons: Expensive. Get an annual pass if you think you will go a lot. Also, they check your bags for food so don't plan on bringing your own lunch.

Yellow River Game Ranch
Pros: Exotic animals right here in Lilburn!
Cons: It will cost you more to feed the animals than to get in. Bring your own carrots, apples, peanuts, crackers, etc. Bring your own picnic lunch as well, but the playground is a death trap for toddlers so steer clear unless your kids are school aged.

Botanical Gardens
Pros: Awesome children's garden with a fountain.
Cons: The rest of the gardens are cool too but it is impossible to enjoy them with my kids in tow. Perhaps parents of more mellow children have better luck.

Burger King/McDonald's/ChickFilA (indoor playground variety only)
Pros: Air conditioned, economical, one stop shop. Food, activity, chair for mom, free refills on Diet Coke, what could be better?
Cons: Why do my kids always get lost in those stupid indoor playground tunnels?

I know I've left stuff off and I'd love to add new sites to my repertoire - anyone else out there got any faves to share?