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!