Thursday, November 20, 2008

Win a Moby Wrap!

Seems like I have lots of friends in the Atlanta area with new babies and you guys gotta get one of these - the Moby Wrap. We're giving one away over at Baby Bunching - drop by and comment before Sunday 11/23 to enter to win one!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Million and One Reasons Why I Love Target

It's no secret that I love Target. In fact, since I had children, I shop there pretty much to the exclusion of everywhere else except the grocery store. It is one of the great sorrows of my life that my Target is not a SuperTarget. But hey - it recently got a Starbucks, so I'm not complaining.

Today I found another reason to love Target. They were the presenting sponsor of Woodruff Art's Center's Free Family Day. We decided to brave the crowds and drag the kiddies to this event in Midtown after church today. What a fun time! Plus bonus points for scoring a free parking spot right in front of the High Museum!

My oldest son's favorite activity was the instrument petting zoo, where he got to check out wind, brass, and string instruments. He was mildly disappointed that percussion instruments were noticeably absent, but that was remedied with a quick trip to the African drumming room.

There were tons of crafts - kids were able to make swords and scabbards, their own mini-museums, instruments, hand puppets, and bucket hats (my son went back three times to keep adding to his before the masterpiece was finally deemed "finished"). There were sidewalk murals and chalk drawings in front of the High. There were performers galore, courtesy of Young Audiences. Admission to the High Museum was free, although the only thing my kids were interested in there was running up and down the spiral ramps, which pleased the staff of the High to no end, as you can imagine. There was an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performance (which we missed because my kids were hyped up by then and we figured we should spare the ASO the pleasure of their company in the audience). And a ton of other stuff that we never even got to. We were there for three and a half hours and we probably did a third of the available activities.

We finally left only because my middle son was literally falling asleep on one of the Target bullseye doormats in the common area. I think it was a bit much for the poor little guy. But all in all, a beautiful way to spend the day and we hope they do it again next year!

PS - Did the Target free day at the Children's Museum as well earlier this summer - not as many "extra" activities but a great way to see the museum for free - just be sure to get there early or expect a line.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Parks Galore

Fall in Atlanta is my absolute favorite time of year. Maybe it's because I grew up in Houston, which has exactly one season - summer - but there's nothing I love more than to be outdoors in the crisp air with the changing leaves.

Even though it's still a little early and warm for fall, Atlanta's optimal playground season has already started. With the stifling summer heat behind us, our family is enjoying a triumphant return to our favorite area playgrounds!

We always like to learn about new ones, so I've posted some of our favorites in the hopes that you'll share some of yours.

  • Piedmont Park - The new Mayor's Park playground is awesome! With lots of fun equipment and soft rubber (read: no wood chips) surfacing, it's worth hours of entertainment. Plus, ride your bike or push the stroller around the park when you're done. Bonus: the newly re-designed playground now has a conveniently located and clean restroom right next to it - yay!
  • Centennial Olympic Park - read my post on this from a few weeks ago. So much fun that we actually went several times even in the summer heat because you can cool off in the fountains afterwards.
  • Brook Run Park in Dunwoody -multiple playgrounds for big and little kids and lots of space for dogs (or little boys, in our case) to run. Also features a Children's Adventure Garden.
  • East Cobb Park - multiple age-appropriate play structures, bike/walk trail around the park, clean restrooms, a babbling stream for wading, plus plenty of open space for picnicking and kicking a ball - what more could you ask for?
  • Chastain Park - play on the equipment or walk the trail around the park. If the ball fields nearby are empty, your little ones can poke around there and kick/throw a ball around.
We've also got our favorites here in Smyrna, where we live, but we like to take advantage of the weekends to explore new parks in other parts of town. Share your favorites that are drive-worthy!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Clifford, Junior League of Atlanta, and Super Why

Saturday was a big day for us. We started off at Barnes and Noble to check out a special event featuring Clifford. After a Clifford reading and a visit from the Big Red Dog himself, we scored Clifford's "autograph". Somehow my kids just weren't in the mood so it was kind of a bust for us, but other children enjoyed it. And we did get Clifford's paw print "autograph", which is going to show and tell with my oldest son this week.

On to the Junior League of Atlanta's Building a Better Community Week Fire Station Ice Cream Social. Held each year at the Moore's Mill/Howell Mill fire station in September, this event was started post-9/11 as a way to honor our community's fire fighters. Kids have a chance to check out the fire engines up close, interact with real-life heroes, and enjoy tasty ice cream. The firefighters get really into it and even put on a little demonstration for us where they extended their ladder all the way and climbed to the top. I was volunteering for this event and my kids arrived just after the trucks had to leave on a call, so they missed the truck action. But my oldest informed me that since his last birthday party was at the fire station, he was really just there for the ice cream. Which he enjoyed immensely. Event was a hit.

Last stop of the day - Happy Healthy Kids Day at Georgia Public Broadcasting. This free event was open to the public and featured storytellers, bands, magicians, face painting, crafts and games. We went because my kids are HUGE Super Why! fans and the gang was making an appearance, along with Word Girl, Curious George, Clifford (on tour in Atlanta that day, apparently), and Princess Presto. I'm not sure if this event has been held before or not, but I kind of thought it would be us and 5 other people. Instead, half the city of Atlanta was there. The place was packed and we even ran into several people we knew. By the time we got there, Super Why! had long since gone, but we did wait in line 40 minutes to see Curious George. It was a little crazy since the event was spread across 4 floors of the GPB building and almost everyone there had a stroller, but there were fun crafts and activities for the kids. Probably more appropriate for pre-school/early elementary kids than older school-aged kids. A major shout-out to all the GPB staff and volunteers - they were unfailingly polite and helpful and really made everyone feel welcome. I hope this event repeats next year and I hope they move it to a bigger/more horizontal venue. Thanks, GPB!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Baby Faire a Bust for Me

Promised an update on Baby Faire, but thanks to my own personal baby, the past week has been so crazy that I am waaaay overdue for a post. No time for a ton of details, but here's the upshot:
  • There were less vendors than I expected and frankly, less free stuff. I paid $8 to get in and I'm actually not even sure if I got $8 worth of free stuff.
  • I did get one cool thing - check out my product review post on Baby Bunching for Toddler Bites, a nifty gadget I picked up at the Faire.
  • I was a little miffed because they fooled me into registering on a computer up front, claiming that vendors would "scan" my bar coded name tag and automatically enter me in drawings to win free stuff. Instead, only two vendors actually had scanners. So I ended up filling out cards at the places where I wanted more information and every other vendor got my information whether I wanted them to or not. Plus I paid $8 for them to get it. AND I didn't win any free stuff. Bummer.
  • There was some kind of anime convention going on at Cobb Galleria at the same time as the Baby Faire. Weirdos dressed up in costume + babies = sketched out parents.
The verdict: Graco, Chicco, Babies R Us, Medela, Playtex, Avent, Dr. Browns, and others all had extensive booths with tons of products. Great event for first time moms looking to get info for registering. Not so much for third-time moms.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fun for Mommy and Baby?

On Saturday, the wee one and I are planning to attend the American Baby Faire. Let me say in advance that I am not endorsing this event, as I've never attended. But it's another one of those things I've been meaning to do for years. Friends of mine have been in the past and raved about all the freebies and good info.

Given that it is 10 minutes from my house and hubby is willing to watch the big boys, the little one and I are going to give it a go. Freebies, baby toy testing stations, a designated nursing area - what could be more baby and mom-friendly?

I'll post a review after the fact, but just wanted to give y'all a heads up in case anyone was interested in going!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trying Something New, Part II

On Saturday, I attended a book signing for Sleep is For the Weak that was exciting for two reasons:
In a sad twist of irony that is the perfect ending to my Decatur Book Festival saga posted earlier this week, it turns out that some of the contributors to Sleep is For the Weak were actually AT the festival last weekend when I was there, so I could've saved myself an extra trip. Ugh. But hey - at least I finally got to see Beehive Co-Op!

The upshot of the excursion was:
  • It was nice to leave my house, where I have been holed up with my new baby for the past 6 weeks. As a bonus, the weather is a little bit cooler than it was 6 weeks ago - fall is on the horizon!
  • It was exciting to meet rock stars of the mommy blogging world.
  • The book is cute and worth a read - an entertaining compilation of essays on parenting from a host of mommy bloggers. My favorite section was the last one, entitled "Personal Growth Blows".
  • Beehive Co-Op is awesome and worth a trip - tons of unique, one-of-a-kind locally made clothing (children and adults), accessories, and home decorative items. Unfortunately for me, I had my baby in tow. He HATES the car, so when he woke up halfway through the excursion I had to haul ass home because I knew I was living on borrowed time before he freaked out. So I definitely plan to return without him some day.
All in all, my second attempt to try something new this week turned out WAY better than the first. Probably because I had two fewer kids with me.

Trying Something New

This week I had the rare opportunity to do TWO new things in Atlanta that I have been meaning to do for several years.

Last weekend we packed up the crew and made the trek across town to the Decatur Book Festival. I've seen advertisements in the AJC for this for years and it's always looked interesting, but I never made it in my pre-baby days. Once the boys were born in rapid succession, we pretty much avoided any event that contained any combination of the words "Decatur" (across town), "Book" (who has time to read?) and "Festival" (frequently not stroller-friendly).

But we were desperate for something to do besides the pool or the same old parks we hit every weekend, so off we went. The verdict: if your family is like my family (i.e. two high energy pre-school aged boys), wait a few years to check it out.

The festival purports to be family-friendly and while I would not say it was family UN-friendly, there isn't a whole lot to do for small kids. For some reason, I was hoping there would be an army of children's literary characters that my kids could talk to, like Arthur (whom I find annoying as hell when I have to read him but awesome when he is live and in person and entertaining my kids), or a Harry Potter magic show or something.

Instead, there was a craft tent sponsored by Target and a children's stage with children's authors. Which would've been cool except the author that was there when we were there seemed to target tweens and not preschoolers. There was a children's parade and children's authors/musicians earlier in the weekend, but we failed to check the lineup so we missed those. There were several booths selling children's books, but they were crammed in close proximity to each other and had high traffic flow, making it difficult to find a way to navigate the stroller containing our youngest so the two oldest could check out books. Of course, it was hotter than Hades, so my middle son proceeded to show signs of a heatstroke almost as soon as we got there, and we had to stop and feed and water him. So at least I can attest that the Decatur Book Festival has great food vendors.

There was a whole section of book vendors that my husband and I (both avid readers in pre-baby days and even now, when we can squeeze it in) both gazed longingly at. But alas, it was not meant to be - our bunch was ready to go home, so we had to bail.

All in all, the outing was a pseudo-bust. I say "pseudo" because on the bright side, our newest addition, who has barely slept since he was born 6 weeks ago, sacked out in the car and slept through the whole thing. Ahh...blissful silence from him so we could focus on the incessant yammering for treats of the other two.

To add insult to injury, when we got home my husband checked his email and saw that he had gotten one about a super-family friendly event involving bouncies, kid-friendly freebies, and tons of family-friendly vendors - the Family Festival at the Labor Day 10K Classic. Which is held less than 10 minutes from our house. Ouch. Oh well. Maybe next year.

This post turned out to be longer than I intended, so stay tuned for details on my other Atlanta excursion later this week...

Monday, August 18, 2008

I've Worked Myself Out of a Job

You will notice that my postings on this blog are sporadic, and half of them are cross-posted to another site. This is because my initial focus of this blog was to talk about parenting my children, who were born very close together, with an Atlanta spin/focus.

Since then, a friend and I have started our own website on Baby Bunching, the term we use to describe having children close together. We are working on a book on this topic and the idea is that the site will help drum up some buzz for us. So if this topic applies to you or someone you know, check it out and pass it along!

I have also started blogging for Deep South Moms, which has a little bit more of a regional/geographic focus. In addition, my personal blog, The Fox Factor, covers the antics of my Little Men in far more detail than anyone except their grandparents would care about. Even their own father doesn't read the blog - no joke.

So that leaves me with not a lot left to say on this blog. But I will keep trying!

Today's nugget of advice for parenting in Atlanta was inspired by a jaunt down to to Centennial Olympic Park. To celebrate the end of summer (er...I mean, the start of school), some girlfriends and I took our assorted offspring down to the park to play on the playground and cool off in the fountains. Downtown parking is a rip-off. When heading to this part of town, I always park at the lot at the corner of Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Harris Street (the one that USED to be $5 with your Children's Museum ticket stub). Unfortunately, that lot now charges something outrageous like $2 for 20 minutes or something - last week I paid $13 to park there for two hours when we went to the Children's Museum. Today my friends introduced me to the lot on Simpson and Centennial Olympic Park. $5 for all day and not the least bit sketchy, like some downtown lots. Woohoo! This lot provides easy access to the park, the Children's Museum, World of Coca Cola, and the Aquarium! Although there was an attendant roaming when we got there but he was gone by the time we left, so be sure to bring cash for the cashbox system.

Also, a quick plug for the Children's Garden/Playground and All Children's Playground if you haven't been down to these yet. Two playgrounds in one convenient location, with the splash fountains a short walk away to cool off on a warm day! Add plenty of greenspace for picnicking and running around and you've got a nice outing for the kiddos.

Friday, August 8, 2008

War Games

I'm over at Deep South Moms this week, talking about some of my kids' favorite games. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Third Time's A Charm

We recently added our 3rd boy in 4 1/2 years to the family. Nowadays, since having 3 children seems to be equivalent to having 100 to most people, the question I get the most is, " is it having THREE?". The answer: a hell of a lot easier than having one or two.

Like most first-time parents, I was a nervous wreck when my first son was a baby. Lacking knowledge or confidence, I relied too heavily on the advice of grandparents (outdated at times), parenting books (too regimented) and the pediatrician (mine didn't even have kids!). As an extreme Type A personality in my pre-baby days, I fretted about developing/sticking to schedules and assimilating the new baby into "my" life - not realizing that my life would become him. Don't get me wrong - I loved him with all my heart, but I worried about things in the beginning like making sure he ate every 3 hours on the dot and not holding him too much so he wouldn't get spoiled. Everything took forever and it took me 2 hours to get out of the house to go anywhere. I followed manuals and advice like they were the law. On the advice of my pediatrician, I (stupidly) Ferberized him at 2 months old. I refused to put him in the Exersaucer a minute before 4 months, since that's what the manual suggested. I made all his baby food, and not a drop of sugar, juice, or anything artificial crossed his lips until the bite of his first birthday cake. When he was 4 months old I remember thinking I would never get my life back. Just around the time that I started to settle in and get comfortable as a parent when he was 7 months old, I found out I was pregnant again.

With baby number two, I was in a baby and toddler-induced fog. I was more confident, for sure, and I moved more quickly. With an energetic 17 month old to entertain, I was out the door and back at playgroups by the time #2 was a week old. But it took a minimum of 5 trips to the car to go anywhere - carrying baby, toddler, diaper bags, strollers, my purse, snacks/drinks, etc. So we we were pretty much limited to one outing a day. Breastfeeding was a miserable failure because I couldn't sit still long enough to feed or find time to pee if I drank the requisite amount of water needed to make it a success. The baby had tummy problems, so he cried for the first 6 months of his life and refused to be consoled by anyone except me. My single biggest concern was getting everyone on a sleep schedule that overlapped enough to allow me a 1 hour break in the afternoon and at least 6 uninterrupted hours at night. This time around, I enjoyed the baby furtively during middle of the night feedings - during the only quiet time we had together. And yet, I was relieved when those middle of the night feedings went away so I could get the sleep I needed to function during our very hectic days. As much as I loved the baby, I celebrated when he turned 18 months old and things started to get easier.

The third time around, I opted for a longer spacing of 3 years between #2 and #3. And I am in heaven. I have never been so glad to be a Baby Buncher, a term my best friend and I coined for having our children less than two years apart. My two oldest function as a unit and keep each other entertained so I can spend endless hours holding, loving, and drinking in the baby. This time around, I hold him around the clock without fear of spoiling him because I know that eventually he will push me away so he can catch up with his brothers. Instead of rushing nursing sessions, I let them drag on for an hour while I smell him, rub his head, and kiss every part of his body. When he has an issue of some sort, instead of rushing to call the doctor or the pediatrician, I trust my own instincts on what worked or didn't work the other two times. Instead of rushing back to playgroups, I've holed up in my house for the past two weeks (and may take another week or two) to just enjoy getting to know the newest member of our family. I let friends bring us dinner. I let my husband play with the big boys. I let laundry and housework pile up guilt-free - I've realized that it will always be there, but these baby moments are so fleeting.

My husband and I have pretty much decided that this will be our last child, so maybe that's why I'm so sentimental this time around. Or who knows - maybe I'm in a honeymoon fantasy land and my bubble will be burst when my newborn "wakes up" (seems like it happened around week 3 with my other boys). Either way, I'll treasure these moments with my third baby forever. It seems I've finally realized what a true blessing and gift it is to be able to bring new life into the world.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Baby and Me

In anticipation of Baby Boy #3, I signed Boys #1 and #2 up for the Baby and Me class at Northside Hospital. This class is designed to help Big Siblings -To-Be understand what to expect with a new baby in the house and how to "help" care for a new baby. Yesterday was the big day of the class, and hubby was out of town so that left the boys and I to go it alone. Boy #2 barely met the age minimum of 3 (ok, he won't meet the age minimum for three more weeks but they didn't ask for his ID and I didn't want him to feel left out so I fudged a little), so I was a little worried about how he would do. As it turns out, my fears were not unfounded, but he could've done worse.

Our first luck-out was when the instructor informed us that our class was the smallest class in the history of Baby and Me (it was just my boys and a 7 year old girl). The instructor seemed disappointed by this fact, but I am convinced that it was God's way of sparing other children and their parents the experience of "learning" with my children.

This one-hour, "fast paced" (as described in the course material) starts off with the instructor distributing a sibling scrapbook/coloring book and crayons for each child to take home for later. This was Instructor Mistake Number One. Boy #2 got sidetracked by the fact this his crayon box was slightly different than his older brother's and spent the rest of the class fixated on how to get crayons "just like my brother's". Halfway through the class, he finally let go of it and spent the rest of the class taking his Crocs on and off and trying to push his own stroller around the classroom.

Boy #1 (age 4 1/2), to his credit, paid attention and even seemed to absorb critical information! His attention only wavered when I busted out my camera to capture pictures of him changing a baby doll's diaper, at which point he insisted on using the camera himself to photograph every baby doll in the class.

The main points of the class can be summarized as:
-Don't touch the baby's umbilical cord stump
-Ask mom or dad to hold the baby
-Wash your hands before holding baby
-Sit all the way back in your chair to hold baby
-Tell mom and dad when you are tired of holding baby, don't just drop him on the floor
-How to change a diaper (I never would've guessed that with 3 and 4 year old assistants, I might be able to avoid changing a single diaper this time around!)
-Seeing an actual newborn baby in the nursery (the only baby available was a girl and my kids were unimpressed)

As a bonus, when you complete the class, you get a coupon for a free McFlurry at the Northside Hospital McDonalds. Since both boys were really good (for them), we hit the McDonalds and used one of our coupons to split a McFlurry three ways, pocketing the others for use when the baby is born. As we enjoyed our McFlurry, I asked each of the boys what their favorite part of the class was. Boy #1's response: "This is crazy! There's a McDonalds in this hospital!"

Boy #2 retained more than I thought, because when I quizzed them today on the tips offered in the class, Boy #1 could only remember to wash his hands and ask to touch the baby. Boy #2 busted out with "Wiggle, wiggle, bum to the back!" (the instructor's rhyme to help children remember to sit all the way back in their chairs when holding baby).

I would highly recommend this class for other, more focused Siblings-To-Be. There is even a more advanced, in-depth, 1.5-hour Baby and Me II for children ages 7 to 10. Check out Northside's class listings at to register.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Boys of Summer

It's officially summer in the Fox household. Even at this young age, my boys seem to sense the freedom that long, lazy summer days offer. They have this inexplicable pull to be outside, even in the sweltering Atlanta heat, and they are determined to dart out to the backyard every time I turn my back on them. They can be found, at any hour of the day where there is daylight (and often pushing into dusk), running around the backyard shoeless and sometimes shirtless, depending on the heat. There's no shortage of adventures to be had outside. We have a small fleet of cars and bikes, ranging from a Little Tikes motorcycle all the way to a tiny toddler BMW convertible. When they're not playing "cars", they're graffitting the driveway with sidewalk chalk. When things get a little warm, they fill up the water table and take turns either splashing each other or standing in it. In between, they take breaks for bubbles, matchbox cars, and Popsicles, occasionally running in the house to get more toys, snacks, or drinks. Pretty much the only time they stop playing in the backyard is when we pack up and go for a break from the heat at the local pool.

They've always been all boy, but this summer they seem to have a Tom and Huck air about them - hair sticking up, dirt smudged on their faces, scabby knees, bruised legs,and of course, dirty feet since they refuse to wear shoes for backyard adventures. They smell of sunblock and chlorine and their hands and faces are sticky from all the watermelon, Popsicles, and lemonade. They play like wild men all day and then collapse from exhaustion into bed at the end of the day.

Their enthusiasm for the summer is infectious. I've staked myself a spot on the screened-in porch underneath the ceiling fan where I can supervise their antics in a cooler setting. I sip tall glasses of lemonade and flip through a magazines while they play. I try to resist the urge to wipe dirty faces and feet every time they come onto the porch to show me something (usually a bug of some sort). I've officially given up on keeping the floors clean (thank goodness we got hardwoods this spring - no more carpet to worry about!), rolling up the area rug in our living room and resigning myself to the bits of outdoor debris that seem to migrate inside during the boys' cooling off breaks.

I know that by the time September rolls around, we'll all be ready for the routine of school again, but for now, it feels awfully good just to be experiencing the summer little boy style.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Buying Baby Happiness

I must have a lot of spare time lately, because I have been reading like a fool for the past two months. Unfortunately, I have not been using this spare time to post on this blog, but I did stumble across the perfect blog topic the other day in the course of reading. A friend of mine lent me a copy of Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul - a quick read that's worth a flip-through for any parent with the perception of excess time.

The subtitle of the book says it all: How We are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers - and What It Means for Our Children.

I found the topic of this book particularly interesting as someone who has always wanted a "lot" of children (defined by me as 4, defined by everyone else I know as more than 2). I have always been surprised by the number of our friends and acquaintances that were shocked to hear that we wanted more than 2 kids - most of them citing financial reasons as their main rationale for stopping at 2. This surprised me mainly because the bulk of them are solidly upper middle class (and still upwardly mobile).

It never occurred to me to stop having kids because they were too expensive. I figured that as long as we could provide for basic needs and a few luxury extras like the annual summer vacation, an occasional pair of the "right" jeans, and dance or karate lessons all around, we were golden. Kids have been sharing rooms and wearing hand-me-downs since the beginning of time - surely it isn't child abuse to expect the same of my kids? When I wanted a car at age 16, my parents sent me to work as a lifeguard at the local pool to earn the privilege. When it was time to go to college, I chose the state school (Hook 'Em Horns!) over the private school I wanted to attend and got accepted to (Go Irish!), mainly because it was about $23,000 a year cheaper. And I turned out OK, right?

But it turns out that what's good for the goose and the gander is not necessarily good for their gosling in this day and age. Parenting, Inc. explores why our generation is increasingly feeling like we can't afford children. Because we are constantly assaulted by advertising for products that we we need in order to raise our children to be not only successful, but competitive with the other overachievers of their generation that are being groomed as we speak. The book covers so many products, services, and classes available for tiny tots that I ended up skimming half of the book because my senses felt assaulted by all the overstimulation. Imagine how our three month olds feel when we toss them into a steady stream of Gymboree, Music Classes, Baby Einstein DVD's and Tiny Love Mobiles.

The book makes a valid point - that by raising a generation of children that are constantly stimulated by toys and activities and are accustomed to being the center of attention, we are setting them up to be a generation of kids that care about having things instead of relationships. In addition, we are denying them of the opportunity to develop any real creativity or problem-solving skills. Which, in turn, will result in children that are are restless and unhappy because they are so dependent on instant gratification. So in the quest to keep our children happy, we are, effectively, robbing them of the ability to create their own happiness. It's worth spending some time thinking about before you totally write off the idea of that third kid...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Busy Week

Crazy week...cross-posting again. Check out my post on the recent study about the correlation between a mother's diet at conception and her baby's gender.

Monday, April 21, 2008

National TV Turnoff Week and The Washington Post

Did you know that it's National TV Turnoff Week? Turn off the TV and check out my post about it on The Fox Factor.

Also, props to my friend and fellow mommy blogger Linda. She was invited to guest blog on The Washington Post parenting page today! The topic - bunching your babies (having kids close together).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Happy Earth Day 2.0

Since my early Earth Day post a few weeks ago, I have been making steady progress on my Earth Day resolutions, including:
  • purchased separate recycling containers for my clean aluminum, glass, paper, and plastic recyclables and put them in my pantry rather than the garage, so i recycle more frequently
  • stopped throwing #5 and 6 plastics in the bin after I realized my city doesn't accept them and I (sadly) can't find anywhere in the area that does
  • purchased reusable cloth grocery bags
  • switched to the new eco-friendly green clorox all purpose spray
  • purchased a composting bin, which my husband has drawn the line at and insisted i return since he refuses to have rotting food in our kitchen or our backyard
I'm still working on that switch to CFC lightbulbs, but I've also been on the lookout for other opportunities to be more environmentally responsible. Imagine my excitement today to see an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on green mothering! As a result (check out the article to see why), I'm seeing both Jet Dry and vinegar in a whole new light. At the end of the article, there's a list of 25 ways to be a green mom - I was pleased to see that I am currently doing 10 of them. Plus I now have a list of 15 more ideas to pursue, including seeing if I can hang on to the composting container and pawn some of my compost off on my gardening neighbors. Thanks, AJC and writer Patti Ghezzi!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Voices in My Head

My oldest son has always been a man of few words. I worked with him on his conversational skills all last school year and felt that I had made substantive progress by the end of the year when I got him to say, "I don't feel like talking to you right now, Mommy" in response to my questions about school, instead of ignoring me and staring out the car window.

By the time summer rolled around and he still had nothing to say to me (or anyone else for that matter), I took him for a complete speech and hearing evaluation just to make sure everything was OK. Ears checked out fine, but the two-hour speech evaluation was a nail-biter. Cade hung in there with the flashcards, but didn't seem to want to answer any questions, like when the speech therapist asked him where in his house he plays. When she asked him for the ten thousandth time where he plays (I'm actually not even sure what response she wanted here), he barked at her in an exasperated voice - "Right here, lady!". She immediately ended the session, gave him a clean bill of speech health, told us that his primary problem was that he didn't WANT to talk to us, and gave us a nifty worksheet on tips for stimulating speech with preschoolers.

Fast forward a year. His little brother, who was extremely early verbal and a nonstop talker, has started to rub off on him. Basically this means that between the two of them, they never shut up. Despite my profound hearing loss and the fact that I sometimes ditch my hearing aids for a good portion of the day, my ears are actually tired at the end of the day - is that possible?

Here's just a sampling of the things I listen to all day and the categories of comments under which they fall:

Great Ideas
Cade: Lookit Drew - Matchbox cars go faster if we put water on the floor!
Drew: Cade! Watch me jump from train table to coffee table!
Cade: The scooter goes down the hill faster if you do it backwards.
Drew: Let's do sidewalk chalk on the side of the van!

Drew (sobbing!): Cade take my cars!
Cade: They're MY cars! (even though he never card one whit about cars until Drew took an interest in them)

Cade (while playing Candyland): You can't be green! I'm green!

Drew: Don't color on my page. That's MY page!

Drew: Mommy! Cade tell on me!

Cade: But Mommy! I'm hungry! PLEASE let me have Cheez Nips for breakfast! I really, really want them!
Drew: But I want the Cars vitamins, not Flintstones!
Cade: Mommy! You know I don't wear shirts with buttons!

Attention Getting
Either Boy: Hey Mommy? (repeated a thousand times a day by each child and followed by either a question or a comment).

And my two favorite verbal development categories that have recently emerged:

Drew: Mommy! Don't say "Eat your freaking vegetables"! Freaking vegetables is a bad word!
Cade: Mommy! You're supposed to slow down at yellow lights - it means a red light is coming!
Cade: Mommy! There's a drought! You're not supposed to leave the water on while you brush your teeth!

Court Reporter
Cade: But Mommy! Earlier you said we could paint when we got home from the park!
Drew: Mommy! You said we could watch a show when we got up from nap.
Cade: But Mommy! You said we could have a snack if we ate lunch. I ate all the fruit!

But on the bright side, at least Cade is talking now and saving me money on speech therapy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Rock Stars

My husband is currently in school working on his MBA, which has caused him to regress and act more like a 19 year old than the early-30-something he really is. School is supposedly really challenging, but all I know is that he is gone from our house for over 40 hours a week, yet he is only taking 12 hours and he is now proficient in the video game Rock Band, which he was not when he started school. So who knows.

After months of him begging me to agree to purchase the XBox 360 and assorted Rock Band gear, I finally caved last week. He rushed right out and bought it, lest I change my mind, and proceeded to spend that entire night and most of the three subsequent evenings playing the game. I warned him that with such an expensive and obviously boy-friendly setup, he should take pains to hide it from our two sons. Unfortunately, he never listens to me and ignored the advice and the boys discovered it and are now OBSESSED with it. They call it "Rock Star" and they can't play worth a crap (after all, they are only 4 and almost 3), but that doesn't stop them from bugging the heck out of their father while the try to learn. Which I, of course, love.

My favorite part about it is that the first thing they beg to do every morning, before our eyes are even open, is to play Rock Band. Which of, course, only their father knows how to do. So I roll over to catch a few more zzz's and let him deal with the consequences of this idiotic purchase.

I had to laugh the other night when I headed off to bed and my husband surprised me by joining me, instead of staying up later to read like he usually does. When I asked if he was tired, he said, "No. But I figure I need to get to bed now - my band will be in here for rehearsal at 7 am sharp". Now that's what I call poetic justice.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Happy Earth Day - Early!

Today, as we were driving past a residential construction site where they were cutting down trees to build houses, my newly minted 4 year old busted out with the following surprise comments:

Cade: Mommy, if they keep cutting down all the trees then they will cut them all down and we won’t have any more.

Me: That’s right, Cade, it’s very sad to cut down trees.

Cade: But it’s ok, mommy. The builders can just build some new ones and then we will have enough to make another woods.

Me (excitedly seizing a rare opportunity to make good on a “teachable moment”): Well, Cade, it’s not that easy. Builders can’t build trees – it takes a really long time and a lot of sunshine and rain to build trees. That’s why we have to take good care of the trees we have. And also, we can’t waste things like paper and cardboard because they are made from trees. That’s why we try to recycle.

Cade: Yes. We cannot wait a very long time for more trees. Mommy! I just found a piece of candy in my car seat! Can I eat it?

I was beyond excited about this brief, but poignant exchange about the environment. Mainly because after 31 years of really not caring much about the environment (No, I’m not a heartless ogre – I just work in social work so my main interest is people), I spent a good chunk of the summer in California last year and was bitten by the environmental bug. Impressed by how much they actually CARE about taking care of the environment out there, I really began to notice opportunities for me to make a small dent as well and have been making good progress over the past year. In addition, this month’s extensive Earth Day/Be Green media coverage in everything from my parenting mags to TIME and even the crappy Star and US weekly gossip rags has got me on high alert. After all, it may not feel like a big deal to do small things, but if everyone does something small, it can have a big impact.

So what have I done? Not much, but it’s a start and I have big plans.

  • Since last summer, I have made a renewed commitment to recycling and make sure the bins go out weekly instead of monthly (I used to let them sit around for two weeks after they were full and then trash recyclables just because the bin was full).
  • I took the time to look up my city’s guidelines about what they actually accept and recycle instead of just throwing things away because I wasn’t positive they could be recycled.
  • I took the time to gripe at my husband (yet AGAIN) for throwing wet paper and pizza-soiled cardboard in the recycling bin. These things are expressly forbidden by aforementioned guidelines. I think I have finally shamed him into listening to me…
  • I took FIVE YEARS (I kid you not) worth of plastic grocery bags that I have been saving and deposited them in my store’s recycling receptacle. In the process, learned that my store accepts egg cartons, which my city recycling program does not. Woohoo!
  • Took my old electronics to the city’s electronic recycling drive.
  • Purchased a programmable thermostat to keep our house at a reasonable setting. Husband (clearly not yet pro-environment) does get credit for this one.

What do I plan to do:

  • I have already identified a three part bin that I can put in my pantry that will allow me to sort paper, plastic and cans right here in my kitchen instead of trekking out to the dirty nasty bin in the garage every time. I plan to get it this weekend.
  • Commit to cloth grocery bags. I have been hesitant to do this thus far because it appears that the people that use cloth bags are only filling them with organic vegetables and only require 2 bags to carry their groceries. My heartily eating family blows through AT LEAST two loaves of bread, two gallons of milk, 15 boxes of cereal and heaven knows how many Goldfish crackers a week. Plus the laundry detergent required to clean them after they are covered head to toe in peanut butter and jelly. But if I have to embarrass myself buy bringing home 25 cloth bags a week of groceries, so be it. Better than wasting the plastic.
  • Convince husband to switch to CFC light bulbs. He actually requested that I present him with a cost-benefit analysis justifying the extra expense of the bulbs. I’ve seen it 1,000 times in magazines this month – just need to rip an article out and give it to him…
  • Identify a recycling place where I can take the things my city won’t accept. They only take plastics #1 and 2, yet almost everything I use comes in #5 containers! Heartbreaking to toss them, per the city’s recommendations. Need to find another option…(already tried to pawn them off on the preschool for crafts – didn’t work).
  • Finally commit to properly recycling batteries as well. I have been guiltily and surreptitiously throwing them in the trash (I know, I know). Must stop. NOW. Especially since my kids go through so many batteries that I regret not buying stock in Duracell.

What I would like to do but probably won’t:

  • Eat locally grown foods. I am lucky to get to the store once a week (which is why I have 25 bags of food every time I do go). No time to go multiple times or to multiple stores.
  • Start a compost. My husband has expressly forbidden rotting foods to take up residence in our kitchen. I think he is afraid I won’t “take care” of it properly, since I have killed countless houseplants and had to give my cat away once the children were born since I couldn’t manage it all.
  • Switch to cloth diapers. Too inconvenient and finally (after extensive research in numerous parenting magazines on this article) have convinced myself that the water and energy required to wash them outweigh negatives of dumping the disposables.
  • Wash all of my clothes in cold water. My kid is potty training and it just seems too filthy not to put things like soiled underwear and dirty sheets/towels in the hottest water I can to kill germs.
  • Walk to save gas. I messed this up by having too many children - I can't fit them all in the Radio Flyer wagon anymore. But hey - at least I bought a minivan instead of the gas-guzzling SUV I wanted! And maybe my next one can be a hybrid...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Ok, when I had my kids close together, I knew it would probably be a couple of years before I was consistently getting a good night's sleep. But here it is, FOUR years later, and I am about to give birth to my third child, and the consistent good night's sleep still eludes me. Which means, I figure I am looking at about a combined total decade (at least) of crappy sleep. Nice. Now I will preface this blog by saying that because I have a severe hearing loss (which I never considered a mixed blessing until I had children), I often don't hear the cries for help until they have arrived at my bedside. Or at least, I pretend not to, I will admit on some occasions. So my husband assumes most of the night-time child rearing responsibilities once the nursing period has ended. So he gets major credit here. But he frequently travels for work, so I have plenty of opportunities to step up, too. Between the two of us, we are lucky to average a full night's sleep.

I'm writing this is a person who was blessed with good sleepers. DS #1 slept 6 hours through the night from the first day of his life. I am convinced mostly because I ignored the night nurse's orders to wake him and feed him ever 3 hours. I figured no almost 8 pound baby was going to starve to death in his sleep, so I went by his internal clock instead, and sure enough - he would eat every 2 hours after that stretch, but I could get a decent 6 hours of sleep out of him which by a new mother's standards IS "through the night". DS #2 was a little dicier at night, but still manageable, and quickly conformed to his older brother's 3 hour-afternoon nap schedule so I could get several hours in the afternoon to catch up on zzzz's if I needed to.

Once past the infancy period, both children slept fairly well, barring the occasional sickness or teething episode.

Yet here we are in toddler/preschoolhood and my husband counted getting up, between the two boys, SIX times the other night. And this has been going on, on and off, for awhile. Six times is fairly extreme, but I would hazard to say that someone is up at least once a night every night. They go to bed fairly easily, probably 5 nights out of the 7. But once down, they have issues staying down.

Why are they up, you might ask? Well, they suffer from what my husband likes to call "Constant Needs". Constant Needs range from "I Need to PeePee" (which even though I can do perfectly well by myself during the day, requires your assistance at 2 am) to "I Need Water" (which inevitably leads back to I Need to PeePee) to the vague and frustrating "I Need You" ("you" being whomever happens to answer the crying call - mom or dad). WTH!?!?!?

The ironic thing is, both boys sleep in the same room, in the same BED, but not one of their crying jags ever seem to wake the other boy, even though they cause mom and dad to shoot out of bed like rockets. So training them to help each other peepee and get their own water is out of the question. Ugh.

I have been wondering what we were doing wrong until a friend with two boys the same age (also expecting her third any day now) mentioned that her boys were up a million times the other night. So is this some kind of age-stage thing that otherwise self-sufficient, potty trained, water self-servers go through? And I just happened to be unlucky enough to have two of them in this stage at the same time? Anyone have any stories (or advice!) to share on this topic?

I am so sleep scarred that last night I spent the night in my parent's house (sans children - I am in Houston for a wedding) and I woke up THREE times on my own, not including the time I woke up for the day at 6:45 am because I thought I heard a child yelping. Now, I will admit that one of these times was pregnancy bladder related, but I am seriously wondering if I will need to seek sleep counseling when this is all over. Help - anyone have any tips for getting them to sleep through the night without medication? : )

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let the 2008 Spring Cleaning Challenge Begin!

It’s that time of year again! For many, spring is not only a time to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather, but also for spring-cleaning! For me, spring has always been a time to get outside and enjoy the warmer weather, reflect on all the spring home projects I WANT to do, and then spend a lot of time feeling guilty that I don’t do any of them. Our home improvement efforts came to a screeching halt four years ago when I committed to spend the bulk of my time either pregnant, nursing, or potty training.

This year, I was inspired by the organizational blog of a fellow mom blogger. She posts photo documentation and an item count of her efforts to purge her house of unwanted stuff. Inspired not only by her ability to stick to this program with three kids, but also by the fact that her house (bless her heart!) makes mine look like The Container Store made me realize that if she could do it, surely I could.

As I mentioned the blog to two friends today, they expressed a strong interest in doing it as well and even offered to provide email encouragement/accountability. We all agreed that we wouldn’t be able to stick to photographing or counting items, as it would take us so long to do it that we could probably organize another cupboard in the same timeframe. However, a little “organizational challenge” between friends couldn’t hurt motivation, right?

I decided to kick off the challenge tonight because:

  • I went to my friend’s house for playgroup at 11 am and didn’t leave until 4:30 which means I had a great day with friends but accomplished NOT ONE THING.
  • My friend Julie just painted her house and the freshly painted walls made me jealous.
  • My dining room, entryway, and stairway walls are so covered with handprints and skid marks that I can barely tell their original color and this makes me crazy on a daily basis.
  • My kids went to bed early so I wasn’t so exhausted that I wanted to drop by time I bade them goodnight.

So I selected touch-up paint for these areas as my first project.

Once I busted out all the painting gear, I found that the project went surprisingly quickly. I gave myself 100 points for covering each of the three areas because painting is a bigger pain in the neck than just decluttering. And then I gave myself 10 bonus points for using up the last bit of two different paint colors and then throwing the cans away. Another 5 bonus points for studiously logging the paint colors, brand, numbers, and finish in my new home improvement organizer before tossing them. Lest you think that I am perfect or a braggart, please know that I docked myself 2 points for painting over items that looked suspiciously like boogers. In my current squeamish pregnancy stomach state, I couldn’t bring myself to either A) conduct a further inspection to determine actual content or B) scrape/pick said objects off the wall before painting. So I just camouflaged them a little.

So I'm off to a roaring start. The real question is if I will be able to stick with it. Stay tuned for periodic updates. If you don't hear from me, it means the challenge was short-lived. I'm counting on my friends to help keep it alive...

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Mommy Diaries

After we put the kids down tonight, I was able to score some "me" time in front of the TV with my latest Netflix selection - "The Nanny Diaries". For those of you that haven't seen this movie, it is worth a watch. I read the book years ago as a newly minted mom and loved it at the time, but honestly couldn't remember how it ended this evening. I started the movie with the usual book/movie expectations (the book is always better!), but I'm not sure if it's because it's been so long since I read the book that I forgot key comparisons or if the movie is actually GOOD, but it was one of the best movies I've seen in awhile.

Particularly relevant for me was the timing of the movie. Having spent the past four years trying to find the perfect work/family balance with a job I absolutely adore, I recently made the decision to leave my job to stay home full-time with my kids. This was difficult for me, given that from Day 1 of my freshman year of college, I made educational and career choices with the distinct goal of building a career that would allow me to "have it all" and balance work, home, marriage, career, and (as a lover of children) more than the average 2.5 children.

Unfortunately, even with the ideal work setup - a wonderfully flexible boss that let me work anywhere from 15 hours to 30 over the years since I've had children, telecommuting privileges, and the most amazing team of co-workers one could ask for, it just wasn't working out for our family. And did I mention that I also have a nanny sent directly from heaven? I actually went through a long progression deciding to quit, wondering if I couldn't make the ideal employment situation work, how would I ever be able to achieve the Holy Grail of Motherhood for My Generation: Work/Family Balance?

I am excited, but scared to death. Even working just part-time has kept a piece of the "me" I had before I was "mommy" alive. No matter how out of control things get at home, I can go somewhere where I am still smart, organized, and recognized for my contributions. At home, although I will have the distinct pleasure of being the one to drop off and pick up my sons at pre-school (one of the the things I hated missing most because of work), I will not be recognized for exceeding pickup time goals or benchmarks. As a classic overachiever, it kills me to think that all the years of AP classes in high school, internships and part-time jobs in college, and professional effort will be for naught when I am relegated to the position of Head Party Mom. I wonder if I will lose my intellectual and competitive edge, if I'll fall behind on industry trends, if "they" (the people in my industry) will forget about me, and if I'll even be able to get back in the workforce when I want to go back. Still, with the demanding responsibilities of my job, a husband starting a job with significant travel, and a third child on the way in August, I realized something had to give.

Not too long into the movie, I was joined by my youngest son, who was having some problems getting to sleep. Bored and lonely because his brother had sacked out long ago, he finally materialized next to the couch begging to "snuggle up" with mommy. As a mom of two boys, I don't often get a request to snuggle up, so I overlooked the bedtime-stalling manipulation tactic and we settled in to watch the movie together.

As I struggled to watch the movie around his head, he squeezed my nose, rubbed my cheek, and patted my hair while I rubbed his tummy. It was one of those rare, sweet parenting moments (at least with boys) where we were just enjoying being together, sweetened all the more when he said, "I love you, Mommy." We snuggled there, just the two of us, and he drifted off in my arms while I finished the movie. And at the end, I received an important reminder from the infamously horrendous Mrs. X in the movie, that "Of all the privileges I have, being the mother of (my sons) is the most important."

Granted, this Upper East side, 24/7 "me time" mommy wasn't struggling with the same balance issues that most of us do, but you get the point. So benchmarks, goals, and budgetary targets be damned, I know that I am privileged to have the choice to spend more time with my sons and I plan to enjoy every second (or at least as many of them as I can). In a few years, they won't ever ask to snuggle, they won't care if I pick them up from school or not, and they'll probably be too embarrassed to say they love me. So I figure I owe it to myself to soak up all of those things that I can now - it's all too fleeting. The professional challenges and achievements will be waiting for me when I come back. And I will be back. As an older and wiser mom who's been there recently told me, "You CAN have it all. You just can't have it all at once."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Joys of Toys - Or Not?

For two kids who are both boys born into the same family within a span of less than two years, my children could not have more different play styles. My oldest has never really had much use for "traditional" toys, preferring instead to inspect and disassemble an assortment of electronics ranging from DVD/VCR players to Dustbusters and vacuums to keyboards/computers to cameras of all kinds (digital, disposable, and video). In the absence of an electronic, he prefers mostly to loll about on the floor, sucking his thumb and staring into space waiting for Clown Mom to suggest the next exciting and engaging (and preferably art or electronic-related) activity.

My second child needs only a few dozen matchbox cars and some sort of container (lunchbox, Ziploc bag, backpack, even an old coffee can will work in a pinch) with which to carry around said cars EVERYWHERE he goes.

Yet in an effort to stimulate, engage, and educate them, we have two entire bedrooms (and their respective closets) filled with train sets (and a train table to play them on), Little People playsets, Playmobil, Legos, board games, puzzles, oversized cars and trucks for outdoor play, a rocket ship playhouse, and a Little Tykes kitchen. That's not including two complete bookshelves filled with children's books and an entire linen closet devoted to art supplies. We have more educational toys than most school districts, yet "cars" and "wandering aimlessly in search of electronics" are the favorite games in our household.

I was a bit worried, until a friend whose children have similar play habits forwarded me this recent NPR article. The basic premise is that by forcing commercialized and structured play (read: toys and structured activities) on our children, we are compromising something critical to our children's emotional and cognitive development: imaginative play. The argument is that more forced and structured play leads to a decrease in self-regulation and private speech (telling oneself what one is doing) - both critical to healthy development.

I always used to wonder about the parenting skills of my grandmother, God bless her, who had four children in 26 months (a set of twins in the midst). My mother claims that when she was a child, if it wasn't a school day where she was walking both ways uphill in the snow, then she was home and her mom would throw all four children out into the woods to play, allowing them to come in only for meals and then bath and bed. My mother doesn't recall Tonka trucks, a sandbox, a water table, or the Pottery Barn rocket ship playhouse being a part of the outdoor playscape (nor was there a video surveillance camera to fend off child molesters and kidnappers, but it was a different time, I guess). It was simply the four children and what the woods had to offer. That's the way it was, and they liked it (anyone ever seen that Saturday Night Live skit about the Grumpy Old Man - if not, I guess I am older than I think I am!)

In fact, imaginative play has been around for eons - longer than toys, for sure! Back in the day, children made their own toys instead of ignoring the million dollar mini-toy stores their parents dutifully stocked in their bedrooms. And they sat still in school. And there were less behavior problems in school and less crime after school. And probably less kids on medication for ADD.

Now don't get me wrong - I love a great toy as much as the next guy. And no, I can't back up the claims made in the paragraph above because I am too tired to chase down the research and it may not even exist, but it is extrapolated from other research mentioned in the article.

But what this article did for me was make me re-think the way I approach my children's playtime. Maybe they don't have to be engaged in structured activities every second. Maybe left to their own devices on the kitchen floor, they will come up with something even better than the art classes I have to offer - like "Monster", which I caught them playing the other day (chasing each other with outstretched arms and roaring). So my new goal is to chill out a bit and see where a little bit of free time leads them. As long as it isn't into the dangerous, unfenced, unsupervised woods behind my least not until elementary school.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Recently Discovered Treasure - The Coffee Park

This week we discovered a new hangout and I cannot say enough good things about it! A friend discovered The Coffee Park in East Cobb and it is THE BOMB (and worth the hike to East Cobb). This brilliant concept is the brainchild of a mom who had two children under two and boy, don't I wish I'd thought of it myself. Actually, I often dreamt of it, I just never DID anything about it so kudos to her!

It's a full-service coffee shop with an indoor playground for kids up to age 5. Best part - it is cheap and the staff takes your kids off your hands for you! For $5 per kid and only $1 per additional sibling, you can hang out for several hours. They take your kids into the play area (behind a baby gate so they can't escape and an ID system so no one else can take them) while you sit and talk with friends, work on computer, or just stare into space. The food is mom and kid friendly (everything from cappucinos and paninis to PB&J) and very reasonably priced.

But what really makes this place a hidden gem is the staff in the playroom. I peeked in periodically to see how my kids were doing and witnessed my oldest lobbying to exit the play area and come bug mom. Instead of taking the easy way out and letting him come to me, as many staff at facilities like these do, the staff actually attempted to re-engage him in play. When I peeked in a few minutes later, they had him rolling on the floor with laughter and having a good time with a new activity. The only time they came to get me was when he needed to go to the bathroom and he was happy to return to the play area afterwards.

One caveat for moms of "older" (i.e. older 3's and 4's) kids - the play area is definitely targeted towards toddlers and may seem a little basic to preschoolers. My youngest (2 1/2) was happy because there was a train table and my oldest (almost 4) because his friends were there, but I can definitely see that I need to space our trips out or the novelty will wear off and I won't get TWO AND A HALF HOURS of peace and quiet again!

If you get a chance, try it out - it is the perfect outing solution for moms with closely spaced little ones who often find it difficult to manage them in places like the park, children's museum, and zoo. My only regret about visiting The Coffee Park is that I wish I'd known about it sooner!

NOTE: I don't know the owner and I wasn't paid to say any of this. I just want to give her some free publicity out of gratitude for the several hours of peace and quiet she gave me!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Doing Disney Toddler Style

So apparently the holiday travels weren't as traumatic as we thought because a few weeks after New Year's we decided to brave the ULTIMATE trip and take the boys to Disney again. The story of how this idea was born is a long one, so I'll spare you, but here's what it boiled down to. We had the most amazing time.

My friends were in disbelief that we were actually attempting this feat for the second time in less than a year (without the grandparents this time, no less) and they all wanted to know how it turned out and what the scoop was for "doing Disney" with toddlers. And I learned some new stuff to share this time! So here goes:

Because of the last-minute decision to go and astronomial airfare, we drove. Again. And I must say, I think the worst part of the trip was the drive there and back. But this could just have been because we have travelled approximately the same distance from here to the moon by car since the beginning of December. I think they were over it.

Last time we stayed an an extended stay hotel with a kitchen suite, which was really awesome. This time (a budget trip), we stayed in one of the super affordable, kid-friendly Disney All Star Resorts. I cannot say enough positive things about this place and we will stay in one every time until we win the lottery and move over to the Grand Floridian. I will say that they are definitely budget rooms. The towels (which you use for the pool and the shower) are thin and postage-stamped sized. The beds are not the most comfortable. The parking is halfway across the universe from some of the rooms in the mega complex (although we were far from our car but close to the pool!). But these drawbacks are all offset by the pluses. My favorite things about the Disney All Star Resort:
  • In true Disney fashion, spotlessly clean with hyper-friendly/helpful staff.
  • Massive pools with vigilant lifeguards! Seriously, in three summers of swimming with my kids I can't remember the last time I saw a lifeguard that was actually GUARDING my kids! These Disney guys are on it. Don't forget your swim diapers/plastic pants - they are required.
  • Food court with wide variety of kid-friendly foods (and healthy options as well).
  • For $12 or something like that, you can purchase an insulated Disney mug that you can refill unlimited times during your visit (only at the hotel) with soft drinks, lemonade, hot chocolate, coffee, and icees (my kids' personal faves). Plus, if you keep it with you at the parks you can fill it up at water fountains rather than lug around 15 bottles of water.
  • On-site video arcade. My kids are still young enough that they don't care if you have quarters to actually make it GO. They will fake speed-race each other for hours.
  • Free shuttle that leaves every 20 minutes to/from all the parks and Downtown Disney. SUPER convenient. We had planned to drive to the parks so we could be on our own timetable, but a friend said the shuttle was easy as pie and it was!
  • On certain days of the weeks, certain parks open early or stay open late ONLY for people staying on Disney properties. This alone made it worth the stay at this hotel. On the Magic Kingdom extended hours day, we went to the park, came home for a nap when the kids meltded down, went back at 6 pm and closed the place down at 11!

OK so now onto some of the other handy dandy tips we learned this time:

  • Always go to Disney in the middle of January. There is NO ONE there. The longest we waited for a ride was 10 minutes. Seriously.
  • Unless your child is in junior high, always bring a stroller. Ours are almost 4 and 2 1/2 and we debated only bringing one because usually both of them want to walk (or run!). We ended up throwing in a second cheapie umbrella stroller at the last minute and we used the both all the time - especially getting around the massive hotel grounds! Since we brought inexepensive ones, we didn't worry about leaving them parked for hours at the park while we did rides or having them get wet in a short downpour that occurred while we were there.
  • Which brings me to my next lesson: bring rain slickers, sunblock, and hats for everyone and shove them in your backpack. The weather turned on a dime and we were caught in a downpour, but I busted out our handy-dandy rain slickers and we kept on trekking. They sell them at the parks for a fee, of course, but if you can remember - bring your own!
  • Ditto with snacks/lunch for the kids. We packed fruit leather, goldfish, and PB&J for the kids, which allowed us to feed them when they were hungry (during peak lunch line hours) and buy us some time to eat later, during off-peak hours. Less time wasted waiting in line.
  • Don't forget your camera. If for example, your husband packed the camera but for some absolutey ridiculous and inexplicable reason left the camera BATTERY in the hotel room, it will cost you $19 to buy a disposable one. No joke.
  • If the kids are melting down, go back to the hotel and rest. This is when your extended hours pass comes in handy!
  • There is an infant ride/wait feature, which we didn't use since the lines weren't long. This means, for example, that Mom can ride Space Mountain while Dad waits in a special area with baby and then they can switch without waiting in line twice. I'm not sure what the "infant" age limit is on that...
  • Finally, do NOT ride Stitch's Great Escape. In this 4-D experience Stitch will belch a hot dog on you and it is absolutely sickening. Our 4 year old, who adores Stitch, is scarred for life.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Long Time, No Post

I have no idea how many people actually READ this blog, so I'm not sure if my readers have been disappointed or even noticed that I haven't posted in almost two months. I have only one really lame (but true) excuse: the holidays absolutely kicked my butt this year.

For the first time since having children, we traveled for both Thanksgiving AND Christmas this year. Once by plane and once by car. And since I am a glutton for punishment, we threw a New Year's Eve party too. Do not even ask me what I was thinking - I really don't know.

Our family is scattered all across the country and we have none in Atlanta (or anyone closer than an 8 hour car ride). So we are used to traveling - no big deal. When our oldest was born, we just strapped him on one of our backs and his carseat on the other back and continued traveling. When our second was born just a short 17 months later, we dropped everything and stayed home. For two years.

After a tentative but successful short trip to Disney World this past spring break, we decided that it might be safe to hit the road (and skies) again. Just in the nick of time, as the summer necessitated travel to California (for my husband's job) and Mexico (for a semi-annual family vacation with extended family). Success again! We quickly made plans to spend Thanksgiving in Utah and do a tri-state Christmas (Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio), covering pretty much every living family member in the course of a month. Success once more, but boy am I pooped! Being on the go for the holidays added a whole other element to pulling them off. I've decided it is way easier to stay home and cook the turkey (including all the cleaning, shopping, and table setting that is involved in hosting the presentation of the turkey) than it is to fly across the country to eat the turkey someone else has lovingly prepared.

However, I continue to be proud of what traveling little troopers my boys are, because I understand from some friends that their children are not so much the happy travelers at this age. It's a little late for holiday travel tips, but maybe some of you are planning a spring break vacation. I'd thought I'd share some of the top tips I've learned (through trial and error) for traveling with little ones. I'll skip the usual ones you read about (ask for the bulkhead, pack a change of clothes for everyone in your carry-on, bring a bag of toys that are new to your child for distraction purposes, etc.) because you probably already know them. A few others....

1) Get a portable DVD player.
2) Get a portable DVD player.
3) Let go of mommy guilt about letting your child watch 5 consecutive hours of Shrek on portable DVD player. Once a year won't kill them.
4) ALWAYS bring a stroller. But not a good one, because the airlines will lose it or break it. Get a cheapy umbrella stroller and if you have multiple kids close in age, get TWO. Or a double. In a crowded airport or amusement park, you can guarantee yourself that there will be moments when you want everyone strapped in and pinned down. Do not kid yourself into thinking that your almost-four-year-old is big enough to walk. He is - but he's also big enough to run when you're not looking.
5) If your baby is over age one and under two and you have to buy an airline ticket anyway, bring a carseat. They are so antsy at this age - you will be glad to have a way to strap them down.
6) If you are driving, plan on stopping at least every 2 to 3 hours for at least half an hour at a fast food place with an indoor playground. Make your husband understand that his days of "making good time" are OVER. It is now all about keeping everyone sane.
7) Always pack your own snacks - it is way cheaper and healthier. Pack mostly good stuff (including PB&J in case your flight is delayed over a mealtime), but throw in a junk food treat for a desperation moment where you might need a distraction.
8) If you're all cramming into a hotel room and the bathroom is big enough, consider pitching the baby's pack n play camp in a bathroom or large closet. This creates the separate room that many babies (and parents) need to sleep comfortably without actually requiring you to purchase a second room.
9) Even better, consider an extended stay hotel or a suite that has a small kitchen. Multiple bedrooms/sleeping areas and a place to prepare simple meals/snacks equals traveling success for little ones and parents!
10) And our best travel tip so far - travel with or to see the grandparents whenever you can. Free babysitting plus an extra bedroom to stash one of your kids in!