Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Trusting in Strangers

The basic logistics of child-rearing have always been something of a problem for me. To say the least, this problem has not been helped by adding a new baby to my family every other year.

Still, maneuvering through life with three children under the age of four has proven to have an unexpected upside in that it has forced me to depend, like Blanche DuBois before me, on the kindness of strangers.

We live in an age where parents are programmed to be paranoid about the people their children encounter. The ceaseless drum of terrifying news stories about child predators naturally make parents start to feel that there are threats to their kids around every corner and thus we need to fear all people, everywhere, all the time.

When you have only one child it is not too difficult to live in a bubble of control and supervise your child as intensively as your heart desires. With a second closely-spaced sibling, however, this ability takes a couple of hits. I had two wildly mobile boys under the age of three and it was not at all uncommon for me to yell to complete strangers,

"Will you grab that little blonde boy? He's trying to make a break for it!"

And you know what the strangers did? They grabbed my kids and then they brought them back to me. People at the zoo, in malls, and at the park have all helped me to corral my multi-directional offspring, bending down sweetly and telling them,

"Woah, buddy! Let's wait for Mommy."

On airplanes I've handed babies to flight attendants and fellow passengers alike so that I could use the bathroom. In the supermarket, I've had checkers and baggers offer to help me to my car only to end up carrying one of my toddlers in a pinch.

Last week it was raining, so I took the boys and the baby to my local McDonald's for an afternoon of energy expenditure. The playspace was filled with a motley crew of parents and their kids. There was a well-dressed older woman with her granddaughter, a young hipster couple with their two kids, and a young Dad sporting a backwards baseball cap and a couple of facial tattoos.

Throughout the afternoon I had to leave the play area for different reasons. The grandmother helped my big guy out of the tubing when I went to go get more napkins, the couple stopped my two-year-old from wandering out of the restaurant while I was grabbing some food, and the tattooed dad held the baby for me when I had to take my oldest for an emergency potty run.

While all of this helpfulness has had the obvious effect of making it possible for me to survive outings with my kids, it has also helped me to get a handle on my paranoia about strangers. Folks, the reality is that most people out there in the world like children, want the best for them, and are more than willing to give a struggling mom a hand.

It also means that I am not in a position to teach my children to fear strangers either. I hope that my reliance on random folks outside of our house is showing my kids that it's OK to trust the people they meet and that they can turn to people other than me for help. I also firmly believe that a lot of interaction with people who my kids don't know will make them better at identifying those strangers who are truly "strange".

The fact is that when you have three little ones, it really does take a village. 

And I'm glad it does. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Birthday Party Rules

My father always claimed that if he ever found out that he had only a month to live, he would spend that time on an exercise bike at a child's birthday party, because it would make that final month feel like twenty years.

My parents are generally positive people, but even they speak of the birthday parties of our youth with a burning negativity usually reserved for conversations about dental surgery.

My sister's 5th birthday is still regarded as an all-time low moment in our collective family history. I was only 10, but the spectacle of a dozen young maniacs tearing around our house as my Mom desperately tried to corral them together for a third round of 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey' remains forever scarred into my memory. The day culminated in one of the more out-of-control revelers announcing loudly while standing on the dining room table 'I WAS BORN WILD!' before projectile vomiting in multiple directions.

And's my turn. 

As the parent of three children under four, I accept that I am only at the beginning of my journey of birthday party hosting and attendance. It is likely that I will find myself at dozens if not hundreds of such celebrations in the next several years. 

I'm not going to lie: I'm starting to panic.

So it is that I come before you at this time with a simple list of proposed "Birthday Party Rules". I feel that with some simple tweaks, we can all make the Saturdays we are destined to spend in those bowling alleys, backyards, and the occasional Chuck E. Cheese more enjoyable for all involved.
  • How About a Two Hour Time Limit?
Listen, if you want to hang with your friends and family for hours on end squeezing every possible moment out of the bouncy house you rented at great personal expense, I won't begrudge you. BUT, if you would be so kind as to cut the cake at the 1.5 hour mark so that those folks who want to can bust a move, it would be most appreciated. My kids are all about the cake, and we can't leave until we've had some. If you serve the cake four hours in, you are basically holding us hostage. Let us go home to our families! We beg you!

  • Do We Really Need 45 Children at a Three-Year-Old's Party?
I have definitely given in to the desire to gather large numbers of friends and family to celebrate the birth of my offspring. But after some trial and error, I've come to feel that the overcrowded toddler bash is kind of like those dorm parties from college: it's packed; you can't find the people you came with, and it is impossible to get at the food and drinks.

  • We Need to Dial It Down a Bit, Right?
Much like those engaging in nuclear escalation, we are only assuring our mutual destruction if we keeping ratcheting up the expectations for the nature of parties for children under the age of five. I have actually heard the following phrase in regards to a four-year-old's birthday celebration:

"You know, everything was fine until the elephant got loose."

In Los Angeles, the base-level expectation is that a kid's party shall involve several different pieces of rental equipment, a handful of professional entertainers, and an elaborate spread of catered food. We're going off the rails on a crazy train, people, and someone needs to pull the emergency brake.

  • We Could Do Away With the Presents
OK, I get that this may be highly controversial, but nonetheless I would like to propose a full ban on gift-giving at parties for children under four. Should this movement prove successful, I might attempt to expand the ban to older kids' parties. Just think of how freeing it could be! No more desperate pre-party dashes to Target to procure plastic toys, overpriced gift bags, and cards the child can't even read to offer up in the great end-of-party crap exchange! (Crapxchange?) Would our kids really miss this stuff? I argue strongly that they would not. Added bonus? Skipping the extended gift-opening ceremonies would let us all get home sooner.

I want to go on the record saying that I actually like children's birthday parties. I love having somewhere to take my kids on the weekend, and I enjoy getting the chance to visit with my friends and to meet the other parents from my kids' schools. Plus, it is often the highlight of my month to witness the joy that my boys get from sneaking an extra cupcake (or four) from the dessert table when no one's looking

With these "Birthday Party Rules" I am merely proposing a few simple fixes, because I truly believe that we can collectively free ourselves from birthday party torment. 

At least until some kid starts vomiting...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Baby Stuff You Really Need

My neighbor is expecting her first baby this week and I've been giving her tons of advice. (OK, take a moment to let the dubiousness of that properly concern you.) One thing she's been particularly interested in figuring out is if she has what she needs for the baby's arrival.

I ended up making a list for her of the infant items I found most useful and I thought I'd pass it along here as well. 

It is my firm opinion that the Baby Industrial Complex is bent on forcing you to spend as much money as humanly possible each time you bring a newborn home, and the fact is that most of that stuff you don't really need.



After some debate we used disposables. 

You probably don't need as many as you think. With Snoodie, I changed him every time he ate overnight, but eventually I realized that diaper technology has progressed to a point where being wet wasn't bothering him. I only change my third overnight when she seems uncomfortable, which as it turns out, is never. So now I only change every several hours during the day or her if she poops.

If you want to be hardcore, you can stop the list of things you absolutely need when you come home from the hospital at diapers. You will certainly get a couple of outfits as gifts, and so with diapers on hand you are now ready to meet the basic food/shelter/clothing requirements of having a newborn.  

BUT, a few additional items will make life easier on all.

The Breast Pump

For me the breast pump was one of the few baby items that was worth investing some real money in. 

I made the mistake of buying two cheap drugstore pumps before dropping real money on a high-end version. I have the Medela Pump In Style (because, as the name implies, it is wildly important for me to be as stylish as possible while self-milking). When it came to pump-shopping, I eventually came to the realization that when purchasing hardware that you plan to attach to your nipples, it's really not a time to look for bargains.

I've used the breast pump more with each child. With my first, there was no impediment to sitting and breastfeeding for hours at a time while watching hour after hour of reality TV (insert wistful sigh for the good old days). But now that I have two toddlers, I find that keeping a stash of pumped milk means I don't have to master the art of breastfeeding while simultaneously playing hide-and-seek in the park. For this I am grateful.

I work from home, but I sense from friends who have gone back to work while still breastfeeding that they find a good pump even more invaluable.


If you pump you'll need bottles and nipples to feed, but again, not that many. I got mine with my breast pump. I also never bought any sort of bottle sterilization system. They are expensive and take up a lot of space and your dishwasher does the same job for free, so I say skip it.

Nightgowns with Open Bottoms/Onesies with Feet

I dressed my first in a wild assortment of adorable, multi-piece outfits featuring coats with whimsical animal scenes, onesies with sailing tableaus, and the occasional jaunty hat. 

My third alternates between exactly two outfits.

At night she wears nightgowns with open bottoms to allow me to change her (in case of poop) without either one of us having to fully wake up. During the day she wears a one piece that covers her feet so I don't have to keep track of socks while we're on the move.

A Car Seat

A car seat is non-negotiable, but beware! The purchase of a car seat can lead you into a treacherous minefield of information designed to convince you that your love of your offspring can be accurately measured by how much you are willing to spend to keep him or her safe in your vehicle. After lamenting over our car seat purchase at length, my husband finally convinced me that we live in a litigious age where nationally mandated child-related safety standards are already in place for all infant products, and so any car seat that we purchased in a reputable store would inevitably be safe.

Thus we went with a fairly inexpensive one.

One thing I have found to be invaluable in a car seat is to have one that snaps into a base in your car and also snaps into your stroller. This means that you don't have to take your kid out to transfer him/her from stroller to car and vice-versa, because in my experience when you do have to wrest them from one location to another they tend to get very, very angry at you. And that should be avoided. And speaking of...

The Stroller

Like car seats, if they are allowed to sell them, they're suitably safe, so you're paying the money for extra bells and whistles that are generally unnecessary. Like I said, you DO want to buy one of the systems where the same seat locks in the car and on the stroller. You should also pay attention to how you "unlock" the stroller handle to put it down. We didn't, which means to release the handle on ours you have to use both hands, which means you have to put the baby somewhere first. Hey, how about the seat? Great! First just let me put the handle down...


A Baby Tub

One of these can be pretty useful during the time before the baby has head control, but you can also sponge bathe them or give them bird baths in the sink instead. They sell all sorts of stickers and things that warn you if the water is too hot, but if you happen to have a wrist (right about the spot before your hand starts?) then you can use that instead.

A Wipes Warmer

From what I hear from my elders, children in previous generations have survived the sensation of cold things touching their butts at changing times. Still, I found that having warm wipes helped my little ones sleep through diaper changes, so while acknowledging it as an indulgence, I recommend.

The Boppy

This pillow really helps get the baby is a good position for nursing. For the record it also helps you multitask (eat, drink, blog, break up violent fights between your other offspring, etc.) while nursing. I have the very basic kind (they have some that attach around your waist, making you resemble a cigarette girl selling breastmilk, but I never tried one of those). As a bonus, a Boppy makes a great lap seat for your little if you happen to be traveling on a plane. I'd get one.

Baby Soothing Systems

These include the baby swing, the vibrating chair, the hammock, and all the other devices meant to stop your baby from crying and thus save you from ruing the day you ever decided to spawn. Some work quite well, but it's hard to predict which one will work for your kid, and inevitably they'll end up needing something completely different.

(Snoodie had a stretch where he would only calm down if you held him "just so" whilst bouncing on an inflatable yoga ball for hours at a time. My second, thankfully, had no interest in the yoga ball of doom.)

We were fortunate enough to get several of these items as hand-me-downs, and while my kids liked all of them to varying degrees, the one consistent winner was the swing. They make super-elaborate swings and cheap ones, and my babies couldn't tell the difference as long as they were rocking back and forth in some fashion.

Somewhere for Baby to Sleep

I bought a co-sleeper off Craigslist. Never used the actual co-sleeping feature but it's a nice little spot for the baby to sleep that's away from where her brothers can bother her. A Moses basket or bassinet seem like they would have been just as good. It's nice to not be dealing with a full-sized crib for the first couple of months because there's not so much lifting them in and out, but aside from that slight hassle, a crib would be fine as well.


Here are the items I found the least useful:


We came home with three hospital-issue blankets and then received approximately 1,000 additional blankets as gifts. Babies don't really use blankets at night, so you only really need 2 or 3 to wrap them up in when necessary. We had total blanket overload. (Please note at this time that if you gave us a blanket, I am not referring to your blanket. Yours is the blanket we use and adore. Thank you for your thoughtful and awesome blanket. You rule.)

Nursing Tops/Nursing Covers

Again, with my first, I was constantly constructing elaborate tent structures over myself while nursing in public. With my third, my basic attitude is, turn your head for a second folks. If, in the age of readily-available internet porn, my 40-year-old boob is so inciting that you can't turn away while it makes a brief appearance, then you've got bigger problems than I know how to address. 

I've gotten rid of all my nursing clothing and covers. 

Diaper Bag

A diaper bag is kind of like a purse: you can tote your crap around in any old thing, so you just need to decide how stylish you want to be, how much room you need, and how much you're willing to spend on the 'reusable grocery bag' to 'whatever Beyonce has' scale. 

Breast Milk Storage

They sell all sorts of bags and stuff in this category, but I've always stored mine in a bottle in the fridge. I never had a huge backup supply, so maybe I just never needed this stuff, but still, I never needed it.

Diaper Pail

When we lived in a small apartment the diaper pail was pretty necessary. Now that we are in a house with an easily accessed outside can, we could do without ours. Some of the models use a specific kind of bag which you have to keep buying, so I prefer the kind that take regular garbage bags.


My overall advice is simple -- don't overbuy. Your children will soon fill your home with a cavalcade of debris the likes of which you can not at this time imagine, so don't give them a head start by over-purchasing for them as infants. There really isn't all that much they need, no matter what the shiny circulars from Babies R Us may have you believe.

It should be noted that we live in Southern California, so we don't have any climate-related needs for baby snowsuits, baby fur hats, or other baby de-icing systems. These may be necessary in other parts of the globe and certainly may up your need for blankets (I might have some spares you could use...)

Please weigh in in the Comments section if there's something I've forgotten -- was there anything you absolutely loved having when you first brought baby home?

My neighbor thanks you in advance.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Four Weeks In


Week Four is not going all that well, people. 

Before beginning my existence as a full-time pregnant person over the last four years, I used to run marathons.  One thing you figure out pretty quickly when running 26.2 miles at a time is that you really can't afford for even small things to go wrong. A simple hiccup in any other context, like say a small blister on your heel, can ruin your chances of reaching the finish line if it happens to you during the big race.

Unfortunately, I mention this because of its relevance to my current situation. 

This week has been feeling a lot like hitting Mile 16 with a burgeoning side cramp. As it happens, when you have a three-year-old, a twenty-month-old and a new baby, there's not a lot of room for error either.

Our problems began on Monday, as they so often do, with the vomiting. My phone rang late in the morning and my heart sank as the caller ID let me know that Snood's teacher was on the line. She informed me that Snood had puked without warning after snack time and asked me to come and collect him post-haste.

I bundled the two younger kids into the car and somehow managed to maneuver them both in their 18-wheeler-sized double stroller into Snoodie's classroom and get all three back to our house. As I pulled into my driveway I find myself proudly patting myself on the back for managing an improvised outing with my whole brood without major incident.

This thought had barely formed, however, when a cold rain began to fall without warning. Then the boys decided that they didn't want to get out of the car and mounted a two-pronged revolt against my efforts to extract them. Moments after making it in the front door, I realized that since I hadn't been expecting to have all the kids home, I didn't have anything for lunch. This meant I was going to have to wrestle the children back into the car and head for the supermarket. 

By the time I'd returned home from this second outing and coaxed all three kids into the house, the lot of us were soaked and cold and a clear majority of us were crying loudly.

On Tuesday, things continued to go rapidly downhill.

Snoodie split his head open at 8am on Tuesday morning, necessitating a trip to the ER. First thing on Wednesday, the all-family diarrhea arrived.

I won't burden you with every gory detail of the week, but suffice it to say that it's Thursday and we are limping badly. Did I mention that my husband is headed to the hospital today for some previously-scheduled major surgery?

For now, I'm trying to concentrate on the lesson of those long-ago marathons, which is that when things start to go awry mid-race you really only have two choices:
  • you can drop out, limp off the road, lie down on the sidewalk and start wailing loudly until someone comes to remove you to the medical tent

  • you can make adjustments to your pace, change your breathing and then dig deep, gut-check and resolve to just keep moving until things get a little easier

I'm really working on option the second for the time being.

That being said, if you do happen upon me lying on the side on the road and moaning in an unseemly fashion, please don't hesitate to call someone to cart me off. I'd hate to be in anyone's way.