Starting Early to Create Lifelong Readers

Reading to my children.  It was honestly one of the things I couldn’t wait most for.  I’ve always envisioned us snuggled up in the corner of the couch, soft fleece blanket pulled up to our chins, talking about the choices our favorite characters were making, coming up with our silliest voices to read in, and admiring the intricate artwork that splashed across the pages.  I envisioned us rocking slowly in her room, reading, “just one more!” book before eyes got heavy and it was time for sweet dreams.  I envisioned myself panicking at the realization it had been all too quiet in the house for a tad too long (because we know that’s never a good thing), only to find her curled up with a book in her little chair.

Maybe a little grandiose, but my dream nonetheless.  We’ll get there one day.

For now, however, we’re still in the early stages.  She’s young, we’re in no rush, and we’re just beginning to lay the groundwork for what I hope to be a beautiful relationship with getting lost in books of all kinds.  After teaching elementary school and specializing in working with young at-risk readers, I know how vital the early years are for her success later.  Start small, start early, and have fun!

There’s no such thing as “too early”.  Nope, start right from when you bring them home from the hospital if you want! Reason enough could be the simple fact that your voice is the most soothing sound to a baby’s ears and being close to you is all they want to do.  After all, your sweet voice is what they listened to for those 40 weeks, right? Bust out those nursery rhymes and lullabies – they don’t judge our vocal abilities (yet).  Whether it be a playful children’s book, an article out of the sports section, or the latest gossip out of your US Weekly, read aloud sometimes – your baby will thank you for it.  Even if its reading a bed time book as they sleep snugly on your chest –  read.  🙂

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Don’t sweat it if they aren’t interested.  At 15 months old sometimes Tayler still doesn’t have interest.  And that’s OK.  Chewing, holding, and using books for just about anything but reading is sometimes part of the deal.  I don’t know if we’ve ever actually finished a full book! Sometimes just getting them to grab at and hold books is the first step. Don’t sweat it, their interests will continue to change.  Just keep exposing them and making it fun! If you want to get some reading in without the constant grabbing, some of my moms suggest sitting with baby and have dad do the reading to the both of you!

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The many language benefits.  Listening skills.  Memory.  Vocabulary.  Speech patterns.  Intonation and inflection.  And the rhythm and rhyme of our language.  Just to name a few! The more we read aloud and expose our kids to words, the richer the network we build in their brain.  While they may not be able to use everything they’re learning yet, there’s certainly a lot going on! As they grow older, there is no shortage of research that demonstrates the profound effect reading and books will have on their later academic success.

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The earliest of skills.  A lot of times we don’t recognize or we forget that some of the earliest skills don’t actually involve what we consider to be reading. Myself included! Things as simple as recognizing books, being able to hold them correctly, learning how to properly turn pages, knowing that we read the words on the page left to right, pointing to the covers, and knowing that a book tells a story or gives us information are all necessary and important skills! So when you see your little one sitting on the floor, holding a book open, and babbling and pointing – pat yourself on the back! You’re doing great!

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Let them lead.  Maybe they just feel like opening and closing.  Maybe they feel like simply listening to the first page over and over.  Or if your little one is like my daughter, maybe they just want books with pictures of animals to point to and see how long you’ll make all the animal noises for.  By letting them lead and using books how they want in the early stages will send the message that books can be and will continue to be a positive part of their day.

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Dont forget about pictures! Sometimes I get anxious to jump right into the words, but paying attention to the pictures is such an important part of developing early readers (probably more so than the words at first!).  You’ll notice many books geared for infants are filled with bright and vivid colors, varied shapes, and patterns.  These are all great for early brain and eye development.  Another infant favorite are books filled pictures of close family and friends.  Who wouldn’t want to see the faces of the people they love and trust most! As they get a little older pictures are critical in building vocabulary, sparking imagination, and learning that books can tell a story.  Pictures are also a great tool for teaching concepts such as colors, counting objects, and recognizing shapes! Once they begin to learn to read they’ll be taught to use pictures in relation to the text, so its never too early to start talking about them now!

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Vary your home library.  Touch and feel books with different textures.  Peek-a-boo books.  Nursery rhymes.  Counting, shapes, and ABC’s.  Picture books of first words.  Favorite characters.  Board books.  Vinyl books.  Cloth books.  Bathtub books.  Non-fiction books about weather, animals, potty training, gaining a new brother or sister, sports, etc.  Poetry.  Award winning illustrators.  Books with repeating patterns. Children’s classics.  The list goes on and on.  Having a varied library can better accommodate changing interests and developmental stages, as well as keeping things fun and interesting for mom and dad!

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Make books accessible.  If we want our children to take a genuine interest books, we need to have them out and available.  Some will get chewed, some will get ripped, and in our house some went swimming in the bath tub.  This part of it always make me cringe, but it’s a part of the process and needs to be accepted as so.  My suggestion is to have a little tub or two available in the common play areas with some books that match their current developmental stage or interest area.  Switch them out every so often to keep it exciting, but keep the beautiful copy of The Giving Tree up on the shelf for mom to get down when appropriate.  Making books accessible sends the message that books aren’t just designated for before bedtime, but can be explored whenever their heart desires.

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Commit to it.  Congratulations! You just received the job of Character Voice Extraordinaire! Rise to the occasion, my friend.  Committing to characters in books, getting silly reading rhymes or songs, and changing your pitch and tone are not only amusing for your blossoming little reader, but its just another way to teach them about how our language works and encourages their social and emotional development.  When your face, tone, and voice show sadness when a character’s dog gets lost, you’re teaching your child about their emotions and the effect certain events can have on humans.

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The Big Picture.  If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at this point, shake it off.  While all of this information is beneficial to have in regards to reading to our children, there is only one, big important concept to take away and keep in mind.  Reading to our children, especially in these early stages, is all about the relationship we create with books. If anything, make reading books an enjoyable time bonding with mom and dad.  Create a time where you and your child can explore, learn, laugh, and get silly together.  Work hard to show them that books are a source of joy, calm, and a catalyst for quality time resting in mom’s lap. And better yet, be a role model by showing your children that you read too!

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A few ways to build your library:

  • Utilize the public library! Use that library card till its so worn they give you a new one.  Endless books are at your fingertips! Sometimes libraries also run free book programs!
  • Garage sales & Mom to Mom sales.  Gently used books for pennies? Yes please! No one should be above buying books that have already been loved.
  • Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.  Same idea, different place.  I’ve found some real classics for my classroom library.  You never know what treasures you’ll find!
  • Set up book swaps with other moms.  Change up your library by borrowing someone else’s!
  • Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  It’s isn’t available yet everywhere, but its worth visiting and finding out.  If its available in your area, expect a free book sent to your home from birth to 5 years of age! (If your address doesn’t work, try grandma’s!).

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(And on a side note, don’t all these pictures demonstrate the fact that it’s mom that is always behind the camera!? 🙂 )

There Will Be Boredom.

If you’ve ever had a little toddler, you can imagine the scene.

We begin our walk on the trail that wraps behind the houses on our quiet little court.  A walk that any functioning adult can make in under five minutes.  At a leisurely pace.  I follow Tayler’s lead, embracing the sunshine on my face and the opportunity to get out of the house on this picturesque spring day.  A walk sounds perfect. Three feet onto the trail, she stops and sits to pick up some pebbles on the edge of a neighbor’s landscaping.  After picking them up and dropping them seventeen times, she’s back on her feet and sprinting.  Ten feet later she veers off the trail into a neighbor’s yard to pet their dog we’ve never met.  I swoop her up.  Back on the trail, and she sits on the pavement.  For no apparent reason. The sit turns into a full lay down.  Eventually back on her feet. Squirrel! Two more feet.  She turns and begins to run back the other way.  After some chasing and redirection, I’m given false hope we might just make it around the court.  Twenty feet later.  Bird! She’s off into a brush I’m convinced contains poison ivy.  Five more feet.  Moss is picked at and rubbed in her fingers. Wispy dandelion seeds are in her mouth.  Fifteen more feet.  Back the other way.  Redirected.  Cat! She found a pile of sticks.  Three more feet, and the sticks turn to weapons annihilating all within a two foot radius. Dropped them, and sprinting. Cars in the street!

Thirty seven minutes later, we make it around the court. Every ounce of my being is spent.

I feel so guilty for not enjoying it more. “So many moms would kill to be home out walking with their children!”.  I know.  And most days I do enjoy our walks.  Most days I’m sitting down with her, poking at moss with sticks right next to her.  Faking insane levels of excitement over the sight of every bird.  And bringing things to her attention to feel the different textures in her surroundings.  Today is not that day.  Today I am mind-numbingly bored.  But surely I don’t tell anyone that, because that would make me a horrible mom, right?

Later that day I’m watching my husband hold my daughter at the kitchen table as she plays with magnets on a cookie sheet.  His efforts at pointing out any letters or numbers out are fruitless.  She’d rather just see how quickly she can mess them all up.  I mean, that is more fun.  He sits there for several minutes, until finally he’s wide eyed and laughing with a look of exasperation smeared on his face.  “Oh my goddd this is so boring!”.  He had no shame in it.  He owned it.  And he had no idea that he had just given me a great gift.  Unknowingly, he let me know it was OK to be bored at times. To not always be “on”.  To not always feign excitement and think every little thing we do together is the most fun we’ve ever had.  He’d been there for just a few minutes, but he was bored, and that was OK.

Now mind you, I’m not complaining. I will take every bit of boredom if it means I get to stay home with her everyday.  And most of the time I think we both do a pretty darn good job of engaging her, being present with her, and genuinely playing at her level.  But MAN, there are just some times when I’m certain time has stood still and I’d rather watch another episode of Sofia the First than stack up the cups one. more. time.

And that’s OK.

I’m not a horrible mom.  I’m an adult.  With a brain. That likes to be exercised.  Sometimes I just like to finish a task in its entirety. And every now and then, by the seventy third time I am told to eat fake cereal off a plastic spoon – I’m spent.  Out of my mind spent.

Thank you, sweet husband, for making it OK to be bored sometimes.  I will tell anyone wholly and emphatically how much I genuinely love being home every day with our sweet girl, and how she’s managed to fill every crevice and nook inside my heart.  But some days, at some times, there will be boredom.  The, “I HAVE to go pretend to use the upstairs bathroom for a long period of time so I can text a friend and play Sudoku or I might DIIIIE right here on the playroom floor” boredom.  And that’s OK.  🙂

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Finding Your Momtourage & A Peek At Mine!

Mom-tou-rage [mahm-too-rahzh]

Noun.

1. The group of women that preserves your sanity.  And when they can’t, they offer wine.

2. Your personal group of warriors in yoga pants that are out on the front lines with you.

3. The fellow moms you laugh with, share with, cry with, socialize with, celebrate with, and adore.

4. A sisterhood you can rely on to help you figure out and support you through the insanely challenging and rewarding endeavor that is parenthood.

Origins: a playful take on Marky Mark’s show “Entourage”.  When combined with the word “mom”, it creates the perfect noun to name your mom peeps.

Example: “My Momtourage rolls 55 deep and is composed of strong, brave, smart, compassionate, and supportive women that share a likeness of general badass-ery”.

 

Find your Momtourage.  Whatever your situation as you brave into motherhood and however big of a support system you may have, find your Momtourage.  Whether you get put into a Momtourage, make your own, or seek one out.  Find your Momtourage.

Its been 14.5 months since I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, and I’m currently 18 weeks pregnant with minion #2.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along our journey so far is that motherhood is meant to be shared.  There are too many emotions on the spectrum, too many hardships and speed bumps along the way, and too many lessons to be learned to bare it all yourself.

I was the first of my friends to get pregnant.  I went through my pregnancy and the first two months of motherhood feeling pretty alone and unsure about all the changes that were coming my way.  No amount reading can prepare you for it.  Once I was fed up feeling this way, I started my Momtourage.  I created a Facebook group and began adding first time moms in my social network that I knew were the kind of women I needed to surround myself with.  All of our kids were very close in age, and we were all going through the same things together. Over the course of the past year, our group evolved into my safe place. My haven.  Our group grew to 55 moms until we finally decided to keep it at that number.  Not for the purpose of exclusion (trust me, there are more we could add!), but to preserve this sacred community of trust and kinship we created.  Eventually our group began meeting up for play dates (with and without our children), and out of it I’ve been blessed with not only other moms to lean on, but friendships I’ve grown to cherish.

Our few rules were set from the beginning, and while they are simple, they’ve never been broken.  

There is no room from judgment.  Motherhood is hard enough, and you don’t need others judging the decisions you make that are best for your family along the way.  We all make different decisions, and we all respect and support each other in those decisions.  Bottom line.  No two ways about it.  No exceptions.

There are no stupid concerns or questions.  We all come from different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge bases.  What may be simple to some, may not be to others.  There are no stupid concerns or questions.  Someone’s always wondering the same thing!

Always remember you have someone to lean on.  Whenever you feel alone, most likely someone else has gone through it too. Be open, share, and at the very least… sometimes its just nice to hear a, “I haven’t experienced this, but I’m here to listen and I’m sending you hugs”.  This one usually applies to all 24 hours in a day, too.  There is always someone up in the middle of the night breastfeeding! 🙂

We’ve shared it all.  

Teething remedies, teething nightmares, nighttime routine ideas, activities for rainy days.

We celebrate birthdays, milestones, new pregnancies, and those mom moments that melt our hearts.

We’ve shared the utter devastation of miscarriages.  Only to find that its an experience many have endured.

Those, “No one else will really get it and I just need to vent!” moments.

Products and places we love and can’t live without.

Parenting philosophies we hope to adopt, and the type of parents we strive to be.

Our biggest mom wins, and our biggest mom fails.

The million, “Is this normal?!”s.

How to communicate and stay a team with our significant others throughout parenthood.

Every week we share pictures of our babes and growing bellies, watching them learn and grow.

We’ve shared it all.

A big part of the mom I am today is because of my Momtourage, and a million thank yous wouldn’t cut it.  Being surrounded by different ways of parenting, different choices, and different experiences has deepened my compassion and empathy and reminded me that this journey is so incredibly unique and individual.  They’ve taught my inner monologue to go from, “I cannot believe that mom is doing that!”, to, “I bet she’s got several reasons for that choice.  Hats off to her for doing her best” (aside from potentially harmful behaviors, of course). They’ve taught me to be open to new ways of thinking and ideas I never before considered. And they’ve calmed my nerves and fears on those days that just go all sorts of wrong. No matter how naturally motherhood comes, you won’t know it all – whether you’re a first time mom or a third time mom. Leaning on others and reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, it means you care enough to do it well and do it right.  As a teacher, its common knowledge that the best teachers are often the best borrowers of ideas.  They aren’t scared to seek out and incorporate others’ ideas that might make their day and the days of their students a little easier and more effective.  Same goes for motherhood.  Use your Momtourage to learn and find inspiration. Surround yourself, through whatever means, with moms you can lean on.  Send messages.  Reach out. Ask to join a group.  Create your own.  Talk to moms at the playground in your neighborhood.  Talk to moms at your grocery store. Sign up for support groups in your area. Surround yourself.  

Now, I’d be acting a little reckless if I just left my advice to “surround yourself with moms”.  It’d be a little too cavalier to imply that any moms will do.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. There are far too many out there that are quick on the trigger to judge and offer the, “well this worked for my child, so it will obviously work for yours” kind of advice (or better yet, the barrage of unsolicited advice). There are too many out there that have “done all the research” and just know that their way is the only right way. So be picky.  Be choosy.  Look for those qualities such as compassion, empathy, dependability, and genuine kindness and care.  Seek out those women that do the best they can for their family while letting you do the same for yours.  Surround yourself with the problem-solvers, the ‘think outside-the-box’ers, and the “I may not fully understand, but I’m still here for you” kind of women.  You’ll be happy you did.  I promise.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be that mom you’re looking to surround yourself with.  Extend the kindness and thoughtfulness you hope to receive from others.  Lend an ear, lend a hand, and lend a shoulder.  Be empathetic, be sympathetic, and remind them that we all have those days.  Build other moms up, and help them find their stride.  Celebrate their successes, and point out and acknowledge their strengths.  Offer your honest experiences and opinions when asked, but remember that not everyone may choose to share them.  And that’s OK.  Let them know they aren’t alone.  Help brainstorm solutions.  Help bring out the best in each other. Share resources.  Share laughs.  Be a source of positivity and understanding to help change the brash mom culture we see all too often.  Even if it’s one mom at a time.

To celebrate the gratitude we have for knowing we have these kinds of women to lean on, my Momtourage was inspired by the “End The Mommy Wars” campaign and put together our own version of their picture project to show our support for not only each other, but for all you wonderful moms out there. There is no one way to be a perfect parent, but a million ways to be a great one.  Meet a few of the women in my Momtourage, their BEAUTIFUL babes and bellies, and enjoy! 🙂 

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Different choices. Different beliefs.  Different children.  Different situations.  The same goal.  To raise happy and healthy children, together through love and support.  

Building A Toy Collection With Purpose

Before I had children I had a few loosely held ideals about the kinds of toys and the volume of toys I wanted my children to grow up with.  I want toys that are fun and engaging, but help promote age appropriate cognitive and physical development.  I want toys that can be manipulated in multiple ways, and can serve as a catalyst for a growing imagination.  I don’t want so many toys that my children become overwhelmed with choices, and think they are always deserving and needing the next new thing. I don’t believe in getting a new toy every time we go to the store or just because its Monday.  I believe in rotating toys to maximize toys so they are “like new” and are looked at in a different way the next time they show up in the playroom.  I believe a little boredom is OK.  It often sparks the best ideas and adventures through creativity.

While controlling all of the factors that go into a growing toy collection is impossible (we are blessed with many family and friends that love our daughter!), I do try and be conscious and mindful (when I’m able) of the kinds of items that make our way into home.  Whether it is the few items we wrap up for certain holidays, or a toy here or there I know will fit perfectly with her current interests and growth, there are several areas I try and hit on.  All focusing on different cognitive skills sets and motor development.  While the list is not comprehensive and could surely be organized in different ways, I thought I’d share some of the areas I try and build on.  We’re still working on ours! If you’ve got a birthday or special occasion coming up, it may help fill a gap or two in your own collection!

INFANT – Because infants use all of their senses to make sense of the world around them, the key is incorporating as many of them as possible. Think different colors, different textures, different sounds, different motions, and different ways to grasp and hold.  Mirrors are also a big hit!

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SHAPE SORT – Promotes fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial relations, problem solving, and as they get older.. learning their shapes!

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BUILDING BLOCKS – Could be blocks for stacking and balancing, or blocks that fit within each other. Its open ended thinking, and will be a classic for years and years.

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CLOTH AND BOARD BOOKS – There are a million and five reasons to start reading with little ones from the get-go, but also try and find books with familiar shapes, pictures, and items.  These will help with recognition and the basic ideas of language. Interactive/sensory books with different textures are also a hit!

PUZZLES – start small with a few pieces (shapes, animals, etc) that have large knobs to grasp. As they get older, work up to more pieces with more intriguing and challenging pictures and configurations.  Promotes problem solving, fine motor skills, and hand eye coordination.

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NESTING/STACKING – Cups, rings, boxes, shapes, etc

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MUSIC – xylophones, little pianos, tambourines, symbols, drums, maracas, etc. The different movements required and different sounds through cause and effect are great to experiment with

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ACTIVITY CUBES – Most activity cubes offer an array of options for different fine motor skills.  Pushing, pulling, sorting, and sliding all in one!

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BOOKS – Yes, I listed it above.  Yes, I’m listing it again.  Books! 🙂

ARTS AND CRAFTS SUPPLY – Start with the larger markers and crayons that are easier to develop grip strength, and eventually move to our standard sized items.  You never know what route some crafts can eventually take, so start compiling a supply of different papers, paints, sponges, markers and crayons (all washable! everything washable!), cotton balls, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, an artist smock (to try and save some of their clothes?), googly eyes, glue sticks, poms of all sizes, etc. (Obviously make sure whatever supplies you use are age appropriate – no choking please!)

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PUSH, PULL, AND RIDE – Once they’re sitting, make sure you start to get ready for pulling up and walking with the assistance of a push toy.  Low rise riding toys are also great for gross motor development!

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PRETEND PLAY TOYS – A lot of times you can scrounge things you already have in the house to help build this collection. Try and think of every day tasks or items we use that they can use safely to build imagination.  Play phones, kitchen sets (try with food, utensils, and a grocery cart), a work bench, dress up clothes, medical kits, brooms and vacuums (child size!), cash registers, dolls and animals, puppets, etc.  Help them learn to master every day tasks through imaginative play.

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WATER – This includes bath toys or outdoor toys for nice weather days. Let them fill, empty, and splash! A lot of times household items will do just fine.  Think of big spoons and bowls!

SIT TO CRAWL TO STAND – I love toys that allow for growth with the child.  Whether its legs that come on and off a pull-up stand toy, or a toy that has areas for sitters, crawlers, and standers, they last a long time and can be used in many ways.

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GROSS MOTOR FOR TODDLERS – Sand boxes, low ride toys, tricycles, low climbing toys, balls of all sizes, sit and spin, scooters, push lawnmowers, bouncers or ball pits, mini trampolines, etc.

USE OF BOTH HANDS SIMULTANEOUSLY – A necessary skill for many pre-school/kindergarten type activities. Help build that skill with toys that require both hands to be doing something at the same time, even if its just one hand holding an item while the other manipulates it.  Think wind up toys or something like a Mr. Potato Head!

BOOKS! 

EDUCATIONAL TOYS – These can vary greatly, but could include things like large letter flashcards with pictures, toys that teach letters, animals, animal sounds, shapes, etc, baby sign language materials, Leapfrog readers and writers, counting toys, bilingual toys, science kits, etc.

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BE MINDFUL OF GENDER ROLES & COLORS – I’m a firm believer in exposing both boys and girls to a lot of the same toys and opportunities for play.  While we may have always dreamed of having a twirling princess or a star football player, those may not be the kind of children we raise.  Tayler has her dollhouse and a kitchen set, but she also has a tool bench and a 5 in 1 sports complex toy.  And while choosing all masculine or feminine colored toys can be fun for your first, if you choose to have more children that end up being of the opposite sex, you’ll want several gender neutral options.

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If you’re family is anything like mine, they are always asking for ideas for holidays and birthdays.  If you’re anything like me, you have no problem giving them ideas (while never expecting any of it!).  If that sounds like you, check out Babylist.  I’ve used it for Tayler’s baby registry, holiday ideas, and birthday ideas.  It puts any item from any store into one central location that is easy for family members to look at! Plus, its free!

Enjoy play time with your children! 🙂

 

 

 

Helping Your Lady During Pregnancy & That First Year: This One’s For The Fellas!

Alright guys, I get it.  Your wife or girlfriend just gave you her phone so you could read this post.  Clearly, you’re hesitant and your knee jerk reaction is to hand the phone back, but you know better and pretend to feign interest.  You’re scared it will be an utter waste of time when really you just want to watch Pardon the Interruption… without interruption.  I get it, I promise.

Here’s the thing.  You’re most likely about to or are currently going through pregnancy or have just become a new father (or your lady probably wouldn’t be showing you this).  And because you care about her and her needs being met, you’ll power on and finish it.  You keep reading and I promise I’ll cut the crap, get to the point, and hopefully give you something worthwhile to take away from it.  (And let’s face it, you need a break from hearing about Donald Sterling).

A quick note about this list: it is a product of an open, honest, and candid conversation with my Momtourage and our collective experiences – not just my own.  While it is by no means comprehensive (I’d surely lose you), I picked some favorites.  And I can happily share that most of the items below are things our husbands did well – not things we wished they had done! We’ve got a bunch of keepers! 

PREGNANCY 

Take the time to learn your wife’s wishes for labor and delivery before baby gets here. While things almost never go exactly as planned once they get underway, know the in’s and out’s of how everything would ideally go for your wife.  What are her wishes on drugs, pacifiers, formula, breastfeeding, sending to the nursery, etc? If she is unable to be an advocate for herself due to exhaustion or several other reasons, you need to step up and be that advocate for her.  Giving birth is often one of the single most memorable experiences in a woman’s life – do whatever you can to help make sure its a positive one.

Don’t comment on how big she’s getting as her body grows.  Even if its meant with the best of intentions as your child is clearly thriving inside her, just… don’t.  (Unless you’re talking about her growing breasts.  If she was smaller chested before pregnancy, sometimes growing breasts is a fun perk of the process).

Get her food. Get it often.  Get it quickly.  Pregnancy does a lot of crazy things to her body.  One of which is needing food often.  Not like your 2:00 p.m. “I can’t wait for dinner” hungry.  It’s like a, “if I don’t get food right now, I’m either going to eat your face off or pass out where I stand”.  Neither or which are good for anybody.  Blood sugar can spike and drop quickly, so when she says she’s hungry, act fast and act now.

Be very open and communicate your needs and concerns about intimacy during pregnancy.  I can’t promise she’ll always meet those needs, as her libido can be on a roller coaster with high highs and low lows, but keep the conversation about it open.  If you have fears or concerns, share them honestly.  Don’t let potential misconceptions get in the way of what could be a continued thriving sexual relationship.  Whatever she feels though, respect it.  And always, ALWAYS tell her she’s beautiful.  All of the above goes for post-pregnancy as well.  It will evolve with a new set of challenges once baby arrives.

Actively take part in decisions leading up the birth.  Could your wife probably make them all on her own? Yep, probably.  But actively participating in the many decisions you’ll have to make together shows her you genuinely care about the process and that while she may be the one carrying your precious bundle, it is a joint effort and your pregnancy too.

ONCE BABY ARRIVES

When things get hard, don’t quit.  Just like your wife has learned what baby needs (mostly through trial and error), you need to have those trials and errors as well.  There might be many things that she could get done quicker than you, but it doesn’t mean you hand things off to her.  Could she get baby to sleep quicker? Probably. Do it anyway.  Could she change the diaper on a fussy baby quicker? Probably.  Do it anyway.  Could she prepare things to leave the house with baby more efficiently? Probably.  Learn what you’ll need anyway.  My point – your wife wasn’t born a pro.  She took the time to learn.  Things will get hard, but I promise everyone will benefit if you take the time (and frustration) to learn too.

Be a problem solver.  This one kind of piggy back’s off the previous one, but is equally important.  Moms are constantly reading books, articles, and asking others for help when problems or unknowns pop up.  Instead of always asking your wife what could be going on (because a lot of times she might not know either!), become a problem solver too.  Read up when things pop up, dad.

Make a conscious effort to take candid (or posed!) pictures of mom and baby.  I know I know, you don’t think like women do and you may not have that eye for an adorable photo opportunity, but try.  It makes me so sad when 10 years down the road a woman looks back and only has a handful of pictures with her kids because she was always the one behind the camera.  Your kids deserve to have pictures with their mother who loves them so ferociously – try your best to make it happen!

Once she feels ready to start getting back in shape (and she might not, which is ok too!), let her health take temporary priority.  Yes, you may have gained a few (or a lot) of pounds during her pregnancy too, but to be blunt, a lot of the changes her body went through weren’t in her control like yours were.  Sorry, dad! If it comes down to a night or two a week where its either you or her who gets a workout or run in – let her.  For many women their post-baby bod feels disconnected from their self-image.  Let them work at getting it back if they want – they deserve it! Not only that, but they most likely need that 45 minutes away for their mental health too!

As much as mom is head over heels in love with your new bundle, she needs time away.  Don’t always make her ask for it.  Offer to take baby out for a long walk on a nice day so she can shower peacefully and paint her nails.  Suggest once in awhile she meets up with a friend for dinner – she needs her girl time.  Or sometimes when you just see that her patience is running thin, something as small as asking her if she wants to go upstairs and read or take a nap for 30 minutes goes a long way.  Better yet, set up one day a week where you and baby go on an outing together.  Not only is it great for building that one on one bond with baby, but it’ll give her that time she needs and knows she can expect each week.

Don’t always make her ask.  Yes, this one gets a spot of its own. Despite common belief, women do not enjoy nagging and continuously asking you to do things.  We really, really don’t.  That fact, compounded with the mom mentality that we can do it all, is sometimes a dangerous recipe.  If she’s clearly running on fumes, offer to take the night shift.  If the dishes need to be done, just do them.  If she keeps swearing about how much of a pain in the ass it is to constantly clean her breast pump parts, do it for her when you can.  She doesn’t expect you to be a mind reader (I mean that’s just not fair), but to keep your home in happy harmony, try your best to be proactive.

Accept that you will be taking on more household responsibilities.  I could give suggestions, but this one is unique to each couple.  Whether its taking on more cooking in the kitchen, cleaning up more after she cooks in the kitchen, or taking over laundry – accept it and find a way to take a little bit off of her plate.

Last one, you made it! Are you sweating yet? 

Remember that mom is not the primary caregiver.  It isn’t just her child. You aren’t a babysitter that steps in occasionally.  You made this beautiful being together, and its your job to raise it together.  You, mom, and baby deserve that.  Be present of where baby is at in his or her day when you’re home. Learn the changing needs and upcoming milestones as baby grows.  Taking a night time feeding isn’t “doing her a favor”, its doing your job as a parent.  While you work hard all week and just want to relax all weekend, baby has needs around the clock every day, which you need to be a part of.  You got this, dad.

If you honestly got down here by reading it all, pat yourself on the back – you’re already a fantastic father.  There’s no perfect how-to guide on how to get through this transition into parenthood without speed bumps.  You’ll have them.  Some couples get over them with ease, and some need constant, committed work at getting over them.  But dad, just so you know – we appreciate you and love you.  While you’re new to this, so are we.  Let’s just promise to work on this together, keep our communication lines open, and love each other as well as our beautiful baby fiercely.

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I’m An Oversharer And I’m OK With It

For the past 22 months I’ve shared my pregnancy and our new life with our daughter with friends and family on Facebook and Instagram.  And for the past 22 months, I’ve questioned myself about it countless times.  I’ve debated writing about the topic since I first started this blog, but was unsure of whether or not it was worth writing about and if it were a topic anyone would even be interested in.  Then, like with all my posts, I reminded myself the blog is for me.

Its easy these days to be put in a certain category within social media.  You know them. The food people, the pet people, the health and fitness people, the selfie people, the inspirational quote people, or the baby people.  And in all honesty, if you don’t share the same passion, following those people can be utterly exhausting and boring.  Despite my fears of being one of those baby people, I’ve gone ahead and risked annoying people by sharing our journey.  I did the weekly pregnancy pictures (and yes, I’m attempting a much more toned down version of them again this time around), and I could easily post a picture a day of our daughter.  Between people’s generalized comments on Facebook about their frustration with their Newsfeed turning into a Gymboree ad, the numerous articles I’ve read about moms wanting to put the camera down to “enjoy the moment”, and that whole privacy issue, I’ve had my share of internal struggles about what is appropriate to share and what isn’t.

And then one day in the not so distant past, I said screw it.  I’m over the guilt.  I’m over the wondering about who I’ve annoyed.  I’m over wondering if I snap pictures too much.

 

By nature I am an open person (hence, the blog).  I always have been, and I think its safe to assume I always will be.  Ask, and I’ll tell.  To keep everything we go through to myself goes against the grain of my being.

Nearly our entire family is on Facebook. My mother, grandmothers, and great grandmother are all on Facebook.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, and numerous other family members that would otherwise never really get to see our daughter grow up, are on Facebook.  They enjoy watching her grow, and I enjoy that they are able to.

After making my daughter’s one year video, I realized I take just the right amount of pictures and videos.  In one short year, there were things I had already forgotten she did, and certain ways she looked when she was oh so small.  THAT is how fast they grow, and I am so grateful I am able to look back and remember them all.

Facebook and Instagram both have tools that allow people to limit what they see from you, or options to not see you at all.  If someone chooses to utilize them, no hard feelings here – I get it! No one is forcing them to suffer through viewing my life.

The time Tayler’s great grandparents that live in another state voiced how much they appreciate being able to watch her grow.  If they can’t see her in person all the time, seeing pictures and videos is the next best thing. Or the time another pair of Tayler’s great grandparents voiced somewhat jokingly that, “they start their day by looking for new pictures of Tayler, and if they can’t find anything, their day is already ruined”.

The women my age in my network are just starting to have children and start families.  Many that are thinking about it for the near future have reached out to tell me how much fun it is to see what they have to look forward to.  How cool is that?

I love the relationships that can build out of connecting with other new parents who are going through the same things we are.  You can never have a big enough support system when it comes to raising your children.

Once people go through it themselves, they get it.  Whether they are as open about their children or their home life as you, they understand the sheer joy and excitement that comes from creating life and doing your best to raise happy and healthy children.

My daughter is thriving, joyful, and oh so loved.  So that whole fear about “not being in the moment enough” left just as quickly as it came.  And most pictures and videos are the fourth time she’s done something – I soak up the wonderment of the first.

The first time I skipped a weekly pregnancy photo, I got multiple threats. To not post sometimes is scarier than posting.

Some things are kept private to enjoy with just us.  But you wouldn’t know, because they’re private.  Right?

The amount of messages I’ve received from expecting moms that thank me for sharing our journey.  Anticipating what parenthood is going to be like can be overwhelming, and being able to take an honest peek into someone else’s life that is going through it can sometimes put a few of those nerves at ease.  If I can give that to someone, what an amazing bonus to sharing!

I’m aware of the privacy settings I use, and who can view things that I share.  If I post, I understand who may see it.

I consciously try and balance showing an honest take on parenting with respecting challenging moments that aren’t intended for everyone.  If you want to see some of the other side (which I assure you there is), ask and I’ll tell.

The unexpected people who share in the joy with you.  There are few better feelings than knowing that there are people who enjoy watching your family grow and genuinely care about your journey.

Finally, like all choices in parenting, to each their own.  Whatever your feelings are on the topic, they are the right ones for you.  If you prefer to keep things private, you are absolutely right.  If you prefer to share your whole story, you are absolutely right.  And if you’ve found a beautifully happy medium of the two, you are absolutely right.

 

To anyone reading this that has enjoyed watching our family adventures, thanks for tagging along 🙂 I’m glad you’re here! 

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An Exaggerated, But Not That Exaggerated Day Inside the Head of Today’s Moms

One of my biggest frustrations as a mom in today’s overloaded information age is the endless stream of hazards, studies, chemicals, toxins, and recalls we are continuously made aware of.  It’s incredibly easy to feel like every single decision you make carries immense weight, and everything you do or give your child during the day has potential hazards involved.  Article after article about children’s products pour through my social media feed each day, and to keep up with it all is utterly exhausting.  Is the study valid? Is it a real concern? What is a safe alternative? How can I make the best choices without breaking our budget? I swear some days I consider going back to work just so I can pay for a research assistant to help me sift through the crap and get down to what  really matters.  While I’m thankful that we as moms today have information available to help keep our children safe, I also sometimes think a little ignorance is bliss.  Generations before us didn’t have access to all of this information – yet somehow, they survived and thrived?

In honor of this daily struggle I wanted to write about what it looks like in the head of today’s moms.  It’s not all to be taken seriously, but some days it sure feels close.  Finding that balance between staying up to date on products and practices and keeping your sanity and focus on what really matters is no easy task. To all you moms that make decisions every day with nothing but your children’s best interest at heart and cross your fingers that it all works out, I applaud you and adore you.

My body naturally rises at 6 a.m. Before I muster the energy to get out of bed I quickly sift through my news and social media feeds, which always contains something about child safety. First up is an article about infant and toddler mattresses emitting toxic chemicals our little ones breathe in all night.

Because who should ever test those to make sure they’re safe? I peek at my daughter on the monitor sleeping peacefully with her bottom in the air. Look at how sweet she is… just soaking up toxins through that cute little nose.  Son of a B. 

I’m ready for the day, and she begins to stir upstairs.  I get her cup ready with some milk.  Having recently read about BPA free cups being just as dangerous due to substituting with unregulated chemicals and carcinogens, I fill it reluctantly.

What the F am I supposed to do? Pour the milk straight into her mouth? Here you go, sweetheart.  Drink up out of your toxic sippy. 

After her milk we head to her playroom to work out some morning wiggles and get an appetite for breakfast working.  As she plays contently with her play food at the kitchen set, I can’t help but look around at what an apparent danger trap the room is.

Hmm. She just climbed up and stood on the back of the chair to play with the blinds and cords. Should probably replace those.  That shelving unit needs mounting.  The outlet covers she now picks off with ease need to be replaced with something heavy duty.  Oh, and those are a choking hazard now. Half of that basket of teething toys have been recalled due to choking hazards… should probably throw those out, too.  There’s her old Bumbo.  The queen bee of fall hazards.  Where were people putting their children while in this seat?!  There’s the jumper she once loved, happily bouncing her way up to projectile spit up.  I just read that those are “amputation and fracture” risks.  YIKES? Clearly this room is not fit for children. Let’s make some breakfast and go play at the park.  

I cut up some toast, wash and chop an apple, and get her some organic fruit smoothie.  I eye the baby food pouch, but get sick thinking about the video I just saw of someone finding live larvae in one of those pouches.

The bread is whole grain, that’s good right? The apple isn’t organic, but I washed it, soooo? Hopefully that’s good enough? Naked brand just came out with the fact that their wholesome smoothies contain other ingredients and chemicals that aren’t listed.  Is this one legit? Here’s to hoping? Eat up, pumpkin.  

I clean her up, get her dressed, and change her diaper.

How can I still use these Kirkland wipes from Costco without letting that article I read about them getting a low safety rating creep into the back of my head?  I love these wipes! 

I grab her bag and go to put her in the car seat.

Chest buckle at armpit height. Check.  Shoulder straps perfectly on top of shoulders and can’t pinch them at all.  Check. Fleece on, but its really thin, so that doesn’t really break the big coat rule, right? Sure.  Check.  Still happy rear-facing. Sweet.  Double check. The fact that we paid for a top of the line car seat and still deal with safety recalls.  Really flipping pisses me off.  

We get to the park filled with children of all ages.

I wonder if anyone else saw that article about people taping small razor blades all over equipment at playgrounds to intentionally hurt children? Hopefully this one is blade free. Of course it is, Erica… chill.  

I do a quick scan of all adults at the playground.  Obviously looking for the creep that the news always tells me will surely be there.

Kinda creepy.  Could be creepy.  Definitely creepy.  Did these people come with children?!

Tayler is happily playing, and being the paparazzi mom that I am, I snap a few cute pictures of her playing.  Our family digs them.

Wait. Shit. Did I turn off the location service for my phone camera? I don’t need any of these creeps knowing where we are all the time. THEY WERE ABLE TO MAKE MAPS OF KIDS’ BEDROOMS WITH THAT STUFF. 

After some fun-filled park adventures, we come back to the house for some lunch and a good nap.  I take her upstairs to her room to lay her down.

Crap. I haven’t washed out that cool-mist humidifier in awhile.  I think the max you’re supposed to let it go is a week.  I’m pretty sure its been like seven.  Noise maker on.  But not too close to her or too loud.  Those are apparently a noise risk now? I’m pretty sure dad’s TV volume level and our dogs’ barking take care of that already for her.  Her breathable mesh bumpers are pushed down a little low.  Oh well, I’ll leave them.  Despite her full body control, I’ve been taught to be terrified of those things. 

She wakes up rested, but a little grumpy from her three teeth trying to push through.

Can’t use baby Orajel.  Can’t use teething tablets.  Our pediatrician said those teething necklaces leak arsenic. Hopefully a low dose of Tylenol is safe.  Here babe, chew on this frozen washcloth. I’m so over this.  

We decide to head back outside for a walk in her new push car.  I opt out of the Bjorn, because I guess those don’t support her hips enough.

I knew I should’ve gotten an Ergo. 

Before I put sunscreen on her, I’m left feeling guilt ridden again. I had just read that most popular sunscreen brands are actually full of harmful chemicals.

Well which is better right now? No sunscreen and turning her fragile baby skin to leather? Or putting it on again before we can get over to Target and buy a “safe” baby brand? Get over here lady.  Let’s lather you up.   

We enjoy our walk and play in our court for awhile, and then devour our string cheese snack.  We head to back yard to kick a ball around.

God our yard looks like hell after this winter.  I’m assuming we can’t use fertilizer? What can we use? Anything? Rely on all the dog poop that needs to be picked up? Shit.  This yard is a minefield of poop.  We can’t be back here.  

So we head back inside for a little bit to play in her danger room.  Followed by what I can only hope was a somewhat safe and nutritious dinner.  We eventually head up for bath time.  We just ran out of our Burt’s Bee’s Soap, so I grab some Johnson and Johnson from our baby shower stash we accumulated.

Is this stuff safe yet? How obnoxious.  Formaldehyde? Really? Maybe just this once? I need to invest in Honest Company stock.  

Pajamas on. Books read.  Lights out.  Milk drank.  Noise maker on.  Rocking into sweet dreams.  She’s sleeping safely and comfortably in my arms.  But I dare not fall asleep with her, because apparently that’s too dangerous.  Pshht.

Whew.  We made it through another day in this battlefield.  I shouldn’t be called Mom.  I should be called Master Crisis Averter.  Or Doctor of Danger Assessment.  I guess Mom will do for now.  

I lay her in her crib, kiss her goodnight, and quietly close the door.

Shit.  I wonder if she’ll be ok with the blanket I left in there? 

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