Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Five Summer Essentials

Having just shopped for, tried and fallen in love with a few beach essentials, I want to share my finds, plus one trick I learned for leaving sand at the beach.

Sport-Brella SUPER-BRELLA Umbrella  

I have tried many variations of the beach cabana and tent and this umbrella far exceeds anything I've tried. For starters, you don't need to be Houdini to figure out how to set it up and collapse it. It also comes in various sizes so you can find something that works for your family, not just the youngest. Below are key stats from Amazon.

  • UPF 50+ sun and weather protection and water repellent, protects over 99.5% of UVA and UVB rays
  • Side zippered windows for efficient airflow
  • Easiest setup sun shelter available thanks to folding umbrella action. Includes carry bag and ground stakes.
  • Internal pockets for valuables and gear

JJ Cole Outdoor Blanket

Perfect for the beach or really anywhere you want to create a place for you and your kids to sit, this is our family go-to blanket. As you can see, you can fold this (easy to do) into a compact blanket that has a built in carry strap. The material is water resistant so no need to worry about wet bathing suits or spills. Easy to wipe clean and easy to brush off sand.

Stearns Puddle Jumpers Life Jacket

Without question, my family would not enjoy beach vacations or trips to the pool without these life jackets. First and foremost, they are U.S. Coast Guard approved so I feel confident in its design and quality as a flotation aid. My children have never complained about wearing this vest which is a huge bonus. Unlike others, it doesn't limit arm movement, come up around their necks or require a crotch strap.

Baby Powder = Instant Sand Remover
A mother of three whose children are older than mine passed down to me this amazing trick of using baby powder to remove sand from hands, feet, faces, and the many other places we find sand on our kiddos. Apply generously, rub the sand covered surface and watch the sand magically fall away. To learn more, check out My favorite beach trick.

Scout bags.

FINALLY! A company has produced durable, sensible, stylish beach and pool bags for families, From bags that could hold half a dozen towels + beach toys to lunch bags, Scout makes it all. Though I love the patterns and variety of bags, the bottom line is exactly what the company promotes on its site:

Travel John Jr. - Disposable Urinal Bags.
Not kidding. These have saved me. For the child who is potty trained, but there's no place to go or no time to get there. For the toddler who is in the midst of potty training and you don't want to carry around a little portable potty, these will save you.

If this weren't a blog targeted towards parents, I would refrain, but here's what you need to know. Thank you, Amazon. "They are convenient, unisexed, sanitary, personal urinals containing "Liqsorb", the key ingredient that makes this work. Liqsorb is a combination of an exclusive biodegradable non-woven fabric pouch containing a biodegradable polymer substance that immobilizes bacterial growth quickly - absorbing liquid waste and turning it into an odorless, spill-proof solid gel bag that is non-toxic and waste disposal safe. The unisex adapter makes it easy for anyone and everyone, even children, to use while sitting (providing there is the use of gravity with an unobstructed, free-flowing opening) or standing, and a spill guard prevents back flow during use."

Now go buy them! 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Favorites: Baby Gear & Clothes

Seeking advice from and swapping opinions with other parents about preferred brands and kids items is the number one way I shop for my children. Over the years I've purchased, loved, hated, replaced and repeat purchased a lot of things. Here are a few of my all time favorite items for babies.

Puj Tub is something I've now purchased twice (only because we thought we were done after baby #2, but surprise...#3 came along). This tub is not only a space saver as it lays flat compared to the larger, non collapsible infant tubs, but it's easy to use, easy to clean and fits in just about any size sink making bathing a baby a lot less intimidating and cumbersome.

Tiny Love's Classic Developmental Mobile is unrivaled, in my opinion, as for all three of my children, it has been the #1 favorite item above any play mat. It's easy to assemble, easy to attach to the crib without harming the wood, provides a multitude of options and honestly, my kids have all just been so incredibly excited to look up at this mobile that it's been one of the best "babysitters" of all time.

Vulli Sophie the Giraffe is a staple of infancy. I can't explain the obsession my children have with this toy, but one squeeze, one squeak, one giraffe leg in their mouth, and it's love.

There is a reason that the Marpac DOHM-DS, Natural White Noise Sound Machine is a #1 best seller on Amazon. The product description on Amazon boats that this product was "named "Official Sound Conditioner" of the National Sleep Foundation." Instead of a digital recording, it has a built-in fan that creates the sound of rushing air. Choose high or low speed, then twist the cap to increase or decrease the size of the sound hole openings. By adjusting the speed and sound openings, you'll customize the volume and tone to find a soothing white noise that's ideal for you."

The BABYBJĂ–RN Travel Crib Light has been the gold standard for my family when it comes to traveling with our children. Unlike some of its competitors, it is incredibly lightweight, fits in an easy to carry bag and the frame is all one piece that assembles easily and within a minute. The mattress offers the perfect amount of pad. This crib is also the perfect size for travel --  requiring less space than some other similar products, which gives you more options for how to arrange your room when traveling.Crib comes in multiple colors.

H&M has incredible clothing and accessories for babies and the line includes items made with organic cotton. The patterns and styles, even for babies, are what you would expect from H&M. From basics to more stylish pieces, two infant wardrobe items that my children have lived in include the side snap bodysuits (I love the side snap vs. having to pull something over babies head) and the footed tights. Both items come in 10 different colors/patterns.

I am in love with Target's Circo™ Baby 2-Pack Footed Sleepers. When it comes to baby sleepwear, I am picky (or maybe just lazy). I only purchase footed one-pieces that zip as I always mismatch the snaps on the other one-pieces and become frustrated at getting everything snapped together when it feels like I change my baby ever hour.  Not only do these sleepers zip, but they zip from the bottom up vs. the traditional top to bottom zipper. What's the benefit? It means for late night diaper changes, you can easily access the diaper by just uncovering your babies legs, leaving them still cozy on the upper half and less disturbed in hopes that you can do a quick change and put them back in the crib. Genius!

Wee BOOTIES are my latest obsession. I was lucky enough to receive a pair to review and there's nothing I don't like about the BOOTIES. I gravitate to all things practical for my kids, but never want to compromise on quality or style. Wee BOOTIES are the solution for keeping tiny feet cozy in any type of weather as the styles and materials vary. The ultimate staple for a baby wardrobe or the perfect gift for a mama to be.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Food Bullies. Going Nuts Over School Food Policies.

"We have a nut allergy in our class."

Whether this is a statement announced at back to school night, a letter or email issued to parents from a teacher or a sign posted outside your child's classroom, inevitably, or so it seems, the parents of the children who do not have the allergy sigh heavily, roll eyes, mumble something to themselves and later complain to a sympathetic ear that "Ugh. There's a nut allergy in the class. This is so annoying."

To all the parents and caregivers who are annoyed that some schools establish nut-free policies, I'm sorry. Genuinely. I get it. I was once you. I understand that any added inconvenience when it comes to getting kids to eat meals and having to prepare food other than what your child may prefer is annoying. I know that not being able to just grab any type of cupcake or cake for your child's in class birthday celebration usually requires an extra trip to a store you may not frequent. I recognize that you may feel that my child's allergy is becoming your problem and that's annoying. But I prefer you being annoyed to my child being dead.

I could go on and on and surely back and forth with other parents about the pros and cons of nut policies. As someone who doesn't believe in their absolute effectiveness, I assure you I'm not just on one side of the conversation. And I am very aware of the arguments and validity over concerns and sensitivities surrounding children with diabetes, parents who choose not to immunize their kids and needs to properly honor religious customs. Again, I don't sit on just one side of the policy and recognize that there are issues beyond nuts that aren't addressed. But regardless of the policy the biggest thing missing from the conversation is the child who has the allergy. The driver of the policy is the one with the smallest voice.

To my surprise, I've learned that it's not uncommon for schools to separate children with food allergies from other children at meal time. The same strategy for disciplining kids - putting them in time out or in isolation from the group - is the same strategy implemented for food allergies. So those who misbehave and those who have allergies are treated the same. My child feels punished for something he didn't do. We've traded a policy intended to keep children physically safe for a policy that socially alienates children.

Think about all the books, TV shows and movies we've all seen about the social dynamics of lunch time in schools and then imagine those dynamics starting at the age of four. From a young age through adulthood, meal time is a social time. It's a time when we interact with one another. For children at school, it's a time to talk with friends, meet new friends, laugh and swap stories and participate in the social aspects of meal time. Unless of course you have a food allergy and your table is chosen. And in the worst cases, this means your child could be eating alone or that he or she may be the "brown-noser" who eats with the teacher. In any case, these children are identified as different and by all measures, ripe for teasing.

Handled properly, we read stories such as this one When A Teachers Email About My Sons Food Allergies Made Me Cry. It's a heartwarming moment for a mother of a child with severe food allergies who otherwise is virtually always excluded from classroom celebrations that involve food, and a teacher's sensitivity to wanting that child to feel more included. This is the rare exception, however, or so it seems. What feels more like the norm is Dear Teacher of My Food Allergic Child in which a parent of a child with food allergies pens a letter to the teacher of her daughter explaining that the ways she is excluded from the class and alienated because of her food allergies has completely diminished the positives of attending school.

While having a child with a food allergy in the same class with your non-allergic child may feel like a nuisance, think about how little is asked of you to keep the allergic child safe. One meal a day at schools where parents pack a lunch. That's it. As the parent of a child with food allergies, I don't make any special requests at play dates or birthday parties. I know to pack an extra meal, specific snacks or a substitute treat in case my child can't eat what is being served.  And my child doesn't cry when there's a cake he can't eat. He doesn't whimper when there's a snack he can't have. He knows his allergy is serious and it's important to make safe choices. So, if a four year old can handle the burden of a life with food allergies, why does it seem like adults have such a hard time?

The thing about food allergies and children is that it's not all about the allergy, but it's about how we react to them and how that is what affects the child. It's heartbreaking that it's not enough to worry about my child's safety, but that I need to worry that adults won't create an environment in which he's bullied for it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nothing Runs on Empty. Except Parents.

Today is the day when being the mother of three children has completely emptied my tank. And it's not just empty, the tank is bone dry.

I just looked at my infant and said out loud, "We did it. We made it through another night." And although I just celebrated making it through another hideous night of fractured sleep and feedings, I am already overcome with anxiety about getting through another night with my three month old. #tankempty

My work hours are 24-hours a day, seven days a week. And my office is my house. As someone once said, "parenting is the only job you never get to go home from." Ain't that the truth. In this "office" of mine, all phone calls are conference calls as I'm rarely able to limit the number of participants to less than two. Given the number of people who accompany me into the bathroom, all bathrooms in my home feel public. I'll never get a raise. I'll never get a bonus. But I do receive regular "reviews" that come in the form of feedback such as "But Mom, you NEVER let me use the iPad." My office mates feel more like cellmates, or so I imagine.They are all up in my business and don't contribute to my productivity. In fact, they are the ultimate detractors.

It doesn't matter how much coffee I drink, how many sugar free Red Bulls I consume. I'm not just exhausted, I'm depleted. Welcome to parenthood.

I remember before I had my first, someone said that the sleep deprivation is unimaginable. What no one told me is that it's all the other moving pieces that exhaust you. It's the constant worry, the routine visits to the pediatrician, the scheduling every move around feedings and diaper blow-outs, managing school schedules and the dozens of activities and parties that consume not just your child's life, but your own. Oh, and the laundry. Why doesn't anyone warn you about the endless loads of laundry?

What I've learned is that parenting empties the tank. Being a parent, though, means you need to figure out how to run on empty. And shockingly, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's Changed Since Baby #3 Arrived? Everything.

Photo Credit: Don Bringas

It's been three months since my third child arrived and here are a few observations and realities now that mine is a family of five.

  1. The world is built for families of four. There are two top tables. There are four top tables. Never do you arrive at a restaurant and find they are putting a two top and three top together for your family. Planes with two seats on one side and three seats on the other side of the aisle aren't designed for a family of five. One parent loses massively when on the three seater side, sandwiched between two children who surely only want the very things you can't reach while the "Fasten Seat belt" sign is on. And it's ALWAYS on. The only thing designed for families of five are minivans.
  2. Instead of having one child in the bathroom with me, I now have two. One on my lap. Yes, on my lap. And one who hands me toilet paper. I assure you the toilet paper handler isn't a helper. Just a handler of all things in all bathrooms. 
  3. Someone is always sick. Always. The day we brought our third home was the day we learned Hand, Foot and Mouth was going around our son's school. That should have been an indication of what was to come. The day our daughter recovered from a cold we learned our infant had a respiratory infection. The day our son recovered from a 24-hour stomach bug, our daughter had it. And then my husband. And then me. And then my father. And then my mother. And then....well....someone got something else.
  4. Books have "lost" pages. And by lost, I mean that when reading to our kids at night, I often "accidentally" turn several pages at a time to shorten a 30 page book into something closer resembling 15 pages because there's still a child who needs something even after two of them are in bed.
  5. Chips and a fruit squeezie constitute a meal. 
  6. When out in public it's easy to spot which child was the most difficult to get out the door because that's the child who looks homeless or at the very least, not particularly cared for.
  7. "The two of you need to work things out on your own" lesson has started earlier than our children can comprehend because it's so much more convenient than actually parenting.
  8. We throw money at problems. In order to avoid taking our older (he's four) son's kindness and patience for granted, we've started giving him an allowance for helping get his sister ready in the morning. (Follow-up to #6: This is where I have clued you into the fact that she's the one who tends to look the least cared for.)
  9. The bar has dropped. And I mean dropped like you when you would do the Limbo and there was just no way you were getting under that stick. Yes, that's the level to which I've lowered the bar of expectations for most things. Instead of failing each day, I tend to over achieve. It's a much better approach to life when outnumbered.
  10. At the end of each day, after tucking them in at night, I immediately start to miss them.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Shots Fired. Trust Shattered.

This post is not a political opinion piece, nor does this even scratch the surface of the atrocities and pain of the mass shootings in this country. This post is about my experience as a mother.

Every night, my son's bedtime routine ends with the following questions.

"Is a monster going to come in?"
"Is the smoke detector going to beep?"
"Will you leave my door open a little bit?"
"Will you check on me in one minute?"

My son thrives on routine and embodies some of my neuroses and anxiety, hence the same four questions every night. As of late, I leave his room thinking about the enormity of guilt I have as I reassure him of his safety and yet I'm not in control of it at all. Or at least that's how it feels.

I'm not afraid of  falls, scrapes, bumps, bruises, hurt feelings, time-outs, tears, disappointments and all of the very real things children need to experience to grow. And I don't hesitate before sending my kids to school each day and I don't want to and that's the point.

My three children are young and as someone once said to me, "When your children are young, parenting is hard. When your children are older, parenting is complicated." While I'm sure I won't fully appreciate the brilliance of this statement until my children are older, already, I get what the person meant as we face the conversations with our children about the world we live in.

For my children, it's simple. Their trust in me and their father enables them to try new things without hesitation, to feel safe exploring new places, meeting a new friend or babysitter, to feel safe in a new school or after school program. When we are at the playground and one of the kids hesitates to climb or jump, they look to me or their dad and we either give a knowing nod of reassurance that we know they can do it on their own or we offer words of encouragement for the kids to decide if they want to try it on their own or if they want help. Our kids trust that we will keep them safe --- if we tell them we know they can do something, they don't hesitate. It's one of the most brilliant gifts of parenting young children. But recently, it also feels like a burden.

These young children know nothing of a world that's outside of the "bubble" created for them by us parents. They are privileged to not question if how I dress them will keep them warm. Of course it will. They need not question if they have their lunch. If their school has nice teachers. If they will come home to a nanny they adore and who will ensure a fun filled afternoon of games, play, hugs and kisses. The responsibility of being a parent feels enormous when things happen in this world that force us to accept that no matter how hard we work at creating this "bubble," it inevitably isn't a sustainable existence. And honestly, that's fine. In fact it's good for kids to know something about the real world. It's why donating toys and food and being involved in community activities is something we value enormously. It's one of the easiest ways for us to humble our kids. But when it comes to bursting the proverbial bubble, how in the hell do we do it without terrifying our children about the world we live in.

My children's entire life depends upon and is built around a foundation of trust in me and my word and the sense of safety, security and routine that they feel. I understand that I can't ever pretend that we live in a world where I can guarantee their safety at all times. Accidents happen. Things happen. Life happens. But what about when it comes to their safety in the very places they most depend on it, such as school. How do I explain that? God, I don't want to. My heartaches for anyone who has children of an age who ask about school shootings. Or, the horror, have experienced a school shooting.

I'm not paranoid about our world. I'm not afraid of reality. I'm not naive to the fact that I'm privileged to not live in a war zone. But I am a parent and more than that, I am the #1 advocate for my children. My children's lives are only as safe as I am loud in requiring that there not be danger in places where danger should never lurk. Under the bed? No monsters. In the closet? No monsters. At school? We should all be able to confidently say, No monsters.

I don't have an answer for how we end senseless violence. For how we normalize things that should be normal, like going to school and going to the doctor and doing those things without fear. What I do know is that I will raise my voice. I will scream and shout support for those who will help lead us to one. My kids deserve it.


If you want your voice to be heard, please check out the website for the March  for Gun Safety to join a march near you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Where to Go with Kids in DC: Museums

When it comes to finding an indoor activity to do with kids, there are many perks to living in Washington, D.C. With the countless museums and the metro accessibility, not only can you find a place to go, but getting there can be a thrill for your child if you take a train or bus. Here are some of my families favorite spots.

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is virtually an unbeatable destination. When you enter the museum, you are immediately transported into exhibits as there are planes and rockets hanging from the ceiling and exhibitions throughout the open main floor. While there's so much to see, there's also so much to do. There is the "How Things Fly" designed to teach about the many aspects of air travel through hands-on stations. There are more buttons to push than you can imagine and the stations are engaging for not only the wee ones, but the older kids, too. In this area there's also a real plane where kids can climb into the cockpit to experience what it's like to be a pilot.

(Air and Space Museum's "How Things Fly," Photo Credit Smithsonian Institution)

For older kids and adults there is a flight simulator area where you can really get the adrenaline pumping depending on how adventurous you're feeling. There's also an IMAX theater that shows a variety of films, some of which are kid friendly and some are for an older set. And if you are ok with fast food, you'll be pleased to know there's a food court in the museum that has McDonald's, Boston Market and a pizzeria.

The National Building Museum offers a lot in the way of entertainment. First, there's a huge hall where you can let your little one(s) run free, but more than that, they have activities for families, kid friendly exhibits, a dedicated children's play room and large building blocks for kids to use, along with other rotating family friendly events. In terms of ease of accessibility on a rainy or snowy day, the Museum is across the street from the Judiciary Square metro and only a few blocks from the Gallery Place station.

The National Portrait Gallery is one of my families favorite indoor "playgrounds." I've found that it's easy to make a game of looking at the portraits with kids. From counting the number of boys vs. girls to asking kids to find their favorite portraits, you can actually see the art of the museum with young ones. But if that's not what you had in mind and you just need a destination, this is the spot (sorry art lovers who loathe all the wild kids).

(Portrait Gallery Museum. Photo Credit Smithsonian Institution) 

The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard  (photo above) at this museum is amazing. The glass ceiling is incredible on a clear day and also a rainy one and it's an expansive area where kids can run around without causing any trouble. There is a water feature that is a huge hit with kids. Basically a water feature on the floor that enables kids to run, kick, play and slosh around in less than an inch of water and the feature runs almost the entire length of the atrium so there's room for everyone to explore. Bonus is the cafe adjacent to the atrium where you can score a great lunch and also a mini bottle of wine...or coffee....or water.  As for location, it's virtually unbeatable as you are just blocks from the Gallery Place, Metro Center and Judiciary Square metro stations and you're surrounded by the many casual dining options that come with a Gallery Place/Verizon Center location.

The National Museum of Natural History requires no added activities beyond what it has to offer with its exhibitions and discovery stations. This museum has it all in terms of grabbing and keeping the interest of young ones. From the African Elephant in the rotunda to the amazing coral reef, it's hard to move children through the museum because there's so much that captures their attention. For those who want a hands-on experience this museum doesn't disappoint. As with some other Smithsonian institutions, there are discovery stations where you can learn more about what you see in exhibitions and often touch various objects. There is also the Q?rius Discover Room, ".. a hands-on room featuring real Museum objects and artifacts. During Open Hours, visitors explore activities representing exhibitions and behind-the-scenes research at the Museum. Visitors of all ages can look at fossils, skulls, shells and minerals, use a microscope, try on traditional clothing from around the world, and much more!"

The National Museum of American History is an incredible experience as children can take in the magnificent halls of the museum, take a seat on a train car in the America on the Move exhibition, see the U.S. flag constructed out of LEGO® (on exhibit through the end of 2015). For kids ages six to twelve, there is also Spark!Lab. "Spark!Lab is where museum visitors become inventors. The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation invites children between the ages of 6 and 12 to create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment, and invent. Activities for children and families incorporate traditional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with art, museum, and creativity. Spark!Lab activities are designed around common themes that connect to Museum collections and exhibitions. These themes will change on a regular basis, ensuring that regular visitors have something new to explore."

Another great spot is the National Museum of the American Indian. The building itself is gorgeous and something worth seeing in DC, let alone all that the museum has to offer inside.

                                                     (National Museum of the American Indian. Photo credit Smithsonian Institution)

Throughout the museum, like others, you may find learning stations or discovery carts where you have a hands-on experience that's relevant to something you will find or learn about during your visit. In addition, one of the incredible aspects of this museum is the imagiNATIONS Activity Center. "The interactive, family-friendly imagiNATIONS Activity Center provides visitors of all ages with a multitude of unique learning experiences... Visitors to the center can explore some of these ingenious adaptations through a variety of hands-on activities: Weave a giant basket to learn about the various styles of basketry. Explore different modes of transportation like snowshoes and skateboards. Sit inside a full-sized tipi and learn about the buffalo... Additionally, the activity center offers stories about Native cultures or by Native authors, available for reading in the center’s story room. The craft room offers visitors the opportunity to create art projects and take them home..."

Possibly one of the best dining experiences on/around the National Mall is the National Museum of the American Indian's Mitsitam Cafe. The Cafe has several different food stations, each representing Native foods from different regions. It's an incredible dining experience offering visitors the opportunity to taste authentic and contemporary foods from various regions.


If you happen to visit one of the museums located around the National Mall on a day that's not too chilly, you can treat the kids to a ride on the National Carousel post-museum visit. 

(Photo Credit, National Carousel)