My Little Man

My favorite part of the décor at J’s 1st birthday party was all of his cute little baby pictures. Lord knows we have hundreds, but we sorted through them carefully, chose our favorites–and then vandalized them.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Mustache (1) Mustache (2) Mustache (3) Mustache (4) Mustache (5) Mustache (6) Mustache (7)

We simply strung the photos on yarn, separating them with cut-outs of ties and mustaches, then hung it up.

Mustache Banner

Cheap, cute, and easy. Decorations do not have to be expensive!

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The Mustache Bash

I love to plan a party. And perhaps it comes from my days as a sorority girl (go ahead, judge me), but I sure do love my parties to have a theme. So when it came time to think about J’s 1st birthday party, I knew he (I) needed a theme. After pouring through ideas on Google, I came up with the Mustache Bash. When I started trying to find party supplies, I realized I was SOL because there just weren’t any to be had. Luckily for me, I’m married to a graphic designer. I found some things on Etsy, but other things I had him create or me.

To start with, I found this invitation by Bee and Daisy.

Invitation

I also found these on Etsy:

Mustache straws Vinyl Stickers

I bought a few mason jars, plates, cups, napkins, and silverware–and that’s it. My husband made all the other decorations for me.

I Mustache Your For a Birthday Wish (1) I Mustache Your For a Birthday Wish (2)

Guests were asked to write a birthday wish for James when they entered the party.

Real Men Eat Cupcakes

My Mom made adorable, yet manly, cupcakes.

Manwiches Bowtie Salad Cheesy Poofs Couch Potato Chips & Dip

We served Manwiches, Bowtie Salad, Cheesy Poofs, and Couch Potato Chips & Dip.

Suckers Cigars

For sweet treats, we served suckers and Cigars (which would have looked much cuter had I used the big, fat pretzels–but these are what I had in my pantry, so these are what I used).

Wet Your Whiskers (1) Wet Your Whiskers (2)

And to Wet the Guests Whiskers, we served lemonade and root beer.

Smashcake

My mom also made a cute little smash cake with bowties around the sides.

Little Man

My sweet boy looked like the cutest little man for his 1st birthday party!

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Lesson 66: Your baby’s first birthday party doesn’t have to be a circus

In honor of my baby boy’s 2nd birthday (which is today! Holy crap! Where does the time go?!), a little walk down memory lane from this time last year…

Let’s face it: First birthday parties are for the parents, not the kid. The kid has no idea what’s going on, will have absolutely zero memory of the occasion, and would probably prefer to not have everybody stare at him and clap while he shoves his face in a cake.

Contemplating...

That said–did I have a blast planning my son’s first birthday party? Hell yeah, I did.

But everything I did, I did because I wanted to. I didn’t spend a ton of money and I didn’t compare anything I did with what other moms did. I had an idea, I Googled it, I told my husband what I wanted, and he designed the decorations for me. All the food was homemade, nothing fancy. The “Mommy Wars” can suck it, because I’m not playing that game.

The only thing that was perhaps a little overdone was the guest list–we invited a lot of people! But as I put together the guest list, there were just so many people who I cared about and wanted to share this milestone with. One big thing I learned during my first year of parenting is, when a person loves your kid, your own love for that person grows exponentially. I suddenly looked at friends who had been in my life for years, and when they looked at my child with love, they truly became family. A birthday party is a celebration of family, so I wanted them there with us. We won’t be going all out and having everybody we love at every party–but there’s just something about that first birthday that demands special attention.

Because we had so many people coming, we wanted to make it clear that we weren’t gift-grabbing. We wanted people to celebrate with us; we weren’t trying to create a Toys ‘R Us in our living room. We chose to ask people to make donations to our local Children’s Hospital in J’s honor, rather than bringing gifts. Some people complained about not being able to bring J a gift, others brought them anyway–and that was totally fine. We simply didn’t want it to be an expectation. And we are so blessed with so many things, why not share some of that good fortune?

I wasn’t so consumed with planning the party that I forgot to make J’s actual birthday special. His birthday fell during the week, and his party wasn’t until the following Saturday. Bo and I got him a huge cupcake and let him have his way with it.

Going... ...going... Gone!

Then we took him to a fun Mexican restaurant for dinner (he needed a bath first!). We thought he would love it when they came to sing to him, but instead it scared the shit out of him. But overall, it was fun and I think he enjoyed himself.

Birthday ice cream!

Traditions are really important to me, and I don’t want birthdays to get lost in the party. I love the time we got to spend with just the 3 of us, just as much as I loved the big celebration.

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Lesson 65: Parents are so predictable

Parents love to offer advice. It doesn’t come from a place of superiority (in most cases). I think it’s more likely that it comes from a place of nostalgia and helpfulness. Even so, there are things that you will hear over and over and it will begin to wear your nerves. Try really hard to smile and nod, rather than replying, “No shit.”

By the way, I’m sure I’m guilty of saying some of this myself. It just rolls on off the tongue. For those of you who did not reply with some bit of sarcasm to me, I thank you.

“Time will fly by!”

Since your newborn doubled in size about 5 seconds after you brought him home from the hospital, you’ve probably already figured that one out. Though it’s true, I have to point out–you really have no clue. You think you do, and then one day you look at your baby and he’s not a baby anymore. And then you look at him and he looks just like a little boy. And then one day you go to put his shoes on, and his feet have grown 2 sizes overnight. So every time you think you know how fast time goes by, you’ll keep getting those little reminders that tell you, you truly have no idea just how fast it goes.

So I think this one, as much as it is repeated, is justified. But still…

What you want to say: No shit. Are you trying to make me cry?

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?! Plus with my super badonka boobs, my milk is stout, yo.

“Time to start baby-proofing!”

As soon as Baby starts crawling, everybody will snicker as if they know some big secret and demand that you immediately move to a rubber room. But the fact is, many of us choose to not baby-proof, or at least to do very limited baby-proofing. In our family, we baby-proof only to the extent that it allows us to be lazy at times; otherwise, our son is learning what he can and cannot touch, climb on, lick, or stick a screwdriver in.

What you want to say: It’s Evolution. Crawling is no huge secret. We kinda figured, and definitely hoped, he’d do it one day.

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?!

“Now you’re in trouble!”

Once Baby starts walking, the shit is really going to hit the fan! Things are going to be so much different!

No they’re not. Once she’s mobile, she’s mobile. Period. Her type of mobility doesn’t really change all that much. In fact, it was a brief respite for us as J learned to walk since he actually walked slower than he crawled.

What you want to say: Please. I was in trouble just as soon as my pregnancy test showed a big plus sign and I realized my husband had been out of town the month she was conceived.* This is nothing.

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?! Such a blessing.

“Oh, now you’re really in trouble!”

If walking didn’t blow your mind, running will. You might as well give it up. No parent ever in the history of parenting has been able to survive their toddler running. It just can’t be done.

Truth? Once J learned to run, he was also pretty darn good at following simple directives. Now, had he been born with the ability to run, we probably would have been in some serious trouble. But as it is, the way development goes in a nice little pattern, we didn’t have a problem.

What you want to say: Nah. He’s leash- and crate-trained. We don’t anticipate any problems.

What you should say: Yes, they’re amazing, aren’t they?!

“When are you having another one?”

You know what? Maybe never. Maybe she doesn’t want more kids. Maybe she can’t have more kids. Maybe she’s been trying for months and months to get pregnant again and hasn’t yet had any luck. Unless you’re close friends with the mother in question, this question is way off limits.

What you want to say: I’m just waiting for my husband to go out of town again…

What you should say: That’s really not your business.

*That was pure sarcasm. My husband is most definitely my Baby Daddy. I’m far too lazy to have an affair. Relax.

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Lesson 64: Your baby will manipulate you

Don’t fall for it. They’re no dummies.

Manipulation

Start establishing clear, firm boundaries at an early age and stick to it–even when it’s hard. It’s difficult for a young child to become familiar with your expectations and to learn appropriate behaviors if you keep changing the rules of the game. Even when they’re this young (especially when they’re this young!), it’s so important that they learn you mean what you say.

Set your boundaries; state them in an age-appropriate manner; and be consistent. Always.

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Lesson 63: Your baby’s shoes are important!

Does it really get much cuter than this?

Shoes

Yes, they’re cute. But they were also one of our worst parenting fails. Oops.

Never put hard-soled shoes on your baby!

When J was about 9 months old he started pulling up on his own. We realized he was close to learning to walk and decided he needed some shoes. I bought hard-soled shoes because I wanted his teeny baby feet to have extra protection.

Go ahead, those of you who know better, taunt me now.

Before your baby is learning to walk, there’s absolutely no reason to put shoes on him at all. Cover those tootsies with socks when it’s cold, but otherwise save the cutesy baby shoes for later. Your baby needs to bare his feet!

The bones in a baby’s foot are made of cartilage and the most foot development occurs from infancy into toddlerhood. Shoes that are too rigid (such as hard-soled shoes) or shoes that do not fit properly can actually change the natural shape of the foot.

Once he starts pulling up and shows interest in walking, it’s still best to let him go barefoot as much as possible. The more he walks without shoes, the more his feet develop naturally. If the floor is cold, put some no-skid socks or soft-soled shoes on him. If you take him outside, he’ll need a little extra protection. In this case, go with lightweight shoes made of natural materials (synthetic materials do not allow your child’s feet to breathe as easily, which can cause odor and the growth of bacteria–yuck). The bottoms should be smooth so that they do not grip or stick to the floor. Not only do sticky bottoms pose a risk for the child to trip and fall (which, let’s face it, they’re going to be doing a whole of that anyway, so whatever), but they also run the risk of changing the child’s natural gait.

So when it comes time to purchase shoes for Baby, consider having your child professionally fitted or look into shoes such as Robeez or Pedipeds.

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Lesson 59: Things we made fun of, then couldn’t live without

Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play I knew we would be keeping J in our room for the first few months, so we purchased a pack and play, knowing we’d get plenty of use out of it while traveling, and could also use it in our bedroom for him to sleep. Bassinets are cute and all, but why in the world did I need yet another place for my baby to sleep?

Rock 'n PlaySo we brought J home from the hospital, where he had slept in the perfect-sized little bassinet with just the right incline, and we placed that tiny little bundle in the gigantic pack and play. It just didn’t seem nearly as cozy, and I guess he agreed. He slept fitfully for 2 nights (and I know, he was a newborn, it’s kinda to be expected–but he wasn’t just waking up every couple of hours, he never really slept peacefully at all). We were exhausted by the 3rd night and I had read some very positive reviews about the Rock ‘n Play–moms were swearing that the cozy space and incline made all the difference for their newborns. So we forked over the $60 or so (we would have paid much, much more) and took a shot. And damned if it didn’t work! J slept 5 hours straight that night–I didn’t, because I kept waking up to make sure he was breathing. But progress is progress, right?

Angelcare monitor. These were stupid because I wasn’t going to be that mom who constantly worried about her child. Plus, I’d read that they’re bad because they often give false alarms. I didn’t want to be dependent on it, and feed my fears. Being the obsessive nerd I am, I knew that the risk for SIDS greatly decreased at 4 months, so that was the magic number that would make me ready to move J to his own room. However, by the time he was 3 months old, we were ready to go ahead and evict him from our room (dude was a noisy sleeper). We moved him to his nursery and, even though it was right down the hall, it was entirely too far for me. I was used to being able to reach over and put my hand on his tummy to reassure myself that he was still breathing in the middle of the night. Turns out, I was that that mom and I worried about my baby. A lot.

Angelcare monitorSo I ordered the Angelcare monitor, Bo installed it for me, and I slept peacefully that night. And as it turns out, if you read the instructions carefully, there’s a suggestion off to the side in small print to use a piece of plywood under the pad of the monitor that goes under Baby’s mattress. We did that and the only false alarms we ever had were when J got a little older and would burrow in the very corner of the crib, or the batteries were getting low (which, by the way, this only happens in the middle of the night–just like your smoke alarms).

Video monitor. I wish I would have figured out at the same time that I would love my Angelcare monitor and my video monitor, because then I could have just bought an Angelcare video monitor. But I’m a slow learner. (However, no, having a separate monitor from the Angelcare does not mean you have to carry around two monitors.)

Summer Infant Baby TouchI didn’t want to get a video monitor in the beginning because I’m a pretty obsessive person and I feared I would spend all of my time staring at the monitor. As it turned out, I’m so obsessive that I constantly wondered what every little noise was. When we started sleep training and J would suddenly get quiet, I wanted to open the door and check on him–but I knew I couldn’t because that would ruin any progress we’d made so far that night. When he coughed, was he awake or just coughing in his sleep? Had he even gone to sleep yet? I wanted to be able to lay my eyes on him without the risk of waking him up if he was asleep. Enter the video monitor. I hardly ever look at it actually, but it’s nice to be able to see him if I want.

Mommy’s Bliss Gripe WaterWe didn’t actually make fun of this product–we just didn’t know what it was. I’d read about it, but it seemed like a bunch of hoodoo to me. But J had acid reflux and I swear that stuff helped soothe him. Every single time that kid cried for “no reason,” he stopped the moment we gave him gripe water. Hell, maybe he was crying because he liked the taste of the gripe water. Whatever. I don’t care. All I know is, it works.

Mommy's Bliss Gripe WaterNoseFridaNo way in hell was I ever going to suck snot from my kid’s nose. That’s disgusting. Except, as it turns out, yes I was going to and no it wasn’t disgusting. That thing works a zillion times better than those crappy little bulbs, they’re easier to clean, and they have filters and a very long tube that prevent snot from getting in your mouth. Best of all, it helps your kid breathe–which helps your kid sleep–which makes everybody happy.

NoseFridaBaby food makerI was pretty certain from the beginning that I would be making J’s food myself. I didn’t see the point in buying all those over-priced little jars. They taste awful, take up too much room in the cabinets, and I could make it myself for half the price. Plus, and most importantly, I could control exactly what went in his food (and what didn’t go in his food) if I made it myself.

But do you know how many times Bo and I walked by the Beaba display at Buy Buy Baby and laughed our heads off at the absurdity? Why buy that costly little machine when you could just steam your vegetables on the stove, then use your food processor to puree it? It seemed silly to spend all that money when we already had all the supplies we needed.

When I was about 30 weeks pregnant, I started looking up baby food recipes. I just wanted some idea of what to expect. It seemed like it might be a lot of work and I wanted to have a game plan (again, I’m a nerd you guys). That’s when I started picturing myself with a little baby on my hip and a kitchen with dirty dishes all over it. And all of a sudden, a baby food maker, a machine that could steam and puree the food all in one, didn’t seem like such a stupid idea after all.

Cuisinart BabyI read some reviews on Amazon and went with the Kidsline Baby Chef Ultimate Baby Food Maker–and it worked well at first. I used it happily for about 5 months before the processor part stopped working. After that, Bo did the research and he came up with the CuisinartBaby. We bought that and I’ve used it ever since with absolutely no problems. In addition, it has a more efficient steamer than the Kidsline and it also seems to have a more powerful motor to puree. At a price of about $50 for the Kidsline and $110 for the Cuisinart, it’s no wonder that the Cuisinart is a better product. You get what you pay for, so I at least don’t feel like I was ripped off with the Kidsline. I just wish I would have made a different choice and gone with quality over price to start with.

What are your must-have baby/toddler items (particularly any you made fun of before realizing their awesomeness)?

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Lesson 54: All sippy cups are not created equally

Your baby is 6 months old! Time to go buy some sippy cups! So you head on out to Target or Buy Buy Baby or wherever it is that has recently stolen the bulk of your budget. You walk to the sippy cup aisle, grab a cup and go on home.

Right? Wrong.

Instead,  you stand in the middle of the aisle and look at the dozens of types of cups offered. Scratching your head, you wonder, How friggin complicated can it really be to just buy a damn cup for my kid?

Well, it’s not complicated. But it sure is confusing when you’re faced with that many choices.

It might take some effort before you find the sippy cup that works best for your baby. As for us, we skipped the cups that have nipples and went straight to the ones with the regular spouts. We did start with cups with handles and I think that helped a lot.

Cup with handles

For a long time there, we swore by the Tommee Tippee Explora cups. They truly did not leak. Ever. You could turn those bad boys upside down and shake the hell out of them and nothing would come out. At the same time, J never had a problem drinking out of them.

Tommee Tippee cup

Then he got a little older and started throwing his cups randomly across the room or on the floor. Or he would just walk around and accidentally drop one. Every time that cup hits the floor (which is about, ohh…10 gazillion times a day), the inside stopper pops out and milk gushes everywhere. Tommee Tippee Explora? I am no longer in love with you.

When J was about 10 months old, we realized that he really liked to drink out of a straw. I bought him an Avent toddler cup and we really like it. It doesn’t leak and it’s easy for him to open the top himself to make the straw pop up.

The other winner we found is the Playtex sippy cup. I stumbled across this cup when I was out of town and realized I had forgotten all of his sippy cups at home (because I am truly Mom of the Year and I frequently forget to water my child). It’s insulated, so it keeps his milk cold for quite some time. It also doesn’t leak.

Playtex and Avent cups

We always use the Playtex cups for milk and the Avent cups for water. We keep them both on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. That way, if J is thirsty, we can just open the door and he can grab whichever one he wants, since he knows which cup contains which liquid.

Since he’s almost 2-years-old now, we’ve recently started using trainer cups. So far I’ve tried the Sassy Grow Up Cup and the Avent Natural Drinking Cup. The Avent is easier for J to use, but the Sassy makes less of a mess. I’m not sure yet which one we’re going to prefer.

Training Cups

What are your favorite sippy cups?

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Lesson 53: Starting your baby on solid food

We definitely rushed the process when we started J on rice cereal at 4 months, hoping to help his acid reflux. He ate it like a champ–and then farted all night long. And it absolutely did not help his acid reflux at all, since he spitup twice as much the next day as he usually does.

J

So we held off another couple of months and tried him on the rice cereal again at 6 months. Again, he ate it with no problem, and then farted for the rest of the day. He was in obvious discomfort.

The next day, I tossed the box of Beech-Nut rice baby cereal in the trash and made my own cereal using brown rice instead of white. He tolerated this much better and we had fewer problems with discomfort and gas. Now, I don’t know if that’s because we swapped to brown rice or because his little body was adjusting better to the solid food. Either way, I never went back to boxed cereal and I’m pretty sure that’s the moment I fell in love with making J’s food myself–I loved knowing exactly what was in it and it was much less expensive. Mostly, I just really enjoyed making it–and I still do.

J

Throughout this process, I learned a few things and will definitely do things differently with any future babies. This is my To Do/Reminder List for My Future Self.

1. Don’t rush it! Don’t start feeding solids until Baby is at least 6 months old unless he shows major readiness signs (such as showing interest in what’s on my own plate) before that. If he can’t hold his head and neck up well, he’s not ready.

2. Do not begin feeding solids at dinner time. In the beginning, always start with one meal a day and make it early. That way, if Baby has a hard time digesting, it at least won’t keep her (and you!) awake all night.

3. The first time you offer solids, do it some time between his typical meal times–that way he’s neither starving nor stuffed. After that, always offer to nurse (or bottle feed) before offering solids (until he reaches 1-year-old or begins to lose interest in nursing).

4. Skip the bland cereals and make Baby’s first food a yummy fruit or vegetable. Maybe an avocado?

5. Don’t worry so much about food allergies if you don’t have a family history of them. Yeah, skip the peanuts at first, but only until Baby’s 1st birthday.

6. The decision to skip juice was a good one–J loves water! Skip the juice.

7. Research and consider skipping the purees and going with baby-led weaning (i.e. harass Emily into telling me detail-by-detail how it goes with Baby E–hi Emily!). Any of you have experience with baby-led weaning? Please tell me about it in the comments!

J

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Lesson 50: The benefits of cloth diapering (cloth diaper tutorial, part 1)

Cloth diapering was something I definitely considered while I was pregnant, but I eventually decided I wasn’t going to do it. I was already so overwhelmed with all the other new stuff – and I had no idea what it was going to be like to have a newborn – so I chose to go with what I knew: disposables. I don’t regret that decision and I’m not entirely certain that I’ll use cloth on a second baby during the newborn phase. Newborns go through a lot of diapers and I’m not sure I want to keep up with that kind of laundry during the first already busy and sleep-deprived weeks.

Despite choosing not to cloth diaper, the idea really lingered in my head. When J was only a few weeks old, he had his first diaper rash that bled. That was the first time after going disposable that I wondered if cloth would be easier on his skin. Even after I cleared up the rash and was more vigilant about using creams, his skin remained red most of the time. He didn’t necessarily keep a rash, but he just had really sensitive skin. Finally, when he was about 5 months old, I decided to bite the bullet. We dropped a few hundred dollars on cloth diapers (the start-up cost is nothing to sneeze at) and returned all of the cases of unopened disposable diapers we had purchased throughout my pregnancy.

We love cloth diapering and will definitely use cloth with any future babies we might have. But it is an undertaking, so make sure you really think about it and do your research before you start buying them. Cloth diapering is expensive (in the beginning) and time-consuming. If you’re not really committed and if you don’t find the method that works for you, you’re not going to be happy.

These are the reasons we chose to cloth diaper:

Fewer chemicals. Since we swapped to cloth, we never have to deal with the constant redness that disposables caused and we rarely have to deal with any diaper rash at all. We do use Honest disposable diapers when we’re out and about and we’ve found that we also have no skin sensitivity problems with those either. I can only assume it’s the chemicals used in regular diapers that caused irritation for us. I’m not super paranoid about keeping every potentially harmful chemical away from my baby–it’s not possible. And in fact I do use Huggies Overnites (and love them) because all of the others leak for us overnight. And I use regular wipes. So no, I don’t freak out over every chemical–but I am careful and I have seen what a difference it can make.

Save money. Yes, there’s a bit of a start-up cost, but they can be less expensive in the long run. I say can be because it really does depend on the type of cloth diaper you choose vs. the type of disposable diaper you would have used if you didn’t use cloth. For instance, if you choose to use gDiapers with only the disposable inserts, but you would have used Target’s Up&Up brand disposables if you didn’t use cloth diapers, you’re probably not saving any money. In fact, you’re probably spending more money. If saving money is your main or only purpose for cloth diapering, make sure that’s in the front of your mind when you’re choosing the type of cloth diapers you will use. Also, make sure to choose gender-neutral colors so that you can reuse them with any future babies.

It’s good for the environment. Less crap (literally) in the landfill? Sure, I can get on board with that. But you do have to consider the amount of water and electricity used for washing and drying. If you really want to make an impact, make sure you only wash when you have a full load, use Energy Star rated machines and low-impact detergent, air-dry your baby’s diapers, and reuse the same diapers as hand-me-downs for younger kids (or sell them).

It’s easy. I’m not saying that disposables aren’t easy, because they are. But I do want to point out that cloth diapering is also easy. With an exclusively breastfed baby, you don’t even have to rinse the poop out of the diaper before you wash it. And once they start eating solids, or if you use formula, it’s not a big deal to rinse it. You can purchase a diaper sprayer to hook to your toilet to rinse off the poop. Or, if your toilet is close enough to the shower, just use a detachable shower head and rinse the poop into the toilet that way. Cloth diapering is intimidating at first, and there’s a lot to learn in the beginning, but it’s really very simple–so don’t let the unknown scare you off!

They’re cute! I admit, I like to try to make my son’s diaper match his outfit when I can. He doesn’t care and it’s not really a “benefit.” But I do think the variety of colors and patterns are super cute!

If you choose to use cloth diapers, see my posts on choosing the right cloth diapers for your family and caring for your cloth diapers.