Thursday, July 26, 2012

Date Night with My Toddler

Outings with toddlers are a little like gambling.  Odds are not in your favor, but you go anyway, because at some point you're going to win, and it's going to feel GREAT, even if you're still netting out negative. 

Before Andrew was born, Will and I used to go places together all the time.  There was only one nap schedule to follow, and only one feed me / change me / pack stuff to feed me and change me to take care of.  Will and I still get out and about every day, but more often than not we're just drawing with chalk on the driveway or swinging in the backyard while Andrew naps inside. 

I've been missing those days when Will and I would go out to lunch once a week, or for walks where I would literally let him run free and explore because I had one kid and two hands.  So tonight, when my regular babysitter was here and with Greg needing to work through dinner, I decided to leave Andrew in capable hands and go out to the local pizza place with Will for a toddler date night.


So, it was fun.  It really was.  But I have to laugh at my high expectations. 

Will and I are going to dinner!  Just the two of us!  It's going to be awesome!  We're going to have so much FUN!  I love pizza!  Will loves pizza!  I can't wait!

Sure honey, you can sit in the booth and not in the high chair!  You know why?  Because it's just the two of us.  And this is your night.  You're having pizza out with Mom, and it's awesome.  Except now you can reach all the condiments.  Drat.  And the roll of paper towels.  Whoops.  And you're standing and jumping up and down and screaming "HI!!  TRUCK!!! TRUCK!!! HI!!!" because you can see a truck stopped at the traffic light.  Which would be less disruptive if you weren't still working on the hard "t" sound, because to the untrained ear it sounds as though you're screaming obscenities.  Luckily, the only other diners are some self absorbed and happily chatting teenagers a few booths down.  Still, I whip out my phone, find the video we took of a railroad crossing, and press play.  Silence.  Whew.  "TRAIN!!! COMING!!! COMING!!!! TRAIN!!!"  Drat.  Time to start shoveling in bites of pizza.

"Ma'am?  Did you order some fries?"  Of course I did.  It's fun night with mommy, we're eating pizza and fries and it's awesome and we're having so much fun.  "They're very, very hot, be careful."  "EHH!!!! EHHHHH!!!!! MWEHHH!!!"  (That's the toddler noise for please give me all of those super hot french fries RIGHT NOW, and every parent of young children knows EXACTLY what noise I am talking about.)

Fast forward a bit.  The fries have cooled down.  The battle over how much ketchup ("dip?  dip?") is necessary, and who is going to squeeze the bottle has been fought and won.  Will has so much ketchup on his face that I could have been dining with a mini- Eric Northman, complete with control issues.  I have to remind myself that there is zero reason to coax my child to eat pizza instead of french fries, just call the night a wash and be glad he had an amazing and nutritious lunch and we don't do this often.

With the arrival of the french fries and ketchup, I at least got the phone back so I didn't have to sit next to a toddler using my iphone whom I had rather hoped would be basking in my undivided attention and the awesomeness of the fifties style pizza place.

I finished my slice of pizza while Will tried to forcibly squeeze his way around me so he could get out of the booth and explore.  I let him walk up and down the one step between the dining room and cash registers, hoping he wouldn't faceplant, while I frantically cleaned up the ketchup disaster.  Let him throw away his own utensils, and off to the car and home to the babysitter and Andrew.


I have to say, date nights with Greg are a lot more relaxing.  But there were some real high moments to our pizza night.  Will's determination to get the coins in the slot when I showed him how to feed the parking meter.  The satisfaction on his face when I held the paper towel roll so he could pull a piece off.  Seeing him delicately dab his face with the paper towel, missing all the ketchup.  The smile when he realized I would hand him as many french fries as he asked for even if he clearly couldn't hold them all.

Yes, there were some interesting moments.  My toddler-bug is a toddler.  He's got a lot of curiosity and ideas and he wants to explore, explore, explore.  It's not going to be like it was before Andrew was born.  It's a new kind of amazing :)

I love you, Will.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making Photo Story Books

Will and I have a new mutual interest; photo story books.  I recently blogged about the photo book that kindled Will's interest; "Will and Mimi Ride the Train".  Will LOVES this book.  He will flip through it on his own, bring it to us to read, and ask for us to read it again until we've read it sometimes six or seven times in a row.  It's impossible to know exactly what a toddler is thinking, but I think he loves this book because it helps him remember a fun time he had (toddlers are still developing long term memory), he enjoys seeing pictures of himself and of his Mimi, and it's a simple concept book pointing out actions and items.

Will enjoyed the book so much that it inspired another book about a ferry ride to Peak's Island up in Maine.  This book was not as popular - Will only said "again?" seven times when we first read it.  (It's a hit.  Even if nothing quite beats the train book.)

I love these photo books because they capture the wonderful memories, and because Will enjoys them so much.  But they're just the beginning of the possibilities for creating your own custom photo books for your children.  Here are some ideas I have for books that'd be fun to create!

From Mimi: A "Where's Mimi" Book: My mom created a fun book (it was actually HER mother's idea!) called "Where's Mimi" that has lots of different family pictures and snapshots, everything from her walking on the beach in the distance to a group photo of everyone on vacation.  The captions are cute descriptions of the photos, such as: "Big family meals are fun, but where's Mimi?"  Will loves it, and gets it.  He can point to Mimi in every picture, even when she's back to!

From Mimi: A Themed Counting Book ("Mimi's Ocean Book") My Mom also made a book for Will with beautiful pictures of sea glass counting up to ten, and illustrating concepts like big and little, round and pointy, a few and many, using shells and other beach items.  It's super cute, especially since it incorporates her sea glassing hobby.

A Book of Colors: This would be especially fun if you used items around the house or a grandparent's house or around town that your child sees often.  It'd be a great activity to take the pictures together, finding the red firetruck downtown, and a blue ball from the playroom, and green grass in the backyard.

A Book of Family: Kids love looking at pictures of faces, and it's a great way for them to keep thinking about relatives that don't live in the area, and to learn to say their names!  After Will was born, I made him a photo book called "Who Loves You, Will?" with pictures of all his family members holding him as a newborn.  It's pretty boring: "Who Loves you, Will?  Uncle Alan does!" etc., but he has started to really look through it and enjoy it.  (Although I think he thinks everyone is holding Andrew which makes me sad.)  It also captures what everyone looked like when he was born, which will be fun in ten years.

A Cars Book: For a child who likes cars, it'd be fun to take pictures of different family members with their cars and make a short book about it.  Nana drives a black car!  Mommy's car needs to be washed.  Daddy's car is silver!  Here he comes, home from work!

A Book of Words to Learn: There are some really popular books for young toddlers that are just a whole bunch of pictures with the word underneath them, so you can point to things and name them from your toddler as they're becoming verbal.  Why not make one with specific things in your house to help them learn?  One page could have pictures of all their utensils, their high chair, cup, etc., another all their bath items, another the faces of family members / caretakers.

A Book About Any Life Changes: Will is going to preschool in the fall, and I'm considering making a book about him going to school.  I'd include pictures of the playspace and the director of the playschool, so by the time he starts we've not only talked about it, it looks familiar to him.  Of course, I have to check with the playschool director and see if she's up for letting me have a few pictures to use in a photo book, but I think it might ease the transition!

You get the idea... the possibilities are endless!  So much fun.  I use shutterfly largely because I'm familiar with their interface and think the results are fine, but there's a company that lets you make custom board books that I'm excited to try for Andrew!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: 1,2, 3 The Toddler Years

I recently went to my local library and picked up a copy of 1,2,3 The Toddler Years, A Practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers by Irene Van der Zande with Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center Staff.

I loved it - this is one of the most parent-friendly and accessible toddler behavior guides I've read.  The sections are brief, to the point, and full of real-life examples to help parents understand how to implement the book's advice.

The book has been around for over twenty five years and is still in print.  It's based on a philosophy of respect for toddlers that's been implemented and studied at the Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center.  I found it chock-full of common sense strategies for boosting my toddler's daily happiness and reducing tantrums.

Here are some of the chapter headings so you can get a sense of the book's content: Let Me Choose, Plan Ahead... It Helps, MINE!, Biting, Tantrums, Wait Til I'm Ready (Toilet Learning), Stop Feeling Guilty.

So much of the advice mirrors what I've read in other parenting guides, but here it is in very small, to the point chapters (there are chapters that are less than five pages!) that are as easy and quick to read as they are implement in your daily routines.

Some small things I'm doing differently after reading this book: 

Remembering to offer Will choices regularly, but ones I can live with.  "Orange shirt or blue shirt?", NOT "What would you like to wear today?" (Nothing isn't an option.)

Reserving some time each day to play with Will doing whatever he wants.  Even if that means sitting for fifteen minutes while he happily chugs a train back and forth and makes "ding ding ding ding" railroad crossing noises.  My usual tendency was always to run off and unload the dishwasher or switch the laundry every time he was happy, and I was missing out on some wonderful moments with my toddler.  I've also noticed that if I invest time paying attention to him in the morning, the rest of the day goes better even if I have a lot I need to do.

Being very careful about what I say in front of my toddler, and I don't just mean my vocabulary.  Children understand far more than we realize, much more than they communicate back to us.  If I'm complaining about my day, Will's listening, and learning.

Letting Will experience negative emotions without trying to distract him.  How many times have I said "Ohh, no, don't cry!" to my upset toddler after he's fallen, or when he's frustrated because he can't play with my iphone.  But this can send Will the message that it's not good to be upset or to cry.  Now I try to mirror what he's feeling with language "oh, you bumped your head and now you're crying, that stinks, it must hurt" and then ask him if he wants a hug, and just be close to him until he feels better.  (Harvey Karp's "Happiest Toddler on the Block" DVD and book deal specifically with how to react to tantrums and help toddlers with frustration and negative feelings, and I think he'd agree with this approach.)

Giving Will a heads up before transitions.  Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were in the middle of something, and someone grabbed you and put you in the car without even giving you a heads up or a chance to wrap up your activity.  I do this to Will all the time!  No wonder transitions are hard for kids; they don't know they're coming, and they're happily engrossed in the task at hand.  Now I try to give Will a heads up that we're going to go back inside soon and have snack, so let's push on the swing two more times, or we have to say goodbye to your friends soon, is there a toy you want to play with before we go?  He understands more than he always lets on, and giving him the heads up that we're finishing soon and telling him what we're doing next really do make the day go smoother.

Bottom Line:
I would recommend this book to any parents of toddlers.  It's so short and easy to read that it's a great option for parents or caregivers who aren't really into reading parenting books but could use some tips for caring for their toddlers.  (And seriously, who couldn't use some tips for keeping toddlers happy!)  I found it at my local library, but you can get a paperback copy for under $10, and it won't take more than a few minutes of flipping through it in the bookstore for you to tell if it's something you think you'd find helpful.

You can't just give them a cookie whenever they're upset.  (But don't I wish!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Baby Shower Gifts for "Porsche"

I'm expecting a niece in September, nick-named "Porsche" in honor of her 9-11 due date (real name to be announced after her birth!).

This past weekend I attended my sister-in-law's baby shower up in Maine, and now that it's over, I just have to share my favorite shower gift ideas!

"Taking Care of Baby" Book

When I was pregnant with Will, some of my friends from grad school gave me the cutest book at my baby shower, called "Safe Baby Handling Tips" by David and Kelly Sopp.  It's an adorable illustrated guide to caring for infants with some pretty obvious tips (don't wash your baby in the washing machine or pick them up by their head, for example).  I thought it'd be fun to use pictures of the boys to create my own version for my brother and his wife!  I had lots of help from my family to capture some adorable "no" photos for this guide :)

For My Brother

Baby showers are great, and we probably enjoy them more without our spouses checking the clocks while we go "oooh" with genuine enthusiasm for the thirtieth time.  But I wanted to give my brother something too.  So I put together a little gift basket of goodies to help with his transition to fatherhood - for the good moments and the challenging ones.  Coffee, chocolate, wine, and some megabloks that I know he'll love using to help "Porsche" learn to build.

Knitted Owls & Owl Books

I love knitting toys, and when I found Susan B. Anderson's baby owls pattern, I couldn't resist!  I knit up the three baby owls and paired them with my favorite books about owls.  I thought they'd go well with their 100 acre woods nursery theme.  Plus they're super cute!

I used chicco yarn, which is a superfine machine washable merino.  I had to knit the body and head a little shorter than called for in the pattern (which uses worsted weight) but didn't alter the wings or feet.  The spiderweb embroidery stitch for the eyes was fun once I got the hang of creating equal length spokes!  I did use poly pellets to add a little weight to the body so the owls would stand on their own, but since they're intended as a toy, I sewed the polypellets into small cloth bags first so that none of them would come out through the yarn and create a choking hazard.

Embroidering on the eyes - equal length spokes are critical!

The finished owls!

Gifts for Us!

Just as a tiny example of how organized and awesome my sister-in-law is, she actually had gifts for the women who helped with her baby shower.  Very cute patterned umbrellas, and a spring showers yankee candle.  (Shower themed gifts, get it?  It took me a minute.)

What a nice idea!  :)  She's so great.