Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Work At Home Mom: A Viable Compromise

Many women today find themselves torn when it comes to dealing with their children and their careers. These women want children, and often couples, even very progressive couples, believe that their children would be better off staying with either mom or dad.

Still, while mom probably makes less money, her career may be very important to her. Giving up that career may not seem to be an option. What is the solution to this dilemma?

One option for many families may be for mom to start a home-based business. These businesses can be run from a corner or your home, the garage, or a separate room. They have several advantages for the working couple with small children, making them a viable option for many families.

The first advantage is that depending on the business, it can take only a couple of hours a day. If you start an affiliate marketing website, for example, once you have passed the initial set-up of the site, you may need to spend only an hour a day updating articles, checking email, and doing other minor administrative work.

If you are crafty, you may opt for a craft-based home business. You can do that by selling the crafts at festivals or by offering them to local retailers who may want to have them in their stores.

In addition to the time constraints, you will find that you can work your business around your other needs. One of the biggest regrets of Moms and Dads who do not have flexible working arrangements is that they miss much of their little one's childhoods - from soccer matches to school recitals.

Work at home moms have an advantage here, too. Instead of having to take vacation or personal time, you can simply go to the school play and work later in the day or get up early in the morning. This flexibility will help you to work your life around your children instead of the other way around.

A third benefit of working from home is that you have a less stressful work environment. That does not mean that with a baby at home, domestic responsibilities, and work requirements you will not be busy. You will, but the pressure comes from you and your family, not from an external force, such as a boss. That means that you can cut back when needed or focus on one area instead of having someone else dictate your plans.

Working from home also benefits your family because you will have control over your income. Instead of being tied to the income you came in with and making only miniscule raises, you will be able to expand your business when necessary and feasible to make sure that you are making the money you want to make.

These benefits all will help your family because you will be with them. Instead of having someone else see your baby's first steps, you can be there at the same time that you are modeling the values of work ethic and entrepreneurship to your child.
by Julia Mercer

Build a Montessori Nursery for Your Baby

The Montessori system, created by the early nineteenth century Italian physician Maria Montessori, should begin at birth. This educational and development philosophy is based on allowing a child the maximum intellectual growth possible. Instead of directing our children's play, we should allow them to explore, according to the Montessori system.

Parents who are particularly concerned about their children's intellectual development should consider designing their nursery as a Montessori-style nursery so that the baby can gain a benefit from the nursery.

According to the Montessori philosophy, the nursery should not only be a place to sleep. Instead, Mom and Dad should set up a feeding area. It should contain a rocker and any of the necessary supplies for feeding, including a footstool for the parents and bibs for the baby.

The rest of the nursery will be a bit different, and you may find yourself trying to explain it to visitors. You will not have a crib. Instead, you will have a mattress in one corner of the room. You may use a crib mattress although you also could try a futon mattress or a full bed mattress.

Line the area between the mattress and wall with stiff pillows that will be changed to fluffy pillows as baby grows. You also will need a furry rug on the side of the mattress where the baby may fall off. Because the mattress is only a couple of inches off the ground, there is little chance of getting hurt from falling.

This bed set-up will allow baby to explore at night when she wants to. You will need to put up a baby gate very early so that you may contain your baby in the nursery when he does climb off the mattress.

The next step is to add mirrors and mobiles at various points in the room. You should be prepared to change out the mobiles every few months. The mobiles should challenge the eyes and coordination of your baby so that eventually she will be able to grab the mobile or to "talk" to it.

You can bolt the mirrors along the wall at various places in the room. Your baby will enjoy looking at himself when he is a few months old. The mirrors will help him to explore himself and his toys. Be sure that you bolt the mirrors well. Do not make them too big or in any way dangerous to your baby.

The next step is to consider the colors in the room. Instead of overly busy colors, use subtle tones that are brighter than pastels. Try a good royal blue or a solid pink color. You also can try greens, purples, and oranges. Use different colors throughout the room so that baby can sit back and enjoy the room. Think about alternating colors and using cloth. Be creative. Your baby will enjoy it.

The Montessori nursery will stimulate baby's mind. Be careful and make sure that you are safe with your decorating. Then sit back and let baby enjoy the decor.

by Julia Mercer

Planning a Drop-In Baby Shower

Today's women are busier than ever. Of course, today's men often find baby showers on their to do lists as well. If you have a friend who is having a little one and you are thinking of hosting a shower, consider a drop-in shower. It makes every more comfortable. Guests do not have to give up an entire afternoon for the shower. The mom-to-be does not have to provide constant conversation. You do not have to determine how to keep everyone busy for hours. To set up an easy drop-in shower, here are some ideas.

First, plan the afternoon. You will pick an afternoon and have the drop-ins for two to three hours. Everyone should be able to fit that timeframe into her or his schedule. People will stop by, chat, drop off a gift, and leave. You will not be stuck playing games or music or otherwise providing entertainment.

Discuss the guest list with the guests of honor, of course. If you cannot afford a large list or if you have a certain budget in mind, tell them that up front. Most moms-to-be have more than one shower, and some people, like co-workers, do not need to be invited to every one. Be sure that you are clear on how many people you can afford to have at the shower.

Ask people to RSVP. If people do not call by two days after the RSVP date, call them unless they are out of town relatives or friends. In that case, you likely can safely assume a "no," but call everyone locally. Pin them down. You need to know what to expect.

The parents-to-be should have a registry. To cut down on your pre-shower work, find out where the parents are registered for gifts and put that information on the invitation. No, it is not tacky. Remember that everyone else is as busy as you are; that is why you are having a drop-in only shower in the first place. So make it easier on everyone and put the registry information on the card.

Now you will have to provide some type of snack foods. Think small. Provide finger foods only. You can have pigs in a blanket, fresh fruits and vegetables, cupcakes if you must have sweets, already-sliced cheese quesadillas. There are plenty of easy foods to go around.

Use plastic utensils and paper plates. You can purchase nice paper products at a party discount store for little money. It will be much less stressful if everyone can toss her items as she leaves. If you want the added expense, get individual servings on the drinks. You can get juice in small bottles, soft drinks in cans, and milk in pint-sized cartons. Ice and cups are messy and add more hassle. Remember that the goal here is simplicity.

You should provide a baby book for the guests. It should include information the couple knows, such as the sex or the due date. It can have a sonogram picture or other mementos of the pregnancy. There also should be a place for guests to give advice or words of encouragement. This book will help keep the parents from repeating themselves over and over and will give the guests something to keep them occupied on their brief stay.
by Julia Mercer

Picking The Right Pacifier For Baby

Okay, there is debate. Should you use a pacifier or not? The reality is that there is no definitive opinion either way from the medical community. Most parents, though, acquiesce and use the pacifier, even if it is only for a small amount of time. There are concerns, though, about getting the right pacifier for your baby. Like everything else, it is not a "one size fits all" proposition.

First, make sure your baby like the pacifier. How will you know? Well, you will not know at first. You may have to try out a few different types before you find the right one. The general rule is that your baby probably will want a smaller variety in the first few weeks. Some models come in "sizes," that are basically markings for newborns and older babies. Look for these distinctions. Take some time to look at the different styles and pick one that works.

Make sure you look for a soft nipple. A hard-nipped pacifier may be tough for your baby to suck on. Also do not get a two-piece model. Some companies make pacifiers that will come apart. There are some dangers, though, of your baby choking on these models if they come apart. Avoid the potential by just not purchasing them.

Check out the shield closely. First, it needs to have holes in it. If your baby gets the shield stuck over her mouth and nose in the first months when she cannot fend it off, then she will need to be able to breath. Be sure the holes are there, and more are better than only one or two. Also make sure that the shield is at least an inch wide. Otherwise, a baby could choke on the shield, which is more likely the older baby - and the bigger her mouth - gets.

Wash the pacifier often. You can toss most of them in the dishwasher, which is what you should do until your child is older. If you do not have a dishwasher or need a quicker solution, soak the pappy in hot water and then wash it with hot water and soap. Just be sure that you have rinsed it well before you give it back to your little one.

Do not ever tie the pacifier to your baby's hands or neck. Some people want to be able to keep up with their pacifiers, so they may put them around baby's body parts or on the crib railing. Avoid this temptation as baby could choke on it. Instead, get a pacifier clip with a string that is six inches long or shorter. If you have concerns about keeping up with pacifiers, purchase several. Put small baskets in the obvious places where you will need them and put a couple in each basket. Replenish the basket when you clean up. That way you will have the pacifiers handy when you need them.

Finally, inspect your baby's pacifier frequently. Any changes in color or tears or holes in the nipple warrant getting a new one. Be careful and you can help keep your baby safe.
by Julia Mercer

Helping Put Baby To Sleep

When you are a new mom or dad, you will discover that you are very unlikely to get a full night's sleep. Much of this dilemma has nothing to do with the baby's sleep pattern. Instead you will want to get a little more done once baby is asleep. You will have other tasks that need your attention. And then there are baby's sleep patterns. There are ways to help with the last problem, though.

There are plenty of ways to get baby to sleep without a lot of fuss. The first task is to decide where you stand on letting baby cry it out. Some parents believe that you must let baby cry herself to sleep a few nights before she will learn to soothe herself. Others believe that this system of parenting is cruel and teaches your little one that you are not reliable or comforting.

Where you stand matters in how you plan to work on getting baby to sleep. You must decide which of these methods is the right one for your family, and that depends on your temperament, your baby's temperament, and your patience level.

One option is to use a pacifier. Many parents do not like pacifiers. They should not be used before baby has established breast-feeding, or the difference in the nipples will be hard for baby to overcome. Other than that, however, there are no hard and fast rules from baby experts. All babies have a suck reflex; it is a consequence of the way they breathed in the womb. Pacifiers can provide enough calm for your baby to lull herself to sleep.

You also can look for baby accessories that will help your little one to sleep. Rhythmic motions are popular. Baby swings will help your baby get "rocked" to sleep without you there. Bouncing seats also are very popular. Of course, you can rock your baby to sleep as well. Some experts warn against getting baby to sleep with these rocking motions. While there is nothing wrong with the motions in themselves, they can make your baby reliant on them. When baby wakes up to not being rocked, he will cry. Still, an occasional rocking chair session is not going to harm baby, and often it will calm a harried mom and dad.

Sounds are great for little ones as they really enjoy soothing sounds. You can purchase compact discs or machines that will make ocean, stream, and other nature sounds. Some crib mobiles play music, and there are music boxes you can attach to cribs. That makes your baby happy and can help her learn to soothe herself. Classical music works best for babies, and there are studies that show it helps your baby develop the brain cells that will assist with math and science skills later in life.

Moms and dads the world over try to discover how to soothe their babies. Keep in mind that sometimes baby will want to be held, and nothing else will satisfy him. Also, some babies need to cry briefly before bed. Work with your child, and you will find out what works for your little one.
by Julia Mercer

Handling Paternal Leave

Today's men are more involved than ever in child-rearing. Indeed, few women will accept men who want them to be the sole caretaker for the children. Men also have become more intimately involved with their partners' pregnancies in recent years as well.

It stands to reason, then, that dad would want some time off when the baby arrives. Still, while most companies know that new dads will take off a couple of days, few are reluctant to give them even a week. If you know that you will be taking time off when your baby comes, there are some simple steps you can take.

The first step is to educate yourself. The Family Medical Leave Act permits you to take off time to be with a family member during times of medical need. That means that you have the right to take off up to 12 weeks with your partner and new baby. That does not mean that your company has to pay you, but they cannot demote you or otherwise hold it against you that you are taking off.

Second, let your employer know well in advance. Doing so gives you a couple of benefits. You will not be springing it on her at the last minute. Your company has less to be concerned about if you have made adequate preparations and there will be no harm to your company from your absence. Second, you will be able to find out from human resources exactly what you will need to do in the way of paperwork.

The third step is to prepare your co-workers. If you and Bob have a project deadline that is approaching baby's due date, let Bob know. You need to have contingency plans as well so that you will know what happens if your wife goes into labor at the same time you need to finish something up for a project. Although the pregnancy is intensely personal, you need to let people know what is going on at work. Do not let your co-workers just show up one morning to find that you are not there for several weeks.

Take care of as many tasks as you can before you leave. If you can delegate, do it. If there are problems you think could arise, let someone know what to do. Also, decide if it is okay to contact you while you are away. Give your number and instructions to only one or two people who can contact you in case something absolutely cannot wait. Set up email forwarding and an automatic response so that people know not to expect return emails. Change your voicemail to let people know the same thing. You will not be returning any calls. Then do not return any. Do not call in. If you do, you will find that people will expect it.

Now, you can sit back and enjoy your new baby. Take solace in this time as it will be one for beautiful memories later. And know that you are a liberated man - one who is brave enough to put his love for his family before work.

by Julia Mercer

Raising Baby

Most people are settled into a fairly regular routine. Still, there are a number of couples who make big moves with their babies. They discover that they are looking for something different than their local area offers in the way of raising baby. There are a number of factors to consider, but here are some of the major ones. These results come from various statistical bases, such as the United States Census Bureau.

Buffalo, New York tops the list of lowest mortgages. If you want more house for your money, then you should think of relocating here. The average mortgage is only $60,000. If you are looking for high-earning cities, try San Jose, California. Residents here average $70,000 a year, the highest in the nation. California as a whole is the state with the best parental leave system. The state has mandated systems for paid leave for moms and dads.

The not-so-large city of Appleton, Wisconsin boasts the lowest rate of childhood poverty in the United States with less than 10 percent of children raised in poverty. Fairfax County, Virginia, though, is the place for moms and dads who need a job. The less than one percent unemployment rate makes it the most-employed place in the country. If you are looking for a low commuting cost, you may want to give Brownsville, Texas a look. Few people here commute very far, and the gas prices are cheap. That could come in handy these days!

Maryland requires the smallest infant-to-teacher ratio in daycares. The state allows only three children up to 18 months to every teacher. The ratio in most states is six to one. Albany, New York, the capital city and upstate neighbor to frenzied New York City, is considered the most relaxed place to live. The beauty of the mountains added to stable social conditions make this city a great choice for parents with a new bundle of joy.

The folks in Minneapolis read the best in the land. The people there have a higher library circulation and newspaper subscription rate than elsewhere in the country.

Babies and toddlers would especially enjoy Denver and Merced, California. Denver's park system means that almost all residents live within a few blocks of a park. A whopping eleven percent of the people in Merced are younger than five years old. Finding playmates for the little ones in those two cities would be a cinch for busy parents.

If you are looking for a place with plenty of educational opportunities for baby, try Chattanooga, Tennessee. The people there have the world's largest freshwater aquarium. They also have a great zoo and a children's museum.

Should your baby need medical care, Chicago and St. Louis are the places to be. These cities have the largest number of children's hospitals. Boston, though, is the place for mom. This liberal city has the most breastfeeding support in the country. The state of Massachusetts also has the most pediatricians per capita.

Think carefully before you make a move. Check out the effects of these lows, highs, and best-rated markings for what it means for a city where you may live. Then pick the best place for you and baby.
by Julia Mercer

Ways To Fight Boredom At Home With Baby

Many stay-at-home moms face a tough dilemma. They want to stay with their children and enjoy it, but it can be boring to do so. These moms find that they miss adult conversation and need something to do to entertain their minds. Still, guilt sometimes takes over, and Mom does not want to admit these feelings of guilt to anyone. How can she deal?

Find adults to hang out with. Most cities and even smaller towns have mothers' groups. These groups are pretty informal in most places. The moms go to the same park on the same mornings, or they have coffees out. You not only will meet other moms; you will meet people who understand what is going on in your life.

You also need to find something to do that has nothing to do with your husband or children. If you do not have anything to do outside your family, then it will be easier to develop feelings of resentment. It is not that you need something that will take up hours upon hours of your time. Maybe you play tennis with some old buddies once a week. Maybe you join a monthly book club so you get to have fun without everyone else.

Make sure that you reserve time for you and your husband that does not have anything to do with the baby. Most marriages suffer in the months - and even years - after baby is born. Much of that stress comes from not having any couple time that does not involve baby. Have a midnight picnic in your living room. Hire a babysitter for an hour and take a walk together. Stay up late and cuddle. Enjoy your time together. It will help you relax, and it will make you feel that you are still a part of your husband's life.

Find a hobby. While you may spend much of your time with baby figuring out his needs, as well as continuing with normal domestic tasks, there will be some downtime. You will want something to fill the gaps. Try to find a portable hobby if you can. Something like cross-stitching, as old-fashioned as it sounds, can be fun if you let it.

You also can take up something that you would not normally consider a "hobby," like crossword puzzles. Have something that you can do on your own. That way you have something for family car rides or days in the park that can entertain your mind. If you are really concerned about your mental sharpness, and plenty of stay at home moms are, then take a course at a local community college. You can take a course that meets on Saturday or one night a week. You can even try an online course if you are interested.

Keeping yourself busy and interested in your own life is important if you are going to stay at home. You need to keep yourself on top of your proverbial game so that you can offer the best of you to your baby.

by Julia Mercer

Surviving The First Six Weeks

When your baby is born, you will find yourself overcome with emotions - some good, some bad. Some bad? How will I be upset with a new baby, you may ask yourself.

For mom, the body loses a significant portion of estrogen during the days after the birth. Your body no longer has to sustain a placenta and growing little one, and this drop in hormones, which occurs three to five days after the baby's birth, makes you tired and weepy.

A baby is a stressor, too. While you certainly will adore your new little bundle, she will be a handful. Unable to tell you what is wrong and probably a little scared by what is happening to her, too, baby will cry a considerable amount. Know that the crying is normal and that for the most part, it will pass. Still, even as you are telling yourself that, you will find that you can become frustrated by the constant crying and feeding your baby needs.

Here are some ways you can cope with the little one so that all of you feel better during those first, rough weeks. First, remind yourself constantly that it will pass. When he is screaming at the top of his little, not completely developed lungs, tell yourself that this part of motherhood will not last. It can be a great calming force to think about how quickly he will grow up.

Next, be organized. You will feel better if you know where everything is. Make sure that you have feeding supplies on hand and in convenient spots. If you are using a pacifier, put them in all the places baby sleeps. Put diapers and other changing supplies in several places throughout the house in baskets so that you avoid unnecessary trips.

Turn off the phone and don't feel guilty about it. You do not want your baby to wake at every little noise, but you want to get some sleep, too. Do not feel bad about leaving the phone turned off. You can put a message on the voicemail with updates about everyone but do not feel obligated to chat with anyone or to accept visitors. Others should be considerate of your time bonding with your new baby, and you shouldn't hesitate to remind them ever so gently about the importance of that time to you.

Know that you will be hungry. You likely will not feel like cooking, though. Make food ahead of time that you can freeze, such as casseroles. You also can stock up on foods to put in a slow cooker. Gather up take-out menus from your favorite local restaurants so that you can order Chinese if need be. Also pick up snacks you can have quick bites to each. Try yogurt drinks, granola bars, string cheese, and other similar snack items.

Ask for help if you need it and ask to be alone if you need it. Some women feel obligated to entertain family and friends. Both you and baby need your rest, though, so take this time to learn to be strong and fight against what everyone else thinks is best for you. Do what is best for yourself and your new little one.

by Julia Mercer

Dealing With The End of Maternity Leave

You have a perfect little angel. When you look down at your little one, you cannot imagine leaving him at home every week after those six weeks are up. Dealing with the end of maternity leave is one of the most emotional issues you will face during this stressful time in your life. There are ways that you can help yourself to deal with this time. Here are a few tips.

First, you should be sure that you prepare for good daycare before your baby gets here. While you will be busy before the little one gets here, this task should be a top priority. You will not feel like looking for a childcare provider right after you have had the baby. Finding someone you can trust will help ease your transition.

Prepare yourself by taking a little time without the baby. One of the problems with leaving the baby is that this person suddenly has become the most important part of you life. You may be so accustomed to having the baby in your life that you feel odd, or even guilty, when you are spending time on anything else. A couple of weeks before you go back to work, begin to prepare yourself. Go out for a walk or a cup of coffee. Try going to a movie on your own without the baby. Work your way into spending time without your baby in your life.

Don't be afraid to voice your concerns. Some moms feel that if they show anyone how they feel, they will be seen as weak. If you never discuss your concerns or sadness, then it will only hurt you in the long run to keep them bottled up. Instead, you should tell your mom, your partner, your best friend that you have some concerns about going to back to work.

Discuss nighttime options with your partner first. You and the baby should have a schedule down before you go back to work. You need to make sure that you will be able to get a reasonable amount of sleep at night. If your baby does not sleep well at night, plan to get sleep during the evening. Work your schedule around the little one's body clock, at least for now. It will make everything easier for everyone.

If you have not been prepared in the past for your morning the night before, do it now. Get out your clothes, your lunch, your breakfast if you can. Make it easier on yourself, and the process will be smoother for all involved.

The bottom line is that if you cannot deal with leaving your baby in the care of strangers, regardless, you may want to think about working from home or staying at home with your baby. Having a new baby changes your perspective in many ways, and while you may have thought you never would have stayed home, that may become something you really want to do. Check with your employers first to see if you have telecommuting or flexible scheduling options. If not, you may want to think of going into business for yourself or looking for a work at home job.

by Julia Mercer

Deciding Whether You Can Stay Home With Baby

Once baby comes into your life, you may find that you are not as willing to leave her with strangers as you had thought. Instead of accepting that daycare has become a part of children's lives, you look at your little miracle and think that you cannot imagine anyone being able to care for him the way you can. That means that you are left to consider whether or not one of you can afford to stay at home with the new baby. Here are some factors to consider.

First, which of you makes more money? In some couples, either mom or dad will not be willing to stay home and that makes the decision on who would stay home easier. In other couples, deciding based on current salary and future career path makes more sense.

Next you will need to think through whether or not you can afford to have only one income. Instead of trying to "wing it," make a budget. Sit down together and write down all of your necessary expenses. Then determine how much you realistically spend on entertainment and other expenses. Decide how much you are able to sacrifice here without feeling more pressure than you can bear.

If you can make it on one income, then you're all set. If you cannot, then you will need to decide if the one of you who is going to stay home can change to part-time hours. If she is a newspaper reporter, she may be able to stay on as a stringer at that paper or find other work writing. There are options out there, such as starting a home-based business or working another job part-time. Be creative here in thinking of ways to be able to sustain yourselves financially without going into debt and with only one full-time income. You may even have to work second shift for a while but make the sacrifices you think are necessary to make the best decision for your baby.

Once you have decided on the incomes, then you will need to prepare various people in your life for this decision. Luckily, baby will not be one of those people. She will be happy to have you close. Tell your friends and family first. Make sure that your family understands your decision, but if they cannot support you, move on. You must make the right decision for your family. Make sure your spouse makes this trip with you. Otherwise, it can look as if you are not joined on this choice.

When you tell your boss, you can give a succinct reason. Offer two weeks notice and explain that you would like more time with your new family. Do not allow your boss to bully you. Make sure that you prepare your co-workers for your departure by taking care of explaining your current projects. Give them your phone number and a time frame. They can call you for one month with questions. Make a decision and stay firm.

Once you have told everyone, you will find that you feel better. You have your life's desires out in the open, and you can move on regardless of everyone else's opinions. If you ever have any doubt about your choice, just look at your sleeping newborn. That will melt away any parent's doubt.

Deciphering Baby's Cries

One of the hardest parts of being a new mom or dad is determining how to soothe baby when he cries. While you may want to cry yourself, know that after the first few weeks, you will learn to decipher your baby's crying. There are six basic reasons for the crying, so you should start by determining if one of these reasons is what your baby wants.

First, babies cry when they are hungry. There really is no way around that. Since they have only a few basic needs, being a little hungry becomes a crisis situation. Even at a very early age - a few days - you will discover that your baby will seem to root around for food, whether she is bottle or breast-feeding. This cry is one of the first you will learn to recognize.

The second cry is an "I'm cold" cry. While babies can get too warm, they are more likely to get too cold. You should wrap your baby in one layer of clothing more than you are wearing and be sure to wrap him up in a blanket. Your baby's cry here also may mean he wants you to wrap him tighter.

Next is the cry most parents dread. "My dipie's dirty." Some babies will wail about a dirty diaper while others are content and do not get upset about it. Change your baby's diaper with every feeding and then whenever you think she may need it.

The fourth baby cry is letting you know that she does not feel well. This baby cry is one that you will recognize as just not sounding right. Especially in the early weeks, it is likely that something simple is wrong. Remember that baby's skin is sensitive, so an oddly placed sock really could be bothering her. Check out everything you can to make sure that there is not something you can adjust.

Some babies will cry when they get over-stimulated. Although you know now that sleeping like a baby does not mean that your baby will sleep through anything, it often means that he can sleep in a crowded mall. People do not understand this phenomenon, but basically your baby has said, "enough is enough." Everything in life is new to a baby, so she has no way to deal with the sights, sounds, and smells of a busy place than to crash. Some babies will cry when this happens, or when they are being passed between too many people. Be sure to notice this cry, which is more of a "mommy, help me" cry. You should remove your little one from this situation as soon as possible. Go to a quiet room and let your baby get over this bout of baby anxiety.

Babies crave human contact. They want skin-to-skin contact, and they will cry if they do not get enough. Some babies want to be held more than others, but you should not reject this need in your little one. Instead, hold him as long as he wants you to when he is a little guy. If for no other reason, know that one day he will be too big to let you hold him. Enjoy it now!
By Julia Mercer

Keeping Toddlers Active during the School Year

By Christina VanGinkel

With the older kids off to school, keeping the younger kids left at home occupied can be a challenge, especially if you are a stay at home parent who is not off to work and dropping the youngest ones off at daycare or a baby sitters. Over the summer, you may have relied on your school age children to watch the younger set for a few minutes here and there, or they just naturally spent a lot of time together playing. Now that you are once again their center of attention, it is up to you to make sure they have fun, learning, active, filled days.

If they are at an age where they are captivated by the thought of going to school, yet are too young to go, set up school at home. Visit your local dollar store and purchase pencils, crayons, a small blackboard with chalk, and several age appropriate workbooks. Give them simple assignments in the workbooks, create some easy science experiments for them to do, such as mixing food color, one drop at a time into a measuring cup of water, start with yellow, then have them add a few drops of blue. Ask them what color they have now, and when they announce green, have them create, (with your help of course!) a log of the experiment and the results. If they are old enough to hold a pair of safety scissors, have them cut out simple shapes. For more classroom related ideas, do a search online for 'free preschool curriculum' or 'free preschool activities'.

For children that are a bit too young for activities such as these, check out the local shopping boards and penny savers for advertisements related to play groups forming. Libraries often offer fall programs geared for the toddler and preschool aged child. Story time, crafts, learning the alphabet, and simple finger plays are usually activities of choice.

Head to the park and check out what other local activities may be available in your area. If you have a community pool or gym, find out if they have a toddler time or family time during the day. Organizations such as these often set aside times for parents with young children to use the facilities at a more relaxed pace than when it is open to the general public. One center I know has a two-hour time slot, every day that school is in, when you must either be a senior or have a toddler in tow to enter. Rates are reduced during this two-hour slot, and it is a much more relaxed time to swim or use the gym than during typical family time, when a lot of older kids and teenagers are running about.

Consider creating a routine for reading together, snack times, nap times, etc., also, as before you know it, your littlest ones will be in school with the older ones. Starting them on a relaxed schedule now will make the transition to a more fixed routine typical at most schools easier. Most importantly, cherish these days when they are little and just enjoy them!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rub-a-Dub-Dub: Bathing Baby

When you are able to first bathe your newborn, there are some things that you will need to keep in mind. You want to make it a nice experience for both you and baby, so knowing these things before that first bath happens will be helpful.

The baby's doctor will most likely give the consent for that first bath after healing has occurred to the umbilical cord. What are some of the things that you will need to know and remember?

First of all you will want the room where you are doing the bathing to be warm. If that room isn't heated very well normally, think about using a space heater to help get the room ready for the baby. Remember that it does not need to be the bathroom . . . the kitchen sink will work fine if that room is warmer. If you have a baby tub, just sit it on the counter if your kitchen is warmer than the bathroom.

Another important item is to make sure you have everything ready and within reach before you start the bath. Never leave the baby unattended for any amount of time or for any reason, no matter how "safe" it may appear with such a small amount of water. It is not safe in any way. If you forgot a bath item, take the baby with you to get it.

The water should not be too cool or too warm, just a comfortable warmth for baby's delicate skin. Remember to use just enough water that is necessary to do the job.

Babies do not often enjoy the bath water, so make sure to plan a quiet and gentle experience to whatever extent you can do so. Prepare the baby slowly while talking or singing to him or her. If you can make this a calm bonding time, it will be a lovely memory. (But keep in mind that some babies will just hate water so much that nothing you do will make the tears stop.)

Remember that wet babies are very slippery and become moreso after you use baby wash or soap. Always make sure that you have a strong hold on the baby so he won't be slipping from your grasp.

Be certain that water doesn't splash up into the baby's face and always support the head and keep it away from the water. When you wash the baby's face and head, use very little soap and of course keep the soap away from the eyes. A very soft baby wash cloth works well for this, but wring it out as much as possible first.

Be mindful when doing the top of the head and protect the anterior fontanel (soft spot). After the head and face are finished, it is just a matter of making sure to wash the rest of the baby, rinse the soap away, and then bath time is finished.

Whether you are using a hooded towel that many parents prefer or just a regular (soft!) towel, it is still important to keep the baby warm while you are doing the drying. Put a new diaper on the baby and dress him as soon as possible.

Teething in Older Children

By Christina VanGinkel

Once your child is past the initial stages of teething and has several shiny whites in, you may feel as if your major struggles dealing with a teething infant are over. You may have to think again. Even if they are no longer making everyone around them aware of their teething efforts, it is important as a parent or caregiver to recognize when an older infant or toddler is getting in new teeth.

Before the first tooth even arrives, you should be gently brushing baby's gums, and as soon as teeth have arrived, brushing those. Use these daily opportunities to take notice if new ones are arriving and offer continued support for pain at these times, even if each addition is not as obvious as the early ones. Continue to offer things such as teething rings and my favorite soother, Popsicles. If your toddler is comfortable eating solids, teething biscuits may also be an option. Over the counter products are also available and may be just the thing to soothe an otherwise irritable child, but you must be alert for any allergic reaction that an infant or toddler may have. While not common, they can and do occur from the ingredients often used in these numbing formulas.

Sometimes, in older children, instead of swollen gums, what you may notice is a lack of interest in eating, irritability, and trouble sleeping. While you should be sure to rule out any other factors that may be causing these issues, be sure to consider teething.

Be alert to older children chewing on things that may be unsafe. Something as simple as a pacifier can become a choking hazard when a toddler with a few teeth in his or her mouth chews the rubber front off while trying to soothe their aching gums. Electrical cords, furniture, the family pet (No joke!); all can become targets for toddlers dealing with mouth pain. If your child is biting, before dealing out punishment, peek and see if they are biting because they are frustrated with pain. While biting is never acceptable, you do need to determine if teething is the cause, so you can help them while you explain to them that it is not ok to bite, no matter how much they hurt. If they are too young to understand, then you need to be even more vigilant in helping them eradicate their pain.

Teething is an unpleasant fact, but that does not mean that your life and others around baby must be just as miserable. If your child is miserable, consider every option available to you. Talk to your baby's pediatrician to see if he or she has any suggestions, ask friends and family how they dealt with their children when they were teething. Be sure not to use any old remedies that may harm an infant or toddler though. When one of my kids was younger, a friend told me to rub alcohol on their gums; thankfully, I was smart enough not to do this, as alcohol in even small amounts can harm a child.

Take heart and know that eventually the teething will stop, sort of. My son is almost thirteen and is currently getting in several molars!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Playgroups for your baby

When my baby was about seven months old, I received a flyer from a woman who lived down the street from me about starting a playgroup for the little ones in our neighborhood. I lived in a development of new houses and many people had just started their families-- so there were definitely more than a few babies around.

Still, I wondered if, at seven months, was my daughter ready to "play" with other kids? I decided to go, if for nothing more than to meet a few other moms in my neighborhood. I'm really glad I did-- four years later our little playgroup is still going strong, complete with a second round of babies.

Is a playgroup right for your baby?

Babies love to see other babies, so even though a young baby will not "play" with other kids per se, he or she will still be entertained and delighted. Playgroups are a great way to expose your baby to other children, especially if your baby is an only child. The concept of sharing can come into play and new friendships will be made.

In our neighborhood playgroup, the kids didn't start to "play" together until they were close to two years old. Even today, with some of the kids being four or five years old, they sometimes all play in their own little corners. But then they will come together to play in the toy kitchen or to play hide and seek and nothing is cuter.

The babies in the bunch enjoy playing with their new friend's toys. And as for the moms, they get to have real adult conversations. It's a win win situation for all involved.

So how can you start a playgroup in your neighborhood? Here are some guidelines:

1. Start spreading the word to some of your closest neighbors and friends and send an email or a flyer out to the rest of the parents with young children.

2. Make sure to take into consideration that babies do nap, and schedule your playgroup for mid-morning or in the afternoon after naptimes.

3. Plan to provide a light snack for the adults or, if older toddlers will be in your group, something that they can enjoy too (our group usually dines on mini muffins-- regular sized muffins are too big for the little ones).

4. Make sure the television is turned off and it is off limits-- there's no need to distract the kid's with the TV blaring in the background.

5. Kid friendly music can provide a fun background for young babies during playtime. The "Baby Einstein" music CDs are especially good.

6. Rotate who will host playgroup each week-- every baby should get a turn to share his or her toys with the other kids.

7. Just have fun. Remember that small babies do not need structured play-- just being around their friends in a new environment will be a great experience.

You may think your baby is too young to realize what is going on, but the first time you see that big smile when you tell your child that you're both going to his or her friend's house, you'll realize that the playgroup is a highly anticipated event.

Choosing a Convenient Diaper Bag

By Christina VanGinkel

A diaper bag was once considered a frontrunner if it had cute little bears or maybe a romping horse as the featured decoration across the front. A pocket or two extra, besides the main compartment also made the bag a sure winner. With today's kids being transported to daycares and parks as much by fathers as they are by mothers, cute is no longer a priority. While there are, still plenty with cute as an option to choose from available, organization in the truest sense is the only factor that is going to mark one bag over another as a champion of its class.

When choosing a diaper bag, consider both what you need to take along with your infant on any excursion now, plus how those needs might change in a few months. Before picking a bag that will become baby's constant companion for many months to come, consider all the options, including traditional diaper bags, knapsacks, backpacks, and totes.

If you will be using the same bag as a carryall for your own items as well, be sure to consider this when deciding on a bag's worthiness. Also, consider how the bag is to be carried, especially if you end up choosing a large sized bag. A small handle on a large bag just will not work. If you have ever tried carrying an infant in a carrier, plus a diaper bag, and whatever else you might be toting as well, you know all to well that handle size is an important factor. Backpacks work well for this very reason, allowing your hands to stay free for holding onto the more important things, such as baby. Be sure to check that the straps are wide enough to be comfortable and not so thin that they cut into you when you toss the pack on your back, or carry it in your hands.

How the bag sits is another important factor, for if every time you set the bag down it falls over, you will quickly learn the meaning of spilled milk, or should I say formula. A bag that has a large, flat bottom will work best, but also consider the configuration of the bag. If the main compartment is towards one side instead of the center, the bag will have the tendency to be lopsided weight wise. In the same vein, consider the lining of the bag. If something becomes spilled, you will want it to stay contained inside not only the bag itself, but also whatever compartments it was spilled. Check the inside of the bag to be sure it is lined with waterproof material, and that at least several of the interior sections are zippered off from the others. One large zippered interior compartment, which is both insulated and tall enough to hold bottles, along with other similar sized zippered areas for items such as lotions, is the best design, accompanied by several medium and small sized partitions.

Velcro on some of the interior and exterior compartments can also be useful. Velcro is easy to pull open one handed, and this is often the scenario when you are holding an infant in the other. Color of the bag should be a personal decision, but keep in mind that a light bag will quickly show stains and dirt. Check the cleaning instructions on any bag before making your final decision.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Baby Music

When I was pregnant with my son, I read somewhere that listening to classical music could help to increase my baby's intelligence. So I would listen to Mozart and Beethoven CDs every chance I could, hoping to give my baby a head start. When I was in the hospital, included in one of the many goodie bags the hospital gave out as freebies, I even received a free classical CD from a popular maker of baby formula. Titled "Smart Symphonies", it had lovely melodies from Bach, Tchaikovsky and Handel-- it's still one of my son's favorite CDs.

Now that my baby is more of a toddler, he has his own taste in music. In fact, we have quite a collection of his favorite CDs. Here are some great baby friendly music CDs that will keep your baby singing and dancing.

Lori Berkner (Buzz Buzz). This popular children's singer (featured between shows on the television network, Noggin) has so many popular tunes-- and my kids love them all. Some favorites from this CD are "Bumble Bee (Buzz Buzz), "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and "I Really Love to Dance". Berkner's otter CDs, "Victor Vito" and "Whaddya Think of That" contain even more of her popular hits.

Erin Flynn with the Co-op Band (Dreamers of Dreams). This independently released CD features the music of Philadelphia-based Erin Flynn and her band. While not yet a big name star, Flynn has performed terrific shows in my hometown, which is how my kids got to love her music. Featuring songs like "Twinkle" (Erin's version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star") and "Miss Mary Mack", this is one CD you won't hate listening to over and over again in the car. Flynn's CD can be purchased from such online sites as

Mediterranean Lullaby (Ellipsis Arts). Sometimes your baby may be in the mood for soothing lullabies. The lovely music contained on this CD will soothe and calm your tired baby. Beautiful instrumentals featuring flutes and harps are sure to send your baby off into dreamland.

Baby Santa (Baby Einstein Music). This CD was actually included in the "Baby Santa's Christmas Joy" book that I bought for my children last Christmas. With the familiar sound of the music from the Baby Einstein series of videos, this CD is perfect to listen to all year round. Featuring traditional carols like "Silent night" and "Joy to the World" and a special holiday Concert with tunes like "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' and "Hallelujah Chorus", it can be Christmas every day of the year with these joyous melodies. If holiday music isn't your thing, there are many other "Baby Einstein" DVDs available, like "Baby Bach" and "Baby Vivaldi", which feature your baby's favorite songs from the popular series.

And if you want to start your baby out on the right foot while he or she is still in utero, check out the CD "Mozart for Mothers to Be". It will give your baby that head start I was telling you about, while providing a calming background for you to relax to during those hectic and tiring days of pregnancy.

Inexpensive Baby Items

Having a baby can be a huge expense, but there are many ways to save money on everything you need for your baby. Try these money saving tips-- and put the savings in your baby's bank account!

Diapers. Unless you plan on using cloth diapers and washing them yourself, you will be spending money on your baby's diapers for the next several years. This can get to be quite costly. If, like most people, you plan to use disposable diapers then try buying a generic brand -- most generic brand diapers work just as well as those higher priced name brand diapers. Stores like Wal-Mart, Target-- even your favorite grocery store-- all carry their own store brand line of diapers. Most of these diapers are made in a factory right along side their higher priced counterparts. Once you do find a brand you like, don't feel that you have to be brand loyal all the time-- if you have a money saving coupon for a rival brand, give them a try.

Baby wipes. I don't know what we did before baby wipes were invented, but to most moms today they are absolutely indispensable. Since you will be using them everyday, baby wipes are another item that can get to be costly over time, so try some of the lower priced brands and see how they fare. If you find that the inexpensive brand wipes are so thin that you end up using triple the amount of them as you do with a higher priced brand, then switch-- you are probably spending more in the long run. If you run out of wipes, you can also make your own baby wipes by cutting a roll of paper towels up and soaking them in a mixture of one quarter of a cup each of baby bath and baby oil and two cups of warm water.

Clothing. It's foolish to spend a lot of money on high-end clothing items for your newborn-- he or she will be grown out of them before you know it. Instead, look for gently used name brands on eBay or other online outlets. Trendy discount stores, like Target, have really cute baby clothes at the fraction of the cost of clothing at department stores. If you must shop for new name brand clothing, try catching your favorite store's end of season sales-- you can pick up some great clothes for your child for the next year (of course, you will have to estimate what size he or she will be).

2 Items you should never skimp on:

Your baby's crib and car seat. There are federal regulations regarding crib safety, so avoid buying used or older cribs that may not pass today's safety standards. The same goes for car seats-- never buy a used car seat at a yard sale or an online auction because you don't know if the seat was ever involved in a car accident or not. You also will not be privy to important recall information should these used items ever be recalled, so, when it comes to your baby's safety, it's best to buy these items new.

Is It Instinct?

When I first became a mom, I was amazed and awed by the power of the urges that I had to do what was "right" for my baby. If baby cried, I ached to find a way to help her feel better. In fact, I remember once when I was having a checkup at my own doctor's and had left the little one (about three or four weeks old) in the company of a trusted nurse while I went down the hall to have my blood pressure taken. The baby started to wail as babies often do. And even though I KNEW that my baby was safe in the hands of someone I knew and trusted, my blood pressure went through the roof on the spot. We had to wait until I got the baby back and had soothed her before we could get an accurate blood pressure reading that truly reflected my normal state.

Other urges came quickly and strongly, too. Right after the baby was born, I wanted to hold her. I wanted to snuggle her up close and keep her right there on my chest. Since this was nearly twenty years ago, the doctors and nurses actually didn't allow much time for that. They sort of snatched her away to do their tests, and even turned the little thing upside down to measure her length. My husband said that she found him with her little eyes and gave him a look of complete dismay as in "how could you let them do this to me??" While I find it very doubtful that she could've truly focused on him some twenty feet away at that point, the story is poigniant and touching. And I was ever so glad when I had the second and third babies that the medical team was much less harsh with my girls, and I got to snuggle with them just as soon as they had assured themselves of their wellbeing, in a matter of seconds instead of fifteen minutes.

These strong feelings of what to do with my girls kept coming, mostly in times of crisis. "Motherly instinct" took over numerous times across the years. It guided how I spoke to the infants, how I responded to their hurts, how I reacted when they were disobedient, and how fast I ran to see what they were into based on the noises I was hearing. It was almost as if my nerves and muscles knew more about child rearing than my brain, and it was a real pleasure to watch.

Those motherly instincts are still operational, even now that my kids are nearly grown. I still can tell who's speaking the exact truth and who's telling a little bit of a fib. I still know just when to check on things, even though the things I'm checking on have changed from toddlers clearing out drawers to teens trying to kiss covertly. I know when to hug and when to scold. It's a nice system, because I think there are fewer mistakes when I trust those instincts.

So now that you've got a baby in the house, try to pay attention to your parental instincts. And yes, I think fathers have them too, though many dads don't practice and develop them as thoroughly as moms do. Listen to your heart and you will find a lot of information there about what you should be doing to and with your baby. It's not as complicated as it seems at first, and people have been successfully parenting young children for thousands and thousands of years.

Make sure they know they are loved. Hug them and hold them and rock them and cuddle them. If they are frightened, comfort them. When they hurt themselves, do what you can to fix it. If they are hungry, feed them. Give them a drink when they are thirsty, and change their surroundings when they are bored. Change them when they need it. You are their source of comfort and security, and you are the one (or two) constants in their young lives.

And when they get old enough to have volition and do things on purpose, it's time to add a little bit of discipline into the mix. Don't let them walk all over other people's rights. This is the time when they start to learn to be decent human beings, and it will be very tough to let them get away with murder when they are six months old and then change your style when they are three. My dad gave me a wonderful piece of advice: if a behavior is wrong or annoying when it happens the first time, correct it no matter how funny it may seem. It will become very unfunny if it continues for years because someone started out laughing at it.

Follow your instincts. You'll do OK with this parenting stuff. You know what to do-it's already in your heart.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

You're Ready for Baby . . . or Are You?

It is a hectic time to be sure! Suddenly there is so much to think about that your head feels as if it's spinning all the time. There are many things that first-time expectant moms think about from the moment they find out that they are about to welcome a new baby into the world.

By the same token, there are some things that you may not think about until after the baby arrives and by then it could very well be a stress producer. No one needs more stress, so take some time to think about a few matters, make plans, and you will feel much more relaxed after the big day arrives.

Have you thought about whether you will breast or bottle feed? If breast feeding is your choice, do you have nursing bras and nursing pads? If you have chosen to bottle feed, have you bought the bottles, accessories, a warmer, etc.?

Has your doctor mentioned childbirth classes? If he or she hasn't, it is really never too early to ask about it and find out what to expect at the classes and when they start. If the doctor doesn't know of any being held in your area, ask other new parents.

If you have been working outside of the home, have you thought about how long your maternity leave will be? Along with that comes making sure that you will be covered by insurance and even have a job to go back to. Often these things are a given, but it really is a better idea to make sure and get confirmation on such things.

Have you thought about spending some time with a friend or relative who has an infant? You will be able to see things like soothing and bathing the baby, interaction, and things babies enjoy for bonding time.

Have you thought about things that will be changing after the baby is in the household? Often first-time parents think that nothing will change and that may very well be the case, but you have to be emotionally prepared for things such as not getting very much rest, having to pack up lots of extra things for the baby when you want to be spontaneous and spend a day at the beach or in the mountains, or waking to a cry sometimes immediately after you finally get to sleep.

There are some things you can do to make life a little bit easier on yourself for those first few months. One of those things is buying extra clothing for the baby if at all possible. You probably won't want to do laundry as often as a baby goes through clothing, so if you are able financially, pick up some extra. If it isn't feasible, see if anyone who will be giving you a baby shower will make it a "shower of baby clothing" event. Another idea is to start looking at yard sales as soon as you find out you are pregnant.

Another thing to think about and read up on is the changes that you will be going through after the baby is born. Know what the signs of postpartum problems are and be prepared to tell your doctor about anything like that without delay. Do not wait around thinking that it will "just go away" if you feel that it is overwhelming.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Build Your Kids a Playhouse, Really!

By Christina VanGinkel

Help your child express their creativity by building them an inexpensive, but action packed playhouse. It could be a castle to slay dragons from, a boat to sail across the oceans, or a cottage complete with picket fence and front porch. Or for the more outdoorsy kid, build them a cabin so they can get back to nature and invite Davy Crocket over for supper on the back forty. Any design that will bolster their innate creativity will work!

Building the 'guts' of the Playhouse

If you are not the construction type, don't worry, as this is the ideal project for you. Either the playhouse guts can be a purchased, basic wood playhouse, or if you can master a hammer, nails, and a few boards, go ahead and build a fundamental box shape with roof and door. For an even easier option, and if the playhouse will not be left outdoors, consider constructing it entirely of cardboard. Contact a local appliance store to see if they have any large sheets of cardboard or boxes, such as those that refrigerators or freezers come shipped in. The details are all painted, not fabricated, so as long as you can hold a paintbrush and follow a basic paint by number scheme, you will be able to complete this project in time for your child to be shouting 'Ships Ahoy!' in no time at all.

Coming up With the Design

The idea behind this is that once you have your basic playhouse built, sketch a chunky visualization of what you want to create. You do not have to be an artist to do this; just think of the old style color by number pictures we all painted as kids. Each area that was to be filled in was predominantly large and open. Some small areas would exist, but even those would have clearly defined edges. If you are still having a hard time with the concept, borrow a few of your kid's color books or browse online for some free color pages, to see if what you want to create is lurking in any of these places. For example, when I wanted to build a tree house styled playhouse for my grandson, I found a picture at in their color pages of a tree. I also found a squirrel and a few other small animals that I thought would work well with the theme. I printed them off and enlarged them by hand to the required sizes I would need. You could also have the graphics enlarged at your local print shop. Measure the area you will be painting and create a corresponding design with what space you have to work with.

Painting Your Imagination Activator

Once you have your pattern enlarged, trace it directly onto the side of your playhouse, and paint it in the same manner you would paint-by-number, filling in one color at a time. I painted ours completely in acrylics, so my son and grandson could help, but outdoor paints would work much better, especially if the project will be in direct contact with the outdoors for long lengths of time. While you will not end up with a work of art, you will end up with a fun place for the young set to hang out in and activate their imagination. You will also gain the knowledge that not everything you do with the kids has to be complicated.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Learning Value of DVD's

By Christina VanGinkel

I am a big fan of reading to infants and young children. I also feel that videos, if they are of high quality, and not randomly viewed for hours on end, can play a very important part in teaching children. Besides books, videos can engage a young child, keeping his or her interest long enough to allow learning to take place. Sure, once our kids get to school they will have teachers to keep their attention span lasting longer than two minutes, or at least we hope they will. In addition, while some parents may have the time to be amusing their children from sun up to sun down, a fact of today's modern world is that many of us are just too busy to be able to give our kids the undivided attention, twenty-four hours a day, which they would like to have.

So what is a parent to do? Find a happy medium of activities to keep their young minds and bodies going and learning through their day. Part of their routine will most likely include videos or television, so take a few minutes, and research what is available. Look for video characters that are age appropriate, and as busy as you are, watch the shows with them at least once, so you know what their little minds are viewing. Look for videos that engage the viewer, not those that just overload them with mindless buzz. If you have a DVD player, consider those that also offer additional features such as DVD Rom activities. A recent Blue's Clues DVD that my daughter purchased for my grandson included four separate episodes, a matching game to be played on their computer, music videos featuring Blue that they can dance too, and a segment geared specifically for parents. She allows him to watch one episode and then they will play the matching game together. She said that she also would jump to the music and let all the videos play while he either plays with something else, or dances along. At two years old, he loves to dance, and she only wishes that more of the videos came with this feature, so she did not have to keep listening to the same few songs that they have discovered on a couple of their DVD's.

An educational rating on a video use to be associated with boring, but this is no longer true. Education is often hand in hand with engaging. Search out those that are given this distinction. Baby Einstein videos, and those that feature characters many kids are already familiar with, such as Bear from Bear in the Big Blue House, JoJo, from JoJo's Circus, and the Arthur characters, can all be good choices. Kids and family, and Sesame Street are two other breakdowns for videos where you may find suitable shows. Just remember to use the shows wisely. Do not become dependant on them as babysitters for your kids. Too often, parents can lose track of the time their kids are stationed in front of the television, because the kids literally zone out as they watch some shows. Watch with them if you can, and ask the kids afterwards what it was they watched. Did they learn anything, would they like to tell you. By asking them questions about the shows, you are enforcing the fact that they can learn from these shows. And once in a while, when you have had a long day, and a half hour of peace and quiet is all you really want, you won't feel so bad about popping in that DVD for them to watch, because you will be fully aware of what it is they are absorbing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

For the Dads: It's Your Pregnancy, Too!

Your partner is going to have a baby and you feel emotionally locked out. Granted you will not be fielding the morning sickness with dry crackers or feeling the fatigue or labor pains, but there are ways that you can feel part of the pregnancy. She is not trying to lock you out purposely; you just need to find ways to take an active role.

Many of these ideas will have you not only helping your partner but allowing you to feel more involved than you may have normally felt. The first important thing to remember is that you should ask questions. Be a part of the excitement and planning from the very beginning. Ask her when the baby is due and talk to her about her feelings. Help her make a list of things to ask the obstetrician.

After the first visit to the doctor, make it your responsibility to ask her daily if she remembered to take her prenatal vitamins and if she had enough rest that day. (But don't be a nag about it; just let it come up in normal conversation!) Read baby care books with her.

Make plans for the future of your new family. When the pregnancy is further along, discuss possible names and find out if you can do anything like helping to get a nursery prepared. There are certain things she will be under doctor's orders not to do, and those might include things like breathing paint fumes or lifting heavy objects.

Pamper the expectant mom. As the pregnancy gets further and further along, she may have lost the morning sickness, so ask if there is any food she is craving that will not make her feel ill like it would have done when morning sickness was a problem. (This is not necessarily accurate for all women. Some have "morning sickness" all day long and others experience it the whole 9 months, not just the first 3 or 4 months.)

In addition to asking if there is any food or drink you can get for her, find out if she would like a massage. Often in the later stages of pregnancy, a mom-to-be will experience backaches that a gentle rub may ease. Another problem is swelling feet, so a foot rub would be a gift she will adore if her feet have been hurting all day.

The main goal is to make and keep her comfortable. Would she enjoy a warm bath? Fill the tub for her. Maybe she would rather lie down and read a book instead of going to the grocery store which had been the planned activity. Ask her for a list of essentials and get those groceries for her.

Remember that at least during the last few weeks or months of the pregnancy, she may have trouble getting comfortable to sleep. If you can do anything to help her be able to catch a nap once in a while, she will be forever grateful.

One thing that she just may appreciate more than anything else is knowing that you are excited about the new arrival, too. If you want to be part of the pregnancy, make sure you are there for the not-so-pleasant happenings (aches and pains, nausea, insomnia, etc.) as well as the fun dreaming and planning.

Baby's First Halloween

With Fall rapidly approaching, you may be beginning to think about all of the fun Fall activities you will want to do with your baby. If this will be your baby's first Halloween, that can be an especially fun event.

While your baby will be too young to understand the concept of Halloween or eat candy, it's still fun to dress him or her up in a cute costume and go knock on a few doors in your neighborhood. There are many adorable infant sized Halloween costumes available for you to choose from. Check online auction sites like EBay for gently used costumes (look for items that were only worn one time), or go to your favorite retail store to buy one. Big name retailers like Kohl's department store, Sears, Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart all have cute costumes for babies-- you can find everything from pumpkin costumes to bumble bee costumes. For an even bigger variety, check online costume stores or local stores like Party City-- most have an extensive variety of baby-sized costumes available. If you live in an area where it is cold by the end of October, make sure to buy a warm, snuggly zip up costume with a hood for your baby to wear-- it would be a shame to have to cover up your baby's adorable costume with a heavy jacket!

Other tips for a safe and fun first Halloween for your baby:

Keep it short. While you may be proud to show off your baby to all of your friends and neighbors, your baby does not need to cavort all over the entire neighborhood on Halloween night. Take your baby to just the houses of your closest neighbors. And remember, Halloween is a two way street-- your neighbors will be coming to your door with their own children all night, so you can show off your baby's costume that way, too.

Don't overwhelm baby. Don't keep your baby up past his or her bedtime to see all of the trick or treaters. First of all, your baby may become overwhelmed by seeing so many strangers in one night. Second, some of the Halloween images may frighten your baby. Older children who are dressed up as monsters or ghosts could cause your baby to cry, so don't feel compelled to have your baby in your arms every time you answer the front door on Halloween night-- you never know who may be out there!

Consider doing something low key. There is no law that says that you have to stay home on Halloween night. You may prefer to take your baby to your parent's house or the house of another close friend or relative for a small Halloween get together. You can munch on Halloween cookies and apple cider without having to worry about taking your baby all over the place.

Don't forget to take pictures. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to preserve the moment by taking lots of pictures of your baby in his or her first Halloween costume. You will cherish them for years to come.

Pregnancy: Nurture Your Mental Health

Much of pregnancy is filled with "firsts" that mothers-to-be recall with fondness and always smile when remembering. These would include things such as first hearing the baby's heartbeat, first seeing a sonogram with the new little person posing for his or her first portrait, and of course feeling that first kick that a mother never forgets.

While pregnant, we often find ourselves daydreaming about what we will do with our new little prince or princess, what the first Christmas will be like, and anything else that comes into our mind to daydream about.

In theory it sounds like the calmest and most serene time that can happen in a woman's life. Unfortunately that isn't always accurate because whether or not it is warranted, there are many worries that come along with a pregnancy. While pregnant, we need to remember to take some breaks to nurture ourselves as well as the rest of the family or partner if there are no other children.

Sometimes health problems arise with a pregnancy that can become frightening. Blood pressure can rise and there may be swelling or difficulty breathing when the baby is big enough to cause that. Your doctor will also be checking for toxemia especially if this is your first pregnancy. So those are just a few of the medical things to worry about. When you are nurturing your mental health during times of worry over these matters, just make a call to your doctor or nurse to put your mind at ease about the uncertainties.

In addition to health worries, there are also plenty of things to fret about concerning the baby. Is he or she growing properly? If you haven't felt a kick for a while, is something wrong? Will you be a good parent? How will you know how to make the right decisions when it comes to raising a child?

Still another worry is one of watching after your safety. We know that falls can be very damaging to the baby. We know that certain foods and chemicals in foods can cause the baby distress so we need to make sure we don't unknowingly eat something harmful. If it is winter we dread and fear walking on ice and when we have to navigate steps, we are extra careful. If we need to spend time with large crowds of people we are always mindful of making sure there isn't a blow to our stomach, thus to the baby.

All these things make mental health breaks a very good idea. They are simple to do, just indulge yourself! If you enjoy baths, treat yourself to a long one complete with candles if you wish. Do you enjoy reading the latest top selling book? Go for it! Do not be afraid to take a nap when you feel stressed or tired. Ask a friend to meet you for lunch or walk in the park. If you work outside of the home, use your break times to put your feet up and close your eyes for those few minutes.

Some pregnancy worries can be alleviated if you make sure to keep your doctor appointments and take the prenatal vitamins you will be advised to take. That will not take all the fears away, though, so finding a group of others in your position either locally or online is often one of the best things an expectant mother can do for her mental health.

Baby's Clothing and Toys: Try Reselling!

That sounds like an odd concept, doesn't it? But the fact remains that if you do not plan to have other children or anyone to whom you want to hand down the baby's clothing and toys, you will be able to get some of your investment back with just a little effort. Clothing and toys for babies can be quite expensive as we all know!

The strategy is to offer the items for sale at an online auction such as eBay or resell them in another way. Things of this sort are a hot resell commodity now more than ever.

What I did in my own case was to hold annual yard sales. That was a great idea back then and I made a little bit of extra money, but every time I see how those items are now selling on eBay, I cringe remembering how many things I nearly gave away without knowing better.

It wasn't unusual for me to sell my daughter's baby dresses for 50 cents or even less. I put most of her toys out at a yard sale when she grew out of them or no longer wanted them. The prices were always ridiculously low because I didn't want to pack the things up again.

And books . . . I don't even want to talk about books! Who knew that some of them, well many of them actually, would become collectors items in a few years?! So yes, I often sold Little Golden Books (tm) for a dime or quarter. I'm cringing even now writing about it.

If this is something that you plan to do in the future, it is much easier to do "maintenance" on baby's things as they are being used rather than after you are finished with them. This would include:

1. Keep clothing mended if necessary, and free of stains
2. Don't let the child write or color in picture books
3. Keep toys clean and in good working order
4. Clean shoes and pack them away as soon as the child outgrows them and then when you are ready for selling, they will be all set to offer for sale

Remember that not every piece of clothing is going to be in a condition good enough to resell. You will need to take pride in the things you sell so you will obtain a good reputation, so don't try to sell things with stains or tears. If you needed to do major repair work, it's always better to mention that in the description.

If books are coming apart from the spines or bindings they are not a good seller unless they happen to be a collectors item. If shoes are coming apart at the soles or have cracks or bad scuff marks, don't bother listing them. Same thing goes if toys are missing parts, unless they are antique or a collectors item.

When the items you wish to sell are clean and ready, decide if you want to try a yard sale, sell the things at a consignment shop, or open an eBay account. If you choose a yard sale just don't be as naive as I was and price the things more realistically than I did when I just wanted to get rid of the items.

Things to Do With Your Kids

By Christina VanGinkel

As summer winds down, some of you may be running low on ideas for things to do with your kids. As a mother of three, and grandmother of one, I thought I would see if I could make a list of all the different things I have done with my own children and grandson throughout the years to give you inspiration, or to just jumpstart you into action. After all, spending time with our kids is one of the best reasons for why we gave birth to them in the first place.

Read a book together
Visit a museum, even small towns often have local museums dedicated to their area or a past local celebrity. Our small rural area actually has four that come instantly to mind. One is dedicated to the mining history of the area, and one is a personal museum of antiques put together by a local man and his wife over two decades ago, and is continually being added to. The third is similar, but much newer, and the fourth is a town over and is dedicated to the local wood mills that have been a big portion of our local job force for close to a century
Go to the library. Many libraries have programs even for the youngest kids.
Take a walk, pick berries, or bring along binoculars and try your hand at bird watching.
Go swimming at the lake or community pool.
Look for caterpillars to watch hatch into butterflies.
Visit a pumpkin farm together in the fall.
Plant a garden together in the spring. If you live in an apartment, plant a small box garden.
Cook together.
Take a photography class together, or some other type of class that would interest you both.
Teach your older child to knit or crochet.
Do crafts together.
Join a playgroup.
Pull out the coloring books and crayons and create a masterpiece to hang on the refrigerator as a joint project. I still do this with my youngest son who is a strapping twelve-year-old tough guy. I always tell him he will never be too old to color, as I find it to be one of the best ways to relax!
Do some simple science experiments together, such as creating a volcano with baking soda and vinegar. Alternatively, make a tornado by taking two 2-liter soda bottles, filling one of them three quarters full with water, then, minus bottle caps, tape the second bottle to the top of the first and tip upside down and watch as the water forms a tornado as it swirls into the second bottle.
Work on a scrapbook together.
Play a computer or board game together.
Let your older child teach you a Sony or Xbox game.
Go camping or on a trail hike.
Blow bubbles.
Go fishing. If your state has a fish free weekend, take advantage of this if you normally would not be in possession of a license.
Make paper airplanes and see who can fly theirs the furthest.
Have a picnic together. Make it as simple or as elaborate as you want.

No matter what you decide to do, remember as long as you are spending time with your kids, it is time well spent!

When Baby is Mobile: Childproofing

Sometime in the months before your baby is walking around the house like a little marathon hiker, he or she will be on the move in other ways. Whether it is crawling or using a walker, it will be time to childproof your home before the actual walking starts.

As soon as the baby can get from one point to another on his own, it is time to get serious about making the environment safe. We only need to look away for a minute or two and the baby, once having discovered the ability to move to another spot, can travel a lot faster than we can usually imagine.

When it is time to childproof, you may find it's a good idea to look at things through the eyes of the baby. Do not be afraid to get down on your hands and knees and see what delightful treasures (to baby's eyes) there would be to pull over, spill, break, or get into. Often we think of things like cupboard locks and plastic plugs for electrical outlets but forget about dangerous things that are sitting out on shelves or within a climbing baby's reach.

Those are actually two of the first things you will want to check into: something to keep the bottom cupboards locked and those outlet plugs. If you are not planning to lock or block the bottom cupboards then it is vital to move all harmful substances to a much higher level that the baby can't reach.

Another important thing to start with is safety gates for any place that will need them. Sometimes we remember the gates at the top of stairs but forget that babies enjoy climbing steps from the bottom as well. Be sure the gate is a good one and sturdy so that it can't be pushed over.

Be prepared to change and move new and different items and levels as the baby gets older and is suddenly able to reach more items and open new doors and drawers.

After you take care of the basic items, there are some things to look for that we don't always think about. Electrical cords for lamps, computers, televisions, and so on will need to be put out of baby's reach. The same goes for other things that hang down such as the pull cords for blinds.

Don't keep standing water in the bathtub or sinks. Make sure the toilet lid is down at all times. If you use a bucket or other container to clean, never walk away while the bucket or container remains within baby's territory. (Which is anywhere the child can travel whether or not he's in the area at the moment.)

If the baby is moving around the house easily, remember that he can also stand up in the crib, so make sure to prepare the crib in the best way you can in case he climbs over the railing. You may want keep a blanket or layer of them on the floor in front of the crib just in case baby becomes clever enough to figure out how to make an escape.

A few more things to keep in mind: Be heedful of furniture that could be pulled over on top of the baby. Secure that type of furniture. Make sure at all times that there aren't small items lying around that would be a choking hazard. Anything small enough to fit into the mouth will go into it.

Hiring a Sitter? Go Easy on Yourself!

Many parents feel anxiety when having to leave children with a babysitter whether a new sitter or someone who has watched the children in the past. The anxiety level escalates when a baby is involved. There are things to do to perhaps lower that stress level a little bit so take all the steps you need to take to be able to feel better about bringing in a sitter for the baby.

One great way to feel more confident about the whole matter if you need to go out is to make sure the sitter is equipped with everything he or she needs to know in the case of an emergency. A good way to do this is to make a list with vital information and keep it in a good location in the house. Better yet, make a few copies to put out when a sitter will be in the house and post them in various locations.

So what should these lists contain? First of all it should include your name and address. That may sound silly since you already met and hired the sitter and he or she already came to your house. But did you introduce yourself with first and last name? Did the sitter remember it? Did they find your home by the actual address or just "the big blue house at the end of Elm Street?" Your name and address need to be known in the case of an emergency where the sitter would need to call emergency personnel.

Second thing that should be on the list is the baby's medical needs if any. List any allergies you know of, and any medical conditions. If there would be a health emergency before you would have a chance to get back home, the sitter would have to know those things.

Add phone numbers to the list. This would include not only your cell phone, but the number of the place where you can be located. Include a number of a family member that is close enough in location to be able to help if needed. Add the number of a neighbor or two after checking with them first to alert them you will be doing that.

Other phone numbers on the list should include police, ambulance, fire company (all vital in areas that do not yet implement the 911 system.) The phone number for the baby's doctor needs to be on the list. The phone number of your own home should be on the list as well. Don't forget the number for the poison control center.

In addition to having a list of vital information as mentioned, be sure to show the sitter where certain things are located before you leave the house. This includes things such as where the exits to the outside are located, where to find candles and matches to light them, and where all the telephones in the house are located. If you live in a tornado prone area, show the sitter how to find the basement.

Other things to remember are just basics such as telling the sitter what the baby's routine is. With these things taken care of your day or night having to be away from the baby should be a little more enjoyable for you.

Monday, August 22, 2005

TV Shows and DVDs to help your baby learn

Many experts agree that children under the age of two should watch very little-- if any-- television. Realistically, that's not always possible, especially if you have older children in the house. So aside from unplugging your television set until your kids are out of diapers, what can you do? As with anything, moderation is key. If you want to allow your baby or toddler to watch a little bit of television on occasion, there are some great educational programs and DVDs out there. Here are some of my family's favorites:

Baby Einstein (DVD series). If you're lucky, someone may have given you some of these DVDs as a baby shower gift. The award winning baby Einstein series combines classical music with fun images that your baby will love. My daughter was mesmerized by the Baby Doolittle videos when she was a baby (they featured monkeys and lions). My son's favorite is Baby Neptune (discovering water) and both of my kids love Baby Santa's Music Box (fun holiday music and images). A new release, Baby Wordsworth, may even help teach your baby his or her first works.

Sesame Street (PBS). This long running television series (it's been on 35 years and counting) was likely a staple in your house when you were growing up. This show has lost none of its charm and new characters have been added. Your child will learn numbers, letters and words from this show. If the hour long show is too long to keep your little one's interest, check in during his or her favorite segments (many young children enjoy the Elmo's World segment).

The Wiggles (The Disney Channel). This Disney series features a wacky Australian singing group called the Wiggles. Your baby will love the songs that are featured on this show, like "Big Red Car" and "Hot Potato". It's a colorful show, f=full of vivid images and catchy tunes.

Dora the Explorer (Nick Jr). My daughter never liked cartoons until she started watching this animated series. Dora is a young girl who is always on an adventure. Catchy songs like "I'm the "Map" and "Come on Vamenos" are featured in every episode, but what I like best about this show is that it will help teach your child some Spanish words. My daughter could count to ten in Spanish by the time she was two and a half years old, thanks in large part to this series. This show is a daily favorite in our household.

Curious Buddies (DVD series). We were first turned on to this series when they were featured on Nick Jr. On Demand. Now I see that the DVD series is available and I'm ready to order it. My son absolutely loves this series, which features babies and catchy songs (babies love to look at other babies). I can't get the "Dig Dig" song from the "Let's Build" segment out of my head! You will find that you and your kids will be singing the songs from this series all day long. Some favorites in this series include "Let's Build", 'Let's Move" and "Let's Go to the Farm".

Travel with a Two Year Old

By Christina VanGinkel

Well, my grandson is off to work with his parents once again. His dad travels for work, and until my grandson is older, he and my daughter often travel along with him. Working about an eight hour drive away (The eight hours includes very frequent stops to stretch and have meals), they headed off early this morning. They want to be to the work site early enough tonight to be checked into their hotel and for my grandson to have his nighttime ritual of a walk, a bath, and a few books. Traveling often as they do, I asked my daughter if it is hard to keep a two year old occupied in the vehicle for such long lengths of time. I know we have purchased him things throughout the months that we felt would be easy for him to use from his car seat, which would actually occupy his time longer than five minutes at a time. Surprisingly, she said that some of the simplest things keep him absorbed, his magnetic drawing board that we bought him, and a few crayons with a color book or even just a blank notebook. If he can scribble, he is happy. He also likes to 'read' his books, paging through picture book after picture book, which are the same ones they read together frequently. He has started 'telling' himself the stories, and she said it is occupying for her to sit and listen to his versions of the books.

He also loves to talk and reenact different things he has recently learned. They took him to a racetrack several weeks ago, and he has since perfected the sound the cars at the racetrack made, complete with all the shifting noises. She only has to ask him what the cars at the race sounded like and he will go into a fifteen-minute soundtrack. She said it is work sometimes to keep him occupied, but not often. They always try to leave early enough on whatever day they are traveling, so that he will sleep a bit in his car seat. With lots of stops to stretch and bathroom breaks galore, (He is only twenty-five months old, but already without a diaper) they would surely not want to do this every day, but she said they do manage.

As a mother who disliked traveling twenty minutes to the local shopping center when my kids were small, I give her a lot of credit for being able to travel so often, and keep him occupied. When I asked her if there was anything else they did to keep him occupied, she replied that she always has a few small items that are new to him. These could be toys that she picked up at the local dollar store, or a toy that came in a kid's meal that he played with all of five minutes, and she then put away for the next time she knew they would be stuck in the car. Mainly though, she said they keep him occupied by interacting with him, taking turns sitting in the back seat with him, carrying on conversations, reading together in the car, and stopping at waysides along the way for him to run around in the grass and just stretch.

Friday, August 19, 2005

All Those Baby Pictures

Who can resist snapping candid shots of baby at every turn? I don't know about you, but my drawers and cupboards are chock full of great pictures of my girls when they were very small. You can turn back the hands of time when you look through the collection, and almost forget that the oldest one is now a young woman headed off to college next week. The middle daughter is a varsity cheerleader who pulls down her skirt and holds it so that the junior high football team can't "oggle her butt" and the youngest, my baby, is a four-star soccer player. It seems like only yesterday that they were just born, teensy little girls with all of the possibilities of life spread out before us.

I was looking through that cabinet the other day. Actually, when you read that, you probably don't get the full impact. When I say "looking through the picture cabinet," what I really mean is that I needed to find some specific pictures. I opened the door to the cabinet, and the entire collection came sliding out onto my lap. I have to confess at this point that, while I enjoy taking the pictures and collecting them, I don't often take time for details like organizing, scrapbooking, or putting them into albums. The entire collection from the birth of the eldest until the present is stacked up in that cabinet in precarious piles, and finding any specific pictures is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. I look through the whole collection when they slide out like that! But it has its advantages, too.

I was searching for pictures of my oldest daughter to represent her growing up years, since a friend had offered to scan them in and make a slide show to display at her graduation party. What a trip down memory lane! I found photos of her and her friends from birth onward. There were birthday parties, campouts, vacations, and trips to Grandma's house. There were scenes of Christmases and celebrations, and pictures of Halloween costumes over the years. Her entire life was neatly chronicaled in the photos and it was pretty easy to find just the right ones to put into the show.

We had to choose the best of the best, since she and two of her best friends were having their party and hence the slide show together. There were shots of her in the tub and pictures of her gazing in wonder at some display at the local children's museum. There were snaps of her in the middle of birthday parties and in contemplative moments on her own. And there was my personal favorite choice for the "embarrass your teen one last time" award: the picutre of her sitting on her little potty chair in the trunk of someone's car when we were desparate during toilet training. What a hoot!

My one regret is that I didn't take a minute to label these wonderful scraps of life. I can guess at the dates based on the printing date on the envelopes, but some of the names of other kids and the circumstances of the pictures are lost forever, even now. And the three girls look so much alike that I will admit to having difficulty telling some of their pictures apart without some frame of reference. They are definitely sisters, and with all of the hand-me-down clothing that they wore when they were little, I can only guess about who is who in some of the snapshots.

So take a bit of been-there-done-that advice. Label your pictures! You think you will remember everything about those moments, but you won't. Write down when and where the picture was taken. Jot the names of those other kids on the back. Put a little caption on there about what was going on. You'll eventually be really glad that you did, and your kids will really appreciate it when the time comes that they inherit that shoebox (or appliance box, in our case!) of disorganized pictures. Even if you can't find the time/energy/inclination to put them into those albums, simply giving yourself a few clues like that will help you to recall what was going on. And those notes will give you enough information that you can organize your pictures "someday..."