Saturday, December 31, 2005

Getting Through Baby's First Illness

Well, as of yesterday, my son is having his first bout with sickness. Unfortunately for us, the family members with whom we are staying have developed a virus, and my son seems to have caught it. We have called a local pediatrician, who gave him some medicine for the congestion and rattling he has. There really is little we can do, however, except watch over him and cuddle with him when he wants us to, which is all the time right now.

If you have faced your baby having an illness, even something that you know is fairly innocuous and is building his immune system, then you know how I feel - tired and hopeless. If you have not faced sickness with your baby yet, I want to offer a little helpful advice so that you can get through it a little easier when you do face it.

First know that I absolutely am not offering any medical advice. Seek out your doctor or healer for any medical information. We all know, however, that there is more to being sick than just the medical side, and that is particularly true for babies. For starters, as the mom or dad know that you should try your best not to get frustrated with baby. He or she cannot share thoughts on what hurts and why, and you cannot reason with him or her to explain why lying still would be a good idea. Instead you just need to keep your cool as you are making baby feel better. If you begin to get frustrated, see if your partner or another family member can take baby for just a few minutes.

Babies feed off their parents' emotions, and that is never truer than when baby is sick. If you are panicking, do not let it show when you hold baby, even if you are going to the emergency room because of your worries. Let baby see a smiling and confident parent looking down so that baby can feel okay.

Be sure to monitor your baby's illness. If you need to go to the doctor or need to call in for a follow-up, you will need to have some basic information handy to help assist the doctor. Be sure that you watch and record the baby's temperature, when and how much medication you administer, what and how much baby is eating, and how much baby is going to the bathroom. You will not remember these facts, so keep a pen and notebook handy to write them down.

Be sure that you get rest when baby does. A sick baby will not sleep well if he or she is facing a congested nose or other yucky symptoms. You need to leave everything else - the house, the laundry, the errands - and sleep when baby does. Some babies want to be held when they are awake. Give in to this need. It is not coddling or pampering. Instead some babies, just like some adults, want more love and attention when they are sick. Other babies will want you to leave them be. Work with your baby's desires, not your own, so that she or he can feel security while ill.

Be sure that you are eating and drinking as you should be. It is easy as a mom or dad to stay up all night and then try to make it on fumes because baby needs you. Doing that only serves to make both of you feel crummy and frustrated, and then you are more likely to get angry with baby. Take the time you need to eat even if it means calling out for pizza because you do not have the energy to cook.

Finally, learn to relax. This time is not the last that your baby will get sick. There will be other, and probably worse, times in baby's life. You need to be sure that you are calm so that you can work your way through this illness. It is frustrating when your little one cannot tell you what is wrong. You cannot comfort with words that baby can understand. Still, though, this little sickness is just preparing you for later ones to come. Take a breather. It all will be okay.

By Julia Mercer

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Great College Debate

The other day I was speaking to a woman who said that she gets very uncomfortable around people who talk about planning for their children’s college years. She said that despite the fact that she and her husband have extra money, she has no intention of ever putting away a penny for her daughter's tuition.

Her comments floored me. I thought that it was very selfish of her to force her daughter to struggle when she does not have to. I was curious about why someone would have such a crass attitude. I could not understand it, so I did a little research.

My attitude is markedly different, but then I have a different experience from the other woman. My husband and I both worked our way through college. We graduated from college at 22 and are paying off our student loans. We paid all of our own bills while we were there. While I resented the people who never had to work hard for their college education, I have every intention of making my son one of those people so that he can take advantage of opportunities that my husband and I could not because of our finances.

At any rate, this woman's point was that it is useless to worry about your child's college education. It is not something that should be of concern to parents of babies. I disagree. I think that now definitely is the time to worry about my son's college education. Estimates are that the cost of attendance at a public university will be $200,000 over four years when my son heads off in 18 years. That cost for in-state private schools or out-of-state public schools will be $400,000; and it will be a whopping $600,000 for out-of-state private schools. That suggests to me that our idea to start investing money now, when our baby is still a baby, is the best idea for his future.

The other reason that this lady believes she should not is that she believes that college is not something that is the parent's responsibility. Instead the parent's responsibility is to provide food, clothing, and shelter only. While those are the absolute minimums, in my mind it makes you a pretty poor parent if you are unwilling to provide anything extra. Sure, you do not have to lavish your child with toys, but why not give her a special present every once in a while?

I feel the same about college. No one is forcing me to prepare now for my son's college education, but I feel an obligation to do so. He is, after all, my son, and I am not going to toss him to the wolves on his eighteenth birthday. He will still live in my house, at least temporarily, and he will still be part of my life. I expect to help him with whatever he chooses.

There is a final reason that I believe the anti-college sentiment is wrong. The very same woman who proposed to me that it was silly spends on her baby. She buys and buys presents that the baby does not need. In my mind, that is such a poor decision! I would rather my son be without the full collection of giant Care Bears than have to through college because I blew what could have been his college savings on the Care Bear collection.

It is our job as parents to our babies to think beyond this year or next year. While we love them and know that they are only a few short years away from temper tantrums and arguing with you about taking the car. Still, you need to think about your baby's life in the years to come because you will need to be prepared to give your baby a wonderful life as an older child and into adulthood as well. If we endeavor to make each generation more upwardly mobile, which is the general trend in the United States, then there is no reason why we should not want to provide more for our babies that we had provided for us. If you have the opportunity and means to begin to put away money for your baby's college years, consider it seriously. The future of your family depends on it.

By Julia Mercer

Taking Up For Baby

A recent event made me think about my responsibility as a mom to take up for my baby. When we were visiting relatives, a particularly bully-ish five-year-old nephew stuck his nose against my son's nose. My son scratched his cousin; I scolded my baby (who understands no but does not obey it). The cousin did it again and again. After the fourth time, when he was looking to me for sympathy because my baby scratched him yet again, I said, "I don't feel sorry for you because you're asking for it."

Later I wondered if I was being too mean to my nephew. I really do not think so although I do believe that one of his parents, both of whom were in the room, should have said something to him instead of forcing me to. Still, it made me think about how much I need to defend my baby.

I found it somewhat amusing that my son's natural instinct was to fight back. As he is too young to understand other people's pain or the consequences to his actions, I am left to believe only that his fighting against his space being invaded was purely animal instinct. He felt threatened and he fought back.

Still, as a parent of a baby, you should be prepared for this type of fight. Other people will touch and otherwise bother your child, even when he or she is still a baby. You should be prepared to fight back by using one of these methods.

When another child invades your child's space or is mean, you should ask that child to stop. Say it nicely the first time. "Oh, no, honey, please don't touch the baby's head."

Do not be so nice after that. You should get firmer gradually. If the child continues past two or three times, you should bring up the situation to an adult who is responsible for the child. If the adult is in another location, then you should bring the child in and explain the situation. If the adult is in the room, then there is little need to be polite. Do not be rude but do be firm. "Excuse me. Can you take care of this?"

While this may seem unfair, I think that beyond this point if the parents do not bother stopping the behavior, you have two ultimate choices. Scold the child who is causing the problem or leave; probably doing both would work best. I do not believe that it is my place to fuss at other people's children, but I think that it is acceptable to do so when my own child is at stake. At this point, you can say, "no, your behavior is unacceptable. Do not do it again." Do not yell but be firm.

If you decide to leave, explain to the parents as well as the host or hostess (if you are at someone's house) that you have to leave because you cannot allow your child to be bullied. Make everyone aware of the problem so that there are no misunderstandings when you leave.

In retrospect, I may have handle the situation with my nephew poorly. Perhaps I should have asked my sister-in-law and brother-in-law to take care of the problem instead of continuing to allow my baby to scratch another child. I do not want to teach my son to bully himself, but I will not have him mistreated by other children.

I have realized that whether it is old ladies telling you how to dress or raise your child in the supermarket or children who are roughhousing far too close to your own child that defending your baby is one of the biggest chores of the first year. I learned quickly, as I believe that many mothers do, that I have to defend my baby whenever possible. I deflect joking comment about his rooster hair, point out that that our doctor said he is developmentally advanced when listening to why all of my nephews are undiscovered geniuses, and allow him to defend himself with other children try to bother him. It is odd, too, how much it is instinct - how quickly my blood will boil if anyone else tries to do anything that may harm my child. He is, after all, his mother's baby.

By Julia Mercer

The Power Of Extended Family

On my oft-discussed trip to my parents, my sister has become my son's best friend. My son has the occasionally misfortunate position of being my only child. While I loved being myself as a child, I realize that everyone does not share my love for being alone. Sometimes my son needs a playmate.

My sister is a teenager. She is old enough to take care of my son while still being willing to play with him. Plus, like many teen girls, she thinks that babies are cute. And he is, after all, still my little baby.

I am glad that my son has decided that he loves my sister. He now smiles and heads for her when she comes in the door. I am glad that all of my family is here to be with my son, to show him that they love him and that they want to be part of his life.

I spent some time in college reading about the statistics on single-parent families. Having been very well-behaved and an exceptional student, I was shocked when people assumed the worst because I had a single mother. What I found was that reports about the research are pretty distorted. Having a single parent is not enough to increase rates of criminality or teen pregnancy or any of the other ills we want to keep from our children. Instead it is the absence of more than one attentive parent, which is why those rates are just as high in families with stay-at-home moms and corporate dads.

So what I discovered was that children who are from single-parent homes and thrive tended to have extended family around them. If a child knows that more people are invested in his or her well-being, then that child is likely to do well.

I am happy that I had such love and support from a very large extended family, and I am happy that those feelings will extend to my son. While my family does not understand it, I do get sad that my baby is not experiencing all of the things that I did.

Babies need the love of people who are not their parents, and my son has found that not only in my sister, but in my entire family. The wonderful part about extended families is that they are willing to help out when needed.

Many people seem to shy away from their extended families offering help because they fear that the help comes with strings attached, such as some sort of say in how a child is raised. The truth is that in most cases, that may be true. The grandparents, aunts, and uncles who give up part of their time to help with Junior want to know that he is being raised as they think he should. That give and take is part of being in an extended family, and anytime I get upset about it, I remind myself that my family raised me - the whole village of them.

My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were involved in my life from the time I was born until…well, until now. They are still involved. They still feel free to comment on what is going on in my life, and anytime my husband, who came from a different type of family, complains, I tell him that I would not be who I am without the assistance and input of multiple family members.

Depriving your child of knowing his or her extended family should be a last resort that you consider only if there is abuse or extreme cases of disagreement between Mom and Dad and the extended family in terms of child-rearing philosophy. In most cases, however, a baby will be happier and will feel more loved by being part of a huge network of people who genuinely care about his or her life and how it turns out.

Experiencing that love now is something that will stay with your child always. Your child will go into the world, even if that world is only as large as her kindergarten classroom, knowing that there are people out there who care. Your baby can begin learning now about healthy self-esteem and the value of a good family.

By Julia Mercer

Ode To Parents Of Old

I was speaking to someone recently and he was discussing his family's consideration of getting rid of their cell phones, multiple computers, cable, and other luxuries. His wife and children are balking, but they need to make some changes. Then he said, "my parents got by with none of that."

I think that is the key. Our parents did not have those luxury items. They did not have 24 hour access to information about our health, our development, and our insatiable need for consumer items. Our parents did not need these items, and neither do we - not really.

When I think about some of the things our parents - or more likely our grandparents and great-grandparents did, I cannot imagine what they went through with far more children on average than we have. Instead of one child, they had five.

They did not have jarred baby food, disposable diapers, or disposable wipes. Instead of having those items, they were left to fend for themselves and figure out how to get everything done.

I had not realized until my son was born exactly what our parents and grandparents were missing. My mother-in-law, for example, talks of making homemade wipes. First of all, I think homemade wipes are gross. Second of all, wipes are not that expensive. We pay $2 for a container of them that lasts for two or three weeks. I am willing to spend $1 a week to avoid dipping paper towels into a homemade solution.

My grandmother often expresses amazement at what we have now. Although jar food has been around since the 1930s, my grandparents could not afford to buy it. Plus they lived on a farm, and it was just easier - and oh so much cheaper - to make their own baby food. I find, though, that my grandmother revels in the luxuries of modern parenting.

Sometimes, though, she will say, "well, we never had that." She never expresses disapproval, but I know she is thinking that my baby does not need the latest Leap Frog toy or a perfect changing table. It is in those moments that I am thankful for where we are. I am thankful to the parents in years past who have sacrificed so much to give to their babies. And most of all I am thankful that they continued to work hard for their babies and to push the envelope so that now we have people and companies who recognize that babies do need some of the baby care items that we have - and that they and their parents want a whole host of others.

Older parents seem to have made more of a sacrifice to have their babies than we make today. My son is not the best of sleepers, and he has not been since we brought him home. Our pediatrician says that it is perfectly normal and that we should be thankful he so exploratory.

More than that I am thankful that we have cribs. It was not so long ago that parents did not put their babies to bed in cribs. They fashioned sleeping areas out of furniture they had lying around or dresser drawers. My son, then, would be in a heap a trouble, and I would get less sleep if we were living 100 years ago. Plus, I have discovered the beauty of nature sounds. My son sleeps very well to the sounds of the ocean or a mountain stream or spring rain. Fortunately for us, we do not have to wait for that spring rain. I play it from a machine on nights when he needs it.

In the moments when I am turning on the sound machine when my son cannot sleep or the washing machine when his clothes are dirty or the dishwasher when his bottles need to be sterilized, I remember my grandmother and smile. Women like her and the way they raised their babies makes it so much easier for us. I wonder if even older generations of babies were coddled by mothers who would now look down on us and be proud. Would they be happy that we have so many conveniences? Or would mothers of old be sad that we use so many devices to care for our babies?

By Julia Mercer

Keys To Car Travel

We are planning a long car ride for the Christmas holiday. We will be leaving Thursday at noon to drive to my parents' house in Georgia. The trip without the baby takes about 12 hours, but with the baby, we are sure to add on some time.

My husband and I got accustomed to quick road trips in college, when we could make a few sandwiches and grab some chips and drinks. We would head out and not stop until we got there. Now, though, it is a different story, and we have to plan ahead to make sure the trip goes as smoothly as possible. Here are the tips we have learned about car rides with the little one.

First, we try to plan the trip around our son's eating schedule. Since we have to drive through the gridlock that is Atlanta, we absolutely do not want to have to stop to get back on the Interstate. It is best, then, that you work to have your baby eat when you will not be traveling through heavy-traffic areas. The best way to work the feeding is to try to feed your infant right before you leave, even if that means interrupting a nap or changing the daily schedule. If you have an older baby who eats solids, then you should give him or her a jar of food before you leave. Plan the drinking of milk and juice periodically throughout the trip so that your baby will be satiated but not stuffed the whole trip. Do not stress if baby does not get hungry on the trip because he will not be using up any calories on the trip.

The second key is to make sure that baby will be entertained. Some parents find that if they sit in the back seat with the car seat, the baby will be more content. Other parents find that plan a little inconvenient as it means that there is no one in the passenger seat, which is especially important on long trips. A compromise is to sit in the back with baby if you have to for an hour or so. One way to avoid needing to sit in the back with your baby is to make sure that he or she will have toys available. While you cannot take the entire toy chest with you on the trip, you should take enough toys and books so that you can keep baby busy. You will just need to plan ahead. Do not give the baby all of the toys at once. Dole them out as baby gets bored.

Plan to stop frequently. Some people stop every hour; we do not. It seems to prolong the trip too much if you are stopping all the time. Baby will want to stretch his or her legs, however, so you should plan for a few trips. Every time you stop to get gas or eat, be sure to take baby out of the car seat, even if it is only for a couple of minutes. She or he will be a happier passenger without stiff little legs.

You also need to plan ahead on what you take in the car. You will need a trash bag for any diapers that do not find a trash can and for empty jars of food. Clean up after baby as you go, and there will be less to do when you get there. If you use formula, put the powder into the number of bottles you will need and then bring along a bottle of water. That way, you can make the formula when you need it, but you will avoid the problem of throwing out milk. You also do not want to give your baby water from random stops as it could upset his or her sensitive tummy. Bring more wipes and diapers than you think you will need so that you do not need to make pit stops for these items.

Remember that you will have a great time once you arrive at your destination, so do not fret about the trip down. Try to plan as much as you can in advance but know that children mean unexpected stops. As long as you can deal with them, the trip will go smoothly.

By Julia Mercer

Keys To A Successful Baby Shower

Your best friend just found out she is having a baby! You want to throw a shower, but you are clueless about what to do. Here are the basic steps you need to take.

First you need to decide if you want to host the shower alone or with helpers, such as the mom-to-be's sister or another friend. Be sure that you check with the family because otherwise people get invited to three or four showers, and it can get tiring. After you have the hosts and hostesses together, determine the budget. You will need to know realistically what you can afford to spend so that you will know how many people you can invite. Be firm on the budget. These things tend to get out of hand, so everyone involved in the planning should be in on the budget at the beginning.

Get the list of people to invite either from the couple themselves or from their parents if it is a surprise party. Keep in mind the budget you have set. Until you have other arrangements final and can estimate roughly how much you have to spend on food, do not invite anyone. You likely will invite both sets of parents, siblings, and very close friends. Beyond that, it is at your discretion who you invite.

Now it is time to pick a theme. Can the theme just be baby? Of course, it can. Some people like to have a themed shower, such as Western or luau. Be sure to pick what you think will work for everyone involved and what will fit with the type of food and atmosphere you would like at the party. Once you have the theme in mind, you can pick out the invitations and other paper ware for the party. Try party stores or discount outlets if you need to cut costs here. You may very well find that invitations can get pricey, and you do not want to spend all of your money on inviting everyone to the party.

Next you will need to plan the menu. If you are having a Western-themed shower, then hot dogs and hamburgers are appropriate. Keep in mind the time of day. People attending a noon shower will expect lunch while people at a 2 p.m. shower will be happy with finger foods only. Be sure to keep these thoughts in mind, as well as how much work you can handle, when you are planning your menu. Also make it simple on yourself and get disposable everything - napkins, cups, plates, and utensils. You do not want to have to wash dishes after everyone leaves, so splurge on the paper goods.

You also will need a location for the baby shower. It should be a place that is pretty convenient for everyone who is invited. If you are hosting the shower, then you probably want to hold it at your house. Otherwise, you may want to hold it in a private room at a restaurant, which can solve you needing to come up with the food. You also can host it at another person's house, provided you promise to clean up afterward. Remember that the most important people are you (because you are doing the work) and the parents-to-be, so both of you should be accommodated first in location.

When you pick the date, think about the atmosphere. If many of the people invited work, then evening or weekends are best. Most showers are held on weekends because they are most convenient. If you wanted something more informal, however, then you may want to consider a drop-in or evening shower during the week. That way, there is less responsibility to entertain everyone.

Remember that this shower should be an important part of the pregnancy experience for the happy couple. You want to be sure to take their opinions and tastes into account when you are shopping. For example, if they are very casual people, then a structured party plan will not work. Some people will prefer a quiet gift opening and snack while others will want an all-out party. If you are the hostess, keep all of these ideas in mind and try to accommodate the soon-to-be parents as much as possible. This is their time.

By Julia Mercer

Deciding Where You Want Baby To Live

If you are like many people, you are looking for an exciting life when you are young. You spend your time working hard and having fun and want to spend your free time having fun as well. Perhaps you, like many young professionals, live in the city. Then you have children, and you find that now, you must reconsider why you live where you are and if you want to stay.

When baby is on the way and you are thinking about where you want to live permanently, there are a number of factors that are likely to play a role in your decision. First, you should consider the quality of schools. You will want to look at public and private schools. While you may not be able to afford private school right now, we are talking about several years down the road. Are the schools good quality? You can check state and federal ratings of the schools, and you should. More important for you, however, is how the school system fits with your personal philosophy. If you believe in hands-on learning or self-esteem learning, for example, does the school system adhere to the same principles?

How child-friendly is the city? It may be a little tough for you to gauge that before baby arrives because you have been busy being single. Try doing a little research. Can you find any playgroups for babies?

Also think about entertainment. Can you think of family-friendly restaurants? What about weekend activities? Are there programs geared specifically toward families with small children? While you certainly do not want to move to a town where everything is geared toward family and thus seems sterile to adults, you will want to be sure that you will have something for you to do as a family once you have a child?

Are there parks? Are there playgrounds? Is there anywhere children can play? A good sign is that a town or city without a good park system is one that is not friendly to children. Be sure that you look into everything that your town has to offer for little ones.

Other concerns may include your ability to find a good pediatrician, the proximity of decent stores with children's attire or books, and the way that people treat children when they are customers. You may have to make some observations or calls to find out about some of these issues, but it is important that you research them now. When it comes to a pediatrician's office, you must consider whether or not there are many doctors in your area. Some areas tend to have only family physicians, and you need to decide if that is the right choice for you. Also be sure that you get in with a pediatrician and that you feel comfortable in that office.

Look for where you will buy your children's clothing or other belongings. While you may not mind a drive to the city for big trips, you do not want to have to travel every time your baby needs new shoes or a pair of jeans. Babies go through clothes so quickly that you need to have something nearby in case of emergencies or when quick trips are required.

Watch when you are in restaurants. How do the people there treat the children? Do they ignore them? Do they offer to bring them crayons and a coloring sheet? Watching staff members interact with children is a great way to judge how child-friendly a city is. Be sure that children are not always seated by the kitchen in restaurants. Just look around. You will begin to see how people view children and whether you want to raise your baby in that environment.

While you certainly do not have to decide on a permanent location at this moment, you should decide before your baby gets very old. You want to be able to correct your decision should you realize that it is a bad one. You also want to be able to settle down and feel as if you are at home once your children get a little older. Take the time now to decide where to live, and you will appreciate your own efforts later, when you are in a pleasant, child-friendly place.

By Julia Mercer

Baby Shower Decorations

When you are planning a baby shower, you will need to work some on the decorations. Here are a few ideas that may get you started and help you feel like you are throwing a great shower.

One idea is to use a stuffed animal theme. The mom-to-be gets to keep the stuffed animals when you are done. You can place the animals strategically around the room or put a small wagon in the center of the main table and fill it with stuffed animals. It is a simple way to decorate for a shower.

If you want to go all-out but are short on the cash or time to do it, then you should try discount party stores. These places have great deals, and almost all of them have an aisle devoted to the baby shower idea. They have storks that you can put up, congratulations signs, and other memorabilia that are devoted to babies. If you opt for this type of decoration at the baby shower, then you will find plenty of ready-made stuff to put up. Your only job will be to get the decorations and find a place to hang them.

You also can make a small balloon centerpiece. These pieces are really popular at baby showers and are simple and inexpensive to make. You will need to get some type of bottom, such as a cute teddy bear or a little toy. Then you will get a number of pink and blue helium balloons. Tie all of the balloons to the center object with pink and blue ribbons. This centerpiece will, of course, be a gift to Mom and Dad at the end of the night. Meanwhile it will be great for the guests to enjoy.

The upside-down umbrella piece also is a great choice. You will need to get an umbrella that looks like it is great for a baby. For example you could get one that is pink and blue or one that has children's characters on it. Then you will put it upside down with small toys, streamers, or balloons in it. Sit it at the table meant for mom so that she will know where she is sitting.

If mom and dad have picked out possible names or are still considering, think about spelling out the name. You can use large wooden or carved blocks to spell out the names on the table. You also could write out various names on the cloth if you are artistic. There is no limit to what kind of decorating ideas you can come up with for a baby shower.

Another option for decorations is to go with a theme shower. I would be careful on this one only because it could make some people feel weird if they go expecting the above-mentioned decorations and find everyone in a hula skirt. Still if mom and dad are into something, such as extreme sports or ballroom dancing, you can make the shower themed for this type of party. Try finding children's props for the theme, such as a baby Hawaiian shirt or a lei and books for children about the themed topic. Put them around the room as decoration and make the entire room themed.

Remember that the baby shower should be fun above anything else. Keep the parents' tastes as well as the age and likely social proclivities of the guests in mind as you plan the party. There should be no alcohol there as a matter of course. Mom cannot drink, and as she is the guest of honor, you should not taunt that fact.

The only real rule on decorations for baby showers is that they should be able to be moved. If Mom and Dad will be opening gifts, you want people to be able to see them while they are opening. You should have a place set aside for guests to put their gifts and have a way for them to watch as the gifts are opened. Other than that, you can imagine any kind of shower you want, and it will turn out okay. If you do it in love, the parents-to-be will know and remember the gesture for years to come.

By Julia Mercer

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Begin Lifelong Organization Now

Let us face it. If you are like most people, then you could probably stand to get a little more organized. That means that you will need to get organized really fast if you already have a baby or if one is on the way. If you had asked me of my vision before my son was born, I would have thought that I would have been a super-organized mother. What I have learned in the past year of motherhood is that I cannot expect to be organized all the time. Still, I do believe that I can start with teaching my son to be organized right now.

I began thinking of my child as a completely organized person before he was even born. I would tell everyone that I wanted to eliminate clutter because right now he has a clutter-free existence. He does not have any reason to have clutter in the womb. So I went about purchasing items for my son with the thought that his things would be organized. I turned down anything that I thought we did not need (really tough when family members offer!) or that would clutter up our house. I am a clutter-free freak, so I was serious about the baby not getting too much stuff.

For the most part, it worked. We did not get many gifts or hand-me-downs that we have not been able to use. We have learned other techniques as well. First, though my son is only 11 months old, we have cleaned out his closet three or four times. It is necessary to clean out his things often in these first few years because he is growing so quickly. He grows out of clothes in a couple of months, and he outgrows the toys he has often, too. Because we do not know if we are having another baby anytime soon, I am saving all of my son's things. We are marking the boxes with the size of clothing or roughly the age of the toys we are putting away.

If you follow these steps, you will teach your child to begin being organized about his or her belongings early. Instead of just tossing away clothes, your child will learn to put them away in an orderly fashion. There are other ways, too, you can help your baby get a jumpstart on organization.

Be sure that your baby's belongings are organized. While it may seems pointless because your baby is not getting anything from the drawers, it is worth it for you to get baby's stuff together now. That way, as she or he gets older, you only will have to maintain the organization and make minor adjustments to the system. For example, babies have plenty of small objects, such as socks, bibs, and onesies, that need organization. Babies' items work best with baskets, and you can move to plastic containers with toddlers. Put the babies' belongings in the appropriate basket or drawer so that later you only have to keep up the system. You will need to change out the socks but not find a place to put socks.

Another key is to be sure that everything has a place. Before you make any purchase for your baby, be sure that you think about - and even talk to your baby about - where that item will go. This step is important both with small items, which can tend to get lost among the baby's belongings, and large items that may become a hassle if they do not have a home.

These few simple steps can help you get your baby on the path to lifelong organization. Many people struggle with being organized. In fact, along with losing weight, it tops lists of what people want to change about their lives. If you teach your baby now to think about organizing every step of the way, it will be much easier. Organizing is one area where the old adage is definitely true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By asking about where something will go and creating an easy organizational system as soon as you purchase new items, your baby will learn quickly that you cannot just purchase items and leave them lying around. Everyone is happier if everything has a home!

By Julia Mercer

Can You Complain Now?

I had a pivotal moment with my now-husband's family a few years ago when we were on vacation together. Until that time, I had never been comfortable enough to voice my real feelings, especially negative feelings, with my husband's family.

We were sitting outside our condo in Virginia Beach the night we had arrived. My future sister-in-law and her partner showed up with their children. They had been in North Carolina with his family until that day and had driven up.

We were all sitting outside enjoying the weather and fresh seafood. My nephews were running around and whining. They were awful. My sister-in-law and significant other kept threatening all sorts of punishments that everyone knew would never happen. Finally I said, "why don't you just make them go to bed? You keep threatening it."

My now brother-in-law said that I did not have children so I did not understand. I said, "that's a cop-out, and they're annoying the adults."

At the time I was furious. Come to think of it, the whole situation still makes me furious. Now that I have a baby of my own, I am a little more sympathetic, but to the children not the adults. They were exhausted because they were in the car for 10 hours and then saw tons of family they did not see often. Then they ran around, played on the beach, and gorged on the feast we were having. This conversation happened at about 10 o'clock at night.

The problem is that their parents do not watch their children. They view parenting as an inconvenience, and neither of them wanted to get up to put the kids to bed. The boys were exhausted! They were little!

Now that I have a baby, I often wonder if I can say, "yeah, remember that? I understand now, and I still think you were wrong." I wonder if other new parents feel the same way. There is so much in American culture geared toward parenthood being a new part of life, as if you should suddenly become a different person if you have children. You have to sell your cute car, buy a mini-van, and start wearing appliques on your clothing.

I do not buy it. Now I know that my style of parenting is vastly different from any of my own family or my husband's family. For starters, we work hard to remember that our son is a person. He is a little person, but he is a person nonetheless. He has feelings. Things hurt him. He gets hungry. He gets tired of being cooped up in the car seat on long trips. There are many things about being a baby that are not so easy. We try to remember that.

We also realize that we can maintain our own identities and ideas and still take responsibility for our son. In another memorable moment, I was making fun of a woman arguing with her son in a store. The funny part was not the argument but that the child's logic was more sound than the mother's logic. My mother-in-law said that you have to have children to understand that you can lose your mind. You do things that are completely illogical and then defend them.

Perhaps having a baby is not a big enough dose of parenting to understand, but I cannot imagine continuing to defend an indefensible position just to prove to my child that I am right. I do not need to show that I am all-powerful or that I can win arguments with my five-year-old. Now I want to say to my mother-in-law that I still cannot imagine being crazy and continuing on an illogical path just for the sake of continuing.

I want to tell so many people who have said that when I have a baby I will understand that I still do not. I still have different thoughts and ideas, and I believe that my baby will be better off for it. He will know that his mom and dad try to be sensible and that we are big enough people to recognize and admit when we have made decisions that were not so sound.

Am I alone among new parents?

By Julia Mercer

When Baby Is A Surprise

Most articles, including my own, out there about expecting a baby, are about babies that are planned. At the very least the articles are focused toward parents who are together and stable and can make plenty of room for baby without much hassle. What do you do, however, if baby is a surprise? How do you prepare yourself and others?

Well, first you need to tell the baby's father and the people closest to you. If you are scared to tell your parents, then try taking a friend with you or telling them in a public place. If you take them to a restaurant to tell them, then you can be fairly certain unless they have absolutely no decorum that they will not yell and scream.

In reality, few people really hold the baby's beginnings against him or her after birth. Keep that in mind. Your parents eventually will be very happy for you. The key for you is getting through telling them and their initial shock without a huge scene. That is why the restaurant idea is an excellent one.

If you are past the point of caring what your parents think of your life, then just call them up and tell them. Tell them that you are happy.

Speaking of being happy, you need to try to put on a happy face when you can. First, your baby feeds off your emotions, even very early in the womb. There are numerous studies to suggest that a baby born to a depressed Mommy is more likely to suffer from depression. If you find that you are in this situation, then you want to try to be happy about the baby. Imagine the fun you will have and the great memories that lie ahead for you and your baby.

Second, you want to convince others that you can handle it. Seeming happy and being open about the baby are the best ways to approach this situation. I once worked with a woman who was completely unattached and had a baby. She never tried to hide it. She was very happy from the beginning although she was honest about the baby being unplanned. The funny thing is that no one ever questioned the circumstances or even asked if we missed that she was dating someone. Everyone was happy for her. You need that kind of happiness and support around you at this time.

There likely will be some awkward moments coming up for you when you will get those "you have a boyfriend" question. Come up with a standard response and toss it out to anyone who asks questions. Know how much you want to reveal and what you want to say. If you are in a committed relationship, you can tell that asker that no, you are not married, but you and your partner are ecstatic about the baby. If dad is a little more of a ghost, then say no, that you will be a proud single mom.

Be sure that you begin to prepare for your baby. A new baby is a big burden for anyone because you will find that you move more slowly. Getting work done is tough when you have a baby who needs your almost constant love and attention. Having a baby and being a single momma is tougher still. That means that you will need to get as much done as you can before the baby is born.

You cannot paint or lift heavy furniture, so enlist the help of friends. They will be happy to come over and help you get the nursery together. Also prepare bottles and formula or a breast pump, baby clothing, and other baby care items now. Make sure that you get started on the paperwork to get your maternity leave in place. Also shop for maternity clothes! The ones on clearance now are the ones you will need when you are much farther along. You will get a much better deal if you buy the clothes now. While it may seem like overkill to worry so much now, the time will fly by. Soon it will be you and your baby, and you will want to be prepared for that day.

By Julia Mercer

Saving Money With Baby

Money is a big concern for many families, especially if baby is a surprise. If you are finding that having a baby has you worried about your finances, take these money-saving tips under advisement. Keep in mind that many times you will be changing convenience for money, so beware that many of these tips will cost more in time.

First, you should breastfeed if possible. Breastfeeding obviously costs less in the long run, but you will need a good pump before you get started. Breastfeeding is probably the second best source of saving money on your baby.

The best way to save money for your baby is by using cloth diapers. If you are going cloth, you will need to invest in quality diapers as well as diaper pins, plastic underpants, and other accessories. Be assured that your investment in these items now will save you a ton of money over the course of time. If you are queasy about using cloth diapers in public, then you do not have to. You can use them only at home although you should beware that it can be a little difficult on some sensitive bottoms. Still the more you use cloth diapers, the more money you will save.

Watch for sales now. Beware of buying full outfits early. You have no idea how quickly baby will grow. Some items, however, such as onesies, you can purchase in bulk when you find a good deal. You can use them anytime of the year, so you will not need to be afraid that you will waste money by purchasing them in the wrong sizes. Also be sure that you shop at yard sales and consignment shops. Many people get rid of all of their baby clothes, and you will find them for pennies on the dollar compared to what the original parents paid. Because babies grow so quickly, you will find that many of the outfits may never have been worn.

Sign up for coupons. I normally do not suggest that people sign up for coupons. The general rule for adult products is that coupons are available only on processed foods, which are not good for you anyway. On baby products, however, it is worth it if you will ever buy formula. You may even be able to get full-size samples if you go to the formula, diaper, wipe, and baby food websites and sign up for coupons. Also ask at your doctor's office. Many of them receive more samples than they can use on newborns, so you can get some great samples there.

I make these next two suggestions with caution. I do not endorse either of them because they go far beyond what I consider valuable money-saving advice. Still, many people, including my own mother-in-law, believe that these are money-saving tips that you should take into account.

One option is to make your own baby food. Okay, I am not opposed to making my own baby food. Once my son reached older babyhood, we began grinding up his food so that he could get a taste of what Mom and Dad were having. That part works for me. Some really handy moms will try to grind up the food to last for days. For example, if you are having sweet potatoes, you can make two or three for the baby. Mash them and put them in ice cube trays. When they freeze, you can pop them out and store them in sandwich bags or simply build up a stock of ice trays to use.

The second idea is to forego baby wipes. You can either wipe baby's little bottom with paper towels (which is really impossible to do well) or make your own baby wipes. You will make the solution and store it so that you can wipe a paper towel in it for a home-made wipe. To make the solution, mix two cups of water with 1/2 cup each of baby oil and baby shampoo.

These money-saving tips are the "biggies" when it comes to raising baby. There are other ways to save money that are simpler. Some of them take little work on the part of Mom and Dad. If you are really going to save, though, you should put some or all of these tips into action.

By Julia Mercer

New Year's Celebrations with Baby

So, it is your first New Year's celebration with baby? You probably have one of two plans in mind. Either you are hiring a babysitter and heading out or you are staying in for a boring night with the baby and your partner. Well, it does not have to be that way!

You can have a wonderful evening with your baby still around. If you are like me, then you are at least sentimental about the first year of holidays with your little one. While you know that he or she will not be able to celebrate the holiday, you still will find that you want to spend it with your wee one. Here are a few ways that you can spend the new year with your baby and not feel like a curmudgeon.

One option is to plan to spend it with other couples with children. If you have friends with little ones, then you can ask them over. If there are five or fewer children, you can toss them in the living room with some toys while the adults entertain themselves. Try getting wine and a few small appetizers for the adults at the party. Be sure that you break out baby's best toys to entertain the other children and get some quiet activities, such as coloring books for any older children.

If you will have older children, get some blankets and pillows in case they want to stay up until midnight. Your baby will not be able to stay up so be sure that you will be able to steal away from the party for long enough to put him or her to sleep. Also plan for white noise, such as a box fan, so that your baby will not be bothered by the noise of everyone at the party.

If you have a larger number of friends or a bigger group of kids, then you can consider asking a neighborhood teen to watch the children. That way you and the parents can have a great time together without worrying about the children. You can make this shindig inexpensive by asking the other parents to bring something. You are not looking for anything elaborate because you will be taking bites of food in between running after children and comforting crying babies. Instead ask them to bring veggies and dip, chips, or pre-made shrimp cocktails.

Another option is to spend the night alone with baby. If you do not have any friends with small children, then this option may be a better one for you. You and your partner should have a normal dinner and treat baby like everything is grand. Okay, maybe you turn on the tube for a little of the early parties that will be showing and you sing a rousing chorus of "Auld Sang Lyne" with your baby.

Then once the little one is all tucked in, you and your partner can break out the big guns. You can turn on the television to watch Times Squares, put on music, or do whatever makes you feel great heading into the new year, even if it is just cuddling on the couch and talking about the past year in your lives.

You should, however, plan a mini-celebration. You should have a bottle of wine, some good cheese and bread, and sit down to have the food. You can even make a small vegetable tray or have some chips and dip (great if you are celebrating football bowls on New Year's Day). Make it a night for the two of you to remember. Then once you go to bed, you can feel that you had fun, got to kiss and snuggle with your honey on New Year's Eve, and still remember that you are parents.

The key is to have fun this New Year's Eve if you have a baby or if you are expecting a baby. There is no need to go out. You can pick up some confetti and have a big smooch when the ball drops without all the hoopla of ridiculous lines, cover charges, and overpriced beer. Feel free to celebrate, though. Having a baby does not mean your days of fun are over, just that they have changed focus a bit.

By Julia Mercer

First Christmas With Baby

Well, we have finally made it through our first Christmas with our baby. We had Christmas celebrations from the weekend before Christmas until Monday night. It was not until my son's fourth or fifth Christmas celebration that he began to be at all interested in the whole process. I am hoping that next year proves a little more exciting, but I did learn a lot in case I have more babies in the future.

My in-laws brought Christmas dinner to our house on the 17th. We have spent the last few Christmases with them, so they were a little upset that we were not going to be there. Since we could not make it this year, they decided that they would come up with spiral ham, scalloped potatoes, and green bean salad. We ate and enjoyed the time with them. They brought our son a gift, but it was not wrapped. He played under our feet while we ate and snatched bites of food from our mouths.

My husband and I staged our family Christmas on the 21st. We decided to start a new tradition and have a seafood Christmas. The only problem is that we got everything going and then snacked on some pieces of crab dipped in butter. Our son ate some cereal while we ate, but he was so tired (no nap!) that he fell asleep in his chair. When my husband tried to film him for posterity, he woke up. We quickly opened gifts, but he was completely disinterested! He did not even like to rip the paper.

Our next Christmases were with my step-father's family and then with my mom and step-dad alone. My son enjoyed the first because he had a little friend - a cousin who is two years old. My son is an only child and does not go to daycare, so he does not have a lot of interaction with any other children. He enjoyed chasing his big cousin around. She is an only child, too, and was not happy to have an 11-month-old chasing her down.

Christmas with my parents was a bit easier. There were fewer people - only my parents, myself, my husband, my son, and my brother and sister. My son was able to play with each of his toys. I have decided that in the future with him, or in the future with other babies, I will try to take the gifts out of the original box and wrap it in another box. The baby toys are enclosed so tightly and have so much to remove before he can play that my son gets bored before you can get the present out of the box.

When we had Christmas at my grandparents' house, my son finally really started to get the hang of it. First, there are five children and 12 grandchildren as well as some other assorted people and spouses. So we are talking about 30 plus people. When everyone started opening, my son went wild. He was screaming, but my husband and I were the only ones who could understand him over the roar of everyone. He did begin opening my cousin's gifts. Fortunately, she did not mind. He tore into all of the boxes, pulling everything from them and moving on. By the end, he had made a path to the other side of the room. The lesson learned there was that I needed to pack more in his boxes. I held off on tissue paper and gift bags because I thought that he would not appreciate them. Seeing my son with the gifts made me see that he was excited about the tissue paper because it crinkles, so I will use it in the future.

My son's final Christmas was with my father's family on the day after Christmas. The lesson there was to learn the schedule before going. We went at 5:00, which was the we were given. By the time we opened gifts at 8:00, my son was ready to go. He had a long time to play and get acquainted, and he was not prepared for the gift-giving. It was too much. My son's Christmas was wonderful but exhausting. He crashed before we even left the driveway.

By Julia Mercer

New Year's Resolutions For Mommies and Daddies

This year, think about yourself and your baby when you start making your New Year's Resolutions. If you are like most people, you will make the resolutions and then drop them quickly. Most people fail to carry out their resolutions through the end of January. There are a few tips that can help you, however.

First, accept that you are not going to be perfect. You cannot be a perfect partner, employee, or parent, so stop trying! Instead endeavor to be the best you can. Do not allow yourself to make resolutions that you cannot keep simply because you set your standards unreasonably high.

That said, be sure that your resolutions are concrete. For example, do not just say that you would like to spend more quality time with your baby. Instead, make it specific. You would like to engage in at least one new activity with baby every week. You can say that you would like to read two books to your baby everyday or that you would like to keep up with baby's laundry by doing it three days a week. Be very concrete. While you may have a larger goal in mind, such as that you would like to expose baby to more variety in music, make the actual goal smaller and specific so that you will be able to measure your success.

Put your goals into action quickly. While you are thinking about the plans for exposing one new type of music to baby weekly, start your research. See what the library has. Visit an independent music store. Look online for different types of music. Begin making a list of the ideas you have for new activities, whether it is introducing your baby to finger painting or building a sand castle at the park. Remember not to limit yourself because of baby's abilities. Babies learn and develop so quickly that something that seems impossible for baby this month may not be next month. Plus, you are making resolutions to change your life, so you will find some time to do the activity.

Do not be too hard on yourself, especially if baby is still on the way. You will find that your baby will slow you down. It take many moms and dads a while to adjust themselves to baby time, where a quick trip for a bite to eat can be an ordeal. If you have been good at reaching your goals in the past, just keep in mind that you will need to lower the bar a bit with baby.

Avoid making goals for the entire family. This tip applies especially to women. Too many of the women I know decide what is important for them and then try to convince everyone else in the family to join in. So while your goal may be to plant a garden or redecorate the family room, or your resolution may be to stop drinking soft drinks, be careful not to force those ideas onto everyone else. Let your family members decide for themselves what their goals will be.

Finally, be sure that you have a way to track your goals. This system can be as complex or as simple as you would like. You can keep it by percentage. For example, if your goal is to complete a first draft of a novel, and you know that the average novel is 80,000 to 100,000 words long, then use 100,000 for your benchmark. Keep a log weekly. If you have completed 18,000 words, then you are 18 percent of the way to your goal. Another idea is to post your goals and mark them off as you complete them. You also can create a notebook to keep track of how you are doing. While the annual goal may be to sell your products at 12 craft shows, you will need to know what you have to do in January, February, March, etc. Create a notebook that will help you keep track.

Also keep in mind that you do not have to make resolutions only at the new year. If you fall off the horse and then get motivated in mid-March, go for it then. The most important point is to make sure that you are setting realistic goals and that you are happy with the progress you are making.

By Julia Mercer

MLK Day And Your Baby

Martin Luther King Day is probably one of the least appreciated holidays celebrated in the United States. Many people still feel resentment about the holiday. Some people feel that more radical leaders, such as Malcolm X, should have been honored, while other people believe that no one from the civil rights movement should be remembered with a national holiday.

Those sentiments really are shameful because they only serve to bring down the holiday. As a white American, I am ashamed that more white people do not celebrate the holiday since all Americans benefited from the work that civil rights workers did. As for King himself, I understand exactly why there is resentment about his name being attached to the holiday, but I think of it more as a general celebration of the works of generations of civil rights workers.

With that said, this year will be my first full day with a baby on Martin Luther King Day. I say first full day because my son was born on MLK Day in 2005. Having a baby on MLK Day makes me rethink the actions that my husband and I have taken on the past. Doing so led me to come up with a few ideas for you to celebrate MLK Day with your baby.

First, you can go to a parade. This action is the least active you can be, but with a little baby, sometimes that is enough. Even a baby of six months will be able to appreciate the sights and sounds of the parade. Do not be surprised, however, if the excitement puts baby to sleep. Babies tend to crash when they are over-stimulated, and a parade may be just the place. If you do attend a parade, be sure to get there early and not to stand too close. The noise of the crowd may be too much for your baby.

Another option is to check out the local bookstores. Your best bet is to pick bookstores that are independent or that have specific feminist or African American themes. Call ahead to see what they are doing. Even medium-sized bookstores will tend to have events available, and some of them may be geared toward small children. Also try your local library. Remember that while your baby may not be able to participate in the events, just taking him for exposure at this early age will start a lifetime of learning.

Try using the day to support charity. Many National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapters offer activities throughout the day, such as neighborhood clean-ups. You can take even a baby to these events. While you may not get as much done as other volunteers, you will be teaching your child that you help the community and the value of working together.

With little babies, you may want to work on an individual type of charity. Take some time to take food to the local food pantry or donate old clothing. These types of charity are lessons you can teach your child by following your example.

If you are looking for something quieter, then you may want to try educational activities at home. You can find a children's book that honors the holiday and read it to your baby. Try crafts that you can associate with the holiday. Get a picture book. Talk to your baby about how important it is to have equality. Set the foundation now for teaching your child about the history of our nation.

Regardless of how you celebrate Martin Luther King Day with your baby, try to use it as a time to teach your child. Just as you begin teaching baby about Christmas or Hanukah or Ramadan, use this time to teach your little one about the nation's history and the struggles that have brought us to our current state. If you are creative, you can work your baby into any celebration that you have. You will need to keep baby's limitations, such as attention span and feeding and napping needs, into account, but otherwise you can plan to honor Martin Luther King with your baby. And if you have never celebrated yourself, let this year be your time to begin!

By Julia Mercer

Negotiating Raising Baby

When most people think of their children, they think of the baby and toddling years as fun and wonderful and maybe a little hectic. The problems seem not to be there until the teen years in our minds, but once baby gets here, you will realize that you will be fighting battles on how baby is raised from the very moment of baby's birth.

Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who gets along with his or her parents and in-laws. Everyone is on the same page about baby and how to raise the most wonderful little person. It is likely, however, that you are not in this situation. I certainly am not. While I love my family very much, they are intent on creating a "boy's boy" who will be rough and tough and plays only with Tonka trucks and Hot Wheels. My in-laws are the same. What is worse is that my son received no fewer than three John Deere gifts for Christmas.

Now, I have nothing against the tractor company. I grew up in a farming family, so it is only natural that my son is lavished with farm-oriented gifts. And I am moderately grateful that a woman figure sits atop the bulldozer that my mom purchased for my son.

It is just that my husband and I feel so strongly about raising a gender-neutral boy. While my family did not cringe when I mentioned that my son likes dolls and wanted one, my mother-in-law rolled her eyes. How do you deal with these types of family conflicts with your baby?

Well, for me, the first answer is to decide how much conflict you want. If it is something that is a major issue for you, then it is worth it to speak up. Other situations are tolerable. My mother, for example, believes in hovering over my son far more than I do. While it means a few bumps and bruises, they are worth it for the teaching it does. But while I am at my parents' house, I will let them hover if they want to. It just is not that big of a deal.

If you are dealing with family conflicts that are more serious, such as racist or homophobic remarks within earshot of your child, then it is best to approach it gently. While it may make your blood boil and your internal reaction may be to scream, "what is wrong with you?" it is best to avoid that confrontation. Try simply saying, "we don't believe that" or directing a message to your child to let her know that you disagree.

Another option is to use the diffuse with laughter theory of conflict. While it is more passive aggressive, it can work because family confrontations are difficult. Try saying, "oh, you know that is wrong" with a smile or making a joke directed to let the offending party know that you are not amused.

If the problem persists, then you should ask your aunt, uncle, grandpa or whomever to watch the remarks or actions around your child. It is unlikely that you will change that person's views, so do not attempt it. Instead just explain that you would appreciate not having to explain why you disagree to your child every time you visit, so could he please reserve those comments when you are around.

Finally, you will need to talk to your child. Even a baby can understand, "no." Older babies begin to have a sense that Mommy is unhappy. You can help out by explaining when you leave that Uncle Jim was being racist and that you do not appreciate his humor. Just be sure that you back up your comments by exposing your baby to a diverse culture or people, books, and toys.

While it may seem silly to everyone else that you are worried about these problems with a baby, you need to stand firm now. It will be much more difficult with a child of even three or four if you have not told everyone, including your little one, how you feel right now. Also know that your comments could cause problems in the family, but remind yourself (often, if necessary) that the price of your baby's values and beliefs are worth some discomfort on your part.

By Julia Mercer

What Will The First Year Bring?

First-year milestones are many, even when parents think that it will take a long time for baby to grow up. While it may seem as if it will be forever before your baby learned to roll over, walk, and talk, he or she will be doing those things and more before you know it. You may find, like many parents, that you are sad at the same time you are excited about the experiences and the wonder with which your baby experiences the world. Here are only a sampling of the magic moments you can expect to have with your baby.

When your baby lets loose her first smile at about two months of age, you will find yourself ridiculously excited. Yes, there will still be those spoil-sport grandmas who will tell you it is just gas, but you will know the truth. Your baby is happy! He can smile at his Mommy and Daddy, who he is kind of beginning to recognize only because they are around so much. Your baby will be able to smile when he or she has developed two important skills: muscle control in the face and social interpretation. Within a few weeks, your baby will realize that smiling is a great way to get attention from others, so he or she will begin doing it more often.

Walking is one of the last feats your baby will conquer. In fact, some babies may not conquer it at all as some children do not walk until 18 months of age. Most babies begin around a year, however, and they start trying by about nine months. Walking, more than any other developmental trait, requires significant coordination. When you are crawling, your center of gravity is three or four inches from the ground. When you are walking, however, your center of gravity is in your torso, which is a good 15 inches from the ground even for short little guys. Walking also requires a balance and ability to maneuver based on your situation, such as a cat running in front of you or a misstep, that other forms of development do not require. You will be jumping for joy when your baby starts walking, but get ready. You will be chasing her around soon!

Standing up comes before walking and even crawling for most babies – if your baby even crawls. Some babies pull up later, so they skip the crawling. If your baby is like my son, however, he will be able to pull himself to standing several months before his little legs have the strength to hold his whole body. My son pulled to standing early, at five months and was standing alone by six months, which I firmly believe is because he spent so much time trying to determine how to chase down the cats. Still, most babies pull to standing between six and eleven months. This milestone, more than walking even, says, "hey, I'm not going to be a baby much longer."

Once your baby hits three or four months, you can prop her up by using pillows behind her back. By six or seven months, however, she should have worked on assisted sitting long enough to have developed the neck and stomach muscles to sit alone. The stomach muscles are very important. If you look at your baby's abdomen by nine months, you will be jealous! The baby six-pack is necessary for him to sit alone. After a few weeks, he will learn how to move around a bit more and control himself while sitting up.

These baby milestones are just a few of the ones you will experience with your baby. You will find that your little one learns so quickly you may be envious. Remember that everyday is a new one for babies, and they are constantly learning. Try working with them to help them get an idea of what standing or sitting up is like. Just do not push them. Babies know what is best for them and what their bodies can do. Pushing them to stand, for example, can hurt their legs. Instead, be patient because the baby days will not last. Just because walking seems obvious to you does not mean that baby will catch on that quickly!

By Julia Mercer

Splish-Splash Baby's First Bath

When you think your baby is ready to move from the baby tub to the big people bathing area, you are probably still nervous. Try to make the transition smoothly, though, and baby will be splashing and playing with ducky in no time at all. First, be sure that your child can sit up alone and hold his head up without any assistance. Otherwise, the bath will be uncomfortable as you will have to hold baby and his head up while washing him.

Next, you need to be sure that your bathtub area is suitable for a baby's bath. If you have a particularly slippery tub, you want to be sure that you put down something with a grain, such as those bath mats in the shape of feet. Babies are ridiculously slippery, as you have probably already found out, and they need something to keep their little bottoms still. You also should check to be sure there is some type of handrail or something you can grab in case of an imminent fall.

The faucet is the first possible source of danger in a bathtub. Be sure that you turn the cold on first and off last. That will prevent dripping hot water that baby may get to. If she does get to the water, she will not burn herself if you have turned the cold off last. Also try to keep baby at the opposite end of the bathtub from the faucet. That will help eliminate little injuries when he or she bumps the noggin on the faucet.

Also check the water before you put baby in. Okay, here I admit that I am a bit old-fashioned. We have those little ducks with the disks on the bottom of them to let you know if the water is hot or cold. I have not used them although my son does enjoy bobbing the ducks around his bathwater. Check the water before you put the baby in. You will begin to get an idea of a good temperature, but if you miss out, baby will let you know. You will hear wailing, and baby will do everything to keep from touching the water. If that happens, it is too hot. Put some cold in and try again.

For the first few baby baths in the big tub, it helps to try to keep baby comfortable. Remember that while the tub's purpose is obvious to you, it is not to baby. Plus, it is much bigger than he is, so you need to keep that in mind. You should run the water before you bring baby in so that she is not scared or unsure of what is happening. Have everything handy that you will need as well because you do not want to have to leave baby alone. Also let the water out after baby leaves for the same reason. After a couple of baths, you can introduce the little one to the whole bathing experience a little at a time. Also try putting the baby tub into the bathtub even if baby does not sit in it. The familiarity will help the process go smoothly.

Make bathing fun but also about business. Fill the tub with only a few inches of water so that baby can splash around. Then you take a washcloth and give baby one as well. Allow him or her to wash off the toys in the tub while you wash your baby. You can sing the name of the parts or just chit-chat while your baby is in the tub. You should keep only a couple of toys in the tub. There is no need to overdo it. Baby does not need a full bathtub of toys and should not have any bubbles or coloring soaps at this point. Just keep it simple - a ducky and maybe a washcloth animal.

Making the bathing experience comforting is important. If your little one seems afraid, it may not be time yet. You can try again in a few days. Keep trying and moving the baby's bathtub closer to the tub every time. Also let him or her see your bathwater. Touch the water. Talk about it being soothing. Baby will get the picture eventually and be able to splish-splash with the best of them.

By Julia Mercer

Road To Adoption

If your family is thinking about adding a new addition, congratulations! It is a tough decision to make but one that can reward your life immeasurably. Adopting a baby is one choice for many couples, whether through necessity or desire. If you are thinking about adopting a baby, here a rough outline of what you can expect.

First, you must be in it together. You need to think, consult, pray, or use whatever you do to make tough decisions. If you will be a single parent, think about the consequences of your actions. Do you have a support system in place? If you will be making the decision as part of a couple, then be sure that both of you are on the same page.

Once you have decided to adopt a baby, your first step in the process will learning. You will need to learn about the various types of adoption, the hurdles you may face, and what will be expected of you. The decision of whether to seek a domestic or international adoption is one of the first ones you will encounter. Domestic adoptions are far less expensive. People who opt for international adoptions do so for a number of reasons. One huge reason is that they are more likely to adopt an infant as opposed to a toddler or young child. In addition, these adoptions are final, and many parents are afraid of the horror stories they have heard about domestic adoptions gone awry.

If you go with an international adoption, then you should seek out federal agencies that can help you. Many countries, like China, send so many children to loving families in the United States that their adoption process for Americans is fairly standardized and easy to navigate. Still, you should expect a minimum of 18 months before you will bring home your baby.

Going the domestic adoption route means deciding between state agencies and private agencies, or using an adoption attorney. The attorney works if you know someone who is having a baby and giving it up, such as a teen girl. The attorney can draw up papers, and you will petition the court to become the baby's parents. State agencies placed children who are in foster homes because they were neglected, abandoned, or abused. A private agency takes on responsibility for babies whose mothers have given them up. These agencies find suitable homes for the children.

After you make these decisions, you will begin the application process, which can be lengthy. In most cases, you will be required to show that you have the income to support a child and that you have a suitable home for a child. The home visits will take place over several weeks, or even months, and you will need to demonstrate your ability to care for a child. If you get frustrated during this process, then think of the smiling infant awaiting you at the end of this process.

You also may have to get referrals, especially if you go through a private agency. You will need letters from friends, family, and possibly even co-workers that attest to your ability to care for a baby that you may adopt. In addition, you will have to provide originals of your birth certificates, marriage certificate, and possibly even medical records to prove that you are in good health. Be sure that you provide extensive documentation for any medical questions or other concerns. Being thorough help here as you will be able to show that you are a fit parent.

After you make it through the application process, you will wait on your new child. The wait depends on many factors, including the children available in your area, as well as your own desires. If you want a newborn, for example, the wait will be longer. If you want a child without any physical conditions, you may be in for a longer wait. Just know that in the end, it will be worth it. Once you find out about a child that you will be able to adopt, you can begin planning for that glorious day when you will bring your child home to her or his own room and make this new addition a welcome part of your family!

By Julia Mercer

Making Mommy Hobbies Baby Hobbies, Too

Becoming a parent does not have to mean that you give up on who you are in search of being the perfect mother. In fact, many moms do just that to their own detriment - and that of their children. Instead you should try to work your old thoughts, habits, and hobbies into your children's lives. That way, they know who mom is (a really important issue for me), and all of you can have fun together.

One way to teach your children about who you are is to integrate your own hobbies and interests into your children's lives. I try to do that regularly with my infant son though he is still too young to get the lesson. My family loves football. It is an important part of family bonding time for me and my husband, and we have added our son to the mix. We make baby-friendly snacks, such as Cheerios or small, chopped apples. He gets juice during the games, and he is learning to cheer. I had hoped his first word would be "touchdown," but alas it was "da-da." I played flute as a performance musician through my college years. My music is one love I thought I would give up when my son was born because I did not see how there would be time for me to even join a community orchestra. I have discovered, however, that my son loves to listen to Mommy play. He is fascinated by the music and even is able to bang out a note or two on the piano. We bought him some wooden instruments for Christmas, and voila, my hobby becomes his, too.

Another trick is to buy your baby some of the videos and books you used as a child. If you watched Mister Rogers, you can buy a collection. You probably watched Sesame Street, and it is still on. If you do not want to introduce your baby to television, then go for books. What did you read when you were little? For example, I distinctly remember being simultaneously terrified and amazed by Where The Wild Things Are, and I was so excited not only to see it on our local bookstore's shelf but for my 11-month-old son to squeal with delight at the monsters. These nostalgic moments can help you to remind yourself that you and your baby are bonding and are creating a lifetime of memories. It can also bring back the joys of childhood to your harried adult life.

Experience something new. I have recently started experimenting with making candles. I have always had an interest in alternative remedies for our problems, and my research on true aromatherapy candles has led me to develop an interest in this hobby. While baby cannot participate in the candle-making, he can be impressed with the glow when they are made. I am developing a new hobby, and baby can occupy himself with his interest in it.

I also love to experiment in the kitchen, and I thought that, too, would be over when baby got here. Chopping veggies and cutting fresh herbs is tough with a baby underfoot, but here is where I learned a trick of the mommy trade quickly. I just keep him busy in the same vicinity. Hand him a pot and wooden spoon, and he could care less if I left for a trip to the moon. You can change things around, and your baby will play quietly, which, by the way, encourages his intellectual growth, while you are enjoying yourself, too. The same concept applies to reading. You can get a stack of old magazines at a library book sale or stock up baby's room with plenty of books. Then the two of you can read together, and you will both have a grand time.

Having a baby does not mean losing yourself in your child - or at least it should not. You are a person, too. It is okay for moms to need down time or to want to spend time entertaining themselves and remembering who they were before children. You have desires, needs, and wants, and making sure that they are met helps keep you sane during the crazy baby days and helps you be the best you can be for everyone in your life.

By Julia Mercer

Guilt-Free Mommy Time

Many new moms make the mistake of spending all of their time focusing on their babies. As the mother of an infant son, I understand that desire. You believe that he needs you to be there every minute of everyday, so you try it. I did. I would run to the bathroom in a rush before he could get around well. Now, well, I would love to go to the bathroom by myself. What I have learned over the past year, however, is that my baby needs his Mommy to be healthy, too.

Part of that Mommy healthy comes from me taking time out for myself. I believe that many women are under the impression that they have to feel guilty about spending time for themselves. I have noticed a trend, which may very well have been around for a while but outside my experiences, that many women find themselves slaves to their children instead of being the parents.

While it is a soapbox issue for me, it is the most important piece of advice that I have for the mothers of infants. Take time for yourself. There are plenty of ways you can do that, and here is a sampling.

First, you need to set aside time for yourself. There is no way around the initial guilt of this decision. If you stay at home, you have probably told yourself that you have a fairly leisurely life. You are lucky because you do not have to balance your children with a full-time career; your children are your job. If you work outside the home, you tell yourself that you do not want to spend even more time away from your children. Neither is true. You need time for yourself so that you will feel that you are living your life, instead of being a participant in your baby's life.

Once you have a schedule, stick to it. Think of it like an appointment and make sure that you keep it. If you are tempted to get together with the American Cancer Society fundraising team during your me-time, do not give in! This time has to be yours, and everything else has to come second. If you begin to give it away, you will never stop.

You can make things that you love part of the family's life, too. When my husband and I lived in the city, we shopped at a wonderful outdoor market, and I always loved seeing people bring their babies and small children there. They could experience art, music, and culture all in one place while Mom and Dad took care of grocery shopping.

Also, try making your hobby something your baby can enjoy, even if it means stretching your imagination. If you love the theater, for example, make some sock puppets. Babies as young as six months can watch you give performances. While they will not be Shakespeare (although they could be), you and your baby will have fun together. If you play guitar, play for your children. That way you are nourishing your soul while you are giving your baby something to enjoy, too.

Indulge yourself with some down time. Buy a couple of movies or CDs you love and keep them around. When you have had a bad day or the baby has exhausted you, relax. Sit back with a good glass of wine and listen to some music or watch a movie. Read a novel. Do not feel that you cannot have down time or that you must schedule every minute. Give yourself the time to rejuvenate.

Life is not worth living if you have no fun. Do you remember Susan Sarandon's character's breakdown in The Banger Sisters? She lost herself in taking care of her husband, her daughters, and their dog. You will lose yourself, too, unless you take control of your life now. Do not let anyone, from your parents to your husband, make you feel even remotely guilty for needing time for yourself. Good moms know that sometimes they cannot handle their children, and they make their lives work with that in mind. There is no need to be a super woman; just be the woman you already are.

By Julia Mercer

Borrowing Baby Items

One of the first lessons you learn as a parent-to-be is that it is expensive to have children! You have not even gotten to paying for college, sending them to summer camp, or buying a car, and already you feel as if you are broke from this baby. One way to get around this dilemma is to borrow some old baby things. You probably know a couple of people who have had babies recently or know of a relative who never got rid of her baby's clothes. Borrowing is a good way to save on the expense, but keep these etiquette tips in mind.

First, you can ask someone to have her old baby clothes and toys, but be sure that you fit one of these categories. You can ask close friends and family members really easily. Just call up and ask if they have any of Katelyn's baby things that they do not mind if you use. Explain that you will take good care of them and then give them back. If you want to know about the woman in the playgroup whose son has the cutest clothes but do not know her well enough, bring it up in casual conversation. Ask what she will be doing with Shane's things now that he is getting bigger. She may be perfectly willing to let you borrow them, or even to give you some of his things, but did not know how to approach it with you. Keep the tone casual, and you could walk away with some nice baby items without spending anything from your dwindling bank account.

If you do borrow, be sure to take extra special care of everything. Some clothing items will get ruined; it is just part of having a baby. Most people do not want clothes back, however. They are small and inexpensive, and unless Mom finds out that she is having an unexpected addition, she probably will have no problem with you keeping the clothes. Still, be sure that you verify before you borrow so that there are no problems later and ask her if she would like to keep a few pieces for mementos. You do not want her to give you items that have sentimental value. Give them back now. On the other hand, items such as strollers or cribs are larger and more expensive. Mom probably expects that either you give them back so that she can use it or pass it around again or that you pass it on when you are done so that more moms can get good use out of it.

Shoes and undies are two items you should not take. Chances are that you will use disposable diapers, so the underwear will not be an issue. Do not take cloth diapers, however. They are pricey if you buy good ones, but your child needs his or her own. As your baby gets older, avoid taking underwear from other moms who are getting rid of it. Your child also will need his or her own shoes. These items are rife for bacterial growth and also tend to warp to the shape of the person's foot who is wearing them. Your child could end up with uncomfortable feet if you give her old shoes.

All of these suggestions are great, but what if someone offers something you do not want? You can make an excuse, such as, "oh, I already have a mobile." Thank the person for her generosity and move the conversation along. If you are turning it down because you really have it already and not because you think it is atrocious, then you can try to suggest someone else who may want it.

Remember that other moms, no matter how affluent they appear, are just as strapped for cash as you are. At the very least, they understand the expense of outfitting the first baby, and the community of motherhood makes those other moms perfectly willing to help you out. You will that having a baby puts you in connection with other women who would not have been part of your circle before children. The children, however, give you something incredible in common. After all, you are all in this motherhood gig together!

By Julia Mercer

Baby Identity Theft

Identity theft is a growing concern in the United States. It happens everyday to hundreds of people. Some of the numbers are a little inflated. They include, for example, an angry wife who takes her husband's credit card and racks up debt, or a teen who swipes Mom's checkbook for a night out. Those types of inflations leave some people unconcerned. You should not be, however, as babies and small children are among the identify theft victims in more heinous situations.

Why are babies potential identity theft victims? Well, the sad truth is that few people check their children's credit. Your baby will not be buying a car anytime soon, and he probably will not apply for a mortgage either. That means that identify thieves could have years to rack up debt without anyone ever knowing. By the time you do find out, because your child becomes a grown-up with credit problems or because you get a call from the police about debts, it will take hundreds of hours to correct the problem. If it sounds scary, then listen up. There are some ways you can learn to protect your baby from having her identity swiped.

First, do not keep your child's social security card with you. There are only a limited number of places that are actually legally required to use the SSN. If you get stuck without the card, most places can work you in anyway and cannot require you to give the number out anyway. Keeping the card in your wallet is a great way to invite identity theft. If your wallet is lost or stolen with the card in it, then you definitely need to be on the lookout for identity theft.

Do not give out the number freely. If the little league want your child's social security number, do not give it to them. They do not need and cannot ask for it, though it works like a search warrant. You can volunteer the information and make it legal. If they hound you, know your rights. Also ask them why they would need it and what measures they will take to keep it from being stolen. Most recreation departments have teenaged staff members and really do not have good systems in place. The same applies for doctor's offices and daycare centers. Push them to give a legitimate reason for needing the number. Then refuse anyway. Giving out the number only allows for more opportunities for it to be stolen.

Beyond the social security number, be careful about giving out a lot of personal information. Companies, even summer camps or baby class centers, will sell their mailing lists to marketers. Identify thieves use this information to get duplicate cards and use your child's identity. You should always request in writing that your name not be sold on any mailing list.

Pull your child's credit report annually. You should pull your own report as well to see if everything is correct with your credit. Just add baby's social security number to the list. You need to spot suspicious behavior as soon as possible so that you can make sure that you get to it before it becomes a major problem.

If your child gets mail, check it out. Any mail from collection agencies and the like should be handled immediately. Other possibilities are credit card offers, parking tickets, and government letters. Be sure that you contact the agency immediately and that your child is a minor. Call the credit company and ask where they got the name. If they bought it from a mailing list, see if you can find out who. You also will need to contact the police regarding the issue. Document every telephone call and send certified letters to every company sending your child information to alert them of the problem.

Identity theft is a serious problem. Be sure that you are on the lookout to protect your child. The process to halt identity theft and clear up your child's credit is long and arduous. Being on guard and ever vigilant is important to keeping your baby safe. Do what you can to stop it now and be on the lookout for any problems as soon as they arise.

By Julia Mercer

Babies And Your To Do List

You thought your life was busy before you had a baby, but just wait! There is more coming to fill up your already-crowded to-do list. Many moms find that motherhood makes them start to question themselves and how much they get done everyday. Here are a few ways that you can keep your life together and fight those feelings.

Cleaning will become a never-ending chore once you have a baby. Many new moms start to feel as if all they do is clean. Especially when baby starts crawling, it can seem that as soon as you get something picked up, baby is at it again. Some moms learn to tell themselves that a clean house is not all that important. Other moms, however, have a harder time just surviving for 18 years with a dirty house. Instead they try to control the cleaning. The best option when you have a baby is to set up a couple of baby stations around your house. Put them in the areas you will use most often, such as the nursery and the living room. keep all of the items you need to change baby's diapers and have a pail there as well. That keeps baby's mess at bay.

Then you should clean up only once a day. Run through your house and pick up after baby is in bed, for example. If you are tired or pressed for time, try getting an egg timer. Give yourself five minutes per room. You will be surprised at what you can do when you are being timed. Then assign big chores a day. You likely cannot clean the bathroom everyday (and who would want to?). Instead pick a day and clean the bathroom that day. If you do that with all of your chores, then you will find that baby's naptime is a good time to get all of the day's work done.

Another trick you can use is to convince yourself that you are getting work done. Many moms have to-do lists, but they do not have accomplishment lists. If you begin to feel overwhelmed by yours schedule with a new baby, then you should begin to keep track of what all you are doing. Write down the trip to the grocery, the feedings, the diapers, and the spot cleaning you had to do. It will help you to feel better to look back over the day or week and know that you did, in fact, get some things done.

Another option is to have some rules that you will not break. For example, you can set the breakfast menu or the day for laundry. Do not allow anything else to overcome that plan, from a screaming toddler wanting cereal on scrambled egg day to a last-minute meeting for the PTO. Be firm. Babies need structure, and quite frankly, it helps their moms, too. While flexibility is key with little ones, it is also important to have something foundational to keep yourself on track.

Take care of yourself! You have heard it before, but the problem is you did not listen. You need time for yourself. Virginia Woolf talks about a mother who always sacrificed and in the end was sad because no one even noticed. Many moms put themselves in this situation. They also go without, avoid their exercise time, and put everyone else first. It is not selfish to take time to care for yourself! You need it. Moms of old did not have spa days, but they also tossed their kids out in the neighborhood to play - giving mom some downtime. You need it scheduled into your day. Then anytime you start to feel stressed, you should take some time for yourself.

Also do not be afraid to move more slowly. Do not put as much on your daily list as you would have done before your baby arrived. Remember that not only do you feel tired, you will have to get the baby ready and take care of his or her needs before you start a task. That can be daunting, so your best bet is to slow down. Enjoy your children and your life. That is more important than finishing off your list!

By Julia Mercer