Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Questions To Ask Your Nanny

If you are planning to get a nanny for your baby, you should be sure that you are asking the right questions during your search for the right person. Unlike hiring a babysitter, the nanny will play a significant role in your family's life, so you need to be sure that the person you are hiring shares your values.

Be sure that you have a thorough background check done on anyone who makes it to your final cut. One way to avoid the legwork on this yourself is to go through an agency. If you do that, make sure you get a few referrals from satisfied customers and that you check out the agency to see what their record is. Be sure that they are a legitimate business, for example. Ask them what information they check on the nannies they hire out. If you do not have the benefit of an agency, then you will need to do the work yourself. Ask the person you are interviewing for every place where she has lived for the past five years. Check out the police records for those areas. Ask for references from co-workers as well as other parents.

You will need to ask nanny candidates some basic questions about childcare. Find out if he or she knows what to do when a child is choking. Ask about potential meals for children of various ages. Be sure that the person you are hiring knows CPR and other basic first-aid. (When you hire someone, you should pay for that person to go to a refresher course.)

Then you will need to get down to the tougher questions. Think about your children. You will be trusting this person with your children for a great number of hours. You will need to find out what the person will do in various situations. If your child is prone to refusing to eat, find out what the nanny would do to get them to eat or whether or not she would leave the decision to the child. There is no universal right or wrong here; the nanny should do whatever you think is best.

Be sure that you cover discipline. It was not so long ago (and still exists in some families) when babysitters and nannies were allowed to spank children. Most parents today would find that abhorrent, but you need to be sure that you go over the appropriate discipline for your children, asking the nanny what she would do in certain situations.

Then you should discuss any other topics that are important to you. A friend of mine is a devout Catholic. Her Jamaican nanny started explaining voo-doo to my friend's children and telling them that it was an acceptable religious practice. While adults can debate the merits of the nanny's points, the children do not understand the complexities of religious discussion. The nanny refused to stop sharing her religion with the children, so she was fired. If you have similar proclivities about religion, culture, or politics, be sure that you get those issues out in the open with the children.

Also ask the nanny candidates what they believe is their role in the overall household. That answer, of course, varies with what you want. Perhaps you are looking for someone who will take of the children only. Perhaps you are looking for someone who will do laundry as well. Be clear about your expectations and ask the nanny candidates that they be clear about whether or not they can handle the duties.

In addition to these sensitive topics, try to get a feel for how the nanny would expect to spend the day with the children. Ask him or her for what a typical day may look like with your little ones. Ask the candidates to share with you a few ideas that they have about activities they could do with the children.

If you have enough time, you should have the nanny candidates come in and meet with the children. Sometimes a person may be a perfectly acceptable nanny but will not be able to mesh with the children. Of course, if you have a baby, that may be more difficult, but you should watch the nanny. Does she feel comfortable with the baby? Is he nervous? Watch for signs and trust your instincts.

By Julia Mercer

Avoiding the Bottomless Mommy Purse

Many women have purses much like the bottomless bag we saw Mary Poppins bring out when we were children. The purse seems to have no end and anything imaginable is likely to be found in it. For years, I refused to carry a purse because of years of watching and waiting while my mother scrounged for her checkbook or the keys she had dropped in absentmindedly when we were headed into the store. I opted for one of those wallets on a chain. After all, I had only my driver's license, insurance card, and debit card. What else did I need?

Well, then I became a mother. I realized that every trip to the store could mean that I would need a diaper, wipes, and a bib. For the first few months, I just used the handy new diaper bag we bought, which my mother-in-law insisted looked as if it belong to people who wanted to pretend they did not have children, for my things also. I tossed in the checkbook and my other belonging along with my baby supplies. Then it became a hassle. My son was an older baby and needed toys to occupy him. I started to have to scrounge in his bag for everything I needed. So I relented and got a purse.

Now that I am an official grown-up and a mom, I have returned to using a pure but with organization. A purse really only needs a few essentials to be effective, and although it may be tempting to carry everything with you, a mom's purse does not have to be the dumping ground for everything the baby could need. First, any purse needs a sturdy wallet. The wallet should be long enough to include a checkbook and pen as well as all forms of identification and cash that you will keep in your purse. Having all of that in one place will help you find it at a moment's notice.

You also should include a small notebook in your purse. It is always when you are standing in line at the grocery store that you think of the perfect gift for Cousin Emily, but you cannot remember it when you get home. Having a little notebook in the purse will give you a place to jot these notes to help you keep the rest of your life organized. Along with this notebook, put in a small calculator. It should not be anything fancy; even an arithmetic calculator will do. You just need something to add up what you are buying, determine a sale price, or keep little fingers busy while waiting.

Next you should have the basics for runny noses and such. Keep a purse-sized pack of tissues as well as a packet or two of headache medicine and sanitary products. You do not want to need any of these items and be caught without them, and they can most likely rest in an inner pocket. Keep these items in your purse instead of in the diaper bag. First they will be easier to find. Second you could let your baby go into the diaper bag, and he or she could end up with the Tylenol if you forget that it is in the diaper bag. Keeping it in your purse will guarantee that you will retain control of it.

Finally keep two change purses but be sure that they look different enough that you can differentiate them immediately. One should be for change. While your wallet probably has a change pocket, few wallets come with pockets that work well. A change purse will be much better for keeping your change handy. The other one is for receipts that need to be recorded when you get home, buttons you lost on your blouse, and other items that need to come out of your purse and go somewhere else. Make it a point to check the pouch when you get home.

These few items really are all you need. They will allow you to keep your purse free of clutter and useful. You can be a cool mom who has to keep a purse but does so with all the style and gusto of someone who does not want to be Mary Poppins.

By Julia Mercer

Are You A Work At Home Parent Or A Parent Who Works At Home?

While it may seem like only semantics to you, the reality is that the way you view yourself will have an effect on the way your business works out. Trying to work while your baby is napping is a difficult way to work on your business. As a work at home parent, I understand the frustration. I definitely use my baby's naptime and morning before he is up to work, but it is imperative that I spend other time working as well.

Some people view themselves primarily as parents who have a business on the side. Other work at home parents, though, view their entrepreneurial efforts as important in and of themselves. If you have a baby, now is the perfect time to make the move working from home, and you should begin to view yourself as a parent who works from home.

I am one of the latter parents because my business is a crucial part of my identity. As much as I love my husband and son, they do not form the basis of who I am. They are only part of the whole that makes up who I am. That means that my business takes priority. There are times when I miss an afternoon at the park because I am trying to get work done. I have skipped a trip or two to my in-laws' house to finish up work. (While that may not seem like a big sacrifice to you, I actually enjoy visiting my in-laws.)

Those trade-offs are worth it in moderation for me because I understand that my business is important to me. While I am not being critical of moms and dads who drop everything when their toddlers want to head out to the library, I do want to point out to moms and dads who are considering a work from home lifestyle that there is a difference. The reason you should make your leap now is that one of the common complaints of parents who work from home is that they are unable to get their children to respect their hours. Babies will know no life except the one you present to them, and if you make the transition now, when your baby gets older, he or she will understand that you work. It will seem natural for your family.

Some work at home moms (WAHMs) and work at home dads (WAHDs) have jobs that bring in fun money, meaning money that is not considered part of the household finances. If you are not that kind of WAHP, however, if your money goes into the family pot (or will when you get your business off the ground) and is an integral part of your family's life, then you will face a separate set of battles.

Working around the life of a baby can be difficult as your baby will be changing constantly. Just when you think that you have a schedule mapped out, your little one will change again. You will be back to the drawing board, which is why working at home with a baby requires a flexibility that everyone does not have. If you are interested in the idea of working from home, then when your little one is still an infant works well because it will be a natural transition. It will not mean that you will have to put your baby into daycare only to take him or her out. You will not face any difference. You simply will come home from the hospital with your baby and begin your new life as a work at home parent.

You will need to find ways to make all of your work goals happen despite your need to be with your family. In that way, your task will be the same as if you were working outside the home. In many ways you will face the same tasks as someone who works outside the home - only you have a whole new set of problems to consider! You and your baby can make it work if you begin making the transition now. Prepare for your life at home with your baby, and these days will be very happy for you and your little one.

By Julia Mercer

Making Decisions For Baby

Making decisions for your baby can be a difficult task. There is nothing that really prepares you for the job of making decisions on behalf of another person. When you are in a relationship, you may find that you need to make decisions with another person in mind, but that person is capable of having input. When you are faced with your baby, however, you will need to be prepared to make decisions without the input of the little one. Here are some ways to get through the first few major decisions.

First you should know that essentially every decision you will make from now on out will be for your baby. That means that you really should take your little one into account every time you make a decision. At any rate, you should know what your parenting philosophy is before you are faced with making a decision for your baby.

You should know what you want for your child before you sit down to make decisions. While that may sound silly, you will find that different people have different desires. Some people want to be sure that they can afford to send their children to college while others will place more value on the here and now for their children. At the same time, some parents have athletic aspirations for their children; others have the desire to encourage their children to be involved in music. You need to be clear about these desires before you make decisions for your baby.

When you are faced with this decision, you should sit down with a pencil and paper. Make three columns on the paper. One column should be for pros, the reasons you should make the decision you are considering. The second column should be for cons, the reasons you should not make this decision. The final column is for you to put reasons.

While you probably know why a certain reason is a pro or con, it is important to write it down. You also may want to consider the rank you have for each reason. Note, of course, that some reasons are more important than others.

Once you have made the lists, you can continue to look at your answers to decide whether or not you are making the right choice. Decide whether or not each side of the equation furthers your bigger parenting goals. If the decision does not, then you should decide whether or not you can replace the activity. Perhaps sending your child to daycare part-time is something that will enhance your child's social skills. You may want to stay home with her instead. Are there ways around the benefits of daycare? Yes. You can take your daughter for walks in the park. Join a mommy group. Go for story time at the library. You may be willing to forego the decision because you can make the other choice (to stay at home) and still work to give your child the benefit of both decisions.

Also be sure that you are making the choice for your baby and not yourself. While some people disagree, I believe that once you have a child, the baby's interests must come first. Some people argue that their lives will continue after their children have moved on. I, however, believe that we take on the responsibility for our children's lives. We are their biggest advocates, and that means that we must make the decision to suit them, not us. While it does not mean that the parents' needs are not important, it does indicate that the should there be a conflict, the child should come first.

Now, you also should be willing to make changes to your plans. If you find that in fact, you are not making the right decision, then you can reverse it. Perhaps you believed that staying home with your child was the right choice, but now you are unsure. You should re-evaluate the situation and make the changes you need to make to help the decision along. Parenting is a crapshoot in many ways. Despite the books and advice, you really are going it along. Your job is to make an educated decision and be willing to adjust your life as need be to make the best decisions for baby.
By Julia Mercer

Quick Ideas For Baby Toys

Babies really are easy to please. We have come to a point in modern parenting where we believe that parenting a baby means that we have to buy everything we can find. That absolutely is not true! You can make some of the best toys for your baby with materials that you have on hand. Here are a few examples of ways you can entertain your baby for little money.

When you have finished with a jug of apple juice, wash it out really well. You may want to put some hot water in it. Put the lid on and let the bottle sit for about an hour. Rinse it and then turn the jug upside down. It should be clean without any smell of the juice. Now go to your craft store and buy a large number of beads. You can find hundreds of beads for only a couple of dollars. Put the beads into the juice jug and then put the lid back on the jug. Use some masking tape to be sure that your baby does not get the lid off the jar. Your baby will be able to use this jug as a drum or as a rattle or morocco.

Be sure that you let your baby lead in these exercises. One place where home-made toys have the advantage over store-bought ones is that there is no right way to use them. It is about your baby's imagination, not the instructions in a box. There are many variations on this idea, and you can try out several of them. You can use milk jugs and put change inside or try putting rice or beans into a smaller jar. If you have older children (or are in the mood yourself), then you can even paint the jug so that they are brightly colored.

You can use the cardboard can from oatmeal or grits to make a drum for your baby. You will need to get a piece of sturdy cloth or stick with the plastic lid that came with the canister. You will help your baby to put beans into the canister so that it will make noise. Then you can take the cloth and attach it to the outside of the canister with hot glue. (Of course, you should keep your baby far away during this part.) Then you can help your baby find sticks to use as drumsticks from the outside. Similarly, you can try other household items for drumsticks or let your baby drum Congo style, using his hands. This drum can become the beginning of a collection of baby instruments that you make on your own.

Some of the best baby toys are variations of items you already have in your home. Think about the learning experience your baby can get from a cardboard box. He or she can learn to open the box. If it is big enough, climbing in and out of it can be fun. You can even help her by showing her how to make doors and move in and out of the box. Have a snack inside. It will be great fun for you and your baby.

Pots, pans, and wooden spoons also are good toys for little ones. They teach many science experiments in one. Your baby can discover how the different materials sound when you hit them as well as working to put them inside each other. So many parents are willing to spend lots of money on helping their children to learn through toys, but the reality is that some of the best learning can be done through everyday fun that your child can have with toys.

Look around. See what you have. It is likely that you can help your child to learn by using what you already have. You can use a blanket to play peek-a-boo, for instance. You can open and close doors with your baby on the other side to teach about motion as well as object permanence.

Be sure that you count and recite colors and letters often with your child. If you see a lizard, point it out. You will be surprised at how quickly your baby can catch on using some simple little toys that you make at home.

By Julia Mercer

Yes, We Know What We Are Doing

We have now discovered that we think our son has a milk allergy. We are very aware that he may not. There may be some coincidence that could explain the physical reaction to the milk. Maybe he had a virus. Maybe his teeth coming in affected him. Maybe he ate something else that just did not agree with him. The fact remains that the milk is the most likely culprit.

I really do not have a preference either way about the allergy. I obviously would prefer that our son not have to deal with a food allergy, but if he does, we will deal with it. Still my mother and my mother-in-law are disturbed by the allergy. And I do not mean that they are concerned with my son's well-being. They are concerned because we decided it was probably the milk and switched him to soymilk.

For some reason, they both launched into all of the reasons that we did not want him to be weird. (In our world, I did not know that drinking non-cow milk was weird, but in my parents and in-laws world it is.) At any rate, they both told me that we did not want our son to be allergic to milk. Instead we should think of all of the other problems he could be having.

I wanted to scream. We are adults. We are highly educated, and besides the formal education, my husband and I are in fact highly intelligent people. At any rate, we have common sense. So why do our parents try to explain to us all of the common sense reasons that our son may not have the allergy?

Sometimes with a baby, I just want to scream to other people that we do know what we are doing. You may find that you feel the same way. Other people presume to tell you what they think that you need to know about your child, and it does not apply only to your family members. Perfect strangers feel no problem telling you about what they believe is best for you and your child. You likely will have at least 457 old ladies tell you that your baby needs a hat.

Instead of getting angry, the best reaction to these innocuous efforts is to simply smile and say thanks. If you are like my husband, you will feel the need to at least tell them that your child does not like hats or that wearing shows is ill-advised according to pediatricians. You should be prepared to do one of them and move on. Just know that you are doing what you believe to be right for your child.

If people make comments about more politically-charged topics, such as your choice of clothing or food for your baby, then you should be willing to tell the person that you are making your own decisions. Do not allow people to make you feel bad about your parenting decisions.

These issues typically are more involved when it comes to family. You may find that your parents and other family members have problems with the decisions you make from breastfeeding to using a baby sling from the time your baby is born. Just know that you have to make the choices you feel are the best ones.

One of the reasons that you should stand up for yourself right now is that you must show your parents that you are your own family. It can be very difficult to find yourself at odds with your parents, but you will discover that if you begin to stand up for your baby at the very earliest instance possible, then you will have a better time doing it later, and there will be no confusion as to who is in charge.

Your child must know that appealing to Grandma and Grandpa is not the way to go. Instead your child should know that he or she needs to depend on you for all decision-making. Work on standing up for your baby by practicing what you will say when issues come up. Know where you stand so that you will be on the same page when it comes to your baby.

By Julia Mercer

Tips For Dealing With Older Siblings When The New Baby Arrives

Older siblings often have mixed feelings about a new baby in the house. They may be excited for the baby to arrive, but once it does, they find themselves with less time with mom and dad and they realize that this new baby will not be able to play with them or do anything exciting. They may get upset when grandma and grandpa make a fuss over the new baby. Helping older children cope with a new baby can be difficult. It is inevitable that there will be some jealousy when the new baby arrives, and it can manifest itself in a variety of ways.

For instance, my daughter was two when her younger brother was born. She took to him right away, wanting to be near him every second that she could. However, we could tell that she was angry with my husband and I because she didn't want much to do with us! She loved that baby brother of hers but she still had mixed feelings about us bringing him home.

Sometimes, the sibling jealousy doesn't appear as soon as the baby is born, either. When I had my third child, which was also a boy, my older son liked him fine when he came home and didn't really get upset about him that we could see. But when his baby brother started walking and getting into his things, he got very upset. He wanted that baby brother to go away. He also did not like sharing his older sister with his baby brother. He informed me on several occasions that his baby brother needed his own sister to play with because my older daughter was his to play with!

There are a lot of things parents can do to help minimize the stress of having a new sister or brother for older siblings. It can start even before the baby is born. For instance, you can enroll the older child in a sibling class. These are often offered by the local hospital and they provide great information about new babies at a level that children can understand. These classes are also designed to help them deal with some of their concerns and anxieties about the new baby before it is born.

Other things you can do before the birth is allow the older child to help pick out things for the new baby. We let our daughter pick out her little brother's wallpaper border from a choice of three that we had narrowed it down to. She helped choose new baby clothes and other baby items. We also took her to two or three of my doctor visits so that she could hear her brother's heartbeat and see him on the ultrasound. I put her hands on my tummy when he was moving so she could feel it. We talked to her about the new baby and we also bought her a baby doll so that she could take care of it when I had to take care of her new brother. All these things make an older child feel like a part of what is happening. This can help minimize some of those sibling jealousy feelings.

Once the new baby is born, if your hospital will allow it, bring your older child to visit the baby in the hospital and to see that mommy is doing fine. Some children have anxieties about their mother being at the hospital. When baby comes home, it is a good idea to have a few small, wrapped gifts for your older child to have because baby is usually overwhelmed with gifts, and this can make your other child feel left out. So by having a few inexpensive gifts for them to open when the baby is receiving so many things, you can prevent some hurt feelings. My mother brought my daughter a big stuffed rabbit when she brought over things for the baby. She was thrilled and was happy to help open the gifts for the baby.

As the new routine starts with a new baby, an older sibling will quickly learn that having this new baby means less time with mommy and daddy. Parents may also be less active and more irritable depending on the amount of sleep they are getting. One way that I tried to make up for this with both of my older children is to spend time with them while the baby was sleeping. When they went down for their afternoon nap, I would read them a story while holding them in the rocking chair. This was time for them with mommy that was (hopefully) uninterrupted by baby where they could snuggle and feel close and be the center of my attention for a short time. I also tried not to alter their routines much. Children feel a lot of safety in their routines, and having a new baby in the house will inevitably upset some of those routines, so I tried to stay as close a s possible to the routine they had.

Now that my children are older, my husband and I both make the effort to spend time alone with each of our three children. Of course, since the youngest is a toddler, this doesn't always work out! But we try by taking any opportunity that arises. If my husband or I have to go to the store, we take turns taking a different child with us. We take the two older children to the afternoon matinee on Saturday and leave the baby with Grandma. One or both of us makes it to every dance performance, soccer game, school program, etc. I help out in my older two children's classes once a month. We bake cookies together, build snowmen, and I even use the time folding laundry, mopping floors, and other household chores to have them help me and talk about anything they want. I try to listen and pay attention to what they are not saying as well as what they are saying.

My husband and I know that there willl always be sibling rivalry and the occasional jealousy episode in our home. We're not perfect parents. Everyone can remember a time in their lives when they felt like their sister was getting more attention, or that dad was favoring someone, or felt bad because someone else got something extra. It is part of having siblings. Yet most people I know wouldn't change it by being only children. I grew up with four siblings. We fought and squabbled like normal kids, but as adults, we all enjoy each other's company most of the time. I want my children to feel the same way about their siblings. So we try our best, take time when we can, and hope that our children understand that we love all three of them and that spending time with one does not mean we don't love the others.

Treating a Baby's Cold

Having a baby is the greatest gift in the world. Bringing them home and watching them grow, seeing their first smile, hearing their first giggle, there is nothing else quite like it. Then, when you could not get any happier, your baby comes down with a cold. When that happens, it feels like your whole world is turned upside down. Your baby will be awake all night, screaming and crying, pulling on his ears, and all you want to do is comfort him.

One of the first things you can do is to be ready to treat your baby's cold right away. Do not wait for your baby to get sick before you buy medicine and the other products you will need to soothe him. Before you even bring your baby home from the hospital, there are a few things you should have already bought.

One thing that helps a baby tremendously with a cold, is a humidifier. Every parent should keep one in their home. A humidifier will keep your baby's room from getting dry, and if your baby is congested, it will also help with that. If you keep it turned on at night, when your baby wakes in the morning, he should be less congested. I would recommend trying the Vicks humidifier. With this humidifier, you buy liquid Vicks, and pour a small amount in a dish on top of it. The moisture then circulates the Vicks around the room and helps your child breath better, and it comforts him also.

A thermometer is also one of the products you will want to have on hand at all times. There are many different styles and kinds of them, so you will probably have a large assortment to pick from at the store. One of the easiest kinds to use is a digital ear thermometer. They usually only take one to two seconds to register the child's temperature, and are very accurate. Another kind you put in your child's mouth, but they take a lot longer to register. Sometimes, they take longer than one minute. Most babies and toddlers will not sit long enough for the thermometer to take an accurate reading.

At all times, you should have Pedialyte in your home. This drink will keep your baby hydrated, and that is very important. Sometimes when babies do not feel good, they do not like to eat or drink, and then they become dehydrated. If your baby will not eat or drink anything else, make sure they at least drink some Pedialyte. Pedialyte works for babies like Gatorade works for adults. It is important for everybody to stay hydrated.

Another thing you will want to keep around is a fever reducer and pain reliever. If you go to a department store, you will have about ten or more different brands to pick from. Some of them are now a clear liquid, so if your baby spits the medicine up, it will not stain. They almost all work the same, but read the label to make sure your child is old enough and weighs enough to take the medication. If you cannot find a brand that will work for your child, call your physician and he will recommend a brand for you, and tell you the correct dose to give your baby.

One of the things I have found that helps my son feel better when he has a cold is a nice warm bath. If your baby is congested, this alone will make him feel better. When your child is in the bathtub, it is an ideal time to clean his nasal passage, and he will breathe much easier. On the other hand, if your child is running a high fever, a cool bath may make him feel better. Make sure his bath is just lukewarm, not cold.

Always make sure you have the pediatrician's number on hand at all times. When you are a new mother, it never hurts to ask for help. Do not worry if you think your question is stupid or trivial, your doctor won't think that. It is their job to help you out. If you think your child's breathing is labored or his fever is too high, and you cannot get it to come down, bring him to the emergency room or after hour's clinic. If you keep enough products on hand, you will most likely be able to treat your child yourself, and bring him back to good health.

Babies and Knowledge

My son was born on Martin Luther King Day. My husband and I, who are both political activists, found it a unique coincidence that our son would be born on the day we celebrate one of the nation's civil rights leaders. Having grown up and then gone to college in Georgia, I have known about the King legacy for as long as I can remember. Although my childhood classes barely scratched the surface of civil rights, and much of the information we learned was not accurate or complete, we did learn about Reverend King.

When I was in college, I became incredibly politically involved. Living an hour south of Atlanta, I was able to draw from the experiences of veteran civil rights organizers, many of whom call Atlanta home and are willing to help out a younger generation of activists, if only through words and personal letters of support. While our small groups would get letters from civil rights figures, we also sometimes got visit. We always got advice and word that they were supportive of our efforts. Feeling as if you are standing on the backs of people who put their lives in danger for this country was an amazing feeling.

Among those figures was Coretta Scott King. Her death this morning, at the age of 78, is sobering. It comes only months after another legend, Rosa Parks, passed away. Now I look at my son and realized that for today's babies, these civil rights leaders will be ancient history. They will not be aged faces that he can see if he participates in some of the same activities or if he goes to certain events. They will be history, long dead by the time he is old enough to understand.

Thinking about my son's loss of history with the passing of these figures, it makes me more aware of my responsibility as his mother to make sure that he does not forget, to make sure that he is educated about the struggles in this nation's history. Those struggles are not only the fight for African Americans but for the independence of the colonies, the women of this nation, and all of the other groups of people who have fought to make this country what it is.

My job as his parent is to begin right now - today, in fact - by telling him about these great leaders, by making sure that he understands who they are and what they did. I must make sure that my son, who is born into privilege not only because of his economic situation but because of his race and sex as well, understands that other people have not been so lucky.

They have fought and died for this nation, so that generations of babies can come into the world and have opportunities that their ancestors did not. I wonder sometimes in my idle time if my son's generation is the one Dr. King mentioned in his famous speech. Will they judge their fellows by the content of their character? Have we moved beyond a place where they will be judged by race?

My son is only a baby, and people may think that it is odd that I talk to him about the history of our nation, but I think that it is vital to know. I know that he must understand that other people have made sacrifices for our country. They are sacrifices that my husband and I, and others of our generation, likely will not be asked to make. Instead we will show our disapproval in other ways, through letter-writing, rallies, and protests. We will share our voice through the political process because we are permitted to participate in it. We will tell the world that we believe in the causes that led to the deaths of Americans during the civil rights struggle.

And we will tell our son. He is sleeping now, free from the cares of the world. When he gets up this morning, we will begin. I will tell him that an incredible woman has died and that she lost her husband and then dedicated the rest of her life to make this country a greater place. It is only fair that I tell my baby.

By Julia Mercer

Monday, January 30, 2006

Moms On The Playground

If you are like me, the whole notion of the mommy group is something that is foreign to you. I did not grow up in an area where we needed mommy groups at the playground to find friends. We did not have baby classes. We did not have play dates. Now, though, that has become the norm, and where we live, it is the only way we have of connecting with other parents of little ones. Still, the whole notion can be intimidating, so here are some ways for you and your baby to get the most out of your playtime.

First do not take a very small baby to a playgroup. When I was pregnant, I read story after story of how many moms and dads took their small infants, and we are talking a few weeks old here, to play groups. They wanted the social interaction they thought their babies would find. When I had my son, I would look at him and wonder how much he could get from going to the park at eight weeks old. Finally, my husband said, "there is something to be said for experiences, but this is ridiculous."

Thankfully I concurred. While I had secretly thought we were not doing much good, I had been uncharacteristically quiet on the subject. With that said, taking baby to the park alone can be a wonderful experience. You will get some fresh air as will baby, and the two of you can enjoy just watching the trees sway in the breeze.

Once you have a baby who is interested in a little more interaction, which admittedly may not be until he or she is close to a year old, you can start looking for a playgroup. Still you may find that you will need to learn to navigate the wonders of the other parents on the playground.

A recent report examining new mothers and how they feel about their little tykes suggests that while many older babies enjoy the playground, the moms and dads may feel left out of the social milieu of the other parents. There are some ways to remedy that situation.

First remind yourself that you are doing the whole playground thing for your baby - not you. Sorry, but you are not the most important person in the equation. Babies are volatile creatures, so if you are able to find a group of other babies and toddlers who enjoy your child (and the feeling is mutual), your best bet is to tough it out.

Take something else to do with you. Most of these playgroups meet at parks or other outdoor areas. If you find that your baby tends to enjoy the children who visit the park on Wednesday mornings, but you would rather slink away from the other parents, be sure to bring a journal to write, a compact disc player to listen to tunes, or a book to read. (Be sure to pay careful attention to your child, however!) You should be able to find something you enjoy to help you pass the time.

Another option is to bite the bullet and talk to one of the other parents. Try to find common ground. If another mommy looks like she is expecting another baby, ask when she is due. Talk about what your baby is doing (without bragging!). Ask other parents for their ideas and suggestions on issues you are having. Finding something that you have in common with these moms and dads is the best way to start to fit in.

If you are uncomfortable talking to the group, then ask a specific mom over. If you notice that your baby really seems to enjoy another one, then you should ask that mom if the two of you can get the babies together so that they can enjoy each other's company. You may find it easier and more relaxing to make friends this way.

Be sure to give it your best effort or to entertain yourself in other ways. Remember that your baby's social interaction is vitally important, so you should not deprive baby of the opportunity to hang out with others. He or she can learn new ways of communicating and can become familiar with working in social settings. These lessons are important, so work out your own concerns for the sake of your baby.

By Julia Mercer

Having A Second Baby

In those first sleep-deprived weeks after your first baby is born, you probably wonder what you were thinking. You likely decide that this child will be your last. There is no way you would put yourself through this again. Then your baby gets a little older. You start to look back on those first few weeks lovingly and think about trying the whole process again. Then your baby has a bad day, and you are back to believing he or she will be an only child. How do you reconcile these positions so that you know when you are ready to have another baby?

The first key is to think about your life with two children. Do you have a partner who is raising your child along with you? If you do, are you getting alone time now when your partner is with the baby? Would you still be able to do that? How important would it be? Take some time over a few weeks imagining yourself with another baby. Think about it as you head to the grocery store, the park, or when you want to lie down. Decide whether or not you would have enough room in your life for another child. A good clue that you are not prepared to have another baby is if you imagine the new one always sleeping.

Then you should consider how much age difference you want between the two babies. There are benefits and drawbacks to having babies close together and then farther apart. Think about the differences. For example, if you have them within two years of each other, you will find that they can play together more often. They will enjoy the same activities at roughly the same time, making it easy on you. On the other hand, they may lose some individuality because they are always grouped together.

Spacing your children between three and five years apart is the most common age difference, and for good reason. There are some ways that this age difference is wonderful. The children will be their own little people because they will have enough age difference between them. You will be able to give each of the kids some individual attention, and you will eliminate having two children with bottles, sippy cups, and diapers. You may find, however, that they are asked to cooperate and play together (or watch the same movies or read the same books, or...) more than they would if there were slightly more age difference.

You also can wait to have the next baby until this one is much older. Having a huge age difference between babies has some serious advantages, mainly that you will not have two college tuition bills at the same time. Each child will experience your love individually. You will be able to be happy about both children's milestones, and you will not be overcome by these celebrations. Many children from these families report feeling as if they had different childhoods. To consider this issue, look at your financial situation now and where you project it to be in five or ten years. How much better will it be? Your children will feel these differences as much as you may try to downplay them. These children often do not feel that they had close childhoods because they were at such different points in their lives. They also will not share the same home for long.

In the end, you need to be sure of your decision. Do not make the choice to have another baby quickly or without deep consideration. You cannot take back the decision, so it is one that you should not make lightly. While there may still be moments when having an only child feels appropriate, you should not felt that way often if you are considering having another baby. If you do, then the time is not right for you.

A second baby can mean a lot of adjustment, even more so than the first baby. Just when you think that you have everything figured out, you will discover that you have to change again for the new child. And if you find yourself expecting a second baby when you were not planning on it, try to relax and enjoy this one just as you did the first one.

By Julia Mercer

Cultural Differences for Baby

People who are not familiar with the thoughts and ideas of American Southerners would have a hard time understanding why my husband and I feel that we are from different cultures. I grew up in the Deep South in the heart of the Bible Belt where everyone went to church on Sunday and then came home for a wonderful home-cooked meal with extended family all around. My husband grew up in the Midwest, in a suburb outside one of the nation's largest cities with highly educated parents and very little in the way of community. They kept to themselves, and the children learned that they should take care of themselves first and foremost.

I realize even in writing those sentences that I sound biased. There were definitely downsides to growing up where I did. Primarily it was difficult to become anyone other than the person constructed by societal norms. Still, I believe that the culture in which I was raised has distinctive benefits that I want my son to have.

If you are experiencing these types of cultural divides, then I want to share with you what my husband and I have done to make sure that we are giving our son what we consider to be the best of both worlds.

Before our son was even an inkling on the horizon, we talked about our expectations when raising children. Although that seemed to be an obvious discussion for us, few people have it. We talked about the major issues, yes, but we also looked at our own families. What did we like? What did we want to do differently?

Well, one of the things that was very important to me was that our child say ma'am and sir, which is a long-forgotten manner in my husband's world. It is an oddity to him, something quaint that delineates one of the few Southern traits or dialectical patterns that I have left after seven years living far from home. My husband thinks it unnecessary to use those words to indicate respect, but he acquiesced because it is such as huge issue for me. There were others, such as my husband's preference that our children play soccer and not baseball, at least when they are young enough for us to make those decisions unilaterally.

I want my son to know about the South - the good and the bad. With extensive training in American history, I am prepared to provide that atmosphere to my son. My husband and I are still nomadic, but we will be settling down in a year. Where, you ask? Well, so have our families. The cultural tug-of-war extends to them because they are all fighting for the right to teach our son to be Southern or American (yes, I use those terms on purpose). The answer is Atlanta - the not-that-Southern city in the South. We will live where we can enjoy the culture and diversity that we crave and still hold on to roots that I cannot allow to be pulled up, however far my life may have taken me.

Cultural differences are something that you and your partner have to discuss. It is rare that one would want to deny completely the existence of one's cultural heritage. There are precious few ideologies that come to mind without any good parts. Even the most offensive of cultures has something good. Many cultures that seem degrading to women, for instance, have a built-in system of respect that should be emulated. There are ways to find what is good about a culture and pass it on.

When you are trying to find that goodness to help raise your baby to believe in the power and integrity of two systems, even if those systems seem antithetical, it is important to work hard at compromise. Write down five lessons you want your child to get from your culture. Have your partner do the same. This list is your jumping off point for making your marriage work and your baby a happy, more diverse one. Your baby deserves to know about all of his or her heritage, and it is your job to teach those lessons. Be sure that you are comfortable with yourself so that you can teach your baby to do the same.


By Julia Mercer

Advice To New Mothers

When I became a mother, I had no idea what I was doing. Having always excelled at everything from musical performances to school, I was unprepared for feeling so alone and confused. My baby could not speak to me, except through his cries, and I was not sure that I understood what he was saying. I did not feel the instant understanding that other parents report, but over the course of time, I have learned a few lessons about babies that I would like to impart to other mothers.

First take it easy. Your baby will not remember if it took you a while to figure out how to change his diaper. He will not tell you if he peed on you in the process. You do not need to be perfect at being a mother. Being a parent is hard, so give yourself time to work into it.

Do not think that you must provide for your baby. While I am sharing this tip, it is something with which I still struggle. We live in a consumer-driven world. I have taken myself out of the running for much of this consumerism by choosing to avoid advertising when at all possible. Still I feel the sting that I do not, and cannot afford, to take my infant son to classes for swimming, dancing, singing, and the like. He has not been to a single language class in his 12 months, and it is tough not to feel guilty about that decision.

We also do not have all of the cool toys. Do not misunderstand me. We have toys. We have plenty of toys. We just do not have every single toy known to the universe. The reality is that when I sit back and think, I know that my son will be better off. When I see other children his age, and this has been true since he was about four months old, I realize that he is more active than they are. He is more communicative, despite the fact that he is at home with only his mom and dad all the time. And it is in those times that I feel better for my decisions. I do not feel anxious, and I know that by not buying my son everything, I am giving him more.

Do not compare yourself to other moms. It is difficult since so many parents take their babies to playgroups. It is tough not to think that the other parents have it together more than you do. Some of them may; most of them do not. They are just as lost and confused as you are (or either this is their fifth child in which case they have things pretty figured out). When I start getting down about how much I am behind the curve, I think about it from the other person's perspective. How do I look to them? My clothes match. My hair is done. I have on make-up. My son is cleaned and well-dressed, and we have a packed diaper bag. No one can tell that I cried when I spilled pancake batter this morning or that my house is a wreck from running around to toss together the diaper bag. You should think about it. How do you look to other moms? Do you really know that they are more organized? They are probably not.

Stand by your decisions. Even with a baby, you will be tempted to give in on some issues. You may have decided that you absolutely did not want to use pacifiers, but now you cannot help but think that maybe you want to try it. Now is not the time to give in. As your baby gets older, he or she will realize that by crying or looking sad (trust me, my one-year-old already does this), it makes Mommy willing to give in. Now is the time to stand your ground.

Be confident in yourself. You will get the baby thing. You will learn how to handle everything and make it work. It really is just a matter of figuring everything out for yourself and making your own decisions. Being confident in your abilities will help you raise a wonderful baby.


By Julia Mercer

Considering Adopting A Baby

Having my son put a tremendous strain on my body. It is so odd because I was in such great physical shape before my son was born. I had never had more than strep throat, but the year since his birth has made me feel as if I live in the doctor's office. I have had test after test, and the medical bills are piling up.

Still my husband and I would like to have more children, and lately we have turned our attention to adoption. My husband has two brothers, both of whom are adopted. Their situation has not been entirely pleasant, and it is one that we do not want to duplicate. Still we believe, as I am sure most parents do, that we can provide a wonderful home that will overcome all of the problems that we could face if we are considering adopting.

The process is daunting, however. We have learned from our research about the basics of what will be expected of us and what we will have to do to make this situation work for us. The first step in adopting is to be absolutely sure that it is what you want to do. There should be no agreeing to appease your spouse. There should be no indecision. This decision is serious. Unlike having a biological baby (which you also should do only after careful consideration), adopting a baby can come with a whole host of problems that you did not anticipate. For example, you are more likely to get a baby with physical problems or with emotional problems for which you may not have been prepared. That means that you can have no doubt in your mind about your decision, or you will discover that you may regret your decision later, which will be harmful to everyone involved in the process.

Talk to people who are adopted and who have adopted children. You also may want to talk to people who gave their babies up for adoption. Get a feel for the emotions involved. Find out what worked out well and what did not.

Once you have decided that you definitely want to adopt a baby, then you will need to look at your options. There are four basic options for adopting a baby. You can go through an international adoption agency. These agencies are very expensive, usually up to $20,000, and you have to meet the international adopting country's guidelines, which vary in intensity. These adoptions are final, however, and that makes them appealing to many people. You will not have to consider a relationship with a birth family because in most cases, no one will know who the birth parents are.

If you are going for a domestic adoption, you can go through an adoption attorney, a private agency, or social services. You will use an adoption agency if someone is willing to give you her baby. These cases happen when a younger relative or perhaps a young girl you know gets pregnant and cannot care for the baby. In these cases, she may ask you specifically to adopt the baby, and your attorney will help you navigate the court process.

Private agencies typically are religiously affiliated. They have care of children through a number of means. Many of these agencies sponsor group homes for children who have not found adoptive parents. Social services takes in children from abusive and neglectful situations and places them for adoption. Both of these groups will require background checks, including checks into your credit, as well as inspecting your home and interviewing you to see if you are qualified to adopt.

Though the process is lengthy, it is one that thousands of parents are willing to go through every year to be able to become parents to children who need them. The process is one that my husband and I are considering. We know that there are risks involved, but they are there with bringing any new baby into your home. We are willing to take that risk so that we may become parents to a little boy or girl who really needs us and who we can love for the rest of our lives.

By Julia Mercer

Making Budget Cuts so One Parent can Stay Home

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are serious about one spouse staying home with the children, you must be realistic when reviewing what can and cannot be cut from your budget. To start, there are parts of a budget, that can reap huge rewards in money saved, that many people do not even consider.

Housing Costs

Your house is often your most expensive part of your budget. The mortgage, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance can add up to a large sum each month. Now is the ideal time to consider if a move may be just the thing to make your budget friendlier to going from two incomes to one. In our area, property tax time comes twice a year, January 31, and again on the last day of July. Tax bills arrive at the end of December, when most people are still reeling from the costs of the recent holidays. When ours arrived this year, I did a quick calculation of what it was in comparison to last year, and then moved it to my file of bills to be paid. I did not give it another thought until I was talking to a friend who noted that for them to stay in their current house, each morning upon waking, they must take approximately $15 and put it away just to pay their property tax this year. This is every day, weekends and holidays included. When I considered this added up cost, I was both glad that we had made the decision years ago to purchase a smaller home that would fulfill our needs, but forego any extravagances, especially in size. My friend has the same size family as we do, lives just a few miles away, but when her husband and she built a few years ago, they went all out, building big, and building flashy. They are now paying in taxes more than we pay for our mortgage and taxes combined!

I like her house, but I enjoy mine, and am glad we made the decision to consider our needs and not so much our wants when we picked it out. After hearing what she pays in taxes, I enjoy mine even more. Our house has other advantages also. With heating costs rising everywhere, our house is still not that expensive to heat, mainly because it is small and well insulated. I would be lying if I said I did not love the looks of her cathedral ceilings, but I do not want her heating bills. If your housing costs are high, now is the time to consider the issue of downsizing. Moving to a less expensive neighborhood could save you enough money to make an earnest effect on your budget. This is a drastic step to make one income work where two were needed, but if the issue is as great as this one, then it is worth considering.

Vehicles

This can be as touchy an issue as housing, maybe even more so, as many of us are just not willing to give up a vehicle. If trimming your budget is your goal though, then you must at least look at what your current vehicle(s) cost you each month. What does the payment, along with insurance, cost each month? Would changing your deductible be an option? With the fluctuating costs of fuel in today's economy, what your average fuel charges are also need to be examined. Could you trade in a vehicle for a smaller, more fuel efficient one, or trade down to a used vehicle? If you normally trade in your vehicle every two years, what would the savings be if you held onto it longer than the two years? What if you kept your current vehicle even after it was done being paid for, instead of getting a new one altogether?

Dining Out

We all have to eat, but where we eat can have a huge effect on our budget. If you currently get takeout several times a week, and dine out on the weekends, what would the comparison in costs be if you cut that down to once a month for dining out, or even not at all? Some of the monies saved would of course have to go back into the budget for groceries, but surprisingly, most of us are unaware what it actually costs us to eat out repeatedly until we actually add it all up.

Can One Parent Afford to Stay Home?

By Christina VanGinkel

I hear the same sentiments all the time that sure, one parent, or the other, would like to stay at home, but it takes two incomes to keep the family running. I can speak from experience and say to some degree that they are right, but not all of the time. Each family's circumstances are different, but if both parents agree and are willing to trade certain benefits for other equally important perks, most households can go from two incomes to one.

I have been 'at home' for years, but I have also had an income, though somewhat sporadic, from my writing and design work that I do on a part time basis. I did work full time years ago, but when the company I worked in management for went bankrupt, my husband and I did a quick review of our incoming income and outgoing expenses and made a decision. With what I would save on gasoline spent driving back and forth to work, childcare, my work wardrobe, and other small expenses that came with my job, that the cost of me staying home was not as big as we originally thought. By trimming a few extras from our budget, such as a social life, we made the decision that we would be able to survive on just his income alone. This first review of our budget has undergone many changes through the years, just as any budget would, but we have always kept the goal of one parent being at home at the top of our goal list.

Through the years, our incoming income has gone up and down, as my husband is self-employed, but we have managed for me to continue to stay home through the majority of our two oldest children's school years, and now through a good portion of our youngest child's, due to diligent budgeting. If you want to become a stay at home parent, it can be done, as long as both spouses are serious about making it happen, and are willing to be realistic with the family budget.

Set down together and list everything that could conceivably be considered an expense. This will range from the mortgage and taxes, to groceries, to lunches out. If you already have a budget, that will be a good place to start, but you will most likely still, have expenses related to work, that are not normally included in the average budget. For this to have a chance at succeeding, you must include every single item that you currently spend money on to give yourself a clearer picture of whether the plan is doable. For example, if you have a standing date to go to the movies with friends, write it down.

Once you have the complete budget in hand, start cutting. It is as simple as that. Be realistic about what can be cut. Some things will be obvious, such as those expenses that come from your current job, as they will no longer exist. Other expense cutting may have to be a united decision, such as cutting the cable off, or at least reducing the size of the package you currently have. Be realistic. Do you really need every single movie channel made? When compared to whether it will help one parent be at home, you may suddenly realize that there are many things, you can do without. When I said we cut our social life, I was not exaggerating. We always went to dinner on the weekends, out to a movie, and usually stopped for a drink or two on the way home. We both made the decision that this was not what we wanted, that the money would be better 'spent' by taking it right off the top of our budget.

We made many decisions that day years ago. Most of them have actually stayed with us all these years. Others have been modified, such as the cable one. My husband is a sports fanatic, and though we can live without the movie channels, he cannot live without ESPN. Our youngest child is very much into sports himself, playing them that is, so that is a big part of the reason I have continued to bring in an income on a part time basis, to help fund numerously increasing sizes of cleats, snowboards, and helmets through the years.

If it is your family's dream to have at least one parent stay at home, do not just assume that it cannot be don. Look at your budget for starters, and good luck!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Baby Clothes with Attitude and Spunk

By Christina VanGinkel

Finding baby clothes that both fit, are adorable, and that stand out from the crowd is easily accomplished if you take the time to shop some of the Internet stores that cater to a style of baby clothes that is a bit different from the norm. I was looking for a gift for a friend's newborn that was a bit above the average pastel colored or neutral patterns so often common with newborn clothing. Her son had been through a difficult time after birth, but was finally headed home from the hospital with a clean bill of health. The word amongst family and friends from day one was that he had spunk and attitude, and that is why he had made such a remarkable recovery from his unsettling beginning. I wanted to give her a gift for him that would speak volumes about that very attitude and spunk. So, with a small bit of trepidation, I sat down in front of my computer to do some browsing, as I had already been around to every single local store and had found nothing along the lines of what I wanted.

What I found was astonishing actually, as I found several items that were exactly along the lines of what I was thinking of. The first items I found had me laughing, so I knew they were perfect, exactly the type of things I was looking for. A black onesie from the Rebel Ink Baby site, proclaiming across the front of it in white print 'Party Tonight, My Crib, 3 AM', and another one that proclaimed just as loudly, 'I'm too sexy for my diaper'. Either one of these would surely lighten the parent's mood when they were dressing him in either one of those.

At Old Navy.com, I found the cutest little pair of jeans that came in a six-month size, a bit bigger than I was shopping for, but in their work worn finish, they were absolutely adorable, and so I bookmarked them as a possibility. Nothing else at Old Navy really caught my attention, so I decided to look elsewhere.

My next stop was the Baby Style site, and I instantly discovered a newborn sized classic red union suit. Some might think it a bit Christmassy looking, but it reminded me more of the outdoor wear that so many of the loggers in our area wear, after chuckling a bit more, and realizing that my friend would have the same opinion of it as I did, I not only bookmarked it to show my husband later, I ordered it. I also found at this same site, several long sleeved thermal shirts, that although a bit plainer styled than what I had originally been shopping for, I knew he would wear. I ended up adding a couple of those to the order too, as they not only looked scrumptiously warm, I remember my friend had mentioned that finding long sleeved shirts to fit him, as tiny as he was, was a bit hard, and these came in a true newborn size. I also could not resist a tiny newborn tee that proclaimed 'My Dad Rocks' in a classic gray. Then, when I though my order was finished, I found what I proclaimed to be the coup de grace of the complete order. A black and white striped, cotton, one piece body suit, with long sleeves, reminiscent of something you might see a jailbird wearing in an old black and white film, and across the front of it the words 'Sleep Thief'! The description stated that it was reminiscent of what is currently popular for British tots. Popular there, and sure to be a big hit here, as the styling was comfortable, and anyone seeing baby in it was sure to be soon wearing a big grin.

I never did order the first onesies I came across, finding the merchandise from Baby Style much more to my liking. The jeans from Old Navy, though I did not order them right away, I still plan too. I thought they were as cute as could be, and growing as he is, he will soon be able to fit into a six-month size with ease.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Selling your Child's Outgrown Toys and Clothes

By Christina VanGinkel

Selling baby's outgrown clothing and cast off toys is an excellent way to supplement your income in order to buy more of the same. If you are the sort that has always likes to keep your child dressed in nice outfits, and to buy them new toys, but you have suddenly come to the realization that A: They outgrow those outfits almost as fast as you can get them off the hangar, and B: They can only play with so many toys at once, not to mention when the toy boxes are overflowing and the shelves and closets are full, something has to give, then selling some of their used items may be just the idea you have been in search of!

Donating cast offs is always commendable, but recouping the cost of some of the expense you put out in the first place, and supplementing the future cost of items still being bought is also commendable. With family budgets becoming less roomy all the time, selling your child's cast also helps the purchaser by offering them quality, gently used items cheaper than if they bought them new, as you did.

Selling items does come with some responsibility though. Be sure to leave tags in any items that you plan to sell, this way the new owner will have a clear idea of any cleaning limitations, and sizing. This simple step will also assure you that you list the sizes correctly in any forum that you use to advertise. All items should be washed, and be honest if the items have been around anything such as cigarette smoke or animals, as some children and adults are very sensitive to these factors. Toys and games should be complete, with no missing parts, and should be sanitized before selling whenever this is possible. Also if possible, retain the original packaging or at least the instructions.

Garage Sales

Where and how you sell can have a large effect on how much you can charge and if the items will net you enough profit to make it even worth your time. Garage sales have been a favorite way for many years to sell off your child's outgrown items, but keep in mind that you will not even, most likely, come close to getting the prices you would like to get, or even believe they are worth. Even high scale neighborhoods still draw bargain shoppers looking for great deals.

Second Hand Consignment Stores

Second hand stores that take gently used clothes and toys on consignment will net you a bigger profit, at fairer prices, and even though you will not have to do much after the initial dropping off the items, you will have to share in the monetary rewards for the work they do to sell the items. This is a great way to sell though, as your items often get a high exposure if the store has a good percentage of customers. You also have the advantage of maybe finding some good deals yourself!

Ebay

Ebay is by far becoming one of the fastest growing marketplaces for selling used children's clothing and toys. Once you take pictures and list the items, do keep in mind that you have to follow up any successful sales with shipping the product. You also run the risk of an item not selling, and then having incurred the cost of listing it and any fees for photographs that you used to accompany the ad. Still, if the clothing and toys are current, quality, and clean, and you are asking fair prices, chances are the items will sell. To cut down on shipping charges, putting together 'lots' of clothing is an idea to consider.

Run a Penny Saver Ad

Penny Saver papers have been around for seemingly ever, and they are still good places to list items for sale. They work especially well if you have specific items, such as jackets, snowsuits, or dressed or suits for a special occasion.

Once you have attempted to sell an item, you may wonder what to do if the items do not sell. You could always try one of the other methods detailed here, or make the decision to donate the clothes or toys. Either way, you be making room for additional items that baby will need as they continue to grow.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Turning Your Baby's Outgrown Clothes into Quilts

By Christina VanGinkel

Going through several old boxes of baby clothes a few years back, I was torn as what to do with them. I wanted to save them in one frame of mind, but in another, I knew that I no longer had a use for them, and as far as passing them onto someone else to use, even to my own children for their kids, was not plausible, as most of them were past being in any type of useable condition. Many of them were sleepers that were so old they were not made of a flame-retardant material, or the outfits had stains on them, missing buttons, or had broken snaps. Still, there were many memories in the boxes, and that is why I had held onto them for so long. Therefore, the issue of what to do with them was somewhat of a pressing matter. I did not want to toss everything back into the boxes to be dealt with yet again on some other day, nor could I realistically pass them on. I decided, then and there, that I would make a couple of blankets out of them, to be passed on to my children, the original wearers of the clothes.

If you have a hard time with giving up some of your own children's baby clothes, this could be just the answer you have been searching for too. You will retain the memories that have compelled you to hang on to the clothes, and even provide you with an outlet to keep or pass on some of those very memories in a much more sensible way than having them boxed up in the attic or the back of a closet. The finished blankets can be a great way for you to share with your children just how much you treasured them when they were so little, or could actually be made into a larger quilt for you to keep for yourself. One friend who saw how mine turned out, wanted to make one of her own, but realized that she only had a few items that she had kept that would work. My mother suggested she mix those in patchwork style with new fabrics, and her quilt turned out just as beautiful as mine did.

Not really a sewer, I did enjoy many other crafts, and figured that making a couple of blankets could not be that hard, and they were not. I sorted the clothes, choosing those that I felt could have pieces of fabric at least six by six inches salvaged from them. Most of the sleepers netted me one quilt square, as did most of the other newborn outfits. A few sleepers, which were made of some very stretchy fabrics, I chose not to use and reluctantly put them aside to be tossed. Unbelievably, I then discovered a few forgotten hand knitted sweaters that my husband's Aunt had made that I used when the kids were newborns, and they were just like new, having been packed in acid free paper and placed in the bottom of the boxes long ago. Thinking back, I realized that the one little boy sweater was one of the first items that my oldest son had ever outgrown. My second son, born a surprising two ounces shy of ten pounds, and topping off at over eleven and a half pounds when he was released from the hospital, never even had a chance to wear it, as it was too small for him from day one! My daughter took one look at it, and another pink and white sweater that had been hers, and asked if she could have them for when she had a baby. Her son was born about a year later, and even though it was a hot July, she used the one little boy sweater on numerous cool evenings until he outgrew it when he was about three months old.

My mother ended up helping me quite a bit with the quilts, as she did know what she was doing, even if I did not! In the end, we also used up some thinner pieces of fabric scraps that she sewed together to make edging around each small quilt. Now, years later, each of my children have their quilts tucked away, and with them, some memories of their grandmother too, as each remembers her sewing them and trying to teach me to sew at the same time.

When Baby Shower Plans (and Babies!) are Premature

If you have ever helped to plan a baby shower, you know that there are many different things to consider. In addition to agenda items such as deciding what kind of food will be served and what games will be played, you will need to decide when the best time is to hold the shower.

Planning the right time for a baby shower is not always as easy as it may sound. Case in point is my own baby shower. My mother, sister, and sister-in-law went through a lot of trouble to plan everything just right. They had the event planned for a month before the baby was due to be born, everything was in place and all the wheels were turning smoothly.

Well . . . until my daughter decided that she wanted to make her entrance into the world five weeks early that is. As it turned out, she was already ten days old when her baby shower was held. Nothing really needed to change except for the gifts that some of the guests chose to bring. More than one of the family members and friends attending the shower mentioned returning a "unisex" gift for a girl's dress or something else in pink.

If you are planning a baby shower for someone, keep in mind that a birth may be early, but not much has to change in the way you plan. The few things that would need to be altered with an early birth can be easily fixed. Just be sure to have the alternative plan ready to put into action. If the mother-to-be knows about the shower, you may want to consult her about what to do if there is an early birth. Perhaps she would prefer having the shower at her home if the baby has already been born.

In the food category you may want to modify the cake but that's all. In my case the generic "welcome baby" cake was changed at the last minute (by contacting the person who would be baking and decorating the cake) to an "it's a girl!" cake. All of the other food should be able to stay the same.

Games will mostly likely not need to be altered whether or not the baby was born before the shower date. The only exception would be if one of the games involved something like guessing the baby's birth date, the birth weight, the time of day or night the baby will be born, gender, amount of time mommy to be had to spend in labor and so on.

If you had a guessing game like this planned, be prepared to switch it with an alternate game and you will be fine in the game category, too. Simply replace it with a memory game of the guests writing down every small baby related item they remember seeing on a tray that you pass around. (Have at least two dozen items on that tray because some people have excellent memories!)

Of course you also need to remember that if there is an early birth, the mother to be may not even be able to attend her own shower. In that case, of course, there would be no shower on the appointed date and it would have to be planned for sometime later. You may be tempted to ask the new mom if she would like her partner to attend the shower and pick up the baby's gifts and well wishes from friends and family . . . but don't do it. The baby shower, even if baby has already been born, will be a good time for mom to have a few hours with her family and friends. Anyone who has given birth knows that exhaustion that is part of the joyful new lifestyle for the first few months, so getting out for those few hours to nibble on finger food, play games, and see friends will be greatly appreciated.

So when should you plan for a baby shower to occur? It is never a good idea to plan a baby shower for too early in a pregnancy. The reasons for that are numerous but they are all very good and valid reasons. The shower should never be earlier than two months before the baby is due. Four to six weeks before the birth is usually the customary time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Yoga for Mommy and Baby

By Christina VanGinkel

With many new mothers, the idea of losing their post baby pounds is the furthest thing from their minds, what with all the other things occupying that space, such as finding the time to sleep and other basic chores such as brushing teeth and combing their hair. Eventually though, most new moms will step in front of a mirror and come to the realization that those pounds and flab from when baby was still in residence just are not going anywhere, at least not without some sort of help!

Some women will race off to a gym and kick in to a full routine with every available resource to whip them back into shape. Others will turn away from the mirror and just figure that they will have to deal with it later because sleep is calling to them. In addition, many will fall somewhere in between the two. If this is you, realizing that for your health's sake and the sake of fitting back into your closet full of clothes, you really should develop some plan of action, but you just do not know where to start, then do I have the plan for you!
After checking with your physician, that it is ok to start back into some sort of physical routine, your one obstacle left that many new mothers have in common, is figuring out what to do with baby while you embark on some sort of exercise plan. So, to avoid that being an issue, look for a gym or studio that encourages you to bring baby along. That is right, there are places that know and recognize exactly where you are at physically, and emotionally, after giving birth. They make it easy by offering an open door policy. Rules and regulations will vary from gym to gym, and studio to studio, but most offer some type of organized exercise routine, such as yoga, that will allow you to get that stretching and some light exercising in, while still keeping an eye on baby. Most have an age limit on the age of children that are allowed to attend with their mom, but it is often up to two years of age, so if you start right after your baby's birth, you will not have to worry about outgrowing the program right after beginning.

Baby can sleep while you exercise, and as they grow, most places encourage you to incorporate baby into your routine, providing you and them some extra playtime! Furthermore, depending on the individual studio, they may offer new mothers the option to stop in for a class on a pay as you go basis, instead of having you sign a contract without knowing if the situation will work for both you and baby.

If you are reading this and figure that finding a class like this is probably not an option in the locale you live in, you still have some options. Consider getting together with another new mother, or a couple of mothers, and forming your own group. Contact your church or community center to see of they would borrow you the space a couple of times a week for such an activity. You can also begin an exercise routine on your own if necessary, and with baby as a partner, you will not really be alone anyways! For some inspiration and direction, check out a book such as Baby Om: Yoga for Mothers and Babies, by Laura Staton. This book will provide you with the basic information to get you going in the right direction with yoga, how to interact with baby at the same time, and it has four complete lessons so you have no excuses. When you are finished reading that, or at the same time, also be sure to read Mommy Yoga: The Fifty Stretches of Motherhood by Julie Tilsner, for a very lighthearted look at this same subject.

Whatever plan you end up taking, just know that starting is the hardest part. Once you get going, you will soon be re-energized, and feeling more in tune with your pre-pregnancy self. While finding enough time to sleep and cover the basics will still be issues, you will at least have the energy to run a comb through the tangles and pull the covers down instead of just falling on top of them!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Teaching Kids Good Manners

By Christina VanGinkel

Teaching kids good habits and manners should be something that you do every day, not just when you suddenly realize your little pride and joy is going to be out in public at a social occasion where bad manners or no manners will be very apparent. Think of how many times you have been at a wedding, family reunion, or other large social gathering and you have seen children act out who were obviously old enough to know better, did not! Consider how many times you told yourself that would never be your children, only to suddenly realize that it possibly might be you.

It is never too late to teach children good manners, but the earlier you begin the better. When my children were small, we never went many places that our children could not attend, mostly because babysitters were outside of our budget, but also just because that was the way we were raising them. We figured we had them to be a part of a family, and a family that takes off and leaves the children with a babysitter every single time the adults went somewhere, was not much of a family. This is not to say we never left them, but that the majority of times we did not. This also means that they had a lot of social exposure from day one, as we did like to socialize, and as long as the kids were welcome, we were more apt to go.

We did some very basic things from early on, such as making sure the kids knew they had to be clean to come to the table. This meant teaching them basic hygiene habits, including washing hands. They were taught that when you sat at the table to eat, that is what you did, you sat there and ate, you did not put your food on other people's plates, you did not spit, you did not scream. In thinking back on how we conveyed these basics and other simple rules, I recall that what we strived to do was simply separate for them what was acceptable and what was not. If a child acted out in a manner that was distracting for the other people, one of use would take the child out of the room, or even leave all together. I remember once with our third child that he liked nothing more than taking off his clothes. This habit started when he was about two years old, and we dealt with it by trying to figure out for starters why he did this (he was hot), and then tried to make sure that he understood this was not acceptable behavior, especially in public. We also took partial responsibility and tried to gauge the atmosphere of where we were going to be, and always brought with lighter clothes in case we arrived somewhere that was warmer than we had thought. We strived to teach him acceptable behavior, but until he was old enough to grasp the concept, we took responsibility too for his actions.

Much of this was all brought to the forefront of my memory when we had dinner with several couples just the other day. Ages of those at the table ranged from about two years old to almost eighty. One couple had with them their three children, and I recall thinking that they looked much as we must have many times with our own three children in tow. Within a few minutes of sitting down to dinner, I was instantly thanking myself for never putting anyone through what our party was being subjected too. I am not referring to a fussy child, or a toddler that suddenly decides that it is prime time to throw a tantrum, as no parent, no matter how under control they think their kids are, can control; things like that. I am referring to a seven year old screaming at the top of her lungs because her brother, about five, was spitting food onto her plate. This was occurring as their youngest child, about three, was crawling out of the mother's lap, across the table. The biggest thing about the scenario is that the parents just sat there. They did not tell the little boy to quit, though they did tell their daughter to shut up. They commented that boys would be boys, and let me also tell you that I know that the oldest girl and the boy are considered gifted. The parents feel that allowing them to express themselves in any way they choose is good for the growth of their brain. How telling a child to shut up is good for them is not something I would agree with.

While this was an extreme case, my point is that simply teaching children fundamentals of decent behavior will make those times you bring your children to social functions much more pleasant for them, you, and all the other people in attendance. If you do this and you wind up with a tantrum being thrown (my children did this on more than one occasion), remove them from the gathering, tuck it away as an experience, and know that it will not be the first time a child has thrown a tantrum in public, nor is it the last. Know also, that every other parent in attendance can most likely relate. You will go away from it knowing that at least your child has the learning grounds for how to act in public, and you will never have to be the parent who just sits there while your child spits food at another!

Welcoming a New Baby into the Family

By Christina VanGinkel

I was given the news this week that I am to be a grandmother once again. In a matter of a few months, I will be grandmother to two instead of one. When I had my first child almost a quarter of a century ago, I wondered how I could ever love another child as much as I did that first one, yet each subsequent children that I gave birth to, I fell as madly in love with as I did that first. The same thing occurred when I was gifted with my grandson two and half years ago. I was lucky enough to be in the delivery room, staying at my daughter's side while her husband helped deliver their bundle of joy. I was able to hold him when he was literally just minutes old, and he has continued to worm his way deep into our hearts ever since those first minutes. I have thought more than once since his birth how no other grandchild will ever be as special as this first one. Yet upon hearing that another grandchild will soon be joining our family, I was keenly aware that not only would this one be as welcome as the first, and as loved, but so will others if, and when, they join the family.

Babies are as different from each other as the proverbial night and day, yet each are as alike in one very important way, their innocence. Whether one is a quiet baby, as my third child was, or that fusses at every sound and touch, which would have been our middle child, each is a baby that has joined the world with no preconceived ideas about us, so in return, they should have no predetermined thoughts toward them. I guess what I am trying to convey is that every infant that is entering our lives should be treated equally. They should be loved, whether they are fussy, quiet, screamers, what have you. They have no idea why they were suddenly thrust into this big, overbearing world, and while some deal with it better than others do, they all should ultimately receive the same necessities from us, the necessities of protection, and love.

If you are where I was, not sure that you could ever lover another child, or grandchild, as much as you do the first, look at it this way. What doubts did you have the first time you found out you were expecting, or that your first grandchild was on the way? Be honest with yourself, and consider if you had any doubts about how you would react. Think of how well those issues were resolved, and know that these following times will also be resolved in much the same way. While news of my next grandchild was not expected, and could have arrived under better circumstances than it has, that there are issues the parents themselves must deal with, nonetheless, the baby who is coming is not a part of that. He or she is not one bit responsible for the actions of his or her parents. He or she are as innocent as any human being could ever be, and I know without a doubt, that I will love this little person as much as all my own children and my first grandchild already here.

If you find yourself doubting how you can accept one more baby, under whatever your personal circumstances might be, know that if you just do, nothing more, nothing less, then it will work out. How could it not. I will admit I stumbled when I first heard the news, thoughts raced through my head, but then I told myself just what I have shared with you. I told myself that I would love this infant, period.

So, now I find myself with a few months to shop for a few gifts, to wander the baby aisles and look at all the tiny outfits, sleepers, and onesies, and to crochet one more blanket and sweater set as I have done for each of my own children and my first grandson. Something from my own hands, that will help convey my love, and let them know that they are a welcome addition to the family.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Toddlers are Curious by Nature

By Christina VanGinkel

Just when I thought, my grandson was old enough for me to leave the room he was in for a minute or two, you know, to run to the bathroom, or answer the phone, I was proven wrong. Yesterday, he was situated in my bedroom, sitting in the middle of our queen-sized bed, watching a cartoon on the television. I had been folding some laundry and he was also helping me do that. My daughter was visiting along with him, and was in the spare room / craft room, working on a scrapbook layout. This room is situated about one foot away from the bedroom. She asked me to come and see what she had accomplished with the page. I told him to keep watching the cartoon, that I would be right back to finish folding the pile of laundry. I exited the room, entered the room my daughter was in, looked at the page she was working on, picked it up, commented about the way a brad was attached, sat it back down in front of her on the worktable and went back into my bedroom. In the minute it took me to do this, my grandson had dumped the laundry basket of folded clothes back into the pile of unfolded. He had scooted off the bed and dumped another basket of unfolded laundry all over the floor. We have several strips of flooring edge lying beneath our bed, stored there for when we complete the floor in the bathroom off our room, and he had pulled out all three of those. He was in the midst of climbing back onto the bed when I walked back into the room.

I have in no way exaggerated the time line of these events. He was very busy in the minute, minute and a half at the most, which I was out of the room. While he did no harm and no harm came to him, it was a good reminder of why you should never leave a toddler unattended even for very short periods of time. The unexpected is so often the precursor of an accident, small or big. This is not to say that you have to sit and stare at a child twenty-four hours a day to keep him safe, it just means that you have to consider each time you do turn or walk away, leave the room, answer the phone, where they are at, what is around them, what they are apt to do. Part of this can be handled before anything does happen by childproofing the house. As a grandparent, I will admit that even though we still practice many obvious childproofing tactics, such as not leaving medicine anywhere he might be able to reach or climb, I am not so good about many unobvious things, like the edging strips beneath the bed. They should never have been left there in the first place, and should have been stored in the basement or a garage. They were there though, peeking out from beneath the bed for some time, and he had probably walked by them a couple dozen times, each time becoming more curious about what they were. It only took the one time for him to be left alone in the room for his building curiosity to get the better of him.

This brings us right back to toddlers in general. Curiosity is what drives them. Curiosity is a big part of how toddlers and young children learn. Without it, they would have no desire to see what is around the corner, under the bed, in the book. It is the foundation of how they learn. It is our responsibility as the adults to make sure that the curiosity is allowed to occur, but in as safe an environment as it can.

Take a few minutes to walk around your home, and then get down on your hands and knees in each room. Look at the rooms from your toddler's height, and by doing this will you will see a very different perspective of the place you live. It can highlight things that you might never have noticed as being attractive or interesting to a toddler. This is important to do whether you are a parent, grandparent, or anyone that has toddlers in your home that might be left unattended for even a moment. Curiosity is good for children, and it is our job to make sure that curiosity is watched. Now I have some more laundry to refold!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Giving Your Baby Something To Do While You're Working

While you are working, you will need something to occupy baby. This obstacle is one of the most common that work at home parents face. Instead of being able to work without distraction, you must find away to work around someone whose mission in life is to get your attention. There are a couple of answers for this dilemma. Try out these ideas and others that you come up with to see what will work for you and your baby.

First, you should pay attention to times when you cannot work. If your child is like mine, he or she will have certain times of the day when quiet time or alone play is more likely. My son is perfectly willing to entertain himself in the mornings but is less interested in doing so in the afternoons. Instead he wants me to be with him in the afternoons. That means that my schedule revolves around his needs, and I do not plan to do much working in the afternoons. Working from home with a baby is one of the times when you will have to let your child's needs and desires dictate the schedule. A screaming baby who has not seen outside the walls of your home in four days because you are working on a big project will become a hassle. In the end, both of you will be happier if you let your child's internal clock play a role in your family's plans.

Another key is to provide something for your baby to do. One simple way to do this is to gather a cardboard box and several days of junk mail. Keep it in the box so that it does not become an out of control clutter monster. Give it to your little one if you absolutely have to get something done. It will be entertaining for 10 or 15 minutes each day. If you have slightly older children, then you can consider adding in a few office supplies as well. This method will work only with older babies, past nine months or so. If you are dealing with a smaller baby, you can get light-up toys or other objects that you bring out only when Mommy or Daddy is working. That way the toy always captures the child's interest.

Some parents also will use other common devices, such as the occasional movie, to keep children occupied. While I do not endorse the idea of tossing your kids in front of the TV on a regular basis, to do so on occasion is okay if you need to get something done. If you are dealing with a baby, your best bet is to pick up a couple of Baby Einstein videos or others intended for the really little guy or gal. That will help keep him or her entertained for a few minutes while you work.

You also may want to consider hiring a babysitter for a few hours a week. While you are probably working from home in part because you want to be home with your children, getting a neighborhood teen to keep the little ones busy for 2 hours one day a week will give you a much-needed break. If you get one of these breaks, then you should use it to take care of over-the-phone business or other items that you cannot do when the kids are around.

Be willing to play with your schedule. It took me almost a year after my son was born to get a handle on the schedule. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it is always changing. Because my son's needs are constantly changing, my schedule must be flexible, which is one of the biggest requirements for someone to work from home. You, too, will find that babies grow and change rapidly. That means that their schedules (and yours) need to be adjusted frequently. Sometimes baby will take long naps; other days she may barely lie down. You need to be prepared for both scenarios, planning your work in weekly or monthly chunks, rather than daily ones. Flexibility is the number one attribute required for a parent working from home, and it is the reason many of them fail.

By Julia Mercer