Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's It Like to Have Four Kids?

"So, what's it like having four kids?" I get asked this reasonably often, especially by people with three kids who are considering another, or by people with one who can't imagine having more than that.

Comic Jim Gaffigan (now a father of five) has a great response. He says, "If you want to know what it's like to have a fourth, just imagine you're drowning...and then someone hands you a baby." (See his hilarious take on having 4 kids and home birth here:

Now that my fourth is almost a year old, I find having four is not that much more difficult than having three. You're already used to being "outnumbered," you're already used to mentally counting kids and locating them and your eyes darting around looking for the little one and calling out to the biggest one to help you with something and storing and retrieving hand-me-downs and buckling multiple car seats and feeding many, many mouths.

So what's it like to have four kids? It's like today:

G-d-knows-when-o'clock-A.M.: I, my husband, and the 11-month-old are sleeping in bed. 3-year-old climbs in, too, proceeds to sleep on baby's arm. Baby tries to roll over and can't, wakes up, and I nurse him back to sleep. Only one of numerous awakenings by said baby.

7:00 A.M.: Everyone is getting up for the day when the 5-year-old throws up. Supposed to be a short day at school followed by parent-teacher conferences. 5-year-old will stay home, but 8-year-old will go, because he's feeling fine.

8:00 A.M.: Dad takes 8-year-old to school. 5-year-old throws up again.

9:00 A.M.: 3-year-old has annual well visit at doctor's and 11-month-old has appointment for flu shot. Must drag sick 5-year-old along. He throws up in the car (fortunately into a barf bag which I so wisely brought with us). 3-year-old does great at doctor, flu shot administered to baby without drama.

9:30 A.M.: School calls to double check that 5-year-old is caught up on vaccinations (he is, we establish).

10:00 A.M: Back home from doctor. 5-year-old lies down to take a nap. 3-year-old wants a snack. Snack provided. I try to get some work done.

11:00 A.M.: Baby nurses to sleep. 3-year-old wants another snack. I tell him to wait for lunch. I try to get some work done.

11:30 A.M.: 5-year-old wants toast. 3-year-old decides he also wants toast. I want last night's dinner leftovers. Baby wakes but nurses back to sleep. 3-year-old wants the rest of my lunch. I give it to him and get myself some crackers.

12:00: 5-year-old feels better. Everyone has eaten. I get a little work done.

1:00 P.M.: Time to pick up 8-year-old from school and then stay for book fair and teacher conferences. Older three play on the school playground while the baby roams the classrooms during the conferences and attempts to choke on small objects.

2:10 P.M.: Round everyone up and come home. Everyone wants a snack. Oldest has homework. Middle two watch TV. I get a little more work done.

4:15 P.M.: Round everyone up again to go to the bank, have dinner, then drop the oldest two off at Hebrew school.

6:30 P.M.: Arrive home with 3-year-old and baby, nurse baby, who has fallen asleep in the car seat and is now cranky but shouldn't really be napping, while 3-year-old watches TV and demands my assistance with selecting a show.

7:15 P.M.: Start giving warning that it will be time to get ready for bed soon. Await return of two older boys and Daddy from Hebrew school.

7:30 P.M.: Baby is crying hysterically while I try to get work done, so I take him to nurse him some more and hope he goes to sleep. He does not.

8:00 P.M.: Daddy and older two get home. Toddler goes running to say hi. Bedtime chaos ensues and resolves in the next 25 minutes. 3-year-old tells me to go away, so I take the baby to try once again to get him to sleep for the night.

9:00 P.M.: Baby is finally asleep for now. 3-year-old wants more attention but is told in no uncertain terms to go to sleep. Older two are drifting off. I go back to my computer to maybe get some work done.

9:45 P.M.: I've decided to practice guitar a little. I hear footsteps and find that the 8-year-old has emerged to get himself some water. Then the baby wakes up. I nurse him back to sleep, then return to my computer to finally (?) get some work done!

10:45 P.M.: Working steadily. Now the nightly question: Go to bed now and leave work unfinished in the hope I can finish it tomorrow, or stay up and finish it so I can move on to something else tomorrow? Also, I should get to the dishes at some point.

11:25 P.M.: I give up. I'm going to bed now. Dishes are not done and neither is work, but at least all four kids are asleep...for now.

So what's it like to have four kids? There's always something to do, always something going on. Someone is always pulling you in a direction you weren't planning to go, while another needs you to go in yet a third direction. Constant interruptions, constant noise, constant LIFE. It's lively. It's exciting. It's schlepping and cleaning up and serving and assisting. It's carving out moments to do what needs doing and finding minutes to do what you want to do.

And when you climb into bed at the end of a long day and snuggle up to your precious young one, you breathe deeply, sigh with relief, and mentally prepare for what surprises tomorrow may bring.

It's's like you're drowning...and someone hands you a baby. And you snuggle that baby allll night.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Zombies, Run! Exercising after Four Kids!

I have often thought it would be nice to find some kind of exercise or activity I could do to get and stay fit and improve my overall physical health, but I always found that having my kids around made that too difficult, either financially or logistically or both. I also had trouble finding something that held my interest. Simply walking was too boring. I hated running. I didn't have convenient access to a swimming pool, and I don't like swimming anyway. Besides, no matter what activity I chose, I'd have to either find childcare or somehow cart my kids along.

Recently, I committed to trying a "couch to 5K" training program. These types of programs are aimed at sedentary people who would like to work up to running regularly. It sounded perfect to me. I have a double jogging stroller, my older two kids are at school during the day, and I could plop the 3-year-old and the baby in the stroller and go out for regular runs.

The beauty of the couch to 5K program is it's a very clear regimen. There are some variations, but they all use interval training and drills to take you from basically a couch potato to being able to run for 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in about eight to nine weeks.

I chose to use the Zombies, Run! 5K app for my phone to help guide me through the drills. The app has a back story in which you are the sole survivor of a crash into zombie-infested territory, and you make your way to a safe base. The people there train you to become a runner for them. Being part of a little story makes it more fun, but the training itself is solid.

For this particular program, you do three workouts a week for eight weeks. I've completed the first four episodes so far. The first episode is the introduction, where you learn about your character and do kind of a free walk/run for about 35 minutes. The next three workouts then were training oriented, using this pattern: You walk for 10 minutes to warm up. You then alternate walking for one minute and running for 15 seconds, 10 times. Finally, you take 10 minutes of a free walk/run, where you walk or run as you're able and cool off. Each workout is about 35 minutes. The app can play music from your internal device playlists, but I don't have any, so I set up a Pandora channel of 80's pop music, which is super fun to run to.

The app claims to also track your distance, but I couldn't get that to work on my phone for some reason, so I also downloaded Map My Run, which uses the GPS in your device to track your distance and draws a map of the route you took. It chimes in at each mile to tell you your distance and time, and at the end of a run, it tells you approximately how many calories you burned, how far you went, your mile times, etc. You can share this information to Facebook and other social media if you want.

The combination of the two apps is really motivating. I want to hear the next part of the story, and I want to work up to the next, more difficult, drills. My next training run will have me running for 30 seconds at a time and adds other exercises to the mix. That, combined with seeing my distances increase on Map My Run will be really neat. I'm excited for the first time I break that 3-mile point. So far, my workouts have taken me a little over 2 miles, mostly walking.

Exercise falls under the category of "self care," doing things for yourself that improve your overall feeling of well-being. I think parents often find it difficult to take time for self care because they're so busy filling the needs of the small people they live with, contributing to the family, and taking care of others. Thirty-five minutes a day isn't so much, really (I'm sure I spend far more than that roaming Facebook, for example), and the benefits I reap are great. I especially treasure the times I get to go out without the kids along (when my husband is available to be with the kids, or when we happen to have a babysitter at the house), because then it's truly "me time."

So far, my walk/runs have left me feeling good, energized, and pleasantly tired. I'm more focused when I sit down at my desk to work. I'm happier. I'm more patient with the kids. This is the first time I've actually enjoyed and looked forward to exercising, and especially running!

If you want to follow my Couch to 5K progress, I post a selfie with the results of the day's workout on my instagram feed. Here's today's selfie:

#c25k today was 2.28 miles in 36 minutes, same workout as the two previous. Next workout will increase run time and add a new exercise. Also, my first#zombiesrun mission completed! (Good news, I escaped the zombie. In case you were worried.)

Have you done a Couch to 5K program, or something similar? Tell us about it!

*I downloaded these apps for my personal use and was not asked by either company to endorse or review their products.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And On To Another School Year...

I'm ambivalent about the end of summer and the start of the school year. If all of my kids were in school, I would probably look forward to the start of school more, as a chance to have some quiet in the house. But since I will now have two at home and two at school, it's kind of a toss-up whether I prefer school vacations or regular school days.

The advantage, for me, of non-school days is not having to deal with drop-off and pick-up. If I don't have to worry about being back in time to pick up one or another of my kids from school, then we can take longer afternoon outings, plan errands, pop out for lunch or dinner, or just hang around the house all day, and no one has to be tossed into his car seat in the middle of a nap or playtime.

On the other hand, when my kids are in school, the house is quieter. There are fewer personalities to deal with, less arguing. It's generally more peaceful. (Although, I expect this to change as the baby moves into toddlerhood and buts heads more often with his brother.) Plus, when the kids are in school, I feel like at least for some hours of the day they're not simply staring at a screen all day, they're not sitting like lumps on the couch, and their brains are engaged. They're socializing and playing and learning. So when they come home and want to veg out, I don't feel as bad about it.

I generally despise "schlepping." Going from one place to another, strapping all four kids into the car, getting all four out of the car, into the car, out of the car, entertaining three while the other is at an activity, going to pick up one or two while the others are just along for the ride. I don't like being bound to strict schedules and having to disrupt everyone else's routines for the sake of one. This is family life, and no one is more important than anyone else, but I feel bad that the babies tend to get slighted and spend so much time in the car. I also dislike feeling torn between supervising homework and supervising toddlers, neglecting one child because the other needs more support, and leaving the older ones mostly to their own devices because the younger ones still need me so much. I think it all balances out in the end, but in the moment it is hard for everyone.

I am excited for my 5-year-old to finally start kindergarten, though! For the first time, two of my kids will be at the same school, together, every day. I won't get into the insane kindergarten schedule this school has that I am not as excited about. He's counting down the days until he starts. He's so excited. He really craves friends and learning and I'm sure this will be a great year for him.

My biggest is starting third grade, which blows my mind. I know kids get bigger and older and move forward through life at what is apparently a staggering rate, but third grade feels so big. I'm mostly excited for him. I hope he'll be challenged and rewarded for rising to that challenge. I hope he'll solidify friendships, learn all sorts of new information he can pepper his conversation with, and start really diving into what school is all about.

We'll settle into a routine and work out the kinks as the year goes on, and before I know it, it'll be summer again, with it's relaxation and stir-craziness. I have the feeling I'll really appreciate summer break by the time it rolls around next June!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Can't Face Telling My Son About Robin Williams' Death

I am very, very shaken by the news of Robin Williams' death. I read about it on Facebook yesterday while my oldest son was sitting behind me in the office, using his computer. I couldn't help but verbalize my shock. "Oh my God," I said. "Oh my God. I can't believe it. Oh my God."

"What, Mommy?" my son asked. "What happened?"

"Oh, um, an actor died. I'm just really surprised. He was only 63."

"How did he die?"

I stopped. It was only just being reported. Suspected suicide...struggle with addiction and depression...suicide by asphyxiation...died after a battle with depression and addiction... I couldn't. I didn't want to explain. I didn't want it to be true. Why couldn't it have been an aneurysm, or cancer, or a heart attack, or a car accident? Something tangible that I could easily explain as an external force, a tragedy.

And yet, depression so severe that a person cannot live with it anymore is a tragedy. A horrible, silent, gut-wrenching tragedy. But it's so much more hidden and so much more unrecognized, and it should be treatable. It should. It just feels so unfair.

I didn't know how to say this to my tender seven-year-old. How could I explain that some people get so sad that they kill themselves?

"Oh, um, they don't know yet. They just found out about it," I lied. I couldn't face the conversation.

"But why are you so surprised?" he asked. As if to say, he was 63, and sometimes people die, and it's not like you knew the guy.

"I guess I just wasn't expecting it. He's a really well known and loved actor, and 63 is still pretty young," I said. How could I tell him that this was a man so full of life and light? How could I explain that it was unbearably sad to see someone so admired and successful struggle through such a dark tunnel that he couldn't find his way out? How could I convey the depth of grief I feel for someone I've never met and yet could make such an impact on me and on so very many others?

He's probably already forgotten about the whole thing. After all, Robin Williams isn't a household name for him the way it is for me. One day we'll watch Mrs. Doubtfire together, or Jumanji, or Hook, and he'll ask if the actor is still alive, and I'll tell him he's not, and he'll ask how he died (because he's that kind of kid) and maybe then I'll be far enough removed from the shock and grief to find the words. But right now, I just want to protect him from that kind of knowledge. The kind of knowledge that sometimes the world is unfair and diseases take people from us who had so much more to give.

If you're hurting, please seek help. And if you think someone around you is hurting, please reach out. Depression is a disease just as much as cancer or diabetes, and no one should suffer alone.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Solo Road-Tripping with Four Kids

I just spent two weeks with my mom and four kids. I drove from the Bay Area to San Diego by myself with the kids. The drive down wasn't bad, but took much longer than it would have (a) without kids; or (b) with more than one adult. The drive back, we encountered some very bad traffic and it took even longer than the drive down.

I did learn a few things.

New ideas that worked well:

1) Change up the seating arrangements partway through.
Since we have four kids, we have two in the middle row of our van and two in the back. Partway through the drive, I swapped the baby and the oldest, so the oldest and toddler were in the middle row and the 5year-old and baby were in the back. (Make sure you're comfortable removing and reinstalling car seats if you choose to do this!) Since the two oldest were prone to fight after spending too much time in the back together, this broke up that issue. It also enabled each of the older two to help out the younger two.

2) Individual lunch boxes full of snacks.
We went to Target the day before the trip and picked out different sorts of snacks. We then packed each kid his own lunch box with the same set of snacks. They could keep their food with them and eat what they wanted whenever they felt like it, and I didn't have to be handing around food while driving or policing what anyone was eating. This was an especially good idea since I was driving alone and didn't have an extra set of hands to help with the passing out of food.

3) Gallons of water and refillable bottles.
Each kid had a close-able, refillable water bottle, and we kept two one-gallon bottles of water in the car. We refilled water bottles at stops. This created far less waste than disposable bottles would have and was more fun. I also found the water tasted less plasticky and was more enjoyable from a reusable bottle.

4) Crayola Color Wonder markers.
My toddler is prone to color on anything within reach, so I bought a travel set of Color Wonder markers for them to use. It was novel, because we haven't used them much at home, and it was neat and clean.

5) Barf bags, emergency clothes, and hand wipes.
I bought a package of emesis bags from Amazon to keep in the car, just in case. I also had each kid pack a full outfit outside the suitcase that we kept in the car just in case a change of clothes was needed quickly. This way, we wouldn't have to dig through suitcases in the trunk to find a change. Fortunately, no one threw up in the car (I attribute this to the fact that we had barf bags available). However, at one of the rest stops on the way home, the toddler fell into a mud puddle and required a change of clothes. Emergency change to the rescue! I also bought a 4-pack of hand sanitizing wipes for the kids to keep near them. These were great for cleaning hands after a snack or after using a gas station or rest stop bathroom with questionable hand-washing facilities.

6) Plan to take much longer than the GPS claims.
Accept that an eight-hour drive may take 10 or 11 hours (it did for us, anyway). Stop when you need to. Use the restroom every time you stop. Eating will take twice as long as you expect. Don't push yourself or the kids. Make everyone (even the babies) get out and run around or move around every time you stop. They're confined in their car seats and need to stretch, too.

And some thoughts for next time:

1) Pack whole outfits in individual bags.
I've heard this suggested and had planned to do it this time but got lazy. Pack individual full outfits in separate bags so that each day the kid can pull out a whole outfit without having to root through the suitcase for what he needs.

2) Bring a collapsible hamper.
If going somewhere where you'll be able to wash clothes, bring a cheap hamper to put dirty clothes in so they don't get all mixed up with the clean ones.

3) Unpack into drawers.
I didn't bother to unpack the suitcases at our destination, but I think it would have been nice to do so. We were there for two weeks, and it got pretty annoying to root through the suitcases looking for clothes. Another option might be for each person to have his or her own suitcase instead of mixing up the clothes.

Do you have tips for accomplishing a solo road trip with kids? Have you tried any of the above tips? How did they work for you?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Adventures with the Toddler in Walmart, or Just Buy the Damn Froot Loops

We went to Walmart on Sunday. I hadn't been to Walmart in about a year, because there isn't one near me where I live now. But we went on a trip to visit my mom, and there are several Walmarts near her. I wanted to get things we'd need during the trip, and I didn't want to spend a lot of extra money doing so.

I realize a trip to Walmart is fraught with ethical, political, and social justice questions for those of us privileged enough to care about such things, but that's not what this post is about.

This post is about toddler meltdowns and the management thereof.

We needed groceries for the two weeks we're here. We had just arrived on Saturday evening, and the kids were tired, excited, overwhelmed, and a little discombobulated. We didn't change time zones. We didn't leave the state. But it was still different and fun and new and unusual and so they were, understandably, not quite themselves.

Anyway, whenever I take all the kids to almost any store, they get a little nuts.

It was about 11:00 in the morning. The kids usually have a snack around 10:30, but we were going from one errand to the next after having a later-than-usual and bigger-than-usual breakfast, so the snack didn't happen. This matters. A lot.

We got to the peanut butter section. We needed a small jar of peanut butter. My almost-three-year-old, G, picked up a jar - at random! - from the shelf and announced we should get that one. It wasn't the brand I wanted or the type I wanted. It looked like it wouldn't taste good. I showed him the jar I wanted to buy and told him to put away the one he'd picked up.

You know what happened, don't you, if you've ever had an almost-3-year-old who is sleep deprived, hungry, and excited, right?

Yes. He melted down. Screaming, tears running down his face, collapsing to the floor, the works. Could. Not. Handle. It. We had to get this peanut butter. He wanted this peanut butter.

I did not want the peanut butter he had offered. I took it from him and put it back on the shelf, showed him the jar I wanted, and put that one in the cart. We moved on. He followed, still crying piteously. I don't think he even knew what he was crying about anymore.

Then, just as he was calming down from the Peanut Butter Incident, G tripped over his brother's foot, fell, and hit his head on the wheel of the cart. Resume meltdown status! I comforted him as best I could, rubbed the sore spot, tried to settle him back down. I spotted the Parmesan cheese. We needed Parmesan. I didn't particularly care which container of Parmesan we ended up with. G loves his "papajon cheese." I said, "Look! G! Look! What's that up there?" Tears continue. "G! Look! Parmesan cheese! Do you want to pick out the Parmesan?" I was talking in the exaggerated, desperate, high-pitched, overly sweet voice most moms know well, the one that says, "Please, oh please be distracted by what I'm doing so you'll stop crying. Please, please, please!"

No dice. The "papajon" cheese wasn't enough to enable him to get over the Peanut Butter Incident and the Bumping Head On Cart Fiasco.

I chose the obvious Parmesan option and tossed it into the cart and we attempted to move on.

Next came the cereal aisle. I wasn't intending to buy cereal at all, but the kids like it, and when G saw where we were, he finally - finally! - gathered himself and returned to Normal Operating State. Mostly.

He picked up a Family Size box of Froot Loops. Of all the cereals in the aisle, of all the options there, he picked up a Family Size Box Of Froot Loops.

"Mommy, can we get cereal? I want this cereal!" he said, in his impossibly cute little voice.

"No," I started to say. "Let's get - "

He looked up at me with those big brown eyes. Those big brown eyes that said, "You don't want me to melt down again, do you? DO YOU?" Those big, adorable, tired, overwhelmed, excited, hungry, brown eyes, attached to that adorable, tear-streaked face, with that adorable, curly, disheveled, bright orange hair. He looked up at me, clutching the big red box of Froot Loops, the Family Size box of disgusting, sweet, colorful, horrible cereal, and said, "Mommy, I want this cereal!"

My sentence did not end with "Cheerios." It instead switched direction mid-word and became, "Okay. Yes. Let's get that cereal!" And into the cart it went.

That wasn't the end of our shopping trip by a long shot, but it was the end of the meltdowns. There was a minor setback when the question of which chips to buy came up, but we were able to prevent that one from escalating by allowing him to take his sweet time choosing exactly which flavor of Pringles to buy.

(I realize it sounds like we bought a cartful of junk food, but I promise we also bought lots of other stuff. Really.)

Anyone who witnessed only the Cereal Selection Episode and the Pringles Question might think we were indulging our toddler, that we were giving in to his demands, that we were spoiling him. But I hope that most parents would realize that sometimes you give in just to get your shopping done. Sometimes, you want to spare your overwhelmed toddler (and your exhausted self) the stress of yet another tantrum. And sometimes you simply can't reason with, or win against, a toddler on the edge, and it's easier just to buy the damn Froot Loops.

At least he's eaten them for breakfast every morning since.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm So Happy My Kids Love Summer Camp

When I was a kid, I had to go to summer camp. Not being a very outdoorsy or athletic child, I generally hated camp. I didn't like swimming, particularly. I didn't like being outside all day. I didn't like a lot of the group activities we did. I have some good memories, like archery and acting electives, some of the art projects, things like that. But, generally, traditional summer camps and I were not a good match.

There was one year when I attended a youth theater camp. I loved that. I really enjoyed learning about acting and directing a play. I couldn't be in the play because we were leaving camp the day before the performance, but they assigned me the role of Assistant Director. I had a blast. It was indoors and interesting for me, and I was so relieved not to be forced to spend the day in the scorching sun running around and doing crazy team activities I didn't like.

So when my son got old enough to attend summer camp, I had to make a decision. "Make" him go to camp to get the experience, or "save" him from the hell that is summer camp (to me)?

My rabbi and his wife had a small but energetic summer camp that they ran through the synagogue. My son already had quite a few friends in that camp, I was close with the rabbi's wife and trusted her, and they made the camp sound very exciting. They took trips twice a week, went swimming, did lots of different types of activities, and kept the kids very, very busy all day. It sounded like something I would exactly hate, but when I told my son about it, he was excited. He wanted to go. So I signed him up.

He had a blast, and is now attending for a third summer. His younger brother is attending fort he first time this year, and was equally excited. I'm only sending them for a week this summer, and in past years he went for two weeks, but it's a great way to break up the school vacation and give them a new experience.

A bonus to all of it is that it's a Jewish camp, so they are spending the day with Jewish friends, and there is a Jewish element to everything they do. They say a blessing over the food they eat, they learn about Shabbat, they sing Jewish songs, and they foster a love of Judaism. This extra bit is what really sold me, because my kids go to a regular public school, so this is a great boost to their Jewish lives and sense of self.

My kids came back from their first and second days of camp bubbling over with excitement, both for the activities they'd done that day and for those planned for later in the week. The five-year-old was anxious to share his bunk cheer, and the seven-year-old had a whole narrative about what had happened at the pool. They can't wait to go in the morning and are happily exhausted on the drive home.

If my kids ever came to me and said they hated camp, I wouldn't make them go, or I would try to find some other activity or camp that would speak more to their interests. I don't need childcare, although it's nice for them to be able to get out of the house and be with other people besides boring Mommy all day, and I don't want them to grow up resenting those weeks spent in the hot sun. But, conversely, since they do love it, I will make the effort to have them attend every year, so they can grow up with this fond memory and a healthy family tradition.

It's important for us to remember, as parents, that our kids are not us. They will like some things we don't, and they will dislike some things we like. We want to share our positive experiences with them and protect them from negative ones. But my negative experience may not be so for them. And something I loved as a kid may not interest them.

My kids are like me in a lot of ways, but they are also unlike me in many. They are exuberant, friendly, outgoing, and engaging little boys, compared to the shy, introverted, slow-to-warm, timid little girl I was. They like to be in the thick of things, and I liked to be a wallflower. They like new experiences, and I liked the familiar and routine. I want to honor the people they are and help them continue to extend those boundaries and enrich their world.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Help! My Baby Won't Nurse in Public!

You know how I go on and on about how convenient breastfeeding is, and how you can do it anywhere, and you never have to worry about getting home to feed the baby, or running out of supplies while you're out, or needing to make a special trip to the store for formula or bottles?

Well, all of that is completely true, of course.

Unless you're my baby. Apparently.

Because MY baby refuses - REFUSES - to nurse anywhere but in bed. He WILL NOT NURSE anywhere but lying down in bed with me.

I mean this quite literally.

If he gets hungry while we're out of the house, I'm perfectly fine with sitting down to nurse him wherever we happen to be. After all, I have no problem nursing in public. I don't mind taking a few minutes to nurse him at...a restaurant, a friend's house, the park... But as soon as I get him into the cradle hold, he'll turn away from me and squirm. And if I have the audacity to actually offer the breast, he will scream bloody murder. People must think I'm insane. He screams and cries hysterically, like I'm torturing him! I'm not kidding! I'm not exaggerating! It's ridiculous!

I guess I got myself into this mess. We're at home most of the time, and he can go three or four hours without nursing. This means he's often ready to nap when he's ready to nurse. So I take him to bed and lie down with him to nurse him so that if he falls asleep, I won't have to worry about transferring him to the bed.

But I like nursing in bed!

What's happened is that I end up only ever nursing him in bed at home, which over time has translated to his only wanting to nurse in bed. It became a vicious cycle. He won't nurse when we're out, so I wait until we get home. But since I wait until we get home, he's gotten used to waiting until we get home, even if it's going to be many, many hours. I fear he doesn't even realize it's the breast that matters. He seems to associate eating with being in my bed!

Don't believe me?

On Saturday, he nursed around 8:30 in the morning when he woke up. He then wasn't hungry before we left for various activities out of the house around 10:45, so he didn't nurse before we left. We were then out of the house until 6:30 that evening. He did not nurse once that entire time. Ten hours, we were out, and he wouldn't nurse. I tried several times. I tried at synagogue, before he got frantically hungry. I tried in the car. I tried sitting in a chair outside a Starbucks.

I tried.

I really did.

And each time he got so angry.

I was able to give him little bits of solid foods throughout the day. He ate a bite of fish at lunch, and some rice at dinner. Hardly a meal, though.

When we finally got home, he nursed in bed very happily, and very hungrily.

I've tried offering him expressed milk in a bottle or sippy cup. I've tried lots of different nursing positions. I've tried on chairs and couches, in cradle hold, him sitting on my lap, even lying down on the floor or couch! I've tried in the car in the driver's seat, the passenger's seat, him in his car seat and me standing over him and dangling my boob into his mouth. That used to work.

The car seat feed.

The only thing I haven't tried is cold turkey - not nursing in bed at all. If he gets hungry enough, will he finally nurse elsewhere?

I have a two-week trip coming up where he'll have to nurse in other places. If I can't change his habits before then, I'm hoping this will "reset" him so that he'll re-learn to eat while we're out. It's gotten totally absurd, and it's an untenable situation at this point. He's not old enough to simply forego nursing all day in favor of solids. I don't want him to! I want him to nurse when he's hungry, wherever we happen to be.

I miss being able to do this.

Have you had a problem like this? Did it resolve, or did you fix it somehow? How old was your baby and how did you make the change?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Using Your Car Seat on an Airplane

A little disclaimer here: The last time I was on an airplane was March 2007, when I flew cross country with my then-4-month-old*. However, as travel season has arrived and we're already hearing stories about parents harassed by aircraft crews for using child safety seats during flights, I thought an article about this topic was warranted.

The FAA is very clear that it is recommended for all children to use an approved child safety restraint (car seat) on flights. It is safest for a baby to ride in a car seat on an airplane in the same manner as they would ride in one in a car. This means that if you have a baby who normally rides in a rear-facing car seat in the car, then your safest course of action is to have your baby ride rear-facing in a car seat on the airplane as well.

Here is the FAA's page on using car seats on planes:

The easiest option for you is to simply bring your car seat with you when you travel. Make sure your car seat says on it that it is FAA approved for use on airplanes. Almost all car seats are approved for airline use. Check your car seat manual for instructions on installing it on an airplane. You cannot use LATCH when installing a car seat on an airplane. You will use the seat belt on the plane to secure the car seat. The car seat does not count as a carry-on item.

But airlines allow children under 2 to fly free on a parent's lap. Why should I buy a seat for the baby and lug my car seat with me? 

This is a common question. It's certainly attractive to save money by not purchasing a ticket for your baby. However, at some point you will have to start paying for a ticket for your child (when they turn 2!), so weigh carefully your child's safety against your travel budget when you make your decision. There are no laws requiring you to use a car seat on a plane, except the laws of physics! However, car seat technicians and safety experts do agree that it is considerably safer for a child to ride in his own purchased seat in an approved child restraint when flying. Just like you keep your child rear-facing beyond one year and 20 pounds even though the law says otherwise, consider having that same child ride rear-facing in a car seat on the airplane as well.

I can give you another excellent reason to take your car seat with you onto the plane and use it: You'll likely need it at your destination anyway. This way, you don't have to check the seat. We've all seen videos of how checked baggage is treated. Many of us have had bags or belongings damaged by baggage handlers. Once your car seat has been checked, you can't guarantee that it wasn't abused. It may no longer be safe to use in a car and may no longer safely restrain your child in an accident after it has been through baggage checking on a plane! And if you weren't otherwise planning to take your car seat with you, consider that the seats available for rent from car rental agencies are typically not well maintained, have suspicious history, and are not guaranteed to be the right seat for your child. I know I would be more comfortable having my own car seat at my destination than relying on the unknown upon arrival.

According to this site, 36% of plane accidents occur on final approach and landing, and 32% occur during taxi and takeoff. There's a reason airlines want you to be sitting and buckled in during those phases of the flight. Being restrained and sitting properly in your seat is the best way to keep you safe. Consider that if you are sitting unrestrained or walking around the aircraft, and the airplane (traveling at something like 200mph) stops suddenly due to a crash, you will go flying. Inertia doesn't discriminate. Now, think about the child on your lap. A child weighing 20 pounds traveling 200mph will exert a force of 4000 pounds on your loving arms in a sudden stop. Could you hold on to 4000 pounds moving away from you? I couldn't. Think: Why do airlines require that all your baggage be securely stored in the overhead compartments or under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing? Because if something happens, those items could go flying and injure someone. Your baby could be a projectile as easily as your laptop could. The car seat is designed to keep your child cradled gently as the vehicle jerks to a stop. Using a car seat on a flight can mean the difference between minor injuries and death for your child in a runway accident.

But what if the crew tells me I can't use it?

Now that word is getting out that it's safest to use a car seat on a flight, more parents are purchasing seats for their babies and taking their car seats with them. This is fantastic, and most of them don't run into any problems installing and using the seat as intended during the flight.

However, I have heard several stories in just the past few weeks about families who were bullied by the flight crew into either not using their seat at all or using it inappropriately, and these stories come up reasonably often. Remember that thousands of people fly every day and if we only hear a few of these stories a month, that means hundreds of families are not having issues with flying with their car seats. However, flight crews should be educated in both FAA regulations and their own airlines' policies regarding child restraints and child safety on their aircraft so that no parent has to worry about being harassed or bullied for trying to keep their child safe.

If a flight attendant tells you that you cannot use your car seat as intended (for example, rear-facing) when you are using it in an FAA-approved manner, your best bet is to have a copy of the FAA regulations and their own airline's policy in your pocket that you can whip out and show them. Explain that you are following the safety recommendations from safety experts, including the FAA and NTSB. Try not to become angry or belligerent but to explain your position as calmly as possible. You are within your rights to use your car seat on the flight, and if the seat doesn't fit in your assigned seat, the crew are required to make every reasonable effort to find you a seat where it does fit. After your flight, contact the airline via their customer service department and/or social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and explain what happened and what the eventual outcome was. Most airlines will be willing to work with you to ensure that their flight crews are trained in correct procedures. If possible, have the flight number, the confirmation number on your ticket, and the name(s) of any of the members of the flight crew who were involved in your conflict so that you can have a productive discussion with the airline company.

Be prepared.

As always when traveling with children, it's important to prepare ahead of time. Just as you'll check to make sure you have diapers and wipes, food and supplies and toys for your child, make sure you have their car seat ready and available and that you know how to install it. Your car seat manual will have instructions for airplane use. If you can't find your manual, almost all manuals are available on the manufacturer's website for download. You could even save the instructions directly to your smartphone or iPad so you'll have it easily accessible if you need it.

If you can, try to reserve a bulkhead seat so that there will be ample room for your car seat without bothering anyone in front of you. A rear-facing car seat must be secured in the window seat so that it does not block anyone's access to the aisle of the plane, so when you reserve your seat, if possible, take that into consideration. See if you can work with the ground crew and the flight crew to make your boarding and car seat installation and smooth and quick as possible.

Tell us about your experiences!

If you have flown with a child in a car seat, please comment here or at the Facebook page about how it went for you. Did you feel that the flight crew accommodated your needs? Do you have any specific tips for airline travel with babies, specifically in reference to using the car seat on the flight?

*When I did fly with my 4-month-old, I bought him a seat and took his car seat with us and installed in on the plane. I recall having absolutely no problems and was very happy to have the car seat with me. The baby slept a good portion of the time in his seat, leaving my arms and lap free, and it was very convenient to simply have the seat with me at my destination. I flew Southwest, PHL to LAX, in March of 2007.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Is It Ever Okay To Leave A Child Alone In A Car?

On March 20, 2014, Shanesha Taylor had a job interview, after years of scraping by (and not scraping by) on low-paying retail jobs and going from house to house with her three children because she couldn't afford her rent. But when she arrived at the baby-sitter's house to drop off her two-year-old and six-month-old babies, the baby-sitter wasn't there. Stuck in a difficult position, Ms. Taylor had to make a quick decision about what to do with her children while she interviewed for this job. It was a job she was sure she would get. It paid well and would open the door to a much better future for herself and her kids. In a last, desperate move, she parked in the shade, left the fan running in the car, and went into the 70-minute job interview while her babies slept in the car.

Even her protective measures weren't enough to keep the car from heating up in the early spring Arizona sun, and her babies woke up and started crying. A passerby heard the crying and called the police. The children were hot but unharmed, and when Ms. Taylor came out of the office building, feeling great about the interview and her prospects for a better life, she found her car surrounded by police and her babies already on their way to the hospital to be assessed. She was arrested and charged with felony child abuse.

Her story hit the internet when her mug shot, with tears streaming down her face, went viral. As always, people lined up to take sides. Ms. Taylor became the poster child for poverty in the U.S., the difficulty of getting out of the cycle of homelessness and unemployment, and highlighting what's wrong with the "system," especially for women and minorities. (Ms. Taylor is African-American.) Money was quickly raised both for her bail and for her to find a home, and a petition was started to ask the prosecutor to use his discretion to drop the charges against her. "It's not like she left them alone to go party or buy drugs!", many commented. "She was going to JOB INTERVIEW!" On the other hand, plenty of commenters took the other side, that she made a very irresponsible decision to leave her kids alone for over an hour in a car, that they could have died in the hot sun, or been kidnapped, or her car could have been stolen, and what was she going to do about childcare if she did get the job? Some said she should have called to reschedule the interview, or taken the boys in with her and explain her dilemma, or taken them to a family member to be cared for. Obviously, whichever decision she made could have had unfortunate repercussions for her or her children, but the decision she ultimately made has certainly caused her pain and heartache and cost her both the job and her children. Thankfully, her sons are safe, unharmed, and staying with family until her case is decided.

Two years ago, Kim Brooks was in a hurry to catch a flight after a visit to her parents' home. She had two hours to get herself and her four-year-old packed up and to the airport, but she needed to run in to the store to grab headphones for her son to use on the plane. He insisted on coming with her, though she would have preferred to leave him at his grandparents' house while she ran the quick errand. Without time to argue, she let him come along, but he balked when they got to the store. He wanted to wait in the car playing with the iPad while she went in. She assessed the situation. It was cloudy and 50 degrees. There was no chance that her car would get hot, nor was her son in danger of freezing. She knew it would take her five minutes to run in and get the headphones, and she was stressed and rushing and didn't want to deal with a tantruming four-year-old. So she let him stay in the car for a few minutes, playing happily on the iPad, while she popped in to the store. When she came back, her son was still sitting happily, and they rushed off to the airport and flew home.

When they got home, there was a call from her parents saying that police were in their driveway. Apparently a bystander had videoed Ms. Brooks leaving her child in the car and running in to the store. After she had already left, this woman called the police, who used the license plate on the van (her parents' car) to track down her parents. What followed was a two-year nightmare of legal battles, court dates, and eventually conviction on a misdemeanor for contributing to the delinquency of a child. She did community service. Her child was frightened of the police, worried that he'd be taken away or that she would be, all for five minutes in a car parked in front of a store.

One freezing day a few winters ago, Aaron Gouveia went to the supermarket. He didn't usually have the baby with him on Wednesdays, but this Wednesday, the relative who usually cared for the baby wasn't available, so Mr. Gouveia carted the baby along with him. Only, he forgot that the baby was in the car and went in to the store. It was only because he had left his shopping list that he went back out to the car, and when he got there, he saw his son sitting in his car seat. "...a missing grocery list was the only thing that prevented me and my son from becoming a headline," Mr. Gouveia writes. Thankfully, neither father nor son was harmed by this frightening event.

These three stories have made the rounds on Facebook and were published in major media outlets recently. Reports about kids being left in cars, either intentionally or accidentally, emerge every spring and summer, as we hear of one, two, a dozen kids overheating to death in cars. According to, an average of 38 children die in hot cars each year in the United States. (It happens in other countries, too.) That is both a very small and a very large number. Another way to look at it is, about every 10 days, a child dies from being left in a hot car. Every 10 days. And this number doesn't take into account the (probably very large) number of kids who are briefly forgotten, like Mr. Gouveia's son, and unharmed, or intentionally left in a relatively safe environment, like Ms. Brooks' son, and unharmed, or intentionally left in a potentially dangerous situation but rescued before tragedy could strike, like Ms. Taylor's sons.

Ms. Taylor's and Ms. Brooks' stories, especially, speak to me. We can go on all day about how to avoid forgetting your child in the car. I have written on this topic, as have numerous other bloggers recently. We can educate about how quickly cars heat up, discuss the symptoms of heatstroke and hyperthermia, and ask that if you notice a child left alone in the car, you do something to help.

But here's where it gets tricky. How do we decide when a child needs help and when he doesn't? How do we decide when our phone call or intervention is truly saving a life and when it's causing more turmoil than not interfering would have? How do we know whether that child was forgotten or intentionally left? How do we know whether the parent is being neglectful or has simply decided that, in this instance, the child is safe enough alone for five minutes? 

I never want to be a busybody. I never want to assume that another parent is wrong. I never want to interfere. But I also don't want to see babies dying in cars because they were genuinely forgotten or neglectfully abandoned. 

Some would say that if you ever, under any circumstance, see a baby alone in a car, you should immediately call the police. Others might say you should hang around for five minutes and see if a parent returns, or see if you can find the caregiver. Some might stand beside the car and wait for an adult to return. Some might assess the situation - Where is the car? Is it a hot or freezing cold day? Is the child really at risk? - and make a decision accordingly.

I think there are clear circumstances where a call to 911 is warranted. If it's especially hot or cold, if the child is clearly in distress (sweaty, crying or unresponsive), and especially if the car is parked somewhere that is unlikely to be a quick errand, it is probably best to err on the side of caution and make that call. After all, that could very well be the call that saves that child's life. For example, a car parked at a private office building probably belongs to someone who works there, whereas a car parked in front of a grocery store means that the adult is most likely just quickly running in to grab something. If you happen to know that the car has been parked there for a long time, or if you see that the child in the car appears to be in distress, then a call to 911 is probably wise. On the other hand, if the child is not really in peril - it's not sunny or hot or especially cold, the child looks comfortable, the car is right in front of the store, you saw the parent go in and wait a few minutes and see them come back out - your call to 911 might just cause the family more problems than they would have had if you'd just left them alone, as in Ms. Brooks' case.

It can be tough to know what constitutes neglect. How old is old enough to be left alone in a car? In a house? To walk home from school? How young is too young to walk over to the neighbor's house unaccompanied? To ride bikes on the sidewalk in front of the house? To play in the backyard unsupervised? 

As for Ms. Taylor's case, her kids were in genuine danger by the time she exited the job interview. Her decision to leave them in the car was made consciously - it wasn't an instance of forgetfulness. She may not have realized how long the interview would take, or how hot the car would get. I personally believe she made the wrong decision, and had she not come out when she did, and had a passerby not called 911, her sons could very well have overheated in that hot car. However, is it felony-level child abuse or simply a case of temporary lapse of judgment? I don't think jailing her and taking her kids away is going to in any way improve her or their lot in life, and surely there is a better solution. But, at the same time, it's important to send the message that, yes, this was a poor decision and her children were on the brink of serious harm.

In Ms. Brooks' case, her child was in no danger for the five minutes she was gone, and whoever took that video and alerted the police after Ms. Brooks had already left was simply wrong. I don't understand behaving that way, interfering in someone else's life like that.

How long is too long for a child to be left intentionally? Is there a difference between five minutes and 10 or 15? Is half an hour too long? An hour? I don't know how you decide something like that. I think a lot depends on the weather conditions, the location, visibility, presence of other families. Is the weather comfortable? Is it a high-crime area? Can the parent likely see the car from wherever they are? It's not something you can paint in black and white.

It is our job as a community of parents to protect all children, but it is also our job to support and honor other parents and their decisions. Kids left alone in cars is a hot topic, and rightly so, because of these 38+ incidents a year, because of stories like Ms. Taylor's, because some people honestly don't know how quickly cars heat up and how hot they can get, and because people don't understand how easy it is to forget that your baby is in the car with you. But we can take it too far. We can ruin a good parent's life by interfering when not necessary. We can cause more problems than we solve when we overstep boundaries and put our judgments on others' parenting choices. 

So, yes, please call for help if you see a child in danger. Please save lives by peeking into empty cars and checking for forgotten children. But please also use discretion and common sense. Is it really a dangerous situation? Is the child likely to overheat or freeze? Does the child appear to be suffering? Is it likely that the caregiver will return to the car shortly? There's no reason to be malicious or holier-than-thou. There's no need to troll parking lots looking to get someone in trouble.

Let's err on the side of kindness, the side of support, the side of looking out for each other. Let's help kids who genuinely need help but not punish parents who may have a different style. Let's assume a child's parent made the same risk assessment we did and made their decision based on good intentions, not ignorance or neglect.

I hope that one day, if my child is truly in trouble when I'm not there to help, some kind stranger will know the right thing to do and help my son. And I hope that one day, if I'm in a position to save a child, I will know the right thing to do to help someone else's son. And at the same time, I hope others give me the benefit of the doubt if I make a decision different from what they might have done and not jump to conclusions about my fitness as a parent.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Summer Camp" at Home

As you probably know, I'm a work-at/from-home mom (WAHM). This means my days are filled with a combination of childcare, school and activity schedules, and my own paid work (and my blogging and videos, of course!). With school out, I was worried that the kids would end up spending eight hours a day watching TV and playing with their tablets - neither healthy nor desirable. When they're on screens, I find, they're generally lazier: plates and garbage hang around in the living room, they stay in their pajamas until lunch time, the house somehow ends up being messier and dirtier than usual even though they haven't done anything. On top of that, they tend to be more rude to me and to each other and are less inclined to help me or each other out with things. The reason I lean heavily on screens, though, is it does keep them busy without me so I can work. It's a difficult trade-off.

So, I knew I needed to come up with a plan for the summer that allowed for screens and relaxation, without going overboard, but also allowed for me to work. Sending them to camp for any length of time is not financially feasible, and since I am at home, we don't need paid childcare, it seemed the most reasonable thing to do was to turn the house into a mini-summer camp for them.

The main take-away I had from perusing preschool calendars and summer camp schedules is themes. Either by day or by week, there are activities that are specific to certain days. Rather than just being open-ended, the days are structured in a way that gives some direction to what they should be doing today and what they can look forward to tomorrow.

The flip side of that is knowing that (a) I am not a camp director and do not want to be needed for entertainment all day long (they should be able to occupy themselves for the most part), and (b) I'm not that good at setting up and taking down activities and I don't like big messes that have to be cleaned up. So I had to find a middle ground of sorts.

I spent some time coming up with a weekly schedule that incorporated screen time under clear limits along with some new and different but self-directed activities. Then I played around in Excel to make this calendar:

(click to see full size)

If you can't see the picture, basically Mondays are art-themed, so I'll have art supplies available that aren't normally out. I'll put down a plastic tablecloth on the floor so they can do watercolors and Play-Doh without making a big mess all over the house. Tuesdays is "unlimited screens," except for mid-day when we can go out and get lunch, run errands, and so forth. It's important to break up the day somehow for me as much as for them. Wednesdays is for outdoor play. If I can't make them go outside every day, at least one day a week they'll have to go out, and they'll have some special toys to play with only on Wednesdays. Thursdays are "spread out and build." We'll move the couches and give them space to build train tracks and Lego and such. And then Friday is chores. They'll clean up from the week, help me with laundry and dishes, and as long as they get their assigned tasks done, I'll allow screens otherwise.

The idea is that each day has a theme, but you can also choose to do something else that day, and I've made some suggestions so they're not flailing around randomly. But I'm also not going to run structured games or schedule activities, so I'll give them ideas and leave them to it. Rather than trying to regulate screen time by the amount of time they spend on screens (because there's three people doing three different screen-y things at any given moment), I'm scheduling the times they must be off screens. I simply made a general rule that screens are not allowed from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. except on Tuesdays (unlimited screen day). The reason for this is that they can get up in the morning, turn on the TV, relax themselves into the day, and leave me and my husband alone so we can get up and ready. Then the screens go off approximately after breakfast and they have other activities to choose from, both general activities that are available all the time and specific activities that we'll take out once a week so they stay novel. Then in the afternoon, they can start winding down again, watch TV while I get dinner ready, and so on. 

A secondary goal is to have them learn how to entertain themselves without needing screens all the time!

Figuring that summer camp and/or paid childcare would cost something like $200-300 per week, per child, I decided that spending a couple hundred dollars once to get them some new toys and activities for the summer was both reasonable and justified. I can tell them to go outside and play, but if they don't have even a ball to toss around, it's not really fair of me to say, "Go entertain yourselves." 

So we went to Target and explored the toys section and the outdoor activities section and picked out some neat stuff. We got Play-Doh and markers and watercolors and paper and a Spirograph for Art Day. We got a jump rope and a baseball mitt and ball and sidewalk chalk and bubbles and water guns for Outdoor Play Day. I got them a new Lego set for Spread Out And Build Day (they already have tons of building stuff). 

So far, they've made kind of a muddle of it, wanting to try out all their new toys and activities. But I'm keeping some things aside so they'll actually be interesting when the themed day arrives. If they've been doing Play-Doh every day, then Monday won't be special. If they play with water guns every day, then Wednesday won't be special. 

At least, that's the idea.

I'll update later in the summer about how well this is working. It's been up and down so far, but I like having a plan so that I can keep coming back to, "Today is outside day. Go outside and play" or whatever, rather than being arbitrary about what they should be doing.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Did I Make Tonight? Indian Style Tofu and Vegetables

Here's a great example of, "I found a recipe that looked good, but I didn't really follow it." I was looking for something new to do with tofu, since I had four blocks of it in my refrigerator, and my son liked the sound of this "Indian spiced peas with tofu" we found. It didn't sound like it would be enough for everyone, and I didn't have exactly the right ingredients, so I used it as a jumping-off point and created my own dish around it. The method below is what we ended up doing.

One thing I need to remind you of is that I rarely actually measure spices and whatnot. I eyeball it until it looks/tastes right. So any measurements I give you are approximate and you can adjust according to your taste and the quantity of food you're making. Don't be afraid to experiment. You might sometimes over- or under-salt, or it might be too spicy or too bland, but you'll get a feel for how much of a given spice or herb you like, and then you'll get it right every time.

  • Olive or canola oil
  • One block of extra firm tofu
  • Two tbsp corn starch
  • One 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (with juice)
  • Bag of frozen peas (16-ounce)
  • Half a bag of frozen corn (so, like half a cup of corn?)
  • Three to four tbsp curry powder (you can find curry powder in the spices section of your grocery store)
  • One to two cups white long-grain rice and twice as much water
  • One medium-sized onion (any kind - yellow is best), sliced (make half-moons and separate the layers)
  • Ginger - about 1 tbsp powdered or 1/2 tbsp fresh (minced) - according to taste; if you don't like ginger, leave it out or use less!
  • 1/2 tsp vegetarian powdered soup base (I used Osem brand Onion Soup Base, but mushroom or chicken flavored would also work very well) and about half a cup of water OR half a cup of prepared vegetable stock/broth
  • Large skillet
  • Large pot with lid
  • Stirring spoon
  • Mixing bowl
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Juice glass or measuring cup
  • Paper towels
  • Plate
  • Slotted spoon
  • Put about two tablespoons of oil in the skillet and turn the burner up to MEDIUM-HIGH
  • Take tofu out of package and dry well with paper towel. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
  • Put tofu cubes into mixing bowl and sprinkle with corn starch, then toss the tofu in the corn starch to coat
  • When the oil in the skillet is hot, add the tofu and fry until browned on all sides (flip occasionally - about five to 10 minutes). If the tofu doesn't all fit, do it in batches.
  • Slice your onion
  • If using fresh ginger, peel and mince the ginger. 
  • When tofu is browned, remove from skillet with slotted spoon and place on a paper towel on a plate to drain.
  • Add another tablespoon of oil to the hot skillet.
  • Put the sliced onion and the ginger in the skillet along with two to three tablespoons of curry powder. Saute the onion until translucent, about three to five minutes, stirring often
  • Add whole can of tomatoes, including juice, to the skillet. Add half a cup of broth or water. If using water, also add half a teaspoon of soup base (for flavor, optional).
  • Let simmer for 5 minutes, then add in frozen corn and peas and add the tofu back in.
  • Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring often.
While the tofu is browning during the above process, start the rice:
  • Put a tablespoon of oil in the other pot and place on burner on HIGH.
  • When oil is hot, add rice and toast for two to three minutes, stirring often. I added curry powder to the rice for flavor, but this is optional. Do add some salt.
  • For each cup of rice you used, add two cups of water to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil, stir, then reduce temperature to LOW and leave it, COVERED, for 20 minutes. (See the Basics article for my rice-cooking method in more detail.)
  • After 20 minutes, all liquid should be absorbed but the rice should be moist. Turn OFF the burner, stir rice with a fork, replace cover, and leave until ready to serve dinner.
Serve the tofu-and-tomato thing over the rice.

We actually also added a bag of Morningstar Farms Grillers Crumbles along with the tofu to increase the volume and protein content. This fed four of us (me and three kids) with more than enough left over for my lunch the next day. You could also use ground beef or chicken in place of or in addition to the tofu. Brown the meat in oil instead of the tofu step, then do the rest the same way.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Product Review: "Lavender Sorbet" Nursing Bra by Cake Lingerie

I am proud to present my first official product review! The people at Cake Lingerie were kind enough to send me one of their nursing bras to review for my audience.*

Often when we think of nursing bras, we imagine plain, even ugly, utilitarian, unsupportive or uncomfortable, or, at best, boring undergarments. Especially for those of us who are more well-endowed, it can be tough to find quality nursing bras that also make us feel good about how we look. Pregnancy and nursing can take a toll on our self-image and our bodies in general. It's nice to be able to wear some nice lingerie that is also functional!

As many of you know, I've been nursing and/or pregnant for over six years, and I've worn a lot of nursing bras in that time. I can tell you up front that this bra from Cake Lingerie is one of my favorites.

Cake Lingerie specializes in maternity and nursing lingerie and sleepwear. The bra I chose to review, the Lavender Sorbet bra, is from their plus-sized line, which offers bras for US sizes 32D through 40M. One thing I've found with Cake Lingerie is that their bras run a little small, so I requested a 36F even though I usually wear a 36E.

My first impressions of the bra and panty set, when I opened the box, were "ooh, pretty." It's really a pretty bra, with lace on the sides, bows, and cute little button accents. The material is soft and high quality. The shoulder straps are fairly wide and have lace trim as well. There are extra sets of hooks in the back to accommodate your rib cage as it expands with pregnancy and then shrinks back down after giving birth. I appreciate that there are three hooks on a wider band. I prefer three hooks to two.

After getting my initial impressions, I wore the bra all day to see how it performed. I did all my usual activities - sitting at the computer, cooking dinner, walking the kids to the park, nursing in bed, holding the baby.

What I loved: The bra stayed put and was very supportive through all of my adventures of a typical day. The cup can be clasped and unclasped for nursing one-handed. It has a standard nursing bra clasp near the shoulder. The shoulder straps stayed put - I wasn't constantly adjusting them like I am with a couple of my other bras - even when the cup was open for nursing. The shaped cups gave my breasts a uniform look whether they were full of milk just before a feeding or empty of milk just after one, and even when they were a bit lopsided because my son only nursed on one side. I could lie on my side in bed and the breast I wasn't using didn't fall out of the cup. And this bra is pretty. It's very feminine. I love the colors, medium gray and lavender, which are discreet enough to wear under almost any color t-shirt without showing through (except white) but bold enough to feel fun and different.

What I liked: This bra gives almost full coverage while still letting a little cleavage peek through. My breasts felt contained but not constrained. There's no underwire (which is my preference), and the band is nice and wide and sturdy to add support and give shape even without a wire. Even when the cup is open for nursing, the breast is still supported by the band, and the shoulder strap is held in place by an extra piece of fabric over the top of the breast.

What I didn't like: Because of the thickness of the fabric on the bottom of the cups, I felt sweatier in this bra than I'm used to. It wasn't a hot day, but the undersides of my breasts were damp with sweat by mid-afternoon. This bra maybe doesn't breathe as well as a cotton one would. I'd suggest wearing this bra when you want to feel dressed up and sexy - maybe for an evening out - but you may not want to wear it all day long, especially on a hot day. The side panels were high and cut into my armpits a little. It didn't bother me that much, and I got used to it, but I noticed it all the same.

Check out my video review for a closer look at this bra and how it worked out for me:

Thank you, Cake Lingerie, for creating attractive and quality undergarments for pregnant and nursing mothers!

*I was provided with a free product from the company for review, but I was not otherwise compensated in any way.

Check out Cake Lingerie's website to see their catalog and place an order:
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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Choosing a New Car Seat for My Almost-3-Year-Old

So, I think I need a new car seat.

I'd been doing well for a while, resisting the urge to buy something I didn't really need, browsing without purchasing all the new and wonderful seats that have come out recently. After all, my older two are already in booster seats. We own four convertible car seats (two Graco Nautiluses and two Diono Radians). I couldn't possibly need any more car seats, could I?

But I realized that the Nautilus my third son is using must be close to expiring, because I got it when my second was born, and he's almost 5-and-a-half. I checked the expiration date, and, sure enough, it expires in December of this year! I checked the other one, and it's good until December of next year but would have to be replaced after that, and he will still need a 5-point-harness at that point (he'll be 4 and something and probably not ready for a booster). The baby is using the Radian R100 rear-facing right now, which is good for a long time yet.

The main problem I have with our other Radian (currently hanging out in the garage) is that at some point in the past, our cat peed in it, and after all these years and many cleaning attempts, it still smells of cat pee when it's in a warm car. That suggests to me that the cat pee absorbed into the plastic and foam of the seat, and I worry that it might have compromised the integrity of the materials, or that my cleaning attempts did so. In other words, not only does it make my car smell of ammonia, but it's possible that it's not completely safe, too.

Plus, and this is so trivial and yet matters to me and to the toddler, we really like car seats with integrated cup holders, and the Radians, as much as I like them, don't have cup holders.

The conclusion, then, is that I need to either replace the toddler's car seat or buy the baby a new one and put the toddler back in the Radian.

I've had my eye on the Chicco NextFit, which has great weight and height limits and is supposed to be very easy to install and use. But the $280 price tag is a bit staggering, especially when I don't really need it. The other great option is the new Graco Headwise/Size4Me, which is similar to the NextFit but $100 cheaper. I don't know what makes the NextFit so expensive, but in my understanding the NextFit and the Headwise are very similar in terms of specs and use. The Graco also has integrated cup holders - two of them!

But then I thought, well, if I'm replacing the toddler's seat, since he's already forward-facing, why not just get a new Nautilus, or a similiar harness-to-booster seat, rather than spend money on a convertible seat that I don't need to use rear-facing at all?

The single thing to remember about car seats is this: The safest car seat is the one that is installed correctly, fits well in your car, fits your child, and is used properly every time. There's no magic to it. Whether you have a Clek Foonf (which run about $500) or a Cosco Scenera ($50), if it's not installed properly, if your child is too big or too small for it, or if you don't buckle your child correctly, a Foonf isn't going to keep your child safer than a Scenera will, or any other seat.

I'm not knocking the pricier models at all. Indeed, they do offer ease-of-use and comfort features that do make them "better" in some ways. Because, if the seat is easier to install and easier to use and more comfortable for the child, the chances that it will be used correctly are much higher, and thus your child will be safer in them.

After browsing my options for a while, I've decided to either simply replace the Nautilus that's about to expire with a new Nautilus, or purchase the new Britax Frontier 90.

Now, I've always been very happy with our Nautiluses. I bought a second one, after all, and am considering buying a third. I also recommend it to friends all the time. I personally don't find it difficult to install, although others have said they do find it harder than some other seats they've tried. It's affordably priced, at around $150. My kids have never complained about being uncomfortable and indeed seem to enjoy the throne-like feel. It has arm rests and a cupholder and adjustable head rest. It's really a good, solid seat. It's wide, so it's not so great for 3-across, if you need that. It allows you to use the harness until your child is 65 pounds and then switch to booster mode until 100 pounds. It expires after 6 years, so keep that in mind when considering your purchase.

The Britax is over $100 more, but it has some features I'm very interested in. One is that it's a no-rethread harness, which means you never have to take the straps out and move them up a slot as your child grows. You can raise the harness height on the fly without even taking the seat out. Now, you don't have to adjust the height often, of course, but it's still a nice feature. The other amazing thing about the Frontier is the new "CLICKTIGHT" installation, which makes installing with a seat belt an absolute breeze. And, it can be done one-handed, if some of the videos I've watched can be believed. A one-handed car seat install?! Plus, it has a harness weight limit of 90 pounds, which means even if you have a really big, heavy kid, you can continue to use the harness for a looooong time. And after that, you can use it as a belt-positioning booster until your child is 120 pounds! And, as I'm sure you're wondering, it can be used for 9 years from the manufacture date before expiring. There's a reason this seat is $100 more than the Nautilus. It's not that the Nautilus is a bad choice. It's just that the Frontier does so much more in a similar niche.

I love that companies are acknowledging the desires of parents and recommendations of safety organizations to keep kids harnessed and boostered longer. But older kids need higher weight limits, and Britax has delivered in spades!

I won't be making the purchase for a few weeks yet, but I'll be sure to fill you in on what I end up buying and how it works out for us. I might even have a setup and installation video for you when the time comes!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Baby Humpback Washes Up Near My House

On Wednesday afternoon last week, a dead baby humpback whale washed up on a rocky part of the beach near my house. This caused quite a stir, as one can well imagine. The body of the whale drew a crowd, with people stopping by the side of the road throughout the day to view the unusual and sad spectacle.

I joked with my husband that I hoped they got rid of it before it exploded. Roadkill is one thing, but whale entrails spewed across a major roadway was not something I was interested in encountering.

I was hesitant to go see it myself. While I've long since become relatively inured to roadkill, I'm still not one to view carnage with aplomb. But then I decided that a whale was no ordinary dead animal. This might be my only chance to see a whale up close, dead or not, and it was probably worth taking a peek. Besides if all these other people were happily whale-gazing, it couldn't be that bad, right?

I wasn't sure if I should let the kids look. We tend to want to protect our kids from disturbing or upsetting sights. The seven-year-old mentioned that everyone at school was talking about it and that many of his friends had gone to see it. Maybe it was the right thing to do, to let my kids have this unusual experience. And this was something we'd be talking about for a long time. "Hey, do you remember that time the whale washed up on the beach?" It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I decided I'd regret not taking the opportunity to see a whale up close.

We stopped by the side of the road on Thursday evening, after confirming that it had not yet been removed. The seven-year-old and 2.5-year-old wanted to get out and see it, so I left the five-year-old and baby in the car and took the others out to take a peek.

It was not at all gory, but it was sad. The poor baby was on its back, its neck and belly bloated from the gasses building up inside (my worry about it exploding was not, after all, unfounded), and with each wave, it was banged against the rocks. This poor, majestic creature was just another piece of flotsam. Why was it here? I wondered. How did it die? Was its mother looking for it? Was she mourning? I've read that whales mourn.

We looked for a few minutes with a few dozen other people, everyone with a camera or phone in hand to capture the image and the memory. Then we hopped back in the car and went home.

The next afternoon, my five-year-old declared that he actually did want to see the whale. I asked my oldest if he knew whether it was still there - he seemed to be in the loop, since everyone at school was talking about it. He said he didn't know, but the question was quickly answered as we headed down the road and saw that people were still standing around on the rocks and parking along side. I pulled over and got the five-year-old out.

To my chagrin, between Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon, scientists had been by to study the whale and perform a necropsy to see what they could learn about this whale and how it had died. They had pulled it farther up onto the rocks and most of the way out of the water, flipped it over, and cut it open. It was not as majestic or pretty a sight as it had been the previous day. I was morbidly curious about it, having never seen a whale cut open before (really?), but I am also not able to view these things with as clinical an eye as others. I worried that it would be upsetting to my son, but he didn't seem at all disturbed by it. He pointed out the tail and the mouth. I'm not sure he even realized that it had been cut open. (At least the release of gasses meant that there was no longer a danger of it exploding!) I later read that they had determined it was a juvenile female, about 25 feet long and perhaps less than two years old, and appeared to have experienced some trauma, but the carcass was already too decomposed to determine a cause of death. Too bad.

I knew they'd be towing it out to sea soon, so it could go to its proper graveyard and no longer be subject to the morbid interest of tourists and onlookers. I hoped it sank and rotted far, far from shore.

All-in-all, I'm glad we decided to go see the whale. I think I'd have regretted missing out. When something like this happens practically just outside your door, it's worth taking a few moments to appreciate the wonders - and sadnesses - of nature.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When Kids are Sick at Night

The other night, my 2.5-year-old was coughing up a storm. I tried all the usual remedies - from Vicks on the feet to sitting in a steamy bathroom to giving him a dose of albuterol to a spoonful of honey (rejected) to sitting outside in the cool air to try to soothe the inflammation - but it was over two hours before the coughing fit ended. I suspect it was some combination of all of these efforts that eventually calmed the spasms. After the poor kid finally relaxed and was able to sleep, around midnight, I lay in my bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening. His bedroom wall adjoins ours, so I can hear him clearly if he does make any sound.

The baby was asleep beside me. The older two kids were cuddled together on the 5-year-old's bed, as they are wont to do, the 7-year-old snoring softly, more of a low hum than the buzz of a chainsaw.

I was tense, waiting for the hacking to start up again, for the thump of his sliding out of bed, the pit-pat of his feet on the wood floor, a "Mommy, I want to come up your bed." But I heard none of these things, to my relief.

I strained for the sound of gentle breathing, the rasping of a half-stuffed nose, the scraping of his water cup against the wall.

I was wired. On nights like these, all senses are on alert for signs of distress. My brain is seeking other avenues of comfort, cataloging the medicines available in the house, running lists of possible remedies, planning for an emergency room run or a phone call to an after-hours nurse line. I am calculating how much sleep is left to me for the night, deciding how badly I need it, figuring out what can be sacrificed the next day, just in case.

But, the extended quiet period continued. My eyes grew heavy. I forced myself to stay awake for a few more minutes, just to make sure. I resisted the urge to go check on him, buried the nonsensical fear that something was terribly wrong, reassured myself that an intriguing mix of bubbe meises (grandma's wisdom) and modern medical knowledge had relieved the coughing so he could sleep comfortably.

It was a while before my body and brain allowed me to drift off to sleep, and I was still half-listening for a new coughing fit to begin. In fact, I was very confused when I did hear someone cough, many hours later, but it wasn't the toddler. It took me a few moments to change gears and realize that it was the baby, cuddled up next to me, who had coughed!

I find that I am so attuned to my kids that I am the first to wake up and become aware when one is unhappy or uncomfortable, often before he himself even awakens fully. I hear the whimpering, the out-of-character squirming in bed, the unusual rhythm of his breath. I lie in bed, eyes open, wondering if and when I'll have to wrest myself from the covers and untangle myself from the baby to check on which ever child is in need.

I suppose that awareness of your kids doesn't end when they grow out of toddlerhood. I remember being 11 or 12 and upset about something late at night. I would cry softly in my bed until my mom would wake up and come to my room to find out what was wrong. I didn't go to her. I didn't call for her. But she always knew that I was unhappy and came to comfort me.

Knowing that I know when something's not right with my babies means that I can relax and sleep when everything's fine. I don't have to worry, because I trust my Mama-sense. Perhaps, one day, I'll be able to sleep deeply and unaware once more, but as long as my children are nearby, I'll have half an ear cocked in their direction, I'm sure.