Introducing the Mamatoga Calendar!

calseptupdateSeptember is just around the corner (it’s true guys) and since I am just a few days away from Baby #4 being here I am doing a little ahead of time planning (yay nesting mode!). Today I want to introduce my new calendar, which will come out every month with the goings on for the month for moms, dads and kids, plus a few little seasonal extras. You can find more in depth info for local events at the local Mamatoga Saratoga page here, and this calendar will be updated as September gets closer as well. Enjoy! xoxo

SEPTEMBER

1 Labor Day

2 Need some Back to School printables? Look no further! (Plus they’re all FREE). Click here to see my back to school favorites for 2014.

3 OMG these cookies. So good.

4 How cute is this Back to School wrapping paper?

5 Saratoga Wine & Food Festival begins at SPAC and runs through Sunday
First Friday in Ballston Spa, the theme this month is Sidewalk Sales

Pirates and Fairies Party at Northshire Bookstore Saratoga at 11am. Admission is free. Bring your favorite little pirates and fairies to the bookstore for a morning of fun games, crafts and stories with their booksellers. Creative costumes are strongly encouraged!

Saturdays in September check out The Saturday Club at The Children’s Museum at Saratoga (Saturdays, 10am – 12 pm: September 6, 13, 20, and 27, free with Museum admission). Every Saturday will focus on a new topic that will be both educational and fun! This month kids will build structures using toothpicks and marshmallows, use electricity building ‘blocks’ to turn on lights and work small gadgets, use pipe insulation to make roller coasters for marbles, and use clay to capture the season of fall all year long!

7 Check out last year’s Fall Fun Guide with info on all the local apple picking spots, this list will be updated Sept. 1st but for now you can plan ahead!

8 Riverview Orchards is one of our faves…

9 Need a recipe to use up those apples you just picked? This one is the BEST (and so easy, I swear).

10 Need some healthy lunchbox ideas for Back to School? Click here for some healthy tips and ideas.

11 Saratoga P.L.A.N.’s Feast of the Fields is a unique culinary event celebrating local farms, chefs, and conservation heroes held tonight at Saratoga National Golf Club.

12 Get those toddler hands busy with these make your own fall scented playdohs

13 Don’t miss the Northeast Ballet Nutcracker Story Time and Land of Sweets Treasure Hunt at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga today at 11am. Dancers from Northeast Ballet in their Nutcracker costumes will tell the story of The Nutcracker, teach a few simple ballet steps and then send children on a special treasure hunt through the store, so sweet!

14 Create a fall scavenger hunt for the kids and get outside, click here for some ideas.

15 Get crafty, make this gorgeous wreath to welcome fall here.

16 Tuesdays for Tots: Peace Week Peace Quilt is happening at The Children’s Museum at Saratoga in celebration of Peace Week, where kids will be decorating Peace quilts with fabric markers. Please stop in anytime from 10 am – 12 pm and 1 pm – 3 pm to join in! Program is free with museum admission.

17 Shelving Rock Falls is not too far away and one of the best hikes to soak in some gorgeous fall foliage, get more info here.

18 It’s National Cheeseburger Day! Visit Comfort Kitchen (voted BEST BURGER 2014 by Mamatoga Readers!) to celebrate!

19 Hundreds of hot air balloons take to the sky at the 42nd Annual Adirondack Balloon Festival, taking place September 18th – 21st. There will be balloons of all shapes and size. Watch from the ground as they take off into the sky or go for a ride and see a view you won’t soon forget! Free admission.

20 Ellms Family Farm opens today! Discover corn maze fun for young and old, pumpkin patches for pick-your-own-pumpkins, and old-fashioned activities for Fall family fun! Evening Halloween hayrides (not too scary for the tiny tots!) and awesome apple cider donuts create memories and family traditions when you visit Ellms Family Farm.

Celebrate at the Saratoga Springs City Center’s 30th Anniversary with a Family Fun Day! In honor of the City Center’s success, they are opening their doors for a family fun celebration on Saturday, September 20th for a day full of fun. Free and Open to the Public from 10am – 10pm. Starting with the Kids Cook Off at the Farmers’ Market, Petting Zoo and Pony Rides, Bounce Houses, Children’s Music and Crafts, Lots of Entertainment – ending with the Outdoor Movie on the Street at Dusk!

21 The Henry Street Harvest Festival is today from 12-4pm in Saratoga Springs and is so much fun for the entire family, click here for more info.

The beautiful Yaddo Gardens are open to the public year round. This September, however, Yaddo welcomes guests to the Yaddo Mansion and various other buildings for the first time since 2011 and only the sixth time in history. Tours will be offered that feature sites on the private portion of the estate not ordinarily available to the public. Tickets for the tour must be purchased in advance, click here for more info.

22 Aut-yum leaves, the cutest fall snack OF ALL TIME.

23 I want to make one of these for myself, but maybe someone else can do the raking…

24 Save this for a rainy afternoon: Scented Rain Paint

25 Looking to clean up your family’s diet after a summer of cotton candy and hot dogs? Here are some tips on going additive free.

26 The best time to see fall foliage in the Adirondacks area is late September into early October, click here for more info on how to peep some leaves.

27 Plan a little fall getaway in gorgeous Lake Placid, High Peaks Resort is our absolute favorite, read more about our experience there in Mamatoga Magazine.

28 It’s not too early for mulled wine, (you’re welcome).

29 Don’t you just love fall fashion? It’s starting to be time for these guys, my number one fall fashion tip

30 Welcome October with these three words: Pumpkin Pie Smoothies (YES)

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2014 Back to School Faves

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Vacation Scrapbook {lake dunmore, VT by way of airbnb}

With school starting in just a couple weeks, baby #4 arriving in less than that time, we thought it was a good time to get away as a family. Turn off the TV, the cellphones, the X Box, and just hang out with each other. I got lucky again with Airbnb and found a tiny little cabin by a lake in Vermont, the perfect size for our family of five. It had two bedrooms, a little kitchen/dining/living room, a fire pit out front and a picnic table. Part of a little bungalow colony, the cabin was one of a handful of tiny wooden cabins off a quiet road, with the lake just a short, couple minutes walk away. There was also a pool, a tennis court, a basketball court and a little rec hall, which I totally fell in love with. It had a ping pong table, tons of toys, shelves and shelves of books, stacks of back issues of magazines, a huge stone fireplace, riding toys for the kids, a pool table, foosball, and it was so huge and open the kids could ride skateboards and bikes inside it, taking little laps around a big community table while I lounged on the couches getting recipes from old copies of Better Homes & Gardens.

Out on the veranda of the rec hall there was a bubble table set up with dozens of bubble wands of all shapes and sizes and huge bottles full of bubble solution. The kids spent hours there together, blowing bubbles out onto the lawn, chasing them down. We spent our first couple of days on the lake, fishing and swimming and boating (they had a paddle boat, canoes and kayaks all ready to be borrowed). Sean was worried the kids wouldn’t catch any fish, then quickly became worried he would be spending his entire vacation de-hooking fish as the kids caught fish after fish, Finn even snagged three fish at once simply by dropping a net into the lake under the dock. Jack even got in on the fish action and caught his very first fish, a teeny sunfish.

One of the days it poured rain, and after our hundredth round of Go Fish (I swear the entire trip wasn’t fish themed), we decided to decamp to Shelburne Farms, where the kids spent the afternoon meeting roosters and making matching bracelets out of wool. Besides having a truly amazing, hands on kids area, Shelburne Farms is simply beautiful, even in the pouring rain, and if you go be sure to stop by their Farm Cart and get the roast beef sandwich, it was the best sandwich I’ve ever tried.

Although I was prepared to have no TV and no computer, I was a little taken aback when I realized I also had no cell service, which I have to admit wasn’t the easiest thing for me. Each morning we would go get the newspapers and iced coffees and I would quickly check my email and upload a few photos with the spotty service they had at the gas station. At first it was really frustrating, but by the third day it was pretty great. I realized that anything really pressing could of course wait, and it did, and I know that if I did have service I would have spent way more time checking and answering emails, and worrying about things that didn’t need my time, and less time sitting on the dock, watching my kids jump into the calm, clear lake.

Because of the rain we extended our last day so we could hike up the Moosalamoo trail to see Lana Falls and Silver Lake, which was a lake on top of the mountain. I’m usually a pretty decent hiker, but at almost 39 weeks pregnant I was a little skeptical I would make it to the top. I huffed and puffed and waddled my way up there though, and was so glad I did, because the lake was unlike any I had ever seen. Except for a few hikers who we passed on the way up, there was no one up there except for a group of loons which were honking and zipping across the lake making little ripple wakes. It was cool up there, and the kids surprised me by wanting to go in for a swim (our resident nudist, Jack chose to go in sans bathing suit, his preference for most of our trip), and we spent an hour up there, just us, the kids splashing around looking for minnows. It was so nice to be able to just sit there and watch them before all this change happens, new baby, third grade and first grade, the summer ending. With Finn going into third grade and there being a new baby on the way it has made me realize I now have a big kid, and will also have an infant, (and a toddler and a not yet so big kid) at the same time, so different from my previous parenting experiences of all toddler and baby. It’s funny to see how my parenting has become different, how I’m starting to look at things with a new perspective and let go of things, and even though the idea of having four kids sometimes overwhelms me during those sleepless moments of uncomfortable pregnancy and heartburn, I’m also so excited to have an even bigger family to do stuff like this with.

This summer I have tried to let my two older kids learn some older kid stuff. Finn and Levy went out in the boat by themselves, I let them bait their own hooks and learn how to get the fish off the hooks. I taught Levy how to use the burner on the stove and she made us pancakes one night all by herself. I’m so used to those two being toddlers together it is hard to see them as being big kids, but it’s also fun to teach them how to do this stuff, and fun to watch them do it.

We already have plans to visit again, and I have to say I’m even more in love with Airbnb after this trip. I didn’t think I would find another great spot, especially for a family of five, but our cabin was perfect, and at just $85 a night it was a complete steal. We packed all of our food and made meals at the cabin, so all in all it was a super inexpensive trip, and we didn’t need to pay for anything extra other than worms for bait. I hope you all have a chance to get away, even if it’s just for an afternoon, before the summer is officially over. Even if it’s just out in a backyard, take a minute to sit back and drink it in before it’s time to pick apples again and pack lunches. xoxo

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Vacation Time

download (1)With just two weeks to go till baby #4 is here we are heading off on a last minute vacation to a teensy cabin in Vermont for the week. No TV, no internet, no electronics (okay I WILL have my phone on me, I am 9 months pregnant after all…). We are all looking forward to being in the lake, fishing, canoeing, hiking, roasting marshmallows and just relaxing. I hope you all have a fantastic week, counting down these last days of summer! xoxo

 

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my weekend in photos

This past week we were lucky enough to have my niece and nephew visit us from San Diego, CA, and we tried to pack in as much Saratoga stuff as we could. We took a tour of the backstretch, went to the thoroughbred sales, headed up to Lake George for swimming and mini golf, and picked blueberries at a farm just minutes from our house. It was such a treat having Dante and India here, even though they live across the country when the cousins are together it feels like no time has passed at all…xoxo

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My #1 Back to School Organization Tip

indexI stumbled on this super easy organization tip a couple years ago when I was pregnant with Jack and was in super nesting mode, and now that baby #4 is going to be here in two weeks (OMG!) that nesting mode has taken on epic proportions and I am so glad for this tried and true tip that saves me so much time and stress every morning.

Using simple closet organizers you can pick up in Target (like the ones pictured above), create one for each child. You can get one with just enough room for weekdays and leave the weekends a little more open, or you can have one that has a weekend cubby too (which is what we do) that can include the soccer gear or any weekend uniforms, etc. You can label them yourself easily with the days of the week and fill them with everything (besides shoes) that your child needs for that day.

We always go over all the outfits together before they get put in the cubby, working out any possibly disagreements over outfit choice ahead of time and making sure we have the right outfits for gym day, etc. and consulting the weather to see if we can match that too with cover ups and sweaters. Each outfit, down to underwear and socks, is put in the cubby, and the kids know that they take the top outfit, get dressed, put away pjs, brush teeth, and head downstairs, ready to go. It saves SO MUCH TIME and heartache, and there is no searching for matching pants or socks or the right shirt or the ballet tights and it keeps me disciplined to get enough laundry done to be able to populate the cubbies for the week. If the weekend is super busy I at least try to get a few days done so we can start the week off on the right foot.

If you do have a lot of activities, consider doing a second activity organizer, you can even put one in a downstairs closet with mittens, hats, gloves, etc. as well as the clothing and uniforms kids need for sports. I can’t tell you how nice it is to not have to look around for a missing shin guard four minutes before we have to leave for practice. Plus, the kids benefit from the organization too. They learn that everything has a place, and that when things get put back in the right place they are easy to be found with no stress. They also have the independence of being able to get the task of getting dressed all on their own, and can still take part in the choosing outfits part. Every day the hats, gloves etc. get put back into the next day’s cubby too so they are easy to find when getting ready to leave the house (no mom is responsible for mittens and hats lost en route or at school, unfortunately, but slap some Name Bubbles on those puppies and you might just get lucky).

It’s such a simple solution but I can’t tell you how big of a change it has made in our house and is by far the biggest time saver I have found yet. Now, I’m no organization queen, but I’ve found with more kids and more activities the best solution is paring down the stuff and making sure that everyone in the house is on board with where it belongs. Add in one single strip of hooks somewhere in the house for backpacks and coats, and one basket for lunchboxes and you are well on your way to smooth sailing for those school mornings.

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Summer Bites: Strawberry Bruschetta with Healthy Living Market and Cafe

summerbitesaugShannon Beckwith, the Learning Center Coordinator at Healthy Living Market and Cafe in Saratoga Springs is back with a truly amazing summer recipe for August, Strawberry Bruschetta. Fresh strawberries, goat cheese, crusty bread, sounds perfect, right? The best part is that this is definitely one of those easy recipes that makes you look like you know what you’re doing in the kitchen even if you don’t (like me). Perfect for a picnic at SPAC or to bring along to Congress Park, this recipe will let you savor those late summer days and nights.

Strawberry Bruschetta

 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

12 slices good, crusty bread

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 lb strawberries, washed and diced

2 tsp fresh basil cut into long, thin strips

1 cup goat cheese, softened

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

 Heat vinegar in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Simmer until reduced by about half, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.Prepare a grill for high heat. Place bread slices on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Combine strawberries and basil in a small bowl and set aside. Grill bread on the preheated grill until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Spread goat cheese on toasted bread. Add black pepper, salt, and reduced vinegar to the strawberry mixture. Spoon over the goat cheese topped bruschetta. Garnish with additional basil, and enjoy!

For more Summer Bites, click right here, and to check out the schedule at Healthy Living Market and Cafe’s Learning Center, click right here.

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Life with Toddlers: A Field Guide to the Terrible

10156955_553914221374611_1934771881_nSometime between babyhood and school age your child will go through a period sometimes known as the “terrible twos”, sometimes the “terrible threes”, sometimes the “God help me this child is going to push me over the edge mentally” ones through fours. A fierce, unquenchable desire for independence combined with new found mobility makes this a powerful force to reckon with, and you might find yourself questioning what happened to your sweet little baby. Have no fear, because even though they might seem like unmanageable monsters who are determined to mash goldfish crumbs into every crevice of your house and send you to the brink of insanity with the number of times they can watch the same episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, eventually they will go to school full time (oh and they are cute, and you love them, that too).

The Runner: Remember those first sweet little steps your child took? You probably grabbed your phone to record them and told relatives how exciting it was to see them walking for the very first time. That was me, I did that. What a thrill it was to see Jack take those first steps, growing up before my very eyes. Cut to me enjoying brunch with some friends a few weekends ago with Jack, who was perhaps enjoying brunch slightly less than everyone else. He had exhausted my supply of cars, toys, crayons, etc. and was quickly moving through the more impromptu distractions like our straws, some sugar packets, stacking the creamers…he wanted out of that high chair. So I let him get down, thinking that maybe if he got to slightly stretch his little legs he might stop providing a shrieking toddler background soundtrack to everyone else’s eggs benedict.

All was going well until he took off. His first few steps were innocent enough, until he tasted freedom, slipped around the patio gate and was bee-lining for the street, MUCH faster than I assumed he could go. I dropped my silverware, almost knocking over my iced tea as I sprang from the table mid-conversation and as hugely pregnant as I am ran after him down the sidewalk. After body checking an innocent stranger out of the way I finally caught up to Jack and grabbed him by the back of his shirt before he fully ran into the usually somewhat busy street. I picked him up, tucked him under my arm like a screaming, kicking football, and huffed and puffed my way back to brunch, sweating and shaken that I had just barely caught him.

Welcome to toddlerhood.

The Thrower: I have to admit, I’m very lucky to have fairly well behaved kids. Sure, they have thrown the odd temper tantrum in the middle of the mall and maybe take inconvenient opportunities to test out their sprinting abilities, but for the most part they are pretty mellow kids. Which is why the throwing stuff part usually takes me by surprise. Maybe we’ll be at the bookstore, somewhere innocuous, the train table is usually a trigger. All is good, the toddler is happily playing with the choo choos or cars or whatever, and then you decide after half an hour of wandering around the children’s section that maybe you’d like to go. WHAT? Excuse ME? This is when the choo choos become airborne as he throws them in protest, countdown to meltdown commences and you need to get out of that play area PRONTO. You are mortified that your child is actually throwing toys around in public, and you want to avoid anyone either taking a choo choo to the face or damaging anything in the store. Do you a) Try to reason with the train throwing maniac that was just two minutes before a mild mannered well-playing child? Or do you b) Give up all pretense of negotiating with this madman and just grab him, pry the choo choos from his hands and hightail it out of the store hoping the other parents will silently commiserate rather than silently judge you? There is an option c), of course, where you decide to spend even MORE time prolonging the inevitable, thinking that more time at the train table will make it easier to leave. I feel for you, I really do.

The Interrupter: Mommy, mommy, mommy, MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY. Sound familiar? Let’s do another flashback, shall we? Take yourselves back to the first time your beloved child spoke that very word. The first time they said Mommy. It’s an indescribable moment, hearing their little voice say your new “name”. It brought tears to my eyes to hear my children first call me mommy, and I would spend hours trying to get them to do it again, “Finn, say Mommy! Say Mommy Finn, Finn say Mommy!” just trying to get a fix, needing to hear it again and again and get that maternal rush when he finally did. Until he wouldn’t stop. And he figured hey, if she doesn’t pay attention the first time, maybe I should just keep saying it over and over and over and over and over and over and over again until she DOES finally have a moment to look over. This happens usually while a mom is changing another child’s disgusting diaper, or when you get on the phone for forty five seconds after not taking a call for two hours. If you want to test out this phenomenon try to play with your toddler, when they ignore you/shoo you away because they want to do it by themselves, walk into the bathroom. Guaranteed they will seek you out almost immediately, plaintively calling you over and over until you finally make it back to the other side of the bathroom door.

1079425_449717245127643_738428197_nThe Stonewaller: The most effective tactic of the stonewaller is their ability to just stop moving, in any situation, choosing either to go completely limp, or, conversely, completely rigid, in order to prevent you from getting anywhere or doing anything. Or they stonewall for no apparent reason, either way. You may have encountered the stonewaller in your car, trying to get them into their carseat. All of a sudden this slightly pudgy, soft toddler becomes Iron Man and is stiff as a board as you gently try to fold them into a seated position. How did they get so strong, you wonder, at the same time as you worry if you are actually injuring them internally trying to just. Get. Them. INTO. THE SEAT. They are now a solid brick of steel and unwavering determination and all you want to do is get to Target so you can pick up some toilet paper and milk and the battle of wills begins. If you need to perform this toddler carseat folding procedure in public you will have to put on a semblance of a smile and shrug your shoulders as if to say, “Oh this crazy guy, doing it again!” as you push on their belly to leg crease in hopes of just getting even the slightest of a bend.

The stonewall also happens quite frequently in stores, usually after a refusal has been given in the request of a toy or some sort of food product. This is when they usually go limp, lying on the floor, and you try to pick them up but they are suddenly like a 100 pound bag of indignant sand lying motionless on the floor of the grocery store. Should you drag them, you wonder? Maybe pull them behind you by the leg till you get to the door? Usually you just stand there, once again with the weak smile on your face as if to say “He’s two, please don’t judge me”. Maybe you do the pretend “goodbye” where you wave and say BYE, I’M LEAVING NOW thinking they will panic once you are a few feet away or seemingly are out of sight but no. Now they are just lying there alone. They called your bluff.

The Hunger Striker: Feeding your child. Sounds pretty basic, right? And it is, for the most part. You plan it out, start introducing new foods to the baby, maybe even try your hand at blending up a few varieties of your own smooth healthy baby food goodness. Sure, they might not like everything, but for the most part it goes pretty well. Until that comes to a screeching halt, and all of a sudden they don’t want to eat anything that isn’t cheese and isn’t cut into the absolute perfect sized trapezoid at precisely the right temperature and with the planets aligned just so in order for the smallest of hunger pangs to grace their thoughts. And just when you get that meal down pat and you stocked up on that particular brand of cheese because it was on sale and at least they are eating SOMETHING they will then declare it to also be on the DO NOT EAT list and will move on to something new, perhaps a food as yet undiscovered to be palatable by humans. You will wonder how they are actually surviving given the fact that they have only consumed three segments of a banana in the past 48 hours, but rest assured they will eat, eventually.

Of course, if you are in the presence of anyone else, they will all of a sudden be an enthusiastic gourmand, trying shrimp and mussels and bean dip and things you would NEVER get them to try all the while explaining that at home they are so picky and you can’t believe they are trying new things while everyone else thinks you are crazy. Which you are. But that’s only because you are under the control of a tyrannical toddler.

The Independent: This one has one main defining quality, the absolute need for “I DO IT MYSELF” with pretty much anything, and if you try to help them out even a little bit you will experience the wrath of the Independent toddler. This might mean that you need to add on an extra half hour or so onto ANY time you plan on leaving your house because THEY will tie their OWN SHOES thank you very much. And you have no choice but to sit and watch as they doggedly attempt to get both shoes on in the record time of under an hour. Brushing their teeth? No no no. Take a back seat, sister, and watch as they manage to get toothpaste in their hair, on the mirror, the other toothbrushes you have, their pajamas, the stool they are standing on and even the outside of the bathroom door somehow before getting the smallest smear of it on their toothbrush.

1472885_506685142764186_62103279_nMy recommendations for dealing with The Toddler? Coffee and wine do help, or you could just go to the bookstore, close your eyes and randomly choose a toddler parenting book, buy it, read it, and hope for the best. But most of all patience, plenty of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, a dust buster, and a good sense of humor will get you through it. Good luck! xoxo

 

 

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What are Your New Baby Must Haves (for mom too)?

photoBaby #4 will be here in just a few weeks, and although my youngest is only 2, I feel like I have baby amnesia when it comes to the stuff I need. I’m taking a basic approach this time around, pretty much just onesies and diapers (how cute are these new cherry print ones from the Honest Company at Target?!).

I have a bunch of Levy’s old baby clothes and Jack’s baby gear so I think we are good to go for the most part, but I wanted to know, what are your must haves when it comes to getting ready for a new baby? I’m talking about those lesser known essentials, maybe it was a favorite nursing tea or a sweet swaddle blanket. What about some essentials for mom too? Was there anything special that helped you get into the new motherhood groove? Below are a few of my favorites for new mommyhood, I LOVE the Natural Calm powder, it really helped me smooth out any of the slightly more jagged edges of hormonal change craziness paired with sleep deprivation (find it at Healthy Living Market and Cafe, they also have little sample packets for under a buck so you can try it before you buy a big container of it). A cute nursing bra also helps boost your new mom spirits, and this one by Boob (great name, right?) is so comfortable and also so cute. Finally, a little bronzer can go a long way when you’re feeling more zombie milkmaid and less bright eyed and bushy tailed. This Shimmer Brick by Bobbi Brown is sort of miraculous.

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***the photo at the top is of our family’s little Petit Bateau onesie, a gift from my mother, that all three kids have come home from the hospital in so far, and I can’t wait to bring #4 home in it too! It has a sweet little cloud print and says “Head in the clouds” in French across the front…***

 

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The Fear of Other Moms

3557813915_0a36126a2dThe other day I was at the grocery store with all three kids (so fun!) just picking up a few things for dinner that night. Coming out of the store after our shopping was done, my youngest was in the front seat of the cart, the older two were walking, and I loaded them all in the car, then loaded the groceries in the car, then was stuck with this cart. Oh and it was pouring rain.

I usually make a point to park close to the cart corral thing, but this time the store was busy and I realized I wasn’t anywhere near it. There were cars in all the spots close to me, and I didn’t want to leave it in the lot so other cars might get dinged by it, and the store was too far away to just run it back inside, so I quickly ran it over to the closest cart corral while the kids were in the car. But I was nervous, glancing around the whole time, hoping no one was watching.

Who was I afraid was watching? Not a stranger looking to abduct my kids, the doors were locked, the windows were down enough for them to have air for the 15-30 seconds it took me to dash to the cart corrall and back, no…I wasn’t worried about them getting snatched. I was worried about another parent, another mom, judging me for “leaving” the kids in the car while I turned my back for a few seconds. I was worried someone would call the cops, saying I left my kids in the car unattended, something that is illegal. I was worried, and unsure, if I was actually breaking the law. It sounds crazy, but it isn’t. And the thought that stuck out most in my mind was, when did we turn on each other as parents?

The other day I was reading this article by the mom behind the Honest Toddler, . In it, Laditan mourns the loss of the “village” style of parenting, a style she has never known.

I miss that village of mothers that I’ve never had. The one we traded for homes that, despite being a stone’s throw, feel miles apart from each other. The one we traded for locked front doors, blinking devices and afternoons alone on the floor playing one-on-one with our little ones.

It stuck with me, because I miss it too. When I first became a parent nearly 8 years ago now, I expected it to be like getting admission into this new sisterhood, one full of support and commiseration, one where people would swap stories and tips, would watch your kid while you ran to the store, one where you could trust the other moms to look out for them, to look out for you. And in a lot of ways, that has happened for me. I have a great group of friends that are non-judgmental and supportive even though we have differing parenting styles. We all know that we have our children’s best interests at heart. I have some great neighbors where our kids can meet anywhere in between our two adjoining yards and play until they are called in for dinner with minimal supervision. I can make a rushed phone call to that same neighbor to ask if she can get my kids off the bus because I’m a few minutes behind, and vice versa. We watch each other’s children as if they were our own, making sure they aren’t running into the street, or helping them get back on their feet if they fall. And that is how it should be. But it isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always the case. I’ve had other moms judge me for what I feed my kids, judge me for working outside the home. Sometimes I wonder if the overwhelming sentiment about being a mom hasn’t been about sisterhood, but about judgment.

The problem is, with parenting, a lot of it is winging it, and with very few basic exceptions, there is really no “right” way to do it. On top of that, instead of one manual on “how to parent”, there are a thousand. Go to any bookstore and check out the parenting section. There amongst the baby name books and baby food cookbooks you’ll find dozens of books telling you how to raise kids, how to discipline them, how to potty train them, how to sleep train them, how to make them the “happiest kid on the block”. Search the internet even for the briefest moments and you’ll find sites (like mine) giving you tips and hints on how to do it all. How to eat, how to play, how to learn, how to do everything. And that’s great, I love that advice is given and shared, but we need to also bolster up the idea that parents, and kids, need to find their own way to (safely, of course) do things, and they need the freedom to do so. And we also need to point out, again and again, just because someone is doing it differently, doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong, and it especially doesn’t mean that it gives you the right to pass judgment on them.

The bottom line is, it comes down to your comfort level, and it comes down to what you feel is right. I have friends who can’t believe I never used a baby monitor with my youngest, even though I obsessively checked the video monitor like a madwoman with my first. I have friends who are sit and chat moms at the playground, leaving kids to their own devices, and friends who like to hover, making sure no one is cutting in line and no one is about to fall off the jungle gym. Maybe I’m comfortable with my kids potentially falling off the monkey bars and not being there to catch them, maybe you’re not, but either way, don’t pass judgment on my parenting skills or how much I take care of my kids based on that.

When should you get involved? When my child is in REAL danger. Choking, running into the street, about to fall off something tall. That’s danger. Not falling off the end of the slide onto their butt, not being left in the locked car for 15 seconds while I push a cart back to where it belongs, not when I let my totally competent child ride their bike down the block.

I worry about a lot of things, trust me. I worry about what I feed my kids and what kind of sunscreen to use. I worry about whether they are reading enough or playing X-Box too much. Parents worry, parents are concerned. What I don’t need to worry about, however, is whether or not someone is going to report me because I let my child play in the backyard alone, or let them go into the post office by themselves at age 7 to buy me a stamp, or because I left them in the car while I put my shopping cart back.

The fact is, the danger that we all perceive, specifically that our children will be abducted by a stranger, is overblown, to say the least. As I said in a recent facebook discussion about the mom who was arrested for letting her child go to the park alone while she had to work, of the roughly 69,000 kidnappings that occurred in 1999, only 115 of them were abductions by strangers (aka “Stereotypical Kidnappings”), and in 2000, 255 children died of the flu or pnuemonia. A child is 2 and a half times more likely to get hit by lightening than to get taken by a stranger. Two and a half times MORE LIKELY to get hit by lightning than to be abducted. Let that sink in.

Real abuse, real neglect, is horrible, and should not be tolerated by any means. But this perceived “neglect” like letting your kids go to the park when they are old enough, is robbing us of our common sense as parents. It is robbing our kids of independence, and it is robbing us of our village. The one that is supposed to look out for the kids, to look out for the families, to look out for each other. This grey area of “Is it actual abuse?” is causing us to retreat, to rethink what we would normally feel confident doing, it’s causing us to keep our kids from forging out on their own, not because we think they can’t, but because we feel like we will be judged if we let them.

If you don’t feel comfortable letting your 9 year old ride their bike alone on a quiet street? That’s fine. But maybe I do feel comfortable. Maybe I am okay with it, maybe my 9 year old is learning how to be independent and capable. Things they NEED to learn. There is so much to consider on a case by case basis per child, maybe the 9 year old in question is super independent and super confident and can handle situations well, maybe I’m not far away and you don’t see me, maybe I am okay with them taking whatever “risks” you perceive to be present. Calling the cops for neglect, that would NOT be appropriate, but that’s what it’s coming to lately. Are we going to call the cops for “neglect” now if we see a mom giving an infant a bottle of baby formula because you think they should be feeding them breastmilk? Are we going to call the cops if our kids are waiting at the bus stop out of our line of vision? Where does it stop?

I guess what I really want to say is, be part of the village. Help out. If you see a child that is in danger, by all means, help them, help keep them safe. But if you see a child in a situation that is NOT dangerous, it just might not be the way YOU would handle it, then don’t pass judgment right away that they are being neglected by their parents or caregivers. Don’t pass judgment that they aren’t being parented the “right” way. Parents need to be empowered, kids need to be empowered, and we all need to support each other, especially in tough times, like the mom who let her 9 year old go to the park alone while she worked. Instead of a compassionate mom or dad reaching out to her to offer help, she was arrested, her child was taken away, and she was fired. Is that better? I don’t think I even need to answer that.

I don’t want to add fear of other moms to my list of things I’m worried about already as a parent. I don’t want to worry that my age appropriate lessons in independence will be misjudged as neglect. I don’t want to worry that my kids will grow up in an environment where I don’t feel comfortable letting them go out on their own because of how I will be judged. Instead I will attempt to build a community, a village, by way of my own actions, and will strive toward being supportive, understanding, and open minded of all moms, and all parenting styles, and appreciative and encouraging of that same kind of support.

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