Category Archives: toddlers

Through the Eyes of a Toddler

I’ve heard the old cliche, “Kids say the darndest things,” about a million times in my life. And the voice in my head has always responded with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, so what.” Kids don’t have political, social, moral filters; I get it. They will totally embarrass you at the most inopportune time by blurting out just the wrong thing. But as a trip to the grocery store taught me the other day, the “darndest thing” more often is some surprising shift in perspective that makes a parent stop and rethink for just a second the way s/he views the world.

So my first “darndest thing” moment happened in the grocery store. I was cruising the veggie aisles, looking for some good grilling eats, when I saw some very fresh, local corn. As I started shucking–I love that grocery stores have finally figured out that people want to see what they are buying and put trash cans next to fresh corn so people can remove the husks before they get home–I gave a cob to the crumb cruncher. I took my time explaining that this was maïs and it was yummy, so we were going to take off the husks so we could grill it and then eat it.

He watched me remove the husk off the first corn cob. As I ripped into the second, he looked at me, pointed, and said:

“Banana.”

My first reaction was to correct him. I got about two seconds into explaining once again that I was holding corn not a banana and then I just stopped. I started chuckling to myself. Duh, I must be an idiot to not recognize the similarities:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • They are long and skinny
  • They are eaten with hands
  • They have an inedible skin that must be peeled back
  • They are found at the grocery store
  • They are sweet and tasty
  • They can be made into bread
  • They give the dog the poops

And that is how a toddler’s brain works. It’s the darndest thing, isn’t it?

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Filed under daily life, education, language, toddlers

10 Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

For as much as I traveled with my kid as an infant, traveling with him as a toddler is a whole new ballgame. Or so I learned at times painfully recently during an overseas excursion. Not everything was different–the key was still having enough liquids, snacks, and toys within reach at any moment–but I learned enough new stuff that I think it might be worth sharing my Top 10 insights.

  1. European airports rock. If the children’s play areas in London’s Heathrow airport and the nurseries at the Geneva airport weren’t enough, I can confirm that the airports in Geneva, Rome, and Naples offer priority lanes for parents traveling with children. Brilliant. The catch, though, is that some airports only allow one parent to go through the priority lane. While that kind of stinks for the parent who has to go through the regular security lanes, my experience has been that they move much more quickly than their American counterparts.
  2. There is a no Fly Safe zone. I had first heard about the Kids Fly Safe harness from a friend who swore by it. It seemed genius enough to me–a lightweight, packable, easy-to-install alternative to having to lug a car seat on the plane for a squirmy toddler–so I shelled out for one for our big European adventure. Although the website says its FAA approved and there’s a big section on using the contraption in the U.K., I hadn’t finished adjusting the anchor strap when a flight attendant for our British Air flight came over and asked if I needed help. I told her I was fine; I was just finishing adjusting the harness. At that point, she told me that I was not authorized to use the harness on B.A. flights and would have to remove the device. So glad I paid out the nose for expedited shipping.
  3. Formula is still your friend. I can’t remember the last time my kid touched formula–it had to have been eight months or more–but I threw in a handful of leftover single-serve packets of Enfamil into our mini cooler (that’s still a travel necessity) just in case I got desperate. Turns out we hit a patch of turbulence on one flight that left our flight attendants buckled in their seats just as our kid had a thirst attack that plain old agua couldn’t quench. As he came within an inch of a true toddler meltdown, I frantically scoured my bag for a lone juice box to no avail. Then I remembered the formula packets. A couple of quick shakes to get the powder to dissolve and–voila–we had a happy kid again. (Incidentally, on the juice box thing, Target’s Market Pantry brand carries smaller size juice boxes that meet the TSA’s fluid ounce restrictions–or at least come close enough that no one cared.)
  4. Infant tickets equals infinite problems. After a very rough start to our vacation, we were very careful to arrive super early to all of our inter-European flights. And it was a good thing because, for some reason, our Alitalia tickets never got coded to indicate that one of us would have an infant in arms. I didn’t anticipate this to be as big of a problem as it turned out to be. In the U.S., ticket counter personnel just clack on the keyboard and the additional ticket for baby is spit out. Not so much in Europe. We spent nearly an hour on each leg of our journey to/from Italy waiting for some airline customer service people to execute. At one point, one woman had to pull out a handwritten manual to find directions as to what to do. We also got tagged with a lap-baby fee of 10% of the cost of the ticket–of course not the price I paid online weeks before but what it cost at that moment, two hours before the flight. Awesome.
  5. Don’t get sucked into the romance; public water fountains are nasty. I have seen enough movies set in Italy to find it charming that most Italian cities and villages still have public water fountains, wonderful works of art and sculpture where locals still take pause to wet their whistles daily. And few things can amuse a squirmy toddler more than big chutes of water. So, as my kid was splashing in the fountain, nearly dunking his head under a spigot in an attempt to get a drink, I took pictures to capture this quintessential Italian moment. I regretted it all the next day when my kid came down with some sort of bug that had him throwing up and spiking a serious fever. While I secretly relished having nothing to do other than hang out while our kid basically slept all day–I finally got to read a magazine in peace, stretched out in the sun on a lawn chair with a nice cappuccino–it did significantly cut down on our sightseeing; I think we lost about 2.5 days, all told.
  6. Don’t be ashamed; kid leashes are humane. I was always skeptical about child harnesses. While I could see the practicality, I was never sure about how comfortable I was with them. And then my mother-in-law bought one for us. (I’m pretty sure this is the one she bought, although ours is a much darker brown, so I think it’s cuter.) My husband and I took it for a test run on a weekend in New York City. All it took was being in Times Square at rush hour for us to become converts. I can’t tell you how awesome that thing was every place from the security line at Heathrow airport in London to the winding, cobblestone streets of Amalfi, Italy, where motorbikes and cars zip down alleys most people would assume would be pedestrian only. The bonus was our kid loved the monkey; he wanted to cuddle with it in bed. Needless to say, it was never a problem to get him to wear it. In fact, he asked for it.
  7. For the love of car services. I always considered a private car a luxury. That is, until I started traveling for work and learned that the most reliable way to ensure transportation to the airport in early morning hours in my neighborhood was to hire a car. And it totally opened my eyes. It takes like 75% of the stress out of traveling. And trust me, my sanity is worth the $100 or so it usually costs. So, when I realized that Amalfi was still around 35 or 40 miles from Naples, I went to work on booking a private car. Fortunately, our apartment rental company–Summer in Italy–was awesome enough to have some tried and true suggestions on good car services. Amalfi Car was awesome. We used them several times during our trip and they were reliable, reasonably priced, and totally flexible; they even let us cancel last minute–no charge–when the bambino got sick. Not to mention that we learned that car seats are more of a suggestion than a regulation in Italy, so it was nice to be assured that our kid would be strapped in as we hugged the Amalfi Coast’s crazy curves.
  8. Pennywise and a pound foolish. I’m not all about being stupid with money–lord knows I like a good deal–but I’m at the age where I’ve given up on doing the more complicated thing just to save a buck or two. I don’t get enough vacation days to screw around like that. So, I’m willing to spend a little more for guarantees and efficiencies–basically anything that takes the work out of traveling, especially with impatient children or husbands. So, when I was evaluating apartments to rent on the Amalfi Coast–I assure you, it’s cheaper than you think and you don’t get slapped with all the incidentals–I ended up opting for the slightly more expensive place that had the better view of the sea. And considering we were sequestered in that place for nearly three days when our kid got sick, I was so glad I went for the full sea view rather than partial. That terrace alone made having a sick kid actually palatable. And I can’t even imagine what we would’ve done without wifi, considered an amenity rather than a staple in most European nations.
  9. Pay for the childcare, dammit. I see so many families travel together and it kills me that most parents never actually get a parents-only night out out of the deal. It’s not really a vacation in that case. It’s just an extended stay at a theme park or glorified playground. Most parents who go without a real date night on vacation cite cost as the main factor. But let’s get a little perspective. You’ve just spent thousands of dollars to go on vacation. If $100 is going to break you, you probably shouldn’t be on vacation. The second most-cited reason is that the parents don’t trust strangers to watch their kids. It’s a valid concern–and a one I don’t take lightly. But again, some perspective, please. We leave our kids with strangers all the time–at the gym, at daycare, at birthday parties, at home with new babysitters, etc.–but it just feels more familiar to us. Reputable hotels, resorts, and rental agencies are equipped to deal with this type of request. And let’s be honest. You’re parents. You’re probably not going much further than the hotel bar and you’ll be drooling into your wine glass by 11:30pm–unless you are like us and end up going to a very weird, very young after party with a bunch of semi-local Italian people. But that’s another story. Just get the sitter and enjoy an evening knowing you’ve got no laundry to do and no bed to make in the morning.
  10. Novotel? Do tell. I had always considered the European hotel chain Novotel a bit on the cheap side when it came to lodging choices. Sort of like an Embassy Suites or something along those lines. But I ended up booking us a room at a Novotel near the airport in Geneva because we were arriving from Italy late in the afternoon and leaving fairly early in the morning for the States; the hotel was really close to the airport, had a free shuttle, and was very reasonably priced. After staying there, I can say I thought it was awesome for families. First clue? The lobby had a play area, complete with blocks, books, puzzles and even an Xbox. The restaurant had high chairs–often a rarity in European bistro restaurants–and even a kids menu–even rarer than high chairs. There was a pool, although it was too early in the season to want to use it. But the cherry on top was the playground in the back of the hotel.

So, there they are–the 10 things I didn’t know about traveling with kids that I learned the last go round. And as a bonus tip, I’ll tell you that European daylight savings is not the same day as U.S. daylight savings. Yup, had to find that one out the hard way.

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Filed under toddlers, transportation, travel

Bon Voyage, Baby!

I’ve finally crawled out from the rock I’ve been under. It’s felt like forever. And kind of like exercise, it takes a lot of motivation to try and get back onto a blogging schedule after a hiatus. Fortunately, I’ve been MIA because I’ve been having fun rather than avoiding my life. Or more exactly, I spent one week preparing to go on vacation, two weeks on vacation, and about two weeks plus trying to get back to normal life. Seriously. I only finally put the suitcase back down in the basement last night.

A two-week vacay to France and Italy would sound like a dream to many. But as soon as I drop in one not-so-tiny-anymore detail–the baby–that dream would dissolve very quickly into a nightmare for most. My husband included. Our plane hadn’t even left the tarmac and he leaned over to me and said, “We’re never going on vacation again.”

Although he was the one who had insisted we travel with the baby, I will cut him a break and say he had no idea what he was getting into. He’d actually never traveled by plane (or car, for that matter) for any distance with him before. That was clear as he was packing entertainment items (earphones, iPad, DVDs, etc.) and I was strategically stuffing toys, snacks, and diapering items into every free inch of carry-on space.

And if I’m totally honest, the trip did not really start out on a good note. I got out of work late and there was an unplanned, hour-long detour to my husband’s work to get some paperwork signed. But the stress went through the roof when we arrived at the kennel and it was closed. Whoops. I forgot to double check the hours. Minor detail?

I’ll spare you the frantic details of the couple of hours leading up to our flight and leave it that my husband did ultimately make the flight after racing to find an alternative dog boarding situation on the fly, albeit he arrived soaked with sweat and disdain for me. I believe the first thing he said to me when he sat down was, “Don’t talk to me.”

If only the crumb cruncher could’ve understood that. In the kid’s defense, he was exhausted. It was an 11:30pm flight and he was way past his expiration date. But while I love my child, I will say he was absolutely miserable. We were those people with the inconsolable, screaming child on a plane. I think I might have even tried to clap my hand over his mouth at one point when we passed the 30-minutes of tantrum mark. Eventually the kid racked out (oh, the virtues of that additional seat we purchased). And wouldn’t you know, a couple of vodkas and an Atlantic Ocean later, my husband was talking to me again by the time we landed in London for our layover.

But while I only narrowly missed my own toddler-tantrum-inspired, mommy-meltdown moment on the plane, two weeks overseas with a toddler really wasn’t bad at all. That’s not to say we didn’t have a few “moments” where something was definitely going to give. There were several incidents where our child dramatically threw himself down on the ground, kicking his feet and crying, in several town squares. And a couple bus rides from hell. A near drowning incident. And a nasty, fever-y, vomit-inducing bug that kept us pretty much sequestered in an apartment for three days.

But it was also really fun. Having a kid in tow while traveling forces you to slow down and just enjoy the little things. As much as the panoramic views from the top of Mont Blanc or the gardens of Ravello, some of my favorite vacation memories are ones where we were just hanging out, watching our kid have fun with other kids. He had a blast with a boatload of kids at playground in Chamonix; he got silly with a little Giovanni at the airport in Rome; and he totally endeared himself to a mom and daughter on the beach in Amalfi by collecting rocks for them. More than most adults, kids are so not afraid to mix it up with the locals. Playground fun is so universal it totally transcends language barriers.

But I also really think it was good for the kid to hear strangers speaking other languages. The first day, I swear he had a little lightbulb going off about the fact that he could understand French people. And it cracked me up that he started making more “French” sounds. For example, the sound a firetruck makes in French is “pin-pon, pin-pon.” And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it melted my heart that on our last day in Italy, the kid started saying, “Ciao!”

So, would I do it again? Absolutely. Sure, I made some travel faux-pas, but hopefully I can learn from them so the next trip will be even better. But overall, I can’t complain.

My husband, however, has a different take. After two wonderful weeks abroad, I asked him on the plane home, if he’d want to do another family vacation anytime soon. “Nope,” he said. “I was serious when I said we’re never going on vacation again.”

We’ll see about that.

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Filed under toddlers, travel

The Cutest Cookie Monster Ever

My kid is picky eater. He has no go-to foods. He won’t eat the same thing for two meals in a row. And he is very adept as saying, or more often screaming, “No!” when you get too close to him with a forkful of food. So, getting him to eat–and I would say eat healthy except that I’ve had to lower my standards–at mealtimes is always an, umm, adventure.

But lately things seem to be getting better. I think that daycare is helping the whole mealtime drama. All the kids have to sit down at their little pint-sized tables for breakfast, lunch, and two snacks, which are given on a precise schedule. So, the routine is definitely helpful, but more than that I think just seeing all the kids enjoying their turkey hot dogs or pasta with red sauce makes him want to do the same.

My husband and I have been trying to make a bigger effort to have us all eat together–versus what we normally do, which is feed the kid, put him to bed, and then figure out what we’re going to eat. We’re hoping that we can model the good eating behavior he seems to be picking up at school.

So far, I’m not sure we’re being successful. Our child has yet to eat any of the same food as we have prepared for ourselves. And he in no way has showed any more interest or patience in sitting in his high chair while we enjoy our meals. In fact, he is increasingly becoming intolerant of sitting in the high chair, which is a Stokke and about the least looking high chair you can possibly get. Basically it’s an retro-styled adjustable chair that you strap your kid into so he can sit at a big person’s table. Instead, he prefers to crouch on one of our dining chairs, fork in hand.

Point in case was the other night. After his fork flew across the table, we decided that it was time to let the kid loose, even if he hadn’t eaten a bite, if we were going to be able to finish our dinner without losing it with all the screaming, crying, and carrying on this kid was doing.

No sooner did his footie pajamas hit the floor than he was pitter-pattering into the kitchen. I hear the cupboard door to our snack stash open.

He came toddling out of the kitchen with one of those 100-calorie packs of Nutter Butter cookies. He gave them to me and said, “Cookie.” Except he says cookie iwith a French accent so it sounds more like “koo-key” rather than “cuh-key.” I took the bag, said mercy, and put it on the table.

Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat back into the kitchen.

He returnd with a package of Oreos. He toddled over to my husband and handed them to him. My husband took them graciously, said thank you, and put them on the table.

Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat back into the kitchen.

This time he returned with the whole box of cookie packs.

Not exactly how I had hoped dinner would turn out, but it was admittedly entertaining. Even if we couldn’t laugh out loud for fear of encouraging him.

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Filed under cooking, daily life, feeding, parenting, toddlers

School Dazed

I don’t know what happened to the month of January, but I blinked and find myself already one week into February–and struggling with yet another new routine. The big change is stemming from the fact that our wonderful nanny is getting to be very pregnant with her third child, due in early April.

I’ve more or less been in denial about the fact that she’s having a baby, although she and I have talked several times about what she wants and needs. Two weeks. That’s the amount of time off she wanted to “rest” after the birth. And then she asked if I wouldn’t mind dropping baby off and picking him up at her house for awhile until she got into a routine with the new baby. Ummm, that’s it? There’s a reason this woman is absolutely amazing.

But my brain can’t totally process this plan. If I remember correctly, it was like a full month before I stopped feeling some uncomfortable pulling and pinching every time I sat down. I started going into contingency planning. What if something happens and she ends up having a preemie? What if she has to have a cesarian? Or worse. What if the baby needs to stay in the hospital for awhile after birth? And then I started to just feel guilty. Do I look like an unreasonable employer for only giving her two weeks off before I dump my kid on her for 10 hours a day, five days a week–even if that’s what she asked for?

I decided I needed to figure something else out. I toyed briefly with the idea of looking for a short-term nanny, but the more I thought about it, the more complicated it seemed. Going through the nanny solicitation/screening process seemed like a nightmare. And I was pretty sure that I’d end up paying even more than the ridiculous sum I spend now every week for full-time child care. But more than anything, it sort of felt like we would be cheating on our nanny in some way, shape, or form. I mean, what if we liked the new person as much as our awesome nanny? I wasn’t ready for this kind of love triangle. So, I decided I’d seek out some day care facilities.

The last time I looked at day care facilities I was eight months pregnant and freaking out over the fact that most places wanted $100 to just turn in an application to maybe get on an 18-month-long wait list. And then if we were lucky enough to get in, we could pretty much kiss $18,000 or more away a year for the privilege.

But I was desperate in a different way now, so I started calling around. I soon found out that my child is at an awkward age–on the older side for toddler care but still too young for pre-school. So, as I was searching for some place to start bringing my kid in March, I was finding that (1) options were limited for the timeframe and (2) I was already running into the application deadlines for the fall preschool season. I found myself rushing to fill out preschool applications before Feb. 1 deadlines and I hadn’t found any place for my child in the much nearer term. Crazy.

Experts suggest that parents look at at least three different facilities before making a decision. Despite all the phone calls and appointments I made, my kid ended up at the one and only place I actually physically looked at. I consider the Petite Academy–which despite its lovely sounding name has no French affiliation, sadly–a hidden gem in this city. I think most parents would hesitate to look at it because they think it’s in a bad neighborhood because it’s on the wrong side of Georgia Avenue. But there’s really no neighborhood to speak of around it. The  facility sits behind the city reservoir on a main corner of a hospital megaplex that includes Children’s National Medical Center and the VA Hospital. For us, the bonus is it’s less than a mile from the house, so traffic isn’t a bear and I can total see myself taking the dog for a walk to pick up baby once the weather gets a little nicer.

To me, the building seems pretty nice; the classrooms are large, and there’s a good amount of fenced-in outdoor space. It also appears very neat and organized, even if some of the furniture is a little worn from enough kids toddler-handling it. Everything is expertly labeled, as well, down to a little red bag with my kid’s name on it that they hand me at the end of the week with all the stuff I need to take home and wash. And I get a progress report every day the details everything from what he enjoyed doing that day down to the number of diaper changes. Plus there are security check in/out codes for parents dropping off/picking up, so it feels like no one is just going to walk out with my kid. Because, let’s be honest, that’s the last thing I need to be worried about while I’m at work.

It would seem that everything should be great. I not only found a place that I find acceptable, affordable, and convenient, but they also had no wait list, so I was able to enroll my kid a month earlier than hoped. While that kind of stinks for my nanny, who just got her hours cut (I’m still feeling guilty about that), I have something lined up for my child whenever her baby decides to make his entrance. But mornings like this morning make me wonder if I’m even doing the right thing.

I can’t explain the mini heartbreak I had when my kid started crying as we turned into the day care parking lot. And then he clung to my leg, crying harder, as I tried to walk inside. There were full on tears as we hung up his jacket. And I could hear his shrieks and screams all the way down the other end of the hallway as I left. I know better than to hang around and try to make him feel better about me leaving, but, if I’m honest, I feel like absolute shit when I finally got back in the car.

I don’t know how long my kid cries for after I leave. His teachers keep telling me he’s doing well. Today’s big accomplishment was that he released his death grip on his sippy cup for half the day, which was a marked improvement. And when I pick him up, he’s usually fine right up until the point where he realizes I’ve come to pick him up. And he starts crying all over again. He’s not even two and he’s clearly making me pay for dumping him off at this place all day.

But what really makes me sad is that this is all because he misses me. Really misses me. I guess I didn’t realize how much time we spent together before. I mean, I still worked and he still spent significant time with his nanny. But with my new job being a more traditional work environment, we have gotten pretty far away from our old routine, which I will admit I totally loved as well. Now, if I take him to the gym daycare for an hour on the weekends, he screams. Six months ago, he was there four or five times a week and loved it every time.

He misses me. And knowing that makes me miss him more than I already do.

I realize that he’ll get used to the new routine and there will be less crying and more fun for him. And I realize that he’s going to be pre-school aged before I know it, so this is good practice. Really he’s only six or eight months away from that, so this is just temporary.

But I still really miss him.

 

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Fine Dining in the Frozen Food Aisle

There are two things that my kid can do that can send me over the edge on any given day. The first is put up a fight while I’m changing his diaper. The second is refuse to eat anything.

The diaper issues is more or less fixable. All it really takes is putting a firm forearm down across my baby’s torso. Sure, there’s some screaming sometimes, but it’s over rather quickly once the diaper is totally on.

But the latter? Not so much. And don’t think I haven’t tried to pretty much force feed my kid. I dare say that after about three days of refusing to consume anything solid other than Goldfish crackers, I’ve almost had him in a rear naked choke waiting for him to open his mouth to cry so I could cram a few spoonfuls of something with actual vitamins in his mouth. And it’s not like I lack any tricks of the trade. I have about a million distraction techniques in my repertoire. And still, it’s often a fight to get food into his face.

So, I recently have taken his refusal to eat as a challenge; I absolutely will find something that he wants to eat. This mission, however, has made me reneg on one of the few things I said I was never going to do as a mother: Let my kid eat crap food. But I have been losing in this battle over breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so it was off to the frozen food aisle for fortification.

Under normal circumstances, I rarely go into the frozen food aisle. Mainly because I just don’t like a lot of that stuff. I detest Lean Cuisine dinners, I think frozen pizza tastes yucky, and oven-baked french fries never taste as good as McDonald’s fries. So, you won’t find any of that in my freezer; instead, you’ll usually find a few bags of decaf coffee, a couple of tupperware tubs of leftover pasta sauce, and a steak or a salmon filet or two.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. So, into my cart went a bag of tater tots during the last grocery run. Followed by a box of mini chicken-and-cheese empanadas and a bag of chicken nuggets. I couldn’t pass up the fish sticks or the Stouffer’s french bread pizza. And oh wait, I forgot that there was such a thing as frozen vegetables, so I grabbed a bag of mixed veggies–diced carrots, peas, green beans, and corn. I couldn’t believe I was caving; I made my own baby food for god’s sake.

When mealtime rolled around again, I set the oven to 425 degrees and laid out a high fructose feast on a baking sheet. Twenty minutes later, I cut the crispy, crunchy canapés into cubes for my crumb cruncher. Tater tots got high marks from him, as did the pizza. He was pretty happy with the veggie medley, although it’s proved to be impossible for him to resist picking up those perfectly pint-sized pieces and pitching them across the kitchen. He’s warming to the chicken nuggets and the fish sticks, but the jury’s still out on the empanadas. He ate a whole one once, but I’ve yet to see a repeat.

While I’m disappointed that I seem to be a fast-food mom in the making, I wonder what the alternative is when you’ve got a kid who just won’t eat. At this stage in his young life, it would seem that calories are king. And while it would be great if they came from whole grains and organic vegetables, I guess I’ll just take them where I can get them, be it via fish stick or chicken nugget.

Photo: Courtesy Flickr.com

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