A Guide to Giving Gifts to 0-3 year olds (and staying friends with their parents)

At times I feel like I live in a giant toy box.

A real photo of my kids’ toys!

I can’t even get to the bathroom without going on a safari through Lego jungle, being confronted by a talking doll and getting stuck in a traffic jam of multi-colored cars. Then, there are no guarantees the bathroom will be free of obstacles.

When all the stars align: I’m home from work, kids are BOTH sleeping, I have enough energy, I have enough time, I’m in the right mood, nothing else is more urgent (ie, almost never), I go through the house and organize all the kid stuff. Sometimes it takes hours. Then…when the kids wake up, faster than you can say “futility” my house relapses to its former state.

Less than 4 years ago I had no idea what to get little kids for gifts. My friends were probably cursing my name as they scraped (and scraped and scraped) the stickers I gave their baby off some heirloom piece of furniture.

Many of the gifts my kids receive are not age – appropriate. Save your money and your friendships… follow these guidelines for giving gifts to kids age 0-3!

1. No puzzles or toys with lots of small pieces. Giving a baby or a toddler a puzzle is like saying to their parents, “I know you have a lot to do, but why don’t you add picking up and assembling 100 pieces from 10 different puzzles several times a day? Kids this age just dump them, wait until you pick it up, and dump them again. This goes for pretty much everything with lots of little pieces …wait until they are older.

2. Choose Medium Sized Gifts: I’ve already discussed the issues with small pieces. Huge toys are almost as problematic, especially in a small house. It’s like asking someone if you can store your boat in their living room, and then expecting a thank you note. Aim for the size of a classic teddy bear.

3. Avoid Loud Toys. Imagine a baby or two crying… add a dog barking, a toddler Pandora station in the background and probably a phone ringing. Okay, now imagine a very cheerful voice singing “The wheels on the bus go… The wheels on the bus go round and… The wheels on the bus go round and round….”  because they never just push the button once. I’m getting a migraine just thinking about it. Then the batteries start to fade, and the cheerful voice gets a little spooky. I have had the spooky-voice-version of wheels on the bus in my head for about 3 years.

4. Books. Board books are best, as most babies love the sound and sense of accomplishment that comes from tearing paper pages. Little ones especially love looking at pictures of big baby faces. Too many words are lost on them, but colorful, detailed pictures and concise stories can offer hours of imaginative fun and learning.

5. No Stickers. They won’t stay put on skin (where my daughter wants them to stay) but they stay a little too well on furniture. Have you ever washed a stickered shirt? I promise, that shirt will never be the same. And the dumb things lose their stickiness if you rearrange them on your clothes too many times… causing all sorts of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

6. Sizes and Seasons. If you want your little friend to actually get to wear the cute outfit you bought, be mindful of the size and the season. If you are buying clothing for a 3 month old baby in June (say, in Minnesota)… don’t get a tank top and shorts in the 9 month size. When that baby is ready for 9 month clothing, it’s going to be -20◦F.

7. Go Green… or orange Our oldest child is a girl. We were blessed with many lovely pink and purple gifts. Our second child (who didn’t get all the showers and fanfare as the second born) is a boy. He is a boy who has a lot of pink sparkly toys and gear, including a bib that reads, “SISTER.”


8. Go Green…as in recycle. Save the earth, buy an outfit from the thrift store for a $1.00! The previous owner probably grew out of it before he could wear it anyway because guideline #6 was not headed.

9. Give Experiences. A pass to the zoo or the museum or even a McDonald’s gift certificate will get those kids (and their caregivers) out of the house and having some fun.

I hope that helps! What about you? What are your favorite/ least favorite items for 0-3 year old. Join the conversation below!

Peace (amidst clutter and chaos),

p.s. after I wrote this, and before I published it, I came across this provocative article about avoiding too many toys for a different reason than I outlined above, and this helpful blog post about how to properly visit a newborn. All great points!


Don’t teach your baby to sign more. No More!

I usually stand silently by while babies and parents throw tantrums over the sign language sign for the word “more.” But I can’t take anyMORE.

For whatever reason, people are obsessed with teaching this particular sign. They teach it to their own kids, to my kids, and to their dogs (probably).

Teaching preverbal babies to use some sign language is great when done well. It can strengthen the neurological pathways of language helping your kids to become more verbal when they are ready to speak. You can’t put your fingers in your baby’s mouth and help form verbal words, but you can hold their hands and manually prompt signed words.

Just don’t teach them to sign “more.”

I know, I know. But it’s so cute! Those little stubby fingers gathered together like two little ducks kissing.

Just don’t do it. All that stuff I said about sign language helping kids become more verbal, does not apply to the sign for “more.” Babies just learn that if they want something, anything, all they have to do is sign “more.”  I’ve seen various versions of the following scenarios unfold time and time again, and yet it’s still America’s favorite sign.

Scenario #1:

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: More what?

Baby: is frustrated. I’m using your stupid sign and you still don’t know what I want. Tantrum ensues.

Parent: Use your words, what do you want?

Baby: (speaks) More!

If the baby can say the word, they shouldn’t need to sign it. And it’s still a mystery what this baby wants.


Scenario #2

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Tantrum ensues. After 10 minutes of questioning it is finally discovered that baby wants to jump (or at least she does now).

“More jump???” Just teach them the sign for jump! The word “more” in this case is inaccurate and useless.


Scenario #3:

Parent: Feeds baby cheerios

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: Gives baby more cheerios

It turns out he wants a drink. (Tantrum ensues). Too bad he doesn’t know the sign for milk!

Do you want your kid to know just one word that gets them whatever they want? That’s hardly helping their language or communication skills. And in the land of so much excess, do you really want the one word they know to be a demand form of the word “MORE”?

Tips for less tantrums and more functional language:

-Teach your baby specific signs for 5 to 10 things they like the best (ex: milk, bear, pacifier, hug, tickle, swing, up). Until they master these signs, forget about having them sign things like “more, please, thank you” which are fairly meaningless words to a baby.

-Don’t prompt your baby to sign for something unless it’s clear they really want it or the association between the word and the sign will be weak.

-Give it to them after they sign it once (even with help). If you make them sign it 5 times and have it perfect before reinforcing it, it won’t be worth the effort and kids will just go ahead and cry… or just sign “more” if they want something.

-Once the child can say the word, the sign is no longer necessary.

Happy Signing! If you have any tips or experiences of your own, please feel free to comment below!

Finding the MAGIC in the Mundane

Three times in the last three days people have told me to “Write this stuff down” referring to stories about things my toddler does and says. It seems three is the magic number.

“Mama, can I give these beans to Ziggy?” My daughter asked in her squeaky two year old voice.

“Hmm, what beans?” I asked barely paying attention.

“I found beans in my apple” She said.

Ziggy the dog was wagging his tail and prancing, unable to contain his excitement about the possibility of apple beans. She had eaten her way to the middle of an apple leaving a sticky mess of apple slush all over her face, shirt, hands and arms. She sat staring at the core as if she was thinking, “So that’s where beans come from.”

I sat down with her and told her about dirt and seeds and apple trees. She listened with rapt attention as if I was sharing the secrets of the universe, her mouth hanging open in awe.  When I finished up the story about a big tree with apples attached she finally closed her mouth, blinked a few times and with a smile said, “No! That’s not right!” then she followed up with “I WANT THAT STORY AGAIN!”

I often forget how amazing normal things are. I mean, a gigantic tree coming out of a tiny seed? That’s not right.

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for a 2 year old perspective. Happy Binge Day everybody.

What are you thankful for?

On being gracious (to yourself)

I have answered the same 8 questions about postnatal depression at least a dozen times. They have to give out the questionnaire every time they see you or your newborn for liability reasons. One of the items on the inventory keeps popping into my mind this week. “Things have been getting on top of me” to which I agree by checking the box that says, “Yes sometimes I haven’t been coping as well as usual.” Ya think? I’m not actually sure how one would go about not letting things get on top of them with a new baby.

Today I checked on Adelaide after an unusually long nap to find that she had removed her diaper and left a couple piles and a puddle on the carpet. This was the 3rd ‘potty on the floor’ incident of the week. She is sensitive to disapproval and cried when I seemed less than thrilled. The sound of her crying scared Louis and he joined in. Tylenol, caffeine and water were no match for the ensuing headache…which is still going strong. And yes, maybe I hid in the basement for a few minutes when Grant finally got home from work. And yes,sometimes I haven’t been coping as well as usual.
Yesterday, I glanced at myself in the mirror and noticed a dark purple circular mark on my chin. I dabbed at it with a wash cloth to no avail. Then I recalled that earlier in the day I was zoning out while nursing Louis and fiddling with his Soothie pacifier absentmindedly. To my sleepy amusement I discovered that I could make it stick to my face if I squeezed it just right by creating a suction cup effect. Now I have a pacifier shaped hickey on my face that has barely faded after a day and a half. Fortunately I haven’t really been out of the house since the pacifier incident and come to think of it I haven’t had much of a chance to shower, pick up the clothes on the bedroom floor or the do the dishes for that matter. I’ve tried to take some time to write but when I looked back at what I tapped out with my single free hand it was all disjointed and confusing.  I guess I can safely say ‘things have been getting on top of me’
Pregnancy took a toll on my body and my weight is not where I’d like it. I was doing so well on a strict Slow Carb diet for the past month and losing a lot of weight. Until last week when I made a few exceptions for my birthday, then for my anniversary, then for the fun of it, then because it’s so delicious, then because I’m too tired to care. Speaking of which, I could really go for a chocolate pastry… I guess I haven’t been coping as well as usual.
Fortunately I know that Depression is a liar. Depression wants everyone to think they are the only one drowning but I know the truth- that everyone has been there…there as in here, here as in a pacifier hickey on your face and a chocolate pastry on your mind (or whatever the case may be for you). I’m working on being gracious to myself, and to you… because let’s face it, all of us could probably be coping a little better than we are.

"One of those Days" as they say.

Today was one of those days where nothing worked.

A few weeks ago my midwife told me that swimming could help relieve some of my pregnancy swelling. Something about hydro-something pressure, or something. The swelling isn’t as bad as it was with my first pregnancy, but with 2 months to go, I don’t want it to get to that point so I decided today was the day I would get in the pool at the fitness center. Of course, I didn’t have a swimsuit to accommodate my current state so I needed to go to Target.

When I imagine what hell might be like, I am pretty sure it must involve putting hats, mittens, boots and coats on a toddler who is running away from you, when and you are abnormally clumsy and have decreased lung capacity. Then I imagine that you have to trudge through snow and shuffle across icy walkways carrying said toddler (because if you don’t she will take off in any direction but the one you prefer), then wrestling her into a car seat with the winter gear intact. All of this with the end goal of trying on swimsuits.
Somehow we made it to the store where I bought a very large swimsuit and had a nice little lunch date (just my toddler and me) in the café. She was thrilled to have what she calls a “special treat” and I was thrilled to not have to worry about making lunch. I still wanted to get to the gym but we both desperately needed a nap at this point, so back home we went.

After a long deep nap I woke up and started frantically packing my gym bag so we could get out the door as soon as she woke up because I knew we had dinner plans this evening. Halfway to the gym I realized I forgot a towel, so I circled back. After work traffic was thickening and I wondered a few times if I should just forget about hydro-therapy-whatever for the day.  But after all of the effort I had invested and after getting my girl psyched about “Kids’ Club” I pressed on. It took me a half hour to get to the gym that is only 4 miles from my house.

I checked the girl into the child care area and went to the packed locker room to get ready. To my relief, I didn’t see anyone else who looked like they were headed toward the pool (yay for privacy while I soak). I made my to the pool entrance only to find a sign stating that the pool was closed for the day. “Are you kidding me?” I wanted to yell! All those people in the locker room, and not one of them mentioned anything about the pool being closed when I was obviously heading that way. “Oh well,” I decided “ I guess I’ll just workout” …except, I didn’t bring shoes… just big wet snow boots.
 So I just took a shower because at least I had a towel. Then we went home. Still swollen, but with washed hair.
I’ll spare you the other details of my ineffective day for your sake. Overall, I’m disappointed that things didn’t go as I planned today, but grateful that we got out of the house twice! Take that Minnesota-winter-snowy-don’t feel that good due to pregnancy-Monday!

The First Year in Review

Life is full and good. Just over a year ago I was stuffing my self with fresh pineapples hoping to end the misery that was my pregnancy and more importantly meet my little girl. What a year it has been. It’s hard to put into words what this year has been like, so different from any other in my life. I tried to post once a month during this first year, but didn’t quite make it so here are a few things I remember from each month of this past year:

Month 1: The first month felt surreal. I was so, so tired and amazed. Everyone said, “Look at that hair” and asked if we were getting much sleep. No, no we weren’t.
Month 2: All I can remember is nursing, rocking, reading, watching tv, staring into her face and praying. My broken tail bone from the birth really hurt. We (I mean she) would cry and scream all night. Everyone said, “Look at those eyes” and asked if she was an easy baby. No, no babies aren’t easy.
This photo shows the 3 step process that both baby and I repeated every few hours.
Month 3: Emerged from the house pale and bleary. Squinted at the sun  and decided I couldn’t go back to work. I was too tired and emotionally drained for that. I put our little bundle in the stroller and started walking. Adelaide’s laughs, facial expressions, and hints at knowing and remembering us melted our hearts and we knew it was worth it.
Month 4: We went on some long road trips. I remember feeling trapped in the car with the baby’s screams bouncing off windows and having a headache. There were many stops to nurse, change, walk, replace pacifier or just hold. I frantically read lots and lots of books about how to get your baby to sleep better and stop crying.  Her eyes got bigger, and more sparkly and her laugh was the most beautiful thing we’d ever heard. It tickled our souls.
Month 5: Finally my energy returned and my tail bone mostly healed. Adelaide became such a little flirt. Dazzling everyone with her long lashes and waving at them with this elaborate flamenco dancer wave. She’d see a homeless looking man on a walk and do her little beauty pageant wave and call out to him in her own language. She got to meet her brand new cousin in the hospital this month. She patted her on the head as if it say, “It’ll get better, trust me.”The wisdom of a 5 month old.
Month 6: By this time she was sitting like a little bobble head doll, and rolling like a pro. She liked being carried and loathed tummy time. She slept through the night a few times this month- besides a few difficult weeks of teething, and recovering from shots, she was shaping up to be a much better sleeper. She started eating real food this month and made a lot of epic messes. Finally I wasn’t her exclusive food source and I could venture out on my own (if I had a babysitter and a place to go).
Month 7: We dressed as a Laide Bug for Halloween and she wasn’t too fond of the costume… maybe next year?
Month 8: She said goodbye to her Great Grandma Ruthy. She did so well at the hospital offering comfort and comic relief without even knowing it. Babies are good medicine. Also she started crawling this month- and hasn’t stopped since. I also started working part time. I felt so light leaving for work without 100 lbs of baby + supplies. I thought I might blow away.

Month  9: Talking like crazy. Ziggy (our dog) is “ZeeZee,” Lights are “Diyyyyyyyts.” Milk is “Mah,” I am “Mamamama.” Grant is “Dahdeeeeee” Duck is “duh” Book is “Buh” Puffs are “Bu.” Her little voice is delightful.

Month 10: Personality traits began emerging. We are excited to get to know this miniature girl’s personality more and more. She’s ever so cautious. She got a tunnel for her birthday and it took her about a week of looking at it before she carefully crawled through it. She’s also very social and loves loves loves people. For an example she will be having a fussy day and cry all of the way to the grocery store but once we get there, she is all smiles and pointing and soaking up all the attention she inevitably draws. People ask, “Does she ever cry??” Nope, she’s never cried.
Month 11: She likes small toys she can hold in her hand while she’s crawling. By toys I mean, objects… like a travel size shampoo bottle.

Month 12: Adelaide walks while holding securely on to someones hands. If that someone so much as thinks about letting go she drops to all fours. Come on baby, you can do this. Just take it one step at a time… like we’ve been trying to do this whole year! Also this month, Adelaide got to eat cake, had fun with her extended family and friends, and has enjoyed playing outside on a blanket with toys.

Adelaide’s First Birthday Party


Birthday Girl with Gpa

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Right now, as I type this, Adelaide is strapped into her car seat, in her bedroom, napping.This is not because I’m overly protective and want her to be safe in the event of an earthquake, but because she has declared war on laying down. On Christmas day, with her extended family cheering her on, she climbed up a chair, rung by rung, until she was proudly standing, holding on to the seat. Since then, she feels she must always stand, and never lay down.

In the pre-standing days, I would put her in her crib, and she would cry for about 3 minutes or less and then fall fast asleep. Now, during that three minutes she stands up in her crib. She doesn’t know how to get down, and even if she did, she would not want to lay down, it’s against her principles. She gets so tired, but each time I lay her down, she pops back up. Today on the 8th attempt to get her to sleep, I held her and rocked her until she fell asleep. I slowwwwwwwwly and carefully set her in her crib and the moment she touched the mattress, she began wailing and seconds later standing. Finally, I resorted to the car seat and she amazingly fell to sleep immediately, once standing was not an option.

She’s been waking up each morning at 4:00 and standing up. Punctuality is very important to her (today she actually arrived 15 minutes early for her 4:00 appointment). Fortunately, she eats and falls asleep pretty easily after her first breakfast. So yes, her sleeping is better, but I have had very very few nights of uninterrupted sleep in the past 9.5 months, so I’m ready for a nap myself. Actually, I don’t think that’s going to happen just yet, because my little stander is now awake!


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Losing it.

I have lost 60 pounds since my child was born (7.5 months ago). Apparently, most of which I carried in my face.
sometime near the end of my pregnancy                                            a month or so ago

I’m only 5’3 and I gained an embarrassing 52 pounds during pregnancy despite my best efforts at following the “Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy” by Dr. Robert Greene and getting my “Prenatal Fitness Fix” with Erin O’Brien (great workout by the way). Between the unexplained swelling I experienced, and the hourly snacks to stave off nausea for 7 months, I looked bad and felt worse. Not really an excuse for the messy hair in the picture on the left though, I realize.
Postpartum, I desperately wanted to get rid of the weight fast as it was making my joints ache and causing me to feel lethargic and what do you know- heavy (in more than one sense of the word). However, I didn’t want to workout too hard and become unable to breastfeed.

I used to be one of those annoying people who said things like, “Oh good, I only have to run 10 miles today, that should be fun and relaxing.” But that is about as distant as my obsession with the TV show Smallville. Because I used to workout long and hard, I felt that walking around the neighborhood pushing a stroller was like claiming cutting bread was exercise, but I did it anyway. Then at about 3 months postpartum, I decided to get serious and ordered Power 90. Not the infamous P90X, just plain ol’ P90. I thought it would be better to start slow. Three boring weeks later, I had gained 7 pounds. I followed the diet and did the work outs 6 times a week, but instead of losing, I was gaining. I took it as a message from my body that I was expending too many calories to feed a baby, so I quit. That and it was so boring.

Once I started eating like a normal person, and went back to strolling around in circles, listening to audio books, I started losing again. Weird, but I’ll take it. I made a bet with Grant to see who could lose 20 pounds first, and I won myself a Kindle. Because I am a cheap person who doesn’t like to waste money, I decided to start P90 again- to get my money’s worth. I am still breastfeeding so I decided not to follow the meal plan and just do the workouts. I am on day 20 and I have lost… one whole pound! I’m going to try to finish the 90 days and then I’ll let you know how it goes.
Be it from abstaining from dairy, or from P90, or from my desire for a Kindle, or from breastfeeding, or from carrying around a baby, or from the grace of God, or from stroller outings, or from a combination of all of it- I feel much lighter (in more than one sense of the word).

A Cure for my Fever

“Cabin fever is an idiomatic term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do, for an extended period (as in a simple country vacation cottage during a long rain or snow). Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, paranoia, irrational frustration with everyday objects, forgetfulness, laughter, excessive sleeping, distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow or dark.” – Wikipedia


So, about that simple country vacation, it’s been about 7 months now and I may or may not be losing it, just a little.

Bootsy-boo is cuter than ever. Today she twirled her hair while she was falling asleep. Any child of mine is going to be a hair twirler for sure. But now she’s snoozing and as much as I’d like to go on a run, stop by the store, or read in the park, I find myself settling, once again for, sit on the couch.

The good, or should I say miraculous news is, I just accepted a job. I wasn’t even looking for a job! Some of you know that last time I was jobless, I sought a job with the ferocity of a starving tiger looking for meat. This time, ironically, things just unfolded more like a flower blooming. The actual job seems like a good fit for my strengths and interests (even better than the last) and I will only work 2 afternoons/evenings a week. This will give Grant some quality time with Precious-pie in the evenings and minimize the need for childcare and I will get out of the house and do something I love. A Godsend indeed.

I better get a shower before SweetheartMarie awakes.

On Getting Out of the House

Before having a baby, I already had trouble getting out of the door, but since baby, it’s gotten exponentially harder. Before Adelaide was born I would inevitably be pulling out of the driveway a few minutes late for work with slightly wet hair and mildly frayed nerves. About two blocks from home, I’d realize I forgot my phone and tell myself I can live with out it. About 3 blocks from home, I’d realize I forgot to eat breakfast and mentally contrive a plan to get some food between morning appointments. In another block, I realized I don’t have my work keys, and that I have to go back home to get them. I want to call work and let them know I’m on my way, but shoot… no phone. The digital clock in my car was never set correctly, so I gauged my lateness by my location when The Current (radio station) started talking about “Today in Music History.” Did I mention I’m not a morning person?

Yesterday I was trying to get to a bridal shower- but was having similar issues. Before I could go to the shower, I needed to buy a gift, but before I could buy a gift, I needed to find my wallet. Also, a friend agreed to watch Adelaide while I was gone, so I needed to pack a diaper bag. Most moms of the organized sort would already have this sort of thing taken care of, but after being out of town for a week, my supplies were seriously depleted. Finally, I put Adelaide and her stroller (so we could go shopping for the gift) in the car, and I had to get the dog in the house. Of course he decided to ‘play dead’ which, by the way, he’s never done before. Try as I may, I couldn’t coax him inside, so I scooped up all 30 lbs of his “dead weight” and plopped him in his kennel. I then realized the baby needed to be fed and changed again and I was running seriously behind at this point. Once on the road, I took a few wrong turns on the way to and from the mall- probably just because I was trying to hard. And another thing… why do they make car seats that weigh so dang much? Had I known I would be hauling around something as heavy and awkward as an old console TV, I would have trained or something. I have a new understanding for moms who don’t leave the house very often!

We survived it though- so here’s to another outing today, to the grocery store (God help us!).