Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Essentials Only Guide to Baby Gear: six months to one year

This post is number two in a series on essential baby gear, see here for the first.  For parenting book recommendations, see here.

My six to twelve month old babies are still using most of the gear from my newborn to six month old recommendations, but I've also found that at that point a few more things prove useful.

But first . . . a story about baby gear:  When we first moved to LA from Chicago we lived in a huge apartment complex in Burbank.  It was mostly great, but the apartment had a really tiny kitchen and the complex had a bee problem.  To help with the first issue I found a clip-on high chair which was a great space-saver.  To help with the second issue, they were fogging the bees and removing a giant hive from inside a wall somewhere.  This meant that the sidewalks were covered with dead and dying bees and the air was full of drunkenly-flying bees, soon to join their comrades on the sidewalks.

On this particular day, I did NOT follow the manufacturer's advice printed all over the back of the chair.  So six month old Bobby was sitting in the chair, but was not buckled in.  I heard him squawk and ran back around the corner to find that he had slid down the chair and disappeared under the table.  I dove under there to pick him up, but found that he hadn't fallen all the way through, and was instead stuck BY THE HEAD in the chair, under the table.  He was pretty mad about it too.

It was a lot like when Winnie-the-Pooh got stuck in Rabbit's hole.  I couldn't budge him either way.  The husband wasn't answering his phone, and he wouldn't have been much help from the 405 anyway.  So, what to do?

I sat under the table, supporting Bobby's body.  Two year old Betty stood on a chair and fed him cheerios, which settled him down.  And I sent three year old Jack out through the bees into the complex to find someone to help us.  After a very long few minutes, he came back triumphantly with the maintenance guy, who unhooked the high chair and freed Bobby, who by that time didn't seem the least bit bothered by the situation.

I told Jack he had been very heroic, so he colored himself a medal of bravery to wear.

I still have the high chair.  I still use it.  I still sometimes forget to buckle babies into it.  So I decided to recommend a slightly different version below.


1.  A Crib We move our babies to a crib sometime around 6 months old, once they don't need to eat as frequently and we stop sleeping well together.

2.  A Pack 'N Play Once my babies learn to sleep in a crib, they usually don't sleep all that well other places (like car seats or shoulders).  So, a portable crib is great for travelling.  As long as I put a crib sheet in there (the mattress is very noisy), my babies sleep as well in the pack 'n play as in the regular crib.  It's also great for when cousins are visiting.

3.  Lambskin Perhaps not properly labeled "essential" but my babies really like these and sleep well on them, summer and winter.

4.A Really Noisy Fan  You could also go with a noise machine or even an iPhone app.  The point is that as long as I have some background noise going between me and the baby I don't feel like I have to tiptoe around shushing everyone all day.  We have a big old noisy fan in the hallway and anytime anyone is sleeping, it's going.

5.An Umbrella Stroller Whether or not you get a bigger stroller as part of a stroller/car seat system, it's nice to have a small, lightweight stroller.  And with the newer ones (Frankie just got this for Christmas after our original umbrella stroller finally bit the dust) you really don't sacrifice much in convenience.  This stroller has a sun shade plus a little basket underneath.  But, you don't get a snack tray for baby, you can't put a car seat in it (for younger babies), and there's no footrest on the front to balance your toddler on.

6.  Bath Ring My babies this age really love baths, but can't necessarily sit up well in the tub, so this is a huge help.  I often put it in the kitchen sink and let the baby splash and play while I cook or do dishes.  Hopefully they have improved the suction cups on this version of it, but mine does tip over on occasion, so I stay within arm's reach.   

7.  Hook On High Chair Hooray for this high chair!  It takes up no floor space (regular high chairs have a really big footprint) and allows baby to sit up at the counter where I'm cooking or doing schoolwork with big kids.  This is a newer version than I have and they've put in a middle strap to keep baby from sliding out the bottom.  Which is great, because babies hate that.  Just ask mine.

8.  Exersaucer or Jumperoo They take up a ton of floor space, but both have been enjoyed by all of my babies.  Especially with subsequent babies, these put them right at eye level with a toddler, which they love.  And toddlers love to spin the exersaucer or bounce the jumperoo (don't let them do it).

9.  SleepSack My babies are thrashy sleepers (that's why they get kicked out of my bed), but they can't kick off this wearable blanket.  We have a cotton one for summer and a fleece one for winter and, hey, you can always customize it!

10.  LeapFrog My Pal Scout We have been given this toy as a gift in both the boy and girl versions (thanks Aunt Brie & Uncle Pat, & the Whalen family!) and it is really cute.  My babies and toddlers love it.

11.  Sippy Cup  Doesn't leak, even in a purse.  Easy to hold, easy to clean, and no valves to lose or forget or put in wrong.  This is NOT true of all (or even most) sippy cups.  We just go straight from nursing to sippy cups, with no bottle step.

12. A Baby Monitor  We're still using a Fisher-Price set that is apparently commanding antique prices on Amazon, but this one seems similar.  We don't use any of the fancy video or motion monitors.  I just need to know when the baby wakes up from his nap.  And since I can't hear him over the industrial fan, I need a baby monitor.  I don't use it at night, but it's nice to have the two receivers so I can have one in the living area and one in the bathroom in case I am trying to sneak in a little personal hygiene. 

Things for this age group that are not my favorite include: doorway jumpers, walkers, and crib mobiles.  And I have a double baby jogger which I do sometimes use, but I hate it.

    So, what do you think?  Do you have this gear, do you like it?  What did I miss?

    * Full disclosure on the Amazon links: clicking on a title from any of my posts will take you to Amazon, if you buy that title (or anything else) after clicking through my blog I get a (very small) percentage. So far I have made . . . two dollars and eighty-three cents.  Awesome.

    Frankie got another letter from his little Canadian pal Adam!  Head on over to Equipping Catholic Families to see Adam's follow-up to Frankie's letter about our Mass survival techniques.  Adam's Boppa is chiming in with a more 'seasoned' perspective on where to sit.  And check
    back here next week for Frankie's letter about how our family keeps Lent.


    Tuesday, January 29, 2013

    From the Trenches: Mass Survival Strategies That Work for Us

    Voting is now closed.  Thanks to you if you voted, or if you didn't.  That's fine too.

    After nearly a month of blogging I am FINALLY getting some recognition. :0)  I am excited to have been nominated in the category of "Best Lifestyle Blog" in the Sheenazing Blogger Awards at A Knotted Life.  If you feel so inclined, please go vote and pass this along.  (You can also vote for Adam's Mom from Equipping Catholic families, she's nominated in Most Inspirational Blog!)  And check out some of the other great Catholic blogs that are also nominated.  Voting closes Thursday at 6pm central.  One vote per customer.  And a big thank you to whoever nominated me!

    This post is part of a correspondence between Frankie and Adam, two toddlers from big Catholic families. For more explanation, go here.

    To see Adam's perspective over at Equipping Catholic Families, go here.

    Dear Adam,

    We're both the youngest (so far) of big families.  I don't know about you, but I love throwing my mom for a loop, just when she thinks she has all this kid stuff figured out.

    My question for you is: What are your family's Mass survival strategies?

    My family always sits right up front.  In the very first pew if possible.  That way we can see what's going on in the Mass, rather than just a sea of grown up backs in front of us.  It really helps us pay better attention.  I like to see my biggest brother serving the Mass.  But I do sometimes get so excited when I see him that I shout out his name.  I really need to work on that. 

    We don't usually have the problem of grownups asking us to skootch over to the middle, since we take up a whole pew.  But I can see how that would be frustrating.  Nobody wants to get stuck in the middle, not the old folks or the young folks.

    If I start getting antsy my Dad will pick me up and, in a whisper, direct my attention to the priest, or the crucifix, or the windows.  He also very quietly explains what's going on.  It quiets me down, and before I'm three I'll have a pretty good handle on the order of the Mass.

    Sometimes my mom or dad will have to take me out if I bonk my head or throw a fit.  But they don't mind walking past all the pews.  Most people smile sympathetically.

    But we always come right back into Mass as quickly as possible.  They don't want me to think that it's playtime for me in the back of the church.  It's nice for me to see the good example of my brothers and sisters and the other parishioners sitting quietly and paying attention to the Mass.  That's why our family would never, ever sit in a cry room.*  Our church doesn't have one because it was built in 1797, so we don't have to worry about it.

    I am allowed to have snacks and toys (that aren't messy or noisy) during Mass, but once I turn two I will have to give that up, like my brothers and sisters before me did.  My parents think that two years old is about when I'll be ready to be held accountable for my behavior in Mass.  Then, if I get taken out of Mass for misbehaving I will have to sit quietly in a corner outside until we can go back in.  You're two.  Did this ever happen to you?  How bad is it?

    We think that practice makes perfect.  So, we try to go to Mass as often as possible.  Every Sunday, of course, but we also usually go to Mass as a family on Saturday.  And anyone who is up early enough can go to daily Mass with my parents.  I make it a point to be up early.

    Another thing that helps my biggest brothers and sister to pay attention during Mass is having a MagnifiKid, (thanks Nana!) so they can follow along with all the readings and prayers.  It's easier for them to keep track of where we are than with the regular missal, since they don't have to flip around.  It also has cute games and comics that they are NOT supposed to look at during Mass.

    If we attend a Mass where a children's liturgy is offered, my siblings who have not yet received their First Communion may go, but the others stay, so that they may hear a real homily by a priest.  My parents think that's important.

    Our family wears church clothes to church.  My mom says, "If we can bother to put on a bathing suit to go to the beach, we can certainly bother to put on khakis and a collared shirt to go to Mass."

    We always stay in the pew until the recessional hymn is finished.  If we are at a church that has an Adoration Chapel we always stop in after Mass to say  good morning to Jesus.  I like to blow Him a kiss.  My mom figures that if all eight of us go in, we only have to stay seven and a half minutes to make an hour of Adoration!  But I have to admit, I rarely make it that long.  My mom or dad or one of my oldest siblings will take me out if I get too antsy.

    Then we get to go out and see everyone.  People are so happy to see a big family at Mass.  We remind many people of their own families, now all grown up.  Sometimes ladies scoop me out of my mom's arms and wander around with me.  But she doesn't mind.

    If there are donuts, and the WHOLE FAMILY was good, we usually get to go have some.  It's a good motivation not to blow it for everyone.

    I liked hearing about what your family does to survive Mass, and I can't wait to talk next time.

    Keep 'em on their toes!



    *p.s. Frankie's Mom here.  Reading this over, I realize that it sounds like we've really got the system down.  And I would say that for the most part, we do.  But in the interest of full disclosure, Frankie isn't old enough to remember how things used to be.  As a mother of two, living in Chicago, I used to have the cry room all to myself for daily Mass and my two-year-old would run laps around the pews while I tried to pay attention to what was going on in the main church.  I do NOT recommend this method.  I just mention it in case you happen to be a young mother in the all-little-kids phase.  If you're anything like I was, there's nowhere to go but up.

    I would also add that sitting in the front pew is good for kids, but it's even better for me.  It is certainly our responsibility as parents to train our children to be well-behaved in Mass, and of course, we need to go out of Mass with babies and toddlers who are being disruptive.  

    But it can be VERY FRUSTRATING when I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job and my baby is just making baby noises here and there and people in front of us turn around to look and see what's making that noise.  It makes me want to hoist my baby in the air and say "IT'S A BABY!  That's what's making those baby noises you hear.  A baby."  But, of course, that wouldn't be charitable.  

    And for all I know, the people don't mean anything unpleasant by doing it.  It just makes me feel defensive.  Sitting in the front pew solves all of that.  I'll still try my best not to be disruptive, but if people take curious glances at us, I won't see it.

    P.S.  If you happen to be a person who is very troubled by the presence of noisy babies in Mass, I would recommend the perspective of Father Ryan Erlenbush in a post entitled Crying Children Call to Mind the Mystery of the Mass and the resulting comment-tastrophy.


    Monday, January 28, 2013

    The Essentials Only Guide to Baby Gear: birth to six months

    In honor of some soon-to-be mothers I've been thinking about recently, especially my lovely cousin Pryor and the adorable Sarah of Oh My Soul, today I'm going to share with you my guide to baby gear for the first six months (check back later this week for my recommendations for six to twelve months Update: here they are!).  Just the essentials.  Everything you need, nothing you don't.

    My Baby Shower!
    Somehow the husband got wrangled in.
    When I was pregnant with my first, my mom and I spent almost a whole day wandering around a giant Babies-R-Us, wondering how in the world I was supposed to know which of the 14 billion things on the shelves were the things I needed for my baby.  I got to the point where I was just kind of randomly zapping things with my registry zapper and hoping for the best.  

    I think that's how I ended up with two Diaper Genies but not a single diaper in my house.  Thank goodness they sent us home with some from the hospital.  

    And let me take just a moment here to mention that the diaper genie is NOT going to be on this list.  That thing is five kinds of gross.  

    You can just tie diapers in plastic grocery bags and toss them in the regular trash (what we used to do) or get a dedicated trash can with a lid (which is what we have now) and put it in the garage.  Then when you have changed a stinky diaper you shout "Incoming!" and throw it at the nearest kid, who then has to catch it and take it to the can.  That's how we do it anyway.

    I feel like I've gotten a bit far afield.  Let me begin again...

    Once we got past two kids, I realized that a level of minimalism was going to be necessary for survival.  And more than that I realized that babies DON'T NEED ALL THAT STUFF.  I don't need all that stuff.  All that stuff wasn't helping me.  All it did was make babies seem expensive and inconvenient and really, really heavy.

    The more kids I have the less stuff I need.  So here I am to share what our babies use in their first year (0-6 months today, 6-12 months later this week).  This is pretty much it.  I replace things every three babies or as needed.  (Clicking on the links will take you to Amazon*.) 


     1.  Nursing cover with a rigid neckline, so you can peek at baby.  I nursed three babies before these were invented and I can tell you that without one it's pretty much 50/50 whether I'm going to end up embarrassing myself in public.

    2.  Fabric Sling Carrier I didn't get one of these until my fourth, but she pretty much lived in it for nine months.  I could nurse in it, she slept in it.  She was happy and I had my hands.  Not as comfortable as the other  carrier I recommend, but better for nursing and easier to throw in a purse.

    3.  Nursing Pillow I prefer the kind with a clip belt, so that if I need to get up for something I can walk around like an aircraft carrier with the baby on my flight deck.  Also, it has a pocket for the remote. 

    4.  Glider and Ottoman I have probably spent years of my life in this thing by now.  We had to have the cushions re-covered after Bobby.  He was a spitter. 

    5.  Portable Changing Pad (or two or three) We don't have a changing table, we just use a waterproof pad on the bed or the floor.  We have one drawer in our TV cabinet in the living room and one drawer in our bedside table dedicated to diapering.

    6.  Swaddling Blanket Even if your baby sleeps with you (ours do), a swaddling blanket is nice because it keeps her from punching herself (and others) awake in the night.  

    7.  Infant Bath Seat This is the one we have.  It's pretty bare bones compared with some that are available, but it serves its purpose, which is to keep the baby's head out of the water for you, so you have a hand free to wash her.  

    8.  Hooded Bath Towel The only thing my newborns hate more than taking a bath is getting out of the bath.  They get so cold, but a hooded towel helps.  If you get a big one now, you won't have to get another one for him when he's a toddler.

    9.  Infant Car Seat / Stroller System This allows you to take the car seat out of the car and wheel it around in the stroller. I used it a lot with my first few kids, but I mostly just take the baby out of the car seat and put him in the sling with my last couple.  Still, you need a car seat AND you need a stroller, so they might as well be cooperative.  

    10.  Stroller Toy Arch My babies really like looking at this thing. 

    11.  ERGO Baby Carrier  Pretty pricey, but totally worth it.  This carrier is really, really comfortable when compared with ALL the others I've used.  Can be used as a front carrier or a backpack.  There's an infant insert, but I've never felt I needed it.

    12.  Bumbo Baby Seat with play tray.  I LOVE this seat.  Right around three months or so, my babies like to watch stuff, but can't sit up in a highchair yet.  But they can sit up in this.  We only NEED it for 3 or 4 months, until baby can sit up on his own.  But it is SO nice to be able to put the baby down for a minute here and there that, for me, it's totally worth it.
    Things other people love that don't work for me include: the Moby Wrap Baby CarrierSwings (including the fancy kind that swing any which way), diaper bags (I just use my purse), those buzzy chairs, and co-sleepers (my sleeping babies are not put-down-able). 

    For my parenting book recommendations, see this post.  

    So, what do you think?  Do you have this gear, do you like it?  What did I miss?

    * Full disclosure on the Amazon links: clicking on a title from any of my posts will take you to Amazon, if you buy that title (or anything else) after clicking through my blog I get a (very small) percentage. So far I have made . . . seventy-one cents.   Awesome.