Reflections on the Emotional Complexity of Getting a Dog

A puppy just came into my life. This was not expected, not planned for. I have a lot on my plate already. I’m not sure I have room in my life for the added complexity of caretaking another being.
He’s a loaner, though. My friend manages a foster dog program called Passion 4 Paws that helps rescue dogs and find them homes. He said I could borrow the dog for the weekend and take a trial run.
My family just bought our first house, which, for the first time since my kids were born, makes having a dog even a consideration. But the house is expensive. Dogs are expensive. Kids are expensive. I can’t afford all this.
The puppy is currently selecting various inconvenient things to chew – my son’s shoe, a candy wrapper, the vacuum nozzle. I have to stop writing to avert disaster.
Still, every kid should have the opportunity to form a relationship with a dog sometime in their childhood, shouldn’t they? I don’t know, maybe I’m projecting. Meanwhile, my kids are growing up. My oldest son will be 16 this month. I can already feel him spreading his wings, testing the air currents. It won’t be long before he flies.
But right now, the puppy is curled up on the couch behind me in a cute little furry loaf, nose on tail, eyes closed. My boys are all ensconced in their rooms, watching their digital rectangles.
My wife is out, braving a snow storm, doing her thing. There is a space between us as we age. It is a healthy space. She and I have good communication. We’re a good team. We love each other, and we care for each other. Yet, space is space. Sometimes it’s lonely.
Relationships change.
Of course. Everything changes.
As I was bringing the puppy home, I pictured how my family might react. I imagined my three sons playing with him, feeding him, taking him for walks. I envisioned them leaving their screens and frolicking with him. What kid doesn’t want a puppy? When we got there, I was surprised by how little attention they actually paid him.
My youngest son was actually distraught. He doesn’t like dogs, he says. I can see the fear and hesitancy in the way he interacts. He stands on his tippy toes and holds his hands up, elbows high, backing away as the puppy comes to sniff, to play.
I think it will be good for him to learn to like dogs. This, again, is my projection. Why do I think my kids need a dog? Maybe I’m trying to justify my own desire for this creature, this relationship.
My youngest, though, was more worried about the cats. He thinks it’s not fair for me to do this to the cats. I’m certain they agree. My cats are pissed.
Of course, cats always look as if they’re mildly peeved. That’s part of their charm. They have let this new interloper know, in no uncertain terms, that he is most definitely not welcome. I think, though, given time, they’ll get used to him. Maybe I’m just projecting again.
He is a very sweet dog, playful, but not rambunctious, small enough to sit on your lap, but not a yippy little lap dog. He hasn’t barked even once since he came home. He is really quite charming and well behaved. I mean, for a dog.
I had my heart broken as a teenager when my childhood dog, Godot, was hit by a car. It was my fault. I had left the car door open while we parked on a busy road. Godot was riding in the back. He got out and was killed pretty much instantly.
For years, I blamed my dad for leaving the door open. I was so traumatized my mind blocked out the possibility that I could have been at fault.
A few years back, I realized I had been suppressing this memory and had a reckoning with myself. I think I have, subconsciously, been making room in my life for another dog since then. I have been manifesting this moment, waiting for the universe to bring the right one to me. After 30 years, I think I’m ready.
There are always plenty of reasons not to do something – the cost, the time, the commitment. But what about the reasons to do it? The opportunity for love and companionship are sure to manifest. The joy of having this creature, even for the single day we’ve had him, frolicking around, being curious and playful, has been worth the risk of knowing that he will break my heart again eventually. Inevitably.
You can’t live your life in fear of having your heart broken. You just have to know that it’s a guaranteed part of life and fill it up with as much love as you can so that maybe, just maybe, your heart will be big enough, strong enough, deep enough to endure the ache of loving.
The cats finally emerged from hiding after 24 hours. The kids are now unplugged, and the dog has become a part of whatever they’re doing in the other room.
What kid doesn’t want a dog? It’s only been a day, and I can’t imagine our family without him.
Hooboy. Here we go.

The Importance of Speaking "Happy" out Loud

Among all the books and articles we read, we often overlook (as I have) the importance of recognizing and speaking aloud when we are simply happy.

Emotional intelligence, the self-awareness of emotions and the way in which they affect human responses to various situations, is an essential skill we nurture in our children. As parents and caretakers, we may well find that one of our greatest contributions to the future is our purposeful effort to provide children with a greater understanding of their emotions. Our hope is that children will learn to navigate through the intensities and complexities of being human, and develop into capable and empathetic adults.

From contemporary children’s literature to “Daniel Tiger” episodes, the world surrounding the youngest generation is instructing children to identify when they are frustrated, impatient, hurt, left out, anxious, or nervous. These words (that I’m confident I did not hear or understand until far later in life) are being taught to toddlers, mine included. When children can identify intense emotions, they can learn patterns of behavior to help see them through conflict toward resolution and understanding.

The longer I’m a parent, the more I recognize how fortunate our children are to grow into emotional intelligence at a younger age than most of us experienced. At three years old, my son can tell me he’s frustrated when his ambitious building project isn’t going according to plan. He’s learning ways to cope and work through the frustration (tears and tantrums accompany of course, because he is a three-ager). My six-year-old can express when his anger is triggered by anxiety and is learning ways to work through those emotions.

By the time I gave birth to my third child, however, I felt there was a certain void missing among the emotional menagerie being taught to today’s children. However necessary and important and helpful it was to identify and understand certain emotions, there was a huge and wonderful emotion that often was left unspoken.

Happiness.

I’m not speaking of “happy” when it’s said while sitting around a circle for nursery rhymes, or while at a party singing “Happy birthday.” I’m speaking of all those genuine moments throughout our day when we are unaware that we are simply feeling “happy.”

Chalk it up to human nature or our interest in the dramatic and difficult but, more often than not, adults and children alike seem drawn to express and remember those emotions which are intense and, for lack of a better word, negative in connotation. We may go the whole day without incident, but wait for one mishap to pop up and often we give it the power to change our attitude regarding the entire day. It’s often the troubles and not the simple joys that we remember and speak aloud.

When we speak things aloud, we give them power to shape our hearts and minds. Among all the books and podcasts and articles we read, we often overlook (as I have) the importance of recognizing and speaking aloud when we are simply happy.

So I decided to do something different by the time I had my third baby. Whenever I felt my heart pouring over with joy or simply resting in contentment while I was holding her or watching her play, I’d quietly say this one word, “Happy.”

There are approximately 1000 ways to express happiness. I wanted to speak aloud one word that even my newborn could begin to hold on to and recognize.

Throughout our days, I’d find myself thinking I was “happy” more and more as I developed the habit of identifying and speaking aloud this fundamental desire we all possess but so often neglect to acknowledge. While I nursed my baby, or saw her discover something new, or watched as she reached out to touch a loved one’s face, I’d increasingly recognize within myself that I was “happy.”

Think of all those tiny moments that parents and caretakers experience throughout the maddening chaos of child-rearing. In sharing aloud this feeling with my child, I felt I was able to retain and share an emotion that would stay with us for longer than the fleeting moment in which it was experienced.

Then something wonderful happened.

One evening while the kitchen lay in chaos after dinner, my toddling girl came up to me with arms outstretched. I picked her up and began to slowly swing her back and forth.

Then I heard her say with a smile, “Happy. Happy.”

My husband and I both looked at each other with elation. This spontaneous but genuine expression she’d spoken went beyond her needs or wants. She was simply expressing her happiness at being held by her mother.

As the months have passed, our family’s habit of speaking aloud our happiness has affected every member of the household. Our older children now identify more often when they are simply feeling good. As my daughter has continued to encroach upon two, her emotions and ability to express them have also expanded. We hear when she is sad, or mad or frustrated.

But we hear more from her than anyone else when she’s simply “happy.”

Happiness is an inherent desire. It’s not something that must be taught, but it’s something that must be actively cultivated and savored if we are to appreciate the positive moments. Being happy is often a state of mind rather than the circumstances that surround us. In sharing aloud those positive feelings that make up our days, we are equipping our children with an ability to recognize and share in a collective and lasting joy.

Does Your Home Feel Imperfect? Congratulations, You’ve Mastered an Ancient Japanese Aesthetic

You don’t have to hire a decorator or scour the internet for ideas, products, or advice to create a wabi-sabi infused home.

family eating together with kintsugi
Kintsugi is the Japanese practice of honoring a treasured object’s history by repairing cracks with gold or silver.

When my husband suggested we move the old, blocky, wood veneer table from his bachelor condo to our shared home, I agreed, mainly because I assumed we’d replace it soon enough. Eight years and two kids later, I find it hard to imagine our home without it.
The table is covered with nicks and scratches. It’s orange-y brown, and the imperfections show up in light yellow. It comfortably seats the four of us, but we can easily squeeze a couple more chairs in when Grandma and Grandpa come for dinner. For special occasions, it expands to fit 12.
We can barely open the refrigerator door when all 12 seats are full, but that’s okay. Limited fridge access has never interfered with the conversations and laughter we’ve shared with family and friends over Thanksgiving dinners, Passover seders, or birthday parties.
I’ve grown to love that table and the memories it holds.
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection. The ancient aesthetic acknowledges that objects are beautiful, not in spite of signs of wear and tear, but because of them. Wabi-sabi appreciates the way an object’s aesthetic appeal develops over time and with repeated use, inextricably linking the concepts of beauty, utility, economy, austerity, and intimacy.
Though I never intended to embrace wabi-sabi (I’ve only recently become acquainted with the term), I’ve inadvertently adopted the aesthetic, not just in my kitchen, but throughout my home. I like how my favorite jeans have thinned at the inner thighs. I regularly toss things I don’t use. I delight in watching my daughters play with the Cabbage Patch doll my grandmother stood in line for in 1985.
In short, you don’t have to hire a decorator or scour the internet for ideas, products, or advice to create a wabi-sabi infused home.
Using the things in your home well, and being intentional with those that you let go of or choose never to have in the first place, will naturally create a home that you love.
Here’s how you can put that intention into action.
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wabi sabi aesthetic and snuggle me infant bed
Wabi-Sabi (わびさび) in Japanese kanji

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Parent Co. partnered with Snuggle Me because they know there’s beauty in simplicity.

Limit what comes in

According to wabi-sabi, the beauty of a thing is not in its shiny newness. Just the opposite, an object’s radiance rests in the meaning and memories it holds, as well as its utility.
To avoid the temptation of filling your home with new and unnecessary items, follow the following steps:

Don’t go overboard with your baby registry. Consider the things you really need: a cozy place to snuggle, clothes that fit, and a great carseat.


Keep a running list of things you’d like or need to acquire to help you stay focused and avoid impulse purchases when you’re shopping.


Unsubscribe from email newsletters that stay in your inbox unopened or those you immediately delete.


Put catalogs you never shop from straight into your recycle bin or your kids’ art bin for future collages.


Self-impose a “waiting period” when shopping online. If you can live an extra day without the items in your shopping cart, you might decide you don’t need them at all.

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Kanso Kangi meaning simplicity
“Kanso” (かんそ) is the Japanese word for “Simplicity”

De-clutter what you already own

Most of us have more stuff than we need or want – things we’re saving for some special occasion, items we might need someday, dust-collectors with sentimental value. For one reason or another, most of us have trouble letting our extras go.
Here are a few tips for embarking on a de-cluttering mission:

Start small. In her book “Better Than Before,” Gretchen Rubin recommends committing to just 10 minutes of any imposing task. If you’re drained when your timer goes off at the 10-minute-mark, give yourself permission to stop for the day. If you feel energized and you have time, keep going.


Toss anything you haven’t used in the past year.


Remember that Grandpa wouldn’t want you feeling bogged down by the birdfeeder you made together, which is now taking up valuable real estate in an overstuffed closet.


Take pictures of sentimental items before letting them go.


Limit duplicates. If it’s hard to be objective about how many scarves (or shoes, hammers, or guitar picks) you actually need, ask yourself how many your neighbor needs, and let that number guide you.

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kintsukuroi the japanese practice of filling cracks with holes
“Kintsukuroi” or “Kintsugi” (きんつぎ) is the Japanese practice of filling cracks in broken objects with gold or silver.

Find beauty in what you have

Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Though he may not have had home decor in mind when he penned those famous lines, the idea behind them is consistent with the principles of wabi-sabi. Take another look at your things. Ask yourself if they are useful.
Then ask yourself if they are beautiful, remembering that beauty isn’t defined by the perfect home featured on your favorite design blog. According to wabi-sabi, an item’s true beauty is in its scratches, its dings, its story.
As a newlywed, I created a Pinterest board called “home decor” and filled it with images of the kitchen tables of my fantasies. They were modern and sleek, with smooth reclaimed wood surfaces and hairpin legs. Unblemished, they beckoned me, promising a life just as perfect as they were – if only I owned such a table.
I haven’t pinned any new tables to that board since our first child was born nearly six years ago. In that six years, my version of “perfect” has entirely changed as well.
My husband’s old wood veneer table is as wabi-sabi as it gets. It serves it’s purpose for our growing, evolving family. It’s where my kids have sat in their bouncy and bumbo seats. It’s where we’ve clipped high chairs and and pulled up booster seats to feed first bites of banana, first tastes of chocolate chips. It’s there that we’ve blown out candles celebrating the first year, the fortieth year, and lots of years in between.
I look forward to all the celebrations that lie ahead, many of which will likely happen around that beautifully imperfect and ever-changing hunk of a fridge-blocking bachelor-pad table.
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Parent Co. partnered with Snuggle Me because they know there’s beauty in simplicity.

A Winter Storm and Boredom Warning From the Parents Weather Service (PWS)

WHAT TO EXPECT: Heavy snow and whining will occur.

Dear Parents:
The Winter Storm and Boredom Warning remains in effect until 1 a.m. EST Friday.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Heavy snow and whining will occur. Plan on difficult conditions, including the morning commute, but you won’t be commuting because school will be canceled and someone will need to look after the child(ren).
Prepare to argue with your spouse about who will be “working from home” vs. just taking a day off. Prepare to argue with your boss about the company’s “work from home” vs. PTO policy.
Tree branches could fall as well, so you’d better hope that one doesn’t hit your house and take out the Internet, because you will need to stream movies on Netflix. Rules about “screen time” have been suspended until further notice.
Snowfall rates of around one inch per hour are expected this morning into early afternoon. Prepare to answer the question “Can I go outside now?” by 9 a.m., and again at 11 a.m., 12 noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. Accumulations of four to six repeats of this question are expected.
ADDITIONAL DETAILS:
Winds gusting as high as 50 mph will cause areas of blowing and drifting snow. Your child(ren) will begin to announce “I’m bored” at 8 a.m., and this will continue to occur on an hourly basis throughout the day.
PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS:
Prepare to not find those snow pants or ice skates you bought last year and were 100 percent sure were in the closet in the hallway. Although you probably just bought your child(ren) many holiday presents, which you thought would entertain them, they are already bored with them and will instead want to play video games and/or watch movies for hours on end.
You should expect to get approximately 10 percent of the work done you’d hoped to get done. Expect to be interrupted approximately every 30 minutes with requests for snacks.
HELPFUL TIPS:

  • Stay indoors during the storm – at least until you absolutely can’t take it anymore and cave and take your kid(s) outside in a blizzard.
  • Walk and drive carefully on icy sidewalks and roads. Normally, you wouldn’t drive or walk anywhere in this weather, but you will be searching for a big hill on which to go sledding.
  • When shoveling snow, question your decision to forego buying a snow blower and try to figure out at what age children can help with snow shoveling.
  • If you lose feeling and color in your extremities, it’s time to break out the hard liquor.

Remember, a Winter Storm and Boredom Warning means severe weather and boredom are occurring. If you experience a Boredom Emergency, do NOT call 9-1-1. You’re on your own.
Good luck in there and godspeed.
Sincerely,
The Parents Weather Service (PWS)

The Sneaky Science Behind Your Kid’s Tech Obsessions

Son won’t turn off his video game? Daughter obsessed with “likes” on Instagram? It may not be entirely their fault.

Son won’t turn off his video game? Daughter obsessed with “likes” on Instagram? It may not be entirely their fault.
Like the high-octane sugar in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and that irresistible chemical spice in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the ingredients in social media, video games, apps, and other digital products are carefully engineered to keep you coming back for more. While researchers are still trying to discover whether kids (and parents) can be addicted to technology, some computer scientists are revealing their secrets for keeping us hooked.
Resisting the urge to check your phone or shut down Netflix after another cliffhanger “Stranger Things” episode should be a simple matter of self-control. But according to so-called whistleblowers, such as Tristan Harris, a computer scientist who founded the Time Well Spent movement, and Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”, we humans are totally overpowered.
Features such as app notifications, autoplay – even “likes” and messages that self-destruct – are scientifically proven to compel us to watch/check in/respond right now or feel that we’re missing something really important.
Behind the apps, games, and social media, a whole crew of folks make it their job to make their products feel essential. Many of the techniques they use are ones outlined by experts in human behavior, including Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and BJ Fogg of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab.
Harris argues that these methods “hijack” our own good judgment. Most teens care deeply about peer validation, for example. So it makes sense that friends’ feedback on social media – both the positive and the negative – would tug until you satisfy your curiosity.
You have a phone in your pocket, so why not check now? And now. And now?
More and more industry insiders, including some who designed these attention-claiming features, are coming forward to cry foul on digital manipulation, and even suggest ways companies can limit it.
In fact, it’s not just people who are going public. In 2017, a leaked Facebook internal memo showed how the social network can identify when teens feel “insecure,” “worthless,” and “need a confidence boost.” That’s not a problem “likes” can fix.
Until recently, big tech companies would only defend their products. Facebook, for one, says it polls users daily to gauge success of its features. But when mounting concerns led two Apple shareholders to ask the company to design solutions to potentially addicting technology, Apple said yes.
The shareholders also called for more research on the impact of technology use on young users. Such studies could help developers create what Tristan Harris calls “ethically designed” products with built-in features that cue us to give tech a rest.

There is a way to fight back now. Thanks to the folks who are calling out these methods, you can spot specific tricks and reflect on how they affect your thoughts and behavior. Remember: The other side wants to reduce the time between your thoughts and actions. Putting that pause in will help you resist your urges.
Below are some of the key features designed to keep their grips on you. Also check out some ideas you and your kids can use to resist temptation.

Autoplay

Most notable on Netflix and Facebook, autoplay is the feature that makes videos continue to stream even after they’re over. Tristan Harris calls this the “bottomless bowl” phenomenon. With a refilling bowl, people eat 73 percent more calories. Or they binge-watch way too many movies.

What to do

Autoplay is typically on by default, so you have to turn it off. The feature can usually be found in the app’s account Settings. Here’s how to turn it off in Netflix.

Notifications

Studies show that push notifications – those little pings and prods you get to check your apps – are habit-forming.
Push notifications align an external trigger (the ping) with an internal trigger (a feeling of boredom, uncertainty, insecurity, etc.). Every app uses them, but some, such as Musical.ly and YouTube, have discovered that when notifications tells us to do something, such as “Watch Sally’s new video!” or “See who liked your post!”, we respond immediately.
These calls to action not only interrupt us, they cause stress.

What to do

Turn them off. Most devices have a Settings section where you can turn off notifications. You should also be able to turn off notifications in the app’s settings.

Snapchat’s Snapstreaks

A Snapstreak begins after two users send snaps (pictures) to each other for three days straight. You might think competition is the motivation behind Snapstreaks, but it’s more likely due to a psychological theory called the rule of reciprocation. Humans have a need to respond to a positive action with another positive action. Voilà, a Snapstreak is born.
Kids can become so obsessed with sustaining a streak that they give their friends access to their accounts when they’re unable to maintain their own streaks (which is actually a privacy risk). The rule is also at play with “like backs” – when you like someone’s post and ask them to like yours back to bolster your total number of likes.
Of course, companies exploit the rule of reciprocation, because more data points for them means more opportunities to understand their users and try to sell them stuff.

What to do

Help kids understand how companies like Snapchat are using their (positive) desire to be nice to their friends to get them to use their product more. If your kids’ streaks are getting out of control, try allowing one time per day that they can send snaps – for example, after they take out the garbage, clean their room, and finish their homework.
Finally, if your kids’ streaks are merely annoying and not harmful, you may need to ride out this phase until your kids go on to something new.

Randomness

If you knew that Instagram updated your feed at precisely 3 p.m. every day, that’s when you’d check in, right? But that won’t keep you glued to your phone.
Instead, social media companies use what’s called “variable rewards.” This technique keeps us searching endlessly for our “prize,” such as who friended us, who liked our posts, and who updated their status.
Not coincidentally, this is also the method slot machines use to keep people pulling the lever. Since you never know what’s going to come up, you keep coming back for more.

What to do

Turn off app notifications, usually found in your phone’s Settings but also in the apps’ settings themselves. Schedule a timer to go off at a certain time every day and check your feeds then.

In-app purchases

Free games, such as Clash of Clans and Candy Crush, lure you in by promising cheap thrills, then offering in-app purchases that let you level up, buy currency to use in the game, and more. But the real sneaky stuff is how companies keep you playing, and buying.
The more you use the game and the more in-app purchases you make, the more companies learn about you. Thanks to games that connect to Facebook, they also know who your friends are. That lets them tailor specific products to you at the precise times you’re most likely to buy.

What to do

Spring for the full, paid version of games. They’re cheaper – and safer – in the long run.
Written by Caroline Knorr for Common Sense Media.

11 Personal Items You're Going to Want Postpartum That No One Seems to Mention

Do your postpartum self a favor and stock up on these must-haves now.

Baby number one joined a well-prepared household. For nine months, I rested in my baby-free bed and read about what to expect. I took classes on breastfeeding and infant care. I studied the correct holds to stop a crying baby. I organized the baby’s room with tons of new baby gear. Each room had a stash of supplies, so burp towels and wipes were never more than a few feet away from me. I purchased everything my newborn would need and then some.

Then I came home with my infant in my arms.

Only experience prepares you for how you will feel. My baby suffered a fractured clavicle, while I suffered fourth degree tears. I felt like I was run over by a truck. Sleepless nights led to foggy days riddled with sweet moments.

I hobbled to the bathroom for the first time, eased myself down on the commode, and then cried when I realized I left my hospital bag, full of postpartum supplies, on the kitchen table. I was ill-equipped to handle the pain, blood, and the disaster of my private bits.

The birth of baby number one was rough. I swore to never go through it again.

I reneged on my promise. Twice. By my third pregnancy, full of experience, I reverently checked off my list of personal supplies and prepared for my homecoming.

You will be sore and tired, because your body went through a major ordeal. You focus on baby’s needs, but forget to eat. You can’t remember where you stashed that thing. You can’t even think of the word for it, but you know it’s somewhere in the house.

Do your postpartum self a favor and stock up now.

Put baskets with extra underwear and pads within reach of every toilet and your bed. A personal travel pack fits into your diaper bag. Talk to your doctor about pain relief options and what the hospital provides, then pick up these 11 items for postpartum self-care:

1 | Preparation H. Tucks pads

A Godsend. The cool, soft cloths are gentle enough to clean your delicate areas and sturdy enough to line the top of your menstrual pad (or disposable undies). In a pinch, you can make a DIY version using the main ingredient, witch hazel.

2 | Dermoplast

Get a bottle for every room where you might pull down your undies! No joke! I found the blue bottle to be superior to the red bottle. Both use Benzocaine as their active ingredient, but the blue bottle contains menthol and lanolin, making it perfect for afterbirth care. After gentle wiping or spritzing, a quick spray on your privates eases the sting.

3 | A package of disposable, dark-colored (or old) underwear

Most hospitals put you in mesh underwear. It feels awkward, but it’s oh-so-practical. It’s much easier to toss everything instead of having a pile of disgusting undies to wash. As you heal, accidents still occur, so you don’t want to ruin your favorite pairs.

4 | Pads

You will use pads, from the biggest overnight pads to regular-sized ones. My hospital provides padscicles, but they are super easy to make at home, using this DIY guide.

5 | Peri bottle (squirt bottle)

After using the bathroom, a quick squirt of soapy warm water keeps your personal spots clean. Most hospitals provide this, but having an extra for the second bathroom or travel is worth it. It’s hard to feel fresh when you’re a hot mess. Unless you have a bidet, a peri bottle is your new best bathroom friend.

6 | Mild, mild, mild liquid soap

Now is not the time to use harsh scented soaps to clean your female parts. You want something gentle and mild. At the hospital, I was told to put a drop into my peri bottle for cleansing.

7 | Flushable wet wipes

Adult wet wipes are soothing to the skin and very gentle. Perfect for a couple weeks of uncomfortable bathroom visits.

8 | Disposable nipple pads

Nursing or not, you will leak. Enough said.

9 | Caffeine

Blinding postpartum headaches, especially after an epidural, are a real thing. Ask your doctor beforehand on how to address it. Experience taught me that a combination of caffeine and Tylenol stave off shooting headache pains. After baby number three, iced coffee did the trick. One inexpensive caffeine pill equals one cup of coffee, so keep a bottle on hand.

10 | Vitamins

Your body needs to recoup. Keep taking your prenatals for at least six weeks postpartum, longer if you desire.

11 | Stool softener

It takes a bit of time for your system to regulate. Doctors recommend a stool softener for those first few days.

Make those first weeks easier on yourself by thinking about your needs beforehand. I know, I know, it’s more fun to buy a layette then it is to buy a package of Depends. Thinking about snuggling blissfully with baby is preferable to thinking about what you will do when you can’t wipe after number two.

Experience has taught me that I don’t want to be without these 11 items after birth and you won’t want to be either.

Thank Goodness for Pregnant Friends

You will always have too much baby crap. That is, until you finally find a friend who’s pregnant.

Every year, those of us who don’t spend the other 364 days posting things like #blessed are suddenly hard-pressed to come up with what we are thankful for.
Me? I’m thankful for friends who are having a baby.
There’s a dirty little secret all parents know: We have too much baby crap. It doesn’t matter how minimalist you are, how little space you have, or how much you’ve already pared down. You have too much baby crap. You will always have too much baby crap. That is, until you finally find a friend who’s pregnant.
You see, biology drives us to worry about our children – even the unborn ones. We worry about all the terrible things that could happen to them. We worry about all the ways we will screw them up. And of course, we worry about whether we are really prepared to have them at all.
Enter: the accumulation of stuff. Swings, playmates, changing tables, toys, books, those weird nose sucker bulbs. There is literally no end to the crap you can buy to make you feel like having a baby won’t completely upend your life in an unpleasant and chaotic way.
Bottle sanitizer kit? Got it. Teeny tiny nail brush? Got it. _____? Got it. And I’m one of the moms on the lesser side of hoarding.
This isn’t to say these items weren’t useful. It’s just that monetary (not to mention sentimental) value keeps us from chucking everything into a Goodwill (or trash) dumpster. Instead, we let go of the easy stuff, holding onto “just a few items” we “plan to sell” or keep “just in case.” These newly pregnant friends are that contingency plan.
When a pregnant friend comes along, it’s like Goodwill, Craigslist, and a baby shower all rolled into one. “Congratulations!” you exclaim, as you drop off box after box of tiny onesies, old board books, and sippy cups. “She’ll need these, I’m saving her money!” you tell yourself.
While that’s sort of true, it’s also mostly true that we treat our pregnant friends as a dumping ground for baby items we couldn’t bear to toss. We never acknowledge it aloud, but without these friends, our homes would be cluttered with leftover half packs of Size 1 diapers and partially empty bottles of baby powder. We need these friends more than they need us.
So thank you, pregnant friends. Thank you for the anxiety of a newborn that allows me to inundate you with items you’ll probably never need and end up passing along to someone else.
Thank you for graciously taking my stuff and thinking all of it will be useful to you.
Thank you for helping me feel like I am being green and re-using things, even if you turn around and trash them the moment I leave your house. I sleep easier, thinking I’ve somehow been useful to someone, even while denying my own selfishness.
Oh, and sorry about all the stuff.

Mantra for the New Mom of Two

Staying present took more work this time around, but I still tried to relish the moments of joy between those long, lonely nights.

A coworker once told me it takes six months to get the hang of a new job. I don’t know whether she based that time frame on any scientific studies, but it sounded about right to me. As I prepared for the birth of my second child, I anticipated some transition time as I took on my new role as a mother of two.
My first day began as I happily went into labor a few days before my scheduled c-section. Compared to my water-breaking-five-weeks-early emergency birth of my first child, the birth of Baby Number Two was blissfully normal. She came into the world screaming and healthy. I kept waiting for the emotional wave of postpartum to wash over me like it had with my first, but when week one passed without incident, I was optimistic.
Then came week two of my new gig. Screaming turned out to be the norm. As I settled into sleep deprivation, I sent a bleary-eyed text to a friend who’d had a baby two months prior. I asked her to remind me how long it would be before things got easier. When she texted back “Yeah that first month is tough,” I thought “Month?! How am I going to survive the week?”
Crashing came the wave of postpartum emotions. How had I forgotten nearly everything about newborns? Surely some evolutionary mind games were at play as I pondered how people had more than one kid. Forging through those first sleepless nights felt like the hazing of a first time mom again.
But I wasn’t a first time mom. Through the eyes and experience of a second-time mom, I tried to remind myself that the struggle was only temporary. A line from an old Elton John song kept playing through my head.
“Don’t wish it away
Don’t look at it like it’s forever”
It was from “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,” a song my girlfriends and I had belted out many late nights in college. Now it had new meaning for me.
“Don’t wish it away”
Being present with my first baby was effortless. I remember staring at her flawless face, bawling my eyes out because I wanted her to stay that tiny and perfect forever. Now with Number Two, I was fantasizing about fast-forwarding to a time when she could hold up her head, sit without tipping, and maybe, just maybe, calm herself down.
“Don’t look at it like it’s forever”
Month one passed and, of course, I survived. The verse kept repeating in my head.
“Don’t wish it away”
She was likely my last baby, so I didn’t want to forget the sweet smell of her head or the weight of her body on my chest. I knew she too would be growing and changing quickly before my eyes. Seemingly overnight, my first “baby” had become an active and amiable three-year-old who adored her new sister. Staying present took more work this time around, but I still tried to relish the moments of joy between those long, lonely nights.
“Don’t look at it like it’s forever”
I’d comply every time my older daughter asked to hold her little sister and I’d melt as she’d softly pat her head and gingerly stroke her cheek because she thought the baby’s skin “was just so soft.” Postpartum moods subsided. Things started to get easier.
By month three, I was working again and time began passing a little too quickly. Sometime between months four and six, I found myself breastfeeding in the Costco parking lot, changing a diaper on the middle car console, and thinking I’ve totally got this!
Now I’m fully through the baby stage and my job has evolved to include school schedules and play date planning. There are still meltdowns and melodrama and I don’t always sleep through the night. But when I catch my girls sharing an overly-aggressive hug or laughing over a joke I don’t get, I know I’ve hit one of those sweet spots of parenthood. And somehow Elton captured that too, in next line of the song:
“Between you and me I could honestly say
That things can only get better”

Using Your Kid as an Effective Mediator and Email Service

The trick is learning how to maximize your child’s potential as a mediator, facilitator, spreader of a wide range of truths, and email service.

Children are a joy in and of themselves.
This is true but they also serve important functions in a family unit and have many “passive uses” as mediator, interpreter, and disseminator of a wide range of truths from the nearly factual to the un. They are good for all that.
While many parents naturally use their children in ways I’m about to describe, being consciously aware of these uses will only maximize your state of Zen and parenting skills.
For example, text and email make it easier for us to avoid phone calls and having to actually speak to someone. This is where children come in. Instead conveying your lack of enthusiasm about something to your significant other, your child could be your messaging service: “Hey! Go tell mommy I don’t want to cook tonight.”
See? Message sent.
What makes us so competitive and successful as a dominant species is our ability to convey thoughts and ideas then spread them across wider populations. We begin to learn about these powers of communication and dissemination even before we learn to speak.
As parents, we’ve seen our children take new ideas, given to them by parent A, to parent B: “Mommy says this package is for making little pizzas!”
“That’s a Luncheable,” parent B says, adding new information to the mix.
Returning to parent A, the child declares, “Mommy! You forgot that this is a Luncheable!”
That little shit. I told her that. How dare she quote me without credit!
Sure the kid co-opted the new information as her own, but that’s how they learn. They beg, borrow, steal, and plagiarize – it’s the law of nature. Darwin’s law, I’m told. On a deeper level, they’re using both parents to shape their understanding of reality.
Sometimes, though, in their zealotry to explain the information they’ve co-opted, they can embarrass you on an escalator to the subway: “Daddy it’s raining hard! That means God is peeing on us, right?”
Of course, children don’t know that some information shouldn’t be spread, but one hopes they’ll learn.
Children can often be used as unofficial mediators, and we’ve learned to use the child to communicate our positions on hard decisions without debate, or even actual words.
For example: “Daddy! I want ice cream!”
The request is a potential problem, and a tantrum could be imminent.
Personally, I default against sweets and will doggedly hold that line (except on Fridays), but I don’t always want to sacrifice my peace of mind to stick to my guns. Besides, four-year-olds are capricious and anger pops up like freak storms in the Midwest.
“Go ask your mother. If she says yes, then fuck it. You can have some.”
Here, the child is used to effectively communicate one parent’s laziness and ambivalence to the other parent without actually speaking to them. Basically saying, “You deal with it.”
This tactic eliminates tantrums and foists parental responsibilities on the other parent without verbally putting anyone on the spot. Parent A retains his peace of mind, Parent B gets to be the good guy, and the child’s inner hulk remains dormant.
The trick is learning how to maximize your child’s potential as a mediator, facilitator, spreader of a wide range of truths, and email service, to maintain a peaceful home life.
This article was originally published at dcdaddyswinetime.com.

Growing Into Parenthood

This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!
Change can be hard, especially for parents. A former neighbor (and at the time soon to be mother of five) once explained the logic behind family planning in basketball terms to me. I am paraphrasing, but it went something like: If you have one kid, the parents can double team and persevere. Two kids means man to man coverage, while three kids or more is a zone defense.
I have four children, but I think bringing home our first baby was the most difficult transition. My husband and I were together for eight years before my oldest came into the family portrait. We were both working full-time and living the life of happy hours and impromptu weekend trips. Once our baby girl came along, late nights consisted of poopy diapers and a screaming newborn. We also had to get on a schedule, something we had never had to do before because we were two adults with no other living beings around expecting us to nurture and care for them (aside from our spoiled dog, of course).
It was hard to go from a couple to a family. While the double team coverage was great in caring for my daughter, it was also irritating because my husband and I weren’t always sure who should take the lead. There were times when I could have thrown a bouncy seat at my husband’s head, because we each thought the other had already checked to make sure the diaper was clean before getting our contently sleeping newborn strapped into the car seat. When it comes to taking care of your first baby, I believe there is no worse statement to hear from your significant other than “I thought you did it.”
The first six weeks of parenthood were rough for us. There was not a lot of quality sleep and we were dumb enough to think we could overfeed a newborn. We have so many photographs of my daughter with a red screaming face, and I just think to myself (now) how she was probably hungry, or tired, or both. We had tons of grandparent help, but growing into our family meant we had to figure it out on our own.
And we did.
I got smarter after a particularly brutal bridal shower experience, where I foolishly thought my six week old would love to come with me and be shown off to my college pals. I was in the wedding party, but instead of helping with shower duties … I spent all my time locked in a guestroom with my dress pulled up to my shoulders trying to breastfeed a screaming infant. (Bridesmaid fail!) During that excruciating afternoon I got a lot of advice from new moms. A fellow bridesmaid recommended a book called “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” and others emphasized the important of swaddling and having a swing.
After driving home with a screeching baby co-pilot, I told my husband we were going shopping. We bought a swing and stopped at the library to check out the recommended baby book (because I couldn’t wait for it to arrive via online shipping). I dug out a swaddle blanket gift we had received but not yet used because I did not think my baby would like it. HA! The first night we committed to swaddling our daughter led to her sleeping for six straight hours. We never looked back, and to this day I am in love with the glow worm look of my baby wrapped like a burrito.
It also helped that my husband was (and still is) a hands-on dad. He was elbow deep in mustard seedy poop right there with me. Things got easier for us both once we realized parenthood did not mean our lives had to completely change. Maybe it wasn’t practical for both of us to still play weekly co-ed volleyball, but we could still take hikes. Going out to eat also did not have to go by the wayside; some of my best parental memories are of my four-month old sitting in a bumbo seat at our favorite pizza place.
The first year with a baby was not the easiest, but I would probably go back to that time given a genie and three wishes. Prior to that point in my life, I had never felt so much love for another living being. Kids are just different and they can make us such better people. It is cliche because it is true, but having a baby really does change everything. My husband and I already had a great life. Adding a child may have made it a bit harder at times, but mostly it just made us grow to be better.