Top 5 Baby Buys

Before I had my first baby, I registered for a wooden highchair. It was simple, tasteful. It didn’t require batteries and wasn’t decked out with fluorescent rainforest creatures. Well … fast-forward a few months and I’d bought the biggest, gaudiest plastic highchair money could buy.

See, it turned out that the tasteful wooden highchair wasn’t practical at all. A friend pointed out that the seat cushion wasn’t machine washable, the tray wasn’t removable or dishwasher safe, and the height and incline couldn’t be adjusted. Also, it had no wheels. Of course, I had no clue I’d need these features. That’s why I was glad to have mom friends steer me in the right direction.

I’m often asked by expectant moms for my baby-gear recommendations. Here are my top 5 picks. For more, I highly recommend the book Baby Bargains basically a Consumer Reports-type guide to all things baby-related.

1. Graco Pack ‘n’ Play. It’s a bassinet, it’s a playpen, it’s a portable crib. In a pinch it can store toys and serve as a baby gate, blocking access to stairs and such. I don’t think it matters what model you get, but I will say that we use ALL the features on ours — the changing table, the canopy, the vibrating thingy, the music, the light (bright enough for a midnight diaper change but not so bright it wakes the baby). I recommend springing for the extra-cushiony quilted crib sheet

2. Bouncy seat and/or swing. Again, it doesn’t really matter what kind. You just need a safe place besides the crib to put the baby when you want to take a shower or cook dinner. Babies like a change of pace, too. Sometimes my son’s fine in the bouncy seat and sometimes only the swing will soothe him. If space is limited, get a travel swing that folds up. And take my word: don’t be tempted to skimp on the bells and whistles. Babies LOVE that stuff! The more flashing lights, toys, and sounds, the better. We call our swing “baby Vegas.”

sling3. Baby Bjorn and/or sling. Consumer Reports pissed off a lot of parents when they named cosleepers and slings among the top 5 baby products not to buy. Sure, kids can get injured if they fall out of a sling. But hell, my older kid can hurt himself on a pillow! When used properly, slings and baby carriers are life-savers — the only way to have your hands free while you keep your baby close.

4. Gymini Activity Gym This cloth play mat is lightweight, portable, washable, and folds up flat for easy storage. It’s for babies age 0-5 mos. or so. My kids loved this thing. So much so that on one vacation when an unfortunate roof-carrier incident caused me to lose mine somewhere on I-95, I scoured the local stores for another. This is one case where I actually do prefer the simple black, white & red version to the more elaborate ones.

5. Boppy. I know, I know, this one’s hardly a best-kept secret, but here’s why I love it: it’s not only a great (washable!) nursing pillow, but you can prop up the baby in it, say, on the bed or floor of the bathroom in a pinch. You can also lay them over the Boppy face-down for “tummy time” before they can really lift themselves up much. Then the baby can actually see something instead of having his face squashed into the floor. Plus it makes a nice neck pillow for mom or dad. I’m all about versatility, can you tell?

So there you have it, people, my top picks. I need a separate post for clothing and accessories. Until then, remember: practical, portable, and washable are key!! Now go forth and register!

CONGRATS O’ THE WEEK: To my cousin and his wife, who are expecting their first child, a boy! Woo hoo! And to my college friend, M.C., who’s expecting her first as well. Happy gestating, gals!

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Hummus is an expectant mom’s best friend. Find more healthy snacks on the Healthy Pregnancy Blog.


Call Me, HGTV!

I’m a bit of an HGTV junkie. I love to watch home design and makeover shows. Not that I have the time, funds, or skills to take on projects in my own home, mind you. (Although I think I deserve some props for my monogrammed upholstered headboard!) I think I just like looking at clean, attractive spaces. Because they are so rare in our house.

One of my favorite shows is “Find Your Style,” where sassy redhead designer Karen McAloon comes to a couple’s house, walks around, and then tells them what their style of interior design is. Mine would be on the opposite end of the spectrum from minimalist. And it’s not exactly contemporary or country or traditional, either. It’s more like maximum clutter and multicolored plastic. Is there a “bomb went off” school of design? ‘Cause that’s us.

It’s not my fault, people. I’m not the neatest person in the world, but I have an appreciation of feng shui and good design. I feel better in a comfortable, uncluttered environment. Too bad my toddler’s running the show around here. His motto seems to be, “Every surface must be covered with everything I own at all times.” Or perhaps, “The more stuff, the better.” There is barely room in his bed for him, because he sleeps with about 14 assorted blankets, stuffed animals, and pillows.

I tell you, these darn kids are sabotaging my efforts to make my house NOT look like the aftermath of a natural disaster. Who doesn’t love a good “before & after”? Here are some from my house.

The coffee table before Miles:

The coffee table after Miles:

The kitchen table before Miles:

The kitchen table after Miles:

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Some weeks I just give up and let the clutter consume us. Then it gets so I can’t stand it anymore and I clean up again. Only to have my bright, uncluttered space accessorized again with Spiderman and Mr. Potato Head. I wonder what Karen McAloon would say if she saw that?

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Hey, look, Karen has a MySpace page! It says she has a son, so maybe she DOES know where I’m coming from!

LAUGH O’ THE WEEK: I was saying goodnight to Miles and he stood up on his bed and said, “Night, Mom. Pea soup.” Huh? Then he held up 2 fingers in a V and repeated, “Pea soup!” Ohhhhh, OK. That would be “peace out.”

WRITING NEWS: Want to write a book? Want to teach others about your specialty? Writer Mama Christina Katz shows you how to Craft a Book Proposal and Turn Your Specialty Into Course Curriculum. Find out more about her classes here. Hurry, they start May 6!



In my family, we’ve always been what you might call early adopters of technology. When I was born in 1974, well before the home video boom, my father was nearly kicked out of the hospital while attempting to film my birth on his Super 8 movie camera. Apparently, the doctors didn’t take too kindly to his unplugging medical equipment to hook up spotlights.

By the time my own child was born a couple years ago, my dad had graduated to a Sony digital camcorder. And he’s currently coveting our pocket-size Flip.

But it’s my almost 3-y.o. son, Miles, who gives new meaning to the term “early adopter.”

One of his first words was “mote,” as in “remote control.” We have at least five — three for the TV, one for the stereo, and one for the air conditioner, which he managed to lose, causing us to have to perch precariously on a stool every time we want to turn the AC on or off.

As a baby, his favorite toy was my cell phone. (My apologies to anyone on my speed dial.) He knows the difference between a CD and a DVD, and an iPod and a BlackBerry. Last year his Christmas presents included a Fisher Price digital camera and a bilingual electronic bongo drum.

When I was growing up, we mailed audio cassettes to my grandparents on the other side of the country. Now, my family uses Skype to keep in touch. This takes some getting used to. Just ask my mother, who once answered a Skype call in her underwear. “Um, Mom, you know we can SEE you, right?” I blurted.

To my son, this is a normal form of communication. One time we were playing an educational game on the PBS web site (OK, we were watching the Gummi Bear video on TotLOL.com) when a strange, musical chime began emanating from my lap top. I was still scratching my head when Miles piped up, “Grandpa!” He recognized the Skype ring tone before I did.

Of course, one problem with the glut of technology today is that it breeds the expectation of instant gratification. For a long time, we could not take pictures of Miles, because he’d rush around to the other side of the camera to see himself instantly on the LCD screen.

And thanks to the DVR, “Blues Clues” can be viewed at any time of day or week. However, it also means that my kid thinks you can watch, pause, or rewind any show at any time. “It’s not on right now” means nothing to him.

So you might think that being such a tech-savvy family I’d be all over Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn and such, right? Wrong. I love technology, but I hate the time suck it can be. I did just sign up for Twitter, though. I figure 140 characters is manageable. We’ll see. I got about 14 new tweets in the time it took me to write this post. Oy.

VIDEO O’ THE WEEK: For the First! Time! Ever! Introducing video on DOANM. Check out Miles’ first time bowling. The tiny bowling shoes were hysterical.

“action finger”: the little plastic Spiderman toy Miles just got
“itolya”: something that’s already been established, as in “itolya I don’t like beans!”


What’s Up, Chuck?

Behold, the Sultan of Spit-up. The Duke of Puke. Or as his dad calls him, Spewey Lewis. This baby’s motto is “What goes down, must come up.”

I can’t hold it against him, though. It runs in the family. When I was a baby, my grandmother dubbed me “Vesuvius” for my tendency to erupt like a volcano. Since birth, I’ve had the world’s weakest stomach. The tiniest thing — a bumpy car ride, that airplane smell, job-interview jitters — can set off my delicate digestive system. I was always the kid getting carsick in the back seat or missing a birthday party because of my anxious stomach.

I thought I would outgrow it, but not so much. I once got sick on a plane while I was traveling with Miles. Let me tell you, it’s not pretty to have to ask a stranger to hold your baby while you make use of the airsickness bag!

Strangely, I did not have much morning sickness during my pregnancies, though this time around I did suffer through 2 bouts of a stomach bug. Maybe that explains Riley’s penchant for puking?

Anyway, it creates daily fashion emergencies around here, as you can imagine. First, there’s the baby. If we’re going out or expecting company, I want him to look cute. But all too often, I’ll get him all dressed up and then — splat! What really kills me are the consecutive spit-ups. Sometimes I don’t even get his shirt snapped before he soils it again. And again. And AGAIN. I wish he could just hurl once and forever hold his peace. At least for an hour or so. Anyway, all that’s left by the time our company comes are mismatched onesies and hand-me-down sleepers. SO not the first impression we’re looking to make!

Then there’s me. As it is, my wardrobe is seriously sparse. There’s only so many options when you a) haven’t lost all the baby weight, b) are nursing, and c) are getting constantly spit-up on. And some outfits solve a and b but not c, or vice versa. For instance, black is slimming but the worst color you could wear to camouflage spit-up stains. Patterned shirts are good, but if they don’t button down the front, you risk indecent exposure when it’s time to nurse. What’s a mom to do?

Sometimes I feel like I should just wear a hazmat suit. I wonder if they come in pastels?

QUOTE O’ THE WEEK: “Mo-o-om! Riley throwed up again! It shooted out of his mouf like this — bleh! bleh!”
big brother Miles reenacting the scene

PIC O’ THE WEEK: He may be messy, but he sure is cute. Especially since he started smiling. Makes all that laundry worthwhile…


Sad News

I am generally not a fan of the “it could be worse” school of counseling. In my experience, reminding yourself or someone else who’s having a hard time that things could suck even more only diminishes their feelings, creates guilt, and makes them feel even more rotten.

Yesterday, however, I got a jarring reminder that no matter how difficult my days are right now, I’m very, very lucky in so many ways.

I was walking around soaked in spit-up 10 min. after my first shower in days, with the screeching culprit strapped to my chest as usual, feeling frustrated and guilty. For being so irritated by the constant crying of my newborn that I buckled him into his swing last night and let him scream while I had a glass of wine and watched “Access Hollywood.” For yelling at my almost 3-year-old son for hiding behind the couch and pooping in his Pull-Up YET AGAIN literally 2 min. after sitting on the potty, insisting he didn’t have to go.

I called my parents to commiserate and my dad told me the news: a family friend had just lost one of her 2-mo.-old twins, apparently to SIDS. My heart broke.

I hesitated to post about this for many reasons. I know there are expectant and new moms reading this. My intention is not to scare people. SIDS is by definition a freak occurrence. It’s unexplained and asymptomatic. It affects just 1 in about 2,000 babies each year. If you’re putting your baby to sleep on his back as we all know you’re supposed to, there’s very little else you can do to prevent SIDS. But since I have the misfortune of knowing 2 people who’ve lost babies to SIDS, I feel compelled to address it here.

The first time I ever heard of SIDS was before I had kids, when it happened to a friend of a friend. I learned enough about it that by the time my first son was born, I was scared spitless. I grilled people at new-mom support groups about what type of blanket to swaddle my baby in and how to tell if he was choking or just gurgling. I found no answers, just more things to worry about. One group leader looked at me gently and said, “You have a new baby. Enjoy him.” Translation: Go home and stop making yourself crazy worrying about freak occurrences.

This time around, my reaction is different. I’m not going to change anything I’m doing with my newborn. I’m not going to go out and buy a top-of-the-line SIDS monitor or start sleeping with a fan on, per the latest SIDS-prevention recommendations. I’m going to be sad for my friend and so very grateful that I have a healthy, strong-lunged baby.

I’m also not going to list the ways to reduce the risk of SIDS; you can find that info here and lots of other places on the Internet. Instead, I will share this article on how to help someone who’s lost a baby to SIDS that I found on the web site of the Canadian Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. The main points are: listen, and let your friend know she’s not alone. No one ever “gets over” the death of their child, but most learn to live with it over time.

My friend has suffered a devastating loss. I can’t begin to understand what she and her family must be going through right now. But hearing her sad news has made an impact on how I look at my own situation. No, I’m not going to appreciate and enjoy every moment of motherhood. I think that’s unrealistic. But I am going to try to remember that all of life’s moments — good and bad — are fleeting. All we really have is the moment we’re in. And I’m going to spend it hugging my babies tight.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: First Candle is a nonprofit organization that offers support to grieving families and raises funds for SIDS research. Crisis counselors are available 24/7 by calling 800-221-7437. You can also make a donation in memory of someone.


Moms in the Media

I tend to become consumed by whatever is going on in my life at the time. And since I’m in the throes of second-time new motherhood right now, that’s my obsession du jour. As much as I want to care about what’s going on in the world or who’s going to win “Dancing With the Stars,” I can’t. I can only focus on what’s relevant to my life right now—and that’s sleep, poop, and breastfeeding.

If there was a 24-hour parenting channel, I’d watch it. Instead, I have to cobble together my own version: “A Baby Story,” “Bringing Home Baby,” and “Jon & Kate Plus 8” on TLC, Tori Spelling’s reality show on Oxygen, and the new sitcom “In the Motherhood” on ABC, based on the popular web series. The web version starred Jenny McCarthy and Chelsea Handler, but I’ll accept Megan Mullally and Cheryl Hines as substitutes.

Occasionally, Oprah does an episode that piques my interest, like yesterday’s show on the “Secret Lives of Moms.” It featured the authors of the book, I’d Trade My Husband for a Housekeeper which is their third book on essentially the same topic: true confessions of would-be supermoms.

The point is honesty and solidarity, say the authors. But the books also offer a good laugh, along with a healthy dose of “thank God I’m not THAT bad!” Like the mom who confessed to wearing Depends because she doesn’t have time to go to the bathroom. Or the dad who said, “I could come home for dinner, but I choose to work late. Who wants to come home to 2 screaming kids and a bowl of cereal?” Nice.

The show also featured the aforementioned Cheryl Hines, and uber-mommy blogger Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com. Did you know she started with an audience of 30 people and she now has millions of readers and makes $40k a month from her blog?? Damn, girl!! Dare to dream.

While pop culture’s my preference, sometimes my appetite for mom-related news leads me to more cerebral fare. (Or rather, my more well-read relatives clip it out and send it to me!) The New Yorker recently did a story on the history of breastfeeding, which may sound like a snooze fest except that it made some interesting points, like about how breastfeeding went from being considered a low-class task best farmed out to wet nurses, to a status symbol among the upper class.

More interesting to me, though, was The Atlantic’s article, “The Case Against Breastfeeding.” It’s an eye-opener all right, even if some of the writer’s statements did rub me the wrong way. Like, if a woman decides to breastfeed exclusively for 6 mos., “it is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way.” Ouch! It is pretty funny how Rosin compares breast-feeding advocates and formula makers to Crips and Bloods. Ha! It’s definitely a highly charged issue, that’s for sure.

I do find it refreshing that all kinds of outlets, from the Today Show to blogs to The Atlantic find these topics worthy of discussion and debate. It’s a nice break from the tabloid “bump watch” and stories about how celebs lost the baby weight. Though I’m not going to pretend I don’t read those. On 4 hrs. sleep a night, that’s often all I can handle!

Found any other interesting mom- or baby-related news out there? Share with the class!

TIP O’ THE WEEK: File this under “Why didn’t I think of this before?” Since getting to the post office is near impossible with a newborn and a toddler, I finally just ordered stamps online so I can send out my birth announcements already. Definitely worth the $1 shipping cost.

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