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Sunday, October 27, 2013

packing weekly lunches

Packing lunches is probably one of my least favorite mom tasks I have each week. I work out of the home 5 days a week and provide the food our children eat. This year my son goes to preschool 3 days and 2 days at a sitter, both places his food is taken care of now. Before this year I was packing lunches, breakfasts, and snacks for 2 kiddos. It was rough! It's not that it's hard, it's just time-consuming and takes thought and quiet, so I can't do it with kids running around distracting me. It also takes planning and creativity to try to come up with different meals each week so nobody gets bored with what they are eating.

Someone asked how I do this on the Mommy Stories Facebook group, so here are some ideas. Hope they help. I'd love to hear your ideas!

The Lunch Process
So once a week on Sundays is when I pack the meals for daycare for the entire week. It's a lot easier, less for me to think about during a busy work week. On Sunday I pack the food. It takes me about an hour. I need quiet time, so I usually put on music or a TV show on my lap top, or nothing, but I have found I can't do it with people around. I need lots of kitchen space and nobody bugging me so I can focus on what we need.

Monday morning I bring a large reusable grocery bag with two lunch bags inside - one for cold refrigerator items and one for dry items like oatmeal or crackers. I also include extra bibs for my younger one, or any clothing that my kids wet through the previous week and therefore needed to dip into the stash of clothes I keep at the babysitter's house. I keep a mental note of which clothes came home from daycare so I can wash them and replace them.

On Wednesday morning I bring two more bottles of milk, and again Friday another bottle of milk. I find milk takes up a lot of space, so I bring those a few times a week. When I was nursing and had frozen breastmilk, I'd bring her a ziplock bag to put in the freezer of all milk for the week. When I got near the end when I didn't have a huge stockpile of milk, I'd bring it every couple of days.

One thing at a time
It's easiest to focus on one meal at a time... breakfast, snacks, lunches, drinks. I put them all out, in little bags or bowls first so I know how much I need.

To figure out how much you may need, on a weekend when you're home just start focusing on how much you're putting in a bowl for your child. Then put that amount into a baggie, so you know when packing lunches later on for the week about how much they need. I typically include a few extra snacks just in case. You can always ask your sitter to check in with you mid-week to see if they will need more food.

For milk, it's been easiest for us to measure out the amount we want our kids to have and put them in bottles. When I was doing this for both kids I would put a yellow cover on my younger one's milk (yellow = Medela breastmilk bottle cover = breastmilk for the little one). We'd use the white Dr. Brown's covers for my son's milk so my sitter could easily distinguish. I'd send a couple of these at a time to the sitter, then bring more a few times a week.

Every day my children take a sip cup of milk with them so she uses that all day and washes each meal.

I have a plastic container filled with smaller plastic and glass bowl containers that I put individual meals, snacks, yogurt, etc. in. I got these in a large package at Wal-Mart.

Lately I've been trying out the large container of yogurt and putting out individual sizes instead of using smaller individual wrapped yogurts. I just put them in a bowl and tell her if it's for one or two days, etc. Once your sitter gets the hang of your system you rarely have to tell them what each thing is for anymore. 

OK so that doesn't look as great as they taste, sorry! But my kids LOVE blueberry and apple cinnamon pancakes. We send these in for lunches, breakfasts, snacks, etc. We make batches on the weekend anyway for us to eat, and then leftovers are sent to school.

I cut up everything that needs to be cut up so that it's easiest for our sitter to feed the kids. I don't have to say if these cucumbers are for snack or lunch, she figures it out. I just put in my head what I think it is and ensure there is enough of each type of meal to provide.

I package various snacks... cranberries, animal crackers, graham crackers, etc. I always make sure there are plenty of these. Typically at the end of the week some of these are leftover, which is what I plan on so that's good.

I also make muffins and send a few of these a week. They are nice as snacks, breakfast, or even to fill in with oatmeal. I'll send a big tub of oatmeal and to make it taste a little better she'll break up some of these muffins into the oatmeal. I make them from Jiffy mix and add my own things - corn, cranberry, apples, banana, sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, etc. The kids love them! I have huge batches in my freezer and then just take 3-5 out a week in another ziplock bag to send to the sitter. I made these in August and they are still going strong :)

When my children were younger and eating puree homemade baby food, I'd have veggies and fruits separated all downstairs in our large freezer, in similar ziplock bags as you see below for muffins. I'd go down there on Sundays and grab a variety of veggies and fruits (1 cube of fruit and 1 cube veggies for lunches and then 1 cube of fruit to go with baby cereal for breakfast). I'd put them into a large ziplock bag (separated by fruits and veggies) and send that to daycare for her freezer for the week's meals.

Once I'm done making each individual meal section, I put the cold things into one bag (on the left) and the dry things into another bag (right). This makes it easiest for her on Monday morning when I bring everything to her to sort and put away. While I get the kids' coats and shoes off, say goodbye with hugs, she's asking me questions about various items and putting them away, it's a win-win.

I put the whole red bag with cold items into the fridge Sunday night so it's easy to take out Monday morning.

This really works well for us. It's MUCH easier for me to do this Sunday and not have to think about it the rest of the work week than it would be to think up lunches every single day. I'm grateful our sitter has room in the fridge to keep our food! On the few weeks I've not had time on a Sunday to pack for the week it's SO much more stressful to me to have to remember the food bag in the morning.

Packing food is time-consuming for sure, but it's also nice knowing I have some control over what they eat, so if you try to make it work for you it'll be easier, I swear.

A few food ideas we use: 
(note that some items are on more than one list, which makes it even easier to pack food)


  • oatmeal
  • yogurt
  • apple sauce 
  • fruit, especially bananas 
  • cereal (dry or with milk depending on age)
  • Cheerios with cranberries dry
  • pancakes (blueberry, plain, apple cinnamon, sweet potato)
  • waffles with cream cheese 
  • cinnamon raisin or wheat bagel with cream cheese or jelly
  • toast and jelly or peanut butter
  • scrambled eggs and cheese
  • cereal or granola bar


  • cranberries
  • raisins
  • fruit, especially bananas 
  • apples and peanut butter 
  • apple sauce
  • animal crackers
  • wheat thin crackers
  • Cheez-its
  • puffs (for little ones)
  • Pirates Booty
  • Cheddar Bunnies 
  • Goldfish 
  • pretzel sticks with peanut butter or yogurt
  • veggies (carrots for big kids, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.)
  • Veggie Chips
  • cereal or granola bars
  • cheese sticks
  • rice cakes with peanut butter 
  • dried fruit - banana chips, apple rings, etc. mixed together or alone

  • cheese, crackers and turkey pepperoni
  • peanut butter sandwich, or peanut butter and jelly
  • peanut butter or with jelly on rice cakes
  • waffles, pancakes, bagels
  • tortilla chips with salsa and cheese cubes on the side 
  • yogurt with granola/cereal bars
  • cheese sandwich
  • turkey and cheese sandwich bites (I cut them up into little squares for my little one)
  • pasta salad 
  • veggies 
  • mixed frozen veggies with cubes of diced ham 
  • taco burger with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, with tortilla chips to dip
  • pasta with tomato sauce or Alfredo sauce
  • Annie's macaroni and cheese 
  • leftovers... whatever you have that you know they'll eat 
Those are just some of our regulars. You can really do a lot with kids' ideas. I oftentimes get stuck in a rut, then ask some moms I know or search online and find tons more ideas. Keep trying to be creative! 

Hope this helps :) 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

expert mama - Jessica Regis - DAYCARE & PRESCHOOL TEACHER/OWNER

Jessica Regis is another Expert Mama, daycare and preschool owner and teacher, she may not admit this but to me she seems to know everything there is about children! She seems like an incredibly dedicated teacher as well as mother. Lots of good advice here - when to start preschool, when to speak up to caregivers, and what to do with kids who are misbehaving. Hope you enjoy! Thank you, Jessica, it was a pleasure reading this!

All photos from Jessica Regis

1. What is your job and where do you work?
I am a teacher/owner at Great Beginnings Nursery School.  I also own the Eliot Infant and toddler Center in Kittery and Great Beginnings 2 in South Berwick.

2. How long have you been doing this type of work?
I have owned my first business since 2003 But I have been doing childcare and/or teaching in public schools for 15 years.

3. How many children do you have, their names?
I have 2 kids.  Ty is 8 and Adison is 5.

4. How do you balance work and family?
I am lucky enough to have a pretty flexible schedule because I am the owner.  I enjoy my job so I never consider it a burden.  I also have a large family that is local so I get a lot of help when I need it.  My husband is also a very hands on father who does a lot with the kids, and around the house.  

I try not to stress about housework and just do a bit each day.  I never go to bed with dishes in the sink and spend at least a half an hour a day just  picking up!  I just take one day at a time.

5. What is the best thing about being a mom who works out of the home?
I like to work out of the home because I would get very grumpy if I did not have some adult time. Even though I am with kids every day it is totally different when they are not your own kids.  

I like that my kids see me as a strong individual who runs 3 businesses and still have time to do things with the family.

6. What is the most challenging thing about being a mom working out of the home?
The thing I find most challenging is finding enough hours in the day.  Because I am the owner, work issues come up often that I need to take care of immediately.  Sometimes I feel like that takes away from my time with the kids if they are home.  I also run out of time to do all the daily chores…but they seem to always be waiting for me the next day.

7. What is your advice to parents looking for a daycare? Preschool? 

You need to be comfortable.  You need to leave a center and feel at peace that your child is in a safe and loving environment.  I honestly feel like you need to have an instant bond with the teachers.  They are the ones who will be having the most interaction with your child and you are uneasy with them, your children will most likely too.  

Each person looks for something different and that is ok.  Look for what works for you and your family and no one else.  You also have to remember that it's preschool, not college.  If the teachers and the children are not having fun then keep looking.  Kids should be having fun!

8. What things do you do in your childcare centers/preschool that are you are proud of? 
I am proud of everything that we do.  We love our children (at our schools) like they are our own.  We cuddle with them just like a parent would want us too.  They are still young and still need love and support.  We teach building strong self esteem, and kindness to others.  If I was doing something that I was not proud of I would immediately change it!

9. What 5 things have you learned about children from your career? 
1. Patience: being patient with a child can go a long way in teaching them and helping me stay calm!

2. We are role models.  The kids see and hear everything we do.  We need to act in a way that we want them to act.

3.  They all just want love.  Every kids just wants to be loved and respected.  Take time each day to tell each child how great they are and they will remember that.

4. Structure is Key!  If I create a structured environment with rules and schedules, the kids thrive.  I believe in having equal parts firm and fun.  If my kids are having trouble at circle we may stop, stand up, dance and sing….then get right back to the task at hand.

5. No two children are alike and it is important to get to know each child.  Learn what makes them happy and what upsets them.  It is our job as teachers to see this and teach to their strengths, and help them with their weaknesses.

10. If a parent feels uncomfortable about something at their childcare center, 
A parent should always speak up.  You have to be an advocate for your child.  The center may not know that something is bothering you unless you talk to them.  How they respond is key.

11. When do you recommend kids start attending preschool? 
Preschool can start any time between 2-5 years of age.  I like giving children 2 years of preschool but it is whatever works for each family.

12. What is your advice to parents who are trying to avoid their child getting sick a lot, but who also attends a childcare setting? What precautions do you take to prevent sickness?
I encourage parents to send their kids to childcare, or get them in germy situations early!  I am not saying to purposely get your child sick, but the sooner they are able to build their immunity the better.  Kids, no matter their age, usually are sick the first 6 months of their school environment than rarely.  My children have been with kids either at my school, or daycare since 6 weeks and (knock on wood) are NEVER sick besides the common cold once in a while.  You mind as well get it over with before Kindergarten.

13. What advice do you have for the parent of a child who hits/kicks/bites/tantrums? What advice do you have for the parent of a kid who is on the receiving end of those phases from another kid?
 Kids can be tough. If you have a difficult child the best advice I can give is give boundaries and stick to them.  You are a parent first, friend second.  

If you have a behavior that you wish to break, discipline the child each time it happens and STICK TO IT!  Remember most behaviors are phases but you don't want them to think that any bad behavior is okay.  

If you are on the other end be patient, remember it could be your child.  As long as the other teachers are making sure that it is a safe environment and responding to your concerns try to be patient.

14. What do you love about your job?

I love everything about my job.  I love the way the kids make me smile and laugh every day.  I love how they challenge me each day.  I love all my parents that trust me with their children.  I love to teach the children and watch the wonder in their eyes.  A day never goes by when I don't want to go to work.  I am truly blessed for that!

15. What else do you want to add?
I see a lot of different opinions of parenting on the Mommy Stories and I just think it is important for everyone to be respectful of all different parenting styles.  I don't always agree with other people's parenting but if it works for them then that is all that matters.  I am not a perfect parent, I do not have perfect children but we (my husband and I) do the best that we can.  

I think we all agree that all we want is for our children to be happy, healthy and respectful of others.

Great Beginnings Nursery School (207) 363-1313

expert mama - Alexandra Clinton Zajda - ACUPUNCTURIST

Alexandra Clinton Zajda is an Expert Mama, as part of our Expert Series, she is sharing her experience being an acupuncturist. She seems like she's really making a difference, all while being a big part of her little one's life and balancing family and career dreams. My hat is off to her, she seems like a really great mom and hard worker! 

Thank you, Alexandra for sharing your story with us. I've learned so much reading this and now will never be nervous to take someone in my family to see an Acupuncturist in the future. Alexandra, do you want to move to Maine?! :) 

All photos from Alexandra Clinton Zajda

1. What is your job and where do you work?
I am a Doctor of Oriental Medicine and an Acupuncture Physician. I own my own practice- Advanced Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine in Lakeland, FL.

2. How long have you been doing this type of work?
I have been practicing for 5 years. The first 2 as an employee and 3 years ago I decided to branch out and start my own practice.

3. How many children do you have, their names?
I have one 6 month old son. His name is Dean.

4. How do you balance work and family?
Since I own my own practice I make my own hours. I choose to see patients only part time so I don't miss out on all the special time with my baby. 3 days a week I am in the office and the other 4 days is my family time. Kids grow up so fast and I don't want to miss any of it!

5. What is the best thing about being a mom who works out of the home?

I love working outside of my home because it gives me some grownup time. Stay at home moms are great- I was raised by one- but personally I think it would drive me a little crazy! I love what I do and I would really miss it if I quit. And having some time away from my son gives me a chance to miss him a little and really feel happy with the time I do have with him.

6. What is the most challenging thing about being a mom working out of the home?
The most challenging thing about working is the fact that I do own and operate my own small business. As any small business owner will tell you, work is not done when you clock out for the day. Although I am only in the office part time, keeping things up and running is a daily reality. I need to take care of bookwork, medical records, marketing, income and expenses, insurance claim forms, etc.... all while I am not treating patients. It does cut into my family time but it is a sacrifice that needs to be made.

7. Why do you like being an acupuncturist?

I love being an Acupuncturist! It is extremely satisfying. 

Most of my patients come to me as a last resort (as you can imagine, most people are scared of needles). My typical patient is one who has already tried everything else and not found relief. I treat a lot of people in chronic pain who don't want to be on drugs for the rest of their lives and because they see me they don't need to be. 

I also treat people with headaches and migraines that have had every test done, tried every medication and gotten nowhere. But with treatment the headaches and migraines go away. 

It is such a wonderful feeling helping people that had previously thought they were just going to have to live with the pain. I recently had a patient tell me that she didn't know who to thank more- me for helping her or God for leading her to me. Everyday my patients help reinforce what I know- that I am doing exactly what I should be doing.

8. What is an acupuncturist?
As I said in the beginning I am Doctor of Oriental Medicine and an Acupuncturist. This means I am a physician who employs the combined therapies of acupuncture, herbal medicine, Chinese massage, herbal and vitamin injections and other ancient Chinese therapies to achieve good help by balancing energies in the body using several methods. It is a holistic approach, meaning treating a individuals problems by treating the whole body at the same time.

9. Why should pregnant women see someone like you?

Pregnant patients are ideal acupuncture patients. 

Because pregnant women cannot and most do not want to take medications, they feel like they have no options as far as their symptoms go. This is where I come in. Acupuncture is extremely effective in the treatment of morning sickness, insomnia, fatigue and pain associated with pregnancy. There are also treatments to help induce labor naturally. It is symptom relief without medication or side effects.

10. Why should regular moms see someone like you?
Regular moms have pain just like anybody else with added stress on top of it. Anxiety and insomnia are big complaints for parents. I see A LOT of this. As a mother, if you can de-stress and sleep better it is a big help. What's that saying- If mama ain't happy aint nobody happy? Yep, that's about right. 

I also have moms who come in and say it is their only "me" time. It's amazing how a little rest and relaxation does wonders.

11. Anything else you want to add?

I LOVE to treat children. They respond so well. Since acupuncture is a natural medicine in which your body essentially uses its own energy and natural healing powers to fix the problem, kids do great. Kids are full of energy and their bodies are able to bounce back to good health much faster than adults. 

I had one adorable little 6 year old girl who was dealing with chronic sinus infections. She was missing school and constantly on antibiotics that were not helping. I was treating her with a laser instead of needles (young children are so responsive that usually needles are too stimulating. And never done to children under 3 years old). After about 3 treatments all the infection was gone and she hasn't had any since. 

I saw another 9 year old boy who was having shoulder and arm pain that was keeping him from playing baseball. It was not due to an injury and he had already had X-Rays, MRI's and other tests done. They showed nothing. His doctors were baffled. He tried Chiropractic and physical therapy- also didn't help. 4 treatments and all his pain was gone too. 

I treated a 7 year old boy who had had chronic migraines ever since he was able to tell his mom that his head hurt. 2 treatments and the migraines never came back. Those a just a few notable cases.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

mom to two

This itty bitty wrapped up like a potato newborn baby girl changed our lives 18 months ago in a big way. She made our family of 3 a family of 4. She made our son a big brother. She made us parents who needed to somehow grow our heart bigger, make room in our home for more. She made us learn how to juggle life with two little beings on the planet and under our feet and in our arms. 

To say it wasn't easy in the beginning is to keep it on a mild note. 

Having baby #2 was hard. Challenging. Sorta chaotic. I think I referred to it as crazy beautiful in the beginning to anyone who would ask me. It was amazing and imperfect all in one big bundle of pink baby-ness. 

I remember it all. I survived it all. 

And now I'm here, thinking of a few friends I have who are about to embark on this same journey, the adventure into Life With Baby #2 In the House. 

I know what it's like to worry that you won't know what to expect, won't have enough love to go around, won't know how the heck to handle a newborn in one hand (or breast!) and a toddler on your other side dragging you around a playground. I get that it's scary and the unknown is worrisome to some. 

But I also know how it works, that it DOES indeed work. You DO manage, somehow. You just do. I swear. 

Let me share with you a few tips that worked for us. 

Let's just put it right out there, it's totally OK to feel a little bit of sadness as you near the end of pregnancy, realizing how much your life with your firstborn is going to change. That's so normal. Don't feel guilty about it. Because it's the truth, your lives ARE going to change. In wonderful ways, and yet in some ways that you don't really feel ready for just yet. You enjoy the cuddle time you get with your big kid right now. You still see your big one as a baby, and you aren't ready for him to be the big kid yet, you want to still see him as the baby for a while longer. You wonder how it's going to be when you have to say, "Hold on a second, I've got the baby."

It's normal the few weeks before baby is coming to think to yourself each time you do something with your current big baby, "This is the last time it'll be just us doing this," or "I wonder how we'll get time like this when baby is here." It's normal. You sense your life is about to change, and it is, in big ways. It's OK to feel some fear, sadness, worry, etc. along with the excitement. Feeling these sad feelings doesn't mean in any way that you aren't happy about baby coming, it just means you're having separate feelings for your big baby.

So do something with those big feelings. I took my son out on one "last just mama and Owen play date" the day before I went into labor actually. Good timing! We went to the playground, got cookies at the bakery, drove around talking about toddler things, read books, ate his favorite lunch, etc. I love that day. It's etched in my memory forever. It was a beautiful, sunny, bright, full of possibilities type of day. I was slightly sad, thinking, "oh things are going to change, are you going to be OK through this, big guy?" but overall I was happy, excited to see how he'd turn into the coolest brother ever. I knew he'd be OK, we'd all be OK.

Prepare your big kid to be a big sibling, to not have you all the time, to share you, to wait, to be patient. Talk about babies. Get a baby doll for him to play with, encourage being "gentle" with baby. Read books. Pretend. Make believe, be creative, color pictures for the baby. Do what you need to do to prepare your big kid.

And then realize that no matter how much you try to prepare him, you can never predict what will make him upset or confused when baby is here. You can't predict his reactions to everything. It's just that simple. And you don't have to. Just know that he will need you a little more, need a few more snuggles and kisses, an extra bed time story some nights, and a lot more patience from you those first few weeks.

Splitting your time between two

The hardest thing for me the first month or so was figuring out how to be mom to two babies. 

My son was 2 years and 2 months old when his sister was born, still a little guy himself, needing me for various things every day. It was hard not being able to pick him up physically as I was recovering from a C-section birth.

I thought I'd never have alone time with each of them. I was very wrong.

In the beginning we sent our first child to daycare so he could keep his routine. He loved it. I didn't feel guilty at all being home with baby while he was being taken care of by someone else. He honestly loved being with a caregiver who was giving him all her attention instead of being with mom who was busy with a crying baby. He loved playing with other kids. Keeping things normal for him helped him accept whatever was changed at home.

Also during that time he went to daycare I was able to really focus on our new baby, really bond with her, which I felt I couldn't do as well when her big brother was home, feeling like I had to split my attention between the two.

Life changes when you have the second one. My sister-in-law told me that with #1 your world stops, it's quiet, you live around your baby's needs and routine. But with #2, your world does not stop, you still have birthday parties and play dates to attend, a daycare drop off and big kid routine things to handle. Life moves on and baby goes along with it for the ride. You do realize this is OK, totally OK, everyone is still happy.

You also start to realize that there are phases, moments when your younger one needs you a lot (in the beginning of course), and then moments when your little one starts to get bigger and doesn't need to eat every five seconds and can be left playing for a few moments while you help your bigger kid learn to potty train (true story!).  It ebbs and flows, these changing phases, and you learn to be the mom each of them needs at various times.

Waiting, needing

It was difficult to always say, "In a minute, I'm coming," to one of them, but I learned quickly that I couldn't do it all at one moment in time.

I recall at all times, someone was waiting, someone needed me, but I could not do it all at that one second. You feel guilty about this. You feel like you are failing. You feel like you'll never get into a routine, a rhythm where everyone is happy at once... but I'm here to tell you that it does happen. You DO make it work.

You learn to accept that someone has to wait. It's just reality now. And you learn quickly that the baby is fine if she has to fuss for a minute while you help your son get down from his high chair. You learn that your son won't hate you when you have to feed the baby and can't play trucks at that very moment. Everyone starts to adjust, become more patient. And somehow you juggle it all, you do.

Take care of you
I rarely took naps with my first newborn at home. I would email, write thank you notes, check Facebook, fold laundry, etc. when my newborn slept. There was just too much to do. With my second, I learned pretty quickly I could NOT be a patient, good mother without resting and taking care of me. So when both kids were home together, during the 12-2 timeframe when both would sleep at least 30 minutes at the same time at that point, I'd nap. I napped 30-60 minutes every single day. I still did that this past summer when they were napping the same timeframe and older. You expend more energy when you have two kids, so it's normal to see that you need more rest, more time to recuperate. You have to take care of yourself, it's easier to become rundown with two kids needing you, two kids with germs being shared with you. So whatever it takes, ask for help, and rest when you can.

New tricks up your sleeve
You learn new ways of parenting #2 than you did for your first. And it's kind of cool how creative you become! Even though you've done this before, you can't expect it to be just like the first time around. You are a different parent now, a few years later, and this baby is not your firstborn, they are different. Embrace those differences, smile at the similarities, and figure out what works NOW versus what you think would work based on the last time. Of course, some things will be the same, no worries, you're an old pro at this!

That's the cool thing about #2... you are less nervous, more patient, less worrisome the second time around. You've been here, done that. You've raised a child already to survive your parenting skills! You CAN do it again. So you let a lot more things go. That's the easy part. The harder part of course is managing two children, two little people who need you at once... like I said before, you figure that part out, adding new tricks to your repertoire.

One trick that helped me a lot was a baby carrier. I never used it with my son, could not figure out how to put him in and out by myself, we used it maybe two times with him. With my second, she was in the baby carrier at week two at the latest! I had to wear her every single evening because she'd cry, screaming at the loudness that was a family of four with a toddler running around. So I figured out how to do something I didn't know how to do with my first. We made it work. The baby carrier helped me be mom to two kids, simple as that. Without it I have no idea how I'd have done it.

I also got a hands-free Medela nursing bra to help me pump without needing my hands tied up, so I could help my bigger kid or put a pacifier back in my daughter's screaming mouth if need be.

You find new tools to be parent to two, and it's pretty liberating. You realize you are an old pro at this, you are smarter and more confident than you imagine during those first few weepy, hormonal, sleep deprived, confusing months.

Make new moments, take advantage of solo times
I learned quickly that with two kids you have to pay attention and find moments to love one of them when you have them, when the moment arises. You can't really plan all of these things. I found that if there were even 5 minutes that I had solo with a kid that was enough. If my husband was changing my daughter's diaper and giving her a bath or feeding her, I could just sit with my son and play for those 15 minutes. You don't have to plan some elaborate outing to make your big kid feel important or like he still has you all to himself. You can go outside and play for 20 minutes while your infant is inside with someone else. You can talk in the car driving some place while the baby is sleeping. Take advantage of the little moments, it will add up to big time to your older one, I promise.

For example, once my younger one was on a regular nap routine around 6 months isn, when she slept for an hour in the morning I would dedicate that time to my son entirely. No chores. No shower. Just playing with him. We'd do puzzles or games that his sister could not get to. We'd color or snuggle up and read books together without the baby pulling on the pages. He LOVED this time with me. Undivided attention, like it was old times again, just the two of us.

This filled me up so much, my heart was bursting. You CAN find time with just your big kid again, you just have to set priorities. In those moments, in the morning during my daughter's nap time, my son was priority, not the dirty breakfast dishes. You learn that those chores can go by the wayside for a while.

Now that my two are moving we find all kinds of solo time together, even if the baby is around. Yesterday my son was riding his bike and my daughter wanted a wagon ride. She was tired so sucking her thumb, taking in the scenery, so I talked to my son about his day, told him how cool he was pedaling his bike that way. A week ago my son was sick, so I sat on the couch and snuggled with him and read books while his sister was playing blocks on the floor. In the beginning, we'd put our son to bed first, then do one last feeding for his sister before putting her to bed. We loved that hour we got with just her, totally focused on loving our infant.

You find the time for two kids, you really do. It is difficult at first with a newborn's "help me NOW" neediness, but somehow, you do figure it out in time.

Ask for help
What helped with this feeling of everyone needing me was asking for help. Often. You have to with two kids. If you were super star mama who never asked for anything with #1, that's going to end or at least it should end with #2 coming. You need assistance. For me, my partner took over our bigger guy, it was awesome for the two of them. Accept that you can't be everything to your big one right now and that it's an awesome thing for your partner to step into that role. They will bond like never before. It's an incredible thing to see really, so let go of your guilt and fear about this and just smile and enjoy that he gets extra time with Dad or whomever.

Somehow, it works
After trying all of these things and making your way through not sleeping at night and feeling SO busy during the day, you realize it's not always perfect, but somehow it's balanced and fair. Both babies feel loved, you just know they do. And in the moments where they have to wait and split their time with you, they are being taught lifelong lessons of sharing, cooperation, patience, empathy.

Somehow, you figure it out. I wish I could give you a blueprint for exactly HOW you do this thing with two... but I can't. I can share my experience and hope that yours is similar in some ways so you feel a little less alone, but at the end of the day your experience will be your own. You WILL do this though.

A great article:

Enjoy this time... a baby is a beautiful thing. 

You are about to go on another journey with another little you in the world. What could be better than seeing your big kid smile at this newfound excitement? 

Enjoy this... the ups and downs are what make you the mother you are. 

You can do it. 


Thursday, October 17, 2013

expert mama - Larissa Ragazzo - ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER

Another Expert Mama from our recent series, Larissa Ragazzo is an elementary school teacher. She has great advice on how you can prepare your little one for Kindergarten, and the things your child should know at the end of elementary school years. Great advice! Thank you, Larissa, for such important info. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this! 

1. How many kids do you have and what are their names?
2 boys, Robby (5) and Kevin (2)
2. Why did you decide to be a teacher?
I always enjoyed working with kids. I babysat and taught swimming lessons when I was in HS.

3. What are the best parts of your job?

The best part of my job is when a student sees proof that they are getting better at reading - the pride that comes with that is awesome!  

Also, the same vacations as my kiddos is a nice perk
4. What are the most challenging parts of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is the parents and the negative attitude some students have towards school. Often times, parents are not supportive of the extra help I provide to their child. It is difficult to get a student motivated when there is little support at home; add to that a "I hate school, I don't have to do this" attitude and it can be difficult to get work done.

All photos from Larisssa Ragazzo

5. Focusing on elementary school... What is your advice to parents who have kids going into school?

My advice for parents of kids starting school is to talk to your child about his/her day, be excited about all they are learning and doing, and to believe your child's teacher.
6. What 3 things do you think kids need to know how to do when they are done with elementary school?
3 things students need to be able to do at the end of elementary school are 1) ask questions, 2) choose something to read, and 3) follow directions.

7. What are the toughest parts about working with little kids?
The toughest part of working with little kids is the energy it takes to keep up with them It is hard enough to keep up with 1 5-year old, imagine having a classroom of 20!! Tying shoes, wiping noses, etc. for 20 takes a lot of time.
8. What are the coolest parts about working with this age group?
The best thing about working with younger students is their excitement for school. Overall, kindergarten and 1st grade students love being at school. They are excited to learn what the "big kids" know and have so much energy. It is awesome.
9. What is your advice for parents who are trying to keep their kids doing well and paying attention, following rules, etc. in school?
If you want your child to do well/listen/follow rules etc. in school then it is important to follow through on what the teacher says/does. Talk to your child about why he/she wasn't listening and explain why it is important. If your child's teacher tells you about an inappropriate behavior, let your child know that you are not ok with that either. If you contradict a teacher's expectations than you send the message to your child that he/she doesn't need to follow the rules or listen to the teacher.
10. What is your advice for parents and keeping open communication with their kids' teachers? 

Don't ever feel that a question or concern is too small to discuss with a teacher. Also, if a teacher tells you something that you disagree with, don't attack that teacher - have an honest conversation where you express how you feel and explain why you feel that way. Remember that a teacher is a professional, treat them that way.
11. What is your advice specifically for parents of young kindergarteners starting school?

Kindergarten is exciting and scary all at the same time. Be supportive of your kindergartener, but remember that they have a busy day and may be exhausted when they get home 

(something I have been dealing with for the past 3 weeks . . .). Get involved in your child's school and show your child that school is important by asking him/her about the day.
12. What social things should parents try to teach their children so they do better in elementary school?

I think listening is the most important thing parents can teach their children before school. It is so important for a child to be able to listen and it is something that only a parent can teach well.

13. What is your advice for teaching kids to read? When should parents start helping their kids learn to read? What are some EARLY things parents can do (as young as 1 year old even?
The best thing you can do to teach kids to read is to READ A LOT! By showing your child that books are fun and exciting you can build a love for books that will give your child an intrinsic motivation to read. Read lots of books that are interactive (lift the flap etc.) and ask your young child about the book or illustrations.  

Don't worry about whether your child can read or not - they will let you know when they are ready. I began teaching my oldest sight words when he was 4 1/2 because he was ready and he was asking us about the words. We have taken it slowly and made it fun. If you push too much, you run the risk of turning your child "off" from reading. If your child has a love for books, they will learn to read. Make books an important part of your life and your child will, too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dear 18-Months Addisyn,

Dear Addisyn,
You are now officially a toddler. At least I think that's what we call you now that you're 18 months old. A year and a half old. Wow. Time is flying, that's for sure. It really is true what they say, "when you're having fun..." We sure do have fun with you. I have hundreds of moments when I stop and smile at something you are doing and think to myself, "What did we ever do without you those first two years as parents?" Our life is so full and rich with you in it, silly girl.

You are funny and make us laugh more than we could imagine. You say the silliest things. You say everything really. You know how to repeat the letters A through O... you stop at O because your brother's name is Owen and you just start looking for him when we get to that letter. We think it's cute... yet still hope someday you'll make it to the letter Z!

You talk so much. Like a lot. More than any little girl your age we've known. It's astounding. Everyone tells us so. You take a little bit to warm up to talking to everyone though, so not everyone sees it right away. You say "Bless you" if we sneeze... not sure who even taught you that, but it's so sweet. You repeat everything we say. It's like having a parrot around, but a cute one that's not annoying.

Two months ago I counted and you said more than 50 words... no idea where you are now, but it's a lot. And I have to say I LOVE it. I could listen to you talk for hours.

You idolize your big brother. You are always together. You chase after him... running faster than your little Converse-covered feet can take you. But you never seem to get too far behind. Owen stretches out a hand to help you down the hill or up if you fall... it still brings tears to my eyes when I see you two becoming lifelong friends right before me. It's pretty awesome. You are sometimes a Diva to him, screeching if he comes near your trucks with dolls inside them, but overall you really love your big bro.

You say his name so cute, too... "Oooo-when." I don't think I'll forget how you say that. I'm trying to memorize so much these days, as I know it's flying by too fast. That's one thing I won't have to try hard to remember... that sound of you calling to your brother.

I watch you trying to be like him, to follow all that he does, to learn from his every move. I'm a big sister myself, so I know how awesome this is for Owen. He's going to be annoyed by you, of course, but someday, maybe even already, he'll know how cool it is to have a little sister following him around. I pray you two are best buddies for a long, long time. 

You're one of those girls who I admire. You wear lots of dresses, pinks and purples. You have bows for your non-existent hair. You adore dolls, kiss and hug them. You love to cook and play in your doll house.

And yet you go to sleep in camouflage John Deere tractor pajamas your brother passed down to you. You play with tractors and trucks, saying "broom broom" all day. You get dirtier outside in the sand and mud, water puddles and use shovels more than your brother does. We can't keep you away from bikes and leaves these days.

I love this about you. I love that you are daring, adventurous, fearless. I love that you seem confident, sure of yourself. I hope this stays with you into your moody teenage years.

I hope you know how loved you are, Addisyn Rose. You are definitely a light in our lives.

Lately you are obsessed with Elmo... but really you mean Cookie Monster. You won't say it though, it's all Elmo. Love it. You're definitely an individual. Unique.  Creative. Oh, little one, stay that way forever, this I wish for you more than anything else. Be unchanged by others. Make things up as you go along. Be you... the wonderfully awesome you that we know already at 18 months, just be her forever.

Dad has already chosen his father-daughter dance song for your wedding someday... and it's so YOU...

"I believe the light that shines on you will shine on you forever. And though I can't guarantee there's nothing scary hiding under your bed, I'm gonna stand guard like a postcard of a golden retriever. And never leave till I leave you with a sweet dream in your head... I'm gonna watch you shine, gonna watch you grow, gonna paint the sign so you'll always know, as long as 1 and 1 is 2... there could never be a father loved his daughter more than I loved you..." - Paul Simon

I find myself wanting to keep up with how fast you are growing lately. I want to remember how you giggle right this second, because it's high pitched and different than it was six months ago. I want to video tape how you learn each new syllable because soon you'll be putting two and four and five words together and it'll blow me away how you went from saying "mama" and "O" and dddddada" to real things like "I don't know" or "where'd he go?" like you learned yesterday.

It's like we get to meet you all over again every day or week it seems. You learn something new so quickly.  When you were a baby I wanted to slow time, now that you're becoming this little individual I can't wait to see what you'll learn, do, be next!

Thanks for the laughs, little one. 18 months... time is an amazingly fleeting thing. I adore all about you and who you are becoming. Let's have a blast these next 6 months before you reach the Total Diva Stage, aka Terrible 2s... oy ve, I really dread the 3rd year with its ups and downs and teenage-like moodiness. I survived it with your brother though, so I'm sure we can handle whatever is coming from your brain growing. We've got this.

Until then though, let's just enjoy the silliness and learning new words phase you're in. I love that. A lot. You go girl.

Love, Mama

"This girl is on fire! This girl is on fire! 
She's walking on fire! This girl is on fire!
Ohhh we got our feet on the ground and we're burning it down.
Ohhh got our head in the clouds and we're not coming down.
This girl is on fire!"
 - Alicia Keys