Thursday, October 2, 2014

10 Best Ways to Prepare for First Baby

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights:

I have some pregnant friends! As they get nearer to due dates, it's fun to remember the excitement, apprehension.. and the to do list. Here were the best things my husband and I did to "get ready":

1) Accept hand-me-downs/gifts from the village: 
As I collected clothing and supplies, I felt so supported by my friends and family. It was a tangible way to begin to make room for our baby, and to welcome him into our community. Being surrounded by all the sweet things that came from our pals (especially the stuff that people had used with their kids) reminded us daily that we are not alone in this.

2) Find a lactation consultant ahead of time: 
While pregnant, I visited The Baby Cafe in Melrose. When my son and I faced initial breastfeeding challenges, I knew just who to call. Lucia and the gang were miracle workers. And it was encouraging to be around other new moms, overcoming their own breastfeeding and general newborn challenges. Breastfeeding is great, by the way.

3) Read just enough childbirth info, no more:
Initially I did a lot of reading about birth. It's overwhelming. And no matter what you know, you have no idea how your birth is going to go. I decided to hold onto three pieces of info/advice that felt right for me (everyone will have a different list). And let it go from there. This is what got me through the anticipation and the amazing day:
  • Keep your eyes open when things get heavy, otherwise you go back into a world of pain. Stay focused (literally, on a spot on the wall), and you'll rock it. That's what my yoga teacher said, and it was totally true for me.
  • There may come a time during labor when you suddenly feel scared and not in control. That's when birth is about to happen and your body will take over. My friend Steph had told me this. Indeed, that moment came. It was such a comfort for me and for my husband to know what was happening. It was cool to let go.
  • My friends Leanne, Jules, and Lindsay kept telling me it was going to be amazing. I have a deep memory of sitting with the three of them at Club Passim, and they were just radiating good vibes about childbirth. I trusted that whatever happened would be great, because it would lead to having a kid. That's what happened!
4) Get the car seat fitted ahead of time: 
It's not rocket science. But never having done it before, I found it reassuring to go to the cop station to make sure we'd installed the car seat properly. Plus, it was fun to drive around with the car seat in. It was like practice. (While we were thinking safety, we went ahead and bolted the heavy furniture to the wall and adjusted our higher windows so they open from the top instead of the bottom. Not relevant until the crawling/pulling up stage--but that came sooner than we'd imagined!)

5) Put a waterproof mattress pad on your bed, and pack a hospital bag early: 
My sister encouraged me to do both of these things a month out. I took her advice. Good thing. My water broke in bed, 3 weeks before my due date. We were ready to go! My hospital bag contained:
  • a warm cardigan
  • clean flannel dress/undies (something gentle to wear, easy to put on)
  • face soap/lotion, toothbrushes
  • slippers
  • for my husband: sweats for sleeping in, and clean Tshirts, sweater, toothbrush
  • for my baby: an easy-on newborn outfit
  • the phone number for lactation consultant in my phone
  • and an extra EMPTY duffel (which we filled with TONS of maxi pads, witch hazel wipes, diapers that the hospital gave us. We used them all back at home!). 
  • I wish I would have put a note on my bag that said "remember cell phone charger."
6) Fill the freezer/pantry with post-baby, nourishing food:
Toward the end of my pregnancy,  a bunch of friends came over with vegetables and soup pots. We chopped together and made and then canned 4 huge pots of incredible veggie soup. For the first 6 weeks after our son was born, friends stopped by with food, which was incredible. There was a lot of chicken; so I'd often shred leftovers and put them in ziplocs in the freezer. After the inital burst of help, our food life was still convenient: I'd heat a jar of great soup with some of the frozen shredded chicken, maybe make some rice. Delicious and EASY.

7) Find a pediatrician ahead of time: 
Um, we did NOT deal with this before our son was born. You should. But even if you do and you don't like your person, switch! You'll be seeing that person a lot, especially at first. Those visits slow down pretty soon! In our haste to line up a doctor for the hospital form, we ended up with a total lemon who told me I would HAVE to feed my son formula if I wanted to keep him alive. My gut said that this was not good advice for my family, and we took the time to find a better fit. Our awesome Pediatrician helped us worked out the breastfeeding, and it has always been a joy to see her.

8) Get (and learn to use) a few cloth carriers before your kid arrives: 
Even tiny newborns get heavy after a few hours. "Baby wearing" really helped my back and arms. It's a great way to swaddle your kid, which was the central way we calmed our son when he got on a crying jag. The Moby wrap (which my husband and I both loved using during the infant stage) seems super complicated to use at first. But I learned very quickly (the folks at the Baby Cafe helped me dial it in); and I wore my baby walks and at home. It ended up being SO much easier and more comfortable than strollers, especially in the airport. We liked the Ergo as our kid got bigger.

9) Build up your own library of children's books NOW: 
We have read great books to our son since he was first born. I would take my son when he was still just an infant to children's rooms at libraries. I would peruse beautiful, inspiring picture books and show them to him. Reading together continues to be a big part of our lives, a calming and inspiring ritual throughout the day and at bedtime, and our son has a stellar vocabulary. Initially, we received a number of beautiful books from friends. And we've slowly added to our collection by trying stuff out on library loan--and then finding used versions of our favorite books at stores/online. In hindsight, I would have gone to the library and made and shared a list of books with friends/family who were keen to buy us something when Nigel was first born. That would have made it easier for people who wanted to buy us something enduring... and it would have helped us with our own library from the start. Anyway, books are great. And books with long, involved stories are perfect for the very beginning.

10) Aim for truly equal parenting: 
Everybody is going to have a different way with this. Ours was grueling and maybe weird at the start. But my husband and I have BOTH been totally in it to win it with the parenting since that first month when we BOTH stayed up when our kid was up. I did pump a bit and built up a milk supply in the freezer, so eventually we could tag team more after the first six weeks. But initially we just both walked around in an exhausted fog. And, yeah, we were also working, though we work for ourselves, so we rock flexible hours. From the start, I never felt any resentment, and Matt never felt any distance from the process. We were both full time, and deliriously exhausted. from the start. That paved the way for complete ease and trust with the three of us four years later--Mom/kid, Dad/kid, all the same. We are all different. But however it's done, aiming for equal parenting is prime!

* * * * *
STUFF that ended up being our true essentials:
  • changing pad on top of dresser with wipes and diaper pail right beside.
  • Country Save laundry detergent we used for EVERYONE's clothes, so no separating clothes
  • cloth carriers: Moby wrap, Ergo carrier
  • we used cloth diapers, and the Diaper Lab in Somerville and Cambridge was a great resource for all things diaper and baby wearing... and just general baby support/advice
  • breast pump, milk freezer bags; and also a small battery operated breast pump for when you are out/in car
  • lots of little throw pillows and comfy blankets on the couch instead of a big weird nursing pillow, so you can adjust to comfort each time. (breastfeeding gets super easy and convenient--I used to walk off of airplanes holding my kid... discreetly... at my breast. But it's a little awkward at first
  • we had a bassinet that could attach to our bed. We ended up keeping that in the kitchen for naps and our son ended up sleeping with us at night, which was super convenient for middle of night nursing (once I'd mastered the side-lying nursing). Sharing the bed did NOT make Nigel reticent to go solo--after a year, he moved to his own little toddler bed in his own room, which we'd set up for him, but let him choose when he wanted to do that. He digs his own space; but when we're traveling and need to share a bed, it's fine with all of us.
  • having a good collection of lamps with lower wattage bulbs, for a soft and chill home environment at first. We now have an adorable turtle night light that projects stars on the ceiling.  Here is a super weird, yet appealing video about one of these turtles that sings (ours doesn't, thankfully).
  • lots of bibs (for the early spit up!!)
  • lots of white rags in a big basket (for the early everything!)
  • a dresser with SMALL, shallow drawers, since kid clothes swim around in a full-sized dresser. We filled the dresser with basic hand me downs from friends. Quickly, you'll have more clothing than you need. Our favorite early clothing was easy on/off, with zippers and no fussy snaps or buttons.
  • cloth storage bins from Ikea for storing bigger sizes of clothing you acquire--label the 6 month, 1 year, 18 month, 2T bins. And then go "closet shopping" every six months!
  • toy storage bins
  • bouncy chair, swing

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dwelling on the Positive vs Reinforcing the Gross

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are. Recent insights: 

Sometimes I learn about what I really WANT to do when I see someone doing something that doesn't rock for me.

For example, one of my relatives once told me her dog was afraid of black people.

Um...  yikes?

And another pal recently told me his kid is afraid of all men.

Well, the dog and the little kid may or may not have internalized some weird vibes along the way. Maybe the dog hung out with a racist owner. Maybe the kid hung out with a sitter who practiced intense misandry.

No matter what, TELLING people about these alleged biases is a pretty effective way of reinforcing them. NO dog or child needs to hear he is racist or man-hating!!

I am up for putting energy on the stuff I really want. And overlooking the stuff that is not wonderful. Tonight I celebrate my creative problem solving spirit, instead of dwelling on my penchant for impatience.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Simple Toys for Air Travel

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights:

In a recent post about kid outings with minimal gear, I celebrated the ease of carting around less stuff ... and the confidence boost I got from successfully improvising with materials at hand.

Another great place to be minimalist? Air travel. Snacks, extra dry clothing and sleek, compact toys and activities for kids (games and books) are essentials. Here are some travel faves for us:

1) Jelly Ku  (or some other transforming/building toy).

In the middle of a recent ANA flight, one of the incredibly gracious airline attendants came by saying, "A gift! For him! For your son!" She handed us a little multicolored square: a toy which simply folds out into shapes. And then folds back in to its elegant, compact little square.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dare to be Minimalist

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

It is Spring in Boston! Not completely warm (yet), but we've had some really nice outdoor time, including an afternoon at the Mt. Auburn cemetery. Young Nigel and I met our pal Laura for a romp around the grounds, a great place for kids to run, enjoy trees and flowers and walk among history.

We had eaten recently. So we decided to leave our bags in the car and set off unencumbered by stuff. Should we get thirsty or hungry, we could just make our way back to the car. Simple!

Imagine my minimalist mommy moment of regret when Nigel, a good distance from the car, told me he needed to poop. I panicked for 2 seconds and then smiled,

"Here's a fun, private tree for us! Let's go into this little natural tent and do our business."


No arguments from the kid! He squatted, as if this were our normal m.o.  He even helped dig a big hole to bury his poop.

And since it was a pine tree (no leaves!), I used his undies to clean up. And I folded them neatly and put them in my back pocket. We enjoyed the rest of our walk with him clean.. and commando.

 I felt like such a success, "high-fiveing a million angels," as Liz Lemon would say. And while I have been carrying just a bit more along with us on our jaunts since then, I feel more confident about hard-core improvising than I did before the poo walk!

            * * * * * * * * * *


(On a more somber note--but also in the spirit of simple and straightforward: graveyards have been great place to talk to my son about mortality and death. "This is where we bury people who don't need their bones anymore... we used to have a lot more space, so we'd bury people. Now we don't always do that, sometimes we turn their bones into ashes.")

Sunday, March 9, 2014

If I'd Known...

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

Getting ready to board a plane withOUT my toddler. If only people had told me how easy travelling and scheduling was before we had our son?! When I think about how I squandered my time, how I complained about how busy I was...

I guess my parent pals didn't mention how easy I had it, because they thought it might be self righteous, presumptuous? Dudes, I wish you'd said something!

But here I am--more efficient at office work than I've ever been, and using every spare moment away from my kid to get caught up, get exercise, get a little rest.

If I'd known, would I have worked more? Or enjoyed the space, time? Well, this is how it's gone. And meanwhile my parent friends with two and three kids don't sit around telling me how easy I have it with JUST ONE KID.

We are all so kind to each other (usually). And we are all doing our best (usually). This blog post is rushed and NOT my best; but it's present. And I guess that's what doing your deal with or without kids is all about!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fake It Til You Make (the Snow Melt)

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

Playing concerts around Thailand and putting finishing touches on Spring tour dates has not helped to diminish my innate aversion to cold weather. I don't like to feel tense and cold. And I despise getting out and about with gear and kid in tow, navigating icy streets and dirty snow drifts.

But in my last blog post I noted that my kid is starting to grumble about winter along with me. And this feels like a crummy thing to pass on. So I have made big efforts to let my son make up his own mind about winter (and have some fun in the meantime!). No surprise, it's been more fun for me to rally than grouse. I am still pining for warmth and ease, maybe a few years in Thailand. But these recent activities have helped to chase some of the blues away:


  • We've been listening to Liam Neeson read the Polar Express.
  • We had a sledding date. (The big hit was the three friends running at the bottom of the hill.)
  • We made snow angels and snowmen.
  • And we regularly check the status of our swimming pond (still hasn't melted)





Friday, February 14, 2014

One Woman's Aversion is another Kid's Dream

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

We're home in Boston after 3 weeks in Thailand. It snowed our first day back. The jet lag and the extreme temperature shift put me in a foul mood--and sparked a serious conversation about relocation.

(It's not just the weather in the Northeast... it's how the harsh climate here sets up a real indoor life for all of us here. And it makes it hard to get around, stroll to meet friends...)

Anyway, our son was enthusiastic about the snow. Thanks to his dad, there was a spirited celebration of bundling up and building a snow cave.

It snowed again a few days later. And then it snowed again. It has been exasperating for me. Too bad I was only thinking of myself. A few days later, little Nigel said,

"I do not like the snow!"

What? I thought he was totally rocking with the winter?! I asked him why he'd changed his tune.

"Because I've been listening to you, Mommy. And now I do not like the snow."

Well, there you go. Probably not too late to turn this aversion around. But it's a swift reminder of how we affect each other. Of course, I don't need to beat myself up about this (I don't have the energy to!). But I'll do my best to stay neutral on some of my personal preferences, to let my kid develop his own.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Poetry Corner

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

After a tour of Mid Atlantic venues Matt and I had a few light weeks with smaller home-based gigs. This break from travel coincided with tragic events close to home. Bad news is never welcome; but I am grateful that we have been home during this stretch.

To get us back into the swing of performing, we had our special Back to School concert at Club Passim on Tuesday. We were tongue-in-cheek "school teachers," exploring a different "subject" with each ballad. For our extra curricular Poetry Corner, the "class" was asked to write haikus. Our talented and hilarious audience came up with very beautiful and very silly poems. A sampling:

On Matt & Shannon:
Matt, Shannon Heaton
Illuminate Passim's stage
Music to my ears

[I LOVE the obviously intentional folk ballad punctuation of this one]:
Too Ra Loo Ra Loo
May this be consider'd as
An Irish Haiku

On our trip to Thailand:
In Thailand it seems
They don't learn about Haiku
A bit surprising

[after teaching everybody how to pronounce Pad Thai... said Pot, like soup POT, not Pad like lily pad..]
Dead rat in the road
Welcome to Chinatown, man
Is that rat Pad Thai?

Going to Thailand
I can't find my damn passport
F*ck F*ck F*ck F*ck F*ck 

Todd said that Thailand
Is filled with endless pleasures
Pass the rat Pad Thai!

On SEASONS:
Fall, you have left me
The red, yellow, gold orange
of my heart bursts free

Summer has begone
Heatons always like to play
When will winter come?

On our song GREEN GROW the LAURELS:
He gave me violets
I raise them up to my face
And smell the blue sky

Laurel and violet
At least no poison ivy
(Don't date gardeners)

Red is the thinking
Green are my thoughts about you
Blue be the dreaming

Green grows the laurel
So I will write you haiku
With red, green, and blue...

CLEVERNESS:
[A Limerick Haiku]:
Hard to write with flair
Pencils there were aplenty
Though a point was rare

Matt asks of Patrick
More flute in the monitor
Not accordion

[Matt plays with a surf rock trio called Matt Heaton & The Electric Heaters]:
Electric Heaters
Are a great way to stay warm
Oh, wait. It's a band?

[And one of my faves]:
One two three four five
One two three four five seven
Five four three two one

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Simplest September Birthday Party EVER

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

It has been a big week for our family. Our friends suffered a terrible loss; and our emotions have been occupied in grieving for and trying to offer support for them. They have many big weeks ahead.

In addition to our own sadness, it has been a powerful journey as parents to introduce a nearly 3-year old to death. I am no stranger to loss; and I believe in being honest and direct about big and little stuff with my son. But I do envy my friend whose 6-year old began learning about the cycle of life when her Kindergarten hamster died. Score...

Needless to say, we weren't in the mood for a big birthday bash for our son. But life goes on; and our swiftly-growing toddler needed something uplifting. We all did.

So, I used an idea that Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest included in their book Minimalist Parenting (my thanks to the Boston Mama who came up with this one): we met a pile of family friends at 11am at our favorite shady playground. We brought fruit salad and mini cupcakes. Our friend Emily brought bottled water. Brian brought paper plates. And we ordered pizzas.

The kids roared around (with toddlers carefully watching 6-year old mentors slide down fire poles!). The littlest one rocked some major tummy time on a picnic blanket. We had a few sad moments. There was epic mouths-of-babes hilarity. We sang happy birthday. And we all went home around 1pm.

It was a good day to be together. It was fun and easy for everyone. It was a lovely birthday tribute for our son... and to his dear little friend who seemed to be all around us that day.

Favorite moments of the day (according to our toddler):
  • "the slide, when everyone got on it."
  • "the bird that came to visit the backhoe, with a very cheerful song." (???)
  • "and also the cupcakes."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

SO Happy He Made it!

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights: 

OK, "Happy You Made It" is officially one of the best kid cds in our collection... and not just because my husband Matt Heaton made it!

As musicians, we have a keen appreciation for good kindie offerings, like Laura Veirs' Tumble Bee, the Pop Ups' Radio Jungle, and Gustafer Yellowgold's imaginative releases.

You know, music you can actually enjoy listening that is actually made for kids.

Because Matt is a great musician who makes his living playing concerts in listening halls (of non kid music), it was natural for him to assemble a collection of well-constructed music for children--with a mix of originals and classics, and with his own style (surf meets trad).

But Matt was also unafraid to be thoroughly silly and make stuff that would get kids moving around. He's a little goofier than some of the prettier/hipper kindie music. And it puts it on a par with Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem's fantastic kid CD "Ranky Tanky" and Alastair Moock's "These Are My Friends," two more expertly made, but still not-too-cool-for-school kid music CD that really gets our kid (nearly 3) and all his friends singing and dancing along. Yessss!

The other nice touch of "Happy You Made It": Matt sends along a poster for coloring--a black and white version of the incredible cover, designed by Dirk Tiede.

Great album. Great addition to a sometimes stellar genre. I am truly happy Matt made it.