Dec 142012
 
Holiday Gift Guide -- Toddler Mealtime

I know “toddler mealtime” isn’t the usual theme for a holiday gift guide. But I came across so many useful-but-adorable options, I couldn’t help but share!

Top row, from left:

Straw dispenser with colorful straws. $13 at Amazon.

Littlephant kids’ mugs. $16.50 each at Huset Shop.

Starter chopsticks. $5.50 at For Small Hands.

Rilakkuma bento box. $16 at Kawaii Kids.

Middle:

Ingela P. Arrhenius melamine plates. $12 each at Huset Shop.

NotNeutral melamine meal set. $26 at Design Public.

Animal face mugs. $18 each at Apartment 48.

Bottom:

Lollacup straw sippy cup. $16 at Paper Trail Rhinebeck.

Shinzi Katoh bento box set. $23 at My Sweet Muffin.

Lunchskins reusable lunch bag set. Lunchskins are all over the Web these days; this set was on the Lunchskins main site. (Our family also likes Kushies On-the-Go Bags, which lack the cheery designs but have softer fabrics.)

Skip Hop divided bee plate. $9 at Daytrip Society.

Sectioned car tray. $16.50 at My Sweet Muffin.

Nov 282012
 

When your child becomes a toddler, you eventually find yourself uttering all kinds of things your pre-baby self never would have imagined saying out loud. Sometimes I write down these strange new house rules. Here are a few favorites:

But I don’t want a napkin in my bra!

Why are you combing Daddy’s hair with bread?

Why is there a sippy cup on the cat??!?

Seatbelts are not for chewing!

Stop sitting on ice.

The breadbasket is not a hat.

Please don’t molest Mommy in public. (Note: in public. I gave up at home long ago.)

Do not eat the couch peas. Eat the bowl peas.

I will eat the floor chicken.

We do not throw fruit at the dog.

Stop kissing the wall.

You’ve brushed your teeth enough today.

And my favorite: Please be gentle with Daddy’s leash.

(*The title comes from my husband’s proud achievement of teaching our then-toddler to eat brains like a zombie. She learned the skill before she was certain where actual brains are located….)

What unexpected things have you found yourself uttering lately?

Nov 132012
 

I completed some small task the other day, and Vera hailed me with a “Good job, Mama!”

I tried on a new winter hat. Vera tilted her head for serious consideration, then declared “You look beautiful, Mama!”

Vera pulls us close, gives us bear hugs, says in a serious-as-the-whole-world voice, “Oh, Mama/Daddy, I love you so.”

At three, we can’t always tell which statements come from Vera’s own brain and which are just something she heard yesterday, last week, last month. Either way, the love and support reflected back from this tiny mirror is our proudest parenting achievement. I’m so grateful that we can create for her a world that feels positive and safe.

(And I have to say, no matter how young she is, or how old I am, the praise gives me a tiny thrill of happiness each time. Guess we never outgrow hearing it!)

Nov 052012
 

Sorry, have been slow to update after last month’s San Diego trip. Before we move on, here’s a little (OK, not so little) photo summary of that trip.

We flew into LAX because of an amazing Virgin America sale. The drive down took about two hours, but we broke it up by meeting Vera’s uncle at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. It’s a smaller aquarium, but that worked out well for a quick stop with a 3-year-old.

At first, Vera was a little weirded out by the fish. The aquarium’s many hands-on kid activities eventually won her over. This touch tank was photogenic but only a semi-success — Vera wasn’t going anywhere near those weird ocean animals, though she was willing to grab Mama’s finger to wield as a poking tool.

The aquarium also offered an aerial view of La Jolla itself. Vera’s grandmother used to work at the Scripps Institute, on the right side of this photo, so it was fun to see a bit of family history.

Day Two was spent at the San Diego Zoo.

Vera was in a mood, and frankly so was Mama. We forgot to rent a stroller at the entrance, and someone didn’t want to walk. The first half of the visit went badly, but eventually we made our way back to a central area with lots of animals and the day picked up. Even the grumpiest kid can’t resist wild animals. This bear was my personal favorite. Mauling potential aside, don’t you just want to give him a hug and a scratch?

Vera loved the giraffes. They were close to the fence, and very cool about receiving visitors.

Vera begged to try her hand at her own animal photography. I eventually gave in, nervously clutching the camera strap and praying nothing would get dropped. Her first effort actually turned out pretty well!

Coolest sighting of the day was this cheetah, out for a walk with her special friend. The dog companions keep skittish cheetahs calm when they leave their enclosure or interact with strange people.

On Day Three, we headed to Coronado Island. My mother visited many years ago and loved it enough that she hung a painting of the Hotel Del Coronado in our guest bath. So I was quite excited to finally see the famous Victorian hotel in person.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed. What a beautiful place. We wandered around for an hour or two, enjoyed the ocean views from the outdoor patio, and downed iced coffee and a cream puff as big as Vera’s head.

Coronado is an island, so we assumed there were beaches. But we didn’t expect the hotel to boast such a great beach, or the day to be quite so warm. We weren’t prepared with swimsuits or anything beach-y, but we rolled up our pants and made the best of it.

We jumped around in the shallows, Vera yelling “I’m so EXCITING!” over and over again. Took a few hits from larger-than-expected waves, but what’s a little water and sand in your pants in exchange for such a happy adventure?

Day Four = last day. Since we were visiting family, I didn’t do much San Diego research before the trip. Luckily, two happy accidents pointed us toward the makings of a great day.

On a timely tip from the blog The World is a Book, we started by exploring Balboa Park, a 1200 acre home to lush gardens and beautiful Spanish Renaissance style architecture. (The San Diego Zoo is technically in Balboa Park, but on zoo day we never made it beyond the parking lot.) We didn’t have time to explore the many museums clustered throughout the park, but we did have a great time riding the free trolley for an ersatz tour.

I was particularly taken with the Botanical Garden. Talk about a feast for the senses — it was green and lovely, it smelled nice in a plant-y sort of way, and there were even the sounds of a flamenco guitarist filtering in from outside. I was ready to move in!

Thanks to a friend’s glorious Instagram photos, we also discovered Extraordinary Desserts just in time to visit their Balboa Park location on our way out of town. We’re dessert lovers for sure, and this place was just as extraordinary as the name promised.

We acquired some very rich tortes, plus a giant bowl of ice cream for Vera and a boxful of other pastries to take on the road. (Did I mention we’re dessert lovers? ‘Cause we’re dessert lovers.) There was one tragedy now remembered in our family as “ice cream elbow,” but Vera soldiered on. Having a giant bowl of ice cream helped on that front.

In all, a 5-hour flight and 2-hour car drive were quite possibly insane for a 4-night trip. At least in a family with a 3-year-old and one sickly grownup. But we had a great time, made some new memories, and best of all Vera got to spend time with an Uncle that she’s now crazy about. Worth it!

Oct 172012
 

We’ve been hearing it from strangers for years. Sometimes to our faces, sometimes just a famous name murmured between women as they pass us on the street. The latest, from a stewardess on our Virgin America flight to California: “Oh my goodness, your child looks just like Suri Cruise!

After the flight, Mr T admitted he wasn’t 100% sure what a Suri Cruise looks like. We ran a Google Image search when we got to the hotel. Vera and Suri don’t have exactly the same face, and the eyes are different colors. Sometimes I think people compare on hair alone. But a few of the photos were actually a pretty good match!

What do you think?

This is going on the cover of V’s first album.

Vera saw this on my computer and said “Hey, it’s me with Daddy!”

(Suri sources: 1, 2, 3)

Do you have a celebrity lookalike in your life?

 

Oct 022012
 

When Vera was around 9 months old, she had a couple of nighttime tantrums that almost broke me. Vera was sleeping peacefully, an hour or so after bedtime, when suddenly she started to cry and kick and scream. She wouldn’t take a bottle, fought my hugs, and kept throwing herself to the floor. Nothing I tried would soothe her. The screaming and fighting went on for 30 agonizing minutes, 40, 45, until Vera finally settled back into an exhausted sleep and Mama dissolved into tears.

The first time was just weird. After the second, I did what I always do with strange symptoms — turned to Dr. Google. Results suggested she might be experiencing night terrors, but most articles reported that night terrors don’t start before the preschool years. One even insisted they only happen to teenagers.

Three years and a few hundred bouts of night terrors later, let me assure you that night terrors can strike babies and toddlers! Here’s our hard-won knowledge for anyone else out there facing something similar:

What are night terrors? A night terror is a bit like sleepwalking — a person may walk, talk, and open her eyes but is actually sound asleep. In fact, it can be difficult to awaken someone in the middle of a night terror. The “terror” part is because people with night terrors enter fight or flight mode, screaming and crying, fighting imagined threats, and sometimes running away. Most people don’t remember anything about the night terror once it has passed.

That may sound simple, but the actual experience can be horrifying. Vera either cries loudly in her sleep or yells “NOOOOOOOOO.” Sometimes “STOP” or “I DON’T WANT IT,” but usually just “NOOOOOOO.” Sometimes she slides to the floor. Often she just cries and thrashes. If we pick her up for hugs, she arches away or physically fights us. She kicks a lot, and sometimes she nails us hard. As a parent, it’s indescribably difficult to see your little one in trauma but get kicked away when you try to soothe her.

Terminology confusion: Some argue that “sleep terrors” is a better term than “night terrors” because they happen at nap time too. Sleep doctors use “confusional arousal” for Vera-style episodes. I find that term much too mild — her episodes are definitely more “terror” than “confusion.” But true medical “night terrors,” which do strike mostly teenagers, are on a whole other level. Teens suffering true night terrors frequently injure themselves or others during fight-or-flight.

What causes night terrors? No one knows exactly. They’re described as a “neural storm” that happens when a person gets stuck between normal sleep and wake cycles and one part of the brain signals sleep while another signals wake. Night terrors usually happen in the first several hours of sleep, during Stage 4 (deep, non-dreaming) sleep. They are most likely to happen when a child is overtired or sick. Sudden loud noises or other disturbances during the wrong part of sleep (I’m looking at you, yappy dog) can jolt Vera into a night terror. A full bladder or wet diaper are other common triggers. The episodes can hit several times a night for several nights in a row, then disappear completely for weeks or months.

Nightmare or night terror? Nightmares happen during REM sleep and are most frequent in the morning toward the end of a night’s sleep. Kids often wake up afraid, and older kids sometimes remember and describe their dreams. Night terrors happen during deep, non-dream sleep and are most common in the first few hours of a night’s sleep. The child will usually go right back to sleep after a night terror and won’t remember it in the morning.

How to handle an episode? Articles will tell you everything from “talk to him reassuringly and hold him close till it passes” to “don’t talk to him or touch him under any circumstances.” The best advice is usually to watch and be sure your child is safe but otherwise to let the episode run its course without interfering. That is easier said than done, though — most parents are compelled to try and comfort a child who’s so obviously upset. When Vera was younger, we could sometimes pick her up and hug her out of it. With small grumbles, I can usually “shhhh” her and quietly reassure her that we’re there. Now that she’s older, we try a series of questions: “Do you want a blankie? Do you want a teddy? Drink of water? How about hugs?” The first several offers are usually met with “NOOOOOO,” but sometimes we break through to a sad little “yes.” If those tricks don’t work, we just have to walk away. It always stops eventually. In fact, her terrors rarely lasts more than 5 minutes. But those 5 minutes can be very long for a concerned parent with a tragic child.

Are there treatments? Nothing much. Sedative and sleep drugs may work in severe cases. Luckily, most kids outgrow the problem.

Other trivia: The worse place Vera has had night terrors? Small bed and breakfast wasn’t fun (the rooms down the hall woke to middle-of-the-night bloodcurdling screams), but the absolute worst was on an airplane. Twice. Loud, extended screaming and fighting mom and dad, all while scores of judge-y strangers watch? Check and check. (And I’m not the only one — this blogger’s child had a 45 minute episode on a flight.)

Scholars suspect night terrors are the real-life explanation behind some stories of demonic possession.

My biggest worry? That Vera is seeing the things described by night terrors sufferers at this site. Hoping it’s purely a neurological thing and not terrifying visions. Our poor baby!

Do you know anyone who suffers night terrors? Any wisdom to share?

Oct 012012
 

I wasn’t always a cupcake fan. Don’t get me wrong, I looooove cake. But cupcakes are easy to over-bake and usually come out too dry. Three dollars a pop for buttercream icing atop a bit of crumbly dry cake? No thanks.

And then came Vera. Oh boy, does that kid love cupcakes. And cupcakes are pretty great, if you think about it from a kid’s perspective — a tiny cake that’s all yours!

Vera doesn’t just obsess over eating cupcakes, she loves to watch cupcake-related videos on YouTube. We have watched so many YouTube cupcake videos, so many times, that by now we’re YouTube cupcake video experts. Thought I’d share our favorites for anyone hoping to improve your cupcake game in the future:

The Recipe: Vanilla cupcakes with raspberry buttercream icing, via Laura in the Kitchen. Laura Vitale is completely, perkily adorable and her recipes are easy and approachable. Seriously, if you enjoy cooking (or want to learn to enjoy it), you should check out her site. She makes these cupcakes look so yummy that we had to give them a try. The verdict: thumbs up! The cake was moist, the frosting delicious, and the decorative raspberries a fresh/sour contrast to the sweet buttercream. We modified by cutting the sugar so they wouldn’t be too sweet, using no-sugar-added jam (ditto), and adding a dash of almond extract to both cake and icing. They came out better than the wares at several of our local cupcake shops — not bad for a first attempt from a rusty baker and a 3-year-old!

The Decorations: Vera is particularly obsessed with cake decorating, thanks to a series of videos from Liv Hansen of Betty Crocker Kitchens. Vera loves Liv Hansen so much, she briefly renamed our dog. For a week or two, our house was full of bizarre declarations like, “Mom, tell Liv Hansen of Betty Crocker Kitchens to stop begging for my french fries!”

Anyway. If our girl is going to obsess over something, she could do worse. Liv Hansen is an artist of cake. She comes up with show-stopping kids’ cakes and explains the decorating process so well, you could actually reproduce them at home. She has a bunch of videos on Howdini (Vera loves the castle, the mermaid, and the wild animals) and several well-reviewed “Whimsical Bakehouse” books. If you think fancy kids’ cakes are too difficult to try, checking out her videos might change your mind.

The Runners-Up: Vera’s also a fan of these cake pops, these rainbow cupcakes, and this princess cake tutorial (and I enjoy the funny choice of song). Both seem to hold up well from an adult-who-might-someday-follow-the-instructions standpoint.

Have you gotten into the world of cooking and baking videos? Any favorites?