Kaspar: Tomorrow can I go to my shop in the attic and buy some fairy dust and fly to Never Land?

Me: If you promise we can go together.

Kaspar: Okay! We'll even include Daddy.

Me: That's so thoughtful. What about Baby Otto? 

Kaspar: Oh. Baby Otto will stay here. With a babysitter.
 
 

(A real-life guide to hands-free, happy-baby bliss for all.) 

PictureKaspar and Aaron rock a Boba 3G
Thank you to those of you who threw baby wearing quotes my way for my recent editorial piece on the topic! That'll soon go live on a big-name parenting site; I'll be sure to link you over when it does. Meanwhile, have a look at this Alt-Mama exclusive -- an in-depth guide to baby and tot wearing for every kind of mama, papa, family and kid! (I actually wrote this for another site that was bought out before the piece aired; my contract prevents me from shopping it around elsewhere, so instead it gets to debut here at Alt-Mama HQ. Enjoy!)

Baby wearing is a win-win for parents and littles alike. Besides crying less often and sleeping more soundly, babies who are 'worn' in a carrier, wrap or sling are comforted by the womb-like sounds, movements and safety they experience when held, closely and continuously, against their parents' bodies. The results are measurable; babies who are worn benefit from stabilized heart rates, stronger immune systems and improved motor development. Parents, obviously, enjoy this closeness with their infants immensely, while -- hello, convenience -- retaining the use of their hands.

Many of baby wearing's benefits, however, are less tangible, and more personal; from easy-access nursing to subtle, constant communication between babies and caregivers, baby wearing fosters the parent-child bond. This is true even as parents attend to the tasks and interactions inherent in their grown-up lives. In fact, as babies who are 'worn' grow, and become aware of their environments from the vantage points of their parents' bodies, their experience of the world -- and their observations of their parents' engagement with it -- helps them to develop psychologically and socially, too.

In many cultures, baby-wearing has always been a part of parenting life. In ours, it's making a comeback as mothers and fathers alike discover the ideal combination of closeness and freedom the practice provides. "I always felt I could do so much more with Eli in a carrier versus a stroller: take my dog for a walk, go to a museum, or simply go pee," says Stu Weiner, a father of two in New Canaan, Connecticut. "If I was cooking, I'd hand him a piece of whatever I was chopping. I think he eats a more varied diet now as a result of those days. But the biggest benefit has been our relationship. It was easier to talk with him about what we were seeing in the world when he was in the carrier. In the stroller, I couldn't hear him, so I would stop and lean over and deliver the shortest answer possible, so we could keep moving. Having Eli's and my body physically touching instead was great; there is so much that can be conveyed through mundane touch, like being strapped to your parent, that can't be conveyed in words or a brief hug. Eli's now six, and too big to be worn, but we remain close, and we talk about everything."

Many parents continue wearing their children into toddlerhood, as Weiner did, reaping benefits unique to this stage. As Jennifer Luettinger, a mother of one in Leesburg, Virginia says, "I still put Caden, who's fifteen months old, in the carrier when we're out and about. He seems most calm and happy when we have that constant close contact. Whenever we meet strangers, they remark how happy our baby is; I attribute it to long term nursing --we're still going -- and baby wearing. "

Successful baby and toddler-wearing often boils down to finding the best method for your body, baby and unique needs. "Types and brands of carriers are absolutely a matter of personal preference," says Megan McGrory Massaro, co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby's First Year. "Newborns and preemies tend to do best in snug wraps, with their legs folded under them. As babies grow, and like to move a bit more in the carrier, a mei tai, or a soft structured carrier may work best. Toddlers get heavy, so a structured or soft structured carrier, like the Boba, which accommodates tall kiddos, can be a great choice--especially if mom needs a little extra support for a weary back! Pregnant moms will likely find that a hip (sling or pouch) or back carry is easiest on their growing bellies." 

Ready to wear your little one but wondering where to begin? I took an in-depth look at baby wearing's mainstay methods and brands. Read on for an inside look at the pros, cons and price-points for each, so you can find the perfect baby wearing method(s) for your family.

Click "Read More" below!


 
 
So you know how when you go to a craft store (not a specialty store like a fabric or yarn shop but a big chain craft store like Michael's or Hobby Lobby), 95% of the shoppers are either retirees or moms of small children? And how it makes sense that the former demographic has time on their hands for dabbling in soap-making or selecting fabric flowers for their guest bathrooms, but... what about the moms? Are they making Halloween costumes from scratch (or... hand-dying/decorating pro-booby onesies at one in the morning...) or what? I'm always curious.

WELL. I was in Michael's the other day and actually looked around (I usually just make a bee-line for the item I need and then jet) -- up and down the aisles and in the carts of the other moms. And, just like that, it all came together for me: craft stores are gold mines for kiddo-tainment. Gold mines, I tell you. Sure, they offer shelves upon shelves of pricey, packaged craft "kits", but myriad DIY activity materials, much cheaper for the taking, can also be found there. (Why buy a necklace-making "kit" when you can choose colored string and beads specifically to your liking?) Either way, when a tube of plastic dinosaur skulls sitting in a bin of similarly random samplings caught my eye, my mounting bewilderment about what to do with my busy three year old through the uber-hot, uber-pregnant summer of 2013 met with a moment of clarity.

I threw the dinosaur skulls ($7) in my cart, along with a sieve/shovel ($1) and some colored 'gems' (>$2). (I also bought some paint-your-own sun catcher 'kits' ($1 each) and some felt color-a-dinosaur things ($1 each), thinking ahead to near-future pre-dinner hours.) The next day, when Aaron headed to the hardware store for a few unrelated items, I asked him to pick up a small bag of sand. (We have some left over. You can probably get smaller quantities at craft stores, too; I didn't have time to look during the trip in question.) Then, I simply poured the sand into a cardboard box, put the dinosaur skulls and gems in with it, shook it up/pushed the 'treasures' into the sand so that they were sufficiently hidden from view, put the box on our front porch, and loosed my dinosaur-obsessed little boy upon his very own Dinosaur Dig.

Kaspar got the hang of the activity almost immediately, scooping sand and shaking the sieve so as to reveal any treasures he might have unearthed, and then dumping those into a small shoebox I'd put out for that purpose. He was thrilled by his discoveries, especially the dinosaur skulls. He even identified the type of dinosaur each belonged to -- probably not correctly, but I was psyched that he was drawing upon the many dinosaur names we've come across in library books on the subject in relation to the activity. I sat back (did you catch that? I sat down! Like, in a chair! With my feet up!) for a full thirty minutes, sipping lemonade, and watched the magic happen. When Kaspar had found every last piece of treasure, he asked me to hide it all again. Instead, I told him how to pour the pieces back in and push them into the sand -- teach a man to fish, right? -- which kept him busy, in and of itself, for another twenty minutes before he embarked on his second dig with as much fervor as the first. When he'd finished that, he played with the sand, piling it up and patting it down. Then he hid, and looked for, dinosaurs and gems again.
We're keeping the box + parts in our garage so it isn't always readily available, which has meant it's captured Kaspar's sustained interest for over a week; he asks to play with it daily. I could see this activity working well as a birthday party game -- you could either provide a separate box for each kid or just hide treasures in a large sandbox and give the kids their own sieves -- and it's appropriate for a wide range of ages, too; Kaspar showed his friend Tessa, who's just over two, how to dig in the sand for treasures, and she was fascinated. You could also tailor each dig to a party's theme, or to your own child's specific interests, by burying different types of items. Just go to the craft store and take a look around.

All told, our DIY Dinosaur Dig activity was a big success. (The sun catchers? Not so much... the paint was hardened and unusable in every one of the 'kits' I purchased. Kinda got what I paid for with those...) Rumor has it Kaspar's grandmother is bringing a full-size sandbox with her when she visits next weekend, too, so I'm excited to see him wile away the hours, with his trucks and shovels at hand, in that baby, especially when our real baby arrives and I have to find a way to sit down... you know, frequently.

What are your kids' favorite craft store finds? Any cool DIY afternoon activity ideas? Tell me your kiddo-tainment secrets -- I'm stockpiling!
Update (July 15): Kaspar's grandmother brought a sand table this past weekend, upping the dino-hunt (and drive-cars-around-for-hours) ante:
 
 
Age three has been lots of fun, but also somewhat challenging, from the start. I counted the months since Kaspar actually turned three the other day and was shocked to discover it’s only been a few… It’s felt pretty intense and I could have sworn we were at the half-year point by now (nope). Not that I’m rushing things – my boy is growing up WAY too fast and I wish constantly that I could just hit the pause button and soak in his innocence, curiosity, creativity and sweetness. Even his challenging behavior. All of it. But at the same time, age three has been a doozy on the daily and I was surprised to realize we’ve only been riding this crazy train for four months. 

It started, right around his birthday in February, with tantrums, out of nowhere and at the drop of a hat, usually after school. They were pretty low-grade compared to what I know a lot of parents deal with from early-toddlerhood on (seriously, I have seen some things in the supermarket that make me thank my lucky stars for the comparably composed child I’ve been gifted), but our guy has never been the tantruming type, so we were caught entirely off-guard. He got over that initial phase pretty quickly – thankfully –  and has, for the most part, been his usual happy, non-tantrum-prone self since, but he’s also been more physical and just more wired than he was before. There’s a definite boy-energy about him. He also negotiates constantly, over everything, but without a hint of logic, which just gets exhausting. That said, I love that he’s developing his sense of confidence and independence. We encourage it and provide outlets for it as much as possible.  But, still, I’m saying “Please don’t ___,” a lot more than I want to say it in a day, because Kaspar also has to stay safe, and has to accommodate other family members’ needs and desires (sometimes I just have to make a phone call, you know?), and that’s something I also want him to internalize as he grows.   

It’s a daily dance we do, and it’s usually fairly smooth overall, but yesterday, well, we landed in the ER for the second time this year after Kaspar hit his head, at full running speed, on the edge of our bedframe. Aaron had asked him to choose his clothes for school and I was about to get in the shower before work when I heard a horrible thud, followed by Aaron shouting, “Oh, shit!” and Kaspar screaming. (A good sign under circumstances like that, actually… you do not want a head-injured kid to go quiet). We beat rush hour traffic – which is not to be underestimated in Austin – by about fifteen minutes and arrived at the hospital with a still-screaming Kaspar, a towel on his head. (I ran him in – I was barely dressed, barefoot and splattered in blood -- while Aaron parked.) Kas got a heady mix of numbing gel, morphine and valium, as well as six stitches, before we left. He calmed down pretty soon after we arrived, though – the bleeding had slowed significantly during the ride – and he took the experience like a total champ, smiling and laughing (even pre-drugs) through most of it. He’s such a trooper, and a charmer. The doctor said he sees these injuries all the time on the littles, but still, it gave us a good scare, and I think we’ve all seen enough of the ER for a long while. Aaron and I were both shaken. If it weren’t for several stories related by friends throughout the day of similarly gruesome injuries sustained by their kids, I’d have questioned my parenting creds… I’d woken up beside him only hours before his injury; his arms were wrapped around me and he’d looked so peaceful. And now he had a giant gash in his head. It was awful. 
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This is post-numbing gel, pre-drugs. K took it all like such a champ.
We spent the rest of the day keeping a close eye on Kaspar (looking for possible signs of concussion) and attempting to keep him quiet. I kissed him about three thousand times and we made some gummy bears. (We used this recipe, replacing the stevia with raw honey. Yum.) When he got restless, I took him out for a walk in his race car (I push, he rolls), so he’d at least still be sitting down. (Realized during that walk that Texas heat and third trimester pregnancy are, as everyone’s been warning me, a daunting combination. I had to take breaks on the hills, no joke.) He slept like a rock all night and has been back to his normal self today. Which is to say he’s run into a chair and fallen two or three times, per usual, and without major incident. But I’ve been looking around at our furniture and wondering what kind of kiddo-proofing might be in order to get us through to age four. I’ve also instituted a “no running inside” policy. We’ll see if that sticks. And I think we’re going to get rid of our bed. This was Kaspar’s second injury on its frame; the first was a hole in his lip when he was about 17 months old, which did not require stitches and healed quickly enough. Of course, I’m actually talking about Aaron and my bed, not Kaspar’s – he’s never gotten hurt on his own… Maybe we just need a frame with a better design. But we have a baby on the way, right? A mattress on the floor will do just fine for the time being. (Ideas for styling a room around this so as to downplay the college-days look?)

I’m also brainstorming ways for Kaspar to get his energy out when we’re home. He loves to push his trucks around in our front yard, which is nice and physical, and we’re going to get a sandbox for out back. I’m just thinking ahead to breastfeeding, when I won’t be nearly as mobile, much of the time, and wondering how I’ll tire him out when he needs it. He often sits and works on puzzles or plays with his trains when he’s less excited, but sometimes he’s just got that wild look in his eye and, unless we channel it in the right direction, it’s not long before I’m saying “Please don’t try to jump on my head,” or he lands squarely on his own after flipping over the back of the couch…

Have any of you encountered the challenging 3’s? (I’m not going to say they’re terrible, because they’re not… but they are challenging.) Survival strategies, for parents and kidlets alike? How do you get your kids’ crazies out while keeping them safe and, you know, not bleeding?    
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When life gives you gaping wounds, make gummy bears.
PS. You may have noticed that my Parenting.com blog hasn’t updated in some time. That’s because Parenting mag and dot com were bought up by a competitor; publication on the print magazine is being ceased in September (these things are finalized a few months out, so actually it’s an immediate cancellation that won’t take effect until then) and the fate of the website remains unknown. None of us bloggers have heard anything, and the entire perma-staff was laid off, so… RIP, Parenting, we had some good times! I’ve got another major parenting website blogging opportunity in the wings, so I’ll keep you posted on that, but in the meantime all things pregnancy and family life will be documented, more or less, here on Alt-Mama. I know I’ve been pretty quiet in this corner lately, but I’m actually in the making-things mode and have some good stuff coming up to showcase. 
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Cool stuff preview: onesies and diapers get a dye job.
 
 
Texas winters confuse my Northeastern sense of seasons -- we basically jump from 80 degrees one day to 60 the next, for several months between the winter holidays and sometime in April, before the real heat kicks back in -- but spring is nonetheless unmistakable. Friends shared photos on Facebook of a snowy Brooklyn sunrise this morning while we stepped outside into a gentle, misting Texas rain. I adore rainy days and am usually disappointed by their brevity here in Austin, but today's rain picked up and found its steady rhythm right up until the time Kaspar came home from school. Then, the birds began singing, the breezes smelled of watered earth, and we headed outside for a walk, to hunt for the many signs of spring. 

Kaspar, like all kids, loves seasonal activities; reading books about the seasons, talking about what distinguishes them, and making time to experience their changes together helps him to connect with his environment, and to expand his understanding of his world (not to mention his vocabulary). Now three years old, he has the motor skills and attention span for more complex activities -- like origami or fairy-house construction (see below) -- and he's still filled with wonder at this planet's every detail. Spring is a particularly magical time of natural regeneration and growth, and celebrating the season as a family reminds us adults, too, of the wonder that's all around us, just outside our door, and within our homes and hearts. Read on for ten ways we're celebrating springtime with our preschooler; I hope you and your kids have fun with these ideas, and expand upon them. Please feel free to share other ways you've found to celebrate spring, too, in the comments!
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Kaspar discovered a "Daddy snail and baby snail" while searching for signs of spring.
1. Take a walk in the woods (or just around your neighborhood) and search for signs of spring: Spring can be found through all five of our senses. The sounds of birds singing; the feeling of warm breezes or cold mud on our skin; the smell of thawing (or just-rained-on) earth, the taste of seasonal produce and the sight of daffodils, earthworms and budding trees all speak to us of springtime. Walking without a physical destination or a time commitment, but instead with the express purpose of paying attention to one's senses and surroundings, helps kids cultivate mindful awareness in the here and now, which is oh-so-enjoyable at this time of year. 

2. Do some spring cleaning: I've been clearing out my closets (and bringing in the house-cleaning pros) for a couple of months now, and have been enjoying every inch of my less-cluttered, spic n' span space. There's really something to be said for getting rid of what you don't need, on a physical level, but also on mental and emotional levels, as well. All three mark important -- and easily-shafted, when things get busy, so it's all the more important to make a point of prioritizing them -- practices for parents... and all people, really. You'll find, in this practice, those shoes you haven't worn in two years, but also the secret to sanity. As it happens, kids love to clean, too. But let's be honest; they're not always all that effective at it. Don't let that stop you from cleaning house as a family; giving kids real jobs to do provides them with a sense of independence, accomplishment and capability that's worth so much more than properly-folded laundry. Expand upon the definition of 'real jobs', too; Kaspar held a car wash in our driveway last week, and proceeded to "clean" all of his Hot Wheels cars for over an hour. Materials? One container, some water, two wash cloths and a few toys. Cost? Zero dollars. One hour of outdoor, TV-free, self-directed entertainment? Priceless.
3. Celebrate the solstice: Last year, we celebrated Easter, because I missed the solstice entirely and Easter was a (totally successful) backup plan. But this year, we're on our game! The solstice is officially March 21st, but we're going to do our thing on the 23rd, since the latter date is a Saturday. We're planning a picnic with friends complete with some outdoor playtime, and perhaps with a bit watercolor painting thrown in. At home, we'll plant some flowers in our backyard (our zinnias ended up thriving last year -- they got HUGE -- and they needed exceptionally little care), read some springtime books -- here's a good one for kiddos about the equinox itself, with lots of ideas for ways to celebrate, and here's another lovely one about a little boy's anticipation and enjoyment of spring -- and start a few new family traditions: making a springtime altar and having a treat hunt around the house are definitely happening. 

4. Grow and bloom: This idea comes from the book I Love Dirt!, a wonderful resource for outdoor-oriented activities with kids. It's pretty simple, but preschool-aged kids love it; younger toddlers will, too. When talking/learning/exploring on the topic of plants growing from the earth, suggest to your kids -- and believe me, if you DO this, they will too -- that you and they act like new blades of grass, or new flowers. Crouch low to the ground, and then grow! Bloom! Slowly stand up and stretch toward the sky. Then do it all again. This will bring out your kids' inner yogis (who, trust me, aren't very hidden at all), and get their physical-activity endorphins pumping. 

5. Start a garden: Whether you're re-potting a few countertop-container herbs, starting vegetable seedlings that'll eventually move outside, or putting a whole bunch of stuff in the ground itself, gardening is a wonderful way to get kids working with their hands and connecting with their food. 
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Source: Gardening Adventures with Alexis
6. Install a bird feeder: By which I mean, hang one up on a branch outside your house. (Or, if you don't have branches, from your fire escape or whatever!) This doesn't have to be expensive; you can make a bird-feeding craft, or go for something more permanent (hummingbird feeders are cool), but be sure to involve your preschooler in every step of this project. They'll love it, from start to finish. And, if you build it, they will come -- birds, squirrels, and all manner of endlessly-fascinating wildlife to watch for weeks and months to come. 

7. Make origami butterflies: Kaspar's Montessori class recently learned about -- and made -- origami for an entire week, and the kids loved it. They learned to make frogs and butterflies; you can find lots of kid-friendly origami instructions online. We attended an art opening/open house event at Kaspar's school and admired all of the folded-paper butterflies, which decorated his classroom's windows: a wonderful, colorful decorating idea for crafty preschool-aged kiddos in the mood for spring. 
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Kaspar's butterfly
8. Visit a nursery, and/or your local botanical gardens: Prompted by my recent (vertical) nesting instinct, our family headed over to a local nursery last week, and returned home with two new houseplants. One is now hanging in our kitchen, and the other's a floor-plant in the living room. Before we left, however, we explored the heck out of the place, which boasted a balmy green house, a koi pond, a funky little cafe, and plants everywhere. (Obviously, right?) It felt like some kind of car-free, super-green alternate universe to me, anyway, not to mention Kaspar, who was out of his mind with happiness, high on fresh oxygen and free to roam without recourse... within eyesight and earshot, of course. We were there for well over an hour, and although -- after multiple reminders that it was time to leave -- we finally carried a kicking-and-screaming Kaspar back to our car (THREE years old, y'all, is a bit of a challenge at times), it was time well spent. Little man slept like a baby that night, and has been asking to go back ever since. We certainly will, but we might revisit our local botanical gardens first. We've been before, but not since last spring, and rumor has it the place is about to be filled in beautiful blooms.
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At our local nursery. (Kaspar carried that flamingo around the whole time.)
9. Jump in puddles: This is another simple one, but it's not overrated. Kids love, love, love puddle-jumping, as we've all noticed. It's pretty fun for grown-ups, too. It really doesn't rain very frequently here, so when it does, I insist on going outside immediately and running around like a lunatic. Kaspar can never quite believe his luck, and jumps right into the action. Best rain-play follow-up activity? Get out of those wet clothes and into a warm bath, kiddo and all. 

10. Build a fairy house: while you're out in the woods, the garden, or your backyard, why not build a house for some springtime fairies? It's like fort-building, only in miniature: your kids will re-imagine sticks, moss, wildflowers, rocks and other natural materials into walls, beds, roofs and chimneys. This is fun on one's own (watch kiddo concentrate) or as a collaborative project among friends or siblings, and it's a great way to spend a weekend morning outdoors. 

Happy Spring!

 
 
I've been a little MIA on the blogging scene, both over at Parenting.com and here on Alt-Mama, since the New Year; you may have guessed from my not-so-subtle hints that hormonal things are happening which can explain my relative quiet. As in, I'm a little bit pregnant... about seven weeks. Yay! I'm excited, crazy-hungry, a bit nauseated, and tired; between massage brain and baby brain, there hasn't been a lot of writing going on. That being said, good writing (and reading, for y'all) awaits, as I'm going to be back on Parenting's Project Pregnancy blog -- where I documented all things pregnancy #1 back in 2009/2010 -- shortly. And I have fun things planned for Alt-Mama, too. So strap in. It's about to be bump-watch (plus nesting plus all-around prenatal par-tay) time. 
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Houston, we have a (cute!) heartbeat.
I know I'm letting the secret out 'early,' but I'm okay with this. I actually didn't even know about the twelve week safety zone when I was pregnant with Kaspar; consequently, all of our friends and family knew we were knocked up by, like, four weeks. (As with this pregnancy, I got a positive test very early on.) Only then did someone at work gasp in alarm (pregnancy news spreads quickly) and tell me I could very well miscarry -- she said it just like that -- which sent me into a fit of nail-biting until the end of my first trimester, which, coincidentally, coincided exactly with my wedding day. Now, I know miscarriage is indeed common (20% of pregnancies... that's a lot), and in fact that woman at work who brought me up to speed had experienced a few more than a few miscarriages herself (she has since, through the wonders of modern medicine, delivered a healthy baby boy). But if my Kaspar-fetus survived wedding-planning stress -- which he obviously did -- I know for sure that the experts aren't lying when they say there's nothing one can or can't do to prevent a miscarriage from happening. Either the baby's gonna stick, or it's not. And while I of course feel deeply for mamas who've miscarried or had pregnancy-related difficulties (my own mom struggled with some of this), and I'm well aware it happens to perfectly healthy women all the time, I also try to bear in mind that the stories of multiple-miscarriages others have told me are not my story. I want to be excited, enjoy this first trimester, and -- above all else -- keep fear and 'what if's' at bay.

I believe every woman should handle early pregnancy, miscarriage, pregnancy-at-large and birth in whatever ways feel right to her. Each mama's stories are different, and our stories are deeply personal. So personally, while I feel a sense of community and empathy with all mamas everywhere, living our different lives and our different stories, I'm choosing to focus on positive stories for the purposes of pregnancy #2. I well remember the excitement of pregnancy, but also a certain tendency toward fearful pregnancy that pervades our culture, and is also often, if inadvertently, shared and spread among women ourselves. Whether we're scheduling our next 'screening' for some (barely) potential problem, or hearing other mamas tell of days-long, painful labors and emergency C-sections, it's easy to get caught up in an expectation that, at any moment, something might go wrong. Well you know what? It's not my first rodeo. And I know that, of course, something could go wrong. At any moment. It probably won't, but if it does, I can handle it, and I know I'll have the support and love of our family, our friends, and you good readers out there. In the meantime, tell me positive stories. I promise to tell positive stories, too.

I have a few things I could be afraid of during this pregnancy. I have a blood clot history, and therefore am classified as high-risk; I'd like to have a pretty hands-free pregnancy and a home birth -- a safe and wonderful option for low-risk pregnant women -- but instead I'm working with a wonderful doctor and a doula (TBA), and injecting myself with blood thinners every day. I did that last time, too. Unlike last time, I know what questions to ask and I know what I do and don't want in delivering my baby. As it turns out, I probably won't have to be induced, and I can probably have a natural birth in a hospital setting. So that's cool. The other thing that's nagging at the back of my mind is, obviously, a food allergy and eczema remix. What we went through with Kaspar was really hard for all of us. It took me a while to even consider the possibility of pregnancy again, knowing that a food-allergic baby #2 is indeed slightly more probable for us than for a family without allergies in the mix. But statistics, (positive) stories from other allergy mamas, and my doctor, have assured me that it's far from guaranteed our second baby will have any allergies at all. Doctors have no idea why, but many families have one kid with countless allergies, and other kids with none. And some studies show that eating nuts during pregnancy prevents food allergies, while other studies show the opposite. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason around this topic yet, and not a lot of knowledge. Even so, I'm going to avoid eating the major allergens during my second and third trimester, and I have an appointment scheduled with Kaspar's TCM doctor to see if there are some herbs I can take to help prevent any allergic issues in my baby. And if this baby does show symptoms similar to baby-Kaspar's, we'll know what we're dealing with, and we will be fine. 

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Blood thinner injections. Yeehaw.
I am declaring this a Fear-Free Pregnancy, no matter what happens, and knowing full well that this is life, and sometimes -- in life -- shit goes down. I'm focusing on feeling awesome, and visualizing a happy, healthy me, and a happy, healthy baby. I'm drinking a lot of juice. And eating a lot of carnitas tacos. I'm dreaming up names. I'm bracing myself for two small kiddos, as my one small kiddo creeps up on turning three. Age two was far from terrible -- we had one week of difficulty, which was about the extent of it -- and was a piece of cake, I suspect, compared to what's in store. Kaspar is as joyful and animated as ever, but this age is, um, something. Everything that already took twice as long as it did now takes twice as long as that ("Kaspar, please climb into the car... Kaspar, please get into your car seat... Kaspar, please get in the car... Kaspar, please stop pressing the buttons on the door and climb into the car.... Kaspar-get-into-the-car..."), and Kaspar's constant questions reflect new layers of comprehension that often catch me unaware (yesterday: "If you like what than you should have put a ring on what?"). He hears everything, feels deeply, and talks and moves continuously. This is a fun stage -- this boy of mine is so loving and funny and sweet, it's amazing -- but I'm pretty much exhausted all the time, and it takes a lot to make me tired. I am excited, though, for the months to come, for baby time, and to watch my baby #1 grow into his role as big brother. 
What do you think about the twelve week safety zone, early pregnancy, and first trimester changes? How have your second (or third, etc.) pregnancies differed from your first? Suggestions on great pregnancy books for positive stories? What's essential in a good doula? (We'll be interviewing next week.) Thanks for joining our family on this journey!
 
 
Kaspar officially moved up to the Children's House at his Montessori school today. Off and running. There goes my baby.

(He actually overshot his new entrance and headed toward his old classroom just after I took this photo... he's a little confused, but excited. I'm an unexpectedly emotional mess.)
 
 
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At the Austin Children's Museum
Kaspar’s been on winter break what-feels-like-FOREVER up in here; its first half was chockablock full, between a sinus infection (first antibiotics in well over a year for the little guy, and they took care of the infection but brought on some eczema flashbacks… we rocked the probiotics, herbs and coconut oil, though, and took that eczema OUT) and, of course, holiday shenanigans. Which were super fun. By New Year’s Day, however, Aaron and I realized that our house was in chaos and our kid was going stir-crazy, so we came up with a list of activities to get us through to next Tuesday, when his break ends. So far we’ve hit up the Austin Children’s Museum and a fish store (it doesn’t take much, thankfully); also in the works are a visit from his Grandmother, some pottery-painting, and perhaps a trip to one of those bouncy-house places… although I’m not exactly eager to head back to the pediatrician just yet, so we may skip that last one (bouncy house place = germ factory, no?). 

In the meantime, we’ve had a great start to this new year; I just have a good feeling about 2013. The sinus infection (and preceding general sickness-season) notwithstanding, we've had some exciting things happen lately, and there's more fun ahead. Here's a sampling:

1.     I got a massage job at a swank-but-not-stuffy (more design-forward, fancy-hip, if you know what I mean) spa right downtown, which means I’m always booked when I work, and I’m paid well for my time (not a guarantee in this field, but something that really matters, for obvious reasons). On top of that, the company is extremely employee-friendly; they’re careful not to burn their people out, and provide full benefits, paid vacation time, etc. I’ve taken on three shifts a week, still have my afternoons off to be a mama, and, so far, genuinely like every manager, co-worker and client I’ve crossed paths with. I can still do my writing work and other part-time job without things getting too crazy (except maybe once or twice a year, but I can handle it!), and I still have full flexibility and control over my schedule. This is exactly what I hoped for, and planned; it’s been an interesting, improvisational journey since leaving the nine-to-five world, but I will never go back! My freedom means too much to me. I’m so glad I took a chance on fate to find it. Hooray for work we love. 

2.     Did you see Alt-Mama (plus Aaron!) on Apartment Therapy yesterday? Woot! I love that website… or empire of websites, rather. Good stuff. 

3.     Kaspar’s moving on up to preschool-proper -- at his current Montessori school but with a new class and new teachers -- in a few weeks. Then he’s turning three in February. This is all kind of blowing my mind. I wrote a sappy, but wholly earnest note to his teacher before the holiday break, telling her how we weren’t sure he’d even be okay (as in, safe) in a classroom environment: now we are certain he’ll thrive in the world, and not just in terms of safety. This past year and a half has been amazing for him; his allergy stuff has gone from a pretty debilitating situation to a very manageable one, and he has blossomed as a confident, kind, funny, smart, joy-filled little person. Preschool, y’all. It’s happening. Whoa.

4.     Speaking of turning three, and improved allergy stuff, we’re coming up on our next round of allergy testing for Kas. I am hoping to get some very good news in February and to add some new foods to Kaspar’s plate – maybe some legumes? Avocado? Who knows?? Please send good juju for lower allergy counts across the board; I am really hoping hard on this end that we'll see last year's trend continue and that Kaspar's world will become just a little bit tastier (and a little less scary). 

5.     I’m feeling primed to take on some major organizational projects around here. Our closets have somehow filled with boxes and we don’t know exactly what’s in them.  I’ll find out, and keep you posted. We’re also finally hanging our art, and I’ve been pinning up a storm for a few months now, so have a host of home-improvements in mind for near-future execution. (Anyone know anything about indoor plants? Or hammocks? Hit me up.) Our home is our sanctuary, after all, and although it might be kind of messy right now -- housecleaning and school vacations simply do not mix – we have a vision for this little abode, and 2013 is our year.

6.     There’s another very exciting something happening right now (way more exciting than home improvements, even) that I can’t tell you about just yet. But stay tuned! Other than Aaron, my mom and my best friend, you readers will be the first to know. ;-)

               How's your 2013 so far? Any resolutions, inspirations, or plans? Tell all (or hint at surprises) in the comments below!

 
 
I sometimes go for months (okay, maybe weeks) without thinking much at all about Kaspar's food allergies. Considering that we spent his entire babyhood desperately trying to decipher his situation, and sufferings its affects, this is saying a lot. Although we did decipher his situation to the extent possible -- and we've made incredible progress in addressing it, and easing his symptoms so we all suffer less -- our lives are still very much affected by his allergies; Kaspar's diet remains quite limited, by any normal person's standards (no wheat, gluten, eggs, soy, nuts, sesame, annatto, etc. etc.), and the possibility that one of these items might somehow make its way into him remains a looming threat. I make all of Kaspar's food at home, and he brings his own food everywhere he goes. And we work hard to ensure this never means he's left behind. He can go to school, and we can travel together as a family. (Cooking can be a challenge, in transit, but we improvise.) As for Kaspar's school, his teachers are up to speed, equipped with Epi pens, and part of our team. In the event of an emergency, everyone knows what to do. And everyone in Kaspar's life is working to prevent any such emergency from happening. This is threat management: doing what it takes to keep the little dude safe, and rockin' it so life is fun, instead of scary. Life is supposed to be fun. 

Still, the world is full of wild cards, and while I try to focus (in everyday life, and on this blog) on the victories, with threat management comes some fear, and tough, personal mommy stuff. I think there's probably value in writing about that, too. Full disclosure and all. When we travel, for example, we encounter cooperative airlines -- and passengers -- and... uncooperative airlines... and passengers. Kaspar does not, as of yet, react to nuts in his proximity (as opposed to ingesting them, which would definitely elicit a life-threatening reaction), but we don't want to put this to the test while hurtling through the air at however many hundreds of miles per hour, however many hundreds of feet above the ground. So I always let the airlines know we have a child with a nut (all nuts) allergy before we fly. Delta goes so far as to refrain from serving nuts on their flights, and even to ask -- over the loudspeaker -- that passengers don't eat any nut snacks they may have carried aboard. Other airlines (American Airlines) simply shrug, and tell us we're on our own. I then have to tell the people around us -- right in front of Kaspar, of course -- that my son has a life-threatening nut allergy, and ask that they don't eat any nuts during the flight. Do some of these people resent that I'm 'telling them what to do'? Yes. Do some people whine about it? Yes. Do I care? I care that Kaspar has to overhear all of this, but... I don't care enough not to ask, because I care more (more than I do about my own self-image, inconveniencing others in a minor way, and more, even, than repeating something kind of scary in front of my son) about keeping him safe. And, on the upside, I guess it's good for him to watch and learn, so he can keep himself safe, too. I try to model my tone, my approach -- everything -- in a way that will serve him when he takes all of this on, himself. (In fact, he did hold his hand up to deflect the offer of a graham cracker from a buddy the other day, saying, "I can't eat that. Thank you, though." It filled me with hope.) Deep down, I hope and hope and hope he won't have to take it on. I hope these allergies will all go away. And I focus on the victories.

This has been on my mind this week because we've been dealt a hand of wild cards right at home in recent days, too. It's been a tough reminder that... others aren't always as careful as we are. That this fear I feel is real and that the threat is, too. The first situation, if you will, occurred after a Buddhist discussion meeting that I offered our living room up for. We have a nice space for these types of things in our living room, and, if they happen there, I can definitely attend, and so can Kaspar (I let him stay up past his bedtime for these things. They're fun). Someone left a jacket behind after the last meeting, however, and it sat around our house for a few days before landing in our laundry pile. I emptied its pockets -- as I do all pockets -- before putting it in the washer, only to discover loose walnuts in them. I then discovered several on our living room rug. Walnuts, again, are a serious danger for Kaspar. I don't think he'd eat one if he found it, but who knows? And I don't want him picking one up and then touching his mouth... you get the idea. I know everyone in attendance has been told about the allergy sitch and asked not to bring any nuts into our home. I'm sure this was an unintentional slip-up, but that doesn't change the fact that it put our kid in harm's way. 

Likewise, a very close friend came over for a playdate a couple of days ago, and pulled out a peanut butter snack for her daughter mid-way through. She paused and said she'd thought about it but decided since only her daughter would eat the snack, it should be okay, right? I hesitated, and confessed that we do indeed, occasionally, eat nuts in our home ('we' being Aaron and me), but we are super crazy careful about washing our hands immediately afterward. Peanut butter is sticky, and kids are messy people.... I wasn't feeling very okay about peanut butter snacks on the loose, but her daughter had already seen the thing. I asked that my friend wash her daughter's hands after eating, and said I'd also wipe the area down when she was finished. (Then did.) My friend watched her daughter closely, and washed her hands as I'd requested. She's a really, really good friend, and I know she meant no harm. But, she said she'd thought about it. Why did that snack make the cut? It shouldn't have. I didn't want to make my friend uncomfortable, or emphasize -- again, in front of Kaspar -- that an innocent-looking snack another child was chowing down on could actually kill him, so I left it at risk-management. But part of me felt... unnerved. I know this is not second nature for most people, but we rely on others to take care, around Kaspar, to ensure his safety. Every time someone doesn't, I get an awful feeling. 

The third incident happened yesterday. Another good friend, whose child also has food allergies, was making a snack for Kaspar's class, and thoughtfully asked if Kaspar would be able to partake. (He brings his own snack, otherwise.) She was making wheat and gluten-free pumpkin muffins. "But they have almond milk in them," she added. I said nope, almonds are nuts, and Kaspar's allergic, but thank you for thinking of him. Thing is, Kaspar's classroom is nut free. I waited a long time, and debated whether it was appropriate, before asking that they take this measure (another local Montessori school is entirely nut-free, school-wide, which I think is brilliant), and they were happy to comply when I did ask. It just limits the likelihood of a 9-1-1 call, which is in everyone's best interest. But a parent who knows this, and who has a kid with food allergies herself, planned to put almond milk in a snack. I don't know how much of a risk this would pose to Kas if he didn't eat the muffins, but I didn't really want to find out via a wayward crumb, or whatever. Since I know the mom, I called her later and explained, and she was totally understanding. She had coconut milk on hand and made the muffins with that. And I told Kaspar's teacher today, in brief, about the mix-up, and asked her to emphasize when explaining the nut-free thing to new parents in the class that this includes nut milks and butters. Kaspar's teacher understood, as well, and all of these situations resolved without incident, but... three in one week was just... a lot. A lot of reminders.

I don't want to be overprotective; it's not in my nature, as a person or a parent. I remember handing a pretzel to a puppy-eyed kid at a party once -- before I had a kid of my own -- and, when his mom sprinted across the room and pried it from his mouth, I totally judged her. "Parents these days." Now I'm that mom, and I get it. I so, so get it. My dad, within ten minutes of being in the same room as Kaspar last summer, handed him a "nut crisp" chip. Granted, my dad has dementia, but he's in the early stages and had just been told not to feed Kaspar anything. It was, again, a reminder. We -- Aaron and me -- are responsible for risk-management, and that means riding the shit out of our message sometimes. That means being diligent and, sometimes, being annoying to people. During that same visit, my mom was offended when I asked her, every time she left the house with Kaspar (she was awesomely on board for kiddo watch, which allowed me to get some work done... I love my mom), if she had the Epi pens. What she may not know is that most -- by far--  of kids' allergic reactions, to known allergens, occur when the children are with secondary caregivers. Grandparents definitely included. Double-checking with my mom wasn't a personal affront. It was a vocalization of what I do in my head, now as a habit, before I leave the house with Kaspar myself. Do I have the Epi pens? Check? Good to go. Let's never have to use them again. Not assuming someone else has that habit in place means a bad situation won't turn rapidly worse if we do. This is my job. 

Besides the reminders, I've also been thinking about this because we are moving seriously in the direction of bringing another baby into our family. I've been bouncing back and forth (not as decided as I thought) between adoption and pregnancy like a ping pong ball on lady hormones. Aaron respects that we're talking about my body as far as pregnancy is concerned, and he knows I'm pretty traumatized by Kaspar's first year (plus), so he's really open to either option and has left it up to me. He prefers pregnancy, though. Adoption takes a while -- years, sometimes -- and is pretty (very) expensive, but we're starting the process, to account for the taking a while part. We're getting in touch with some agencies, filling out forms and seeing where the path leads. Getting the ball rolling. But I'm also feeling more open to another pregnancy. There's definitely a higher likelihood of allergies for kid #2, since Kaspar has so many. But, there are also lots of families with only one food-allergic kid, out of two or three or four. I would avoid certain foods during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, to try and tip the scales in our favor. And if our second child had eczema, reflux, and allergic reactions like baby-Kaspar did, we'd know what to do. We've done it before. We're doing it. It would be a bummer, but it wouldn't be a crisis, as it was the first time around. 

When I think about certain parts of Kaspar's babyhood -- swollen faces, vomit, begging for answers from our pediatrician and being told he was probably fine, peeling his hands from his skin as he clamored to scratch (and scratch and scratch), I get short of breath, even now. I want to go back and help my baby. The thought of being there again with another terrifies me, and that made me feel certain I couldn't take the risk. But I've researched, and reached out to other moms who have kids with multiple, severe food allergies, and I've been encouraged. Many siblings -- most siblings -- of those kids don't have them. And while I've wondered if even considering another child is irresponsible to this first, who needs me to be vigilant and to manage the risks, these moms are clearly very much 'there' for their children, and they've given me confidence. They've also provided another kind of reminder: although everyone is different, we are not the only parents who've lived through the kind of babyhood Kaspar had, and who continue to manage the risks, to approach strangers on airplanes and ask them not to eat their snacks. We are not the only parents who've felt this particular brand of fear when others don't care, or don't remember, to be careful. And these other parents, these other families, are also living well (nod to Heidi from Living Well With Food Allergies -- thank you, so much, for your email). As far as adoption versus pregnancy goes, we're going to start the adoption process, and, if a child hasn't been matched with us by next fall (when I'm going to opt in to health insurance through my work), I'll go ahead and get my IUD removed, and we'll let destiny decide. We definitely won't leave a baby hanging if we get matched up, or knocked up, along the way. Either way, I know our family will grow however it should, and that we will be exactly the parents our next child needs, just as we have been -- and are -- for Kaspar. (When we first found out about his countless allergies, landed in the ER, and hit the bottom of what would be a steep learning curve, friends told me how lucky he is to have me as a mom. I felt I was failing him and didn't believe them. I cried, "I don't want this problem. I don't want us to have this problem." Now, these days, I understand and believe what they said.)

The fear of losing one's child is something all parents, I'm guessing, face on at least an abstract level. For me, the ease with which something very bad could happen has been the hardest part of this whole thing. Harder than the eczema, harder than the sleep deprivation. I don't want to walk around afraid the piano will fall. That's not how I want to live. That it could fall,at the drop of a peanut (or an egg, or some bread...), threw me for a loop, for a while. But all of us are susceptible to things that could happen. And sometimes, things do. Some parents have faced the possibility of losing their children even more intimately than I have; I know a mom whose son survived cancer, at four. (Not surprisingly, she's one of the coolest, most 'aware' people I've met.) Many mothers in war-torn, or poverty-stricken countries are powerless to protect their children from violence, disease, hunger. Our world is messy. Motherhood is messy. It is filled with beauty but its depths of love are endless, and we are, consequently, vulnerable, right along with -- and in direct proportion to -- our children. All people are vulnerable, but all people are also strong. We have endless depths of strength, too: this is our birthright. As Aaron reminds me when I worry Kaspar will feel isolated, or fret about the threats, "Everyone has something." This is our something. This is real life. And I accept it. I -- we -- will continue rocking it, and having fun. Risks, reminders, wild cards and all. 
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I love you, little boy, with my entire being.
 
 
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Even Peter Pan drives everywhere in Texas.
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Think wonderful thoughts.
Kaspar dressed as Peter Pan for Halloween -- his idea. We have a version of the classic book, and he requests it nighty. He didn't really understand Halloween last year; he rang exactly one doorbell, called it a night, and -- back home -- happily let us trade out his treat for some blueberries. This year, he took notice of decorations around the neighborhood, weeks before the big day arrived, and we've spent many walks since admiring ghosts, giant spiders, and jack-o-lanterns as they appeared on our neighbors porches and lawns. 

I'm really into holidays now that I'm a mom. (Also now that there's Pinterest -- follow me!) And although I was surprised Kaspar had such a definitive answer at the ready when asked what he wanted to dress as for Halloween, I shouldn't have been. He knows what's up. Which is why instead of planning to trade him something for his loot this year -- because even a cool toy doesn't make up for having your trick-or-teating stash confiscated, when you're two -- I pre-distributed Kaspar-friendly treats among our neighbors so he could have his cake (so to speak) and eat it, too. It worked like a charm. He just thinks everyone's really into applesauce. I'm not sure this plan will work as well in coming years, but I'll take it a step at a time. Last year he couldn't even eat applesauce, so who knows what lies ahead... (I'm optimistic!)

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Trick or treat!
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So much cuteness.
Happy (and emergency-free) Halloweening complete, I put Kaspar to bed on Wednesday night and settled down on the couch to watch a scary movie with Aaron. Almost as soon as we sat down, however, we heard Kaspar cough a few times, so I went to his room to check on him. It's been a tough pollen season around here -- tougher than usual, even, and Austin's always bad -- and we've had to give Kaspar nebulizer treatments every other week or so this fall, in addition to utilizing Ayurvedic and TCM prevention methods. (They've worked, too, but when the asthma's really under way, we have no choice but to rock the alburteral. Aaron's been taking his inhaler, too... and I think he only needed it once when we lived in New York.) 

Kaspar's breathing sounded fine, but he had a fever of 101.4. Over the next five or six hours, he had two extreme coughing episodes, two nebulizer treatments, two vomiting episodes and, needless to say, got very little sleep. We debated whether to bring him to the ER, and were pretty confused by his symptoms (some of which were side effects from the nebulizer itself...), but we made it through the night without having to go. I brought him in to the pediatrician the next day and confirmed my budding suspicion that Kaspar had a bad case of croup. He's had it once before, but it previously only featured one coughing episode, and we didn't have asthma on our minds at the time, so we hadn't hopped him up on other meds and complicated things. I also brought him to our local, amazing TCM doctor on Thursday afternoon, and she checked him out and modified his herbal prescription to address his asthma. (As for the croup, she administered some gentle acupressure and advised us to lay low and ride it out.)
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Feeling better already at Texas College for Traditional Chinese Medicine
It's been a few days, and while Kas is still a little sick, he's feeling MUCH better. Phew. And he keeps asking to have Halloween again. So cute. 

In other news, I'm five days in to a ten day Ayruvedic cleanse, led by an amazing practitioner here in Austin, Ivy Ingram. (If you're local, go see her. She's great.) In addition to certain dietary restrictions, breathing exercises and other, um, cleansing protocol (there's an enema coming up that I'm not exactly thrilled for... but hey, if the sages say jump...), I'm supposed to be laying low, too, and getting lots of rest. I've realized, one the one hand, that when I can go to bed by 10 pm, I don't. As in never. Even when strongly encouraged to do so as part of a structured cleanse, and even when I'm following all of the other protocol to a T, I don't go to bed at 10 pm. I know it would benefit me enormously. I know that two and a half years of hardcore sleep deprivation took it's toll, and that I signed up for this cleanse as a way to mark the wonderful shift Kaspar's made in recent months (Wednesday night notwithstanding) -- wherein he sleeps soundly, through the night, every night -- and to re-boot my own system in the wake of the sleep dep marathon. But still, I can't bring myself to go to bed at 10 pm, even a few nights a week. I'm working on it. 

The other thing I'm realizing is that sometimes life stuff -- like kiddos with croup, and sleepless nights -- simply comes up, and our intentions for self-care get back-burnered. Rest wasn't in the cards on Wednesday night, or on Thursday, really, but I did scale things back a bit on Friday -- when Kaspar returned to school -- to give myself a chance to catch my breath. And I stuck with the other cleanse protocol throughout. I initially signed up for this cleanse on an impulse. I'd planned to take a long weekend away, alone, sometime this fall, to sleep and to process and to disengage for a bit. But I signed up for this cleanse instead, when I received an email about it. Already sold on Ayurveda as a profoundly powerful system of medicine, I sensed that the cleanse will ultimately be more grounding, and more beneficial, than checking out of my life for a few days would have been. (I might still go ahead and do that, though.) Remaining engaged with the many things I have going and, meanwhile, going through the cleansing process is more challenging, but it's also more relevant to my life right now, and it's exactly what I needed. 

Anyway, here's to Halloween, to healthy kids, to clean starts and to November. My birthday month. (The big 2-8 is just a few weeks away, y'all. I'm ready!)

I'll finish with some additional, gratuitous cuteness:
How was your Halloween? If you have kids with special dietary needs or food allergies, how do you handle the candy sitch?