18 Random Pieces of Toddler Magic

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, mostly because the whirl of mom-life is like a vortex that sucks me in. Every day is so full of Zaza that everything else takes a backseat–and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Life as a parent is packed–not only with to-do lists and errands, but with golden memories that happen in a minute, but will last a lifetime.

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With that in mind, here are 18 random moments of toddler magic that bring a smile to my face on a rainy day–literally or figuratively.

  1. Stroking her soft rosebud skin and silky ringlets as we snuggle and nurse.
  2. Waking up next to her every morning and asking her what she dreamed about.
  3. Indulging her curious mind by answering her many questions. (Her current favorite, “What is this?”)
  4. Her pure, sweet laughter as I push her higher and higher on the swing or spin her around in circles when we dance.
  5. The surprisingly tight grip of her little arms as she squeezes me in a loving hug.
  6. The feeling of her tiny hand in mine as we navigate life’s adventures together.
  7. Inhaling the earthy, mammal-y musk of her hair after a long day of playing outside.
  8. The way she closes her eyes and says, “That’s delightful,” when eating her favorite foods.
  9. Letting the sand exfoliate my feet the natural way as I chase her through the sandbox and climbing frames at the playground.
  10. Seeing her eyes glow with delight when she interacts with animals, whether at the zoo or with random dogs at the park.
  11. Joining her in a state of toddler zen when she basks in the sun and plays in the sand at the beach.
  12. Wondering what she’s dreaming about when she smiles or giggles in her sleep.
  13. The high, sweet tones of her voice as she hums and sings around the house.
  14. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to help with ordinary household chores like cooking, vacuuming, and dusting.
  15. The way that she makes even mundane things like going to the car wash into super fun and exciting events.
  16. The funny and random things she says sometimes, i.e. “I’m going to Central Africa,” and “Milk is my superfood,” and “I like to wake up next to you.”
  17. Getting lost in a good book with her—and listening to her “read” her books from memory when she doesn’t know I’m watching.
  18. And finally, my favorite: The soft touch of her little fingers as she strokes my face and says, “I love everything about you, Mum-mum.”

Parents out there, I hope these made you smile. What are some of your favorite magic moments with your little one? I’d love to hear them!

10 Things I’ve Learned From My Baby’s 1st Year

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It’s so hard to believe, but my sweet baby girl turned 1 this past weekend! As we celebrated her big day, I found myself alternating between intense excitement and bittersweet nostalgia. Older and wiser parents really aren’t joking when they say time flies by with little ones.

I’ve also been reflecting about what I’ve learned during Xaviana’s first year of life, and–wow–I learned a lot! Pre-pregnancy, I knew nothing about babies (and, in fact, found them so intimidating and “breakable” that I was afraid to pick up other people’s kids). Now, however, I feel like an expert on all things baby, and I’m perfectly at home in a roomful of Xaviana’s busy little friends.

Xaviana is all smiles at age 1 :)

Xaviana thinks age 1 is fun 🙂

Having a baby has shown me the miracle of life firsthand. I think any mom will agree–raising a baby is the greatest gift we’ll ever receive, and being an awesome mom is the greatest gift we’ll ever give.

With that in mind, here are 10 things I’ve learned during Xaviana’s first year of life.

  1. Every moment spent with baby is precious – Each day is full of elusive, fleeting moments that last for mere seconds, but create memories that last a lifetime. Capture them in your mind and your heart. Appreciate the privilege of spending time with your baby, even on those inevitable rough days when you’re feeling exhausted or irate… which brings me to the next lesson I learned…
  2. Everything, good and bad, is just a phase and will pass – Teething, fitful sleeps, picky eating, and 5 PM meltdowns are unpleasant for mom and baby alike. We can try our hardest to keep baby happy all the time, but 24/7 Baby-topia is just not possible. Our (rare) rough patches with Xaviana have felt like being trapped in a dark tunnel with no end in sight, but just when I’m about to go crazy, they always seem to end. Growing baby or nature’s way of keeping mama sane? You make the call. 🙂
  3. Getting out of the house is key – Sometimes it feels next to impossible to get moving, especially with very young babies. However, it’s crucial to go out and about. Interacting with people not only stimulates babies, it makes mamas happier. Outings that last 2 hours or less are the most pleasant for Xaviana and me. Stroller rides, short trips to the beach, park, or pool, mommy and me exercise classes, and baby rhyme time at the library are some of our favorite activities. Going out allows baby to explore fun new environments and make new friends, and I’ve also found that Xaviana appreciates her toys and books more when we return home from our adventures. My husband and I have been bringing Xaviana to parties, on dates to restaurants, and to various special events since she was a newborn, and she’s an amazing little companion because she’s used to being out and about.
  4. Flexibility is super important – It’s an inevitable fact: as soon as you think you’ve established an eating/nap time/bedtime/fill in the blank routine, baby will throw you a curveball and totally change his or her habits! Flexibility is so important in parenting. Xaviana is growing and evolving every day, and my routine changes with her. Naturally, this comes with some sacrifices–most notably that her new one-nap-per-day schedule means I’m taking a short hiatus from writing ebooks–but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  5. Meeting other moms and babies is crucial – It can be pretty difficult to meet other moms who have: a.) common interests and b.) babies around the same age as yours. Meetup.com has been the best way for me to expand my mom and baby network. I discovered a Fit Mama group, where I met several awesome moms and babies who love to exercise as much as I do! I’ve also met other moms and babies at Xaviana’s swim class, the park, and the library. The kids love to play together (or, more often than not, trade toys and play alongside each other), and I enjoy chatting with the moms. Win-win.
  6. Raising a child is individualized – There’s no right or wrong way to raise your baby; the most important thing is what works for you and your family. I listen to everyone’s advice about bedtime, feeding, etc, but in the end, my hubby and I make the final decisions based on when we think is best for Xaviana, not necessarily on what is easiest for us or most commonly accepted.
  7. It gets easier – When Xaviana was a newborn, life was delightful…but difficult. There was just so much to learn, from changing diapers to using the car seat and stroller to breastfeeding. Factor in the sleepless nights, and I was one mind-boggled mama. However, taking care of her became much easier with time, and now I can honestly say that it’s second-nature!
  8. Comparisons are odious – It’s tempting to compare your baby with others or against the developmental norm, but I resist the urge and let Xaviana grow at her own rate. Of course I make sure that she’s on track for the major milestones of her age, but I don’t worry if she accomplishes them a little earlier or later than her friends. I just let her be herself, and take things one day at a time.
  9. Books are the best toys – They’re cheap, they take up very little space, and they’re the perfect way to interact with baby while teaching him/her! I love reading, and so does Xaviana. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I’m not sure, but she has learned so much from her books–more than she’s learned from any of her other toys. I read her the same books every day, adding new ones periodically. This repetition has proven to be key in her language development. She’s making new sounds and saying new words as I reinforce the material in the books.
  10. Breastfeeding is amazing – While I was pregnant, I had a pretty laid-back attitude toward breastfeeding. I’d decided to try it out, but if Xaviana or I didn’t like it, I planned to switch to bottles and formula. Although I didn’t have strong opinions on breastfeeding then, I’m a total advocate now. Not only does breastfeeding nourish our little mammals with the nutrients they need, it soothes anything from tummy aches to teething pain. Check out this interesting article about why African babies (who are generally breastfed on demand and held close) don’t cry. And the health benefits to mom and baby are countless. IMHO, the coolest one is the immunity that baby gets from mama. Check out this article with some little-known facts about the subject, and prepare to be mind-blown.

There you have it… 10 things I learned during baby’s first year. Moms out there, what have you learned? Which of my lessons is your favorite? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

5 Tips for Bringing Baby to Special Events

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This August, Antonio and I brought Xaviana to three weddings, an engagement party, a fancy French dinner, and countless smaller parties. As a result, I feel like I’ve become an expert on the topic of bringing baby to special events. 😉

Xaviana is bright-eyed at a recent wedding.

Xaviana is bright-eyed at a recent wedding.

Often, Xaviana is the only baby at these gatherings, and other parents giggle with her and tell me how much they miss their little ones, who are inevitably at home with their babysitters, nannies, or grandparents. While I totally understand the need for couples’ time–and an uninterrupted party once in awhile–I always bring Xaviana to special events. Not only does she benefit from the stimulation and excitement, she is included in all of our important family milestones!

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With that in mind, here are 5 tips for bringing your baby to special events:

  1. Pinpoint a nursing/changing station – As soon as I arrive, I identify a private area where I can breastfeed and/or change Xaviana when the need arises. This gives me peace of mind, since it saves me from wandering around later on with a screaming, hungry and/or soiled baby on my hands. When I can’t find a nursing/changing station, I ask an employee. I’ve never encountered anyone who was not eager to help, and even come up with a creative solution if need be. For example, at a resort in New Mexico, an employee guided me to a quiet unused banquet hall across from the wedding reception. There, I was able to take care of all of Xaviana’s needs–and retreat there for quiet mommy-daughter time when she needed a brief break from the excitement.
  2. Bring reinforcements – Loving grandparents, aunts, and uncles can take over baby duty for short stretches, allowing you and your significant other to enjoy some time celebrating sans baby. Antonio and I were able to dance and party almost to the end of his cousins’s wedding last week because Antonio’s mother sat at the table with Xaviana. The baby slept while grandma admired her and mommy and daddy got crazy. Win-win-win.
  3. Condition baby ahead of time – The secret to a well-behaved child at special events is to avoid springing anything on him/her. We were able to take Xaviana to a nine-course French dinner because she is accustomed to going out to nice dinners with us. We felt comfortable taking her to a peaceful wedding ceremony in a church because she attends church with us every week and is used to mellowing out in the Baby K’Tan during services. And we were able to take her to wedding receptions with pumping music because we throw house parties and have taken her to similar parties and galas. Condition your baby for these kinds of events by doing several similar but smaller scale activities in the months before.
  4. Stay flexible – Sometimes, all of the festivities will be too much for the little one, so watch for his/her cues and give baby a break from the action if needed. For example, Antonio’s good friend’s wedding day was a marathon: a huge luncheon that resembled a Lebanese festival, followed by a ceremony in the mountains, then more festivities at the groom’s house before the reception itself, which lasted until the wee hours of the morning. We took Xaviana to the lunch, but when we followed the party to the mountains, Xaviana fell asleep in the car. I elected to stay in the car with Xaviana while she caught a much-needed nap, and we skipped the trip to the groom’s house, resting at the hotel until the reception instead. As a result, Xaviana was bright-eyed, alert, and happy at the lunch and reception, and we had a great time even though we couldn’t make all the scheduled events.
  5. Expect the unexpected – Kids will be kids, and even the best-behaved ones will do crazy things sometimes. In this case, the two most important things are to be prepared and to keep your cool no matter what. For example, Xaviana was perfectly behaved all through the outdoor ceremony of our friends’ gorgeous wedding in New Mexico, but when everyone applauded after they took their vows, she burst into tears! I felt horrible, but I was able to quickly calm her down with a soft voice and her beloved pacifier, and the show went on.

There you have it: 5 tips for bringing your little one to special events! Which do you find most helpful? Do you have any to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

5 Awesome Baby Hangouts Around San Diego

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Like all inquisitive 9 month-olds, Xaviana adores being out and about. I’m a lucky mom, because there are so many family-friendly places to take her, right here in the San Diego area. Here are 5 of my favorites. If you’re a SD (especially North County) mom, take note…or check out these places next time you’re in town!

  1. UTC Mall – Babies and malls don’t usually mix, but the Westfield UTC in La Jolla boasts a clean, futuristic-looking family lounge. The curtained feeding cubicles, huge family bathroom, stroller “parking lot,” and cute play areas all ensure that baby will be fed, changed, and rested for a day of shopping heaven.
    The stroller parking at the mall

    The stroller parking at the mall

    The huge family restroom

    The huge family restroom

    The feeding rooms

    The feeding rooms

    The play area

    The play area

  2. Alga Norte Pool – This pool is heated to such a comfy temp that moms and babies alike won’t want to get out! We took Xaviana to swim classes (only around $45 for 8 lessons), and enjoy open swim from time to time. Just don’t go before noon in the summer. Mondays through Thursdays, the pool is swamped–literally–with the summer camp crowd.
  3. Dove Library – Like her mommy, Xaviana loves to read, so this is the perfect hangout for us. Not only does it host educational kids’ activities like Baby Rhyme Time and Toddler Time, there is a secret garden outside the children’s section, perfect for little ones to enjoy an afternoon frolic while moms sip delicious coffee drinks from Cafe Muse.
  4. Xtend Barre Encinitas – Xaviana and I rarely miss a Baby on Board barre class here–they’re just that awesome. The instructors make classes challenging and fun for moms, and most of the workout is performed while wearing the little ones in their carriers. It’s the perfect way to meet other moms and babies while working up a sweat.
  5. Poinsettia Park – This park has a cute playground and scenic walking trails, perfect for a stroller jog. There are also tons of benches and wide grassy areas, which are ideal for picnics and playdates. If you have older kids, they can play various sports here, such as tennis, basketball, soccer, and baseball. There are also free concerts on long summer evenings. We just attended a reggae one, and had a great time sprawled out on blankets with friends, babies, food, and wine. What could be better?

Moms out there, what are your favorite family-friendly hangouts in your area? Have you been to any of these in SD? I’d love to hear what you and you little ones do for fun. 🙂

Baby on the Go: 5 Family Travel Tips

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I have this feeling that Xaviana is going to be a jet-setter… Before she was even born, she’d been to more places than I had in the first twenty-four years of my life! Check out the blog post I wrote about the many voyages of Baby C here.

Since her birth, we’ve taken Xaviana on road trips to Big Bear, Baja California, Ojai, and Laguna Beach. We’ve also flown to Mexico City, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and soon London and Lebanon.

Here's Xaviana reading a map during our recent trip to Seattle.

Here’s Xaviana reading a map during our recent trip to Seattle.

Traveling with kids is often looked upon as a nightmare. People with kids tend to avoid it because they see it as annoying and inconvenient, while people without kids dread sitting anywhere near a baby on the plane and fix little ones with a death-stare that seems to say, “Cry if you dare.”

But staying home is not the answer. Antonio and I love to travel, and we weren’t ready to give it up. Furthermore, we wanted to give Xaviana the privilege of seeing the world, and learning about different cultures and locales. We were convinced that she would be a good traveler if we made it a familiar and fun occurrence.

It turns out that Xaviana loves traveling as much as we do! I’m not sure whether it’s genetic, or whether it’s the way we exposed her to it. (Her first road trip was at one month, and her first flight was at 3 and 1/2 months.) My theory is that it’s a little of both. Regardless, here are my 5 tips for traveling with babies!

  1. Don’t stress – I listed this one first because mommy and daddy’s attitudes set the tone for the entire trip. If the parents are (relatively) relaxed and smiling, baby will think traveling is fun. But if mommy and daddy seem stressed and miserable, baby will be fussy and irritable. Antonio and I find that the best way to avoid that hissy-fit feeling is to plan ahead. We check in for our flights the night before, and make sure that everything is packed and ready to go in advance. We also leave enough time to get to the airport, and make sure to stay well-fed and caffeinated. 🙂 This ensures that we will be happy, and so will Xaviana.
  2. Pack the minimum – It’s so easy to overpack when there are babies involved, but I’ve found that it’s best to resist the urge. Sure, you have to bring enough diapers and clothes, but you can go light on everything else. We leave the big books and toys at home in favor of the little ones. Xaviana’s favorite travel toys are her Very Hungry Caterpillar teether, her rattle, and her P and Q chewy tubes. Xaviana is still breast feeding every two hours, which makes packing food a breeze, since I don’t need to bring bottles. Also, we leave her homemade baby food at home, and buy her the Gerber kind when we’re on the road. We bring her car seat and a folding travel stroller, which we check at the gate, and we fit all of our clothes and other necessities in two mid-sized roller bags. This makes schlepping through the airport pretty easy.
  3. Anticipate baby’s needs – It’s easy to lose track of time on vacation, but it’s crucial to keep an eye on the clock, so that feedings and naps stay relatively consistent. An overtired or hungry baby will make you–and everyone else–want to hide away in the tiny plane bathroom and never come out. Another concern is the discomfort that many babies have on flights, due to the buildup of air pressure in their little ears. I’ve found that giving Xaviana her pacifier helps her to stay comfortable throughout the flight. Sucking the pacifier at high altitudes works for babies much the same way that chewing gum helps adults to alleviate that uncomfortable air pressure.
  4. Plan for rest periods between activities – It’s tempting to over-plan your vacay to get the most out of every minute, but babies do not respond well to this! Antonio and I keep our daily itineraries pretty relaxed. Sure, we have destinations and activities in mind, but we stay flexible and keep in touch with Xaviana’s moods. For example, we might go out for brunch, but then take Xaviana back to the hotel room for her feeding and nap. Then, we’ll go sightseeing for a few hours in the afternoon, return to the room for another leisurely nap, and go out for dinner in the evening. That way, Xaviana has time to recharge between activities, and the chance of a meltdown is significantly reduced. 😉
  5. Keep baby entertained – A bored baby is a recipe for disaster. Especially as kids pass the six-month mark, they need something to do. So, how do you keep baby entertained if you’re packing light? Introduce fun new items! On our last flight, Xaviana played with a small bag of peanuts for about an hour, passing them back and forth between her hands and shaking them. Look for random (and safe, of course) new objects to introduce to baby. Also, be prepared to bounce, sing, tell stories, and talk to baby–constantly if need be. Most kids will fall asleep on planes, but some are pretty hyper, and that means you have to be, too. I used to enjoy catching a nap on a plane; this is a pretty rare occurrence nowadays, but traveling with Xaviana is so rewarding that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Parents out there, what tips do you have for traveling with kids? What is your favorite tip that I listed? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Our Babies, Our Moods: How Our Little Ones Pick Up on Our Moods

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My seven-month-old daughter Xaviana is a happy little person. She smiles and giggles her way through each day, and rarely fusses. Even as her first two bottom teeth began to poke through, she remained pretty much unperturbed.

One day last week, however, she was super-whiny. She didn’t want to play, or nap, or do much of anything, for that matter. I’d started my morning in a grumpy mood as well, and as the day progressed, I became more tired and grouchy by the minute. I don’t know whether the root cause of my bad mood had been hormones, lack of sleep, or the “May-gray” that had hit San Diego with a vengeance, but I was definitely not feeling like myself.

Happy mom = happy baby!

Happy mom = happy baby!

I discussed my random irritations with Antonio, and he was able to lift me out of my doldrums. He said something that made me laugh, and Xaviana, who had been watching the whole exchange, looked at me and giggled, too. At that moment, it hit me: my bad mood had rubbed off on her. She’s used to seeing her dad and me relaxed and upbeat, and my annoyance with nothing in particular had caused her to be just that.

It turns out that there’s a scientific basis to this phenomenon of mood mirroring. A recent study measured the heart rates and emotions of 12 to 14-month-old babies whose moms were given stressful tasks, and found that the little ones seemed to “track” their moms’ stress responses. Moms’ and babies’ stress responses (increased heart rates) mirrored each other. Researchers theorized that moms’ cues, such as vocal tension and facial expression, had influenced their babies’ moods.

Moms out there, do your good and bad days seem to coincide with those of your little ones? Have you heard of any other interesting studies on mood tracking in moms and babies? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

10 Baby Products I Can’t Live Without

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Choosing items for your baby registry is one of the most mind-boggling parts of pregnancy. There are so many baby products out there, so how do you know the best ones?

If you’re like me, you’ll comb through Amazon and blogs for reviews, and, of course, you’ll ask your mommy friends. This is what I did, and I must say, Xaviana is well-equipped, but our house is minimally cluttered, since I picked space-saving products that will grow with her. Here are the 10 baby products I can’t live without:

  1. Baby K’Tan – A must-have for parents and babies on-the-go, the K’Tan is worth more than its weight in gold. (It’s so freaking light!) It’s easy-to-use–no wrapping required. Also, baby can be placed in multiple positions as he/she grows, and it takes up minimal space in your baby bag. I love it for church, travel, and running errands…and Xaviana loves it just about any time, since she can snuggle up to me like a little kangaroo. The only caveat: the K’Tan is sized according to the wearer, so my hubby can’t use my size X-Small carrier, and would need one of his own if he wanted to carry Xaviana this way.
    The Baby K'Tan carrier grows with your little one. Here Xaviana is at 3 months...

    The Baby K’Tan carrier grows with your little one. Here Xaviana is in the newborn kangaroo position…

    ...and at 5 months, in a new position in the carrier.

    …and a few months later in the hug position.

  2. Diaper GenieIf you’re going to use disposable diapers, you must get one of these. The Diaper Genie has revolutionized diaper pails forever. It’s lightweight and easy-to-use, and best of all, it prevents the area next to your changing table from smelling like a litter box, which leads me to my next must-have…
  3. PooPoose – This compact changing pad features an indentation in the middle where baby easily settles in, plus it has a velcro strap to pin down your little wiggle-worm. It can fit on any dresser, so you don’t need to buy a special changing table that you’ll sell in a few years!
  4. Baby Bullet – If you want to make your own baby food, the Baby Bullet is a must-have. It’s more than a blender–it’s a total solid food meal-planning system, with a freezer tray that allows you to prep ahead, and cute little jars to use right away. The enclosed booklet is invaluable as you plan baby’s first meals.
  5. Fisher Price Snuggabunny Cradle and Swing – This swing is freaking amazing. It plays music or ambient sounds, rocks back and forth, and has a rotating mirrored mobile above baby’s head. Xaviana loved it as a newborn, and it was the perfect way to calm her down if she was fussy or help her to sleep if she was restless. At six months, she still grins every time I strap her into the swing. It’s her favorite place to spend a bit of mellow down-time.
  6. SkipHop diaper bag – This bag is both stylish and practical. We have the gray chevron design, which is the ideal unisex style–neither my hubby nor I mind carrying it. It has multiple compartments, and is the perfect size for all of baby’s essentials. It’s also very durable; we’ve lugged it around nearly every day for the last six-and-a-half months, and it still looks great.
  7. Nook PebbleLIte mattress – It’s a high-end mattress, and it’s worth every penny. It’s safe, breathable, and lightweight. The firm, pebbled texture assures that baby will have a comfortable night’s sleep, and that translates into a happier, more well-rested you. What could be better?
  8. Fisher Price Whale of a Tub – Cute tub takes up minimal space in your bathroom and grows with your baby, since it has a removable insert that you can take out when baby is able to sit up. It also comes with a fun sprinkling toy–Xaviana loves when it “rains” on her.
  9. Bob Revolution jogging stroller – This stroller is made to be used with the Britax BeSafe car seat (which should also be on the must-have list, by the way) with the purchase of a simple adaptor. Bouncy tires and superior suspension give baby a cushy ride, and it folds up easily for storage. Plus, it comes in cute colors. (We have it in orange.) It has an area underneath to store all your walking/jogging essentials, and a baby shade for sunny days.
  10. Philips Avent BPA-free Soothie Pacifier – I’ve seen so many babies with these gummy pacifiers, and it’s no wonder. The soothie is the perfect shape, size, and texture for baby’s mouth, plus it’s vanilla-scented. It’s advertised for ages 0-3 months, but Xaviana still loves hers. She can put it in her own mouth, and also likes chewing on it every so often. Try it with a Booginhead pacifier holder.

Moms out there, what are your baby must-haves? Have you tried any of the products I recommended, and if so, which ones did you like? I’d love to hear your opinions!