Geek Kid Costumes

This is my 200th post! It’s also the end of October, so I figured I’d commemorate by featuring my kids’ geeky costumes through the years.

2010—Doctor Who, Star Wars

Only a month old, and I subjected the kid to two different costumes.

His hair was pretty Tennant-y, so our #1 was #10…the tenth Doctor
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The Captain and I wanted to be Han Solo and Princess Leia for Halloween, so I made Champ an Ewok costume, too.

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I am no good at sewing, so most of these are no-sew. The pants from 2010–2011 were sewn, crappily by me, in an idiotic fashion. Basically I made no allowance for my poor child’s rear end, so the pants never fit over his bum. In 2012 (see below), I found a pair of pants from a thrift store. They were a size too small and had flowers embroidered on the back pockets, but they worked.

2011—Aladdin

In 2011, my neighbor and I thought it would be cute to take Champ and E out trick-or-treating together and do matching costumes. I can’t remember how we cam up with the idea, but we decided on Aladdin and Jasmine. E already had the cute headband, so I rifled through Target clearance for mint-colored clothes for her and fashioned a bikini top, and then cut out a vest and sewed two quick fezzes for Aladdin and Abu. It was chilly, so we put them in white layers to keep warm and modest (I had no luck finding skin-toned shirts!).

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2012—Hobbit

I got this shirt for Champ from Woot Shirt when it was the shirt of the day. (You can get your own here!) The wig and pants came from a thrift store, the cloak was just a piece of fleece I tied around him, and the feet were tan socks pulled over his boots with fake fur hot glued to the top.

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2013—Sherlock and John (from BBC’s Sherlock)

Now that I’ve got two little ones, and it’s probably the last year I can choose Champ’s costume myself, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to dress them up from my favorite show, BBC’s Sherlock.

If you are familiar with the fandom (which is completely insane due to prolonged hiatuses of the show), you might be aware of the animal comparisons between the main actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, to animals—an otter and a hedgehog, respectively. See Benedict otters here and Martin hedgehogs here.

So I decided to make my baby John a hedgehog and my Pre-K Sherlock part otter. Here were the results:

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John: baby snowsuit + fake fur + sweater vest.

Sherlock: Hat from Amazon, colored grey; wig from thrift store; Old Navy jacket; scarf we owned; sewn pants and tail.

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John after the Reichenbach fall.

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This kid is seriously a champ.

I’m hoping next year I can convince Champ that he really wants to be C-3PO so I can make Lion R2-D2. But he’s a cool kid, so whatever he picks is probably going to be awesome.

2014 update

Champ was four, old enough to pick his own costume, and he wanted to be Mike the Knight. So we went as a medieval family. I purchased all the costumes, since Captain had returned from a four-month long training just a few weeks before.

halloween 2014  2014 kids

2015 update

Champ was five, Lion was two, and they both wanted to be their favorite super heroes: Iron Man and Captain America, respectively. For the Denver Comic Con, Capt was also Captain America, and I was Agent Peggy Carter. For Halloween, we got Champ the Iron Man suit costume.

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Taking Good Photos of Active Kids

How to take good photos of active kids—photography tips for moms | Bewildered Mother

You may not know this about me, because I haven’t taken pictures in a very, very long time apart from my phone, but I’m a photographer.

That’s right, went to school for it (among other things), and I have even been paid for it before I became a mom.

I took LOTS of photos of Champ when he was a baby, and he was a great model, much like Lion is now. But somewhere along the line, he started to think it was really funny to AVOID the camera, and to run away from me if I ever had one in my hand. He only wanted selfies that he took of himself on my phone.

Well, I decided I needed some legitimate, non-instagram photos of this crazy child when he turned 3. So I got out my SLR, searched all over the house for my charger (found one) and extra battery and memory card (still looking), and I took him to the park, and I took a couple hundred photos. Now I know I’m not the only person who has active children, and I also know that people want to know how to take good photos of their kids, so I thought, as a mom, as a photographer, I’d give some tips specifically targeted towards moms (or dads) of those camera-shy children.

Tip #1—avoid harsh lighting

harsh lightSo, unfortunately, I took all of these photos around lunchtime on a sunny day, because it was the only time we could do it. The best times to take photos? Depending on the season and where you live, you’ll want to avoid times the sun is directly above, creating those kinds of shadows you’d make around the campfire with a flashlight at your chin. That’s means generally trying to take photos before 10 am and after 4 pm. Overcast days are the best for photos. The sky is gray, I know, but the light is diffused and super flattering.

If you take the pictures at noon on a sunny day, there is still hope. Avoid awkward shadows from trees (you know, the ones that make you look like a dalmatian), and avoid having your subjects look directly into the sun. You can face the sun if you want some lens flares, but your subject will be darker. Try taking pictures with the sun at your side.

Tip #2—learn how to crop

Chances are, you’ll be taking a ton of photos of your kid, because the more you take, the better the likelihood of getting good photos. So don’t worry too much about framing your photos as you take them. Even if you don’t have photo editing software, you can crop your photos before you print them. If you’re uploading to Facebook, use one of the programs preinstalled onto your computer. Sorry I can’t be more help. I have no idea what programs you have on your computer. Anyway, the idea behind cropping is two-fold: One, you want to eliminate distractions from your focus. Two, you want an aesthetic composition.

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Here’s an image I cropped, with a before and an after. See those big magenta bars in the photo on the left? Distracting. So I cropped it out with the photo on the left, which roughly follows the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds means you divide your canvas into a 3×3 grid—a tic-tac-toe—and then align your horizon or subject along those lines. Asymmetrical compositions are usually more interesting, but with close-up portraits, you have more freedom. In the photo on the left, Champ’s body takes up the middle third, with his face in the top middle and his legs in the bottom middle. On the photo on the left, the original, Cham takes up the lower 2/3rds of the frame. I’ll point out more thirds later.

Now look at the photo on the left. Where does your eye go? (This is what people talk about when they speak about movement in a photograph or artwork). Your eye might start at the face, but did you notice it going down his arm and lingering at his hand? That’s annoying. I want people to look at his face, not his hand, no matter how cute it is. It’s not the focus of this photograph. So I re-cropped the photo.

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See? Much better. Now go impress your friends by talking about a piece’s movement.

Tip #3—focus

If you’re chasing around a toddler or preschooler trying to take photos, don’t worry about trying to manually set your camera for each photo. Set your camera to Aperture Priority (it’s usually a letter A), and change your aperture to the lowest number f-stop. (Read your camera’s manual—it’s a little different on each camera) With my lens, the best f-stop I could get was about a 4. The lower the number, the more blurred out the background and foreground of the photo will be. This selective focus is called “depth of field,” and you can Google that if you want to learn more about it.

Aperture Priority is great, because it will automatically choose the other settings (like shutter speed) for you, so your photos aren’t over- or underdeveloped.

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In this photo, the focus is on Champ, so everything in front of him (the construction vehicles, in the bottom third of the photo) and behind him (the trees) are blurred. If you’ve ever heard the term “bokeh,” that’s the confetti-like pattern the background turns into when you have a low aperture. You’ll see bokeh in some of the following shots. To read more about aperture, I suggest “Exposure Made Easy” by Doe a Deery.

Why blur out the background and foreground? Because unless you are taking a landscape photo, they are usually distracting. Knowing aperture is your first step to looking like a pro.

Tip #4—let them play

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This will keep them busy. It’s more fun to play with toys than to have to sit still and POSE. I always prefer candids, anyway. And if you didn’t have problems with your kids posing for the camera, why are you still reading this post?

Tip #5—Let them touch

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Kids usually don’t need to be told to touch things, but sometimes, if you point something out to them, they will STOP MOVING to touch it. Snap away. If you’re at home, try handing your baby or toddler a piece of clear tape to hold. Then make weird noises to get them to look at you. For that tip and others regarding babies and little toddlers, see this post from Simply Real Moms.

Tip #6—Take close-ups when they’ll let you

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The rest of the time, keep your distance and zoom in. Soon he or she will ignore your weirdness and keep playing. Close-ups are where it’s most important to have a low aperture. See how the sand has turned into a bokeh background? If you don’t have an SLR setting, you can try the “portrait” setting.

Tip #7—Know your surroundings

Even with your aperture set to blur out the background, sometimes there’s stuff back there that can’t be blurred enough. Sure, you can crop sometimes, but not always.

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See how cute this photo is? I love it. But it would be so much cuter without that big ugly bathroom in the shot! When you’ve got ugly architecture, try to avoid it when you can. I took senior photos last weekend and kept maneuvering myself and my subject so that his head blocked out unsightly light fixtures. But in the case of the photo above, I had Lion on my lap and would have had to fling him on the ground to get this shot framed right. With active kids, you have to go for speed usually, like I did here, so you don’t have a chance to set yourself in the right spot. But when you do have a chance…

Tip #8—Choose your angles wisely

You can eliminate yucky background clutter by shooting down, so the ground becomes your background…

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…or shooting up, so the sky becomes your background.

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See that? Bokeh. This one is definitely frame-worthy. This cropping is also an example of forgoing the rule of thirds for the sake of balance, another five-dollar art word. While I could have cropped Champ another way, I pulled this one in tight as a square, and let half of the background be tree and half be sky. Symmetrical balance, on an axis. (Wikipedia has a briefer on more design principles, if you really want to sound like you know what you’re talking about and don’t have the cash to take a legitimate design class)

Tip #9—get down at their level

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One of the best tips for taking photos of kids (and one of the most intuitive) is to get down at their level. I go even further sometimes, and instead of taking a kid’s eye view, I take a bug’s eye view, or in this case, a toy excavator’s point of view. See also the title photo of this post.

Tip #10—Shoot from the hip

Sometimes I like to play paparazza with camera-shy kids. That’s the female, singular form of “paparazzi”—I learn something new every day! I also like to take the skills I developed taking billions of self portraits as a teenager and apply them to taking pictures of kids. Probably half of these photos were taken by me, without my looking through the viewfinder. I use the full extension and mobility of my arms when taking photos of kids. This is definitely something that takes practice, like shooting from the hip. But the payoff is great.

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Take this for example. This is the only photo I have of him with his eyes open while blowing bubbles. I missed the bubbles, sure, but I actually really like how the framing of this turned out, so I didn’t even crop it. I would not have this shot if I was behind the camera.

You’ll have to keep your focus set to Auto, which invariably means you’ll get more shots with random parts in focus and the kid blurry, but if you have a new(ish) camera, it will probably find the faces and focus on them.

Tip #11—Remember the details

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I know, I know, there are about a million photos of baby feet, or macro flowers, or whatever on the internet. Taking a close-up or macro photo of something doesn’t make you a standout photographer. But this isn’t about becoming famous, this is about remembering what it’s like to have little kids. So observe, soak it up, and take pictures of those little details, like how your baby covers himself with toys and curls his toes together.

Tip #12—Be intentional about Black and White

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I once spoke to an amateur photographer about black and white and was mentioning that all photos don’t look good in black and white. She responded, “All MY photos look good in black and white.” I smiled and nodded, and later Facebook stalked her to find her monochromatic wonders and guess what—she was wrong.

Black and white brings out and highlights the texture of a photo. Any architecture in your photo will be emphasized, which is why taking that bubble photo with the bathroom behemoth would look horrible in a black and white.

Will your photograph look good in black and white? Like, actually good? Here’s a checklist.

  • Do I want to emphasize architecture or texture in the photo?
  • Is there adequate value in the photo? Black and whites look best when you can get a pure white, a pure black, and a range of greys in between.
  • If there isn’t great value to begin with, but I’m desperate for this to be in black and white, do I have adequate photo editing capabilities?

The best way to make a black and white before processing the photo is to make sure your lighting is flattering (see next tip). When you are editing the photo, use Levels or Curves to get black blacks and white whites. And the best tip? Use Black and White filters. This is a tip stolen from photographing with black and white film, which is really, really fun and challenging. When you add a colored filter when taking photos, you can get really interesting variations in value. Black and white filters are on Photoshop under the adjustment filters. If you’re using iPhoto or something else, you can recreate this by taking the saturation down all the way and then messing with the color balance until you get something you like. If you pick a blue filter, the sky will be white and any yellows will be black. Choose a red filter, and Caucasians will look like ghosts. Check out the bottom of this post for a comparison of different filters, using the most colorful photo taken that day.

Bonus Tip—Use windows when inside

This tip is more relevant if you are able to get your active child to sit down in one spot. If you can do that, or if you are taking photos of babies, have the child face a window to get catchlights in their eyes—those white reflections of light that make them appear to  be bright-eyed.

Try to use the windows to cast an angled light on the subject, so their face has a range in value, from lit to shadow.

Then you can make the photo black and white, eliminating nasty color combinations like red and green stripes!

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Black and White Filters

Here’s a comparison of different black and white adjustment layers in Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can imitate the effects if you have Hue & Saturation plus Color Balance sliders.

Black and White adjustment layers via "How to Take Good Photos of Active Kids"

Both the default and max black settings worked pretty well in this photo, but I tweaked the sliders a bit to find a good medium between the two.

How to Calm a Crying Baby, Part Two

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So, as promised in Part One, here are some of my trade secrets with video demonstrations. It’s times like this I really wish I had Google Glass. These are kind of embarassingly bad. Maybe someday I’ll be able to record these in a higher quality! With lighting! and makeup! and more than two takes! and better camera angles!

Well, hopefully you’ll get the idea.

Trade Secret #0—Start clean.

Start with a baby who’s been fed, burped, and changed in the last 15-30 minutes.

Trade Secret #1—the Head Jiggle.

There are 3 ways I jiggle baby’s heads. NEVER SHAKE A BABY! When jiggling your baby’s head, always make sure that the head and neck are supported. You want a gentle head bobble to relax the baby. This isn’t a shake that’s going to sever their spinal cord.

Here are the first two methods:

Another head-jiggle method:

Trade Secret #2—How to Rock a Baby to Sleep

I don’t rock my kids to sleep every night because I don’t want to HAVE to rock my kids to sleep at night. You follow me? But when my baby is overtired and can’t settle down, I rock him and he falls asleep. Here are my tricks to rocking a baby to calm him or lull him to sleep:

  1. Hold the baby close, chest to chest. Swaddling is optional; I recommend it. (You can watch a few different ways to swaddle hereherehere, and here.)
  2. Sway from side to side while bouncing the baby.
  3. Shush the baby (Shhhh, shhh, shhh). Added benefit? It reminds you to breathe and calms you down, too.
  4. Rock him from light to shadow (rock with your back to the light). This causes the baby’s eyes to open and close more frequently and eventually roll back as they fall asleep.

Here’s the video. Again, poor quality, but you can see Lion fussing and then begin to fall asleep.

Trade Secret #3—Baby Massage

I’m not making videos about this, because there are already good videos online about them. Baby massage is great for calming fussy babies, especially if the fussiness is due to gas or colic.

This video playlist demonstrates the more common anti-colic massage techniques.

For just calming the baby, I do one of two things:

  • Rubbing or stroking the sides of the face with the sides of my thumbs. I go from the outer corner of the eye to the ear or above and around the ear. I also Shush while doing it and bring my forehead close to the baby’s. I learned this trick from a woman who works with Alzheimer sufferers.
  • Rubbing the legs just above the knees. I’m not sure why this is soothing or where I heard about it, but it works!

I use those massages on my toddler, too, when he gets worked up about something.

A colicky baby of a friend of mine greatly improves with chiropractic adjustments. I don’t suggest you try that at home, though, unless you’re a licensed chiropractor.

Trade Secret #4—Spend time with your kids

The more time you spend with your kids, the more you’ll experiment and find out what works for each baby. Captain has been holding our boys a certain way for years, and apparently it actually has a name—the “Tiger in the Tree technique.”

I frequently have one leg up on a chair or couch (half cross-legged), lay Lion in my lap, and bounce my knee. DIY bounce chair.

When Lion is really losing it (usually around the bewitching hour of 11 o’clock), I swaddle him, do head jiggle method #3, and sing “Young and Beautiful” to him. It is the ONLY thing that will stop his crying and settle him down. With one of my friends, it was Colbie Caillat on repeat. For Champ, I think I played Jack Johnson’s In Between Dreams album.

I think that’s it! If I can think of any other secrets, I’ll add them here. Any other moms have input on secrets they’d like to share?

How to Calm a Crying Baby, Part One

So, you’ve got a crying baby on your hands. Look no further! A baby, just like you, has a hierarchy of needs. When troubleshooting a baby’s crying, start at the most basic needs and move from there. To illustrate, I created a graphic for you—one that I’d love you to share on Facebook or Pinterest, hint, hint!

hierarchy of needs-01

Physiological Needs

Is he hungry?

I usually start with this one, but that’s only because it’s easiest to rule out since my son will NOT eat if he’s not hungry. You can’t make him. Only two months old, and already stubborn. (I think he got a bigger dose of my Irishness than Champ did.)

It’s pretty easy to tell if a baby is hungry, especially breastfed babies. Breastfed babies start hunting for breasts. It’s pretty obvious, and also hilarious when they start snorting like little piggies looking for truffles. Another way you can tell if a baby is hungry is if he opens up his mouth and sticks out his tongue, like he’s tasting the air, or if he’s “going to town” on his pacifier as though he is trying to get milk out of it.

Does she want to nurse or suckle at a pacifier?

I know, I know. I used the word “suckle.” Sucking is a physiological need for babies. Some want to nurse for comfort, and others want a pacifier. Some go for fingers or their fists. And then there are those remarkably acrobatic infants who suck on their own toes.

Does he need to be burped?

Bottle-fed babies need to be burped more often than breastfed ones. I often don’t have to burp Lion at all, but if he starts to stiffen his little body and stretch out his legs and arch his back, I know he needs to be burped and/or given a tummy massage to work out the bubbles. My favorite method with Lion is holding him upright (he has good head and neck control), putting his feet on a surface, holding him around his torso just under the arms, and then pulling him down into a squat. His knees go up to his tummy, and this works the bubbles out. You can do bicycle movements with his/her legs, too, if your baby prefers lying down or doesn’t have head control yet.

Does he need to be changed?

This isn’t just about diaper changes, though that’s the big reason babies cry. Some babies also cry if they are too hot, too cold, if the fabric is itchy, or if there’s a loose thread or hair wrapped around them under their clothes. Undressing a baby can also distract him enough that he will forget why he was crying in the first place.

Is she tired?

The problem with tired babies is that by the time they start crying, they are already overtired. (Like when you start to feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.) You have to try to catch them and get them to sleep when they start showing signs of tiredness, like rubbing their eyes, turning away from lights or sounds, or getting heavy-lidded. If you can do BabyWise, go for it!

Note: Babies need sleep more than the other things above them on the hierarchy pyramid, but if they are overtired, they will probably need to feel secure or be distracted before they can settle down and fall asleep.

Recreating the Womb

Does she need some security?

Newborns can easily overstimulate themselves or wake themselves up by their randomly flailing limbs. You know when you are just about to fall asleep, and you get that sensation of falling, and it scares the crap out of you (and anyone sharing your bed) because all of a sudden your whole body spazzes out? I’m pretty sure that newborns feel like that all. the. time. So feel sorry for them, and be sure to wrangle their wild appendages into submission if they are trying to fall asleep but can’t. Lion always wants, no—needs—to be swaddled at night at around 8pm. If your baby doesn’t like being swaddled, you can hold her closely instead, but know that as soon as you put her down, she will probably wake herself up again until she has control over her arms and legs. I suggest a monster swaddle, because just because a baby can easily get out of a tight swaddle, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t like being swaddled. It might mean that you just need to try a different approach to swaddling. You can watch a few different ways to swaddle hereherehere, and here.

You can also give your baby security by wearing her in a baby carrier. If the baby is especially fussy, try going skin to skin, and let your baby rest her head on your chest so she can hear your heartbeat.

Does he crave rhythmic movement?

When the baby is in the womb, he is constantly moving in response of his mother’s movements. Put a baby in the arms of a veteran mom, and he will almost immediately start swaying back and forth. (Lots of moms will, when they hear or see a baby crying, start unconsciously swaying back and forth if they are already standing.) Babies like to be swayed and rocked, bounced or swung. Swings and vibrating bouncy chairs can be a lifesaver if you or your arms need a rest. A ride in the car or stroller can also help lull a fussy baby.

NEVER SHAKE A BABY. That should go without saying. However, if you support the baby’s head, you can gently, GENTLY wiggle him to settle her down. Nothing that would snap his neck, obviously. You can try laying him on his back, putting your hand on his tummy, and shaking your hand to make him vibrate. His head and neck are supported by whatever he’s lying on, so it’s safe.

Does she want white noise to soothe her?

If you’ve ever heard “womb noises” or listened to an ultrasound taking place, you can hear the whoosh whooshing of the mom’s blood circulating. It’s probably unnerving for a baby to go from constant noise in the womb to relative silence after birth. On the other hand, babies can also be overstimulated by too much noise. White noise works well in either situation. Shushing the baby—holding her close and going “Shhhhh, shhhhhh” at a medium volume can help settle her down. If that doesn’t work, try other white noise, like a fan, a blowdryer, or a vacuum. You can try music, but to avoid overstimulation, stick to something calming and peaceful. Be wary of classical music, because it often is highly emotional. I stopped playing classical music for Champ at bedtime when he woke up in a panic to “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Distractions

Newborns usually don’t get bored like older babies; they tend to get overstimulated. But distractions, in moderation, can help a baby forget why he or she is crying and then be more responsive to the other methods of soothing.

Babies LOVE lights. Take the baby by something bright—a window, a lamp, a mirror—and she might be distracted enough to stop crying. This works best before the fussiness evolves into full-blown crying. The same goes for toys.

A change of scenery is a gentle way of shocking the baby into forgetting what the fuss was about. I can’t tell you how often I took baby Champ out onto our screened porch and swung in the hammock with him to settle him down. Babies love fresh air. A walk or drive has the added bonus of rhythmic movements.

Singing is also a good distraction, even if you don’t have a very good singing voice. Babies especially love it when MEN sing or speak to them while holding them close because of the vibrations of the Adam’s Apple.

To Be Continued…

I have a couple other tips that I’ve found to be really effective in calming my own (and other) babies, but I can’t find videos to illustrate them, so I’m going to have to make my own. Aaaand it’s the Fourth of July weekend, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make and upload the videos. So subscribe to my blog, or like my page on Facebook so you can be alerted when I finally get that posted.

UPDATE: Read Part Two here.

Warning: Attachment Parenting may lead to emotional breakdown

Warning: Attachment Parenting may lead to emotional breakdown | diary of a bewildered mother

What is attachment parenting?

Oh how I hate labels. They start out innocently enough, but then you involve people, and then those people apply that label to so many different things, it ends up becoming either an extreme caricature or becomes completely meaningless. Take “attachment parenting,” for example, or AP for short.

From the Ask Dr. Sears website:

Attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.

Well, how can you disagree with that? So, either you adhere to attachment parenting, or you are a terrible parent and your baby will be incredibly screwed up. But if you take attachment parenting to the extreme, indulging your child and becoming a wishy-washy parent…you are a terrible parent and your baby will be incredibly screwed up.

Attachment parenting starts with the idea of being attentive to your child. That’s all that it should be. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But many people, out of confusion, or oversimplification, or fear, or something else, think that attachment parenting is 1) breastfeeding, 2) carrying your baby around all the time, 3) never, ever, ever letting your child cry. Ever.

Here’s what Dr. Sears’ website says, emphasis mine:

Attachment parenting is not indulgent parenting. You may hear or worry that being nurturing and responsive to your baby’s needs might spoil your baby and set you up for being manipulated by your baby. This is why we stress that attachment parenting is responding appropriately to your baby’s needs, which means knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” Sometimes in their zeal to give children everything they need, it’s easy for parents to give their children everything they want.

Attachment parenting is a question of balance—not being indulgent or permissive, yet being attentive. As you and your baby grow together, you will develop the right balance between attentive, but not indulgent. In fact, being possessive, or a “smother mother” (or father) is unfair to the child, fosters an inappropriate dependency on the parent, and hinders your child from becoming normally independent. For example, you don’t need to respond to the cries of a seven-month-old baby as quickly as you would a seven-day-old baby.

Note that in order to respond to a child’s cries, that implies the baby started crying in the first place.

Crying isn’t evil, or even bad.

This can be looked at two ways. One, babies cry, and babies should cry. It’s how they communicate with their parents. To think that crying is evil is to think that writing or speaking any language is evil. Two, allowing your child to cry for a few minutes does not make you a bad person.

Like many other new mothers, when I was pregnant with Champ, I read a lot of blogs and had been convinced that no-cry parenting is the way to go. How could a loving mother let her child cry? How could a good person ignore the cries of a helpless baby? The more a baby cries, the more insecure he becomes, and the more he will end up crying in the future! It’s a vicious cycle!

In a perfect world, babies wouldn’t cry, because we’d understand immediately what they wanted. They’d be talking straight from the womb and using “please” and “may I” and “thank you very much.”

Sometimes babies just cry. Now there’s even a term for it—PURPLE Crying.

Sometimes, you can’t respond to them right away.

Sometimes, you need a break.

I always try to think historically when I parent. Did you know that pacifiers (aka “dummies”) have been around for centuries? I try to think of how moms soothed their children before they had swings and car rides and white noise machines. I constantly remind myself that babies used to be raised by “the village”—it’s really unusual for one woman to take care of a baby. Historically, women raised children with the help of family members, neighbors, or nannies (or, yes, slaves). Personally, I don’t think it’s natural for a woman to be home alone with her children, and yet here I am, a stay-at-home mom. Just last year I was a military wife thousands of miles away from any family members.

All of this is to say, sometimes, we have to make sacrifices. Sometimes, you need to put your baby down (in a safe place, like a bassinet or crib) so you can pee, or shower, or just have a minute to yourself. And chances are, some of those times, your baby will cry. During those times, just take a deep breath, finish what needs to be finished, and then go back to your baby a little more refreshed, and comfort her. The baby won’t care that she cried—what she will care about is that you comforted her after the fact.

the emotional breakdown

As a new parent, and especially as a breastfeeding mom, I was terrified to give Champ a pacifier. I feared “nipple confusion.” I thought of those three-year-olds who still have their Nuks hanging out of their mouths and shuddered. So I didn’t give him one. I was his pacifier. And that actually led to a ton of problems. One, no one else could comfort him, ever. So I couldn’t go anywhere without him, and I never got a break without condemning him to be inconsolable and whoever was taking care of him to be miserable. Two, constant nursing caused milk overproduction, which led to him getting too much milk, which led to reflux, which led to more crying, which led to burping and massaging and cuddling and throwing up and then nursing some more. Three, he wouldn’t take a pacifier or a bottle.

So here we are, a family of three, driving from North Carolina to Georgia for Thanksgiving weekend. It was supposed to be an 8-hour drive. It ended up taking us 16 hours. Champ would. not. stop. screaming. He wouldn’t take a pacifier. He wouldn’t drink out of a bottle. He would only be happy being held and being nursed.

And to me, his crying meant I had failed as a parent.

Have you ever felt like that? Well, it isn’t true. We can’t respond to our children the way we’d like to, 100% of the time. Especially if we have more than one child to care for! But we can acknowledge that they are crying, so they know we are there and not ignoring them. And we can comfort them afterward.

Your children will cry. But they need to know that no matter how bad things get, you will always love them and be there for them in the end.

Moms: there is freedom.

a note to new mothers about parenting styles

I encourage you to read what Dr. Sears has to say about attachment parenting so that you know what it’s really supposed to look like, as opposed to how it is portrayed on blogs and online forums. I especially recommend reading “What AP is Not.” I urge you not to judge other moms. You don’t know what their story is, and judging others destroys a possible relationship you could have with those other moms. If I’ve learned anything about motherhood, it’s that it’s messy and that moms need each other. I urge you not to compare yourselves with other moms. Their lives might look perfect on the outside, but you don’t know what goes on inside their home and inside their hearts. Lastly, I urge you not to disregard what other generations have to say. You may think older generations aren’t enlightened to the best parenting, but which generation is more experienced?

In short, make friends with other moms, have a humble heart, be open minded, take care of yourself, and take care of your children.

next time

Since being attentive to a newborn is a 24/7 job, I can’t make any promises when the next post will be up, but I can tell you what the subject will be. I’ll be posting all my secrets on calming a crying baby. When will it be posted? Oh, who knows. I’d like to start on it tomorrow, but I likely won’t be able to start it until Monday or Tuesday next week, so…keep checking back at the end of next week.

Also, follow me on Facebook! I post there regularly. If you follow me there and make my posts show up in your newsfeed, you’ll know exactly when I post to the blog. You’ll also get to read almost daily posts about our crazy life, you can participate in exclusive coupon giveaways (when I’ve got them), and you can get links to parenting issues and videos I find entertaining.

Of course, you can subscribe by email by signing up in the right-hand column of my blog.

A Baby Lion is Born

Nants ingonyama bagithi, Baba, sithi uhm ingonyama

(“Here comes a lion, Father, Oh yes, it’s a lion”)

In three words?

It was fast.

leading up to the birth

My idea was to live tweet the birth on Twitter. Nearly all of the tweets, however, were leading up to his birth day, because once we got to the birth center, I didn’t have time do do anything but labor this kid into the world! So block quotes below are from my Twitter account, @bewilderedmom.

Little Champ was born at 37 weeks on the dot, right as I had somehow predicted (Read his birth story here). I had the bags packed for him at around 35  weeks. With Lion, I figured I’d have some time after my water broke (if it did) to pack my bags, so I dawdled getting everything together.

I started having contractions before the 37 week mark, like I did with Champ.

April 18:

The Captain and I were married during a blizzard. Champ was born during a hurricane. Today, even though it’s April, we are experiencing a snowstorm. Baby Lion, you don’t have to keep up the tradition. At least wait until tomorrow, please. Today you’d still be considered a preemie!

On the morning of April 20th (37 weeks + 1 day), a day on which I really didn’t want my child to be born,  I had a ton of contractions in one hour, so I attempted to chug a gallon of water to see if they were real labor pangs or false labor. I do not recommend this. Just so you know, that’s a crapload of water. I got about 2/3 through before vomiting. Fun fact: throwing up pure water through the mouth and nose is really uncomfortable, yet leaves one feeling surprisingly clean afterward. Anyway, after that morning, Captain and I had our bags packed and ready.

April 21st through the 24th, I had more and more early labor signs, like bloody show and lightening (when the baby drops). I didn’t experience these signs with Champ, so I felt like a ticking bomb over those few days. I knew I could go into labor at any time. April 23rd I did a complete overhaul in our bedroom, hoping that deep cleaning would speed up the process. I spent the 24th recovering.

April 22:

Dear #babylion, there’s still snow on the ground today, but this weekend will be sunny & in the 60s! You won’t want to miss it, kid. #hint

ANOTHER winter storm tonight? Fine. #babylion, you can stay put until Wednesday.

Barometric pressure drop broke my friend’s water today in CO. Broke mine in NC in 2010. It’s starting to fall fast here in MN… #babylion

Thought Winter Storm Zeus might pack a bigger punch and break my water, but instead it seems to be just poking Minnesota in the ribs, repetitively, while laughing.

April 23:

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 5.29.07 PM

Captain has confirmed what my bladder had me suspecting– #babylion has dropped. Any time now, kid!

“In subsequent pregnancies, lightening does not generally occur until just before labor begins.” #YoureKillinMeSmalls #babylion

April 24th:

Ow! You know #babylion, I don’t really want you to come right now. I want a nap and ice cream and pie. Let’s wait until tomorrow, okay?

April 25th. Forecast: 53 and sunny. Anniversary of Robinson Crusoe, Ella Fitzgerald’s b-day. A good day on which to be born, son. #babylion #hint

the big day

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 5.32.41 PM

I had been up from 2 am to 3:30ish with carpal tunnel pains, so I wasn’t in a deep sleep at 4:30 when I rolled over in bed and found myself in a puddle. Got up as quickly as my hippopotamus body would allow, and by the time I’d waddled into the bathroom, I had left a stream of water trailing behind me, and my contractions were already on top of each other, not terribly strong, but coming every five minutes. I called my doula, Laura, and then paged the midwife on call. The midwife got back to me just before 5 am and asked if I could meet her at the birth center at 6 am. I called my grandmother to come watch Champ.

I toweled up the river in my bedroom and woke up Captain. He took a shower and I scrubbed some dishes while waiting for my grandmother to come, then I downed some oatmeal and a banana (recommended to me by my doula as a good breakfast, easy to digest in case I got nauseous).

By the time my grandmother came over, I was already bouncing through the contractions on the balls of my feet, unable to talk (or think straight) through them. Captain installed Champ’s car seat in her van, and we headed off to the birth center. I had the Captain call Laura and ask if she could pick up an egg McMuffin for him, since he hadn’t eaten. She said she’d grab one on the way. Doulas are the best!

When we turned onto the road leading to the birth center, I pointed out how foggy it was. Then we smelled the smoke. And as we got closer, and the smoke cleared, we saw the lights of fire engines. It appeared that the hospital was on fire. Thankfully the birth center was on the other side of the street. Later we found out it was a grease fire at a chicken restaurant next door to the hospital.

We got to the birth center at 6:07 am. My midwife, Mary-Signe, was wearing a red t-shirt that said “START SEEING MIDWIVESon it (a parody of this)Midwives are the coolest.

And just so you can picture where I gave birth, it was here:

Pretty, right? To the right is the shower / bathroom.

Pretty, right? To the right is the shower / bathroom.

I mentioned nausea to Mary-Signe and she handed me a barf bag. Respectful women, don’t read this: [It looked like an elephant condom.] I was determined NOT to throw up in that thing.

A moment later Laura had arrived, with Captain’s breakfast. I told her I was feeling pretty nauseated, and that I had eaten a banana and oatmeal for breakfast.

“Oh, yeah, I totally threw that up when I was in labor,” she said. “I couldn’t eat bananas or oatmeal for months. I just recommended it because it’s easy to throw up.”

Gee, thanks.

I asked if I could take a shower, knowing that would help me to feel less nauseous and also help a bit with the contractions. Laura already had to apply counter-pressure a couple times to my lower back before I could even get the request out.

Sure! Of course! Do whatever you want! It’s your labor! These were the kind of answers I got. This is why an out-of-hospital birth is so glorious. I abandoned my modesty more quickly than I figured I would—that old lady nightgown I brought never left the bag—and stripped down to get under the hot water. Several times I called Laura in to apply more counter-pressure, as I clung to the bar in the shower. I’m so thankful I had a doula at my birth. When I couldn’t communicate more than a word at a time, all I had to do was call out her name, and she’d be there, pressing on my back until I got through the contraction. Don’t get me wrong, Captain was a WONDERFUL birth coach during Champ’s labor, and his counter-pressure was the only pain relief I needed during that hospital birth, but it was nice having a female doula, one who had given birth herself and intuitively knew what I needed. It also freed the Captain up to eat his breakfast. When I came out of the shower, he was sitting on the couch reading a fat historical novel. Apparently he thought we’d be staying longer than I did.

The shower relieved my nausea, but it didn’t relieve the contractions, which were nonstop at this point. I flopped onto the bed and had contraction after contraction—I couldn’t even change position they came so fast, I just lay there like some giant pregnant leviathan.

“Did you want to do a water birth?” asked the midwife in training after checking my progress (“Five to six and, oh! Stretchy! Good!”).

After another contraction I responded, hair in my face, “Kinda, yeah! Now I do!”

She started the water and I rolled over onto my stomach, then got onto my hands and knees, rocking and wailing through the contractions. Apparently I was making quite a bit of noise, because I heard Mary-Signe’s voice, far off, saying,

“It sounds like you’re pushing. Caitlin, are you pushing?”

“Er…Can I push?” At the hospital with Champ, I had to wait and wait until the OB said I could push.

“Do you feel like pushing?”

“I feel like I need to poop.” Translation: Why yes, I do feel the sensation that I should begin pushing. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t just say yes. Labor is glamorous, people.

Laura tells me that she and the midwives looked at each other and nodded knowingly.

rafiki-it-is-time

I got into the tub. Oh, who knows what time it was at that point. Captain got in with me. First I tried hanging over the edge of the tub, but I had nothing to hold on to. So Captain put out his arms. He’s a very strong, very attractive man, and his arms are big and steady. Still, though he could hold me stable, I didn’t like holding to him off on one side, and I just wasn’t feeling that position. So I turned over to the other side, where there was a bar, grabbed on to the bar, and squatted so I could more easily bear down.

I pushed once or twice, long and hard, roaring through each one. I pushed each time until I physically couldn’t push any more, then stopped to rest for a second, and breathe.

“Can you feel the head?”

I really didn’t want to reach down there to feel around, but I did, and could touch just the top. After the third long push, I could tell he had crowned by what some refer to as “the ring of fire.” If you’ve ever torn a muscle, it’s kind of like that. It’s when all the stretching occurs. After that push, I definitely whimpered a bit. Captain says that sound was much more difficult to listen to than all the war cries I had been making before. And now that I consider that during that push is likely when I tore, I feel a little bit better about whimpering and not going full-on Amazonian War Princess.

The midwives were chattering and I could tell we were almost there. Especially when Mary-Signe repeated to me to stay low and keep the baby under water until his whole body was out. I also knew that the most painful part was over. One more push and the head was out. Stay down, stay low. I was determined to get the baby out in one last push. Then I’d be done. One more.

Somebody caught him and I sat down in the water so they could hand him to me. The water was disgusting now, but he was there, and he was out of the water on my chest, and he was breathing.

It was 7:21 am. He was still attached to the umbilical cord, and I could feel it stretching out of me, attached to him. So weird. Then they clamped the cord, Captain cut it while I looked away (didn’t want to see the squirting, thanks so much), and I just sat holding my newborn baby until I delivered the placenta. I never saw the placenta during Champ’s hospital birth, so I took a look this time. Placenta is Latin for “flat cake,” I believe, and yeah, it looks like a cross between a lung, a steak, and a pancake.

So, Lion was born. He weighed 8 lbs, 2 oz, which none of us could believe because he is so tiny, he doesn’t look like he could weigh more than 7 pounds, and Champ was only 6 lb 11 oz. Nineteen inches long, half an inch longer than his big brother.

Capt-Lion

The rest is a bit of a blur. Mary-Signe took the baby so I could get out of the tub, I got tucked into the bed and handed Lion to cuddle with. Captain took a couple pictures before I realized, I could really use some eye liner and a comb. Then Lion and I took an herbal bath, both to clean off and to soothe our bodies.

me-lion

Four hours later, and we were allowed to go home!

going home

It was a beautiful spring day—the first day of spring we’d had yet in Minnesota, land of eternal winters.

Champ was at Nonna’s house so we could take a nap after getting home (that’s why the birth center lets you go home—so you can take a long nap after birth, uninterrupted by nurses constantly checking your vitals. You take your vitals yourself when you wake up).

So Neville got to meet him first. When he saw that there was a baby in the car seat, he FREAKED OUT, and jumped into Captain’s lap and just shook for a while. Then he got really excited, and he hasn’t stopped being excited and wanting to give the baby kisses. He does not leave Lion’s side, and gives me a look whenever I leave Lion in his bassinet to go pee. Captain says he feels like Mr. Darling from Peter Pan, and that Neville is like a miniature Nurse.

nev-1

nev-2

After our nap, Champ came home and got to meet his baby brother.

c-l 1

c-l 2

c-l 3

family

 

And that’s our family of four!

Champ is very curious and eager to help with Lion. (Sometimes a bit too eager.) It’s very sweet and melts my momma heart.

champ-lion

 

It has taken me longer to write this blog post than it took me to give birth to my baby.

baby lion

I’m off to cuddle. Hasta la vista!

 

 

Speakeasy Party: Photos, Food & Dress

This post is full of pictures! It includes some photos from the photo booth, what to wear, how to do 1920s hair, and what food & drink we made for the potluck. Click here to read Speakeasy Party: Part One

Photos

speakeasy1

We clean up pretty nice!

Inspiration:

girlmoon

via flickr

photoprops

Purchase your own on Etsy from this seller

Don’t you love Pinterest? That’s how I got most of the ideas for this party. I bought some poster board and dowels and ended up making all the props and moon and stars myself. But you can buy the set of props above from Etsy! The favorite prop of our guests, though, ended up being Neville. :)

I set up my Macbook Pro with Photo Booth so people could take their own photos. While we did take a handful of those, we ended up having a party-wide photo op, and took turns taking photos with the nicer cameras. Here’s a sampling from the ones off my camera, photoshopped into a 1920s rich black and white:

arvin1b brothers1b brothers2b brothers3b brothers4b eddy sward b girls1b guysb lindsey1b nemzek1b nemzek2b willard1b willard2b

1920s Dress

Captain wore the suit he bought for our honeymoon cruise. Men are pretty easy, if you ask me. Suit, suspenders or vest, tie, fedora, those caps I call “cabbie hats.” (I just looked online, and that’s actually what they are called! I’m so proud.)

superman1b

He’s pretty super.

Women could wear flapper dresses or little black dresses (introduced in the 20s by Coco Chanel). But good luck trying to find maternity dresses from the 1920s. They looked like this:

Don’t ask me how they fit babies in there.

Creamy colors work best for daytime 1920s parties, and blacks and reds work well for late night parties. But pretty much any color is game—it’s the silhouette that’s important. Nothing you need to be sewn into. Dropped waists or no waists for the non-pregnant folk.

I grabbed the only dress from Savers that I could find that would 1) fit my bulbous form flatteringly and 2) had some Art Deco lines to it. It had holes along the top seams, so I got it marked down from $10 to $6. I bought matching thread for $1 and sewed up the holes. Call me Sherlock Holmes, but I’m pretty sure the person who owned the dress before me was a student. The seams were worn down where a backpack would create enough friction to tear them.

As for hair, I looked up a ton of YouTube videos, and I think this one is the best one:

She also has a more classic finger waves style (wet hair) and a 1930s hair tutorial. You can check those out here.

I’m pretty sure the back of my head was a disaster. I was afraid to look, so I never did. The finger waves I had to redo so many times. The gel I used wasn’t meant for this type of thing, and the waves kept falling out no matter how much gel I added, so I ended up using long, thin bobby pins to hold the finger waves in place. I waited for the rest of my hair to dry, then curled the ends with an iron and rolled into pin curls as shown in the video. Then I let dry, sprayed exorbitant amount of hair spray, and let it just sit on my head for an hour or two before removing all the pins and combing through the hair with my fingers.

Here’s what it looked like by the end of the night:

fingerwaves

As for accessories, I ditched my glasses during the party and donned a string of fake pearls. The headband I created myself. Walmart has a “make your own headband” sort of station in the craft section with a bunch of flowers and accessories, stretchy headbands and the clampy kind of headbands (yeah, I don’t know what to call them. The classic kind of headband, shaped like a U). I got the flower there, found an ivory ribbon with plenty of texture, and hot glued the ribbon onto a headband I already had.

I kind of forgot about makeup in the rush of getting food together, so I just used eyeliner. But there are plenty of YouTube videos on the subject.

Food

This was a potluck shindig to save some money. We made hot dogs in the crock pot for the main meal (throw in as many as you need, without water, and cook on low for 4 hours).

Also creamy mints:

click through for recipe

and homemade lollipops with gold sprinkles:

Click through for recipe

And my grandmother’s recipe for punch:

Mix together 48 oz EACH of apple, orange, and pineapple juice (frozen concentrate is fine, but add water, obviously). Right before serving, add a 64 oz bottle of ginger ale.

This punch is amazing and super easy. I don’t even like punch much, but this is gooood.

I was going to make a virgin pina colada for myself, but ran out of time. Friends brought drinks to share as well.

That’s about it! It was a grand party, and we had a ton of fun.