Easy Kindergarten Prep. AKA, scissors!

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File this one under: scared, weak, hovering, helicopter modern parenting.

Here’s a practical early childhood idea, courtesy of my great aunt Jeaneine, who taught first grade for, well, longer than I’ve lived, probably.

She told me one of the best things to do to help Mary Tobin get ready for writing is to give her scissors.

[Aunt Jeaneine laughs at danger!]

Working with scissors strengthens those small hand muscles she’ll need to form the letters. At first just let her cut cut cut. Then the next thing will be following a line, previewing the eye-hand coordination needed to copy or trace letters.

I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t really let Mary Tobin play work with scissors yet, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with keeping them away from little sister. I’d seen Montessori materials lists and stuff about art for kids, etc. But lazy parenting is the name of my game.

In fact, though, the scissors have encouraged lazy parenting by keeping MT incredibly focused and entertained in the couple of weeks since we saw Aunt Jeaneine in Chattanooga. Mary Tobin has been happily cut, cutting away, shredding my old health insurance statements and creating her own little projects. (Usually this happens during their room time when Inez is not around to interfere. And on the two hour drive home from Chattanooga—forget about it. Best car ride we’ve ever had.) She’s following lines—proof that I waited way too long to let her do this.

Danger? So far, no. Cleanup? Yes. (I imagine that Maria Montessori and Aunt Jeaneine have plenty to say on that subject too.)

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P.S. Pics at the top from the girls’ first day of “school” earlier this week! They’re both going two days a week to a little Spanish immersion Mother’s Day Out!

P.P.S. Pics from Mary Tobin’s first day last year!

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Doctor’s Orders, or, Another Note for a New Mom

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Fresh out the kitchen. In her going home outfit. No post birth pics of me.

Talking about Christmas cards— last year I took one of our birth announcement Christmas cards to give the nurse practitioner who was conducting our follow up appointment, three weeks or so after Inez was born. She was delighted to receive it, but chastised me for having done birth announcements already, when I should’ve been resting.

The truth is that I was resting; I had plenty of family around helping, and I was excited about the cards! It’s out of character for me to be that organized and on top of things, but it’s not out of character to ditch housework in favor of a couple hours surfing the web and looking at card designs, then placing an order. Addressing is more work, but I passionately love mail.

Anyway, the result of all this was that Amy, the NP, wrote me a doctor’s note excusing me from household responsibilities for SIX MONTHS!

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Another aside: Amy actually witnessed Inez’ birth and was the one who kept encouraging Mama Rote to take pictures. Mom was kind of like, um, well, I don’t know if she wants pictures. The Pollyanna nurse persisted. (All this out of range of my hearing.) So finally Mom spoke up: “Jos, do you want pictures of this?”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.” I barked.

(I’m not anti-birth pictures, but you know, it’s just not me. Also, at that point in labor—probably at its most intense—the pictures from Mom’s vantage point would have been my butt in the air, so. No thanks.

NONETHELESS, this nurse was the sweetest and the best, and made me feel the beauty and gravity of birth just by her enthusiastic presence and communicating that she was honored to be part of it. Come to think of it, that was a consistent phenomenon. Everybody around—the girls at the front desk, nurses, midwives, family—everybody was so pumped and excited, which one should be about a baby being born; while I felt like I would die. Oh dear. Back to the postpartum checkup.

Obviously I put that doctor’s note on the fridge, for Israel’s benefit. Amy’s point was that it’s plenty of work to keep two kids alive, particularly if one of them is depending entirely on me and my body for nourishment (i.e. breastfeeding, i.e. nursing). As with pregnancy, your body is doing hard work with or without your conscious consent.  It’s so easy to forget, so easy to feel guilty, and so difficult to ask for the support you need.

Even if I wasn’t nursing, birth is a heck of a thing for one’s body to recover from. Read this article about postpartum care and practices in other cultures and how the American version, or lack thereof, sucks. We no longer have the “lying in” period that many other countries maintain. What would help? I’m not sure if the policy prescriptions the author recommends at the end would be as helpful as a cultural shift—but how do you achieve that? Maybe policy changes, maybe business owners giving more generous parental leave to both parents, maybe a dramatic restructuring of our healthcare system (I find healthcare so confusing, blergh.). For a start, and something that feels more achievable, we can try to help each other out, try to build community even when it feels daunting.

If you know any new moms, you can tell them about this article, and feel free to pass along my doctor’s note from Amy. She did not succeed with the birthing photography, but her admonition to rest was right on.

A note for a new mom.

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Sometimes I’ll write about parenting tips and things that I find helpful. I love reading about that stuff, and I figure a lot of you do, too. At the same time, probably nothing in my life has evoked feelings of insecurity as much as becoming a mother. (It’s also brought a new sense of empowerment and unparalleled joy—I guess they’re all mixed in.) So. It’s obvious, we’ll all make different decisions as parents and in life, but the truth is, that can make me nervous. I’m faced with the reality of how highly I value what other people think, when I realize that I’m doing things differently than other mothers.

I have enjoyed reading the baby books, the child development material, parenting articles, websites, blogs. (Again, following Uncle Steve’s advice: get a lot of advice, then do what you want!) It’s an important task—raising kids—so it’s important to make considered decisions about how to go about it. I want to do my best . . . but ultimately it becomes a big lesson in trust and giving up control.

This morning I wrote a quick note on a slip of paper to send my friend Ashley who’ll be bringing home a newborn in a couple days. (Eeeeps!!) Ash and I have discussed parenting styles and decisions (in theory), and as with other friends, I’ve said, hey, don’t worry if we do things differently. Before our family moved, I passed along to her a stack of baby books with the disclaimer that several of them contradict one another, so she’ll just have to decide what she wants to do.

But the note I wrote this morning contained my most practical, best advice. So I decided to copy it here:

“He . . . set my feet upon a rock making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
Psalm 40:2-3

Ash, I’d written this verse out for myself as a reminder that God makes my steps secure in motherhood—of course we won’t be perfect, but we know God’s taking care of us. I pray that you will feel utterly confident (in yourself, but more in God’s provision) as you get to know Towns!

And, my fave parenting strategy: ask God for wisdom every day. He promises to give it (James 1:5).

I love you!

If you want to know what I think, that’s it. Thanks for letting me keep it real, dear reader. Maybe next time I’ll be back with some snarky judgmental thoughts on kids’ television habits. [wink.] Love y’all.

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An idea for parents with two cuties in diapers . . .

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This is one of those systems that I’ve figured out right as Mary Tobin’s getting out of diapers . . . I wish I’d done it earlier, so I decided to throw it out here to benefit future generations. Don’t get your hopes up. This probably falls into the same category as using lapel pins for push pins, but I love this kind of stuff.

When selecting diapers, I decided to buy patterns with warm colors (pink, red, orange, yellow) for Mary Tobin and cool colors (purple, blue, green) for Inez. You’d think that the tiny versus large sizes would be enough to easily distinguish between them; but when it’s late at night or you’re frantically reaching into a diaper bag, or someone’s yelling, or you yourself are crying . . . it helps for things to be as clear as possible.

So that’s it! Read on if you care to learn more about what type of diapers we use . . .

The pattern/color selection was on my mind because we get diapers delivered by The Honest Company and they have cute seasonal patterns to choose from. Initially we ordered diapers from somewhere else since my only requirement was that they be delivered instead of me lugging a huge box of diapers as well as a baby up to our apartment, but I tried Honest Company when la princesa battled diaper rash for awhile. Honest Company’s diapers are a bit more expensive, but they’re free of all the questionable, stinky chemicals. So far Inez hasn’t had any diaper rash. If you’re on the market, I recommend them.

Plus, better patterns . . . Mama Rote and I agree that it’s bizarre and disconcerting when Elmo or Mickey’s face is gazing at you from a child’s bottom or crotch . . . maybe that’s just us. (But you could also apply my system there: Elmo for one kid, Mickey for another . . . ??)

Totally seems like it, but this is not a sponsored post. I will give you my referral link though—if you use this link and order from Honest, you can get a few diapers to try for free, and I’ll get some credit and be forever grateful (I believe it’s one of those deals where you need to cancel if you don’t want to continue receiving diaper deliveries).

Might I add for those not currently in the diaper game: a gift card makes a great gift for expecting parents, especially those expecting #2 (or more). For Inez, we had a “Books and Bloomers” shower (bloomers meaning diapers) since we already had the requisite baby gear.

Happy diaper shopping, I guess!

Sunday Finest (or, Being a Good Mom for Dummies)

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I love talking to other parents and reading blogs and seeing baby pictures and the sweet things people do to record memories. There are tons of great ideas—a line a day journals for baby’s first year, special photo albums, onesies with the months numbered, pictures of baby sitting in the same bucket each month til he’s too big for it, then eventually carrying it around and being precious. This dad’s time lapse video of his daughter from birth til 12 years old  is incredible . . . he wins!

But with all that beautiful creativity comes the inevitable guilt. I should be doing these things! I’m missing the memories! My advice if you want to do something like this is to choose one or two simple items that will be easy for you to do (and remember to do), and then don’t worry about it anymore. You’re not going to out-do the Dutch guy’s time lapse video.

Incredibly, we stumbled upon something that works for us and I think is pretty awesome: Sunday finest. The first few weeks of Mary Tobin’s life, I happened to email or text a “Sunday picture” to the grandmas and aunts, since Mary Tobin was wearing some sweet church dress, or Santa outfit, or at least a huge bow. (That was the time when people were asking for pictures every day, but I’m a slacker, so at least they knew they could count on Sunday.) At some point, Israel and I made a decision that we’d try to get a decent picture to share once a week, on Sunday; and at the end of her first year, we made a photo book for the grandparents.

This simple system works so well and makes me feel like such a good mom, that we continued into year two! And I decided to streamline even further: now all the Sunday pictures are on Instagram, which saves me from trying to organize a folder on my computer, downloading or uploading to the right place, etc. (So, take heart! Whatever family traditions you start can be adjusted, amended, nixed later. Just make it work, people.) Now that Mary Tobin’s cousins have arrived, they’ve been joining in the fun with their own version: #multiplesmonday!

If you follow me on Instagram, you can rely on #sundayfinest, at least for now. When Bebe Dos arrives, should she get something different? Should we try to get both girls in the pic every week? Oh the pressure . . . except the whole point of doing it this way was to take off the pressure . . .

These photos are great triggers for memories, but I do wish I had a better method for writing down snippets of every day life. (Watch out, blog readers—this may affect you!) Do you have any ideas on that score?

Finally, a disclaimer: the above “Ignoring the paparazzi” photo garnered maybe my most “likes” ever on Instagram. I won’t lie, social media affirmation is fun and feels great. But that day we were in the middle of dealing with some kind of sleep regression . . . I’ve blocked out the details . . . all three Ortegas were crabby, to put it mildly, and I remember thinking that I’d sure as heck trade those “likes” for some peace in real life. So remember, Real Life > Online.

Naming the Princess

Not to be outdone, Israel was on an exotic trip to Colombia while the Ortega girls went to Memphis. Last time something like this happened, I synthesized our surprisingly similar experiences in this post. Now, I’ll just give you one image:

Pigs, llamas—all the same!

Note his friend’s t-shirt, a harbinger of things to come. [It says, “Guns don’t kill people. Dads with daughters do!”] This is a clumsy way of revealing: Bebe Dos is a girl!

Your days to offer name suggestions are numbered, since the Name Summit is coming soon.

Some items we thought about during the epic summit that resulted in Mary Tobin’s name:

  • Family names: I’m a history person, so I just love family names. You’ve got meaning, roots, background, something bigger than yourself, already built in.
  • Playground test: Are you comfortable shouting the kid’s name out in public, in front of God and everybody?
  • Blind date test: If you were set up on a blind date with someone of this name, what sort of idea would you have about the person before the meeting?
  • Popularity: I didn’t want a name that’s incredibly hot right now. We love the name Zoe, but I vetoed it due to this factor.
  • Meaning: [Does this need explanation?]
  • Spanish/English: We were looking for names that could translate well in English or Spanish (or actually, not translate!). For example, something like Sophia or Lydia is lovely for native speakers of either. I didn’t want something that’s awkward to say (like my own name!) for Spanish speakers, and I didn’t want to choose a name so Spanish and en fuego that I’d have to change my own accent when saying it. “This is my daughter, Beatriz.” I would just feel dumb.

So we kept these criteria in mind. (And I’m sure there’s much more to consider: initials—monograms, of course!, how names sound with your last name, etc.) But in the end, you’ve got to go with whatever you want to do. If a name is popular, so what? Maybe because it’s awesome!

Mary Tobin, as you may know, is a family name. Mama Rote’s first name is Mary, and mi suegra‘s middle name is Maria. Tobin is a last name from my dad’s side of the family, and it means “believing God is good.” I’ve always loved double names and considered naming a daughter Mary something, which is more common in the South. It doesn’t perfectly meet the Spanish/English consideration—Tobin is kind of weird and unnatural to say for hispanics, but Mary is easy and universal.

We knew that not everyone would love it or get it immediately (Y’all, we’re like, so diverse. I mean, we know people from the north.), but we love it, and of course we love our girl and think it fits perfectly!

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This time around, we’re also taking this great GQ article into counsel, which essentially explains how to not name your child so he or she will grow up to be a meth addict. It’s worth your time.

Do you have the names of all your offspring chosen? How will you, or did you, decide?

Advice for new parents: Use baby’s name.

MT Neely

Babies are more important than dogs. Sorry, Neely!

A couple of my gals have had sweet new babies recently. So exciting! Like just about everybody, I love finding out the names parents have chosen for their children. What a profound privilege.

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Celebrating the arrival of our newest neighbor Hudson.

Lots of tips for baby’s first year, I realized, are just as much about helping the parent adjust as they are about the baby’s wellbeing, and this is one:

Use the baby’s name. I read that simple piece of advice somewhere, and it became quite profound for me. Don’t call her The Baby. It’s too easy then, to think of her the same way you’d think about your dog, or some other obligation or chore. “We’ve got to get home so the baby can nap.” (Sounds like: “We’ve got to get home to walk the dog.”) Instead of I’ve got to feed the baby, try I’m going to feed Mary Tobin.

Surely the child learns his own name and develops a sense of security as he hears it lovingly spoken. But I’d argue it’s more for Mom and Dad. New parents are going to be significantly inconvenienced by this new baby. (I hope you knew that already. You did sign up for it.) I knew it, of course, but it’s one thing to know, and another to adjust and to bring your heart, and body, alongside your mind to accept and embrace the responsibility. Calling Mary Tobin Mary Tobin, the name we chose with so much love, was a subtle reminder that she is a person! Just like me and you! She has needs and she’s real. She’s not a doll, a pet, or a project, but a life and a dear girl.

Names. So much could be written about their significance. For me using Mary Tobin’s name was a weapon against bitterness and discouragement in the early days of motherhood. You’ll still feel bitter and discouraged at times, but you’ll have an advantage from daily reminding yourself that your baby is a person who should not be dehumanized or objectified.

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Elizabeth’s son John Bernard IV, AKA Bear. Bernard means “brave as a bear.” How awesome is that name?

My friend Elizabeth built up my ego during her pregnancy by asking my advice on various matters. We agreed that in some ways it’s easier to learn from the experiences of our peers than from the advice of seasoned mamas and grandmothers (not to mention mothers-in-law!). Perhaps because of the distance of years, the veteran moms can make it sound so easy. There’s less pressure with advice from friends your own age: you can take it or leave it, since we’re just rookies trying stuff out. (Example: Elizabeth took my suggestion to rub one’s belly with olive oil to avoid stretch marks, but one-upped me by buying something actually made for the purpose.) Above all I think you can feel the sympathy factor in a very real way with other new moms; it feels like we’re in it together. And by sympathy, perhaps I mean a palpable sense of shared desperation!

All that to say! While helpful for her, I hope, Elizabeth’s openness to my thoughts about what I did during pregnancy and Mary Tobin’s first year was really encouraging to me. I got to think about what helped me most and what I’d like to hold on to for the future. Once I began brainstorming, she was so patient and kind as I called and emailed with all sorts of tips, and did not cut me off when I sent random text messages that began “unsolicited advice #8 million” and ended “sorry I’m so annoying!!!”

Besides using the name, my other favorite tip (from Mama Rote, of course) was to put up my feet whenever I could when pregnant. Also, drink lots of water. And stock the fridge with cut pineapple, watermelon, or something else that will make you feel good. What baby advice has been helpful to you—profound or otherwise?