Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and Space Shuttles?

spaceshuttleChildren all over the world are fascinated with travel. My nearly two year old son, Lil’ E, is mesmerized right now with cars and trains. One of his favorite things to do is sit near the road on a big stump with me and watch the cars go by and call them out: “red sports car” or “black SUV”. On a recent trip he took to the zoo during the week, I came home from work and asked him what he saw at the zoo. His very excited reply: “pick-up trucks.” The apple clearly didn’t fall far from the tree. As a child I was amazed with anything that moved, cars, trains, airplanes…you name it. As I got a little older I became enthralled with spaceships. Maybe it was from growing up with movies like Star Wars, but I was hooked like others my age who wanted to grow up to be astronauts.

This morning the space shuttle Atlantis launched for its final flight and that launch officially marks the end of an era. Since 1961, the United States has had a continuous presence in manned space exploration. Now with the final launch of Atlantis, other than sending astronauts up in Russian space crafts, manned space exploration by the United States will be put on hold. Some estimates are that it may be more than ten years before another manned space craft is launched by NASA.

Although Lil’ E is too small to watch the launch or really understand, I watched the final launch for my own nostalgia. It still brought a rush. As a kid in the early 80’s I remember crowding into the elementary school library with my entire school to watch the first shuttle launch into space. Classes were cancelled. I remember being allowed to stay up late one night so we could watch it as it orbited over New England. It looked like a shooting star streaking across the night sky. There was something magical about it. It was like a weird case of make-pretend mixed with reality.

So why am I writing about this here? If you mention space and astronauts to most little kids now, they’re more likely to think of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story than a real astronaut. Then they’ll probably run around yelling “To infinity…and beyond!” which in itself is pretty awesome. A healthy sense of make-believe is important to a child’s development. Medical studies have shown you need a little imagination to understand complex bits of reality you encounter later in life. Things like ancient history or a molecule’s structure…or even outer space…are all real but you need a bit of “imagination” to comprehend because you can’t actually see them.

This sense of imagination that space travel used to evoke just doesn’t seem to be there for kids anymore. The shuttle program which launched 4-5 shuttles per year for over 30 years into space has become viewed by the public as “routine” to some extent; draining some of that sense of adventure and imagination out of space travel. Maybe space travel returning to the realm of “make-believe” at least with NASA in the United States for a while is a good thing, particularly if when it returns it is able to rekindle children’s imaginations like it once did. I for one hope so.

Maybe it’s just me, what do you think? Is the magic of space travel gone?

Beware the Coffee Table: Tentative First Steps

EricCarleMuseumBack story from a long, long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away:
As a two year old, I was running through the house and fell face first on the coffee table. I knocked out my two front teeth and forced my mother into early labor for my sister. Because my adult teeth didn’t grow in until I was about seven or so, I had to go through years of speech therapy because I learned to talk out of the side of my mouth and had a lisp. It’s a little known fact (at least until this blog post) that when I am nervous I STILL talk out of the side of my mouth.

Fast forward to 2010: 
When Lil’ E was about 9-10 months old he started pulling himself up on furniture which is pretty much right on schedule developmentally for a child his age. After the first time he bumped his head on the coffee table I panicked. I got rid of the coffee table. I didn’t want him to have to deal with what I had to deal with. The fact that he could fall anywhere else in the house and potentially knock his teeth out didn’t occur to me. Now I didn’t go so far as to bubble wrap the refrigerator or put foam bumpers on all the corners in the house; but that coffee table had to go.

Then Lil’ E went several months holding onto stuff while cautiously walking around…but never letting go. He’d walk along the couch and walls but as soon as there was some sort of barrier or break in the surface he was holding onto he’d get down and crawl. A month passed. He started doing this funny little scoot up on his knees but still wouldn’t walk unassisted. Another month went by. I was convinced it was my fault. If I hadn’t taken that coffee table away he’d be walking like a pro. Okay maybe not walking like a “professional walker” – they have kind of a weird wiggle to their walk, but you get my point.

Finally around 14 months he took his first steps on his own, and he never looked back. Lil’ E never really went through the clumsy take a step or two and fall stage. He kind of went from holding on to everything to walking unassisted. That’s not to say that he doesn’t take a header every now and again, especially now that he is running with wild abandon, but he had his own unique approach to walking.

I need to remind myself of this from time to time as Lil’ E is not me and my removing a coffee table wasn’t going to greatly affect how he develops. He will have his own falls, bumps and bruises and it’s all part of growing up. That doesn’t mean I’ll be bringing the coffee table back anytime soon though. They are evil, pure evil.

So don’t leave me hanging here with crickets chirping…what was the neurotic thing you did to “protect” your child? I know I’m not the only one.

Organic CSA Farms: Fresher, Local Food for Your Family

Lil-E-picking-raspberriesEver wonder where your food comes from and worry what you are feeding your kids? Don’t we all? A few years ago we started buying into a local organic CSA farm (or Community Supported Agriculture) and we have never eaten so well.

Here are the basics of how a CSA works: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. When you buy from the farmer you receive seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. It may be kale, carrots and turnips and the next week it could be cabbage, summer squash and tomatoes. It all depends on what your particular CSA grows, what is ripe that week and how much of it is available. You could also get the option of buying, fruit shares, meat shares or other options. All are generally from a network of farms in your immediate area so the food is ultra-fresh.

Typically with a CSA, you’ll get to visit the farm at least once a season. Some also offer a “pick-your-own” option where that week you’ll get to go out in the fields and pick two pints of sugar peas, a bunch of flowers or a quart of raspberries…whatever is fresh that week. If you have children old enough to help, it’s a great opportunity for them to learn where their food comes from by getting their fingers dirty.

Joining a CSA also exposes you to new vegetables you may have never heard of and new ways to cook them. I never would have known what a kohlrabi was before or what the heck I was supposed to do with it. It’s a bit like being on Iron Chef – the local edition. You never know what you are going to get each week. If there is something new you’ve never tried before you can ask other “shareholders” or the farmer if they have some recipes they’d recommend. Joining a CSA will undoubtedly broaden the spectrum of your cooking prowess.

An alternative to buying into a CSA for the whole summer is to find a farmer’s market near you. These offer you fresher food than you could find in most grocery stores. Particularly since the food is delivered directly by the farmer and has usually been picked a few hours before the farmer’s market.

The point is Lil’ E is 21 months old and he LOVES kale. He will inhale an entire plate of zucchini. I can’t say for sure that our being a part of a CSA since he was born has influenced that, but I look at other kids his age eating their plates of beige and bland food and I know something is working. Maybe next month he will decide to only eat food that starts with the letter “Q” but for now I love how open he is to trying new foods.

The website is a great resource if you are looking for a CSA or a farmers market in your area. Are you a member of a CSA or do you hit the local farmer’s market on the weekend? What are you doing to broaden the spectrum of your children’s diet?

The Basics of Cloth Diapering

LilEI’ll admit up front that I was scared of cloth diapering; it was my wife’s idea. Before Lil’ E was born I didn’t really have any experience with babies or diapering at all so I was a little nervous about changing diapers anyway. Now I would consider myself a “man of the cloth”. This post is just a few basic things to keep in mind when considering cloth diapering:

Choose your diaper
There are a ton of different options for cloth diapering including pre-folds, fitted, all-in-ones and the list goes on and on. Personally we decided to go with pre-fold diapers using Snappis (a nifty little diaper fastener) and diaper covers. It was the most economical option and was definitely the most practical for us. The Snappi may have been the saving grace for this decision, if I had to use safety pins with the way Lil’ E squirms we might have given up on cloth diapering a lot sooner or we would have switched to a different cloth diapering system. Try not to get overwhelmed with all of the options, you’ll figure out what works best for you.

How many do I need?
When you consider the amount of diapers to buy, take into account the age of your baby. Newborns typically need 10-12 diaper changes a day and Toddlers need around 8-10 (slightly more than disposables, but it doesn’t really take much more time). If you are going to go with pre-folds like we did, I’d recommend you start with 36 pre-fold diapers, 4-6 covers and 2-3 Snappi’s.

Other stuff you’ll need
Aside from the diapers themselves, you’re going to need a few other items mainly to deal with the diapers after your baby is done “using” them.

First, you’ll need a diaper pail system for those pee-pee diapers. A waste basket with a waterproof laundry bag is essential.

Then there’s the part no one REALLY wants to deal with…the soiled diapers. You are going to need to flush the poops down the toilet and keep a small covered diaper pail in the bathroom for storing those. I also recommend a diaper sprayer attached to the toilet to take care of those “messy” occasions. You can buy one of these or, if you are a ridiculous do-it-yourselfer with some crazy Yankee ingenuity like me, you can make one fairly easily out of some basic plumbing parts you can pick up at the local hardware store and a kitchen sink sprayer. Really.

Maybe this should have come under the “other stuff you’ll need” but you will need a washer and dryer. Based upon how many diapers and covers you buy, you’ll be doing a load of diapers every 2-3 days. If you typically go to a Laundromat you may want to look into a diapering service as this might more sense for you rather than lugging a load of pee-pee and poopie smelling diapers to the Laundromat every couple days. Particularly if you have to take a cab, the cab driver will thank you for choosing the diapering service.

You’ll also need to select a laundry detergent that works especially well for cloth diapers and is fragrance, dye and additive free. These detergents are usually recommended for something so close to your baby’s skin, we use Biokleen All Temperature Laundry Powder which works great.

As with anything else there are different ways to wash diapers, the method we use is to start with a cold water wash, rinse and then a finish with a hot water wash and rinse. You can also add about ¾ of a cup of vinegar to the final rinse cycle if your diapers don’t come out smelling fresh. If your baby is prone to diaper rashes you can try adding an extra rinse cycle at the end.

It’s a good idea to line dry the covers if you are able to. It will help extend the life of the Velcro enclosures and preserve their waterproofing ability.

Don’t be a hero
What I mean by this is, don’t feel like you have to do cloth all of the time, occasionally you are going to need a disposable diaper. When we first brought Lil’ E home we used the disposables with the cut-out until his belly button was healed. At night we use disposables because the wetness from a cloth diaper was consistently waking him up. You’ll figure out what combination works best for you and your baby.

The best part is cloth diapers hold up extremely well as the diapers we are using now are the same ones we used on Lil’ E when he was just a wee little one. These are the cloth diapering options that worked for my family but you might find something you like better.

What about you? Have you tried cloth diapering and do you have any tips to share?


Why my 18 month old can say the word “roof”

Words a typical 18 month old might speak, “ball”, “dog”, “shoes”, “duck”, “roof”…wait a minute “roof”? Yes this happened with Lil’ E and I found this incredibly funny and thought I would share.

Anyone who lives in the North East United States can probably attest to the fact that this has probably been one of the snowiest January’s in recent history. So with that and owning an old house that’s not properly insulated, you sometimes have to go out and shovel the roof to prevent ice dams.

So every big snow storm either I or my wife crawled out on the flat part of the roof to shovel the snow off. The other parent would tell Lil’ E that “Mama (or Dada) is on the roof”. After a storm (or two or three) every week in January suddenly Lil’ E was saying “roof”…quite clearly. Pretty cool although we figured he was just copying what we were saying.

Then we realized he ACTUALLY knew what it was. While reading “Goodnight Moon” before bed time when we got to the “Goodnight little house” part he pointed to the house and said “house” like he always did…but then he pointed to the top and said “roof” and then “Mama…roof”. We had to restrain our laughter as we were in the process of trying to calm him before bedtime. Rolling on the floor laughing doesn’t exactly help the bed time relaxation routine.

So that’s the strange story of how my son came to say the word “roof”. What are your favorite stories of how your kids learned a particular word? Learn a word you wish they hadn’t?

The Perfect Gift for a Toddler

So I’m sure you’ve experienced this…you put a lot of thought into what would be the “perfect gift” for your toddler and they wind up more interested in the box it came in. Sound familiar? Here’s my own recent experience with this.

My wife and I did a lot of research into getting Lil’ E (who is 17 months old) the “perfect gift” that would give him years of enjoyment. We decided on a red wagon. Being a typical guy and a tech geek I researched online, weighed the different options available on different models, did some comparison price shopping once we had narrowed it down to the wagon we wanted and I purchased it. This is not just any wagon; this thing is the Cadillac of wagons. It has big tires so he can easily pull it across our gravel driveway or the lawn. He’ll be able to haul dirt, toys, sticks, the dog & pretty much anything he could think to put in it. It has high walls so he can get rides in it while he is still little but the walls can be removed fairly easily for when he is older and decides he wants to try racing the wagon down an incredibly steep hill (not that I’m speaking from personal experience here). This wagon is the bomb-diggity with everything you could want in a wagon except 20 inch chrome rims and a GPS system.

We wrapped it and put it under the tree. In the week before Christmas it sat under the tree, Lil’ E kept running up to the box and banging on it with a smile. My wife and I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning for him to open it.

Finally Christmas arrived! So what was his favorite gift under the tree? A $5 plastic shovel. He walked all around the house pushing the shovel in front of him and carrying it around proudly.

Later in the afternoon on Christmas, my wife’s family came over to exchange gifts and the house looked like Santa’s sleigh exploded in our living room. Literally every square inch of floor had a gift on it. My sister-in-law came over with her twins that are a month older than Lil’ E. What did they all fight over playing with?

The infernal $5 plastic shovel.

I know come springtime the wagon is going to be one of his favorite toys and he will get years of enjoyment out of it. I just found it all incredibly funny and not at all how I had played it out in my head.

So what about you? What toy were you excited to have your toddler open only to find them more interested in something you didn’t think would be a big deal?

When I Found Out I Was Going to be a Dad

“Are you happy?” my friend’s two and a half year old little boy was currently climbing all over me while I read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax to him at six o’clock in the morning. “Are you happy?” was a simple question to him, but one that my mind was currently unable to process with a million other questions flying through my head at the time.

My wife and I were staying at our friend’s house in Vermont for the weekend. Ten minutes prior to this question being asked, my wife had come running into the guest bedroom we were staying in with a pregnancy test asking “Does this mean what I think it means?” I groggily focused my eyes – one pink line not pregnant, two lines means you’re pregnant. The two lines were clear as day and immediately a million emotions flooded me.

I was shocked – “holy #@!% I’m going to be a dad!” was one of the first thoughts that went through my head. Only six weeks before we had decided that we would start trying to get pregnant. Most of our friends had spent many, many months trying to get pregnant and some had to go through infertility treatments. It just didn’t seem possible that it would happen this easily. Was I ready? Would I be a good dad? It didn’t matter how “dad-ready” I felt because here it was – illustrated with two little blotchy pink lines on a stick right in front of me.

I was anxious – when we were originally married, we had never planned to have children. We liked kids; we just thought we were going to be the cool uncle and aunt to our nieces and nephews. Among other reasons, we were scared by a few friends that hovered over their child’s every move and action. If their child took a minor tumble they were immediately there with the band-aid whether or not their child actually needed one. That level of parenting seemed like a lot of stress that neither of us was ready for. As time passed we reconsidered and, ironically, one of the reasons was seeing our friends we were currently visiting up in Vermont when they became parents. We saw them doing all the things they enjoyed before they had their son. They went hiking; they went cross-country skiing; everything they enjoyed before having a child they still did now and they were wonderful parents. Having a baby didn’t hinder their lifestyle; it only made their lives better and more complete.

So it was fitting that immediately after my wife and I found out we were pregnant that we were at their house. After sharing our exciting news we had all gone out into the living room to talk.

Which brings us back to the moment I was reading Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax to their two and a half year old and as he jumped on my lap asked the very simple, straight forward question…

“Are you happy?”

He had stopped jumping and crawling over my shoulder and was waiting for an answer to his question. I put down the book and replied with a smile,“Yes…I am VERY happy”. Satisfied with my answer he sat back down on my lap and wanted me to continue reading the book to him. Not a big deal to him, just another question in an endless string of questions that a two and a half year old will ask but it was a big and very memorable moment to me.

At the time I had no idea just how much happier becoming a dad would make me and I’m still in awe of how much richer my life has become as a result of becoming a father. I’d love to hear what went through your head when you first learned you were going to be a parent? Have an interesting story about how you found out?

When things don’t go according to plan

DSCF0019 (2)“Something is wrong…we need to go to the hospital now”…that was my wife’s anxious phone call to me at 1:49 PM. At 2:18 PM my son was born by emergency c-section but those 29 minutes in the middle are the story here. I was just a couple of minutes from home when she called and I rushed in where my wife who was 37 weeks pregnant was crying, on the phone with the hospital and in a panic. We rushed to the hospital and I kept trying to reassure her that this was all normal, that when we got there the doctor would say “Oh this happens all the time” with a big smile on her face.

When we got there and the doctor examined her I could tell by the doctor’s expression that this was definitely not normal. They quickly put a fetal monitor on my wife and also were monitoring her blood pressure as well. The doctor explained that the baby was okay but my wife’s placenta was hemorrhaging and they needed to get the baby out fast. I held my wife’s hand as the doctor explained that she would need to go into emergency surgery…and I couldn’t go in because they would need to knock her out. As she continued explaining the procedure more and more nurses suddenly arrived and began buzzing around my wife connecting her to machines, asking her questions, getting her prepped for surgery. As more and more nurses came in I was forced to take a step back as they got my wife ready for surgery. Within seconds the nurses and doctor wheeled my wife out to surgery and I was left alone in the empty labor room with a lounge chair in the corner and droplets of my wife’s blood all over the floor.

The next few minutes seemed like hours as I paced back and forth in the room. Finally a nurse came in to tell me that my little boy was okay. “We had a boy?” I asked. You see we hadn’t found out the sex of our baby yet. “How is my wife?” I quickly asked and the nurse told me that she did great but would be in recovery for several hours. With that I wept. Hard. I may have cried on that nurse’s shoulder like a 6 year old who fell off a bicycle and got a scraped knee. Whoever you were dear nurse…thank you.

At around 2:45 PM I got introduced to my son Lil’ E for the first time out of delivery on his way to the nursery and at around 4:30 PM I finally got to see my wife in the recovery room of the ER. She hadn’t even seen our son yet so all I had was a picture of him that one of the kind nurses had taken & printed to show her. At 6:22 PM we finally got to be together for the first time as a family.

Our birthing class instructor several weeks earlier had repeatedly said over and over again that “Sometimes things don’t go according to plan”. That was an understatement. During the entire birthing class my wife and I gave each other knowing glances as if to say “That won’t happen to us”. Little did we know. I know we were lucky; the hospital, the doctors and nurses all did a phenomenal job. Had this been 50 years ago there would most likely have been a much different ending for my son, my wife or both and I am very aware of that. Others even today with all the wonders of modern medicine aren’t as lucky as we were.

Why am I telling you all this? As a husband for over 5 years at the time, I was used to being a rock of stability for my wife whenever she needed me. In sickness and in health, for better or worse. When the nurses started buzzing around and asked me to step aside, suddenly things weren’t going according to our plan and I felt completely out of control. I felt useless. Here was my wonderful wife carrying our child scared and in need of support…and I could do nothing as she was wheeled away from me. It was a horrible feeling.

I know I’m not the only Dad who has felt this and I’m sure there are other Dad’s out there that have had similar or worse experiences.

What about you? What was your birth experience like as a Dad?

5 Things to Pack in Your Overnight Bag

So as a Dad during the entire pregnancy and birthing process you can sometimes feel like you aren’t being useful. Mom is carrying the baby, she’s giving birth…just remember you are there to support your partner and help her out in any way you can. One thing you can do is get the overnight bag packed and ready to go when the big day comes. Have it ready a month ahead of time. Why so early? Because you never know when your little one may decide it’s time to come out and meet the world early.

You’ll get a list from your wife’s obstetrician and/or the hospital of the items you should definitely have packed in your overnight bag like her insurance card, birth plan, lip balm, maternity bras, camera, etc…but here’s a list of things they seldom mention but I either found really vital or wish someone had told me about:

  1. Comfortable, supportive shoes – So I can’t stress this one enough. If your spouse ends up having to have a cesarean section (like my wife did), she’s not going to be getting around very well for several days. Getting a drink, 3am feeding…you’ll be doing a lot of walking around on those hard tile or carpeted concrete hospital floors. Make sure you pack comfortable shoes you’ll be able to wear for pretty much your entire stay. Sneakers, ugly orthopedic shoes, it really doesn’t matter as long as they are comfortable. Trust me; you’ll thank me for this one.
  2. Correctly installed car seat – Although it’s not technically something you pack in your overnight bag, it’s something you’re going to need ready to go when the time comes. Get it installed ahead of time correctly if you can rather than fumbling with it the day you are supposed to be bringing your little one home. Your local police station may have an officer trained to install infant car seats or can check to make sure you have installed it correctly.You can also check with the hospital staff as there may be nurses on staff who are certified to check and make sure your infant car seat is installed correctly.
  3. Smartphone – You’ll have to check with your hospital to ask if they allow cell phones but if they do, a Smartphone is a compact multipurpose machine for you. Whether you have an iPhone, Android, Blackberry or any other smart device; you can take photos of the baby to email or post online, have all the important phone numbers of people to call after birth and send your Twitter or Facebook updates letting everyone else know of your great news. Don’t forget the charger!
  4. Music to listen to – Again you’ll need to check with the hospital but many allow you to bring your own music in for both the birth and recovery time. Bring your iPod but also take a dock if you have one. Make sure it’s loaded with music your wife will appreciate of all types. Load music she likes to relax to but don’t forget she may want something peppier to suit her mood and how she is feeling during labor. Note for Dads: Also if she really likes Wham! and you don’t…put it on. This is for her not for you. (you can make a separate playlist of music you like to listen to while she is sleeping).
  5. Snacks and drinks – I wish I had packed some drinks and snacks when Lil’ E was born. Nothing against the hospital café but the food in general is pretty horrible and when your wife needs a snack at 10pm you’re pretty much stuck with vending machine junk. Pack some healthy snacks for yourself and know where some of the local restaurants are that you can either run out to or (even better) will deliver right to the maternity ward.

Again check with your hospital to find out their policies on the above items but these are just a few things I either found helpful or wish I knew about. What about you? What do you wish you had known or packed for your baby’s birth?

Buzzworthy Wednesday: Adventures of Captain Inbound: Episode One

This week’s Buzzworthy Wednesday is an animated video created by HubSpot for the “Adventures of Captain Inbound: Episode One“.

Full Disclosure: I may be a bit biased here since I was the writer and animator on this project. While I tend to be hyper-critical of my work (is any creative person not?) I am more impressed with the strategy behind the branding video carried out by HubSpot.

They didn’t just create the video and throw  it out to the whims of the internet, they had a plan. In the word’s of the Episode “Guru” of David Meerman Scott “Create exceptional content that people will want to share, and point the world to your virtual doorstep.”

So the video was posted on their blog, they built a custom landing page for the series to reside (oh yes…there will be more), started a fan page on Facebook and launched a Twitter account for Captain Inbound. Practicing what they are preaching. The video was also mentioned as a great example of how “Content Rules” on the  MarketingProfs blog today by Ann Handley. Enjoy!