An embarassingly unmagical, un-pinnable day

I wasn’t the worst parent in the world yesterday, and I say that for my own benefit.

My kids were fed, safe, received love and attention, exercised and read, and in general, they — and I — have nothing to complain about. But I did complain yesterday, and so did they.

It rained for the entire day, more inches than our community is used to, and in an historic move, the public schools closed for the day.

All day at home with the kids

We parents were notified about the school closure at about 5 pm the previous day. I happened to be at a party with numerous parents of school-aged children, and we all looked at each other wide-eyed as the news circulated through the room. “School is closed tomorrow.”  Everyone was thinking the same thing, and it wasn’t Hooray!

I fancy myself a pretty creative parent. I have kicked the ass of a sick day upon occasion with slime-making, geocaching, costume play, and more.

But yesterday, I did nothing to be proud of.

I suggested art supplies, LEGOs, board games, dolls, board games, art supplies, and LEGOs. My children rejected my suggestions, and then we engaged in a repetitive cycle of them finding things to do for a short, happy spurt of time; the activity deteriorating into bickering; and then bored flailing bodies coming at me for attention and approval, followed by me barking off the same list of activities, “Play a game! Get your Calico Critters out! How about Lite Brite? DRAW A PICTURE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!”

My husband was out of town on business and did not share in the joy of our special rain day.

After a few hours of wondering if it was safe to drive, and deciding it was not, we traipsed around the block to investigate the puddles. There was some whining. They made a zillion videos on the iPad. We did a 19-minute On Demand exercise video together. I tried to write a post for Lifetime Moms while they looked up mini-figures online. The hours trickled by.

We did not make a fantastic blanket fort, produce any handmade holiday ornaments, or invent a new flavor of Rice Krispie treats, such as Salted Caramel Pumpkin Spice or Bacon, Fig, and Blue Cheese. I don’t keep marshmallows on-hand in case school is cancelled.

Every hour I texted my husband or Heather or Wendy to vent my frustration and boredom.

By 4 pm, I needed an excuse to order dinner delivered to my door. I invited The Aunties, my college roommate and her wife who are childless, to join us for Indian take-out. (Yes, my kids will eat Indian food. No, they will not eat common American kid things like hamburgers or lasagna. Yes, the Bay Area is exciting that way.)

The Aunties had to work from home for the day and live just a few blocks away. At dinnertime, my friends arrived with their enormous dog and my kids found a new audience for their pent-up energy. I felt better with my friends around and enjoyed our Chicken Tikka Masala feast.

When The Aunties left and the kids put on their jammies, we sat in my bed to read. There were no more hours to count down. The final stretch was completely pleasant.

I wasn’t mad at the kids, but I was disappointed with myself for not having created a magical, memorable day.

I am capable of awesome-mom-ness. Aren’t I?

My husband arrived home from New York around midnight. I sensed him climb into bed and threw my arm over his waist before falling more deeply asleep.

This morning, we had some extra time before the children had to leave for school. (It’s open today!) I sat down in our playroom and started sorting through some toys, holding things up, asking the kids if they still want to own this puzzle or that one. Every item whose value I questioned became immediately of interest, and ten minutes later, they were both happily engaged in non-electronic toys from their own collections, giving my husband the impression that this is how we spent yesterday, tinkering on the floor of the playroom, content with each other’s company.

I felt pouty. Why didn’t I think of this yesterday, I wondered. I KNOW that the best way to get them interested in a project is to get down on the floor and just start DOING it.

Saying, “Do you guys want to draw a map of our neighborhood on this posterboard?” always gets a “No.” But if I draw a huge line across the paper and say, “I’m drawing Sacramento Street,” they might come say, “You need more trees.”

Starting a big puzzle guarantees they will join me.

Building a marble track invites them to go find all the marbles in the house in a way that asking, “How about a big marble track?” does not.

I’m putting a mental pin in that. I’ll probably need it again.


Building your wishlist: Valuable parenting books, recommended by readers

Not all parenting books are created equal. Some provide practical, actionable advice. Buy this stroller. Put baby on her back for sleeping. Some dig in to the cultural context within which we are parenting.  Others provide insights into child development, which can shed light on why living with kids can be so difficult, and goes hand in hand with discipline strategies. And some help you feel less alone, more capable, or so empowered that they inspire you to give the book to someone who really needs it.

When we asked you guys which parenting books you recommend, we got some of each.

Real parents name their favorite parenting books
1) Baby 411; 2) The Happiest Baby on the Block (a Rookie Moms favorite, though we recommend the DVD even more strongly); 3) Brain Rules for Baby; 4) Free Range Kids

Must-read parenting series

5) The Your # Year Old series by Ames.

Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender ; Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy; Your Four Year Old: Wild and Wonderful

“The 3 year old one literally kept me sane when my kids hit 3.5,” said one reader.

6) Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood
7) The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
8) Buddhism for Motherhood
9) Whole Brain Child

Parenting books that will actually make a difference in how you feel.
10) Minimalist Parenting (See our review of this one, and file under “makes me feel capable”)

11) I was a really good mom before I had kids
12) The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood (This one is old, maybe a little dated, but I loved it and it made me laugh out loud. Requires a sense of humor.)
13) Eat Sleep Poop
14) Parent Fatigue SyndromeVery different than the others!” says our contributor Olivia. The subtitle is “What to do when conventional wisdom is not very wise.”
15) Mama Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Parenthood
16) I just want to pee alone is a series of essays by the very funny blogger Jen from People I Want to Punch In the Throat. One reader says a copy of this book goes along with each one-year old gift she gives. “It’s the light-hearted laughter that a new momma needs.”

Activity #44: Wear something you normally wouldn’t

Wear something you normally wouldn't a #rookiemoms challenge
Today is the day to dig way into your closet and pull out something that doesn’t get enough love. Aren’t you pretty much guaranteed that others will be dressed in more eye-catching outfits than yours? I would steer you to a funky beanie and away from a spangly tube top with bra straps showing. Heather will try anything once. Once you’ve moved outside your comfort zone, you’ll have a lot of choices.

So, what’s your plan? If not a full-blown costume, do you have a sweater that’s just a little too orange? A skirt that’s a little too weird? What is stored in your dresser that you have been avoiding? Pull it out and, as Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

rookiemoms challengesThis is your 44th weekly challenge. Read the rest of our challenges for Rookie Moms and complete them all!

Reader tip: Instagram-fueled holiday card

Are you following us on Instagram?

Anne of Winter Farm Writes enlightened me about the existence of Instagram templates for holiday cards.

How to get a Christmas card out of your Instagram feed
by PicadillyLime on Etsy

For those whose year is best documented in these square snapshots, consider the option.

Some Etsy sellers/designers will assemble your images for you and send you a print-ready file that you can then upload the printer of your choice. Some of those options include printing, while some are an option to save big bucks by pushing your own digital file to Vistaprint or the like where you pay in the range of $10 for 50 cards.

Anne chose this one for her family.

by OhSimple on Etsy

And she pointed me toward this one, too, by the same designer.

Instagram-fueled holiday cards

Not into an etsy interaction?

Some of the popular card websites have the ability to slurp in your Instagram photos, but the challenge is finding templates that are compatible with the square dimensions of the images.

PearTreeGreetings has a filter for Mobile Friendly/Small Photos that reveals some Insta-compatible designs like this bright one.

Instagram holiday card templates

This one is from Minted.

Holiday card templates that love Instagram

And this one is from Paper Culture. (Here’s a discount on their fancy line of cards: 35% off Lux, Eco Holiday Cards – affiliate link)

Instagram-friendly Holiday Cards

But let’s go back to Etsy because I like the idea of an indie designer getting your business.

Instagram-centric holiday card round-up

From Banterandcharm on Etsy

See more Instagram-friendly holiday card designs on Etsy >

Follow us on Instagram to keep up!

Games preschoolers play

When I was a little girl, I had no siblings. At my birthday parties, I frequently received board games as gifts, but they mostly sat on the shelf in my closet until I got too old for them. Sure my mom and step-dad and I played Monopoly from time to time; I played Sorry! with my next-door neighbor/best friend; and Candyland with my grandma. But, back then, the assortment was more limited.

After Scarlett’s recent birthday party, during which she collected quite a few board games, I was chatting with Heather about which ones our children really like to play. After we collaboratively listed out a bunch of them, I realized that four companies stood out as excellent designers of preschooler games: Blue Orange, Think Fun, Wonder Forge, and eeBoo are responsible for most of the organized turn-taking fun we have around here. While I still appreciate Hasbro and the other old-school brands, I think it’s cool that there are so many new kids on the gaming block.

And of course there are more. Here’s the rundown of our favorite games that we personally own and enjoy with preschool-aged kids:

  1. Angelina Ballerina Dance With Me! Game. Children get up and perform the moves on the game cards. The board is a diorama of a stage. Not only is my 4-year old enchanted by this game, but my 6-year old son also likes to perform. (Find Dance with Me on amazon for less than $13)Angelina Ballerina game
  2. Zingo. We love this bingo-style game and the plastic game pieces are fun to play with for three-year olds, even when not engaged in an actual game. {Find Zingo online in many flavors like bilingual and counting for less than $20}
    Zingo and other games preschoolers play

[Read more…]

Activity #43: Try a half-sleepover

A brave way to avoid paying a babysitter and still have fun.

When our kids were younger, Heather was a little bit obsessed with putting them to bed at each other’s houses in order to allow us to have nighttime plans with each other. We pulled this off quite a bit when we were rookie moms. With five kids between us now, it’s not really worth the hassle; we’re more likely to suck it up and pay for a sitter. Back in the day, however, it was not uncommon for me and Ryan to bring a a Pack and Play to a dinner party and put our baby to bed in our friend’s bedrooms.

When Julian turned two, he started sleeping on a mat at his little preschool. This liberated us from the pack and play, so we’d just bring his jammies and his objects d’securitie (I just invented that expression) and put him to bed anywhere. He is a champion sleeper, so this worked well for us. We went to dinner parties and enjoyed adult company while respecting our kid’s bedtime. Win/Win.

When we left our friend’s houses, we’d carry our sleeping toddler to the car, snap him into his carseat and drive home. He’d usually wake up, look around and ride quietly home where he would fall asleep the second we put him in his crib. Like I said, champion sleeper, and believe me, my second child does not behave this way. So, for those who can pull it off, take advantage!!

Playing games with other rookie parents

Heather, the big advocate of this idea, was once featured in “Be frugal but totally cool,” an article about parents finding ways to use babysitters less. Unfortunately for us, they did not mention our book which includes at least three date night ideas that don’t require sitters. In the picture, she and Alec are entertaining their friends Jeffrey and Ha with a game night, while their kids sleep in their own beds.

Your 43rd weekly challenge is to either entertain at home after your child has gone to bed — or to pack it all up and go out to someone else’s home and execute the famous Half-Sleepover Move.

Have you done it?

Tag any of the Rookie Moms challenges on Instagram or Twitter with #rookiemoms or @rookiemoms so we can give you a virtual high-five!

7 secrets that Santa uses to extract holiday magic out of eBay

We are new affiliates of eBay, and this post contains affiliate links.

Tips for how to score great gifts on ebay.

I’m not a huge eBay person, but my husband uses it strategically to keep us stocked in phone-charging cords, camera memory cards, and other made-cheaply-in-China electronic gadgets. I may not be able to find a nail clipper at a moment’s notice, but I can always find a phone-charging cable in my house. We have gobs of them.

Once your child has started collecting things, eBay is a great place to do some clever shopping. Here is our best guidance on how to save big bucks on if you start with eBay.

1. American Girl clothing and accessories. If you must have American Girl brand items, use the filter on the sidebar to select that brand, but if you are open to anything that fits an American Girl-style doll, you’ll find tons of stuff. Pro tip: Simply search for “18 inch doll clothes” and you’ll find screaming deals.

2. Calico Critters. My daughter is very hot on these small (expensive) woodland animals right now. She has several sets on her wishlist. I’m not looking for one of those current sets on eBay, but rather for a seller who has grouped together a whole bunch of animals and their accessories. Pro tip: use the word “lot” in your search terms to find bundles of items that will ship together. Here’s an example.

What to buy on eBay for your kids
This listing is priced at $10.50, and I can tell you that just a pair of those animals in a tiny box goes for nearly ten dollars at our local toy store.

3. LEGO. If you’re just getting started with DUPLOs or LEGOs, consider buying a lot of bricks by the pound. Seriously. If you buy today’s LEGO sets in the store, you get a lot of specialty parts that are part of a building kit with detailed instructions. If you just want your kid to freestyle build, you need some basic bricks, perhaps 2-3 lbs worth. Heather’s husband uses a $.10 per brick rate as a guideline for new LEGO sets (ie a 250-piece set should run you about $25), so check eBay’s bulk brick listings for a better deal than that. Pro tip: You can run most pieces through the dishwasher in a lingerie bag.

4. Already into LEGOs? My kids are mini-figure obsessed right now, and the going rate at toy stores is $3.99 for one mini-figure. On eBay, packs of 10 are running closer to $1.00 per piece. Hooray for a stocking stuffer that’s appropriately priced. (Seriously, who are these gift guide editors who put a pair of cashmere socks on a list of stocking stuffers? We are not buying forty-dollar socks, people, and if we do, they need to get wrapped and put under the tree.)

5. Thomas and Friends. As many toddlers are falling in love with Thomas and train tracks each day, equal numbers of 7- to 10-year olds outgrow them. Let their used trains be your new trains. I promise: your toddler will not care. Browse the Thomas options and consider buying all your tracks on eBay. Pro tip: What you’re looking for is not necessarily the Brio brand, but rather “Brio-compatible“.

6. Party favors. This is the sort of weird thing my husband orders: 10 mini-flashlights for $12.  But guess what? Kids freaking love to be given a mini-flashlight. Now who is Super Dad?

7. Playmobil. Another expensive, but well-made toy. Someone else’s outgrown collection can go to good use in your home. Look for a lot that gives you more than you’d get in a single $30 kit.  You may score this entire bundle for $30 when you browse this category.

What to buy on eBay for your kids

Pro tip: Don’t shy away from buying an amount of merchandise that seems excessive. You might not want to bestow 10 mini-figures or 20 Polly Pockets on your child at a time, but you can dole out a few items at a time over subsequent holidays.

Since we’re new to this, we want to know: What do you use eBay for?

6 reasons CVS is awesome for parents

Tracking PixelThanks to CVS for sponsoring this post as part of the launch of their new vitamin line: RADIANCE. Scroll down to find the giveaway!

Things to love about CVS

When my husband’s company handed out CVS ExtraCare cards, and I added the little one to my keychain, I was only partially informed about the good things that were in store for me.  I already used CVS as a pharmacy, but there are quite a few things to love about it, including the fact that the massive drugstore chain recently walked away from millions of dollars in revenue when they stopped selling cigarettes. Here are six reasons parents should add CVS to their list of go-to stores.

1. We can’t remember everything. When I realize I need the unique combination of wipes, cupcake liners, and milk at 9.30 pm, CVS is open. Check the website, as some of the stores are open until midnight, while some are open until 10 pm.

2. We lose things.  Laura Bliel, mom of three in Champaign-Urbana says, “They send out great coupons. 25% off? Don’t mind if I do!” I cannot keep track of coupons. When you walk into CVS, however, you can swipe your membership card or key chain at the red machine and it will print out all the coupons and points you’ve earned on the card. That way, if you’ve lost all of them, now you know what you have earned before you start shopping.

Get the most out of CVS [Read more…]

When to use black and white photo filters

More than once I’ve heard the tip to filter your photos to black and white in order to mask the fact that your children’s outfits were excruciatingly mismatched, and not in a quirky stylish way.

When San Francisco mom Yuliya Patsay posted this cute baby photo on Instagram, and was transparent about her reasons for using black and white, I asked if I could share it, too.

Black and White makes photos better

I don’t like to hide all the trappings of real life all the time (wanna see my home office?) but sometimes a dated couch and carpet setting or even an overly bright piece of baby gear (Fisher Price, I’m looking at you) can be transformed when you drop the colors out of the photo.

If you’ve already identified the shot you’re using for a holiday card, note that our affiliate TinyPrints is having a fantastic promo for the next few days: $50 off your order of $150 or more.

10 Clutter-Free Gifts for Dads & Husbands

Clutter-free Gifts for Rookie Dads

  1. Consumable food. A subscription to a monthly beer, coffee, wine, or meat club will bring something fun in the mail each month. Eat, drink, and be done with it! I always buy bulk candy for my husband’s stocking.
  2. Concert tickets. Use to find what’s coming soon. Print a picture of the band and wrap it up.
  3. Hotel night to spend with you. Plan a reservation for a date when you’ll be comfortable leaving baby with grandparents overnight.
  4. Gym membership. He’s less likely than you are to take it as a hint. [Read more…]

9 gender-neutral toys for kids of any gender

A friend of mine, mother to one little boy, told me she loved the “Dollhouses for Boys” post I did last year. Funny, because in my mind, that post was for parents of boys and girls equally — anyone who didn’t want pink plastic to take over their playroom, especially families with boys AND girls who would like toys to be inviting to all kids.

Here are some more great unisex toys that come free of any commercial baggage. This post contains affiliate links.

  1. Everything by Kid O, but I especially like their push walking toy and the squirrel pull toy. My toddlers loved things that they could drag and pull while walking.
    A round up of gender-neutral toys
  2. Indoor tents and forts are fun for everyone. I saw this cute KidKraft one at a tradeshow, and we got YEARS of use out of the collapsible nylon play tents that can go outdoors for a backyard festival.
    A round up of gender-neutral toys
  3. Pounding toys are a must-have for 1-year olds! We had a plastic one with balls that roll down to a tray where you can pick them up again. My son LOVED it. Pounding “benches” are inexpensive (look for one under $10) opportunities to offer the same play pattern. Of course the European unfinished wood brands will cost just as much as this plastic mallet and ball set.
    Gender neutral toys that are awesome
  4. Play kitchens, oh how I wish you would stop getting made in the color pink! IKEA makes a great-looking one (pictured) as do PLAN toys, Melissa and Doug, and KidKraft. Pro tip: compare heights on these products. If your child is older than two, don’t buy a tiny kitchen. Early elementary school kids will still enjoy playing with one of these if the scale is right.
    Gender neutral toys that are awesome
  5. This Schylling tea set offers a Fiesta Ware color palette instead of pink and floral. Hooray! But another option is to simply buy a set of espresso cups and saucers and put them in a special box.  IKEA has adorable ones that you could pair with a colorful tray and cool box. Even enhance a set of tiny white mugs with Sharpie designs.
  6. My family has this set of 26 blocks by Haba. Their unique shapes and design have kept my son and daughter interested in them for years.
    A round up of gender-neutral toys for children
  7. My local toy store owner recommended this pretty rainbow by Grimms to me. It’s a 6-piece nesting toy, a stacking toy, and creative kids will try all the configurations pictured below, but check prices – this seems to vary wildly depending on the store.
    Rainbow Stacking Toy and 8 more great toys
  8. A new “dollhouse for boys” or just a fun house from Hape whose geometric pieces can be placed in a few different arrangements, making setting it up part of the fun.
    A round-up of gender neutral toys for children
  9. Totally splurge-worthy, Magnatiles are open-ended building fun for everyone. My children have spent hours collaborating with Heather’s kids on mazes for Hexbugs, made out of Magnatiles. This combination of toys — for kids 6+ — will pay off during the long winter months.
    9 gender-neutral toys for kids

Activity #41: Test drive some baby classes

Take a free baby music class

Take a free baby music class

Most classes for babies provide a free trial experience. Take advantage of these freebies before committing to a paid class. Try to talk your other mama friends into joining you so it’s the most fun for YOU.

Your 41st weekly challenge is to contact a local music, dance, or exercise class for moms and babies, and arrange to take a free class.

Many of your local gymnastics studios for kids will offer a free trial experience, and here are four national chains with free class offers on their websites:

  • Kindermusik offers classes for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and big kids and each class is 45 minutes long.
  • Gymboree classes for babies focus on either music or playing – you can choose.
  • Music Together is mixed age classes up to age five and the classes are an hour long.
  • My Gym is a children’s “fitness center” that starts classes with parent participation at age – get this – six weeks!

You may find that your local independent music or movement centers for kids offer a free trial visit as well. Have you tried any? Let us know!

Not ready for this rookie mom challenge? Go back and start with an easier one.