Japan Life · Life · Parenting · Shop My Instagram

One Japanese Custom Americans Should Adopt | Why You Should Take Your Shoes Off in Your Home

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If you know me, you know that there are so many things I love about Japan. Just the other day, I was telling Drew that I am beginning to ache for the place, and we still have a little over a year left in the country. I could go on and on about the kindness of the Japanese, the beautiful rural countryside, and all of the customary Japanese things that I love here.
One of the things that I love most about the Japanese people, is that they are very conscious about cleanliness.

I’m telling you, I am going to cry when I return to American gas station bathrooms. There’s nothing like walking into a FamilyMart and using an absolutely spotless bathroom ANYWHERE that you stop on a road trip.

Being in Japan, there are several roles on our base that are filled by the Japanese nationals vs the US military. In particular, most of our housing maintenance department is managed by the Japanese people. This means, when your toilet breaks, they are the kind ones to come fix it.

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Do babes ever chew on anything SAFE for them?

And because toddlers seem to have a life goal of flushing things that shouldn’t be flushed during the fifteen seconds that you decide to look away to load the dishwasher… in a nutshell, we see maintenance a lot in our home.
One of the things that I was most startled by when welcoming the Japanese into our home for the first time, was the fact that they carried two sets of shoes with them. Without asking, they removed the shoes that they were wearing outside our front door, and they immediately stepped into house shoes to wear within our home.

As we have integrated into life in Japan, we have quickly realized that this practice is not just isolated to homes.

You go to the doctor, you will put on slippers.
You go to the hospital for a procedure, you will put on slippers.
You stay at a hotel, you will put on slippers.
You go to the onsen, you will put on slippers.
You go out to eat, you will put on slippers.
Even if you go to the bathroom, sometimes, you will put on slippers.

At first, I just didn’t really get it. To be honest, when we came to Japan, we were not big on the “no shoes in the house” rule. After the first week of culture shock from constantly taking off my shoes and replacing them with house shoes everywhere, I finally decided to do some reading on WHY I was constantly swapping shoes as I entered these various buildings. I was disgusted with my own ignorance, because the reasons are numerous, and they are pretty monumental.


This post is sponsored by Dearfoams, but the content was researched and written 100% by me, and all opinions are 100% my own. I agreed to work with Dearfoams because I genuinely love their company, and I will never speak highly about a brand that I don’t sincerely love.

4 Reasons You Should Remove Your Shoes at the Door | Why Everyone Needs House Shoes


 

“What did you say is on your shoes?!”

1. Outside shoes are GROSS

Did you know that almost ALL shoes that are worn outside of the home for at least one month carry fecal matter on them? Yep. Your outside, everyday shoes are covered in poop. A study from the University of Arizona on this particular topic says that up to 93 percent test positive, in fact.¹ When I first read this little bit of information, I was absolutely horrified.
In homes with children, this is obviously an even bigger deal, too.
Think about it this way: right now, Ellie spends 95% of her day on the floor. She touches it with her hands, then chews on her fingers. She rolls all around, and sometimes even falls asleep with her face smashed against it. Wearing house shoes or slippers that NEVER leave our home insures a clean environment for her to explore, drool, and chew happily (and safely.)

2. It keeps your house clean

I mean, this is kind of a given, right? This is probably the main reason that most people choose to remove their shoes at the door.
We live in the snowiest city in the world presently.  And what happens when snow melts?
MUD.
Our porch is constantly covered in dirt, mud, and water, and during the early spring, everything in sight is covered in pollen from the cherry blossoms. Being able to swap out our muddy/dirty shoes at the door, and put our feet into nice, clean soles, keeps our house so much cleaner. I mean, anything that makes my mopping/vacuuming schedule much easier to handle is a must- do for me.

Heck, you can even wash house shoes in order to help keep your floors that much more clean. Did you know that Dearfoams created the very first washable slipper with comfortable foam padding in it? Even all the way back in 1948, they were committed to creating a product that was safe and easy to keep clean for your family. To this day, most Dearfoams slippers are machine washable, meaning even your house shoes can be cleaned periodically- keeping your home as clean and safe for your little ones as possible.

3. It is so much more comfortable

You might be asking, “why wear shoes at home at all?”
If you are asking this question, I venture to say: you clearly do not have a toddler.

Legos. One word. One scary, painful word.
LEGOS.

But in all seriousness, it is incredibly convenient to own a pair of shoes that are comfortable enough to wear all day inside of your home, yet protective enough to shield you from the plethora of sinister little bottom-of-the-foot hazards that are children’s toys.
Perfect trade off. Your feet remain protected, and you remain comfy.

4. It is polite

This is HUGE in Japan, and I wish it was something that was better practiced in the states. While I don’t think America will necessarily begin carrying a pair of house shoes with them when going to visit friends, I do wish that it would become customary to remove shoes at the door.
It is respectful to the family that is hosting you, it is cleanly, and it is so so easy to do. In our experience in Japan, hosts customarily actually provide YOU with house shoes upon entering their home. Talk about a way to personify “Mi casa es su casa,” right?


 

There are so many huge reasons to begin building the habit of wearing ONLY house shoes in the home. Mum Ana Lucia Komori puts it best in my opinion:

“When we take our shoes off we are free from all the things that happened to us during the day but that don’t belong to our intimacy and spirit at home.”³

I LOVE that concept. As you shed your dirty daytime shoes, and put on your cozy house shoes, you are leaving the heavy parts of your day behind. You are settling into your own home for the night, and allowing your burdens to stay at the door, where you can pick them up to deal with the following day.

So I challenge you, start taking off  your shoes immediately upon entering the home. If you’re like us and like to wear shoes anyway, buy yourself a pair of house shoes. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Dearfoams are absolutely our favorite.
Cozy up, leave your burdens behind, and keep your floors clean for the tiny hands and feet that are exploring their little world.

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Sources:

  1. https://www.today.com/home/health-reasons-why-you-shouldn-t-wear-shoes-house-t129820
  2. http://alt.npo-glad.org/taking-off-shoes-japan/
  3. http://www.essentialkids.com.au/health/health-wellbeing/should-you-take-your-shoes-off-before-entering-your-home-20180723-h1316l
  4. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2001.html
Ellie · Parenting

5 Reasons You Should Choose Natural Baby Food | Ellie’s First Solids

This post is sponsored by Beech-Nut® but this post was written 100% by me, and all opinions are 100% my own.


It is unbelievably hard to believe that Ellie is already 6 months old, but she is amazingly already halfway through her first year of life, no matter how much I will her to stay little forever.
We went to the commissary this week and bought our favorite purees, since she has hit the age to start solid foods. I reached out to collaborate with Beech-Nut® Naturals™, because I absolutely love their commitment to only use real ingredients you can actually pronounce; 100% natural ingredients.

We have been moving as a family more towards natural products in our home, and love to use homemade products when possible, but honestly I just don’t have time to puree and make all of my own baby food. On top of that, produce is NOT CHEAP to purchase in Japan. Beech-Nut® Naturals™ is inspired by homemade, so I am more than happy to always purchase their foods and save myself some serious time and money in the process. Nothing better than looking at a jar of baby food and simply reading “sweet potatoes” on the ingredients list.

Ellie was more than happy too, and sincerely enjoyed her orange sweet potato goodness yesterday.

On a side note, because I feel it is important to mention: Ellie girl took her first bites of food today, right at 6 months old.
Did you know that it is actually recommended that infants actually remain exclusively breast-fed until ALL signs of readiness are met, and the same guidelines should be followed if you are formula feeding? This includes sitting upright without assistance, the lack of a tongue-thrust reflex, having a clear interest in foods, and having met 6 months of age (while other recommendations state that as early as 4 months is okay to start solids, our family chose to wait until Ellie hit 6 after reading various studies on the subject.)

So, when my baby is ready, why should I choose natural?

1. There are no artificial colors or preservatives in natural foods.

Are you familiar with the dyes in so many foods that can cause allergic reactions? I was a kid that was allergic to red dye 40, and I used to have to watch EVERY. SINGLE. FOOD. LABEL.
Buying baby food without added preservatives and dyes allows your baby to only get the foods found in nature, not a bunch of added chemicals. Beech-Nut® Naturals™ is inspired by homemade, and their baby foods are vacuum-sealed, meaning many preservatives can actually be left out completely while still keeping the food safe to eat.

2. There is minimal processing, so you don’t have to worry about lots of major allergy risks.

Having a son with a still unconfirmed peanut allergy, and carrying an epi pen around constantly is pretty terrifying, so we are extremely cautious with Ellie now as well. Being able to read an ingredients list that ONLY states that the fruit or veggie is included in the product is a breath of fresh air for an allergy mom. All of the Beech-Nut® purees are free from peanut, tree nut, and soy, though some do contain wheat or dairy. You can use the allergen filter to clearly see which foods could be a concern for your babe, by using the checklist on the sidebar here.

3. Natural just tastes better.

Perhaps this is a statement of opinion, but I would venture to say it’s true in almost all cases. I try everything that I give my kiddos, and I finished off the jar of sweet potatoes that Ellie ate last night after she had taken her fill. Normally I won’t touch purees of veggies, but the sweet potatoes were actually excellent. I loved that they weren’t overly sweetened, and actually taste like what a whole cooked sweet potato would.

4. Natural usually means ingredients are processed as little as possible.

Did you know that the more a fruit or veggie is processed, the more the nutrients cook out of it? Choosing a product with less processing and less artificial ingredients means more nutrients are going straight to your baby. Beech-Nut® Naturals™ is simply prepared using indirect heat, meaning as little cooking as possible is used in order to produce safe and nutrient-rich foods for your families.

5. Simple and uncomplicated flavors encourage your babes to love fruits and veggies.

Keeping your baby foods tasting the same as ACTUAL fruits and veggies encourages your baby to love those same fruits and veggies when they transition away from purees. We plan to do a mix of baby-led-weaning and purees for Ellie, and I am confident that using natural baby foods will allow the transition to munching on solid fruits and veggies that much easier.


Furthermore and aside from anything related to their food, I have been so impressed with Beech-Nut® as a brand. Being a small company of around 300 employees located out of New York, they choose to operate out of a green, energy-efficient building, and they choose to LOCALLY source their ingredients whenever possibleincluding all of their apples for the Naturals™ range from a farm near Lake Ontario, just down the road from their facility! I’m all about supporting small and supporting local, so that is AWESOME in my mind.

If you are starting solids with your babe, cheers to this milestone! I encourage you to do your research on baby foods, and to consider choosing natural if possible. Our family will definitely continue choosing natural whenever possible, and this little ham will continue loving every second of it.

 

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Life · Parenting

Two

Two years ago on this day, at 5:44pm, our lives got so much brighter. Our sweet little 8lb boy with a full head of black hair was born, and I so vividly remember not being able to hold back tears as they handed him to me.
“Oh my gosh, that’s my baby. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, he’s our baby. This is our Henry.”

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During my pregnancy with him, I stumbled upon the song Cecilia and the Satellite by Andrew McMahon, and it played on repeat for the following 20 weeks. Such a sweet song, written for his own daughter, and his words are so unbelievably true.

“For all the things my eyes have seen, the best by far is you.
For all the places I have been, I’m no place without you.
For all the things my hands have held, the best by far is you.”

Man, you’ll hear me constantly talk through my emotions about motherhood in similar ways, but I never knew just how deeply it would change me until my sweet Henry was laid on my chest that day in July.
Two years later, I still feel the same.

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It’s funny, because typically the first birthday is the hardest for parents . But this second birthday has been so much more tearful than expected. The little boy that made me a mom is turning two only a few weeks before his little sister will make her appearance, making it all the more real that it has actually been two entire years since our lives changed so drastically.

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So, my sweet boy. You went to sleep last night a 1 year old, and opened your eyes this morning a whole number bigger. And since I can’t seem to figure out how to stop this from happening each year, here’s to you on your second birthday.

Henry,

You are so resilient. I am constantly in awe of your ability to go with the flow, and your ability to adapt to any situation. Less than a year ago you moved 6000 miles away from the United States with us, and ever since Japan has simply been your new playground.
You have the sweetest heart, and I hope you never lose that. Your sensitive and caring nature dumbfounds me, and sometimes I am convicted so deeply of my own fallen heart simply by looking at you and the way that you interact with your world. You love kitty cats, you pat my arm when I cry. You snuggle your daddy as he sleeps, you say “pwease” and “ank-youuuu” for everything we hand you. You have a heart of absolute gold, and a face full of sass, and I could not love that more about you.

 

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I pray you will remain resilient as your baby sister comes. So excited for her arrival, we anxiously await as she gets bigger every day. But the countdown is bittersweet knowing that every day that we get closer to meeting her is a day closer to you no longer being our only baby. I pray you always feel loved, cherished, and important, no matter how many times you become a big brother.
I pray so many things for you, sweet boy.

I pray you never stop saying yellow the way you do. “Wewwow”
I pray you never lose your love for all things “vroom vroom.”
I pray you always carry kittens around, snuggling them as you do every single day right now.
I pray you ask US to say “MMM, GOOD” about our food forever.
I pray you always walk up to us and open our hands to stack your matchbox cars in, no matter what else we are busy with.
I pray you never stop leaning forward to have me kiss your forehead every night.
I pray you never stop grabbing my face to kiss me.
I pray you always reach your hand towards mine as we leave the house.
I pray you always bring me books to read to you.
I pray you always look at everything in your world with the same wonder that you do right now. I especially pray you always excitedly and loudly exclaim, “WOW, LOOK AT THAT!”

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I pray you stay this little forever, but since I know you won’t, I hope you are always your sweet, thoughtful, and funny self. I hope as you grow well into your toddler years and into the years of school, that you know Jesus as your best friend, your parents as your absolutes, and your family as your biggest fans- no matter how far away they may be at the time.

I fear about the attitude and temperament of your coming little sister, because I do not see how I could ever be blessed with another baby as sweet as you. Thankfully, as seen with you, I have been surprised before. I’m sure you both will grow into quite the spitfires, and I am okay with that. Teach her to see the world you do. I wish I could learn more through your little eyes.

You are so dearly loved, my sweet boy. Your daddy and I can’t seem to say that enough.

 

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Grow in height, grow in sizes, but mostly, please continue growing in your sweet personality and your care for others. If the world could have a million Henrys, it would be all the better for it.

Happy birthday baby boy.

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Parenting · Saving Money · Shop My Instagram

Registry Guide from a Second Time Mom

Whether you’re having your first baby or your seventh, baby registries are always both exciting and completely overwhelming.

We purchased so many things for Henry that we NEVER needed, and also missed out on some amazing baby products simply because we didn’t know about them. With our little lady arriving soon, I have been on the search for what we still need for baby #2. I feel like this time around we have a pretty solid grasp on what is necessary for babes, what is fun, and what is completely silly to purchase just because everyone will tell you it is a “must-have.” So, here are our real “must-haves,” from experiencing the baby-game firsthand.

I have split these into two categories, so you know which products I have owned and tested myself, and which I am registering for this time around! This is a pretty long post, mostly because I want you to know exactly WHY I am recommending each product.

I am a safety conscious mom, and am probably a bit more over-protective than most. We breastfeed exclusively, do not introduce solids until at least 6 months, and our babes sleep in our room (and sometimes subsequently our bed, even though we always say they won’t) for several months. Every mama is different, and everything will work differently for each family, so you should decide what works best for you! But in general, these are the items that were lifesavers for us.

This post may contain affiliate links in which I will receive a percentage of a sale if you purchase through my link. This is how I keep my blog running. I want to let you know when I choose to monetize my links. I choose to join affiliate programs based on the products I really, really love, and never join for a product I wouldn’t actually use myself. No company ever forces me to give a false opinion of a product- all opinions are entirely my own, and I only seek out and accept partnerships for companies that I personally want to promote.

Things I will register for again:

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I will start with the basics just so we don’t miss anything, and will leave these off the main list as they don’t need much explaining. Whether it is your first or ninth baby, you will always need these:

  • Car seat- we only reuse a seat if it is in date, has been in no accidents, and is in good physical condition. Our favorite is Britax for ALL seats- feel free to message me if you want my recommendations on seats!
  • High chair- totally reusable from a first babe, but something that comes in handy if you do not have one already
  • Diapers- I typically stock up on around 1 box of newborns, and 2 boxes of subsequent sizes. I hate having leftover diapers at the end of a size, so we always buy as we go
  • Diaper rash cream
  • Wipes
  • Baby Wash
  • Baby Lotion
  • Pacifiers- totally a personal choice on whether you use them or not, but they are always a great thing to register for as they go missing rather easily
  • Infant Tylenol and Motrin for later on
  • Safety Q-tips (these are the best invention ever)
  • And if you are nursing:
  • Breast pads
  • Milk storage bags (tip: check with insurance, these are occasionally covered!)
  • Nipple cream

1. Owlet Baby Monitor $299.99

Monitors accurate oxygen levels and heart rate while your baby sleeps, FSA/HSA approved 

Discount:
I have not found a discount directly for Owlet, but have found a sort of “loophole” discount. If you register at Target you receive a 15% off coupon to use on any remaining items on your registry. Typically they make this coupon available to you around 40-60 days before your baby’s arrival date- plenty of time to have the Owlet shipped to you!
Owlet is not excluded from this coupon at this current time. Thus, all you would have to do is create a Target registry and add the items you would like, including the Owlet monitor. You will be mailed/emailed two coupons- one for an online purchase, and one for an in-store purchase, both one time use only.

Super money-saving tip: you can add ANYTHING to your registry. Like, anything. Trust me on this one, you WANT to do this.
So on the day you go to use your coupon, pick the items you would like to purchase from your registry, but also add your groceries to your registry as you go! We added things like toilet paper, milk, cleaning supplies etc, because there is no rule on what can or can’t be added, and we received 15% off our entire transaction that one day. We bought EVERYTHING we needed for our house, and all the groceries we needed for that month, and especially stocked up on any nonperishables that had a gift card deal on them! You can do this both online and in store, and totally snag some great deals in the process. Be sure to watch Target’s gift card promotions too, because they often offer cash back on the Owlet.
If using this coupon, it brings the cost of a monitor down to $254.99.

You can also stack the 5% off RedCard discount on top of all this. If you’re not big into credit cards, they also over a debit card that draws immediately upon purchase from your bank account, just like if you paid with cash or check. We have the debit card and love it. You will get 5% off everything every single time you shop at Target- both online and in store. You can click the link on my side banner to the right to apply.

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You can view your baby’s vitals directly from your smartphone, but you do not need a smartphone for the base station to alert you to any problems with your baby.

There is a reason this product is mentioned first on my list, and there is a reason that I recommend Owlet over the Snuza or Angel Care monitors. We purchased our Owlet a few days after Henry was born, because my postpartum anxiety was through the ROOF in regards to SIDS. I could talk all day long about Owlet, but I will save most of this for a separate post at some point as to not spam you with my opinions on just one product here. Please message me if you have any questions about the device- I am more than happy to answer them! I do not belong to their affiliate program, and this review is totally not connected to them at all- I just sincerely love their product.

Let me start by saying the difference between my sleep before and after receiving our device was startling. Though Owlet declares that it is not a machine intended for use in the prevention of SIDS, it can absolutely prevent things such as asphyxiation and strangulation, and may alert you to underlying birth defects or unknown heart/lung conditions your babe could have, which in turn could result in a SIDS case. It gave me a TON of peace when our Henry was sick or stuffy, and made for better sleep for everyone.

For me, knowing that problems in Henry’s heart rate or oxygen levels would be detected was enough to give me the peace of mind to sleep while he slept. I chose Owlet because they use the same technology that all hospitals and NICUs use for monitoring heart rate and oxygen levels. Their sensor uses pulse oximetry, not just a movement tracker like Snuza or Angel Care, and their systems have been internationally approved for accuracy. I tested this myself one day when I took Henry in for a checkup. The Owlet read exactly the same as the hospital’s pulse oximeter readings of Henry.

Though I love the company, I know there are several common concerns that I hear often from skeptical potential buyers. The most common one being: Won’t it only produce false alarms and cause me more stress in my life?
My answer? Absolutely not, if you follow the instructions. The device is made to function correctly, and false alarms absolutely should not happen. We did ample research on how to CORRECTLY use the sock, how to interpret your babe’s readings, and how to know when there is a problem. We only had a few false alarms at the beginning due to using the wrong size sock to begin with, but once we figured out our smart sock settings for Henry, we never had a false alarm again. The alarms for a baby’s vitals being in dangerous levels are completely different than the alarm for the sock falling off his/her foot. Your sock should NEVER have false alarms. If you do, you are not using the correct sock size, or are not placing the monitor on the foot correctly.

Owlet alerted me once when Henry’s oxygen levels dropped substantially one night around three months old, and I woke in the middle of the night to find him holding his breath. I immediately scooped him up, waking him from his deep sleep, and the levels returned to normal. I can’t say for sure that Owlet saved his life, but I can say that I would rather 100000x been woke up that night to make sure he was breathing than risk the alternative.

We used our sock until Henry was well past the SIDS risk zone- furthermore we actually used it until he outgrew it at 15 months. Most babies are able to use their socks until 18 months, we simply have a kid with massive feet.

On top of all of this, you can view all the readings of your baby from your smart phone via the Android or iPhone apps. So when I returned to work very early mornings part time when Henry was still at home sleeping with my husband, I was able to check my phone frequently and still know he was asleep and breathing just fine, even though I was 20 miles from home. This same concept applies if you have a nanny or a babysitter- when your babe is asleep, you can always check on their vitals from your phone.

Honestly, I would pay double the price for an Owlet monitor this time around if they were so priced that way, and we are absolutely registering for the Smart Sock 2 Owlet for our little lady coming in a few months. I will have no hesitation buying this monitor again.

Side note: I do recommend buying as close to your due date as possible (if we were stateside, with shipping times we would buy maybe one week before our little girl is due) because the Owlet warranty runs for one year from the date of receipt. Our base station started acting up when Henry was around nine months old, and Owlet sent us a brand new unit after about a 15 minute customer service call, no questions asked.

2. Swaddle Sacks– various prices, typically $20-$40

Keeps babies swaddled safely, allowing for safer sleep habits and better sleep for parents

Discount:
Click the link above for a code for 10% off all Ollie World orders. (Expires July 22, 2018)

We LOVED our swaddle sacks. Originally, we only had one that we took home with us from the hospital accidentally (oops,) but quickly realized that they are lifesavers for parents who wish to swaddle their newborns but still want to keep the crib clear of obstructions to breathing.

Drew and I never figured out how to properly swaddle a baby with a muslin blanket, and since Henry was always SO wiggly and would squirm his way out of blankets easily, I hated to place any blankets in the crib with him at all, for any reason. He was a very early roller, and we always tried to follow the ABC’s of safe sleep, so we did not allow blankets or stuffed animals until he was much older. He LOVED having his belly and one arm swaddled though, so our swaddle sacks were the best investment. (Plus, they are way faster than swaddling with muslin/swaddle blankets.)

My favorite brand of swaddle comes from The Ollie World, as linked above- I think they’re the best quality of the ones we have owned, they wash the best, and are the easiest to use.
We are also fan of Embe Baby Swaddles ($30). We have this one in mint and love it.
And if you are looking for a more inexpensive option (these tend to be outgrown first from my experience, but are still a great option) Ziggy Baby Swaddles ($20 for 3).

3. DockATot– $175- $200 (Deluxe)

Discount- Use code 10OFF at the link above for $10 off any order (expiration unknown)

Multi-functioning lounger, cosleeper, and transition sleeper for your babe
“DockATot Deluxe and DockATot Grand are designed to be comfy and ultra-reliable lounging docks for little ones ages 0-36 months.”

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The most common question I get about our docks is: What in the world is it used for? The official use of a dock is detailed on the DockaTot website, and I think it best describes what a dock is purchased for:
“You can use DockATot for co-sleeping, supervised tummy time, play time, snuggle time, supervised naps, as a changing station, or really just any time you need to put baby down in a comforting spot. The Grand is a cozy spot for toddlers to sleep in overnight and is ideal for easing the crib to bed transition.”
For me, our dock eliminated the need for a Boppy, bouncer/lounging chair, changing pad, and cosleeper- and placed all these items I would have purchased separately into one compact lounger.

I recently sought out a collaboration with DockATot to see if they were really as amazing as I hoped, and I will be posting a very detailed review on both the Deluxe and Grand models as soon as our baby girl arrives and I am able to test both. We have received a Deluxe and Grand model complimentary, and have since tested the Grand model for our 23 month old Henry. I was somewhat skeptical about how much the Grand model would actually be needed, but we have been blown away by how much we love Henry’s dock so far.

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Henry has been taking his naps every day in his Grand dock, which we are using to help him transition from his crib to a big boy bed before sister arrives. The sides help him feel snug and cuddled in his bigger bed, and somehow magically make him less likely to climb out of bed and wander. And while I used to laugh at people who said this, I swear that dock just has magic dust on it that makes him sleep so much more soundly. He stopped fighting me at bedtime, and asks to take the dock into the living room to sit/lounge in during the day. At night, he is a roller, and often tangles himself in blankets during nap time to the point of us being concerned about suffocation due to how tightly he used to wind himself into them. I have noticed that he has slept much more soundly, and has tossed and turned much less since we introduced the dock into his nap times, making me feel much better about leaving him with his light blankets at night. (The Grand model is okay for use with blankets, the Deluxe is not. Babies under 9 months old should not typically be left with a blanket overnight.)

If you travel often at all, you need this product. I would purchase a Deluxe model 100% simply for how easy it makes hotel visits with babies. Not having to lug around a pack-n-play, which is MUCH heavier and bulkier than a dock, is so worth the money in my opinion, and I know for a fact that Henry sleeps WAY better in his dock than he ever would in a PackNPlay. DockATot is completely safe to use as a cosleeper, provided you follow all guidelines found on their website. We never thought we would cosleep with Henry, and were actually pretty heavily against the idea when he was born, but fell into the habit as he slept better near us and nursed often. I fell into some unsafe sleep habits when he was 6-9ish months old, and I wish I would have had a Deluxe dock during those months to make his sleep safer than it was. God is good, and he was kept safe through the months, but looking back I will definitely be using our dock to help keep our baby girl safe. We nursed until Henry was 17 months old, and the dock would have been a lifesaver. I am so excited to use it for our baby girl.

The dock cover is easily washed and also helps prevent excessive sweating (Henry has benefited from this SO much, and has slept so much more comfortably than he did on just a regular non-breathable mattress.) I tested the breathability of the sides, and was extremely impressed with how breathable they are. I feel comfortable using the Deluxe model as a cosleeper overnight with our little lady, for sure.

I’ll be honest, if you do not have the funds to purchase both a Deluxe and a Grand model, I would recommend purchasing/registering for the Grand only. Babies are able to transition to a Grand model around 9 months old- sometimes sooner depending on how big your baby is- and the help that it has provided us for transitioning Henry to his big boy bed has been SO worth it. You’ll likely get more use out of a Grand in the long run, as babies don’t outgrow them as quickly. That being said, after testing, we would purchase both a Deluxe and a Grand for our little lady if we did not already have them. I am impressed with the quality, and am definitely impressed with how magically it has seemed to make Henry sleep well so far. I can’t wait to put our newborn in her Deluxe. Stay tuned for another review once little lady is here.

4. Baby Carrier (My favorite is LilleBaby) approximately $120-$160

I’ll just say this straight up. You need a baby carrier. If you think you won’t wear your baby, totally reconsider, because you are seriously missing out.
Grocery shopping, hiking, exploring new cities, and even family events are a MILLION times easier with a carrier.
Any baby carrier is worth it, but in my opinion, LilleBaby was the best choice simply due to the transition ability between the newborn to toddler stages, while still keeping your babe’s legs and pelvis safe and sound.
The guides within the packaging tell you exactly how to fold your carrier’s snaps in order for your baby to be correctly carried at each age. There are certain ways you may wear them at each age, and I found LilleBaby to be by FAR the most versatile in regards to this.
They offer a variety of carrier sizes, made for different needs. Each family will be different. We personally chose an all-seasons carrier that allowed Henry to be worn from the day he was born (without a newborn insert) all the way up to the present at almost two years old in these photos. We took him on a trip recently where my husband wore him for several miles each day, and never once complained about it. When you live in a crowded and compressed country like Japan, this made things SO much easier than a stroller.

5. Swing $49-$200

Of course, swings are a lifesaver! I don’t have much to say about this considering they are pretty self-explanatory, and because I think SO many models are great, but my best advice- absolutely get a swing that PLUGS IN. You may think that a swing with battery powered capabilities makes it so much more portable, and that should trump everything, but let me just say this: You likely won’t take that swing with you anywhere, and C&D batteries cost a LOT of money when your baby loves to swing.
Here are a few of my favorites right now on Amazon. We have always gone with Graco swings simply due to the price point, but I know of tons of brands that are excellent.

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Graco Simple Sway Baby Swing
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Graco DuetSoothe Swing and Rocker

6. Baby Cage (Ha, just kidding… Sort of.) $68.99

A safe, contained environment for your kiddo to lounge and play.

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My mom bought us this for Henry when he was around 8 months old. He began taking his first steps at 7 months, and by the end of month 8 he walked like he had been doing it his whole life. (Cool to see your baby hit milestones early, but MAN it is terrifying having a baby that tiny able to walk anywhere he wants.)
Henry started getting into things he wasn’t supposed to, and often climbed things that weren’t necessarily safe for him, as he was still VERY little. He didn’t understand direction from us yet, and during those super tired mom moments, this thing was absolutely amazing.

My mom bought us this playard, and it was an absolute lifesaver. Made even the small tasks like getting a load of dishes done that much easier. We saved it for our little lady, and I have a feeling it will become even more useful when I am trying to separate a crazy toddler from a fragile infant who is learning to crawl. 😉
We also used this play pen for when we grilled, had parties, or just wanted to sit outdoors. Henry wasn’t big on grass, so this kept him safe from the “creepy” ground and kept bugs and spiders off of him, but still allowed him some fresh air and sunshine!

I linked the one that we used, but if you search “play pen” or “playard” on Amazon, you will see hundreds of different options.

7. Pack N Play $40-$170

Personally, I would not even purchase a crib this time around if we didn’t already have Henry’s that we will transition little lady to- not at first anyway. If you are tight on funds, I would recommend that you DON’T BOTHER until they are older! I say this mainly because it was our choice to have our babies sleep in our bedroom for the first six months of life anyway, and it is highly recommended that you do this for at least the first three, as it reduces your babe’s risk for SIDS.

That being said, we used our Pack N Play for safe sleep until we transitioned Henry into his own bed. We personally try not to co-sleep (and often fail, since we do anyway) due mainly to the fact that Drew wakes up for nothing in the world, and we wanted to follow all guidelines for preventing SIDS. So we set up our Pack N Play to keep Henry at arms reach, but still give him his own flat, safe sleeping space.

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We purchased the “fancier” model, as models like these actually have the newborn bassinet attachment in them. If you are looking for a great deal, this PackNPlay is only right around $45.
I would also recommend registering for sheets like these for whatever model you have, and this time around we registered for this little quilt too.

8. Sippy Cups and Snack Containers, around $3-$5

Once toddlerhood hits and you are in major snacking phases, these snack and drink cups are lifesavers. I have used several different brands, but I will forever swear by all things Munchkin, due to the fact that every product I have used by them has been dishwasher safe, easy to clean, and 100% kid friendly. These are the three main products we used daily when Henry was an infant. He still uses all three today as a toddler.

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These sippies are great for the smaller kids, and teach how to use a straw early. No matter what angle they hold the cup at (and I mean ANY angle) the straw will follow and allow them to drink.

These also come apart incredibly easy opposed to some other cups that do not clean well.

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These are our transition cup, and helped Henry learn to drink from a big boy cup easily. Plus they are orthodontically approved.
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These snack cups are a must-have if you don’t what Cheerios crammed in ever crevice of every item of your house. (Ha, just kidding. It’s unavoidable, I swear.)

They’re especially awesome for the car, when you don’t want your kid to spill every bit of their snack, considering you can’t reach back while driving.

9. SOUND MACHINE! $18.99

Drowns out sounds and plays soothing sounds for your babe as they sleep.

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I would recommend this for ALL new parents. We will buy a second sound machine for our little lady’s room, as Henry still sleeps with his at almost two.

White noise mimics the sound that babies hear in the womb, meaning they are comforted by the sound due to the fact that that’s what they have heard for the last 9 months. That being said, the best thing that we EVER did with Henry was to teach him to fall asleep in a loud room. But no matter what, when he is sleeping, he has some sort of noise going on in the room. Keeping a babe in a silent and quiet room often trains them to wake at the slightest sound, and when you finally feel like having friends over again, this can be a nightmare.

We had Christmas parties, went to movies, and still have friends over almost every weekend to play cards now. We just put Henry down, turn up his sound machine, and he very rarely wakes from any noises we make.

We have used the machine linked above one for two years and love it. Henry loves the white noise, rain, crickets, and thunder sounds. We switch it up occasionally and he sleeps soundly with all the options.

10. Diaper Pail (Diaper Genie) $37.49

Maybe we are lazy, but our diaper pail is one of my top 4 best baby buys ever.

Some moms will claim this is unnecessary- and to some families it totally is. Call us gross, but it’s true- we are just not a take-your-trash-out-every-day kind of family, so for us, this is a lifesaver. The small little bags keep diapers contained in an airtight container, and we are able to fit multiple stink bombs in there before needing to take out the trash. It wipes down and disinfects easy, so I see no real cons to having one! We have one in our kitchen, and one in our baby’s room, that way no trash cans in our house ever have to smell like baby poop.

We couldn’t care less about brand names with these- considering you are just throwing poop in them anyway, so we have always bought these Target brand bags as refills.

11. Wipes, wipes, & then more wipes, various prices

Discount: Target almost ALWAYS has Up&Up wipes on Cartwheel, and often runs gift card promos on bigger boxes of wipes! Buy in bulk, and you definitely save money.

I add this to the main list even though it is obvious, because personally, we use baby wipes for everything. I could receive 10 cases of wipes at a shower and be 100% content in feeling like we will use them all. Some parents are not this way, and prefer to use them ONLY for diapering. We use them to clean up spills, snot, hands, walls, tables, and of course baby bums. Because we use them for so much, we go through boxes and boxes. I personally do not bother buying fancier wipes, and always go with the off brand. Most of the time, even the store brands like Target’s Up&Up offer sensitive wipes too if your baby has allergies. I have never noticed a difference in quality, and to be honest, the off brand from Target especially always come out of the package WAY easier than the brand name wipes.

Our favorites are the cucumber melon scent, or the fresh scent from Up&Up. Typically they are on Cartwheel, too!

For this babe, we will register for at least 2-3 giant boxes, because we KNOW we will use them.

Must-Haves for Breastfeeding Mamas:

1. Nursing Cover, typically $20-$30

Even if you think you will never nurse in public, at some point, I am almost certain in saying this: you will- and this is a LIFESAVER. 

I have absolutely nothing against breastfeeding openly in public, and would never shame a mama for doing so, but it just simply isn’t for me as I just don’t feel comfortable doing it. I prefer to be in the comfort of a private room when I nurse my babes. But when that isn’t possible, or when your only option is a bathroom (yuck) I choose to cover with a nursing cover. Multi-use covers are my FAVORITE, and in my opinion are way above the bar compared to the regular sheet-or-apron-like nursing covers. Most multi-use covers are 3-in-1, meaning you can use them for nursing, your infant carseat, and your shopping cart. Some even double as a scarf for you so you can wear them all day until you need them!
My favorite brands are CoveredGoods and MilkSnob, but you can also find some absolutely adorable prints on Etsy for slightly cheaper at times. I personally own a CoveredGoods cover, and I can attest to how easily it is for babies to breathe underneath, as well as how well it held up for the year and a half we used it. I just washed it last week and placed it in little lady’s room to use this time around, too. I would recommend getting at least one, if you can remember to keep it in your purse and wash it (which I can’t)- but this time I will register for 2-3 so I can throw them in my various bags and rotate them out with our laundry schedule. I will link a few of my favorites from various vendors in my Highlights on Insta this week!

2. Breast Pump

Discount: Check with your insurance before you EVER purchase a pump! Most cover a hospital grade pump 100%. Some even cover accessories and replacement tubing/pieces. As mentioned above, some insurance companies will even reimburse you for the cost of your milk storage bags!

We personally chose the Spectra S2, and I highly recommend it. I used a Medela in the hospital, and I really was not impressed with the output personally, but I know so many moms who swear by them. That being said, absolutely every woman is different, and every breast pump is going to work with your body differently. The biggest thing to remember is to get a hospital grade pump if possible, and to use the correct size phalanges. If you do this, any pump will work!

My favorite pump a little later on became a simple and cheap hand pump from Lansinoh. It was easy to throw into my purse and take anywhere, I didn’t have to worry about packing batteries or a cord, and it always drew out just as much milk as an electric pump.

This is the hand pump I bought for $29.99. Had I not had insurance that covered an electric pump, I absolutely could have made this work for my entire nursing months.

3. Nipple Shield, $7.35

Makes the first 2-4 weeks of breastfeeding SO much less painful

Discount: Always ask your hospital first if they have a shield you may use. They often will send you home with several totally free!

You’re probably reading this thinking, “what in God’s name is a nipple shield!?” I said the same thing too the first time I heard it. A nipple shield is a small piece of silicone which goes directly onto the breast you are nursing from. It allows your milk to pool a bit in the end of the shield, making it easier for very tiny babies to latch on.
My sister introduced me of this product, and without it we honestly either wouldn’t have made it through the first week of nursing, or we would have turned to exclusive pumping- neither of which are the worst things in the world- just not what our original plan was. If you are super committed to breastfeeding your babe, this is a must-have on my list unless your baby is just a mega-rockstar in the latching world from the very beginning (and most babies aren’t.) Our son had a slight lip tie, though it was not big enough to revise. He had issues latching for the first week while his little mouth was too small, and this tiny contraption saved the day every time we nursed.
In addition, it makes those first few miserable weeks a LOT easier to ease into. Your nipples will be sore, they will likely crack, and honestly mine even bled. When wearing this, it was SO much less painful to nurse, and allowed my body to get used to the changes more slowly. Once Henry figured out how to latch properly, we stopped using the shield one day, and never looked back.
My hospital never once mentioned this as an option, but as soon as we got home and tried it, I was convinced every new mama who plans on breastfeeding exclusively needs one.

Things I am registering for this time:

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1. BinxyBaby Shopping Cart Sling $49.95

Allows your baby to rest comfortably directly in the hammock, or safely secures your carseat in a cart while shopping.

Discount: Click the link above for 10% off your entire order at BinxyBaby.
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Image from Binxy Baby’s website. This is the color we have for our little lady, but so many different patterns and colors are available!

Oh my goodness, had I known about this brilliance when we had Henry, life would have been so much easier. Binxy Baby Shopping Cart Slings clip safely onto your shopping cart, giving your babe a hammock-like place to sleep while you shop. They also safely secure carseats- something that is always a struggle in shopping carts. (Trust me, there are VERY few ways to safely use a carseat in a shopping cart, and when you do use them safely, they take up your entire cart.)

We received our hammock this time around for our little lady, and would be registering for one if we did not.

Plus, their prints are too cute for words.

2. NoseFrida $15.99

Sucks the snot from your baby’s nose

Never in a million years did I think I would be registering for this lovely little device. Especially since we breastfed Henry exclusively, as a new (clearly unexperienced) mom, I was under the impression that he would never really get sick. Unfortunately, while breastfeeding is amazing for their immunities- whether you breast or formula feed your baby, they will still inevitably catch SOMETHING. And when they do, you will still be sitting there staring at your snotty, gasping baby with nothing more than the little blue bulb they give you in the hospital.
I have never used a NoseFrida personally, but I have SO many friends who swear by it. I 100% am trying it out this time around, because some of the worst nights of having an infant involved him sputtering and struggling to deal with the snot in his little nose that I just couldn’t fully suction with that bulb.

And to answer the big question: no, the snot doesn’t go in your mouth when you suck it out. The snot sucker comes with filters that keep any nasties you suck from their nose from EVER coming near the straw portion. In addition, their website states they have clinically proven that their filters also prevent any sickness-causing germs/bacteria from transferring up the tube as well. To me, that’s a win-win. Clear nose, no gasping baby, and nothing comes near your mouth.

You can also buy additional hygiene filters here for $3.99.

3. Baby Bath Cushion ($6.39) or a Blooming Bath ($39.99)

Bath products that don’t involve a tub of water

When we had Henry, we registered for the run-of-the-mill tiny little baby bath. We ended up getting a bath seat as well, and we really hated both. In the end, I ended up bathing him by laying a towel in the bottom of the tub, doubling it up for some cushion, and running about an inch of water in the tub, or after he began rolling, simply pouring the water on him in an otherwise empty tub as he bathed. In hindsight, I never felt comfortable bathing my infant in more than an inch or so of water. Of course, we never ever ever for ANY reason left Henry unattended in a bath- not even for a second- but those little boogers are still so slippery! I always feared Henry slipping under the water or slipping off his bath seat when we filled the tub with more than just an inch or so.

With little lady, we will register for either a bath mat/sponge or a blooming bath. Anything that allows you to use two hands while bathing your baby is 100% worth it, because in both a tub and a bath seat, I always felt the need to keep one hand on Henry’s belly. That sucks for your back as you are bending over that tub, and it makes bath time so much longer.

We personally will likely register for a blooming bath, because our sinks in this house are finally big enough to place one in, and by using a sink we completely eliminate the awkward angles that kill your back during bath times in a tub.

If you go with the bath mat, I would personally purchase one like I linked above. I always worry about mildew and mold with items that are consistently wet, so I would purchase an inexpensive version like the one listed above. That way I would not feel uncomfortable replacing it after a few months of use.

4. Video Monitor, $59.99

I always somewhat laughed at parents who needed to see their children during the night, but then I found myself walking to and from Henry’s room 15-20 times/ night after we moved him to his own room. We were able to check his vitals from our phone, but there is something about physically seeing your baby asleep that gives so much peace too. We are transitioning Henry to his big boy bed, and a video monitor is now crucial to us to watch him and make sure he is staying inside his bed all night.

We just purchased this model, which is actually primarily intended to be used in home security settings. It can alert to movement, and the 1080p picture allows for zooming and incredibly clear images. We have been watching Henry on our monitor tonight, and have been amazed at how well I can see him even with the night vision.

For Henry, we are able to talk to him through the camera, and can tell him to get his little booty back into bed if he gets out. The app allows you to connect multiple cameras, so we will be registering for an extra camera for the little lady’s room as well. Heck, with how cool these things are, we might even get one for several rooms to use as home security too. Easy to pull up on our iPad or phone, and quickly check both of our kids to see if they are still asleep and where they are supposed to be.

5. More baby socks than you could ever possibly need

I swear, dryers eat all socks to a certain degree, but they are a black hole for baby socks. Those things are SO tiny, that you will forever be searching for clean socks. I recommend purchasing ALL the same color and brand, simply for ease of matching. If you purchase all black socks, you don’t ever have to spend hours in the morning trying to find the match for the pink floral socks, the ones with the correct monster, or the polka dotted or striped ones. We like pajamas without the feet sewn on, so socks were a must for us!

What I wish we DIDN’T buy:

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1. Baby Detergents

Let me preface this. NOT ALL BABIES ARE THE SAME. I always recommend purchasing a baby detergent to begin with while your baby is only a few weeks old, because all babies will have different reactions to products. That being said, we tested Henry out on a regular detergent pretty soon after birth, and when he had absolutely no reactions to such, we switched back to our regular detergent. Free and clear detergents are typically much more expensive, and usually don’t make me feel like the clothes actually smell clean. We personally decided that Henry didn’t need them at all. On top of that, Henry was notorious for blowouts and breast milk spills, and I was notorious for dropping pieces of food on him while I ate and he nursed (you judge, but just wait.) So instead of a free and clear detergent, we always preferred stain-fighting types of detergents. Cheaper, less hassle than washing separate loads, and kept his clothes much cleaner.

That being said again, I also highly recommend classic Shout for breast milk and poop stains, and Shout Set-In Stain Remover for people like me who can’t remember to treat clothes immediately. That stuff is cheap, and it is magic.

2. Changing Table

Let’s be real. You have your first baby, and for the first three weeks you change them on that cute little pad with all your diapers below, and you are so happy you bought your changing table. But after about a month, you start stashing diapers throughout the house for ease of access, and your favorite place to change your babe becomes the couch, the bed, the kitchen table, etc. (Again, judge me- you just wait.)

In hindsight, we bought a changing table that matched our crib, and I really wish we would have ONLY bought the changing pad. Instead, I would have purchased a decent dresser for Henry, possibly a solid wood one that could grow with him as he gets older. I would then place his changing pad on top of the dresser, that way the dresser could be used long after he potty trained.
For little lady, we are definitely NOT buying a changing table, and are even getting rid of the one we still have from Henry. Once they are done with diapers, they are pretty useless otherwise. We would rather invest in something that holds her zillion onesies, anyway!

And finally, just a few more sneaky little buying tips from a second-time mom who made mistakes the first time around, and who also realized what makes life a zillion times easier.

  1. Don’t buy footie sleepers, especially not for the first 6 months! They outgrow these SO much faster. If you choose to purchase footless onesies, your babe will be able to wear them MUCH longer. In addition, if you have an Owlet, footless sleepers are so much easier to access your Owlet if there is simply a sock slid over it.
  2. Buy newborn onesies/sleepers that have the mittens built in! Henry would NEVER keep his scratchy-no-more-mittens on (and thankfully wasn’t much of a face scratcher anyway) but we made the mistake of not just buying the onesies with sleeves that fold over their talon-like little hands. Those onesies just make life easier.
  3. Only buy ZIPPERED pjs and clothes! While so many clothes have the tiny little snaps, let me very straightforward- THOSE. SUCK. AT. 3 AM.

Hopefully these products give you an idea of a few things to register for, and at least give your registry a kickstart! If you’re looking for small, fun things, I will include a few photos and links in my Insta Highlights to some not “necessary” items, but ones that we loved for Henry or are registering for for our little girl!

Feel free to message me on Instagram (@joyfulcrew) with any questions, and happy shopping mamas!

Life · Parenting

Two-Foot Perspective

Oh sweet July 2016. I became a mom when my first baby boy was born in the heat of the summer, smack in the middle of July.

Do you know what this means?

It is mid-May 2018 as I write this, so inevitably the so-called “terrible twos” are almost here.

May I put for you into words how toddlerhood is going for us so far? Yes? Great. Let me just give you a little view from Henry’s side of the world.

Wake up with the sun. Scream loudly until mom wakes too. Hungry. Ask for banana. Cry when banana is offered. Cry when banana is put back. Cry when banana is offered again. Smash banana into carpet. Cry when banana isn’t whole anymore. Thirsty from crying. Point to the milk. Bring mom the orange cup. Watch her fill it and take it when offered. Cry because it is not the blue cup. Thirsty… really thirsty. Drink milk. Cry when milk doesn’t taste like juice. Dump the milk on the carpet. Notice the smashed banana. Eat smashed banana. Cry when smashed banana is gone. Walk towards mom to ask for second banana. Step in milk puddle. Cry because feet are wet. Throw body onto floor. Flail arms and legs. Cry because shirt is soaked in milk.

Any parents out there feel me? Toddlerhood is so ridiculous that the fits often end up humorous in the end.

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Same, Henry. Same.

Let me preface all of this with what most of my close friends and family already know and are probably thinking while reading this:

Our Henry is really an angel. He’s a sweet little thing who loves kisses, loves to snuggle, picks up his toys without being asked, and loves kittens more than any small human I have ever seen. We have been so blessed with such a sweet and tender little boy, and I fully acknowledge that. But some days, the “terrible twos” seem like such a real thing that will devour me whole as a mom.

View More: http://shelbychantephotography.pass.us/bolander-family
Shelby Chante Photography 2017

I wrote briefly about a morning like this in a post on my blog’s Instagram account the other day. Henry had a horrible morning where absolutely nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I write this in my post:

“I am not going to lie, this past week has not been a good one, and today has been particularly hard so far. It’s only almost 10am in Japan, and I’m already close to pulling my hair out.
Henry is hitting the “terrible twos,” but I am constantly repeating to myself that contrary to popular belief, they are indeed not “terrible,” and HE is not terrible. He is frustrated, he can’t express himself in the way he wants to, he needs things he can’t convey, and that sucks more than anything in his world. He is a smart, sweet, silly little boy. I refuse to ever let him ever believe he is anything less than this.”

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5 years ago, sometime during college

Drew and I expected to have so much longer as a childless couple before we had babies. We dated all through high school and college, leaving us ample time to plan out our future in depth, and our plan was always to wait until at least our late twenties to begin the process of building a family. Around 6 months after we married, I realized something was not right with my body and the way I was feeling. I grabbed a pregnancy test in passing at Target, and when I couldn’t sleep at 4am a night or so later, I so distinctly remember sitting in the bathroom, and seeing those two dark, unmistakable little lines appear in the form of a cross on that test.

Henry comes from that seemingly impossible 0.01-1% in the birth control world. He is a failed birth control pill baby, when I was using the pill correctly. I don’t hide this fact from anyone, because although he was an “oops” I believe that far before those hormones ever failed to stop ovulation, God has known my heart so desperately needed that little boy. What a blessing it is to be able to say that we had our son by accident.
But we never expected to have two kids by 23, and sometimes I find myself sincerely terrified that I am responsible for who my sweet babies grow up to be, when I am barely more than a baby myself in my mind. I am scared crapless, but I am also so intrigued by the monumental job is is to raise a little one.

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Let me put it this way:

I can remember experiences in “people watching” from stages in life that I can barely remember anything else from. In places like Walmart, the park, or even my hometown school and church, I remember always noticing how mothers and fathers interacted with their kids. Though I never anticipated becoming a mother myself so early in life, I remember taking in every little tidbit of information on how others interacted with their children, and how their children interacted with them in return.

I remember the time in high school I left Walmart after purchasing nothing I walked in for, only to return to my tiny Cavalier’s front seat and sob. I remember crying for the blonde little girl who I saw reaching out for a book, begging her mom to let her read it to her as her mom repeatedly talked over her, telling her to be quiet because she was in a hurry. I remember her mother being SO angry with her in that moment, because the little girl would not seem to listen, no matter what. I remember that little girl loudly shouting that they had read the book in their class, and that she knew the words and could read it all by herself without her mom’s help. I remember the little girl yelling over her mother as her mom ripped the book from her hand, slamming it back to the shelf, while scolding her for not keeping her hands inside of the cart. I remember so desperately wanting to stop and let the little girl read me the book.

I remember the time during my college years that a rather young mother stopped everything she was doing in front of me at the bank in order to hear her seven or eight year old son stumble over his words as he told her a story he had suddenly remembered about what they had learned in school that day. I remember her apologizing to the bank teller briefly, but giving her son her full, undivided attention until he had finished his story. I remember the little guy beaming with pride as he told his mom about the lesson they had been taught, and I distinctly remember his mom’s sincere face and seemingly honest body language as she intently listened to his story- even though it was holding up the line. I remember her apologizing to me with a smile and a sheepish nod as she walked out. And I remember my feet moving without me even realizing what I was doing as I awkwardly (and in hindsight probably creepily) started running after her when I left the bank, simply to tell her thank you for the way she spoke to her children. I remember her response plain as day. “Oh my gosh, I have been terrible today. We were late to everything, and my youngest (who was barely a toddler) has seriously not slept more than 6 hours in three days. But thank you. I just try to let him know that I care about the things he cares about.”

I won’t bore you with all my silly small details that I have stored from my people-watching, but I could tell you a million. I can’t tell you why the way people interact with their kids sticks with me, but it always does. From the time I was in high school until this very day, I am profoundly affected by other parents and by the little humans that pop in and out of my day.

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If you are not a mom or dad yet, I will be the first to tell you- when you have your first baby, you look at that sweet little face, and you promise to never ever speak a harsh word in their direction. You promise to never have time for anything but them, and to always and forever make them the center of your world. You wholeheartedly mean it, because those tiny little hands, those sweet sounding gurgles, and that intoxicating new baby smell seem to, well… intoxicate you. And it’s easy to promise these things until the hard moments come.

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The “I haven’t closed my eyes even once in 48 hours because this baby screams every spare second unless he is latched to my breast” moments.

Or the “My toddler is hitting his head against the wall in frustration, and absolutely will not stop screaming at the top of his lungs because I won’t let him lick the dog” moments.

Or the “I swear on my life, this child has told me this same story six times today- four times yesterday- and if I hear one more thing about why she thinks she deserves a kitten even though she is massively allergic, I’m going to scream” moments.

Or the “My teenage daughter just told me she hates me because I told her she can’t date at fourteen, not even considering the fact she doesn’t even have a car to go anywhere” moments.

And then in these moments, you will probably become a totally different parent than you ever thought you would. And you WILL say harsh things, and you WILL speak in ways you regret, and you WILL still love your kids through these moments- but you definitely sometimes will not like them. And please hear me out- I am human, I get it, and I sincerely believe that it is okay. 

But while we will all lose it at times, I believe it is so crucially important to remember that the way we speak to our kids is the voice they will hear for the rest of their life. Their little hearts are so open to the ones that care for them and provide for them, and the voice that you use becomes the voice that plants itself in their noggins. The tones we use, the words we speak, and the things we lead them to believe will forever stick with them. And whether we mean to or not, we will ALWAYS instill in our children what we repeatedly preach to them, and they will always believe what our actions repeatedly tell them that they are. I see so many young adults with parents who instilled all the wrong things from the start. They fight for years to believe they are worthy, or important, or even loved at all, and I think that that is the biggest tragedy and the root of so many problems we see in the world today.

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So I pray every single day, that if I do anything as a mother, I make sure my babies grow up knowing two fundamental things above all else first. Above their success in life regarding their careers, or their financial security, or their need to be liked and known by others, I hope they are deeply rooted in these two things.

  1. They are forever loved by their God. I will never be there 100% of the time, and I  will miserably fail them no matter how desperately I try not to. But He is the one that never falters, and above all else they should always cling to Him. He is the only refuge and strength that will remain the same no matter what comes at them on this side of heaven.
  2. They are so immensely loved by their daddy and by me. There is not a thing that they could ever do that would ever make us love them less. We are always on their side, we are always rooting for them, and we always want the absolute best for them. Through discipline, praise, and even through the moments we are silent, we love them more than we can ever convey.

And from my desire to instill these two truths, I pray daily that they will grow to be kind. That they will be compassionate. They will love others above themselves, and they will love the way God has crafted them, too. I pray that my words lead them to believe that they are important. That their stories matter. That they are beautiful. That they are so, so loved.

Every morning that I wake up, I am reminded by my own sweet mama’s words. “Speak to Henry gently. A little boy’s first love is his mama. You are his world right now.”

And every morning I intentionally remind myself of what a gift my little Henry is. And I will do the same when his baby sister arrives and I am as tired as I have ever been. The “terrible twos” are followed by the “three-nage” years, and then by the “four-nado” and so on. There is a whole list of terms we could bestow upon the hard years, but the reality is- all the years of parenting are hard in their own ways.

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Shelby Chante Photography 2017

Every story is different. Maybe you are like me, and never expected to be a mother as soon as you became one. Maybe you have more kids than you can count on two hands. Maybe you are a foster parent, just trying to help some kiddos through a scary time in their lives. Maybe you have an only child, want no more kids in the future, and are happy with loving your one babe. Maybe you flew to impoverished countries to bring your babies home to you. Maybe you wanted your babies for years and years and years, and are finally now blessed with them.

Whatever your story- you, mama- you, daddy, are doing an incredible job. Just keeping a little one alive is a feat in and of itself, because I swear, their sole mission is to find all the ways that they could possibly hurt themselves. There is a reason that we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and you deserve to be thanked and to be cherished, whether you have been the “perfect parent” or not. You are still a parent. You are doing the biggest, most important work you will ever do, whether you believe you are doing it well or not. The days are long, the tantrums are infuriating, and the sleep is scarce. The patience runs thin, and the TV occasionally just runs all day- because sometimes Paw Patrol can calm your kid like nothing else can. And the days are hard, but they are so important. It is never too late to begin instilling in your kids the things you want them to grow up knowing and believing with their whole hearts.

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Shelby Chante Photography 2017

Find time in the morning to evaluate your upcoming day, and to pray for the moments that you need His unfailing grace. Take a breather. Take the time to collect before you react. Tell them daily through your words, but mostly through your actions, that they are loved, cherished, smart, capable, independent, kind, and compassionate. Sail through the hard days with a desire to understand WHY the days are hard, and why their little hearts are so frustrated. They see the world through unexperienced eyes and brains, and they are not always able to process the things we think they are. I promise, the behavior of your children will make so much more sense when you stop for a moment to see the world from their tiny little two-foot perspective.

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The days are long, and they are hard, but the years are so short.
And ultimately above all else, on the hardest of these days, always remember to love them the hardest.

Parenting

Chickens for Christmas

It’s a funny thing when you watch four men you have never met before slowly pack up everything you own, crate it, and drive it away for placement on an ocean barge. You watch as they pack your picture frames, your clothing, your furniture. You watch as they file paperwork for your TV, your Xbox, your computers. You watch as they individually wrap your family ornaments, your infant’s baby book and footprints, and your album of wedding photos. And then just like that, you sign your name on the dotted line, and wave goodbye to everything you have ever collected.

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Forever thankful for moving companies who come in and box up everything for you. The first time we moved, we moved ourselves. I will pay any amount of money to avoid ever doing that again. Ha.

It has been 40-some days since we have sat on any of our own furniture, or have seen any of our personal belongings. It is a little crazy what you can live without for several months, and makes you wonder what you can live without indefinitely to be honest. It especially makes you reevaluate your feelings about your possessions when you are moving overseas, literally meaning your items are going over the seas. 6,000 miles of travel, 6,000 miles of possibly having your items just… disappear. Sink, capsize, be rained on, get stolen. Those items change hands so many times from your moving company to the ship owner, to the moving company in the city you arrive in. So many opportunities for your precious things to just vanish, never to be seen again. I’m pretty confident you’d be lying if you said you didn’t think about your personal belongings possibly just not coming back when you sent them away with a moving truck. As for me, I nearly cried when the truck drove away. Living without all that stuff for going on two months now has made me realize how incredibly shallow and materialistic I am, and how little those items actually matter. When our shipment shows up safe, I’m sure I will breathe a sigh of relief, but I hope that when we move back to the states someday, I don’t ache at the thought of having to release the tight grip I have on all that I own.

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Everything we own, sitting in the back of a trailer, taken away by men we do not know. Moving is a weird thing, let me tell ya’.

We have a 1.5 year old little boy named Henry, whose favorite things include his daddy, his pet turtle, any pair of shoes he can place on his feet, and the movie Zootopia. His first Christmas was last year, but this will be the first year that he will be really interested in the traditions of Christmas, or in opening gifts at all.

We happened to move at the perfect time of year, and are quietly settling into our new home very shortly before Christmas. We barely had time to breathe before Black Friday and Cyber Monday were upon us. We ordered a few fleece blankets to survive the cold of the new northern climate we are in, but- similar to last year- failed to order our usual Black Friday haul. Last year, Drew and I stuck to the two gift rule, and spent less than $150 total on our family Christmas between the three of us, mostly because we are both pretty awful at gift-giving for each other. But there was one gift that we gave Henry that I had ordered almost two months before Christmas came. We will give him this same gift again this year, and every year until he leaves our home. I was reminded today of why I need to sit down and order it.
Confused?
Read on.

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6 month old Henry at Christmas last year. (Dying inside at how much bigger he is now…)

Today I stumbled upon an article written about orphanages in Japan. My heart ached deeply as I read the statistics on adoption, and how many children are still waiting for their forever homes. This article is from six years ago, though articles I read on the current statistics still echo these numbers.

“There were 36,450 children in the orphanage system in Japan in March, 2011. Only 12% or 4,373 were adopted or placed in foster care during the preceding 12 months.” – Japan Daily Press, “Japan’s Forgotten Children.”

Unfortunately, upon further reading, it seems much of the reason for the children remaining in understaffed or underfunded orphanages lies in the legal issues surrounding parents that are unwilling to sign over their parental rights. Because of this, many of these children remain in the orphanage until they are 18 years of age. Immediately, I was enraged at this. Why don’t they just sign over the rights so these poor kids can find a loving home? But the answer was almost as immediately whispered to me when I looked at Henry, who raised an eyebrow at me from the couch. Big brown eyes and a gap-toothed, ornery grin peered back at me, making me realize just how much I adore that little stinker. In that moment, and in every moment following, I could not imagine being unable to provide for my little boy in such a way that I was forced to make the decision: give him up for care at an orphanage, or watch him fail to thrive daily because of my inability to let go. I completely understand these parents’ desperation. If I had to give my little boy away, I would want to still cling to any legal ties I had to him. I would want to still call him my little boy; my son.

Nevertheless, these orphanages are overrun, understaffed, and often desperate from help from the communities they reside in. We see so many toy drives, coat collections, and food bins this time of year in order for these institutions to provide what they can for the kids they house. So many still come up short. And this problem is not unique to Japan. Countries around the world, including the states, have kids waiting in the foster care system, orphanages, and shelters for help and a home.

For me, this type of realization brings about a new view of the holiday season, as well as a new perspective on how I raise my sweet Henry to look at his world and the world around him.

This brings us back to last Christmas.

I was sorting through catalogues last year, trying to decide the best gifts to get a 6 month old. I thumbed through the Kohl’s catalogue for several minutes, flipped through the Target ad I had snagged earlier, and then proceeded to glance at the rest of the stack, hoping to find any other deals that fit our budget. I stumbled upon a gift catalogue from World Vision, and read about the lifesaving vaccines, emergency medicine, gifts of livestock, or clean water wells that I could purchase for a child, family, or community in need. I could even give these gifts in the name of someone else.

It wasn’t until a week later when I walked out of the pediatrician’s office after 4 month old Henry received his vaccines, free of charge through our insurance, that I realized what a blessing it is to have a baby who is protected from life-threatening illnesses. While I am pro-vaccine to the core of my being, it really doesn’t matter what my stance on this is, nor does it matter what yours is. The simple fact is that we have vaccines, and they are readily available and almost always affordable. So many in the world do not have this luxury of the choice to vaccinate- a concept that we so often bicker and fight about.

Later that day, I sat down and researched organizations that provide help to those in need, including World Vision and Compassion International. We settled on using Compassion, after reading that Compassion uses a much higher percentage of donations for the individual(s) in need, compared to other similar charities. I will re-check this research this year, ultimately making the decision of where to donate based off of which program uses funds responsibly, and which program does good in the entire community- providing individuals with both a life-saving kind of support, but also a sense of independence. That being said, there are thousands of charities that seek to help the impoverished, tons of which specifically target children who are in desperate need. If you choose to donate, pick which one fits best for which issue you are trying to help with, as well as your financial situation.

After our appointment, I returned home, and purchased vaccines and medicines for kiddos in countries that have no access to these medicines otherwise. I hit the order button, and cried long and hard as I watched my sweet, healthy boy rolling around on the floor, bandaid on his chunky little legs from the vaccines that will help protect him from some scary stuff. Vaccines or not, I cried quietly watching my sweet boy sit up, roll over, and smack toys on the rug. What a blessing it is to have a healthy child. I made the donation in Henry’s name, and used the funds we had placed into our Christmas account for him.

I tell you this not to talk about our donation, but to talk about the values I hope this instills in Henry as he grows. Every Christmas we will provide him with a card like this one, which we received last Christmas after we purchased the items from the catalogue.

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I will say to him,

“Baby boy. It’s Christmas time, which means we will spend lots of time with family. We will eat together, and we will give each other gifts. We are so blessed to be able to sit in a warm home with those that we love, and we celebrate that fact as we ultimately celebrate the birth of Jesus. But there are lots of other little boys and girls in this world who don’t have what we do. Some of them don’t have any toys, and some of them don’t even have mommies and daddies to spend Christmas with. Some of those kids are really sad, and really lonely. So we took some of the Christmas money that we set aside for gifts this year, and we bought them (fill in the blank) to show them the love of Jesus, and to show them that they are dearly cared about. All people in this world are chosen, and dearly loved by Jesus. We want you to know that other people matter, and we want you to always want to think of others, not just at Christmas time.”

It’s never too late to instill a heart of giving into your children, it’s never too late to instill in them the idea that stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as we act like it does at times. Little ones watch what we do, so I know how it is a constant daily struggle to put forth the actions that prove that this is our thinking.

By his fifth or sixth Christmas, I pray that Henry will bring me a Compassion or World Vision gift catalogue, and excitedly ask me to help him pick out what he wants to spend his Christmas money on. I pray that Henry goes through his adolescent and teen years always aware of his classmates and friends’ needs. I pray that he recognizes those that have less than him, and that he doesn’t hesitate or even think twice about giving them something of his.

I hope that my Henry asks hard questions without hesitation, and seeks to be the answer to the injustices that he can change. And I hope that because of my son, an orphaned little boy his age in Zambia, or Japan, or the United State, opens his eyes one morning to a beautiful world where someone noticed him and cared about him.

 

I hope that someday, my baby packs up his household to move, and waves goodbye to the truck. I hope that he doesn’t fret about his stuff like I do, and that he thinks of others far more often than I do.

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I desperately want Henry to be better than me, and I desperately want Henry to know that he is loved by the same God who loves the poor, the orphans, and the hurting. In his world, if that means I give him money so he can gift chickens to a village for Christmas, then I will buy him all the chickens in the world.