Before I start, let me tell you that I did a poor job executing this easy DIY kids’ play activity. I wanted to make a sensory play day with our plastic storage bin. It’s a great tool for rainy or too hot days when you are stuck inside but need something to break up your routine. I got distracted while cooking my spaghetti and burnt a lot of it. I’m still trying to clean the bottom of the scorched pot. Also, this became very messy because I have a wild child who did not want to keep the fun contained in the plastic bin. But if you’d like to try it out, here are my easy instructions.
1. Buy Lots of Cheap Spaghetti
I went to WalMart and bought 4 pounds of off-brand spaghetti and linguini. I figured the two different thicknesses would be fun.
While you’re at the store, find food dye. I found neat neon colored dye. Ideally, you will want to use organic food-based dye in case your child tries to eat the spaghetti.
2. Cook the Spaghetti
This should be easy. We’ve all cooked spaghetti for many a meal. But I got distracted and started playing with my son and forgot to stir often. Needless to say, I had some burnt pasta on my hands and a huge pot to scrub vigorously. Ugh. Like I needed another dish to linger in the sink.
3. Let it Cool & Place in Plastic Bags
Once the spaghetti was drained and cooled enough to touch, I transferred it into plastic Ziploc bags. I used tongs, which was annoying and time-consuming. Not very effective. It would probably be easier to just use your hands. Yay! You get to get in on the sensory fun, too! I was in a rush, too, so the spaghetti was still fairly hot. Haste makes waste, ya’ll. I ended up putting the spaghetti in the freezer to cool it down more so I wouldn’t burn myself or the plastic bags.
4. Add Food Coloring
This part is fun and when your child can get involved. I squirted a bunch of food coloring into each bag – one color per bag. Since I had 4 colors, I used 4 bags. Close the bag up so that it is thoroughly sealed, then shake and shimmy the pasta around to coat every strand in color. Your little one may enjoy this part the most.
5. Let It Dry and Then Play
To make sure the liquid food dye doesn’t get on everything, you can put your bags back into the freezer for about 10 minutes. Then, empty the bags into your big plastic bin. I put the colors in a row so that we could talk about the colors before they got mixed up. I put my baby right into the tub once he got his hands in for a few minutes and seemed interested. He loved the squishy feel on his toes.
6. Clean Up and Re-Use
After a few minutes in the bin, my little maniac started to chase the dog with fistfuls of spaghetti. There was a lot of cleanup for me. I had to mop the kitchen floors, pick strands of spaghetti out of my dog’s (and my own!) hair, and give my baby a bath immediately after the sensory activity concluded. The bath was fun, though, since he was already in a great playful mood.
The colors of the spaghetti did not get mixed up much, so I put each color back into their separate ziploc bags and put them back in the freezer. It will be great to use again another rainy or too hot day.
Have fun! And comment below or tag me on Facebook or Instagram with how your sensory spaghetti turned out. Thanks!
As we near September and the start of a fresh school year, it is still hot as heck down south in New Orleans. As I’ve written before, I go a little stir crazy if I’m stuck in my house for too long, so I’ve had to get creative and find ways to enjoy getting out while also staying cool in these final dog days of summer.
Here are some of the ways that we’ve found to beat the heat this season. Use some of our ideas over Labor Day weekend coming up, and leave a comment if you have other great ideas!
Plan and Improvise Around the Weather
We have been heading to our favorite playground first thing in the morning. It’s a great way to start the day, get energy out before the morning nap, and to enjoy playing outdoors before it gets too hot. Plus, the playground isn’t usually crowded on weekdays before 9 a.m. That means there is always a baby swing open for us.
With high humidity comes a high chance of rain. We have random thunderstorms all throughout the summer. This is when improvisation comes into play. There is usually a cooler hour or so right after a big rain, so we will quickly get outside to take a walk or explore at a park right after the rain ends.
Pack Extra Clothes and Diapers for Unexpected Water Fun
Most of you parents probably already carry around a diaper bag full of extra outfits and diapers anyway, so this is easy. What isn’t easy for some people is spontaneity. Last week, we went to the aquarium to spend some fun time indoors on a hot afternoon. When we went outside, we noticed kids running through a fountain on the New Orleans Riverfront. The kids of varying ages were having a blast. My husband said we would come back another day with a bathing suit and let Baby A try it out. But the little man and I couldn’t resist. We ran right through the spouts of water and laughed and screamed our hearts out. It was great! Who knows when we would have been downtown again on such a perfect day to play in the water? Baby A even got up the courage to run through the fountain on his own a few times and was delighted about it. We used a spit-up cloth to dry him after and changed his clothes in a shady private area next to the aquarium. I was soaked through my clothes, but I knew walking in the sunny weather for a few minutes would solve that issue.
So when an opportunity to play in the water presents itself, take it! It’s just water; you’ll get dry quickly.
Find A Pool
Lots of cities and towns have community pools that you can visit for free. I am a little hesitant to visit our local pools because of a news story last year with people’s hair falling out after taking a dip in pools with the wrong mix of chemicals. So instead of that, we have paid $5 for a day pass to the University of New Orleans’ pool. Other gyms and community centers might offer a day pass in your area.
If you live in a place with lots of hotels, you might be able to sneak in and enjoy a pool day. I know that isn’t the most ethical idea to share with you guys, but a family on a budget has gotta do what it has gotta do, am I right? My family visited this past weekend and we were able to use the pool at their hotel. Maybe you have a friend with a condo complex with a pool that you can visit one afternoon. There are also hotels that offer day passes to their pool areas. Here in New Orleans, those usually are party spots with heavy drinking, so we avoid hotels like The W and Ace Hotel and opt instead for the quiet, small rooftop pools at hotels like the Marriott and Renaissance (my personal favorite, but you have to have a guest key for it).
Use Sprinkler Toys
You can splash around and play in your own backyard (or driveway, if you don’t have a yard like us) with a multitude of toys. You can get a water table or plug your hose into a fun sprinkler toy like the ones below. Just don’t forget to apply lots of sunscreen on the kids when you’re outside!
Go On Easy Outings to the Indoors
Check our post about easy outings with your infant and toddler for some ideas about places you can go to get a break from your house. Also, check your neighborhood and town for parenting centers – in New Orleans we have one attached to the Children’s Hospital that is great for play groups – and indoor play places. In New York, we visited this fun indoor play place for a small fee. Do Sensory Activities at Home
Finally, if you can’t even fathom getting dressed to go out somewhere and it’s just too hot to go outside, then change things up with new activities at home. With the purchase of a simple plastic bin, you can get creative and plan tons of sensory activities. Check our Pinterest board about Indoor Play for some amazing ideas from moms around the web. So far we have played with food-dyed spaghetti and had an amazing water playtime.
This is it – what you’ve been dreading. It’s daunting. It’s intimidating. It’s frightening. It’s… your first flight with your baby.
I don’t know if every new parent feels this way, but I was super nervous to go on an airplane with my baby for the first time. I’ve flown plenty of times, but I didn’t know what to expect with a baby in tow. How would it work with getting my stroller on the plane? Would he cry the whole flight and everyone on the plane would hate us? Is this going to be one of the worst days of my life? Well, that first flight was scary, but I have since flown 10 more times with my baby, most of the time without any other adults to help me, and I’ve learned a lot. You could consider my baby and me pros at this point. So I will share my wisdom with you.
1. Research and Plan Wisely
First and foremost, know your airline’s rules about traveling with an infant. What age can they fly free until? Most airlines let you fly with an infant in your lap until they are two. To save money, I have been keeping my baby in my arms. It makes the already tight space of your seat even more cramped, but I need to save the money. If you are able, then you can buy a seat for your baby and bring their car seat on to fly in. It’s safer and you’ll have much more space.
While you’re researching your airline’s rules, also find out what you need to do in order to travel with the baby. For Delta, you have to call and speak to a reservations agent in order to have them put “Infant In Arms” on your ticket. You’ll need that ticket to get through security. After my first Delta flight with the baby, I assumed all airlines had the same rules. Not so. For Spirit Airlines, I had to bring paperwork from our pediatrician showing our baby’s birth date and immunization records to a ticketing agent at the airport, then they gave me a special pass to bring through security. That caused issues because I was already in another state, so I had to go to a Kinko’s to have the forms faxed. Then, I thought I was just supposed to bring my pediatrician papers to security. So I made it all the way through security when they sent me back to the ticketing desk to show them my paperwork and get the special pass. Ugh. Don’t make the same mistake as me!
2. Figure Out the Best Flight Time
Think about how busy your flight will be. Usually, I have to fly to Atlanta from New Orleans to get anywhere else. Unfortunately, Atlanta flights are always at capacity because it’s the main hub to get other places. So I know that I’m going to have no extra space to spread out. But, if you do some research, you might find that the flights to your particular destination are not as busy on certain days of the week and certain hours of the day. You might want to snag a less packed plane in order to spread out. It’s heavenly when there is nobody sitting in the seat next to you. You can put your diaper bag under the empty seat, put the armrest up, and spread out a bit.
3.Consider Nap Time
Think about what time your baby naps. It’s ideal to be on the plane, ready to take off, right around when your baby is ready to doze off. This way, you can nurse or bottle feed your baby during take off and hopefully they will fall asleep once all the buzzing and humming of the plane begins. This has happened a few times for me, and you can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the rest of the flight while your baby sleeps.
Sometimes this doesn’t work out. On one of my last trips, our flight got delayed by 4 hours. That meant we had to waste 4 hours of time in the small airport terminal, skip nap time, and have our baby wake up in the middle of the night in a new city when we landed and all the plane’s lights turned on. Not cool! Alas, we survived.
4. Sleep Arrangements
Did you know that most airlines have baby bassinets that attach to the seatback in front of you? Oh my goodness, I wish I had known this sooner. They are for younger infants and I didn’t find out until mine was too big. A lot of them are for babies under 20-25 pounds. If you are traveling with a new baby, this is a lifesaver! Call your airline ahead of time to find out what their restrictions are and how to reserve yours. I also found this great resource that lists all of the airline’s bassinet rules.
I’ve gotten some gnarly back aches from holding my baby while he sleeps for an entire flight. Again, if you get an empty seat next to you or have someone traveling with you, it’s helpful. But if you are alone and will need to hold your baby, pack accordingly. Do you need to put a small pillow or folded up sweater behind your back to be comfortable sitting up for that long? Or maybe you can bring a boppy along and let your baby lie on it in your lap (if it all fits in your seat area).
5. Find a Mother’s Room
I was thrilled to discover that the New Orleans Louis Armstrong airport has a Mother’s Room in the JetBlue terminal. It’s a private room that you can lock with a changing table, chairs, books, and open space. This was great for my new walker when we were delayed for 4 hours on that last trip. I nursed him, but couldn’t get him to fall asleep. So instead I let him walk and crawl and get his energy out so that he would at least be able to sleep when we finally got on the plane. I’ve found that most airport bathrooms are not conducive to changing diapers; they have flat areas by the sink, but they are granite, hard and cold. So it was nice to actually change him lying down on a padded area.
6. Explore the Airport
If you have time between security check and boarding, explore the airport. Now is a good time to get some food in your and your baby’s belly. It’s messy and difficult to feed the baby solid foods on the plane. If you have your stroller or baby carrier, get some exercise while letting your baby take in the sights and sounds of the terminal. Some airports might even have play areas or other interesting interactive experiences that your child will enjoy. In one of the terminals at JFK in New York, there is a JetBlue kid’s pretend play area. It’s so cute and fun! It’s also a good educational moment where you can explain to your child what the cockpit is and how the airline and airplane run.
7. Don’t Forget Your Headphones
I didn’t think I’d be able to have any time to myself on a flight with my child, like in the old days when I’d chill out, listen to music, watch a movie, or read. However, once your baby falls asleep, you actually can veg out a little bit! I have forgotten my headphones but found movies on Delta’s seatback TVs that have closed captioning. I watch a lot of things with the sound off, so I didn’t mind this solution. If you can, get the wireless Bluetooth headphones that are on the market now. That way, you won’t have to worry about your cords getting wrapped around the baby anywhere when he squirms in your arms while sleeping. You also won’t have pesky cords tickling your baby and waking up.
8. Stroller Practice
I had some issues with my stroller the first few flights. Someone in TSA was rude to me about putting it on the security scanner belt. I was holding my baby and trying to get my shoes and carry-on onto the belt, with impatient people behind me in line, and then trying to fold my stroller up with one hand. The anxiety got to me. Sometimes, TSA will let you push your stroller around and they will manually check it. So I thought that would happen again, but the guy scolded me and rudely demanded I somehow fold it up and shove it onto the narrow belt and he rolled his eyes at me when I didn’t put it on facing the “correct” way to fit through easier. I say all this to tell you that you should practice folding and unfolding your stroller with one hand.
You’ll have to fold and unfold your stroller again when you get to the gate to get onto the airplane. You always bring your stroller to the door of the plane, then fold it up with its little check tag (the gate agent will give that to you). It will be at your destination in the same spot unless they tell you otherwise and it’s at baggage claim.
9. Smile and Be Polite
When I was alone traveling, there were a handful of times that I just plain needed a little assistance. One time I could not for the life of me get my stroller to fold up. It was new to me and one of the buttons were stuck on the handle to fold it. My baby wasn’t able to sit/stand on his own yet, so I had to hold him. I hadn’t brought the baby carrier with me that day, so I had him in my arms and was trying to also use both hands to unstick the button. Anyway, I needed help. All I could do was smile at the other passengers coming down the gate. When I caught eyes with a fellow friendly stranger, he asked if I needed help. “Oh, could you? I really really appreciate it. It’s stuck and I am having trouble.” He was really nice and helped me fold it up and away we went onto the plane. I thanked him profusely. There has been another time where the luggage handler came up to collect all the strollers and saw me struggling and helped out as well. Thank you, kind strangers!
While I don’t think this is necessary because you can’t help it if your baby cries on a plane and people should understand that, I do often apologize in advance to the folks sitting around me. I tell them that I’ll try my best to keep my baby happy on the flight, but he might cry. They usually are kind in return and say they understand. But I think it is appreciated that you at least acknowledge that it isn’t fun for people to have to sit next to a crying, screaming infant.
10. Protect Your Car Seat (and Your Back)
You can buy travel bags for your car seat. If you have a baby that still needs to stroll and be carried in their car seat, or if you’re going to be taking automobiles anywhere during your trip, you’ll need to bring your car seat along. If your baby is in the car seat in the stroller, you’ll be allowed to check it at the gate like your stroller. Otherwise, you can check it for free before you go through security. Of course, either way, you run the risk of your important gear getting manhandled and thrown about and smacked into other luggage during the flight. I bought this Zohzo Car Seat Backpack that fits most car seats because it was cheaper than the one my car seat brand sells. Not only will the padding protect your precious car seat from damage, but it also makes it easier to lug around on your travels. You can wheel it like a suitcase or put it on your back. It’s still gigantic, but it’s better than trying to carry it while pushing your luggage and stroller. Trust me, I’ve done it.
11. Don’t Panic
Inevitably, you’ll have bad travel days. Try not to be too anxious and panic. The flight will eventually be over. You won’t see the miserable people who complain about your baby ever again. If your baby is inconsolable at your seat, try walking in the aisles and rocking her a bit or let her look at all the interesting strangers up and down the aisles. Take a trip to the bathroom for some peace and quiet. This also can be a good time to let your tears roll if you need to just let out your stress for a few minutes in private. Before you know it, the plane will land and you can feel proud that you made it.
I’ve loved my son since before he was even born. When he was barely a zygote, I had hopes and dreams and prayers for the life growing inside of my belly. Since then, he has become more beautiful and amazing in my eyes as each day goes by. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that I want to be more like him. He has qualities (which many toddlers share, I’m sure) that are completely inspiring. I consciously decided today that I am going to try to be more like this little person.
As the wife of a firefighter, I think about bravery a lot. Everyone has fears, but the brave are the ones who move past their fear to do what’s important. While firefighters and other obvious heroes show us their bravery when the situation arises, I see my toddler use his courage multiple times a day.
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn to box jump. That is, when you go from a standing position to jump with both legs together onto an object in front of you.
So one night, as we arrived home from walking the dog, Bobby encouraged me to go for it and jump onto the bed of his truck. I got in position. I squatted down low. And I froze. I was scared. I didn’t think my body could do it, and I didn’t want to get hurt. After some coaxing, Bobby got me to try. But I half-butted it. I didn’t try hard and bailed at the last second over and over again, thinking I was about to fail. After a while, it started to get dark and we headed inside. But I couldn’t get my mind off of my failed attempts. Finally, I rose from the couch where we were watching TV before bed and I went outside and did the dang thing. I took a deep breath and gave it my all. And I’ll be darned, I hopped right up into the back of that truck. Bobby was watching from the open front door and cheered for me.
I know — this is such a silly and small feat, but it reminds me of what my son goes through from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to sleep. A baby is born completely helpless. Yet, over the course of approximately a year, they learn to walk. First they move their arms. Then their legs. Then push up from their belly. Then crawl. And then walk. That is a lot of changes in a short amount of time. And they don’t just magically have these movements down. It takes effort and determination and hard work. My son has fallen down or stumbled and smacked his elbow or knee or even his head on the ground countless times. Sometimes he cries, sometimes he doesn’t skip a beat. He always gets back up and tries again.
Think about it. Every single thing that a baby or toddler does is for the first time. The world is huge and every new object is an alien and every new skill a triumph. Lately, I’ve been taking Auggie to a really great playground in the mornings before it gets too hot. He mostly wants to ride the swing, yet has been curious about the slide. In the past, I’ve gone down slides with him in my lap. More recently, he goes down the small slides with me holding him from off the side. Last week, he saw his friend go down the slide alone and it motivated him to do the same. I took a photo of him sitting at the top of the slide alone for the first time. He looked so serious. He contemplated his next move and how he would skooch forward on his bum like I’d taught him. And then he went for it. He smiled with delight as he slid the six feet down to my beckoning arms. He was proud of himself. And rightly so.
It took me until I was a teenager to learn to ride a bike. Because at the moment of truth, when I needed to summon my courage, I would let anxiety take over and start crying. Then I’d argue and be defensive with whatever family member was trying to teach me that day. Then we would all get frustrated and give up, saying we’d try again later. But later sometimes never comes, or at least not for a while. If only I had been more like my toddler, who faces new mountains to climb day in and day out and hardly hesitates. Hehas faith that it will be okay and he is excited to be doing new things and experiencing the world.
My niece had a similar show of bravery at her third birthday. Her mom rented a pony for the birthday party. The pony was bedecked in flowers and groomed to perfection. There were a handful of children in attendance of varying ages, and most of them took a turn to sit on or ride the pony around the backyard. My niece was not one of those children. While she was in awe of the animal, she didn’t want to ride it. Or so she said. While eating her cake, my father told her she needed to take her chance and ride the pony. She said, “No, I don’t want to today. I’ll ride the pony tomorrow.” My dad explained to her, “No, she won’t be here tomorrow. She is only here for a few more minutes and then they are taking her back to her home. This is the last chance for you to ride her.” She still said no, and turned away from him to focus on her cake. I watched her as she feigned to be solely interested in what she was eating. But her eyes gave her away. While her head was down towards her plate, her eyes kept glancing up at that horse. I could practically see the wheels spinning in her head. Suddenly, her whole body sprang into action and her eyes bugged out of her head as she screamed into the air, “I want to ride the pony now!”
Someone quickly grabbed her and placed her atop the lovely steed before she had time to doubt her decision. And she pranced around on that beautiful pony in all her birthday glory, beaming from ear to ear. It was a magical moment. We all took photos and giggled as she waved to her guests like a beauty pageant queen in a town parade. She had that toddler courage and excited view of the world, too.
Toddlers know that every opportunity is a piece of life that you have to grab. They don’t let ego or pride get in the way of their experiences. They haven’t learned yet how to be embarrassed or to look cool or any of that nonsense that bogs the rest of us down. When they try something new, which they do on a daily basis, they put every fiber of their being into it. When my son runs through the house to chase our dog, he puts his entire soul into each footstep and his whole heart into every body-shaking laugh. That is how I am going to try to live my life from now on, too.
This question becomes a huge struggle for some people. Should I stay at home with my new baby or go back to work? For me, my heart knew what I wanted to do, but my brain and logistics held me back from making the decision right away. I personally couldn’t imagine leaving my precious baby boy and going back to sit in an office at a job I wasn’t very passionate about. On the other hand, finances were a huge factor, and we still struggle with this balance.
I decided to stay home with my baby, at least for the first year. As his first birthday recently passed, I’ve been reflecting a lot about this choice. Here are some things for you to consider when making this big decision. I’m writing this in hopes that maybe hearing my thought process will reveal to you what is best for you and your family.
Do you like being around your peers every day? Do you love dressing for work and having chats with your coworkers? Are you a social butterfly?
I am a homebody and, although I love meeting new people and being with my close friends, I get social anxiety and can be extremely shy, especially in work atmospheres. For that reason, I rarely let down my guard at work and haven’t gotten close to many co-workers. I’ve always loved my alone time, so I didn’t feel the social need for a daily workplace retreat. But there are many people who feel a loss when they don’t have opportunities to be around others. It makes a lot of sense that getting up, having a purpose and goals for the day, getting dressed, and interacting with other adults would make you feel alive and useful.
This is a big one. Unless you or your partner brings home mondo bacon, finances are going to be a major consideration when deciding whether to go back to work after having your baby. Unfortunately, not all workplaces even give paid maternity leave. Mine sure didn’t. They didn’t even cover my health care, so I had to pay their portion of my monthly dues along with what I already paid when I stayed home for 6 weeks after giving birth. Obviously, if you are the main bread winner or a single parent, it will be prudent to go back to work. But if that is not the case, you may have more options to think over.
This is a very personal area. If you don’t think you could be present and happy staying at home all day with a baby, then you don’t have to. It is definitely draining and you don’t get any “me time” whatsoever when you’re home alone with a young child. It is easy to go stir crazy and run out of things to do that occupy your baby while teaching them new skills. Many daycare centers have sensory learning, art, music, and many other activities that will challenge your baby as he or she grows. Plus, it’s great social interaction for your baby. A lot of babies develop faster, walking and talking earlier because they see other kids around them every day and want to emulate what they can do.
Will having extra income help with your parenting? Maybe it’s the only way you can afford a better school or signing up for activities like science class or ballet for your child once they are old enough.
While I considered all of the above, my thought process led me to stay at home. I am hoping our family will move out of New Orleans before school age so that we won’t have to pay a crazy amount for private school and can have a quality public school education system. I also have always loved children and enjoy playing and interacting with them, so I am cool with hanging out with babies and toddlers. Not everyone has that quality and that is okay! I do research and check Pinterest all the time to come up with inexpensive places to take my child and activities that will help him learn and grow in his toddler skills. So staying at home works for me as a parent.
Can You Get Creative?
Maybe a mixture of working and staying at home is the solution. While it’s a challenge to figure out logistically, this is possible. While I haven’t totally worked out this hybrid, I am working hard to be a work-at-home mom. I have a business doing web and graphic design, Hippie Island Media, and I currently have a part-time remote job making websites for a larger company. I’m not making as much money as I would like, but I am working hard at getting to a more comfortable place. And I always put parenting first. I do my work during nap times and after Auggie goes to sleep for the night. On days that my husband is home, he’ll take the baby out for a while so I can fit in some work. I really enjoy this balance and feel fulfilled to be helping our finances while also being a mom first. I hope and pray that I can hustle and keep this going for a long time.
You can try part time work and a babysitter or part-time daycare, or freelancing/consulting with your skillset. There are many options nowadays for how to work, live, and parent.
So do what is best for you. Listen to your heart, and figure out the logistics as best you can. And remember, after the baby comes and you’ve gone to work or stayed home, your mind might change and it’s okay to make a new plan.
My grandfather passed away a month ago. Papa was a beloved man, full of life and love. He had a booming voice and a big presence, yet was sweet and gentle at the same time. Since losing her husband of over 60 years, my grandmother has been busy through her grief, having to pack up their big house off the highway in rural south Georgia so that she can downsize and move closer to two of her children.
I try not to get attached to things. I believe in many Buddhist principles, such as impermanence and not having attachments. So I wasn’t sad when my parents sold their home, which I’d grown up in, last year. Despite that, it is hard for me to let go of my grandparents’ home – Deer Run.
Whenever I’ve had to write a school essay on my favorite place, I always wrote about Deer Run. Many of my best childhood memories took place there. During the summers of my childhood, my brothers and my cousins and I would all spend a week at our grandparents’ house together. It is a wonderland of an escape for children. The two staircases on either side of the house led to epic chases, hide and seek games, and pretending to be spies or monsters chasing one another around and around, up and downstairs. The 17 acres of land had a field with a pond that once housed wild horses. The land later became a grazing ground for the neighbor’s cows. A trail through the woods provided endless adventure and entertainment. Papa was a skilled engineer with a love for automobiles, so we always had golf carts, dirt bikes, miniature motorcycles, and go-karts to race and play with.
Across the highway is the catfish pond that Papa and one of my uncles dug years ago. We used to swim in there before the catfish bred like mad and filled it up. So it became a great fishing spot, and later a spot to watch an alligator family lounging on the banks near the swamp entrance. The neighbor who now owns all that land across the street is a farmer. Before he had the cows, his fields grew corn. I remember all us kids playing cops and robbers in the corn fields one day. The stalks were so high that you could only see the row in front of you. We ran as fast as we could from row to row, chasing one another while the stalks and leaves whipped our skin. We all had welts on our arms and legs that night, but in the moment we loved the feeling of being absolutely free and laughing hard and feeling as alive as anyone could ever be.
Two and a half decades have gone by since we started our cousins’ summers at Deer Run. We’ve all grown up now, and the visits have changed. Now, the whole family gathers for a reunion there every October. Just like in my childhood, there are no planned activities or outings. We all are simply together, and there lies the fun. My generation is marrying off and having children of our own. The house is filled again with little feet pitter pattering down the upstairs hall, racing and chasing each other. There is laughter, talking, smells of southern comfort food on the stove, and outbursts of gleeful shouts from the youngest family members.
At our last reunion, I brought my baby boy to join the fun. When his cousins and second cousins huddled around the new baby, fawning over him, my eyes filled with grateful tears. I thought to myself how wonderful it was that he will get to make memories here with his extended family just like we did. He’ll have this special spot tucked away in the country to fall in love with nature and have space to roam, explore, and play. Maybe he will be like me and love walking alone or with his dog through the woods, getting lost in a fantasy that he lives among the trees and animals. Mabe it will be his favorite place to think, ponder life, and daydream. Maybe he will adore these cows, stopping to watch them and tell them how wonderful they are as they moo in response.
But last October, the For Sale sign loomed on the front lawn. I could never tell Patticake that it would be sad to see this house go to another family. She needs a smaller home with less property to tend to, especially now. And she will be closer to a town and essentials she’ll need, as well as closer to two of her children. Yet, unlike my childhood home, I had so much sentiment for this place. Where would we all gather now? Would it be as special? Where will my son have such freedom and wilderness to play in with his cousins and future siblings? Like the wooden sign in their garage says, “Grandma’s house is where cousins go to become friends.” I had assumed that for my son, it would be his great-grandparents home.
That evening, we unfolded metal chairs and tables into a long line and laid out paper plates. Then we sat down to eat a low country boil in the open-air garage. We all told stories and laughed together. I took a moment to look around the table at my cousins, who I’ve gotten to see grow from year to year. Callie, so gentle and graceful, with her fun-seeking husband James and their three confident, happy children. Brentice, the talented musician with a peaceful, wise soul. Mattie, who sets her own path and lives such a creative, adventurous life. Sarah Margaret, who I saw as a pre-teen pouting because she couldn’t have a phone yet or wear the same baby doll graphic tees as her friends, is now mature and career-focused. Kay is good at everything she tries and her face beams with joy when she smiles. And little Taylor, the baby of the bunch, who I wanted to hold all the time when she was a baby, has wisdom, poise, and confidence beyond her years.
Then there are my brothers. I used to think that we were the bad eggs of the family because we’d gotten in more trouble growing up and weren’t as devoted to religion as our cousins. But we all have our own spirituality in different ways and we all treasure family above everything else. AJ and his wife Allie and their amazing little girls are my daily parenting inspiration.
I saw my parents, my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents eating at the table too. And that’s when I realize the truth. We are not losing anything when Deer Run is no longer ours. A house is only a house. It’s the people that gather there that are the true blessing and joy. Everything that was special about this place we will be taking with us – the memories, the people, the stories. We will all continue to make memories together, just in a different setting. My son and future children will have their own grandparents’ house, in Charleston, to grow to know their cousins in. The sale of those acres of woods does not mean we’ve lost wilderness and freedom. I will keep that with me, and make sure that my family seeks those wide open spaces. I’ll let my children spend time in nature, have space to daydream and come up with their own pretend worlds and games. And we’ll all continue to gather, tell stories, share meals, and be forever grateful to have one another.
In the end, it was never Deer Run that brought us together. It was Papa and Patticake, their love and their devotion to keeping the family close. Thank you. I love ya’ll. Rest in Peace Papa. And Goodbye Deer Run.
Like many new parents, I wanted to document my baby’s first year of life with monthly photos. It has been a joy to see him grow, learn, and change from month to month. It’s crazy how life works. You don’t notice a change from day to day, but over time you see that everything is different. At month one, Auggie nursed, pooped, and slept all day and night. Now at one year old, I’m chasing him around the house all day and he makes me laugh all the time.
For our photos, we kept a consistent background and outfit for continuity and so August’s growth would stand out. When I chose his crib as the photoshoot location, I didn’t take into account how hard it would be to get him to lay down or even sit still in the crib for photos as he got older and more mobile. So if you’re thinking about doing this with your new baby, take that into account. We will be switching to a big orange chair for the next year of monthly photos. It’s a little easier to get him to sit for a moment to take a photo there, even if I need to be ready to grab him at a moment’s notice before he tries to leap off.
We’ve been using a cute letter board from a company called Letter Folk. I’ve been seeing these boards pop up everywhere in the past year, so you could also get one on Amazon or at Target. But it is cool to support small businesses and Letter Folk is family-run which is even more special. So check them out. This is not an ad, by the way, I just like their product.
August is wearing Honest diapers in a different design in each month’s photo. We have a subscription to the diapers and wipes. This is a bit of a splurge for us, but we have good reason. These diapers and wipes are the only ones that don’t give him bad diaper rash. Plus, the designs are mega cute and we never have to remember to run out and buy new diapers since they come in the mail. It was fun picking out designs each month that corresponded to what was going on. For July we had fireworks, for December we had candy cane stripes, and so on.
Have you done a cute monthly photo for your child/children? If so, send me the website or Instagram photo link because I would love to check it out!
Most people can’t remember anything from before they were three years old. Still, it’s important to expose our babies and toddlers to the world and all its sights and wonders. Plus, what we do with our children now has an impact on them even if each moment doesn’t last in their memory. If we don’t show our kids love and affection until they’re three, we will have scared and insecure children that don’t have a warm, loving relationship with their parents. I say all this semi deep stuff to get to a lighter point – outings and experiences are important for your baby.
Getting out of the house and the daily routine on a regular basis is important for the parents, too. I go stir crazy if I spend more than one day shut inside my house. I have to take a walk or get out into nature or the world at least once a day with my baby in order to feel sane and happy. It’s not affordable to go to children’s museums or go shopping every day, so I’ve gathered a repertoire of easy outings for parents and babies.
The Park and Playground
This is an obvious choice. Kids love playgrounds! Try out a new park or playground once or twice a week until you find your favorites. For a pre-walker, it’s best to find a playground that has a baby swingset and the games they build into the play set. For instance, a lot of playgrounds feature a spinning match game. This is fun for your baby to spin and look at the colorful pictures.
It’s always great to find a shady spot at any park and lay out a blanket. You can let your little one explore nature and have a picnic lunch. Bonus points if the park has a duck pond, like Audubon Park in New Orleans. Those ducks and other wildlife make for great baby entertainment.
Botanical Garden and Sculpture Garden
Does your town/city (or one nearby) have a botanical garden or a sculpture garden, or any nature preserve? Usually the price to enter is fairly cheap, and there is a lot to look at and teach your child about. Smell the flowers, discuss the colors of different flowers, and practice crawling and walking on the lawns.
Bookstore and Library
Here in New Orleans, the Latter Library branch has a cute children’s area. It is carpeted, has low bookshelves for your child to browse, and has a bunch of large stuffed animals and some toys to play with. At first, I brought Baby A to the library in our neighborhood. To our disappointment, the children’s book area was mixed into the rest of the open floor plan of this Carrollton Riverbend branch and had hard floors and no toys. Needless to say, we got out of there quickly.
If your library isn’t conducive to baby play, Barnes and Noble sure is! They always have a separate kids area with tons of books to browse, a reading area with small tables and chairs, and a toy section with age-appropriate toys to look at. Some of them you can get away with playing with inside their packaging so you don’t have to buy anything. Sorry, B&N! I promise I have spent plenty of money in your stores over the years.
The best part about spending an hour or two in Barnes and Noble is the Starbucks coffee in the store. Enjoy yourself a latte, moms and dads!
Speaking of coffee, you can always waste a little time at a coffee shop. Coffee shops always have customers, so there is plenty of people-watching opportunity for you and baby. Many folks will wave and play peek-a-boo with your little one, too. If I’m desperate to get out of the house and can’t manage to get dressed in normal (aka not what I slept in) clothes, the local coffee shop is my saving grace. You can spend pocket change on a small coffee or splurge on your favorite caffeinated beverage, while giving your baby something different to look at. Bonus points for switching it up and trying the hippie coffee shop, the hipster coffee shop, and the weird one with zombie drawings all over the walls, on different trips to really change up the atmosphere and clientele vibe.
You can find a lot of strip malls that have my big three favorite chain stores – Marshall’s/TJ Maxx, Michael’s Crafts, and PetCo or PetSmart. So when you’re out running errands, stop by at the pet supply store and let your little one explore. Babies and toddlers will love to look at the birds, small rodent pets, and fish that are on display and for sale. There are also usually cats up for adoption that you can play with through their cages and dogs milling about the store with their owners. Ask if the dogs are friendly and if you can pet them (if you’re comfortable with that). You can let your kid walk around and touch things because the workers there have seen worse – they have to clean up poop and pee from the animals.
This one doesn’t sound affordable at first. However, your city’s zoo, if you’re so lucky to have one, probably has great family membership deals. Our family received an Audubon membership for Christmas last year, and it has served us well. An Audubon membership gets you and your family into the zoo, aquarium, and insectarium for free. I looked up the price and worked out that after only two visits to one of the attractions, the membership is paid for. So it is definitely worth it! And once you know you’re getting in for free, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to head out to the zoo. You don’t have to feel pressured to make a day of it. In fact, we have covered the aquarium in less than an hour and headed home satisfied. There is so much to look at and learn about, so these animal adventures are wonderful for any child or adult.
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