Category Archives: Learning Curve

This Little Piggy Exercises

Once you have a baby, you will stop worrying about Murphy’s Law, because a whole new set of rules will apply.  Even the hapless Murphy would admit that nothing can compare to the true nature of Mommy’s Law.  

According to Mommy’s Law, if you are home alone and holding a crying baby, you will inevitably drop something.  A few useful exercises will help get you in shape for these harrowing moments.  It is time to learn how to maximize your appendages. 

The Toe Toss is a simple exercise that does not even require stretching.  In fact, you will not even break a sweat.

  1. Take a deep breath and relax.
  2. While balancing on one leg, carefully use the other foot to SCOOP up the item onto the base of your toes.
  3. Gently TOSS the item up onto a couch, table, or chair.
  4. Pick up the item with your free hand.
  5. Do a victory dance to celebrate your accomplishment.  (No one is home.)

The next move is a more complicated version of The Toe Toss.  Only move on when you have mastered the above exercise.

Sometimes you will not even have time for The Toe Toss.  In an emergency, you need a move with faster, more efficient results.  Let’s say you are running late to an important meeting, and you drop something on your way out the door while holding your baby.  Now you need The Reverse Toe Toss with a Twist.

  1. Skip the deep breathing.  (There will be plenty of time for breathing later.)
  2. While balancing on one leg, carefully use the other foot to SCOOP up the item onto the base of your toes.
  3. Lift that leg off the ground and TOSS the item UP and BACK towards you in one swift motion.
  4. Catch the item with your free hand. 
  5. Do a victory dance while running to your car

If you miss, you will need to start over again.  This move takes PRACTICE, but you will not believe how many times it will come in handy.  Once you become an expert, you can use it to entertain at parties.  Imagine the look of awe inspired when you do a Reverse Toe Toss with a Twist to recapture a stray Shrimp Ball.

Some dropped items, like a pen, are too awkward to balance and toss.  In this difficult situation, you must do The Claw and grasp the item between your big toe and second toe.  Carefully lift and bend your leg until you can grab the item.  I recommend watching My Left Foot, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, before you try to master this one.  It would be helpful if they would release the sequel, My Big Toe

Until the release of a toe workout video, you can use this as your guide.  With these simple exercises, you can get your little piggy who went to market and the little piggy who stayed home to cooperate and be your friends. Just remember to pace your breathing.  And watch out for Mommy’s Law.


Great Adaptations

Any mom who spent her childhood perfecting the three-legged race knows that a one-armed cooking contest would have been better preparation for motherhood.  As a new parent constantly holding a baby, it can be shocking to suddenly lose the use of one arm.  Now add a squirming, floppy ten-pound weight to that arm and try to cook a soufflé.  Sound impossible?  Even though it seems daunting at first, it does get easier over time.  After a third baby, some mothers are able to hold a crying infant, cook dinner, vacuum, talk on the phone, and do their taxes simultaneously.  Sometimes they even do it blindfolded just to show off. 

After childbirth, parents inevitably develop a chronic case of The Dropsies.  This trend can happen in one of two ways.  One way is to drop something after you just spent considerable time rocking your baby to sleep.  The Theory of Dropsies Relativity states that there is a direct relationship between how long you spend rocking a baby to sleep and how loud the noise will be when you drop something.  For example, after ten minutes, you will only drop a penny.  After an hour, it might be your unabridged copy of War and Peace.  If you rock for an entire night, you might actually knock over the refrigerator. 

One night when our daughter was a newborn, I had spent several stressful hours rocking her to sleep. When my husband was getting ready for bed, the coins from his pocket crashed onto the floor, rolled down an entire hallway and landed outside the door of our sleeping baby’s room.  (Much like the Warren Commission investigation of the JFK assassination, he is still on trial as to how the coins actually managed to make a ninety degree turn.)  This strange phenomenon is an example of The Doghouse Theory: When one parent is trying frantically to soothe the baby to sleep, it is usually the OTHER parent who drops something. 

The other case of The Dropsies occurs when you drop something while holding a crying baby, but you are home alone.  To save your aching back, you will need to use your toes to help retrieve it. Prior to motherhood, you probably did not think much of your toes, other than to apply an occasional coat of nail polish.  Now that you are beginning your octopus metamorphosis, you need to start thinking of your toes as extra useful tools.  Next week we will review some useful exercises to maximize your appendages. 

The Bull in the China Shop

When one of our boys was nine months old, he discovered our daughter’s toy tea cup.  He spotted a row of her stuffed animals and slowly meandered over to them with an adorable grin on his face.  “How sweet,” I said.  “He’s going to give the animals a drink.”  When he reached the first animal, he slowly raised the cup and – BAM! – smashed it over the teddy bear’s head.  Then he wiped out all of the other animals with a sweep of his arm.  Tea party over. 

Having a girl first allowed me to ease my way into motherhood.  I heard other mothers tell tales of their sons’ adventurous nature – how they loved to climb and explore.  I would nod my head in agreement about how our girl also loved to be adventurous.  Then I had boys.

 Our boys seemed intent to accomplish one goal:  bring down the house. (Is there something I can pull down, knock down, tear apart, or mangle?  Is there something dangerous I can climb up, roll off, jump from, or throw?)  It didn’t take me very long to discover their MO. Seek and destroy. 

Our little girl could be left alone all day in a fine china shop, and everything would remain in place.  The boys could destroy a rubber room. 

Even though they were raised in the same environment, our boys never seemed to catch on to the concept of “gentle.”  To them, being gentle means the difference between whacking a plant and pulling it out by its roots.  They tried things that our daughter never even thought of, from pulling the tablecloth off the table (with dinner on it), to knocking down the fireplace gate.  Many days were spent scrubbing couches, walls, and floors, and taping things back together. 

Once our boys became mobile, they avoided being captured at all costs.  Diapering became an exhausting effort.  Despite my efforts to minimize their sugar intake, they were still hyper and constantly active.  Together, they made a formidable team. 

Many parents who do not acknowledge gender differences try to influence and change them.  These are the parents who try to force girlie dolls and tea sets on their boys to get them “in touch” with their feminine side.  This is a noble but futile attempt:  Boys will play with dolls, too – by ripping their heads off and throwing them down the stairs.  Then they might play catch with the headless doll corpses and laugh while the girls watch and scream.  They don’t exactly wait with bated breath for an invitation to the next “tea party.” 

The key to dealing with gender differences is to appreciate all of them.  Even though boys require more work and clean up, their adventurous spirit is to be admired and nurtured.  Their sense of fun is infectious.  Sometimes moms need to relax a little and learn life lessons from the bold and daring escapades of their sons.  They can teach us that life is not always what it seems.  What we may think is only a box can be a car, rocket ship, or whatever we want.  We may even learn not to always be uptight about being orderly and clean.  Boys are an affirmation that it’s okay to live life to the fullest and have fun. 

Girls can teach us to appreciate the fine details in life.  They usually prefer to slow down and observe the beauty of nature:  sunlight reflected on water or shadow shifts on the moon.  A mother might be thinking of something that needs to be done, and her girl will focus on a particular shade of the sunset that pleases her.  A cloud that looks like a bunny’s tail, a rock that looks like a chunk of the moon – nothing goes unnoticed by little girls. They tend to be the first to find a rainbow after a storm, both literally and figuratively.  In this fast-paced and overwhelming world, girls are a constant reminder to slow down and appreciate the raw beauty that surrounds us daily.

No matter what you do, there will always be differences between boys and girls.  You can’t change these inherent differences, so just learn to appreciate them.

Just remember this simple Gender Equation:  

Girl = china shop; Boy = bull in china shop.



The Waking of Rip Van Winkle

It may seem impossible after caring for a newborn, but at some point you will actually emerge from your lair and reenter the world.  After shrinking back from the light, you may realize you are hungry and head to your favorite restaurant.  Chances are that so much time has passed, your favorite restaurant has already been taken over by another chain.  You may even feel Rip Van Winkly, that strange sensation that you’ve been snoozing for twenty years while the world has transformed around you. 

The first time you eat at a restaurant with your newborn, you will most likely over pack.  You will bring diapers, wipes, bibs, burp cloths, extra clothes, hand sanitizer, drinks, food, and toys, toys, toys.  Keep in mind that you are going out for dinner, not moving.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the more toys you bring, the more your baby will be entertained.  If you over pack your bag, you will never even open it; he will sleep through the whole outing.

The second time you dine out, you might bring the same baby gear, and this time your baby will be awake.  When he fusses, you will give him a toy from the bag, and he will promptly throw it on the floor.  Pick it up and hand it to him, and he will throw it on the ground again.  The same pattern will happen with the second toy, the third, the fourth, and so on.  At some point, you will finally realize that children never play with their own toys at a restaurant.  They are looking for something different and exciting.  When you stop bringing the toys, your bag will miraculously get lighter.

Important rule:  When a child throws or drops toys at a restaurant, they never land at your feet. You may spend countless times running down the aisle to retrieve a thrown toy and apologize to the other diners.  In fact, you will be amazed when you witness The Frankenstein, the sudden new life toys will take on, as they roll, turn, and ricochet into someone’s soup.  When dining out, avoid bringing toys that bounce, roll, or make noise.  Babies can be entertained with spoons, fun straws, and menus. Crayons will just be eaten by the baby, and then you can expect some colorful diapers.  The best option is to ask to sit next to a window.  A baby can be easily entertained by all of the activity going on outside.  Babies are fascinated by movement, and usually they will be able to see moving people, cars, birds, and trees out of a restaurant window.

A backpack will not only save your back, but it will also free up your hands for taking care of the kids.  Learn to only put the bare minimum of supplies in the bag.  In the summertime, be sure to remove any cups or food from the bag as soon as you return home.  If you leave cheese crackers or a cup or bottle with a residue of milk in the bag, you may have surprise visitors.  Nothing loves sour milk like an army of ants.

A successful outing with a baby mostly depends on timing.  Anything more than two errands at a time can be overwhelming to a small child.  A trip to a store or restaurant should be planned, if possible, to completely avoid nearing nap or bed time.  Kids usually handle errands the best at 10:00 in the morning, when they are refreshed and wide-awake.  Restaurant outings work well around 5:00 p.m., but 6:30 is pushing bedtime and results in cranky, exhausted children and parents.  We have all seen a screaming child at a grocery store or a restaurant and sympathized with the hysterical mother. If you check the clock, the child is most likely crying because, like his mom, he would rather be in bed.


The Rubber House

To completely baby-proof your home, you would have to contract with a rubber manufacturing company.  With a rubber house, not only would your baby be safe, but you would also avoid cracking your skull on the sharp corners of cabinets. While it would be nice to be able to bounce from one room to another, it’s just not practical. You can say, “No!” until you’re blue in the face, but when you turn your back, your baby wants to explore.  His natural curiosity will get the better of him, and he will need to touch, feel, and taste.  During this phase, removing breakable decorations will save you a lot of stress.  Don’t worry about the fact that your house looks like a barren wasteland. This is only temporary; you can return breakables once your baby can control his movements.  Or if you have boys, once they leave for college. 

Some baby safety products are viewed as a double dare to MacGyver-like children. As soon as our older son was mobile, he pulled out the electric socket safety plugs and put them in his mouth.  In fact, babies put just about everything into their mouths; it’s their mode of exploration.  The number one safety guarantee is to keep a careful eye on your baby.  If you stay vigilant, you will see his jaws moving ever so slightly.  Then you will notice the small bulge in his cheek and rush to remove the contents.  If he refuses to relinquish the goods, try a Mandible Mush by squeezing his lower jaw bone to force the mouth to stay open. Baby monitors are helpful, but nothing will save a child’s life more than having a parent who pays attention. 

After you give birth, you may not be able to waltz out of the hospital and rush home to enjoy your new baby. Before you are allowed to leave the hospital, you have to demonstrate that you have your baby correctly and legally strapped into his new car seat.   Your baby will have zero to minimal neck control at this point, so it will be like trying to strap in a jellyfish.  If you fail this first test, the nurses will make you stop and readjust the straps on the car seat.  If the readjustment is unsuccessful, you will have to take apart the whole seat and start from scratch.  It may seem like some sadistic reality show where the hospital staff can watch from behind hidden cameras, laughing hysterically at your ignorance. Since parents are expected to be familiar with their baby equipment, you may need to actually read the entire car seat manual before your baby graduates to a booster seat.  

A mother in ancient times didn’t have baby equipment, let alone manuals; she was happy if her baby didn’t get trampled by a camel.  Even just a couple of decades ago, kids were merely thrown into the back of a station wagon to roll where they may. Nowadays, you almost need an advanced degree to use baby gear.  Sometimes you have to enlist several engineers to help disassemble a playpen or readjust the straps on a car seat. These products should come with a label:  NO ENGINEERS INCLUDED. 

Before you purchase a car seat, shop around to find the lightest one possible.  Of course, when you first buy the seat it will seem light.  That’s because no one is sitting in it yet. Remember that you will be using this seat for the entire first year, and at some point you will be lugging the weight of the car seat plus a twenty-pound baby.  Now add a diaper bag and myriad baby gear, and you had better start lifting weights in your spare time. 

When you carry your car seat, do you do The Quasimodo (a.k.a. The Hunchback), dragging your leg behind you while completely hunched over? Lightweight car seats are available if you shop around.  Car seats are too expensive to just go out and buy a lighter one, so take the time to comparison shop car seats based on weight.


Mastodon Soup and Q-Tips

I wonder what Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble used to do when Pebbles and Bamm Bamm got sick.  Even if there was a Bedrock Pharmacy, it would have taken forever to get there in the footmobile.  There must have been some special soup made out of mastodon bones, but alas, only Emeril has the recipe.  He has all of the Rubble Family secret recipes, which explains why he has to yell, “BAM!” when he cooks.

Baby cold medicine was supposedly invented to provide the baby some relief so he could get some sleep.  Having survived through the colds of three babies, I now understand that the benefit is more for the sleep-deprived parent.  At three o’clock in the morning, the baby’s medicine bottle is a groggy parent’s much needed friend.

Until recently, when a baby was miserable with a cold, you could give him a dose of infant cold medicine to soothe him to sleep.  Unfortunately, exhausted parents started confusing teaspoons with tablespoons, and now these medications have been pulled from pharmacies for safety reasons.  Desperate for sleep, parents are left with the search for alternatives.  I was told by our pediatrician’s office to “use a humidifier.”  That’s like being told to use a thimble of water to put out a fire. Even though a humidifier and vapor rub are supposed to replace antihistamines, they don’t clear up a baby’s severely congested nose.

Frantic parents are forced to rely on a relic from the Spanish Inquisition:  the nasal plunger, a.k.a. The Torture Bulb. Ideally, mothers insert the nose syringe into their infant’s nostrils and extract the gunk while he coos peacefully.  What really happens is that the baby screams and squirms to the point where the bulb goes every which way except into his tiny nostril.  It takes a very steady hand, much like playing the Operation gameIn this classic game, you have to operate on a cardboard patient – who looks like Fred Flintstone in boxers – by using tweezers.  If your tweezers hit the metal edge of the opening, the patient’s nose lights up and buzzes.  Thankfully, that doesn’t happen with your baby’s nose, but the nasal operation is even more difficult than removal of the Wish Bone AND the Bread Basket of the Hasbro game.  (Trust me; even if a mom had been on the Hasbro marketing committee, there is no WAY they would have accepted Nasal Snot as one of the operations.)  Even if you do miraculously get the bulb in your baby’s nostril, the odds of a successful extraction are minimal.

So, what’s the secret weapon?  A WET COTTON SWAB. The good old Q-Tip. Gently swipe the damp swab near the opening of the nose, but be sure not to ram it too far up the nostril.  You are not trying to extract grey matter from the brain, just the stuff at the front end of the nose. The gunk will cling to the wetness of the swab, allowing for a much easier removal than a bulb that never gets up the nose in the first place.  Once your child is old enough to blow his nose first, this technique works even better.

If you have to administer prescription medicine to your baby, place the dropper as far back as possible on the inside of his cheek.  This will prevent him from opening his mouth and drooling or spitting out most of the medicine.  If he doesn’t want to drink the medicine, blowing in his face will force him to involuntarily swallow.  It’s too bad this method won’t work in a few years, when you’re trying to get him to swallow his lima beans.



The Shot Heard ‘Round the Office

The Immunization Schedule is a daunting list of how many times you will have to torture your child over the next several years.  Thanks to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can actually take out your Day-Timer and pencil in these torture sessions.  Monday, playdate.  Tuesday, torment baby with needle larger than his head.   

During the first few years of your child’s life, he will have to endure many vaccinationsThe first year is the most difficult; almost every visit will include shots.  You do not need to memorize the immunization schedule; it’s not like the Periodic Table of Elements or something.  But showing up for every visit will guarantee that your baby is receiving vaccinations at the appropriate time. 

No one can prepare you for the heart wrenching moment when the needle enters your baby’s skin. He will probably scream, look up at you with crocodile tears, and give you a tortured look that says:  How can you betray me?  How can you just stand there and let them hurt me? They might as well be giving you the shot at that point.  The only thing that will help is to focus on doing the right thing. You can certainly tolerate a little crying and screaming to protect his health.  Besides, there will be lots more crying and screaming to come, so this helps prepare you for it.   

There is nothing worse than trying to dress a post-shot baby in a complicated five-piece outfit.  When you are going to the doctor’s office, dress your baby in something easy to manipulate.  Choose something that slips easily over the head and does not require buttoning or snapping.  You are looking for a quick getaway. 

You need to prepare as much as possible before you arrive at the doctor’s office.  If you are holding one or more children, chances are the receptionist will ask to see your insurance card.  You will then have to put someone down and dig through your purse to find the card.  Sometimes my kids were already crying because they were in the “shot factory,” and putting them down only terrified them more.  If your child is getting a shot, have your insurance card, cash or pre-written check, and car keys ready in an outer pocket or easily accessible places. 

Try to schedule your baby’s doctor’s visits so that you can give him a feeding immediately after the shot.  The milk will comfort your baby and should stop him from crying.  This will allow you to pay for your visit and schedule your next one without disrupting the entire building.  If your baby is still crying when you are at the receptionist’s desk, just hand them the fee, tell them you will call to schedule the next visit, and then run like the wind to your car.  Before you even arrive home, your baby will have recovered from the shot. 

Most babies are slightly fussy or lethargic for a day or so after a shot. Who can blame them? Nobody enjoys being stuck with a needle.  Babies usually take long naps on the afternoon after a vaccination.  The nurse will tell you to watch out for a fever or redness around the shot area.  I will tell you to be careful to make sure your baby does not take the Band-Aid off and try to eat it for a snack like both of our boys did.  Remember to remove the bandage before your baby goes down for a nap.