Category Archives: reader questions

How to Handle It When One Kid Isn’t Doing as Well in School as Another

Here I am, back for more immersion therapy. Leeann asked a question on yesterday’s post:

So, I have a topic that I’d love you to bring up on your blog because I am curious about how other people handle it.

I have three kids. Two are total meant-for-school students- they sit and listen, have great memorization skills, work hard-ish etc. They just do really well at the whole “going to school thing.” My third child, however, is not a meant-for-school kid. He is super smart but to sit and listen, to do redundant worksheets etc is NOT his thing. He works hard-ish but his hard-ish gets him low Bs and Cs (in advanced classes) while the other two get straight A’s. I’m never quite sure what to do when report cards come around. One is clearly not like the others. I don’t want to take away from the first two by minimizing their awesome grades but I don’t want to make child 3 feel inferior for his grades when I know his effort was there, it just that school doesn’t measure his particular strengths like it does theirs. Does anyone have any help for me in this issue? We do talk about making efforts and individual strengths etc but it feels a bit forced to my ears.

I’ve run into this, too. I’m finding it especially difficult with the twins, because they’re in the same grade and getting tested on the same things, so the comparisons are pretty obvious and exact. All of last year, they had the same spelling list, and Elizabeth was getting a much higher grade every single week than Edward; I didn’t want to praise her in a way that made him feel bad, but I also didn’t want to NOT praise her.

So far I’ve been doing a mix and match of these things with all the kids:

1) Emphasizing individual strengths, as you’ve been doing, whenever it comes up. We do a lot of frank  “Well, Elizabeth might just be better at you than spelling; you both spent the same amount of time studying, so it might be that it just comes more naturally to her. Other things come more naturally to you. [Giving example or not, depending on whether one comes readily to mind and/or exists.]”

2) Praising privately. I’ll wait until Edward isn’t around and then say, “Wow, Elizabeth, you did GREAT on your spelling test!” Sometimes I’ll mention to the praised child that I’m not making a big deal about it in front of another child, and I’ll re-emphasize the “People have different strengths” along with the “We don’t brag and make other people feel bad, especially if our strengths are inborn as opposed to coming from hard work.” Then I can also praise Edward separately, saying things like, “You did really well on your spelling test this week!” (if he did, for him), without Elizabeth pointing out that it’s not good compared to HERS.

3. Praising everyone publicly at times when things are more even. “Wow, Elizabeth, look at your spelling test this week! And Edward, good job getting your orange belt! William, this is a great painting!”

4. Finding other things for the doing-less-well child to thrive at. This one’s not always an option. But if the not-as-academic child could do really well at, say, karate, it gives another way to make accomplishments feel more balanced.

5. Just not discussing it much. It does feel bad to minimize someone’s academic accomplishments just because a sibling is getting lower grades—but on the other hand, there have been a lot of mixed reports recently on how abundant praise affects children. Looking at all three report cards and then saying an enthusiastic “Nice job, you guys!” (with no sharing around of grades) might make everyone feel happy. (And this can be combined with #2, speaking privately later to each of the two who got great grades, as if just bringing it up again as you would with any of them: “I just keep thinking of that great report card you got!”)

6. Additional private discussions with the child who gets lower grades can also help: saying that you know the child tries as hard (or harder) for less result, and that his effort is as important to you than the specific letter grade might help considerably. Rob has a lot of trouble with writing, and on his most recent report card he got a non-excellent grade in language arts—but accompanied by a note from the teacher that he was trying hard. I told him that was my favorite part of his report card—and it really WAS. (I’m not sure this method would work if it weren’t true.)

7. Sometimes it’s better to get A’s and B’s in regular classes than C’s in advanced classes. I’ve felt like there’s a lot of pressure from our school system to put kids in the highest possible level their test scores indicate they can handle—but as you’ve noted, some kids are just as smart but don’t do as well with the sitting down and worksheets type of learning. My plan is to whenever possible put kids in the classes where their grades reflect their effort. If that means letting them go down a level, I’m willing to do that. The GPA can even end up being exactly the same (I don’t know if all schools divide things the same, but at our school a C+ in honors/advanced class is the same GPA as a B- in an A-level class—but the B would feel a lot better, and be more comparable to his siblings’ grades).

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How do you handle it with your kids?

Reader Question: Car Seats and Potty Seats

Mattea writes:

Okay, so five kids into it, and having older, larger kids now….what car seats do you have/have had/hated/loved and in WHAT configuration in the car/minivan? We’re about to have number three in April and I’m LOSING MY MIND trying to get them all to fit in out Honda Pilot without having to lay down a grand on new car seats or buy a new car. Because we JUST bought this car last June when I was sure that I wanted another baby and that this car would SURELY fit all of them. Ahem. So.
ALSO! It seems to be too much to ask that these be the safest car seats, and the ones that my children will consent to ride in b/c they are actually comfortable.
Any help! Any help at all would be lovely. Reader input would be great!
Currently I have a very tall (very long torso) 4.5 year old and a not very shrimpy either 2.5 year old and they just seem to want to outgrow things at a ferocious rate. So, when I see people still fitting their 8 (!) or even NINE year olds into the harnassed booster kind of seats on the internet and raving about how LONG your kids will fit in this and how MUCH USE you’ll be sure to get out of this fabulous $300 car seat, but when I look up reviews people with long torsoed children should expect to get to about 4, maybe 5 if you’re lucky—or just like living dangerously. That’s when the ragey-rage and forehead abuse starts.
And, if, in your wanderings you have come across a potty seat that DOESN’T wick wee onto the rim, under the rim, onto the floor I’d be obliged :)

Hm. I HAVE liked our car seats…I think. Right now the three youngest are in those Graco booster seats that have backs on them (like this), and then you remove the backs when the child is tall/large enough. All three kids are tall enough that they’re using the seats without the backs now. Once you get to plain backless booster seats, I don’t think there’s significant safety differences anymore from one to the next; they’re just to get the child to the right height to use the car’s seat belt.

When the kids were littler and needed infant seats and convertible carseats, I remember I used Consumer Reports to choose which ones to buy. Usually the top-rated one or two were triple the price and only a tiny bit safer than the next one down, so I’d get the next one down. The problem is that Consumer Reports didn’t test NON-CRASH usage. That is, they didn’t mention that the covers weren’t removable, or that the strap was intolerably difficult to adjust. They just tested the seat in a crash—which of course is very important, but most of the seats will be through a crash 0 times and will need the covers removed 10 times and the straps adjusted 1000 times, so those issues are important to me TOO.

For all the babies, I think I got Graco infant seats. I liked the ones where you could adjust the looseness of the strap with a bit of belt that came out right under where the buckle was. SO EASY: I could loosen it wayyyy up to put the baby in without annoying him/her, then buckle it, then snug the belt up again.

When they outgrew those, the three youngest used the Evenflo convertible car seats. (I can’t remember anymore what the first two kids used.) They were ENORMOUS but comfy. One of my most enduringly popular posts has been the one where I posted the instructions for removing the goddamn cover (I never did get the cover off, myself). So if I were buying such a seat today, that would probably be my primary concern: that the cover come off (FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY).

And then I think they went from those into the Graco boosters (with backs).

Our 7-seat minivan (a Toyota Sienna) has two individual seats in the middle row, and then a bench-style seat as the back row (which theoretically seats three). When we had four kids, it was easy: the two older boys sat in the back row, and the twins were in the middle row where I could more easily manage their seat belts and straps and so forth.

When Henry was born, we moved one twin car seat to the center of the back row between the two booster seats—or maybe our eldest was by then old enough not to be in a booster anymore. Let’s see, he would have been eight, so yes, he probably wasn’t using a booster anymore. (It’s one of the upsides of having nice tall kids.)

Now that everyone’s so much bigger, it’s a tight fit when we go anywhere all together. Henry’s car seat is in one of the two middle-row seats, and the twins are on either end of the back seat. William is smaller than Rob, so he has to cram himself in the center of the back seat; the seat belt isn’t a shoulder kind, which makes me fretful. And Rob sits in the other of the two middle-row seats.

Rob is old/large enough to sit in the front seat, too, so if it’s just me and the five kids, Rob sits in the front seat, William and Henry sit in the middle row, and Edward and Elizabeth sit in the back row.

But all the car seat stuff has changed since I was choosing. So it’s good we have a comments section, so that other people can weigh in with more current information.

About the toilet seat, this is the one we have:

(photo from Amazon.com)

The child seat nests into the upper lid of the toilet, so you don’t have to take anything on and off each time. My brother/sister-in-law, my parents, and I all have the same potty seat system, but I think there’s a different brand name on each one; it seems like it’s the same seat issued under different brands, rather than competing products. All, I think, have “Next Step” on the upper inner top lid, and then a different name on the lower inner top lid. It’s a great seat for many, many reasons—but sadly there is still periodic wicking of wee.

[P.S. In Google Reader it LOOKS as if there was also another post today, called Lucky. But actually I posted that years ago. I went into it looking for something, and when I went out of it again it had somehow turned into an unpublished draft. So I hit publish—and it showed it published today, with all comments lost. I’m so frustrated, and am just leaving the post down. It wasn’t all that awesome anyway.]

Gift Ideas for Late-Pregnancy Treats

Katie writes:

I am 36 weeks pregnant with my 2nd son (and therefore destined to be outnumbered forever as we may have one more child, but aren’t sure), and getting to the UGH IS THIS OVER?/WAHHH IT’S ALREADY ALMOST OVER! point, and thought about finding a small way to treat myself to perk me up for the last few weeks. The problem is…with WHAT? I tried wonderful coffee, didn’t do it. I would try chocolate, but it gives me the worst heartburn. I even made a fabulous dinner tonight, complete with from scratch apricot clafouti for dessert…no dice. Clearly food is not working.

I don’t want to spend a lot of money (because newborn clothes…squee!), but would like to do something.

Help!

When food treats don’t work, we are indeed in trouble. Have you tried ice cream? That was one of my favorites. Ice cream bars are good, too, or Italian ices.

Cashews, almonds, etc.? I love the Emerald Nuts cinnamon almonds.

I also liked getting nice scented shower gels, and nice oils for soothing the tum skin. Maybe a nice beauty bar soap (I like Dove, or Oil of Olay, or Caress). There are about twenty kinds of each brand, so it’s fun to choose: “Hmmm, Summer Revitalization, or Winter Protection? Citrus-Lemongrass Fresh, or Soothing Coconut Vanilla? Vitamin Therapy, or Antioxidant Infusion? Clarifying Glow or Extra Moisturizing?”

My favorite scent at Bath & Body Works is lavender-vanilla: it’s marketed as sleep/relax aromatherapy, and I find it very soothing/comforting. They have a candle you can burn, and I like their lotion and body wash too.

A face moisturizer upgrade. One of those jars that’s half the size of the regular kind you use, but also twice the price.

Or one of those nice face mask things to use in the shower. I like the Oil of Olay warming cleanser.

If manicures and pedicures appeal to you, now is the perfect moment.

I would recommend a haircut/trim, but I did that in my final weeks and there was a problem or misunderstanding and in any case I ended up with layered hair that had to be styled to look good, and was not long enough to put into a ponytail. Were there tears? OH YES, and also self/hairdresser-recriminations and wishing to go back and change reality. But if there is no problem/misunderstanding, it’s nice to get the Needing-a-Haircut Meter set back to zero.

Comfy socks and slippers will be nice now on swollen feeties, and also nice to have in the hospital.

A flowering plant, if you don’t mind having one more thing to take care of. Our grocery store has cute ones in the $4-8 range. One for the bathroom where you can see it as you pee every 10 minutes. One near wherever you sit most often, so you see it whenever you glance up.

Books! Especially absorbing ones that will help pass the time.

DVDs! Especially absorbing ones that will help pass the time. And if you get started on a good series, you can continue watching it during night feedings.

Magazines! It can be fun to get a few you don’t normally buy.

Tea! Although, if coffee didn’t work, tea might not either. But there are so many fun kinds to try.

Things for the hair: deep-conditioning treatments, leave-in treatments, a new pack of ponytail holders, a new barrette.

A new picture for the wall, near where you’ll see it while feeding the baby.

Another thing I found happy in the last few weeks was stocking up for AFTER the baby. Buy a bottle of wine, if you like wine, or beer if you like beer, and set it aside. A box of your favorite candy/chocolates, for when the heartburn is gone. Things that are easy to eat while you’re feeding the baby, or for times when you feel like you don’t have time to even pee: a box of good crackers; trail mixes; pumpkin seeds; Nutella; the kind of granola bars marketed to grown-ups (I like the look of the Planters ones but haven’t tried them yet). An expensive unscented hand lotion, for when you don’t want to get lavender-vanilla all over the baby. A pretty new water bottle. A pretty new coffee mug. A DVD series you won’t let yourself watch until night feedings. Some magazines or light novels for when your brain is too wobbly from low-sleep and high-distraction to enjoy its usual fare. A pretty notebook and pen for the feeding station: I always found I thought of something important the minute I was trapped under a baby. Deciding on and buying these things, and then going and looking at them and petting them, can be very pleasing.

More ideas for Katie?

Reader Question: How Does a Second Child Change Things?

Jessica writes:

I am pregnant with our second. We have an almost-3-year-old with a speech delay and sometimes I feel like we are barely holding it together. We both work outside the home. Can you (and maybe readers) tell me how having a second child changes things? I am really scared.

This question gives me an immediate split response as I remember how HARD it was at first, and how FINE it was in the long run. What I remember about having a toddler (Rob) and a newborn (William) is walking around thinking endlessly “This can’t be done. This can’t be done. This can’t be done.” (When it happened again when Henry was born, I concluded that it’s something magical about the toddler-plus-newborn combination.)

But then after awhile things got more comfortable and familiar and I thought, “Oh I get it: this is what people mean when they say ‘the new normal.'” I couldn’t really remember anymore what it had been like before the new baby arrived, and when I TRIED to remember I found I was imagining it must have been a blissful relaxed time with “only one” child, and how oh how did I fill my time? But as you know, and as I knew, it had NOT been like that. In fact, it had been pretty much the same as I felt now: busy, and sometimes barely keeping things together, but other times things working okay.

It would be hard to say SPECIFICALLY what changes, or how it changes, or what that’s like. Remember before you had your first baby? People could tell you what it was like for them to bring home their first baby, and what changes that made in their lives and marriages, but they couldn’t tell you what it would be like for you—and they couldn’t really explain even their own experience well enough to give someone else a true picture of it anyway. There was nothing for it but to wait and see for yourself. Nevertheless, I can tell you some of the things that changed in our house, and others can tell you what changed at their houses.

One thing that changed for us is that it’s harder for one parent to give the other a break. With one child, one parent can take the child to the store, or play with the child in another room, and the other parent can be free. With two children, one parent can still do these things with both child, but the perceived burden will be significantly higher.

On the other hand, I found that in my particular marriage, this led to my resentment levels dropping considerably: with one child, I felt like Paul was always free to go off and play on the computer or something, figuring (rightly) that there wasn’t much for him to do while I was nursing the baby; with two children, it made sense to both of us that each of us should be taking care of someone. I would be dealing with the baby, and he would be busy, too, playing a game with the toddler; or I would be bathing the toddler, and he would be holding the baby. It gave me a feeling of balance and fairness that led to a happier household overall.

Another thing that changed for us is that a number of things started feeling more “worth it”—I’m thinking of as the younger child got older. Getting out all the painting stuff for one child seems like a lot of work; for two, it seemed like I was getting double value for my time and effort.

A fun change was how endlessly fascinating we found it to notice the similarities and differences between the two children. This was a game we hadn’t been able to play with just one child. Taking pictures of them together was also surprisingly entertaining, as was dressing them in coordinated outfits. Geez, I know this sounds lame. BUT IT WAS FUN. Really, a very pleasing side effect of two or more.

Another change was how big our older child seemed all of a sudden. It was like he was a baby that morning, and a totally competent walker-talker that afternoon. I felt like the new baby gave me a much greater appreciation for the older child’s skills—things I hadn’t noticed so much before, like how nice it was that he could tell me what was wrong, or point to what he wanted, or be set down anywhere without slumping over like a cute little slug.

And the flip of this was also true: I found I could appreciate my second child’s babyness so much more, because I could see it in contrast to the older child. Instead of feeling like his babyness was practically all used up at 6 weeks (as I did with my firstborn, although to be fair that was in the middle of a hormonal cry fest), I felt like he seemed small and cute endlessly. And I could appreciate the simplicity of his needs: he needed food, or warmth, or a new diaper, or snuggles—he didn’t need a twentieth “Why?” answer, or to have it explained why he couldn’t have my coffee, or to have me to decide how much television he could watch.

Oh dear, I don’t feel like I’m answering your question AT ALL. Perhaps now is a good time to get the comments section going.

Update! Jessica writes:

Hello! A couple of years ago I sent you this question.

I wanted to tell you how incredibly reassuring this post and the subsequent comments were. I sadly ended up losing the pregnancy I was writing about, but got pregnant again a few months later and we had our beautiful second son in May 2012.

I think the biggest lesson I learned is that babies are DIFFERENT. Our first son was a difficult, difficult baby. Everything was hard — feeding, sleeping, awake time, going out, staying in. Therefore, I fully expected our baby experience to be replicated, except also with an older version running around wreaking havoc and demanding attention.

As it turned out, our second is the proverbial “easy baby” and our very difficult toddler has matured into a only moderately difficult preschooler.

Because of my paranoia, we had arranged for a young babysitter to come play with our older son for a couple of hours a day during our baby’s first few weeks, and that made a huge, huge difference, especially as I recovered from a c-section.

But my fretting was mostly unwarranted. Older son LOVES the baby, and we haven’t experienced too many alarming backslides in his behavior. He tries to be too rough with the baby — of course — but that’s pretty easily handled. Our days are intense, but joyful.

So thank you to you and the commenters for helping me through the fretful anticipation period. As is almost always the case, the worry turned out to be much worse than the reality.

Reader Question: Sleep Issues 3

Jessica writes:

Please help me! I know you don’t do these often, but you do them sometimes. Will you do one now? Will you HELP. ME? I’m hoping you and your fantastic readers can help. Ava is 10 weeks old now and the kid does. not. sleep. She still wakes up every 2-3 hours to eat. And it takes her 45 minutes to eat a 4 oz bottle, so if you do the math (I can’t, I’m sleep deprived) I think I’m getting like 18.4 minutes of sleep at one stretch. My boyfriend works out of state, so he’s rarely home so it’s just me and my 10 year old and I’m pretty sure asking her to get up with the baby is a bad idea. I read “Becoming Baby Wise” because a friend swore that it helped her get her baby to sleep…I read it, and I don’t get how it helps your baby sleep. In addition to her constant waking at night, she also doesn’t nap. She’ll take a 15 minute cat nap here and there, but that’s it. I’ve tried letting her sleep in her bouncy chair and her swing, doesn’t make her stay asleep longer. I’ve tried laying her down in her bassinet or her crib when she’s looking sleepy, she wakes RIGHT up and is pissed. I’ve tried letting her “cry it out”, and I hate it. I did it for 30 minutes and she just got more and more mad to the point where she started choking. (Can’t do that at night anyway, because the 10 year old will wake up!) The only way I can get her to sleep during the day is if we run an errand (but it has to be longer than a half hour), she’ll fall asleep in her car seat and then I just leave her in it when we get home (I know, I’m mean). I realize she’s only 10 weeks old and she’s BRAND NEW, but when I read that 10 weeks old require 15-18 hours of sleep, I want to cry. Here’s what we’re doing now: 9pm, bottle, bed time routine & asleep (was doing 7pm, but she wakes up at 10) She’s up at 11, 2, 5 and then 6:30 (we never leave the nursery when she wakes) and SOMETIMES I can get her back to sleep until 8. I’m exhausted, my parents have offered to come over during the day to let me nap, but I am seriously incapable of sleeping during they day, unless I drug myself into it, and then I’m a mess the rest of the day. I have to go back to work soon, and there is no way I’ll be able to function like this. Do I just have to wait, or do you have some killer advice? I’m hoping between you and your readers, someone can help! I’m going crazy. I realize this email is all over the place, but my brain function is limited these days. If it helps to know, she’s bottle fed (formula).

Oh, dude, I SO WISH I had AWESOME EXPERT FIVE-CHILD ADVICE for you, but do you know, I don’t think I EVER successfully solved a sleep issue, or at least not without another issue cropping right up. I consider them NIGHTMARES to handle. I will tell you EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT SLEEP, and it will not take long:

1. That thing I read a few other places, about the baby’s first nap of the day being about an hour and a half after the baby wakes up. This BLEW MY MIND because it seemed so counter-intuitive: why would the baby go back to sleep again so soon after waking? But indeed, if I put my babies down at about that interval, they DID go to sleep. (This does not mean it will work for your baby; see #2.)

2. That babies are SO DIFFERENT about sleep, and that what works for one person works for someone else only by SHEER COINCIDENCE. This can be excruciatingly annoying when you’ve got a Poor Sleeper and a friend is telling you that if you would “just” do X and Y, YOUR baby would sleep like HER baby did. When actually what it was, was that she got a Good Sleeper and is crediting her Awesome Techniques for it, and/or that her baby happened to respond well to the particular technique. This is one of the areas where I feel like working in a daycare did me HUGE FAVORS: the more babies a person handles, the more a person is forced to accept that some babies work one way and some babies work another way and there isn’t much that can be done to change that.

3. That it also matters what works for YOU the parent. As you’ve noticed, some people can nap during the day and some can’t. People have different levels of tolerance for crying, and different abilities to adjust to different levels of sleep. People also vary tremendously in their willingness to do certain things such as swing sleep, tummy sleep, car sleep, on-me sleep. What works for you will be different than what works for another parent, just as what works for your baby will be different than what works for another baby. And this may change over time.

4. It is worth continuing to try things. There are so many stories of families that struggled and struggled and struggled and struggled, and then they tried their hundredth thing and THAT worked for THEIR baby.

5. But if it DOESN’T happen like that, see #2.

6. Are you able to doze in a recliner while you feed her at night? I did that for a lot of night feedings, but I know people vary in their dozing abilities. I used a lot of pillows to prop everything securely, and then I’d drift off. Sometimes this meant I woke up in the recliner in the morning, baby asleep next to me.

7. When you go back to work, will she be in daycare during the day? I’ve heard encouraging stories of daycares sleep-training the child during the day, which then results in better nighttime sleep as well.

And now let’s turn it over to the group, because THAT is where I think the valuable advice is: when you can see a huge pool of advice like that, you can see the amazing variety of possibilities and you can pick-and-choose and try different things.

(You can also look at the comments from two previous sleep-issue questions: this one is my favorite and I say a bunch of things I would have also said to you except I felt self-conscious about repeating myself, and this one is also my favorite, for the same reasons, and the comments sections on both posts are SO GOOD.)

Reader Question: Preparing a 2-Year-Old for the Birth of the New Baby

Bird writes:

I have a reader question for you and your amazingly helpful readers:

I’m due to give birth in the next 10 days and I will most likely have another c-section. I have a 2.5 year old son already and I’m wondering how much/what I should tell him about mommy being gone for a few days when I give birth. We’ve been talking about “the baby” for a long time and I think he’s aware enough to understand that there is a baby and its in mommy’s tummy but I haven’t really broached the subject of actually going to the hospital, having the baby and re-couping for a few days. Most likely he will be in the care of a neighbor-friend for an afternoon/evening until my mother gets into town so the birth will be accompanied by a change in his routine and a
sleepover which I’m sure will give him some anxiety as it is. I’ve never been away from him for longer than a school day so I think my 4 day absence will be hard on him (and probably me as well). Currently, he thinks people go to the hospital to “be fixed” but I don’t want him to think that I’m broken, or something bad happened to me from the baby and that’s why I have to be at the hospital. Any advice on what we should say/explain? Thanks!

The book I remember being helpful when I was expecting my second baby was Za-za’s Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins, which I see is out of print. It’s not so much that the book was so awesome; instead, it’s that I felt like it did a good job setting up the timeline of a new baby—rather than just focusing on the feelings feelings feelings FEEEEEEELINNNNNGSSSS of the older child. In some books (Berenstain Bears and Little Critter, I am looking in your direction), the mom just vanishes and reappears an hour later with a smiling baby, and it’s all about how jealous the sibling is, or how the baby is too little to do anything, or how the baby is so awesome.

But in Za-za’s Baby Brother, the mom is pregnant, and then grandma comes to stay with the child while daddy takes mommy to the hospital (we see them leaving in the car); then the child visits tired/happy-looking mommy in the hospital and brings a present for the baby; then mommy comes home and is very tired, and the daddy is very busy (and then there is the usual mention of the older child’s feelings of being left out and neglected).

Anyway, I think that’s the gist of how I’d present it to a 2-year-old: The baby is growing in mommy’s special tummy (or however technical you get with that part), and soon it will be time for the baby to be born. You will go to the neighbor’s house (add details here about maybe having a meal, maybe watching a video, maybe playing toys, maybe even sleeping there—whatever) and mommy will go to the hospital where doctors will help the baby be born. Then mommy and the baby will rest at the hospital for a few days while grandma takes care of you, and then they will come home and all of us will live together. Mommy and daddy will be tired and busy at first while we all get used to having the new baby live with us, and it might be weird and loud to have the baby around at first—but then before long it will seem normal to all of us.

You can put in tons more detail if he likes that kind of thing: you can say things like “And then Grandma will give you dinner, and you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won’t be home! And then you will [whole day’s routine], and then you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won’t be home!”—and on and on, for as long as he’s interested and you can stand it. I think this is a good way to give toddlers a feeling for the passage of time.

Our firstborn (he was 2 years 2 months when the second child was born) was pretty oblivious, but he enjoyed the endless repetitions of the story of what would happen and when and how. Our hope was that even if he didn’t really understand it ahead of time, then when it DID happen he would recognize it from the story. (The funny thing was that he continued to want us to tell him the story, even long after the baby was born.)

More tips and ideas and advice for Bird? How did you prepare an older child for the birth of a baby and the accompanying schedule upheaval?

Reader Question: Who Should Be on the Christmas Card List?

Melissa writes:

What is the standard for sending Christmas cards? I send them to out-of-town friends and family, but I don’t send them to people I see often (say on a weekly or even monthly basis). Is this rude? Should I send them to everyone? Of course, if an in-town friend or family member send a card (this happens VERY rarely), I send one back, but I don’t have them pegged in my original Christmas card list. Thoughts?

My GUESS is that there is no standard at all: i.e., that every person you ask will have a different answer, ranging from “I don’t even send one to my mother” all the way to “I also send one to each kid at our bus stop, and to the UPS guy, and to the grocery store manager.” And I’ll bet there are tons of different things like “I send to aunts/uncles but not to my cousins” and “I send to friends but not co-workers.”

It probably depends a lot on a person’s reasons for sending cards: a card can be a wish for a happy holiday, or a way to keep in touch, or way to meet an obligation, or a vehicle to transport new family photos, or all kinds of things. And it probably also depends on a person’s feelings about cards: some people think of it as a holiday chore, and some people love it and look for excuses to add to the list. And it probably depends a lot on The Way Things Are Done in a person’s circle of acquaintances.

The GOAL, I think, is for both people in each relationship to be pleased with whether they exchange cards or not. I have some people I see often that I DO send cards to, and some I don’t. I definitely don’t think there’s anything rude about NOT sending a card to someone.

But now I am VERY INTERESTED to hear how everyone else handles holiday card lists: who’s on it, who’s not, and do you have categories of people you send to or don’t send to?

Reader Question: Hospital Bag for a C-Section

Tara writes:

I need some assistance packing my hospital bag! My c-section is scheduled for the morning of December 22 (28 days!). Is there a difference in a c-section hospital bag from a regular hospital bag? Do you have a maxipad recommendation? Pajama/nightgown/slipper situation? Recommendations for in-room entertainment for 3 days at the hospital? Since we’ll be checking out to go home on Christmas, should I bring my husband’s Christmas present to the hospital or wait till we get home? We don’t currently have any other children, so my husband will be with me at the hospital for the most part; will he need a separate bag or will he go home to shower/brush teeth/change clothes? I’m just at a loss here and kind of frazzled. :) Any help you can provide would be MUCH appreciated.

You have probably noticed while shopping for baby things that some people will say “OMG GET A SWING YOU MUST HAVE A SWING!!!!” and other people will say, “All I can say is definitely don’t waste money on a swing—totally useless!” It is the same with hospital bags: one woman will say that for the love of all that is holy, bring your own pajamas—and the next woman will say DEFINITELY use the hospital pajamas.

I can tell you what I brought, but I think it would be more useful to do it in General Principles rather than in Specific Checklist:

1. Hospitals and couples vary, but at the hospital where I delivered, the spouse wasn’t allowed to use the hospital’s shower and was discouraged (“discouraged” = the intake nurse saying to Paul “If we can see the patient in the room, we know it’s safe to barge into the bathroom without knocking. Just so you know”) from using the room’s bathroom (it was strongly suggested that everyone except the patient keep their germs out of there, and there was even a separate sink for non-patient hand-washing). So if it’s the same at your hospital (you can ask on the tour, if you’re taking the tour and haven’t taken it already), this means your husband will be going home once a day. This FURTHER means that if there is anything you suddenly realize you need, he can get it for you. I remember feeling as if I were packing for a deep-woods isolation trip, but if you forget something, there are ways to get it. (Most ways = spouse fetching.)

2. I liked using the hospital’s garments. They had nightgowns with nursing panels, and robes, and they were made of this cotton stuff I thought was EXCELLENT—kind of ROUGH but in a very cozy pleasing way. And that way I didn’t have to worry about various blood/disinfectant stains on my own clothing, or about the nurses fussing at how inconvenient it was to check me. But I DID pack a lot more socks and underwear the second time around, because I found I wanted to change the socks more often than I would have thought, and I hated hated hated the net-stocking underwear the hospital used. And I didn’t mind throwing socks and underwear out if necessary. I also brought slippers, because the nurses LOSE THEIR MINDS at the idea of anyone getting into the beds with socks that were just on the floors.

3. My hospital provided pads: HUGE ones for at first, and slightly-less-huge-but-still-freakishly-huge for when things slowed up a bit. I made sure to open a fresh bag of pads shortly before leaving: you can bring home any opened bags.

4. I always managed to overpack entertainment. I don’t know where the time goes, but I’d somehow manage to spend 3 days in a hospital room and read about one article in a People magazine—and books were too heavy, even if they were light. I found that what we needed was stuff for PAUL to do: I was on pain meds and hormone surges, and gazing at the baby and learning to nurse and taking naps and getting my vital signs checked and answering embarrassing questions, but he was his normal self and so time was moving normally for him. He set up a jigsaw puzzle, and he brought books, and he brought some DVDs but I don’t even remember what they were. If you DO finish your magazine, your spouse can bring you another; if you find you want to watch DVDs, again the spouse can fetch.

5. This is something else that varies from hospital to hospital: FOOD. At the first hospital where I delivered, patient meals were provided but everyone else had to eat in the cafeteria. At the hospital where the other children were born, each patient was allowed one free extra meal (per mealtime) for the spouse or other guest. So depending on how your hospital does it, you may want to have your husband pack snacks.

6. I wanted my own pillow.

7. Another thing that varies from hospital to hospital is toiletries. Both hospitals I’ve been in had shampoo, conditioner, body wash (or, more accurately, a 3-in-1 that claimed to do all those things), bar soap, toothpaste, and toothbrush. But I preferred to have my own (not only because I preferred them, but also so the baby could get used to my usual scents), so I brought travel sizes and my own toothbrush, and also deodorant because they didn’t have that. They had lip balm but again, I preferred my own. They also had little tubes of Lansinoh, but I brought my own so I’d have it even if they forgot to offer. And I brought a brush, and some ponytail holders, and my pouf because I prefer it to washcloths.

8. You’ll want an outfit to bring the baby home in, and you also need clothes for yourself. I bring lounge pants (or yoga pants, or flannel pajama pants) and a t-shirt and slip-on shoes—in fact, I usually wear home the same clothes I wore to the hospital.

9. And the car seat, and a blanket for babykins.

10. I wouldn’t bring the Christmas presents: anything you bring, you’ll need to lug home again, and you’ll be home for Christmas anyway. And thinking back to how I felt in the hospital, I think trying to celebrate a holiday there would have been too overwhelming and hard to concentrate on.

11. CAMERA. (Thanks, Alyssa!) And that reminds me, I brought my journal.

What have I forgotten? What did you guys want/need or NOT want/need?

Reader Question: Group Teacher Gifts

Laura writes:

I turn to you in the hopes that you will be able to give me your opinion on this gift giving question. Will you please, if you are inclined, let me know what you think of this pitch from the kindergarten room parents at my daughter’s school?

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One of the standard practices at Blank Elementary is to collect money from parents to pay for gifts for Ms Smith during Teacher Appreciation week, around the holidays, and at the end of the school year. Parents find that doing a group collection is an efficient way to handle gifts. The Room Parents put together an budget for how the money will be spent during the year and determined that $35 per child is the right amount. As each event comes up, we’ll ask for ideas and and opinions so the gift-giving will be a group decision. If you’d prefer not to take part, that’s perfectly fine, but please let us know so we can plan accordingly.
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I have never heard of such a thing, but I am new to Massachusetts and perhaps they really -do- have a “standard practice” like this. However, this is Ms. Smith’s first year at the school, and so I am skeptical (in addition to being slightly appalled).

Oh, I’ll tell you what I think all right: ACK. That is what I think: ACK. My coloring is HIGH PINK right now. I don’t like the tone of it; I don’t like the wording of it; and I think $35 per child is a ridiculous amount. If there are ten students, that’s THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS for teacher gifts in a single year—and in my kids’ kindergarten classes there have been more like fifteen (FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS) or twenty (SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS).

Furthermore, “group decisions” on gifts tend to SUCK. If my previous experience with such things is a guide, what will happen is that the room parents will come up with several ideas nobody likes (including the teacher), and no one will be up to arguing about it, and so the room parents will just make all the decisions and everyone will feel dismayed at the way their money is being wasted.

I would absolutely “prefer not to take part.” I would say, “No, thanks, we’d prefer to do our own shopping for gifts!” in a cheery voice. I would also talk with other parents if I knew them: I’ve found that with things like this, sometimes everyone thinks everyone else is okay with it and they don’t want to be the only one “preferring not to take part.” I don’t mean starting a bitchfest behind the room parents’ backs—just a casual, “Did you get the thing about $35 per kid? I’m not doing it, are you?” Some parents probably WOULD find it easier (and even a relief) to just write a check for the whole year, but a lot of parents are going to be thinking what we’re thinking, which is “WHUH???”

If the suggestion were, “Look, we all know the teacher would rather have a $100 Target gift card than twenty $5 ornaments and boxes of chocolate, so let’s pool our dough,” I would be IN—and also HAPPY, because this seems sensible. But that’s not what this is. This is the room parents asking for, say, six hundred dollars of other people’s money, which they will then have control over—and in the process removing the actual feelings of generosity and appreciation from the gift-giving occasions. DO NOT LIKE.

Reader Question: Labeling Clothes

Rachel writes:

My first son has just started preschool and I’m supposed to label his extra clothes, jackets, etc. However, some of his clothes are hand me downs (mostly labeled with sharpies) AND I have a second son who will be wearing all of these items in a year or two. Any great suggestions for labeling clothes that can then be “relabeled” for a future child???

Thank you so much for any tips.

ACK, I KNOW, this drives me NUTS!! My eldest went on a one-week sleepaway trip and they wanted Every! Single! Item! labeled, including SOCKS, I am not even kidding. And some clothes have no tags for writing on, or the labels are black or whatever, and some stuff (sleeping bags, pillow cases) belongs to the whole family so I don’t want just one person’s name on it.

What I do for most stuff is write with fine-tip permanent marker our surname only, no first name so it can work for handmedowns, on the label or even on the fabric itself if there’s no label or if the label has already been written on and I needed to scribble it out.

For things with no place to write (or things I don’t want written on), I use a strip of masking tape and write on THAT—but then that has to be replaced a few times as it curls up and/or peels off, or if the item needs to be laundered.

For spare clothes, I put them in a gallon-size Ziploc baggie and I write on the baggie instead of the clothes.

Can anyone add some more tips? And has anyone tried iron-on labels or other solutions?