Monday, January 18, 2010

My Favorite Things, All of Which Are More Important Than Oprah's.

Sometimes, when I'm having a particularly drama-free day with the kids, I think to myself, "Thank GOODNESS I have X; otherwise I don't know how I would survive."

And the urge becomes very strong to make sure that all of my other mommy friends know about X, lest their days be any less great.

So here we go: I present to you the The Top Ten Child-Related Items This Mommy Could Not Live Without. (I do expect that, having identified these treasures, they will promptly begin flying off the shelves à la Oprah's Favorite Things. So Target, consider yourself warned.)

NUMBER ONE. Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor.
Ok, if you don't have kids yet, or know someone who doesn't have kids yet but wants them, then this item is a MUST. It goes without saying that lots of us are waiting until we're in our 30's to start having babies, and it also goes without saying that the anxiety kicks in pretty quickly when the magic doesn't happen IMMEDIATELY. This ovulation monitor is fantastic and is far superior to low-tech pee sticks, if you ask me. I didn't have a fertility problem but simply assumed that I did (see, i.e., earlier post about my impressive hypochondria), and this little puppy worked wonders. It's a little pricey but absolutely worth it.

NUMBER TWO. A lactation consultant.

This one is harder to pre-order on Amazon (ba-dum-bump!) but is essential for new moms nonetheless.

When I was preggo for the first time, I simply took it for granted that I would be breastfeeding my kid. Never mind the fact that neither my husband nor I had been breastfed (and both went on to achieve reasonable professional success), I was convinced by all the (unfounded? hmmm) propaganda that breastmilk was the only choice.

And then, in one of life's many little surprises, I became the proud owner of a kid who wouldn't "latch." (Just think! before kids, that word suggested to me a brass door closure, and now, forevermore, it will call to mind a neglected nipple.) My desperation was profound. And because I am nothing if not stubborn, I still refused to give the baby a bottle of formula. The result? I pumped breastmilk every day, many times a day, throughout the night, in parking lots, etc., for 12 loooooooong months. (You cannot imagine the crisis that ensued whenever we lost power during a thunderstorm: we would be frantically hauling precious bags of frozen breastmilk out of the freezer and over to the neighbor's house as if they were organs being rushed to donation.)

The second time around, I got smart. I wasn't leaving anything up to chance. We hired a lactation consultant who was to meet me in the hospital as soon as Baby #2 was born.

And I have to tell you, it was the best $60 per hour we ever spent. Our lady was not much in the way of bedside manner, but somehow, SOMEHOW!, she got that little peanut to latch. She visited me for instruction a total of 3 times in the hospital, and by the time we were discharged, wouldn'tcha know it I was a breastfeeding mom. She was even prompt in returning all subsequent phone calls re: how to deal with engorgement, clogged ducts, and other such Things You Didn't Sign Up For (zzzzzexy!).

Hired her for Baby #3, too. Breastfeeding was, for me, a powerfully rewarding bonding experience that I would not have traded for the world. And for that I give credit to the lactation consultant.

[HONORABLE MENTION FAVORITE THINGS: (1) The My Breast Friend nursing pillow. Firmer and far superior to the Boppy, I found. Also (2), the Medela Pump In Style, even though that name is ludicrous, there is nothing stylish about pumping. Utilitarian, maybe, but stylish, no.]

NUMBER THREE. Baby Signing Time DVDs, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Ok, if anyone asked me to name the single greatest child-related invention known to man, I think I would say the Baby Signing Time DVDs. (A.B., if you're reading this, thank you endlessly for turning us on to them!) There are a whole mess of them available, but here I'm referring to just the 2 introductory DVDs for babies. They are ALL. YOU. NEED.

Now, for those who have no experience with these little plastic miracles, you might be thinking to yourself, "Sign language for babies is a stupid fad," or "Who has time for that?" or "Teaching sign language to babies will only DELAY THEIR SPEECH DEVELOPMENT!"

Well I am here to tell you that all of these sentiments are mistaken.

When our first daughter was about 12 months old, it became obvious that she could understand just about everything that we were saying to her. But of course, she couldn't speak back to us in any intelligent way. And let me tell you-- the smoke coming out of her ears from frustration was visible a mile away. The poor little thing clearly wanted SO BADLY to tell us what she wanted or needed-- food, or a drink, or to get out of her highchair or whatever-- but only had generic screaming and crying with which to communicate. It was hard to watch, and we were stuck in a miserable marathon of charades. "What do you want? Apple? Milk? Do you have a headache? WHAT?"

Then, one wonderful day, after we expressed to a friend that our child's head was on the verge of popping off due to stunted-communication rage, he told us about these DVDs. And they revolutionized our lives!

In fact, the one sign-- "all done" (waving two hands, palms out)-- was, unto itself, a game changer. Our daughter frantically signed "all done" whenever she sensed the tide turning in a direction she didn't like: when she was being lowered into her car seat but wasn't in the mood for a ride; when we took the first step up the staircase to put her down for an undesired nap; when she was finished with her mushy carrots and was contemplating hurling them onto the floor. I can't tell you what a relief it was to finally be having a dialogue with our kid!

As for the concern over delayed speech, well, of course I can only speak from our own experience; but we started all 3 girls on the DVDs at their first birthdays (the movies consist of catchy songs featuring fellow toddlers, which babies can't resist), and all 3 of them were early talkers. In fact, interestingly, instead of opting *not* to speak in favor of using signs, each of them began using words in *conjunction* with their signs. They began asking for things by saying, "Peeeese," while simultaneously rubbing their chests in the sign for "please." Soonafter, perhaps with the kid not even noticing, the signs fell by the wayside, and the speech stood on its own. (The only time we see a sign these days is when our 2o-month-old gets busted doing something truly naughty; she'll hang her head pathetically and *sign* "sorry" instead of saying it. Too cute.)

The DVDs cost around $50 and I swear by them. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!

NUMBER FOUR. The Fisher Price cradle swing.

In our house, newborn babies go directly into the swing, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. My infants *lived* in them, for just about every daylight hour, the first several weeks of their lives. Then after that, they continued to nap in them until they were about 3 months old. (My baby nurse, rightly or wrongly, informed us that one way to unscramble an infant's day and night body clock is to put her in a different place for daytime naps than she goes for nighttime sleep.)

It's was a sad day when we finally had to pack up the ol' girl after 3 plus years of dominating our living room and thank her for all her hard work.

NUMBER FIVE. Brookstone Tranquil Moments Junior.

I'm not a great sleeper. So I think I had begun using these white noise machines even before the kids came along (I have no idea how people fall asleep to the sound of their spouses' stomachs digesting dinner). But these have also proven really valuable for the kids' sleep habits, even more so once new babies rolled into the house.

I was always paranoid that one kid's crying would wake up another kid. Put one of these beside each bed/crib and voila! they are lulled to sleep as if on a calming airplane, and any noise coming from their restless siblings becomes a distant din. (I'm so completely dependent on them, in fact, that if I ever forget to bring my Brookstone with us to a hotel, I turn all the radios on to static. The housekeepers must think I'm a moron who couldn't figure out how to turn the dial.)

NUMBER SIX. Ear thermometer.
Ah, the ear thermometer. We use Braun (pictured above). I'm absolutely positive that they're not as accurate as the, um, alternative, but let me tell you, the relief you gain from not having to make that unpleasant acquaintance with your baby's bottom far outweighs the small margin of error you risk (that said, I'd always recommend that you go the traditional route if the information is critical). (Some good advice if you do need to go there: lay the baby across your lap on her tummy) (good luck).

NUMBER SEVEN. Video monitor.

I'm a big fan of audio-only baby monitors; I feel that they are a small price to pay for having kids who don't go wandering around the house during the night seeking your bed as a viable alternative to their own. Our rugrats know that they should stay put unless there is a real emergency; all they need to do is call us if they need anything and we'll magically appear.

There is a short window of time, however, in which I think a *video* monitor comes in handy, and that is when you are trying to teach your little one to self-soothe (there's that WORD again! I told you it was hot-button!) and sleep through the night.

With our first baby, I was having a really hard time ever letting her "cry it out." It seemed to me Ferberizing kids put them at risk for insecurity and abandonment issues (probably not true, or else Ferber wouldn't be a household name), so I went in to calm our daughter during the night for longer than was necessary. But at her 11-month birthday, I decided I needed to break up with her, at least insofar as our middle-of-the-night dates were concerned.

Letting her cry it out didn't take as long as I expected (probably around 3 nights?) but it felt like an eternity. The only thing that saved my sanity, I tell you, was that video monitor. With it, I could reassure myself that she was screaming *not* because she had climbed out of her crib and clumsily dropped herself onto the floor, breaking each delicate bone in her body, but merely because she was pissed that I wasn't showing up for our scheduled rendez-vous. In fact, there were times over those 3 nights when the video monitor saved me from ruining an otherwise successful run: just as I was about to throw open her door in a heroic act, the video monitor informed me that she was already lying down (as opposed to standing up and rattling the crib rail), which always meant that the tantrum was gratefully coming to a sleepy end.

Once all the kids were sleeping through the night, we kept the audio but ditched the video component, and now just continue to enjoy the soothing sounds (or not) of every nocturnal cough and sneeze (which is still better than your spouse's dinner digesting, I maintain).

NUMBER EIGHT. Exersaucer.

I thought these were great for the 4-to-6 months-old crowd. They fold up for storage in between kids, and there are always new accessories that you can snap into the toy sockets. Bet you could sneak a shower in the time your kid can entertain herself.

NUMBER NINE. Stand-out movies: "Elmo's Potty Time" and "The Letter Factory."

My daughters all loved this one, especially the part when the kids scream out different words for "pee" and "poop." Elegant. But effective. For the 18-months+ group.

We encourage our kids to watch this movie by making it the only one they are allowed to watch on Mommy's computer (and lord knows, everything tastes better when seasoned with forbidden fruit). You may feel like jumping off a cliff by the way the song gets stuck in your head ("The A says Aaah! The A says Aaah!"), but you'll be impressed by how quickly your kids learn the sounds and get the concept of reading. Good for age 2-3.

NUMBER 10. Water Wow! (punctuation intended)

Oh, Water Wow! books, how I love you.

These brilliant little inventions have entertained our kids for hours and hours. I don't know how exactly they work, but they are small, 4-page cardboard books with black and white pictures. When the kids apply water (discard the flimsy water pens that come with the books; in our house we use PAINTBRUSHES), the color magically appears. Ten minutes later, the pages have dried, the color disappears, and the books can be used again. Genius! And perfect for travel. I think there are more than 20 titles available now; go right to ebay for the greatest selection.

Ok..... so there's my list. Phew!

Now it's your turn: what essential items did I miss?


  1. Man, you pumped exclusively for 12 months?! That's impressive dedication...or willful stubbornness. :) Better add a Medela Pump in Style to this list! (And I second the recommendation for a lactation consultant - the hospital where I delivered offered it automatically, and it was invaluable for #1, and I ended up not needing help for #2. It's a great myth that breastfeeding is "easy" or "comes naturally" - it's hard work, particularly at first.) Now off to make some purchases...

  2. Medela Pump in Style has been added. Thank you, Amanda! :)

  3. Great topic! My Amazon wish list thanks you.

    Since the Medela Pump in Style Advanced has already been added (one of my top two "must have" items...please add my tally mark in support of lactation consultants as well), I will skip straight to my other essential: my sling. Yes, I am one of those crazy, attachment-parenting, baby-wearing mothers. Before you picture me as some rabid hippie with unshaved legs (which would be accurate right now, but that's beside the point), let me jump in and add that my slings are beautiful, custom-made ring slings made from duponi silk - they're an accessory, really. It's their function, however, that saved my sanity during the first year of my son's life. He never accepted the pacifier, swing, bouncer, (insert other soothing techniques here) and was a horrible sleeper - the first time he slept in his crib for a nap (rather than being held) was when he was 5 months old. The sling helped him sleep when nothing else could and was especially helpful when traveling by plane, though it really seemed to make any trip out of the house substantially easier. The sling also saved my back, since I birthed a 10 pounder who remained in the 95th weight percentile until he was 6 months old. My water sling even gave him a peaceful introduction to the ocean and, as a result, he also happily went into the pool without fear (sans sling or any floatation device). There are many other benefits that I can't prove and may have happened anyway, but I will definitely wear any subsequent babies we may have in the future.

    Also in the soothing/sleeping category is the Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe swaddle. The velcro ensures that your little Houdini stays in the baby burrito position throughout their sleep time and, in the midst of a screaming fit, can also restrain all their flailing limbs long enough to force them to reevaluate the situation and realize that, "hey, maybe my life isn't ending and I'm not being tortured after all".

    My final recommendation is any of the Sandra Boynton board books - favorites include: "Barnyard Dance!", "Blue Hat, Green Hat", and "But Not the Hippopotamus" (I could go on and on). Boynton's books not only catch the baby/toddler's interest, but are also entertaining for the adults, even after the umpteenth reading.

    Since my child is only 15 months old, I don't have much else to add at this point, aside from boring baby-care items. I'll be interested to see what other people add!

  4. Looks like I'm a little late to this blog...but as a new mom, I wanted to add my "must haves"

    Sophie the Giraffe by Vulli.
    This is the ultimate toy/teether. It's lightweight so easy for baby, even very young baby to hold and manipulate. The long legs and neck of the giraffe give baby several places to grab on and chew, with no choking hazard.

    Mumi&Bubi food storage trays.
    If you plan on making your own baby food, these trays are awesome! The trays are thin and stackable so they hardly take up any room in the freezer and they come with a lid so food is protected. Each tray has 24, 1-oz portions that once frozen, pivot out of the container with no problem. I make a whole bunch of pureed food at once, freeze, then remove from the trays and dump contents into freezer bags so I can make more food! Love, love, love...