Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Favorite Baby Things

While I was pregnant...
Everyone: "They grow up SO fast."
Me: (With moderate disregard) "Mmm hmm."

Four Months later...
Me: "Oh my god! My baby is already four months old! They grow up SO fast."

It's funny how one the one hand, it feels like Brayden has been part of our family forever while on the other hand, it seems like just yesterday I was going to the bathroom for the 52nd time that day and fielding overly personal questions about pregnancy from my sophomore English class. It's also funny how Lauren and I bought all these great baby toys while I was pregnant without realizing that it would be months (we're talking 6 to 8) before our little one would be playing with any of them. Silly us. We have had some winners, however, and Brayden certainly has strong opinions about what he likes and doesn't like.

I've also learned along the way that the 0-4 month age range can be so much fun. At first, I didn't know what I could really do (other than change, talk to, nurse and love) a baby who can't even see across the room or keep his head up. But I have simply loved this age and have had so much fun interacting and playing with the little guy. It has been fascinating watching him develop and grow along the way. In addition to my own antics (I have become quite a pro at making up songs and silly games for infants), we've been lucky enough to score some points with Brayden on a few toys. I've listed them chronologically - starting with his earliest favorite things and ending with the most recent. At the end, I've also included a few Mommy favorites.

Brayden's Top Ten...

When Brayden was only a few weeks old, we were looking at these books together. Developmentally, babies see black and white first - so images of high contrast stand out to them and are interesting. Brayden would actually stare at the pages for quite some time. I loved the first few books so much that I ended up buying several more (mostly the ones by Peter Linenthal). There was also one that unfolded like an accordion (Black & White by Tana Hoben) that I propped up next to his changing table. He was always looking at the wall anyway, so I figured it would be more interesting than green paint. He loved these. His earliest "favorite" thing for sure.

I know, I know. Some babies hate bathtime. I've seen a picture of my grumpy husband during his first year to know this isn't for everyone. But Brayden loves bathtime. It was actually the quickest and easiest way to get him to calm down during his first month. We even started making it part of our bedtime routine. We had a couple baby baths, but the one that ended up being the best was the Fisher-Price whale one. There's a great little divider that props up babies not old enough to sit (I found this better than the slings/seats that come with some baths).

This might have been his longest running favorite "toy". He's only now starting to grow wearisome of it (and I suspect it's because he's wanting more room to roll over and move around). He would lay on this and play for a good 15-30 minutes even when he was just a month or so old. The toys at the top are interchangeable and I would switch them out with others that I bought (not necessarily designed for the activity center, but all you need are rings to attach) to give Brayden some variety. He actually noticed when I changed things, which was really interesting. I love using toys that make noise when he hits them or pulls on them (like the Sassy Chime animals or the Bright Start Take & Shakes). He would pick up on the cause & effect pretty quickly and then work to keep doing it. Because my boy is a kicker (oh, is he ever!) he adored the piano at the bottom. When he was lying down, he would kick the crap out of it (kicking = music). And the piano switches around so he can play with his hands once he can sit up. Super cool, IMHO.

Maybe my baby just knows how cute he is, but he adores looking in the mirror. His activity mat has a small one on top that he always looked into and laughed at. We finally had to get one for his crib so he could talk to himself and stare at his big blue eyes more often!

Similar to the high contrast picture books, these are pretty cool cardboard cards of animals. On one side, it's black on white; on the other side is the same image white on black. We propped these up everywhere (by his bath, his changing table, his activity mat, etc.) or would just flip through them with him. The company that makes them has numerous sets depending on what kind of animals you like. We have the farm set, the sea creatures (which is probably my favorite) and the peek-a-boo set (which has a weird peacock thing that looks like a turkey and a frog my husband thinks is smoking a pipe).

This was a gift from another mom. Since Brayden is a non-sleeper, anything that has the possibility of helping him unwind is great for me. I started giving him little baby massages with this lotion after his baths and he just loves them (it has now taken the place of baths in our nightly routine). He smiles so big when I start rubbing his feet with the lotion. Now, at night, when he just sees the bottle of lotion, he calms down a bit and knows that sleep time is coming.

This one was my husband's doing. He insisted on getting Raffi cds that he remembered from his childhood. I think my little guy is just a music man in general, but he definitely does enjoy these songs. There are some in particular that I swear he recognizes and likes more than others.

The key here is small. A few people gave us normal-sized stuffed animals as gifts. They're a bit too big for Brayden right now. He really likes animals that he can hold (and fit into his mouth).

Now that Brayden is moving his limbs with more precision (and holding things like a champ), he enjoys toys that utilize these skills. The top of this toy spins and makes rattle noises and the bottom plays music when the keys are hit. He watches me spin the top and then does it over and over (and over) again. Or he just pounds away at the little keyboard and listens to some classical tunes belt out. It's pretty small (about the size of my hand) and was a cheap, good toy.

Not only did this one score major points with my son, but it keeps my husband occupied for hours, too. All I heard for a week was how cool the toy was. When someone (baby or husband) hit a flower, it plays a loud piano-like note. All of the flowers have different tones so it becomes quite musical. When hit, the flowers also light up, which is pretty cool. My little guy loves this toy right now. As soon as we put it in front of him, he starts smacking at it.

Some Mommy Faves...

As a new mom, there's a lot I didn't know. I have friends and relatives who have kids, but the idea of calling them at 3 in the morning with a question didn't really appeal to me that much. These were the two most helpful books I had. The Baby 411 is so practical. I still reference it when I have a question. It was particularly helpful on the breastfeeding front and even gave a specific timeline of what to expect the first two weeks (how often to nurse, how hungry the baby will be, trouble shooting, etc.).

My little guy enjoyed swaddling but couldn't stand having his arms pinned down. Yes, I know, the guy from Happiest Baby on the Block would tell me to do it anyway. But I'm telling you, Brayden was calm with his arms inside the swaddle but across his chest and frantic with them at his sides. These blankets are awesome because they're a jersey fabric that allows for a bit of stretching. They were easier for us to get a good swaddle done than regular cotton ones. They're also super thin and lightweight, which was good for a summer baby.

Brayden is a big fan of music. It calmed him down from week 1. The cd was also a gift and it has become quite useful. We play it before (and during) every nap. Brayden now knows that when the music comes on, it's sleep time. He immediately relaxes and starts to unwind when we play it. And bonus for us, it's music we can tolerate. The line of cds has quite a few bands whose music has been turned into lullaby form (no words + soothing).

There are a million books on sleeping and weaning and everything else you can think of. But these books are about the psychological and developmental progress of tots. Brain Rules was one of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time (and I'm a big reader, so that really says something). It discusses what components are correlated with developing intelligence, happiness and morality (and what you can do to foster each in your child). His writing is witty, objective and backed up by loads of research. Highly recommended. The Wonder Weeks is the practical book on development. If you're wondering why your baby is suddenly not sleeping and is cranky all the time, check the book. Your baby might be going through one of the developmental growth spurts (rather than physical) that the authors discuss. It has been frighteningly accurate for our baby's moods. I just recently got this one and was wondering why lately Brayden has been on sleep strike. Turns out, week 17 is a huge "fussy" period. The authors talk about the changes that the baby is going through and even gives very cool lists of activities and games you can play to engage the developing skills. It's a bit pricey, but really a great book. I probably recommend these more than the general parenting books. You can find all of the parenting info online easily. This stuff is super interesting and not found on every baby site out there.

Multiple people offered to get us a swing. We didn't think we needed a one. We were wrong. So, so wrong. This thing has been a lifesaver. Our son is actually napping during the day now. Can. Not. Believe. It.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Sleeping Babies...

I see and hear about you often. You're the adorable snuggly babies who photographers can pose any way they want. You slumber on soundly while you're stuffed inside country baskets and firemen's hats - never stirring at even the most outrageous handling. (Aren't you just adorable in that open-weave strawberry hat?)

You understand that sleep is, well, awesome, and you're more than happy to take regular vacations to the Land of Nod. You do the obvious - sleep when you are tired. You gently drift off at night and find daytime naps just lovely.

My darling son seems to have missed the conference you all held where you explained exactly why sleep is amazing and how to go about doing it. (I'm not sure how this happened, since clearly he didn't sleep through the meeting.) I've had trouble admitting this so far, but the stone cold truth is that my son is a non-sleeper. He simply abhors it. He would rather be flashing my dogs his gummy smile, giggling at Mommy's crazy antics, or exploring the world via his oral cavity.

Brayden simply has much better, much more exciting things to do than sleep thankyouverymuch. For heavens sake, mother, something might happen while he's asleep. And that, as we all know, would be a travesty. So he resorts to basic instinct - fight or flight. He either fights sleep with everything he has, or he runs from it. There's not really much of a third option here.

So babies, please tell me - is there an off switch I haven't found yet? A magic word perhaps? Or is it just about ratios - with only a certain percentage of babies allowed to sleep at any given time? If that's the case, I beg of you to get your hands on an espresso so my munchkin (any myself) can have our turn.

I sincerely love my baby's enthusiasm for life. His vigor, excitement and active nature are some of my favorite things about this firecracker. I just wish that occasionally, the traits would take a (decaffeinated) coffee break.

Very Tired in Virginia

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

He Gets Around

(The "Adventure Pictures" Baby Project)

There's something wrong about using that title in reference to my son. I think I'll give myself a free pass though, since he's only three months old.

Two weeks ago, I took pictures of Brayden every day at noon(ish). This past week, I decided to get crafty and tackle another mini-project. It started because whenever Brayden is laying on the floor near one of our dogs, I think about how funny it would be to position him in a way that makes it look like he's riding her. Unfortunately, the resulting series of events wouldn't just look like Brayden got kicked in the face. He actually would. Since that's out of the question, I decided to channel my creative energies for the week by exposing him to other amazing places and situations.

I like to refer to these as his "adventure pictures" since he's doing some pretty stellar things in them. I know there are people out there who takes pictures like these professionally. I'm certainly not a professional, nor am I trying to be one. I just thought these were fun. I made the backgrounds for my little guy with things laying around the house - blankets, socks, dessert plates, laundry baskets... you get the idea.

I took one each day of the week, starting last Monday. They're posted in the order I took them. I think they got better as I did them (practice makes perfect, right?). My least favorite is probably the garden one. If I did that one now, I think I could do a much better job.

The pictures were a lot of fun to make and since I have a bunch of other ideas for more, I'll likely spend another week in the near future doing it again.

Brayden's Wild Adventures

On Monday, we went surfing at the beach. He did remarkably well for his age.

On Tuesday, he went to n garden to pick lemons and tend to the flowers. A butterfly even landed on his overalls.

On Wednesday, he took a ride in a hot air balloon. He used his periscope to see all of the crazy things on the horizon.

On Thursday, some citizens were in trouble! He quickly threw on his Super-Baby outfit and flew to the rescue.

On Friday, we found out that Michigan's soccer team was a man short. They called up Brayden and asked him to step in against the always-dreaded OSU. He scored the game-winning goal (he's just like his father!).

On Saturday, he got geared up for Halloween by exploring some spooky woods near our house (good thing he had his flashlight with him!)

On Sunday, he finished the week by heading north... way north. We went to northern Canada and had some fun ice skating. Brayden is so good, he only needs one (broken) skate.

Hope your week was as awesome as his. :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Don't set your clock by him

My husband and I always known when it's 7:00 p.m. Not because we can tell time by the sun's position (although that would be sweet) or because we're just awesome (although we are). We can tell because we feed our dogs at 7:00... and at 6:59, one of our dogs goes and lays by her food bowl. She has the most insane internal clock. She even watches out the window for Lauren to come home from work each day around the same time.

In short, our dog = reliable time-keeper, reliable schedule. Our baby? (Insert laugh here) Although our household is making progress on the sleep-habits front, the little guy sure is putting up the good fight. Brayden crosses enemy lines often and has broken his father more than once. He comes equipped with a great set of lungs and a propensity for psychological warfare (is he sleeping? is he not? is he going to wake up any second and start screaming?). I'd hate for him to face a lesser opponent.

At three months, Brayden is doing pretty good at night (We'll ignore last night's fiasco since that was just a comedy of sleepless errors). He goes down for about 10-11 hours in his crib and wakes up just once or twice to eat (and goes right back to sleep). We really can't complain much there - especially after hearing stories from some of our neighbors about their own guerrilla tactics. (Exhibit A: One family had to place their pack-n-play next to their bed, place their daughter in a bouncer and place the bouncer in the pack-in-play. A ribbon was then tied to the bouncer so when their daughter woke up, they could just pull the ribbon to bounce her back to sleep. Exhibit B: A couple kept a vacuum in their room because it put the baby to sleep. They would turn it on every time the baby woke up in the night.)

His nights are fairly orderly, but during the day is a completely different monster. Brayden's naps aren't quite regular yet and he still enjoys fighting them with everything he has ("I will NOT be put to sleep. I will NOT miss a single moment! Something EXCITING could happen!"). He can only get to sleep during the day being rocked in his carseat and then ever-so-gently put down. A bit annoying? Sure. A bit necessary? You bet. He's only three months old and the whole rocking-to-sleep is a common card in the infant deck. Every week he gets a bit older and a bit better at soothing himself. Progress is slow, but it's there. We'll see where we're at in another month or two. For now, I'm not going to trouble myself about his naps. He gets what he needs during the day - even if it is a bit annoying for the parental units.

Unfortunately, his choppy nap schedule means I have an unreliable day myself. I am certainly not one of those lucky moms whose infant is on a schedule and can plan on, you know, doing stuff. We're on a routine, sure. But the times of each event vary quite a bit from day to day. With that in mind, I decided to check in with baby boy every day around noon for a quick picture to see what he was up to. (I figure this game will be much more exciting when he's a toddler getting into all kinds of colorful trouble!)

Now Showing: Brayden @ Noon EST
Below are the shots from the past seven days. The only rule I had was to take a picture (or eight) everyday around noon (give or take 15 minutes). So here's a cross-section of my baby boy's noon-time fun. He's such a sweetheart! :)

Wednesday, September 26
12:04 p.m.: Zoning out on the changing table.

Thursday, September 27
12:09 p.m.: Having fun in his crib. The middle picture makes me giggle. He's been loving putting his feet on things lately.

Friday, September 28
11:50 a.m.: On his changing table again. He's also been loving grabbing his tongue lately (he gets his strange quirks from mommy and daddy thankyouverymuch).

Saturday, September 29

12:08 p.m.: Fun with tummy time! He's rolling over like crazy and really tucking his legs under his body to try to crawl. The middle picture shows him taking a break from all that hard work to suck on his hand a bit.

Sunday, September 30

An afternoon play session!
12:10 p.m.: Having fun looking at the baby in the mirror.
12:12 p.m.: Daddy and baby playing with a new toy.
12:23 p.m.: ...And onto his activity mat for more fun.

Monday, October 1
Post-nap nursing session.
12:15 p.m.: "I'm hungry and I'm pissed!"
12:39 p.m.: (Stretching after a good meal)
12:39 p.m.: "Mmm.... food coma."
12:40 p.m.: "Now I'm happy again!"

Tuesday, October 2
12:01 p.m.: Just waking up from a nap and not happy about it.

So that was the last seven days. Now we're back to today.

After last night's chaotic mess, please send your most effective good luck thoughts my way. As counter-intuitive as it is, I find that when baby sleeps better at night, he sleeps better (and more) during the day. When he sleeps poorly one night, he has trouble sleeping the next day. You'd think if he was tired from not sleeping last night, he'd crash hard today. But alas, if it were only that easy. When he's overtired, he has a very difficult time getting to sleep and staying asleep. This is only evidenced by the fact that he's been down for his first nap for an hour and 20 minutes and has already woken up four times so far. It kinda takes the fun (and productivity!) out of a nap when I'm having to go in and put him back to sleep every 15 minutes. Ah, well. As my doctor told me while I was in labor, I "knew what I signed up for!" :)

Here's to a better (more restful!) afternoon. :)