Seriously, where did my tiny baby go? Am I being punked?
I grew up with three sisters, and I was third born, so birthday parties weren’t a yearly deal for us. We each had a party or two to celebrate big milestones, but my mom didn’t throw a huge party for each of us every year — and I don’t blame her. I probably won’t either.
For Judah’s first birthday, we had a small party with cake and food for family only. This year, I’ve made friends with some families near us who have children around Judah’s age, so I wanted to have a fun kid party to celebrate what we’re hoping will be Judah’s last birthday as an only child. When I started researching party ideas, I was shocked at how expensive most party venues are. I would love to have a backyard barbecue, but that’s not really an option for November in Indiana, and I was afraid to let loose 10+ kids under 4 in my living room. By making a few compromises, we were able to celebrate Judah’s second birthday with all his friends without spending a fortune.
Throw a joint party.
I’m lucky to have a friend whose son is just 5 days older than Judah. It was her idea to combine their parties this year, and I’m so glad we did it that way. We share a lot of friends, so our guest lists would have had a lot of overlap anyway, and we were able to split the cost of the venue, food, and decorations between two families. At 2 years old, the boys didn’t mind sharing their parties a bit, and since we were both pretty laid back about the party, my friend and I didn’t have any trouble planning it together.
I was particularly proud of the goody bags, which included a 24-pack of crayons, a full-sized Play Doh, some Play Doh molds, fruit snacks, and a print out coloring sheet. The Sesame Street “Thank You” sign is an Internet printable that my friend found on Pinterest, and we used Zip lock bags to hold everything. I bought the crayons in bulk during the back-to-school sales for 50 cents a box, and my friend got the Play Doh in a Black Friday sale for under 50 cents each, so each bag cost us under $2. And of course splitting the costs between the two of us made them even less expensive. I was happy to hand out fun toys that the kids would actually use instead of cheap things that would be thrown away or lost before they even made it home.
For toddlers, all you really need is a lot of space.
We called the zoo, inflatable play places, museums — all of them wanted $300+ for a 2-3 hour party, not including food. Even though we were splitting the cost, that was just too much for a toddler party. Finally we found a fun play place that’s really just a giant open space with lots of toys where the kids can run around. It cost $100 for 15 kids and 2 hours of play.
Other cheap (or free) options we considered:
- Many local libraries have conference rooms that can be rented out for cheap or even free.
- Your home if you have the space for it and the energy/desire to clean before and after the party.
- A park or your own backyard if weather permits.
As long as the kids have room to run around, you won’t need to plan activities or games. It’s hard to wrangle kids and keep their attention anyway, and you’ll kill yourself trying to plan things. Since we only had two hours, and our boys are too young to have any expectations for gifts, we also asked our guests not to worry about presents. This gave the kids more time to play and saved us the trouble of coordinating gift opening for two active toddlers.
Always buy less food than you think you’ll need.
RSVPs are notoriously inaccurate for kid parties. Kids get sick, they miss their naptimes, things happen. We ended up with about half as many kids and parents as we expected. Add to that the fact that the kids were too busy playing to eat much (Judah ate a single bite of pizza and threw a mega tantrum when we got home because we was starving, pfft). We ended up with about 8 whole pizzas to get rid of at the end of the party (we ordered 15). Keep all of this in mind when ordering, and try not to overdo it. In fact, for very young children, you’re probably better off serving just finger foods and cake and having the party between meal times (2-4 pm, for instance). Trying to get the kids to sit still and eat is almost impossible, and without a big meal there will be more time for play.
Make a cake.
Since the boys were sharing the party, I wanted them each to have a cake. I am hopeless when it comes to decorating, and anything I made would likely end up looking like those failed Cookie Monster cupcakes we’ve all seen on Pinterest. So I ordered a small cake from the grocery store for $15. My friend’s mom is a talented cake decorator who made this adorable Elmo cake for the price of the cake pan and ingredients. Surprisingly, most of the cake did get eaten, so I don’t regret our decision to serve two small cakes. I probably could have saved a ton by baking a simple cake and decorating it with toys he already has (the baker at the grocery store suggested cars or dinosaur figures).
What are your tips for frugal kid parties? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
I know I’m not the first person to say this — and certainly not the last — but living with a toddler feels like a losing battle. Every day, every hour, sometimes every minute there’s a new battle to wage, a new argument, usually an argument that we just had 20 minutes ago.
I know he’s 19 months old. I know this is his job. It’s unrealistic for me to expect him to follow the rules all the time. I get it. But he’s just enough like me — stubborn and strong-willed and determined to have the last word — that it makes choosing my battles incredibly difficult. Every time he pointedly breaks the rules, he looks me right in the face with that big grin as if to say, “Rules? What rules?” And I’m convinced that it’s so monumentally important that I win this battle, this one right now, otherwise he’s doomed to a life a lawless disregard for the rules. As if letting him climb on the chair or take off his pants will lead him to an inevitable life of crime.
I realize this is ridiculous now as I sit in my silent living room while he naps peacefully in the other room. Obviously toddlers are going to break rules. The best we can do is enforce the important ones, correct them when they test boundaries, and wait for them to grow up enough to understand why it’s not a good idea to climb on the table or throw alphabet magnets into the heat registers. But in the moment, when I turn my back for a split second and find him standing on the table again, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing. To a 3-foot, 25-pound dictator. And it is exhausting.
My husband tells me to choose my battles. I know he’s right. I spend so much time chasing him, correcting him, trying to get him to mind just for the sake of following the rules. I know if I could just relax and let some things go, I would spend less time pulling so much of my hair out and more time enjoying this time. So why is it so hard to “choose my battles” in the moment?
Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful moments sprinkled throughout the day between all of this chasing and correcting and preventing injury. I know when I look back 20 years from now, those will be the moments I remember. The snuggles and kisses and milestones. The books we read and the games we play. He makes me laugh and melts my heart as much as he drives me bonkers. I’ll remember all of that, and I’ll miss my little baby as he grows up. It’s one of the kind quirks of our brains — as parents, we have a funny way of filtering out the bad days and remembering the good.
But there are hard days, too. Days when I collapse in my bed after he finally falls asleep close to 10 o’clock. The house is a mess, the stack of papers I wanted to hand back to my students remains ungraded, my blog goes another day without an update, the bookmark in the novel on my nightstand that I’ve been reading forever doesn’t move. I feel exhausted and beaten, and all can do is wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. Surely, it’s not supposed to be this hard. Though every account I’ve ever read of someone else’s parenting experiences assures me that yes, it is this hard, it’s probably going to be this hard forever, but I still can’t help but my doubt myself.
The doubt is the worst part. What if I’m not just losing these daily battles? What if I’m failing him? That’s why it’s so hard to choose my battles. It’s so hard to tell which ones are worth fighting when there’s so much at stake.
Often when I’m standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to check out, and Judah is being particularly difficult — squirming, trying to climb out of the cart, grabbing at the credit card reader, picking up grocery items and throwing them on the floor, screaming — some kind older lady always smiles wistfully at me and says, “Enjoy this time. It goes by so fast, and someday you’ll miss it.” Though I question the truth behind that statement (obviously, I will remember the wonderful things about my son at this age, but somehow I doubt I’ll ever stand in line at the grocery store and say, “I miss those nuclear meltdown temper tantrums Judah used to have when I was trying to pay for my groceries.”) Still, I muster the kindest smile I can, and I always tell them, “I know. The days are long, and the years are short.”
And that’s what I tell myself on the bad days. I take a deep breath as I gently pick him up off the table or chase him down to put his pants back on, and I remind myself that it won’t be this way forever. It will get easier. And that’s exactly when I’ll forget all of the worst parts of life with a toddler and long for the good parts again.
I’ve been feeling slightly uninspired lately. I’m working on coming up with some fabulous new content for you guys, but in the meantime, it’s Thursday, and I want to share a few random things that are on my mind.
I found out last week that I was quoted and my blog was mentioned in the January 2012 issue of Parents magazine, which explains a recent uptick in traffic. If you found my blog that way, welcome! I hope you’ll stick around, keep reading, and definitely chime in with your comments. I love to hear from people who are reading.
I’ve got some big plans for the house this spring, and I can’t wait to share the results with you. We ordered our very first new furniture (like actual grownups! No one has ever even used it!) We sprung for the furniture of my dreams — a fancy Pottery Barn slip-covered sofa and armchair with ottoman — and I’m anxiously awaiting their arrival sometime in March. We ordered it at the end of January. You wouldn’t believe the long shipping time for this stuff. Sheesh.
Now that the furniture is on its way, I’m feeling the itch to paint. The house was freshly painted by the renovator when we moved in, and while it’s not what I would have picked (dark orange), it was fresh paint, and we had bigger fish to fry at the time. Now we’re finally feeling inspired to take the painting leap, so I’m sure I’ll have lots to share as we navigate our way through our first painting experience. I’m skurred, but I can’t wait to finally feel like this place is our own. We’ve been in this house for a year as of May, so it’s about time.
I decided to stop doing monthly Judah updates after 12 months, but I’ll have another big one when he’s 18 months. For now, a small update: he’s growing like WHOA. He gained 2 pounds, 6 ounces between his 12-month appointment and a weight check at the beginning of this month. That is unreal for him. He’s still tiny (below the 5th percentile, I believe), but we’re all pleased to see him finally packing on some pounds.
He’s straight up running now, and he is into ev.er.y.thing. Our main living space looks like it could be housing squatters, because we’ve moved most of the furniture out of the living room and into the small den in the back of the house that stays blocked off with a baby gate. He alternates between melting my heart and driving me bonkers, which tells me I’ve entered the fabulous world of raising a toddler. One moment he’s giggling wildly and running around like he couldn’t be happier, and the next he’s throwing an temper tantrum because I won’t let him destroy the mini blinds. We’re working on obedience.
He’s stubborn and smart as a whip, and I can already tell we’re in big trouble for the next few years, but at least he’s snuggly. And he sleeps through the night these days, so I can’t complain too much.
I’m back on the fitness wagon again, and I’ve lost 6 pounds so far! I’ve been loving the strength training class at my gym. We’ll see how long it lasts. It seems like since Judah was born I’ve been stuck on this merry-go-round — lose 5 pounds, gain 5 pounds, repeat. I’m feeling motivated now, though, so here’s hoping it sticks.
What’s new with you?
It’s not that I wanted to keep him that way forever. I’m really looking forward to the fun stuff that comes along with having an older kid — the increased freedom, the family vacations, the conversations with my little person. But I am struggling with this in between time when he wants to go go go, but he’s not yet old enough to understand caution or danger or reason of any kind.
For a while, he was content to crawl around in the playpen if I needed a few minutes to get something done around the house, or you know, use the bathroom. But now he’s suddenly rebelling, and even the playpen is too much containment for his taste. He no longer plays contentedly in there. Now when I put him down, he stands up and screams at me until I take him out again and let him wander the house on all fours.
I realize this stage is crucial to his development, so I baby proof the house as best I can, do my very best to keep him safe, and chase him all day to prevent him from hurting himself. But on days like today when I’m exhausted and longing for the time when he snuggled safely with me, I start thinking crazy thoughts.
What if we converted the spare bedroom into a padded room so I could let him bounce around in there while I fold laundry?
What if we just padded the entire HOUSE? Then he could crawl around bonking into things to his heart’s content, and I wouldn’t have to worry.
Do they make rock climbing helmets and knee and elbow pads in size 6-9 months? They really should consider that for daredevil babies with absolutely no sense of self-preservation or caution.
Why on Earth don’t human babies learn to walk proficiently within hours of birth like colts and deer? Wait. That actually sounds worse. Scratch that. The LAST thing I want is a 1-week-old bonking his head on the coffee table.
I’m trying my hardest to relax and accept that I’m not always going to be able to protect him. The best I can do is prevent serious injury and hope that he’s designed well to withstand a few bumps along the way as he learns to get around. My dad always says, “They’re built low to the ground so they don’t have far to fall,” and I think he’s right. Mobile babies really are built tougher than we think and designed to handle the normal bumps and bruises that go along with learning to walk.
While this attitude helps my fear a little, it does nothing to help the exhaustion that comes with chasing him all day. Pfft. Slow down, baby! Mama needs a break.
We started introducing Judah to some solid foods this week, which has been exciting for everyone. His first food — mashed bananas — was a big hit. The oatmeal we tried today? Not so much.
Since Judah was born, time has been on warp speed. But man, this moment still feels like a million years ago.
It’s true that a lot has happened since the day I found out I was pregnant — we moved three times, Tony has started two different jobs, we traveled to Europe. But more importantly, I have changed so drastically, I don’t even recognize the girl holding this pregnancy test.
Last year on April 2, my office was closed for Good Friday. I should have been sleeping in. But I was wide awake way too early.
I had reason to believe I could be pregnant, but I doubted it. It had only been 3 weeks since we officially decided to start a family. Just a few weeks before, I was thrilled at the possibility that I could get pregnant right away. On April 2, I was ambivalent.
Two weeks before that morning, I had received a call from my dream job. I was already pregnant at that point, even though I didn’t know, but I did know that if I was pregnant, it had already happened. I started the interview process anyway, thinking to myself how unlikely it was that I could be pregnant after just one month.
The interviews were going well. It came down to me and one other candidate, but I had a feeling that the woman who would be my primary supervisor favored me. I felt 99% certain they would offer me the job.
We knew we were moving back to Indiana in just over a month. Neither one of us had a job yet. We made the decision that if they offered me the position, we’d temporarily stall our plans for a family so I could accept.
It’s so hard to explain my feelings about it now, as I hold my sleeping baby. I can’t imagine feeling anything but absolute joy and excitement to have him in my life. But for two weeks before I found out he would be born, I hoped I wasn’t pregnant. I hoped I’d have the opportunity to take my dream job.
I took pregnancy tests on March 31 and April 1. Both negative. I became convinced that I wasn’t pregnant. I scheduled a final interview with the board that would make the final hiring decision (via Skype, since I still lived in North Carolina). I daydreamed about the exciting career ahead of me. I didn’t know how long I’d wait to have a baby. Maybe a year. Maybe two.
And then I took a third test on April 2. Positive. I was going to have a baby.
Never before in my life have my feelings so dramatically and instantly changed. In one moment, I was hoping the test would be negative, hoping I would be able to take a job in Indianapolis. The next I was consumed with excitement and anticipation and joy, because, OMG, I’M HAVING A BABY. In that moment, I went from focusing on my career and myself to thinking about nothing but the little person I was incubating. Suddenly nothing else mattered.
To this day, even after experiencing the rush of emotion while holding him in my arms for the first time on the day he was born, I remember that moment as the moment I became a mother. Even then, I realized what a strange feeling it was to experience such a drastic, life-altering change in a split second.
The following week, I removed myself from consideration for the job. I made the decision for a number of reasons. I knew it wouldn’t be fair to begin a new job knowing that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom when the baby was born. We also worried that moving to a particular city would limit Tony’s job search too much, and he wouldn’t be able to find anything. It was essential for him to find a job if I was going to stay home. We decided it would be better to keep our options open so we could move anywhere with an open position. I knew it would be difficult to turn down a job offer even though I knew it wasn’t right for us, so I decided to drop out before they had a chance to make me an offer.
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t regret our decision to start trying that month. I was so so happy to be pregnant. But I did wrestle with the decision to give up the job. I toyed with the idea of being a working mother. I wouldn’t have considered it for just any job, but for this one, I strongly considered it.
In the end, I knew it wasn’t the right choice for our family or for me. My biggest fear was that I would someday regret my decision.
When I think about the way everything fell into place after that, it amazes me. No, it wasn’t ideal to be touring Europe with morning sickness, but I’m glad I wasn’t 9 months pregnant when Tony was offered his current job. If I’d waited even a few months to get pregnant, I wouldn’t have been able to have my baby at one of the most natural-birth-friendly hospitals in the state. Or worse, we wouldn’t have been able to accept the job, because I would have been too pregnant to consider undertaking a 300-mile move in less than two weeks.
One year later and four months into my little boy’s life, I know everything worked out exactly the way that it should have. I wouldn’t change a single thing. In the end, it turned out that being Judah’s mama was my real dream job. I know it’s trite, but it’s true, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I mentioned last week that we’ve begun working with Judah on his sleep schedule. Now that he’s four months old, I think he’s ready for a routine. Because he’s still so young, I want to be gentle in its implementation. Unfortunately, gentle for the baby is still pretty brutal for his parents.
He’s responding incredibly well to his bedtime ritual. He gets his reflux medicine first, then in his dim room I change his diaper, give him a sponge bath with some nice smelling baby wash, put some nighttime baby lotion on him, dress him in pajamas and a sleep sack, nurse him, turn on his white noise machine, and put him down in his crib. Then I stay by his crib until he’s asleep. For the past few nights, it’s taken fewer than 5 minutes for him to drift off.
He sleeps well after that for about 2 to 3 hours in his crib. When he wakes up hungry at 10:30 or 11, I bring him into my room to sleep in his bassinet, and we go to bed. The problem we’re having is that he continues to wake up every 1-3 hours throughout the night. It’s not because he’s hungry. He does nurse, but it’s generally just for under 5 minutes, which makes me think it’s more a comfort thing than a hunger thing.
Now that I’m trying the methods in “The No Cry Sleep Solution,”* I’m tracking his nighttime waking schedule. I’ve found that he’s waking up completely during the normal “brief awakening” periods that we all experience throughout the night. The problem is that I’ve always nursed him to sleep, so he doesn’t know how to put himself back to sleep. So he wakes up fussing, I nurse him (typically for only 5 minutes), and he goes back to sleep. I’m not sure how to break this cycle, and I’m not willing to let him cry it out, so I don’t know what to do. I haven’t finished the book, but I’m hoping it’ll have some ideas.
The bigger problem is naps. Judah isn’t on a predictable nap schedule. He generally sleeps 15 to 30 minutes at a time here and there throughout the day, only if I’m holding him and only when he’s utterly exhausted. As soon as I try to put him down, he wakes up and starts to cry.
For the first four months, I didn’t mind holding him during his naps. The problem is, he understandably wants to be held and engaged when he’s awake. That means I’m holding him all day. This was fine in the first few months, but now I’d like to get him on a napping schedule so I can get to the laundry and the dishes and the other chores that pile up during the day.
He loves his sling, and I can run errands and shop while he’s in it. Household chores like laundry and dishes? Not so much. The jostling wakes him up, and he’s even more grouchy. Not to mention any bending with him in the sling is brutal on my back, which occasionally suffers post traumatic stress syndrome since the pregnancy. I’m also not very efficient with 13 pounds of baby right in front of me.
My first plan was to put him down every time he fell asleep in the hopes that he’d eventually get used to it. The problem with that is that he wakes up when I put him down, and then he doesn’t go back to sleep. So I end up with an extremely crabby, exhausted baby.
After a restless day yesterday, he fell asleep at 6:30 in the evening. Then he kept me up from 4 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. I nursed him at 4 a.m., and he fell asleep. When he woke up again 15 minutes later, I put my hand on his chest and soothed him from my bed, but I left him in the bassinet. It took 30 minutes, but he finally went to sleep. Usually when I try that, his crying escalates, he wakes up Tony (who I try not to disturb on weeknights, because he has to get up at 6 a.m. to earn the money that pays our bills), and Judah and I both end up upset. That method never works when he wakes up during daytime naps.
On top of all that, ongoing (minor but annoying) health issues for Judah and me have led my doctor to put me on an extremely restrictive diet. No sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no caffeine, and no artificial sweeteners for at least a month. So basically I’m starving and tired, and I can’t even drink a caffeinated beverage to perk me up.
Anyway, between my extremely restrictive diet and our recent sleep struggles, I woke up feeling pretty bleak. I’m frustrated. I’m exhausted. I’m starving all. the. time. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, as I have a tendency to do.
Then I read this article in the Chicago Tribune about how crib bumpers are more dangerous than we think. It broke my heart and reminded me how lucky I am to have a healthy baby. I decided to take a break from nap training so I can hold my baby today, listen to his quiet little snores, feel the gentle rise and fall of his chest, and remind myself cherish every moment, even the challenging ones, because some parents aren’t so lucky.
I also wanted to share it, because crib bumpers are one of those controversial items that aren’t recommended, but most people believe to be harmless. The truth is, they serve absolutely no purpose, and if there’s even a slight risk, they’re not worth it.
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This weekend, Judah turned three weeks old. For the first two weeks of life with a newborn, I tried to keep things as simple as possible. I was still recovering from the birth and getting used to taking care of a baby, so I was okay with using disposable diapers. We received a case of size 1s from a generous family member at the baby shower, so we have plenty to use up anyway.
Last week, though, I decided to switch to cloth diapers during the day. I’m thrilled with how well they’re working out, and they’re so much easier than I expected. I was committed to making it work from the start, but part of me was nervous that we might not be able to keep up with it. After a week, I can definitely say that we won’t be using disposables at least 95% of the time.
After three weeks of successful breastfeeding, I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going to be buying formula, either.
I’m curious about how much money we’re actually saving by using cloth diapers and breastfeeding. There are so many variables that it’s hard to come up with solid numbers. If I’d spent any time buying diapers or formula, I might be able to come up with some rough averages.
I know if you work really hard like Kacie at Sense to Save did before she had her first baby, you can stockpile a ton of diapers for as low as 5 cents each. I also know that if you buy the most expensive, fanciest brands at regular price, you’ll pay 25 to 30 cents a diaper.
As far as formula goes, I’ve read that generics will run you about $10 a can, which will last about a week for a baby Judah’s age. Or you can easily spend $30 a can on more expensive name brands.
Before I can really figure out how much I’m saving, I’ll need to see what all this laundry does to my water and electric bills after a full month of cloth diapering. I’m not looking forward to that increase, but I’m confident it will still be less than I’d pay for diapers.
I also need some rough averages on costs. I’m looking to all of you for your insight. If you’ve used disposable diapers or formula, how much did you spend per month in an average month?