That Toddler Life

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One of Vivi’s characteristics that I’m most proud of is her love for books. As a lifelong reader, I love seeing my own passion reflected in her every time she toddles over with a new thing to read.

That being said, when your toddler asks you to read the same book for the sixth time in rapid succession, you start to get a little desperate for options. Not that I know anything about that (no, I have never hidden a book so she couldn’t ask me to read it again, how could you even suggest that?!)(yes, I have.), but in case this is a problem that you have, I’ve rounded up our favorite books that Vivi truly never tires of and I don’t even mind reading again and again.

I should also preface that the bulk of these books have been gifts from my friend Erin. She has some kind of sixth sense about what books to buy for a toddler, and she rarely misses. (I credit her years in entertainment media, as well as a long stint working in a children’s bookstore during high school.)

Do Crocs Kiss?

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I tell you what: Babies love a lift-flap book. And if you combine it with anything that creates an opportunity to practice animal sounds, Vivi will eat it up. We’ve read this charming book so many times, the spine is currently held together with shipping tape. That is love, people.

The Pout-Pout Fish

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Like so many of Vivi’s books, I have this one almost entirely committed to memory. Which would probably be annoying, except this hilarious book is actually pretty fun to read. Plus, it’s full of awesome vocabulary words (like kaleidoscope, aghast, and locomotion) that it will be pretty adorable to hear Vivi say in the coming months.

BabyLit Wuthering Heights

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Here’s a tip for parents looking for books to buy their kids: The more words, the better. Trust me; if you think it’s hard to read a board book seven times over, try doing it with a book lacking a script. It’s painful. BabyLit books eschew the original classic plots in favor of primer-style educational books, and Wuthering Heights is one of my favorites because it includes full-sentence excerpts from the original book as a way to teach your toddler about different kinds of weather. Pride & Prejudice is also pretty good.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

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I had always heard that parents had a love-hate relationship with this book prior to becoming a parent, but we’re pretty big fans in this house. The rhyme is catchy (I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree!), and Vivi always seems impressed with my alphabetical rapping skills. (Come on; if you read this book without pretending like you’re rapping, you are missing out.)

Your Personal Penguin

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If you have known Vivi since she was born, odds are you have had this song stuck in your head at one point or another. We have always been huge Susan Boynton fans, but Personal Penguin has been the book/song that has gotten us through some of the darkest baby moments. Oh, you didn’t know there was a song? Allow me (warning: you WILL have this stuck in your head for the rest of your life, but it’s actually pretty cute so you might not care):

So…what are your toddler book suggestions? Share ’em in a comment below!

*Contains affiliate links

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Vivi and I really love going to our neighborhood playground. No, like, seriously.

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know this because we post about it almost every day. If the weather is above 45 degrees, we are outdoors.

Which isn’t to say the park is perfect. I mean, it’s a New York City park. If I had a dollar for every time Vivi excitedly held up a piece of garbage and I had to swoop in with a faux-cheerful, “Ooh, let Momma see!,” I could afford to buy a house with a yard and build my own dang trash-free playground. But, for the most part, it is reasonably clean and well maintained.

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More importantly, it is frequented. Vivi doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with kids her own age, and while I don’t actually think it’s crucial at this stage of her development, I think she is more likely to learn about sharing and friendly interaction earlier on if she is at least presented with more age-appropriate opportunities. All that is a fancy way of saying that a lot of kids her age go to the park and I think it’s good for her to learn how to be around them without appearing to be a total sociopath.

There is one aspect of going to the park that I don’t seem to have cracked yet, and, honestly, it has nothing to do with Vivi. It’s the other moms. I consider myself a reasonably friendly individual, able to carry on a conversation with literally anyone if I want to, but, by and large, the other moms are just not that friendly.

I mean, it’s not like I don’t understand it at all. We only started going to the park after Vivi could walk, meaning we’ve only got about six months under our belts. That being said, we are regular. We’re at the park way more often than most of the snooty moms. So…I don’t get it. But recently I have started to notice more moms with toddlers Vivi’s age, and they tend to be much friendlier, so maybe it’s just a “stick to your own kind” kind of thing? Who knows?

Regardless, here are ten things every mom has thought whilst at the playground at some point:

1. No one is here…is it too cold for the park and no one told me? Am I a bad mom? I didn’t think I was, but here I am freezing my baby to death and– oh, wait, here comes another kid. Phew.

2. THERE ARE NO DRAWERS HERE FOR YOU TO EMPTY OVER AND OVER WHILE I TRY TO CLEAN! I LOVE THE PARK!

3. Don’t touch that don’t touch that don’t touch that!

4. I love getting a second to actually scroll through Instagram without worrying that my kid is going to do something cra– OH MY GOD WHERE IS MY KID?! I HATE THE PAR– Oh, there she is. Phew.

5. Is that kid crowding my daughter? Should I step in? Should I let her– never mind, she just strong-armed a 4-year-old. She’s good.

6. That kid is crying. That kid is crying and no one is helping. WHERE IS YOUR MOTHER?

7. My toddler is clearly playing with a toy that is not hers. But she’s also not crying, so I’m going to sit here pretending like I don’t see until the owner pitches a fit and demands it back.

8. I know the name of over half the kids here, but I couldn’t tell you their moms’ names for the life of me. “Oh, hi, Sam’s mom!

9. I packed snacks, extra wipes, a towel to wipe wet swings, and toys for the park today. I’m probably the best mom ever.

10. Oh, you just want to play with that stick you found for 20 minutes? Cool. I’m an idiot.

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I cried in a dentist’s office today. The office of a dentist I had never met before, so that will forever be his first impression of me, the frazzled, rain-dampened blonde slinging an equally rain-dampened blonde toddler before suddenly breaking down in a puddle of tears.

But I should probably back up. Because, if you know me, I like to think that it would surprise you to hear that the pursuit of dental hygiene would bring me to hysterics.

My morning started much earlier and several miles away from that fateful office. It started at 6 a.m. in my bed, as most mornings do since Vivi’s determined sleep regression. While not every morning starts quite so early, it’s usually between 6:00 and 6:30, and today was no exception. So she awoke and called me, I went and got her, and we both snuggled back in bed for a few more minutes of dozing. When I went back in my room to get my phone, Joey grumbled sleepily, “Your phone is bugging out.”

It’s rare to get a text quite so early, but this one was from our intended babysitter (who I had asked to watch Vivi while I went to the dentist that morning) telling me that her son was sick, and she didn’t want to infect all of us, so she couldn’t come over.

Not a big deal — kids get sick. The only bummer was that no one else I knew was available to step in. Okay, I thought, I guess we’re all going into Manhattan. That’s fine!

We got up around 7:00, and it was already clear that Vivi was having, well, a day. She screamed for milk, tried to refuse to say “amen” after our breakfast prayer (I waited her out and finally got a begrudging one before dishing out her eggs), and took off her pants ten minutes before we had to leave for no apparent reason.

Not a big deal! Toddlers, amiright? We started to pack up to leave.

Fortunately, I glanced out the window and saw that it was raining before we left. Still not a big deal! I decided to ditch the stroller and wear Vivi on my back (actually much more convenient for city travel anyway), grabbed an umbrella, and away we went. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do with Vivi at the appointment, but I just sort of hoped I could plunk her somewhere with YouTube videos for 20 minutes.

This is what I like to refer to as “the best part of our day.” A walk to the subway. In the rain. With a baby on my back. If that gives you any idea.

We got to the station as a train was arriving, but my Metrocard was empty, so we had to refill. As I listened to the sound of the train pulling away, I soothed myself with the fact that one comes every five minutes or so. We were in no rush! I had factored in cushion time because I’m me!

We finally got on a train and rode the 30 minutes to our stop with little incident. Vivi was intrigued by her fellow passengers and only started to fuss right before our stop. Phew. Is there anything worse than a screaming baby in your train car?

That right there? That’s what we like to call a cruel irony. Remember that.

I arrived at the Empire State Building, snapped the above photo because memories!, and approached the desk and told them who I was there to see.

“Oh, they moved out of the building three years ago.”

Cue: slow blink. “What?”

“It’s okay, though, I think they just moved right across the street.”

Okay, I thought with a sigh of relief. Call off the snipers.

“Oh, I’m sorry, they actually moved [insert address that will probably mean nothing to you but suffice to say it was SEVEN BLOCKS AWAY. IN THE RAIN.].”

My appointment was at 10:00. At this point, it was 9:55.

“RaaaAAAWWRRGGG!” I said. In my head.

Out loud, I said “thanks,” hitched up my baby backpack, and hit the street.

Seven blocks (did I mention it was raining?) later, I got to the building, rode up one floor in the elevator, and stepped into the lobby. I gave them my name and Groupon number (dental insurance is expensive, yo). The receptionist looked it up. No dice. She tried again. Nope. The owner came out and tried it. Nada.

“You had an appointment here?”

I show them my texts confirming, and he asks to see my Groupon.

“Oh, this isn’t us.”

Um, pardon?

A lot more conversation followed. Honestly, I can’t even explain what happened. As far as I understand it, there are TWO dental offices of the same name (but one has “Management” or something at the end?) in the SAME office space, but one of them (the one I wanted) is only open on Thursdays. Somehow, I had called the number of the other one. I should also mention that, last month, I also thought I had an appointment with this office and they couldn’t find it the week of. I’m now pretty convinced that my original appointment was with the right company (so I guess I missed it?), and that this whole office is a vortex where time, light, and sanity go to die.

Anyway, the point is, I had no appointment. After traveling for an hour on the subway and IN THE RAIN with a now-fussy baby strapped to my back. I couldn’t even make eye contact with the guy because it wasn’t his fault BUT WASN’T IT KIND OF?!?

He sensed my displeasure.

“Listen, you came all this way, what I can do is give you a cleaning here for the cost of the Groupon. It’s actually a better deal because our cleanings are more expensive. It’s probably a blessing in disguise [Note: He actually said those words. He was probably right, but it still made me want to kick him in the shin.] because I don’t think you would have been very happy with a cleaning with the other office.”

I took a deep breath and said fine, mentally balancing my checkbook with this unexpected expense factored in.

At this point, the correct office returned my phone call (I had tried to call during the “where are you located exactly” mix-up).

“Hi, I missed a call from this number?”

“Yeah, I had an appointment, and I’m at your office, but no one is here and…”

“Oh, no, we’re closed today.”

“I. Know. But I had an appointment and…”

“No, no, you couldn’t have. Tell me exactly what happened.”

“Um, I called and made an appointment, but they said that they can give me a cleaning here so I guess-”

“Oh, good, well then I guess it’s all fine, right?”

And then I reached through the phone and strangled her. In my head. Not in my head, I hung up because if you don’t have anything nice to say….

The guy came back. “Okay, so what are we doing?”

At this point, Vivi grabbed a handful of flyers and threw them on the floor and my throat started to tighten up.

“Well,” I said, picking up the flyers and trying to shove them back into their display, “I came all this way in the rain with my baby, so I guess we’re sticking with this new plan because if I don’t get my teeth cleaned I’m going to start crying.”

And then I burst into tears.

So, yeah, not my proudest. But, to their credit, the people in the office could NOT have been nicer to me. I was handed tissues and bottles of water, and the receptionist popped up telling me about her four grandchildren and how this was her lucky day because she was going to watch Vivi for me. I was quickly ushered into a cleaning room, where a nice (and obviously prepped for the crazy woman in her chair) dentist checked my x-rays and cleaned my teeth (“We’re going to use this water pick because it’s much faster so you guys can get out of here.”). The hygienist kept sneaking me tissues and asking me if I was okay. (OBVIOUSLY NOT BUT I’M WORKING ON IT.)

By the end of the cleaning, I felt better. Calmer. I actually really like getting my teeth cleaned, so that helped. And, hey, no cavities. So that’s something.

I went out to the desk, and Vivi was happily sitting on the receptionist’s lap, watching videos and eating pretzels (they had asked before giving them to her). Basically, her best day ever.

I apologized to everyone for acting like a crazy person (“Don’t worry! It’s just the rain!”) and thanked them profusely. Heck, I booked a six-month follow-up cleaning because I felt indebted to them. Then I quickly strapped Vivi back on and ran shame-faced from the office. (Back into the rain.)

And THAT is where this story should end. But, because I live where I live, I had to get back on the train. I got to the station just as my train was leaving (again)(because of course), so we waited on the platform for the next one to arrive. We got on…and made it two stops before Vivi started pitching the world’s most epic meltdown.

For the record, my kid doesn’t really do meltdowns. She’ll yell and throw a fit sometimes, but always for a pretty easily identifiable reason and almost always with a 2- to 3-minute time limit. I take no credit for this; she’s just a mostly good kid.

This was different. Vivi screamed and thrashed like she had a scorpion in her diaper, and, honestly, it freaked me out a little.

You know who else was freaked out? Everyone else trapped in the train car with the demon baby.

I took her out of the carrier. Still screaming. I offered her a snack. Still screaming. I offered her water. Still screaming. (And hitting me.) We were THANK GOODNESS on an express train home, but it still meant 15 solid minutes of tortured screaming. More than one person got up an moved away from us in the car, but the majority were too polite and just threw me sympathetic stares. Because is there anything worse than a screaming baby in your train car?

I didn’t freak out. I wrestled her thrashing and took off her jacket, not sure if she was just overheating or something. She kicked off a shoe, so I took the other one off too. Nothing helped.

We finally, finally made it to our stop. Vivi stopped crying as soon as we stepped out of the car, but by then it was obviously of little help. There was no where to set my stuff to get her back into the carrier, so we walked the 10-minutes home (in the RAIN) with my juggling the umbrella and my now still occasionally crying baby. I probably looked like a regretful kidnapper.

We finally got home. IT WAS ONLY 11:58 A.M. I called Joey to tell him the story and promptly started sobbing, which freaked Vivi out and made her start crying too.

For everyone’s sake, I pulled myself together.

So, yeah. That’s the end of the story. I’m letting Vivi watch TV while I type this out because catharsis. And, also, I’m kind of done for today? Plus, listening to her actually singing along with the songs (so cute!) is making me love her again, so I’ll take it. Anyway, I’m exhausted, still slightly damp, and pretty sure I’m never leaving this apartment again.

But dang are my teeth clean.

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Vivi goes everywhere at a full-tilt run now. For someone for whom time must seem to move so slow, she’s in a near constant rush to get to the next thing.

I think she gets that from me. Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about next steps for our family. It’s something we’re always discussing and dreaming about, but just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you take every step at once.

I’m not good at patience. When I know how I want to decorate a new apartment, I want to. It everything at once so it’s done rather than wait and budget. When we plan a trip, I want to pack NOW and get on the plane tomorrow, which is an impossible way of life with a toddler.

When I watch Vivi take off, arms pumping and feet stomping with all their might, I want to scoop her into my arms and snuggle her too tight to let her keep moving. Too tight for her to keep growing up.

It doesn’t work that way, of course. Vivi keeps on growing even in my arms. Just like time will continue to march on whether I’m there counting the seconds or not.

Part of why I’ve continued this blog is because it’s my living diary. It allows me to reflect on so many important parts of my life and be right back in that moment. I thought about quitting it many times, but, in all seriousness, I kept it because I always felt like it would be a nice way to remember my hypothetical child’s life too. That’s a big part of why I’ve kept it around this far. So when I look at Vivi rushing around to the next thing, changing every single day, literally over night, I’m reminded of how important it is to record. To remember.

So relax. Stop and smell the roses. Why be anxious about tomorrow and all that. Like I said, I’m working on it.

And maybe my precocious little toddler is just the daily reminder I need to savor the moment.

And while I have your attention…

Thank you to everyone who responded to my last post. As usual, y’all restore my faith in humanity almost every time I let myself show a weakness, and I truly appreciate it. 

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Last week, I went to get Vivi after hearing her call me one morning and found her covered in vomit in her crib. She seemed totally unfazed (and didn’t have a fever), so I tried to stay calm, peeled off her dirty jammies, and popped her in the tub to clean her off (“A morning bath, Viv! Isn’t this fun?!”).

She smiled and babbled, but didn’t ask for breakfast or even milk (very out of character) and refused water, so I immediately suspected some kind of stomach bug. But without a fever, I couldn’t be sure. A few minutes after we got out of the bath, Vivi started gagging, and I held her over the sink while she threw up again. She handled it like a champ, but was clearly distressed and wouldn’t let me put her down even for a second.

 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that (fortunately) Viv was back to normal within 24 hours. Whatever bug she had passed quickly after some homeopathic treatment, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

It’s such a scary thing, a sick baby. I’m not one for panicking, but I don’t know what to do with myself when I can’t make a plan or find a solution. Vivi can’t tell me what’s wrong, so I have to guess and trust my instincts that I know this little body inside and out when trying to figure out what to do next.

It’s such a strange thing to have this tiny person you feel so connected to — that you once were connected to — but who is now separate and, in some ways, unreachable. Lord knows how I’m going to handle it when she can really, truly go off on her own.

So I learn patience. I sit by her side with a sippy cup for the moment she wakes up, taking comfort in her steady breathing and telling myself rest is the best medicine when she doesn’t feel well. And I feel so, so, so grateful that this is the first serious illness we have encountered. I’m fortunate that the reason I don’t know what to do is because she normally is such a healthy, happy girl. And, not for nothing, I’m so glad I have a job that lets me be home with her while she recovers.

We probably have dozens of flus and sick days ahead of us in Vivi’s lifetime, but this, the first real one, I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember. But here’s hoping that the next time around, she can tell me what hurts or feels yucky.

A few months back, we had a pediatrician visit where we were warned that Vivi was entering the stage of her life when she would start to show signs of finicky eating.

We’ve been very fortunate in this respect for most of Vivi’s life. The kid loves to eat. And, up until recently, she seemed to enjoy just about everything we put on her plate and would gobble it down without much resistance.

And then the toddler years hit.

It’s not that Vivi became exceptionally picky, but I did notice a new resistance to trying new foods or textures. Bread reigned supreme, while zucchini got the cold shoulder. Even foods that I knew she actually liked, like avocado or ground turkey, would sometimes be met with rejection upon first presentation. Rather than succumb to the temptation to simply fill up her belly with pasta and marinara sauce every night (always an acceptable option in Vivi’s book), I focused on trying new foods in familiar ways, adding tasty sauces that would dress up less appealing items, and capitalizing on flavors I know she always likes — all whilst keeping nutritious veggies in the forefront of her menu items.

It doesn’t always work (I am dealing with a toddler, after all), but these five recipes are pretty consistent ways I’ve found to get the little stinker to consume more produce. (And, bonus, they’re also totally delicious for adults.) Two of them I created myself, but the three others I’ve linked below. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Oatmeal

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Ok, this isn’t technically a veggie recipe, but it does get a hefty serving of fruit into your toddler (and it can barely even be called “cooking” because it’s so dang simple).

Ingredients:
1 packet instant oatmeal (I prefer this version from Trader Joe’s)
handful of frozen organic berries
1 T natural peanut or almond butter
1 T chia seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Start boiling a kettle of water. Pour the instant oatmeal into a small bowl, and then top with frozen berries, peanut butter, chia seeds, and cinnamon. Once water has boiled, pour desired amount over oatmeal and stir to combine. Once the berries have softened, you can give ’em a little squish to get all those delicious juices to naturally flavor and sweeten the rest of the oatmeal. Tip: Pour the water directly onto the berries to thaw them quicker.

Spinach Pesto Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Meatballs

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I love, love, love this recipe, and not just because it provides multiple servings of veggies in every bowl. The first time I made it, I had serious doubts about whether or not Vivi would even try it, and she wolfs it down every time. Total mom win. (FYI, the picture above is when I made it with chicken sausage, which you can totally do if you’re strapped for time, but I think Viv actually prefers the turkey meatballs and that’s how I usually make this one.)

Ingredients:
1 spaghetti squash
1-2 T olive oil

Pesto:
1 bag organic baby spinach
1 avocado
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2-6 cloves garlic (I use a TON of garlic, but you do you)
1/4 c olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Meatballs:
1 T olive oil
1 package ground turkey
1/3 c bread crumbs (sub GF if you don’t do the gluten thing)
1 egg
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 t oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Clean your spaghetti squash and cut in half length-wise. Drizzle with olive oil, and place cut side-down on a baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Once it’s done baking, remove and allow to cool. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape out the inside. It should come apart easily into noodle-like strings.

While the squash is baking, put all of the pesto ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth. (Note: This makes a lot of sauce, so you will probably have enough left over to smear onto sandwiches or drizzle onto tacos. Do your thang.)

Next, put the T of olive in in a large skillet set to medium-high. Combine all of the other meatball ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with your hands until just combined. Form into 1-inch balls. Once the oil is shimmering, add the meatballs and cook, slowly turning until all sides are browned and the meatballs are cooked through (about 5-7 minutes).

Assemble your plate spaghetti squash>meatballs>pesto. Tip: I always serve the squash with a bit of sauce to Vivi first, then meatballs. She tends to give veggies more of a chance when she’s at her hungriest.

Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Hash

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For this one, my only tip would be to make sure the peppers are thoroughly cooked and soft. Vivi likes the taste of cooked peppers, but if I leave the skin on, they’re difficult for her to chew unless I cook them down for at least 10 minutes.

Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken and Veggies

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Again, I really recommend starting your toddler with the veggies here. We tend to serve Vivi’s meals in “courses,” and it typically goes green veggies (broccoli, green beans, spinach), then sweeter veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes), then protein, then bread or carb. And because Vivi isn’t a huge fan of white or red potatoes, I put potatoes and carrot in each forkful and she ate happily.

Greek Turkey Burgers

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Pictured is the adult way to eat these. (So delicious.) For Viv, I served a cucumber course with yogurt dipping sauce, then a burger with a bit more yogurt, then a piece of bread, and she ate all without any fussing at all.