I’m loving that my daughter is now old enough to enjoy shopping-time with me. I get tempted to try things on her, she gives spot on advice (e.g. “Maman, c’est moche! / c’est bizarre! / c’est quoi ça?!? / Maman, ça c’est pour les enfants!” / ENG: “Mom, it’s ugly! / it’s bizarre! / what’s that?!? / Mom, that’s for kids!”) & we often have the best laughs out of things we don’t buy! 😂
Coming back to the routine can be tough after an exciting and eventful vacation but I’ve learned through the years to appreciate returning to the order and predictability of my routine and particularly now that I have two kids, the routine’s structure makes it easier to manage them (as they inevitably get spoiled and lose good habits due to gifts and treats here and there by friends and relatives… one of my main concern was their eating and sleeping schedule which was, despite my best efforts, a bit chaotic during the vacation as I could not control relatives insisting to spend more time with them or giving them this or that treat!) The transition back though is inevitably though as you have to deal with the unpacking, cleaning and the very early morning run to the grocery store to get your daughter breakfast before her first day of school and then convincing her that she has to now go back to school! Ultimately however there’s a time when you feel that the wheels are in motion again, and precisely then you should look for a calm moment and take a small celebratory / reflective tea break! In any event I think that small daily rituals like a tea break make a hectic routine much more bearable so make sure to carve out some time for yourself on any day!
There’s a pub in my neighborhood called The Anglesea Arms, as soon as there’s a shred of sunlight, its terrace gets flooded with drink and sun-seekers… the mood in it is often contagious and the crowds overflow to the streets. One way or the other I end up passing by this place on weekend afternoons with my family and just as my eldest is throwing some sort of fit and my baby daughter is demanding to be held…My husband and I inevitably look at the crowds, then each other and grimace a nervous resigned smile and keep on strolling our two kids away into a non-pub / kids friendly environment. I’m sure many mommies out there have that place in their neighborhood, which just like The Anglesea Arms, is the constant reminder of how much their lives have changed since they used to hang out carelessly sipping a drink with friends at a bar terrace on a weekend morning. These days my weekend ritual starts, not much later after the last Anglesea Arms enthusiasts are forced to go home, inaugurated by my morning alarm / aka my 3 year-old daughter shouting in my ear: “maman j’ai faim! / mommy i’m hungry!” (an earlier stint occurs as well sometimes, while Anglesea Arms revelers are probably counting down their shots, by my daughter shouting “maman, pipi!”)… So she’s got my attention, I remove all the bed linens and open the garden door to let in the freezing air to force my husband out of bed to help. I head to the kitchen to prepare my toddler’s breakfast and then head back to the bedroom to find that my husband has still managed to stay asleep and before I get a chance to say a word, inevitably, baby # 2 starts crying and I have to go breastfeed her. It’s at that time that my husband usually wakes up and passes by the nursery to ask me what we’re going to do today and it’s usually at that point that my baby # 2 burps all over me and that my daughter starts shouting from the kitchen that she wants more Cheerios…
Despite the increasingly grey and wet weather in London these days, I refuse however to be imprisoned at home over the weekends caught in attending to one then the other or acrobatically attending to both and generally find that it’s easier to distract the kids outside the house so I endeavor to make my best to head out of the house as soon as possible. There’s of course a lot to get done for that to happen: showers x 4, getting dressed x 4, etc… Slowly but surely however we do head out (I’m glad to report that we hit a 10am record yesterday!) + 2 strollers and having gone through our 100 items checklist of things we need to have done or need with us on the go… On our way, we often pass by The Anglesea Arms again, which by then is of course empty and my husband and I stare at the place, our well-groomed and calm kids, then stare at each other, take a deep breath of fresh air and unreservedly smile and keep on strolling into our new parent identities…
A couple of months ago, amid the chaos of our post-baby#2 summer London move, my husband announced to me that his October vacation request was approved. It was his attempt to cheer me up at the end of a long hectic day while I was still trying to put to bed a restless newborn. My initial reaction: Traveling with a breastfed baby and a restless tot? Thanks but no thanks… it was just impossible for me to picture through tantrums and colic how traveling would be anything but exhausting.
Sales pitch: (1) only way to break the exhausting homebuilding ride I had embarked on; (2) keep my older daughter entertained during her October mid-term break; and (3) to compensate for not being able to head to a beach destination in the summer because of the move logistics.
I was sold on (2) and set myself deadlines for things I wanted to achieve at home before our departure and started planning the trip trying to balance making it as kids friendly as possible while still making it enjoyable for my husband and I… still, I wasn’t very thrilled.
Before we knew it, 2 months had passed and we were off to the airport, a kid strapped to my husband, another holding my hand + 3 travel bags, a car seat and of course my Coco Cocoon bag / diaper bag.
Bad Start: After going through the painful airport security checks with our two kids, we decided to grab breakfast… my toddler was restless and the infant was crying and when I tasted the ‘yogurt’ and granola I had ordered for my daughter I discovered they gave her mayonnaise and granola! To say the least I was already ready to head back home by then, but somehow I managed to keep calm and go on (well maybe the waiter there might disagree with the keep calm part).
Surprisingly the Plan Worked: Much to my surprise and delight however, after this initial hiccup, things started lining up and the vacation was a success to both parents and kids. Having been back for a couple of days and had the chance to reflect on how we pulled this off, here’s what I think are the key components for a successful trip with your kids and hopefully this will convince you not to always rush to your parents/in-laws to drop your kids before heading on vacation!
Planning, planning, planning…
Destination: The key is to minimize being on the go with the kids as they will get exhausted and in consequence will exhaust you through whining and having to deal with their many needs in unexpected places (changing diapers and breastfeeding while hiking or just visiting touristic sites + museums in a new city is therefore not the best idea). You want to be somewhere where you can enter into a comfortable vacation routine to address your kids’ needs (fun, food, sleep and WC) without that becoming stressful to you. We chose to go to the Maldives and stop on each way in Dubai. Despite the fact that there was some long and varied traveling involved (by land, air and sea…as we had to go far to find sunshine in October), we thought that this was balanced out by the fact that we planned for a very kids friendly environment to await us in each destination.
In the Maldives, we chose a resort that has a kids club and thankfully we got lucky as we found a local babysitter we were able to quickly trust with both our kids. We would therefore drop off both kids with her at the kids club in the morning and get some time for ourselves while knowing that they are safe and being entertained. The kids club was managed almost like a pre-school and they had a daily schedule of activities. At the end of each day my toddler would come back with different arts and crafts achievements and many stories about the different activities they did (from a crab race, to visiting the turtles at the turtles conservation program at the hotel to feeding the fish in the ocean…).
Of course, we would pull them out from time to time during the day to spend time and play with us at the beach or pool. My toddler loved the formula and would wake up looking forward to seeing her friends at the kids club while we were grateful to be able to relax, listen to music and read our magazines (we had left our books back home as we thought we wouldn’t get a chance to read at all but perhaps in retrospect we could have managed a bit of reading…) It was also amazing to see how our own patience and interaction with the kids would change once we had the ability to relax a bit between playtimes with them. By the time we saw them again, we were recharged and ready to go build that sand castle or splash in the pool. The balance of solo relaxation and family quality time was just perfect.
In Dubai, both the hotels we stayed in and my main shopping destination there (The Dubai Mall) were also very kids friendly and had enough to keep us and the kids entertained. I was particularly thrilled to be able to leave my daughter for a bit at a kids club in the mall as well where she did some arts and crafts while I got a chance to really shop (vs. the running after her in stores and apologizing to the salespeople which is what my shopping experience sometimes turns to with her). She then joined me and hopped on a pushable car-type stroller, which she loved and kept her distracted. The mall also had regular strollers which we took advantage of for the baby.
Packing light, packing right: As a fashion lover, I always found it hard to pack light. I like to bring lots of options! This time around, I was realistic about the number of outfits I would pull off with the kids and favored the practical + kids friendly options since I knew I would end up opting for those anyways once there. A stylish familly vacation wardrobe should make you feel voguish without sacrificing comfort as your time spent there will involve dealing with kids, hence running, jumping, sliding, floating, splashing, carrying them around, breastfeeding…
Expectations: The fact that I had low expectations to start with and anticipated a trip revolving around the kids was key in feeling that it was a success at the end and in making me appreciate the amount of adult time we ended up having (which was much more than what I had anticipated). If I had embarked on this expecting to have something more similar to the kind of trip we used to have pre-kids I would certainly have been disappointed… therefore expectations (here & pretty much regarding everything else in life) are key to satisfaction.
So start planning your next family vacation and take the challenge of not dropping your kids off with your parents/in-laws before traveling!
Halloween arrives this year as my daughter completes her transition from a toddler to a preschooler and therefore, unlike last year, I will have less control over her choices, and this time around her trick and treat experiences are much more likely to impact her eating habits… I will therefore want to make sure that this highly marketed and colorful occasion doesn’t turn into a celebration of unhealthy eating which risks creating a fascination with unhealthy sugary treats. Furthermore, as I’ve noticed at my NYC building last year with children racing to my door, Halloween literally becomes a competition of who hoards the most treats and therefore kids end up amassing loads of candy, which can last them for weeks or months! So, while I cannot control the neighborhood, I have plans to make the Halloween experience as wholesome as possible for my daughter and her friends by coordinating with a couple of moms and her school to create a fun event focusing on the pretend-play and the costume side of the event as well as line-up healthy replacements in Halloweeny disguise (i.e. themed packaging or presentation) to give them a chance to compete with the shiny packaging of the typical sugary and highly processed treats.
Below is my list of suggested replacements:
Cereal and granola bars
Trail mix, unsalted plain roasted peanuts or pumpkin seeds (careful with allergic trick-or-treaters)
Cheese strings or individually wrapped mini cheese shapes
Unsalted plain popcorn
Mini boxes of raisins
Unsalted plain pretzels
Single serve boxes of ready-to-eat cereal
Individual juice boxes (100% juice)
Apple or pear sauce
Dark chocolate bites
Finally, what’s also important is that when the kids return home with their big bag of goodies (hopefully with more healthy than unhealthy stuff this year!) you should try to explain that while the treat wraps are colorful, those treats are not gift-wrapped toys! and they are not to be all opened and consumed in short order but rather they should be left in a “treasure box” and consumed as snacks and in moderation.
I can’t recall when or how exactly this started but my daughter just can’t stop talking!
By her 2nd birthday she knew a few words, but now, only 6 months later, her communication superpowers are blooming and she sure is loving them and using them! Although she still makes a lot of mistakes in pronunciation and sentence structure, she’s expressing herself in full sentences, opening structured conversations, debating with arguments and asking a whole LOT of questions! What’s overwhelming is mostly the volume of talk! It’s not that I’m not used to this at home, though I didn’t necessarily think (or wish!) she would inherit that specific behavior from her dad!
She always has something to say or to ask about. From the second she opens her eyes in the morning “mommy what food are you serving me?” in her clumsy French “manger quoi, maman?”, the interrogation journey starts… I hear “c’est quoi ça maman?” (eng: what’s that mommy) more than I feel the baby #2 kicks, although I have to say there has been a nonstop trampoline party going on in my belly lately!
She asks all sorts of questions:
- Funny ones: in a restaurant where the waiter was wearing a bright yellow shirt and was taking forever to bring our food, “maman, il est ou monsieur jaune? (eng: where is Mr. Yellow?)
- Weird ones: a 5 min cab ride turns into a drill of questions on the components of a taxi’s interior (most of which I had never even noticed before) from the little screw she found under the door handle to the taxi driver’s ID and registration number.
- Smart ones: “Papa, comment on appelle ça en anglais?” (eng: How do we say this in English?).
- Silly ones: “Maman, il est où papa?” (eng: Where’s daddy?) even though papa is holding her hand while crossing the street or when we’re all having dinner together and papa is just sitting next to her!
- Quizzes: she asks questions that she already asked a million times before and knowing perfectly well what the correct response is. When I try to trick her and answer incorrectly she corrects me “maman, il est où papa” (eng: where’s daddy?) to which I respond “il est sur la lune” (eng: he’s on the moon) followed by her final response with an attitude and a giggle “mais non maman, papa est au travail!” (eng: no mommy, daddy is at work!).
If she’s not talking to me or to her father, she’s scolding a doll because she didn’t finish her dinner or she’s doing a monologue while playing with the blocks. A sneeze or a cough wouldn’t stop her, she just says “à tes souhaits” (eng: bless you) to herself or “pardon” and continues the chatter!
This phase has been a lot of fun, I’m loving watching her growing up, becoming a little adult with a LOL sense of humor and an overwhelming curiosity while providing us with a lot of entertainment and crazy laughs. She has so much energy (verbal energy) that it’s so hard to keep up with her at times (or get anything – other than responding to her questions – done). It can be particularly draining when I am trying to focus on another conversation, an article or just thinking of something else I need to get done and she stops me 10 times to tell me for the zillionth time how she hurt her foot on the plane, or how huge Santa’s belly was, or that her teddy bear isn’t a bear but a pig…
At this development stage, it’s primordial to provide your toddler with a rich and nurturing communication environment to help grow his vocabulary, educate him and help him form his personality. Try to enjoy the ride as much as you can and while you will get tired of hearing the same questions and repeating the same responses, believe me it is one of the most fulfilling things you can experience to see your own child’s vocab, behavior and personality evolve gradually (but not so slowly actually!) by simply talking to him, describing to him what you’re doing, pointing things out, telling him stories, asking him questions and singing him songs…
I also find it very important to be a good listener and to be responsive to my daughter by giving her my attention when she’s talking to me and providing her with as accurate an answer to her question as possible (thanks Google).
Furthermore, while it’s well established that the reading itself is an important component in helping to enrich your child’s vocabulary and sentence construction, reading can also be an opportunity to start new conversations, to teach your child about new things or to give them a chance to express new ideas.
Personally I find that the key to constructive and effective communication with your toddler is to treat them not as child but as a mini adult. This doesn’t only mean that I assume that no question is too dumb and that she’s able to understand almost everything (so I don’t filter much and I don’t baby-talk my explanations much) but also that as a starting point I expect of her to act like an intelligent adult and not as a baby and I try as much as possible to convey to her that the same rules of communication and interaction that apply to me and her father apply to her and that she doesn’t get a special pass for screaming, pushing me or banging on the table because she’s 2! Of course balance is key however because as much as you want to take advantage of your child’s incredible learning potential, you should not be spending your whole day responding to questions as you have a responsibility to yourself (and your child) to stay sane and be balanced… teaching your child balance is after all, in and of itself, a very important life lesson!
For a while I thought I would be immune to the “terrible twos” phase thinking that it is more of a North American phenomenon and because, from day one, I was very keen on raising my daughter with strict parenting rules.
I used to enjoy telling everyone from her pediatrician to our doorman what a great sleeper she was, sleeping through the night since she was 3 months old. I used to praise her eating habits (and secretly my nutritionist powers;)) and in particular how smoothly the breastfeeding period and later on solid food introduction went. I once called my mom at 6 in the morning overseas to tell her that her granddaughter had a raw eggplant with dinner!
It didn’t stop there, instead of feeling self-conscious in front of other mommies about the fact that my house isn’t at all kid friendly nor kid proof, I used to take great pride in complementing my daughter’s discipline around the house, in fact I was so happy to be raising a house-proof baby! In restaurants, the pouring compliments and applauses on how well my daughter behaved and how amazing it was that she was sharing my salmon with spinach with no shred of objection, used to make my day! Now you’re thinking a mother would always find a way to praise her child even if he/she was the worst kid on the block (an old Arabic proverb says: the monkey in the eyes of its mother is a gazelle). However, it wasn’t only me who thought that my girl was an angel. When her previous nanny had to leave us, she gave a great reference about my daughter to her successor, describing her as “rigolote et facile à vivre” (EN: Funny and easygoing).
Then suddenly came the day, right after her 2nd birthday. It started with a few NOs here and there. In the beginning, we found this super cute, even smart. We were caught-up in making sure that she was meeting all her developmental milestones and were very pleased to check off: better expression skills, better communication and ability to make choices. We thought a strong character might come in handy in the future if she wants to survive a wild environment (like New York City for instance). However, the NOs started getting more and MORE frequent, more and more DOMINANT, until I started noticing it became chronic. Hélas, my daughter was now only speaking in the negative tense! “NO I don’t want the potty”, “NO I don’t want to eat yogurt”, “NO I don’t want to clean up after playing”, “NO I don’t want to go in the stroller”, “NO I don’t want to say Merci/Bonjour”…So we were spending a big chunk of our days just dealing with her “no no no no no no no no no no” (which is one way for her to say No).
Picky? She defined that word! One day, she woke up from her nap with the weirdest request: She wanted clementine for snack…only BLUE clementine not orange! Food time was no more a piece of cake like the old days. I had to find a new trick every mealtime to distract her into finishing her plate. I became a master in all sorts of clown performances. A restaurant meal would transform into a battlefield with her throwing chopsticks on us. All the restaurants we frequent started having a specific table for us, engraved with my daughter’s name. It’s that table all the way in the back, next to the kitchen or the restroom, where the risk of stares (to us or the waiters), walkouts or all out catastrophe is at a minimum.
Nevertheless, after the initial panic, I reluctantly realized that she had just changed and my old tricks were not working anymore and so I had to update them. After coming to terms with the new challenge and gradually gathering more patience and energy to counter her increased stubbornness and vigor, I am starting gradually to regain control. The key was perseverance, adaptability, patience and creativity, illustrated by the following:
- As much as she said NO I was equally stubborn with my YES and eventually she started learning that she just can’t have it her way all the time (and often for a very good reason that I try explaining to her so she doesn’t feel that I am randomly putting her down).
- We changed our restaurant habits: in order to keep them enjoyable, they are now “short and sweet” (We sometimes pick our plates by checking the menu online before even stepping into the restaurant).
- Creativity in trying to grab her attention towards something or distract her away from something (e.g. “Oh look those yellow carrots are so magical!” as I try to make her forget about the blue clementines)
- There is also space for appropriate punishment (e.g. “No Play-Do time today because you misbehaved (aka screaming tantrum) in the grocery store”). With time, I can tell that she is starting to learn that actions have consequences and that she is starting to think about the repercussions of her own choices, which is actually a very important life lesson.
While there will be an initial surge in the crisis feel at home, your will suddenly start seeing signs of change and at that moment (the turning point) you will realize that it was all worth it (and you’ll secretly or not so secretly tear up). For me that happened when one day I became very furious when she threw her cheese plate on the floor, then she came to me and looked me in the eyes and said in her primitive sentence structure: “Plus de bêtises a maman, des bisous a maman!” (EN: “No more trouble for mommy, only kisses!”).
Whether at your doctor, the dietician clinic, in health awareness ads, books and magazines or through Michelle Obama’s inspiring anti-obesity campaign, you’ve probably been lectured one way or another about the importance of “getting your kids to eat their veggies!” Still, many kids have little or no interest in eating vegetables and therefore lack essential nutrients in their diet. Here are my TOP 5 TIPS on making sure you get your child on the right veggie-track:
- Start early because your kid’s food preferences are like pottery and become harder to change as they solidify with time.
- Be consistent and proactive in making sure that you offer your kid healthy choices and avoiding that your precious little one develops a picky-eater habit.
- Make this a family project by setting a good example and making sure that any brothers and/or sisters are setting a good example as well. Kids love emulating their parents and siblings.
- Make food time fun by letting your kid count his peas, learn how to say the color of a carrot, the texture of a spongy eggplant (yes a raw eggplant!) and laugh at the bizarre new taste of a lemon!
- Give your kid some autonomy with the veggies! Kids love to discover things on their own and can develop an aversion to things when they are forced upon them. So as the choking hazard dissipates, let your kid enjoy some healthy veggie food finger choices: Fava beans, chickpeas, celery, cucumber and red pepper sticks, cherry tomatoes and steamed Brussels sprouts (cut in halves), steamed broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus…
You’ll be surprised how moldable kids are at an early age! In no time, they’ll be looking for the spinach in their plate and snacking on celery!
My 2-year-old daughter loves the sweet-ish nutty taste and tender texture of edamame. Many think of edamame simply as a bean appetizer at their favorite Japanese restaurant but their benefits far surpass this occasional treat. Edamame soy beans are usually sold in frozen packages in most grocery stores and make a great addition to one’s diet either as a snack, an ingredient in stir-fried or sautéed dishes or in a soup. They have the veggie baggage (rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) boosted with rich protein content making them a meat substitute and also contain a small amount of unsaturated fat (the good type of fat). My daughter usually enjoys them as a snack but when there is no cooked meal in sight, I throw a bunch of steamed edemame in a plate, coupled with some cubes of cheddar cheese and some cherry tomatoes and Voilà! Lunch is ready!