Unsolicited Advice for Parents-to-Be

I have about a million pregnant friends right now. Here’s the new parent advice post no one has asked me to write. Because if there is anyone who gets unsolicited advice, it is new moms.

The first few months might totally suck, or they might not.

Some babies come out cooing adorable blobs who sleep and smile and are generally great. These are called “easy” babies, and I hope you have one. But you might not. Some babies just are not happy with their lot in life. For the first few months my daughter had two states: crying and sleeping. She almost never slept. When people told me to “just enjoy” the newborn phase I wanted to punch them in the face.

I’m not saying this to scare you. Most babies are not as hard as mine was. But if yours is, it’s OK to not like it. It’s OK to wish your miserable grub would hurry up and start becoming a sentient being. The good news is they will grow out of it, and quickly. It’ll feel like an eternity while you’re living through it, but it’ll pass. Really. Once Bitmap got mobile she was like a totally different (happy) kid.

If the newborn stage sucks, just hang on. It’ll get better. And don’t be afraid to ask for help in the meantime.

You will feel like you are screwing it up. Maybe a lot.

worlds_okayest_mom_mugIn a world of mommy blogs and pinterest familes, it’s easy to feel like you’re fucking up. Whatever your parenting “style” is, you probably won’t be able to live up to it 100%. There will be times when your kid eats nothing but kraft cheese, or watches TV for 2 hours straight, or stays up till 10, or you’re just too goddamned tired to get out of bed to rock him to sleep for the 27th time. This doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a human. It’s OK to be less than perfect. Shrug it off and try to do better next time.

Your instincts know better than Dr Sears

Parenting book are great for the “what the hell do I do when…” stuff, but don’t let them override your gut instincts. You know your kid better than any book does, and if something doesn’t seem like it’s right for your family, just don’t do it. Parenting books are written to help manage the average child, but no child is actually average.

You’ll run into this a lot when talking about anything sleep-related. Let them cry. Never let them cry. Co-sleep. Never co-sleep. Every kid is different, just try stuff until you find something that works.

Take care of yourself

A kid whose parents are insane from sleep deprivation or running around like crazy people isn’t gaining much. Not every naptime needs to be spent making organic baby food puree. No one who has actually done this before will judge you if you grab a jar of Gerber and pour yourself a glass of wine every now and then. Find a qualified babysitter and get out of the house on occasion. Yes, it’s expensive, but not as expensive as the years of therapy your kid will need if you start resenting them for ruining your life. Don’t wait until your kid is off to college to have your first postpartum date night.

Speaking of postpartum life, stand up for yourself if something feels off. Giving birth is a huge thing for your body to go through, and it’ll take a while to recover fully but you shouldn’t feel totally broken. Occasionally, weird stuff happens. If it’s been a few weeks and things aren’t getting back to normal, body-wise, talk to your doctor and insist they take it seriously.

Find yourself a village

Raising a kid is about 8,000 times easier if you have a local network of people you trust. If you have a group of friends with kids around the same age, you can trade babysitting services on credit and have a social life without breaking the bank. For some people, family is a godsend. If your family sucks, you might find your village at church. If your’e not religious, try a local parenting group.

If you’ve been thinking of going back to church/temple, now is a great time. Being pregnant or having a young child is a pretty good ice breaker. Also, if you go to a new church and no one talks to you, find a church that sucks less. It’s OK if it’s not the same denomination as what you grew up with, the basic principals are usually the same. Finding friendly people who share your general world view is more important than going somewhere you agree with the priest or rabbi on every bit of religious minutiae.

If you’re not strongly religious, but like the idea of a church community, try Unitarian Universalists (sometimes described as church for agnostics) and if you’re atheist try the Secular Humanists.

Cover all upholstered furniture

Seriously, babies are puke factories. That tiny burp cloth is adorable, but ultimately useless. Just cover the whole damned couch with a waterproof mattress pad and some cheap sheets from Target. You can reunite with your couch once your kid’s stomach valve has figured out how to close.


Congratulations, you now know everything I do about parenting. Good luck.

Cooking, Family

Making Baby Food Pouches

Remember how I gave up on making baby food because it was crushing me emotionally? Well, these days I have a toddler brimming with teeth, and even a few molars in there. You’d think I’m well past the woolly world of pureed vegetables. You’d think that at 15 months, my daughter would be shoveling finger food into her mouth. And you’d be wrong.

Vegetables, she has decided, are not finger food. Vegetables are for throwing on the floor. I tried burying shredded broccoli in mac and cheese. She took a bite, chewed it, reached into her mouth, and pulled out the offending plant. She then handed it to me with a look that said “I think you lost this, here it is.”

Pouches of pureed vegetables (preferably with fruit mixed in) are the only way I can get most veggies into this kid. As a bonus, they’re fairly clean and she can self feed them. As an anti-bonus, they cost a goddamned fortune. Amazon’s Subscribe & Save brings the price down, but not nearly enough.


We saw the Infantino Fresh Squeezed system at Target, and I was intrigued by the idea of not having to mortgage our house to get Bitmap to eat some veggies. I also happened to be at Target for some post-miscarriage retail therapy, so I was totally into the idea of buying some stupid baby food thing I don’t really need. RevolvingDork was less convinced, but for $20 was willing to try it if it meant I would stop pouting at him. Oh and the reviews online were all very positive.

You guys, I am totally in love with this thing.

It is really weirdly satisfying to shove puree into little pouches with a plunger, and even more exciting to see Bitmap consume things like carrots and spinach. I’ve been making purees of pretty much everything. I’ll give her a store-bought pouch to sample, and if it’s a hit I will recreate it in my food processor. So far it’s great. She can eat them without my help, they’re relatively tidy, and oh thank god she is eating vegetables.

The pouches are disposable (though they do make a reuseable one), and they do cost a little more than I’d like. It’s still not a cheap way to feed your kid. But if I think of it as a bribe for eating vegetables it almost seems reasonable. And it’s still a hell of a lot cheaper than the store-bought pouches (most of which range from $1.25 to $1.90 per pouch).

Various purees ready to eat
Various purees ready to eat

I throw equal parts cooked veggies and applesauce/pearsauce into the food processor and blend until smooth. If you are a super amazing mom who loves her children more than her sanity, you will probably pick some organic produce from your hobby farm and steam it lovingly before smashing it for your child. If you are like me, frozen or canned veggies are totally fine. Also, it turns out pre-made applesauce is WAY CHEAPER than buying fresh apples and saucing them. Just make sure to read the labels on everything to make sure there’s no added salt / sugar.

A can of pears + a can of peas is enough to make 4 pouches of food. They’re around $1 per can. Four disposable pouches works out to roughly $1.30. So add that all up ($3.30) and the cost per pouch is $0.82. More than I’d like, but far cheaper than the store bought ones.

I also make some yogurt + fruit pouches, which I keep in the freezer and serve as smoothies. Either run them under warm water for a bit or let them warm up in the fridge before serving. We gave one to Bitmap this evening after she bit her lip. It cured her hysteria instantly.

She's gonna make it after all
She’s gonna make it after all

Here are some “recipes” that Bitmap likes. I use either fresh, frozen, or canned food as it’s available. Fresh veggies are great, but I won’t judge you if you’re too tired to do anything but crank the can opener. Smoothies are a good use for fruit that is looking slightly over-ripe. You may need to add a little water to get the consistency you’re after.

Strawberry Spinach Smoothie (makes 4-5 pouches)

1 cup greek yogurt
2 cups whole strawberries
1 cup steamed spinach (or kale)

Spinach Applesauce (makes 2-3 pouches)

1 cup steamed spinach
1 cup applesauce

Applesauce / Pearsauce and Veggies (makes 4-5 pouches)

1 cup steamed peas
1 cup steamed green beans
1.5 cups applesauce or pearsauce



Photo by Liz Paradiso
Photo by Liz Paradiso

At 13 months, Bitmap is starting to talk. Her first word was “Bye” a few months ago, which she now says emphatically any time she’s tired of being somewhere. She has a vocabulary of about 8 words: hi, bye, mama, dada, more, banana, cracker, and doggy. She says ‘nana for banana, and has yet to differentiate between mama and dada (but knows that they’re words for her parents). Additionally, she’ll clap her hands and say “yay” when she’s happy.

We still sign a little, which helps differentiate between what she’s trying to say. Mostly she says ‘more’ while making the sign, because she always wants more food. Unfortunately she’s also a picky eater. I try to sneak as many veggies in as possible (peanut butter and kale sandwiches are our current go-to toddler snack) but she’s pretty willful about not eating food she doesn’t like.



Travelling with a baby

Recently RevolvingDork and I headed to Detroit for a wedding. We have been doing a lot of traveling with Bitmap recently and we’re finally starting to get good at it.

At the airport and on the plane

Bitmap had her own seat on the plane, and we brought along her car seat to use. We have a Safety 1st infant seat and it fit in coach just fine, although the flight attendant said Bitmap had to have the window seat.

I carried Bitmap through the metal detector, and they pulled her bag aside for a hand check since it had bottles, formula, water, and baby food in it. In addition to her car seat we brought the folding stroller frame it fits in, which we gate checked. Gate checking is perfect for things like strollers; you drop the item off on the jetway so you have it right up until departure but don’t have to deal with cramming it into the overhead bins.

2013-06-01 13.41.36
Bitmap was REALLY into the water feature at the airport

The flights themselves were pretty uneventful, although after a delay on our flight home Bitmap was getting tired of being in her car seat.

At the hotel 

We called the hotel ahead and found out that they had pack-n’-play cribs available, making for one less item we had to lug on the plane.

Sharing a room with a baby can mean little sleep for anyone. Bitmap and I are light sleepers. White noise has been a godsend. Having white noise in the room makes it possible for RevolvingDork and I to flush the toilet or rummage around in a bag without waking the baby.

We use the ‘pink noise’ file from You can play the sound from their site directly, download an app, or load the mp3 file onto your ipod. We chose the last option. I have an old portable ipod dock we pack in the baby bag. Many hotels have ipod docks these days, but I find it’s nice to have our own.

Of course, my mother in law has a much simpler solution: turn the radio to static.

There’s a free baby monitor android app we use which will call the number of you choice if the baby cries so you can listen in. I leave my phone in the room (plugged in so it won’t run out of battery) and set it to call RevolvingDork. But usually when we travel she’s so tired it isn’t an issue at all.


Bitmap travels pretty well. She’s at an age where she’s generally accepting of strangers, and loves to explore new places. The hotel room itself was fascinating enough we didn’t have to get out any toys. I’m not dying to jump on an airplane with her again any time soon, but it’s totally doable.



Tantrum Time

Bitmap is just about a year old now! She is celebrating by being a jerk.

Ok, fine, not a jerk, she’s just little. And she has opinions. And she expresses them, constantly. I feel very much in tune with the blog Reasons My Son Is Crying, where such offenses include “we let him play on the grass” and “the juice is not milk.”

Here she is being cute. Which, to be fair, is most of the time.
Here she is being cute. Which, to be fair, is most of the time.

I’m trying to keep from letting it stress me out. I have to accept that it is not possible, and probably even not good, to keep her happy 100% of the time. Sometimes, she will have to cope with less-than-ideal situations such as playing with HER toys instead of MY toys. Because I need those keys to drive the car.

I read the book Bringing Up Bebe, which I have mixed feelings about, but it did make me realize I need to stop hovering over her all the time. And that provided she is not bleeding, it is OK to finish what I am doing before tending to her.

So now when she starts throwing a fit because I closed the refrigerator door, I offer her a toy. And if she rejects it I shrug my shoulders, say OK, and go back to what I was doing. I presented her an option, play with a toy or cry, and she chose to cry. That’s her prerogative. It doesn’t mean I have to stop everything and present her with every toy in the house until she finds one she likes. She knows where the toy box is. Dumped out in the middle of the room.

We’re starting to do the same thing with food. You want a snack? Have some veggies. Oh you don’t want veggies? Let me offer you every food item in the kitchen get you down from your high chair because you must not be that hungry after all.

My mother asked me “does it work?”  Well, sort of. Has she magically transformed into a broccoli eating, even keeled delight? No. She still throws tantrums, and eats way more white bread that I’d like. But I’m spending less time freaking out because she’s crying. She’s spending more time exploring things on her own, and as a side effect I’m also starting to hone my “mom voice.” Sometimes when I say “no” she even pauses before smiling (it’s more like troll face) and going back to what she was doing – and overall we’re much happier.


Baby Sweater!

Fall has settled in nicely around us, and it’s time to make Bitmap some sweaters!

An exciting new Philadelphia yarn store opened up in my neighborhood. I’ve started haunting it with Bitmap during the day, the shopkeeper Lisa is very nice and lets us hang out and knit. I’m really stoked to have a local yarn store within walking distance and I hope they do well!

I picked up a skein of Lorna’s Laces and sat down at my knitting machine to make a sweater. This is the first time in a very, very long while that I’ve actually knit a garment on the machine instead of tinkering with it.

The sweater is knit in 5 pieces (back, left front, right front, and two sleeves) and then a folded hem is added to the front and collar. It took a week to make, although I didn’t work on it at all over the weekend. I think I could make another in a day or two.

A day by day log of my progress can be found on the sweater’s Ravelry page. I do still need to add buttons, and maybe embellish the front a bit, but in the mean time it will keep Bitmap nice and warm.



Our little grumblebot (her nickname this week) is on the brink of mobility!

I really expected her to start crying when she first fell forward, but she didn’t and so as a true documentarian I did not interfere, though the hand that wasn’t holding the camera was ready to grab her in case she launched herself off the couch (which she did at the end)


I can’t believe I’m cloth diapering

Anyone who knows me in real life knows I am not an earth-hugging hippie. To hell with “natural” products. I am a staunch believer in the miracles of modern science, and you can pry  my preservative-filled Tastykakes and DEET laden bug spray from my cold dead hands.

And now I’m cloth diapering, something labeled “too crunchy” for some of the crunchiest parents I know.

Why? Because my daughter is peeing us out of house and home. She can’t stand to be in a diaper that is even a tiny bit wet for any length of time. Other babies might pee two or three times between changes, but I’m throwing out 15+ diapers a day – most of which have only a tiny spot of pee on them. No there is nothing wrong with her, yes we asked her doctor. She just hates pee.

Hates. Pee.

Not only is this expensive (~ 20 cents per diaper), but it’s creating a horrifying mountain of waste. Even I, the prototypical consumer who is far too lazy to do things like compost, am disgusted by the amount of garbage we’re producing here. And so I embarked on a cloth diapering experiment.

After contemplating a dizzying array of options (prefolds! all in ones! pocket diapers!) I purchased a 6-pack of osocozy prefolds and one Thirsties Duo cover. Worst case, if I hate it I can use the prefolds as burp cloths and give the cover to a cloth diapering friend.

Diaper cover. Also, baby foot.

Using these is pretty simple: you place the prefold in the cover sort of like a maxi-pad, and then snap the cover around your baby just like you would a disposable diaper. I swap out the prefold every time Bitmap makes a mess of it, and give the cover a quick once-over with a baby wipe. If she’s made a huge mess or I’m out of clean prefolds, I chuck the cover in a plastic bag with the dirty prefolds and we’re back to disposables until I run the wash.

Diaper cover (green) + prefold diaper

So far it’s going pretty well. Since I’m already doing at least one load of laundry a day, throwing some diapers in with it is not a big deal. Because Bitmap is exclusively breastfed at this point, even her messy diapers aren’t too gross. They do however tend to stain the prefolds, which I’m told is just something I’ll have to get over.

Cloth Diaper
Snapped closed diaper

The initial investment was $22, so if we replace 4 disposables a day with cloth they’ll pay for themselves in about a month. Maybe a little sooner, since we use a Diaper Genie pail for the disposables, which requires special bags (yes, I know, we’re suckers).

An update!

As of mid-August, I’m still pretty stoked on part-time cloth diapering. On days we cloth diaper we’re saving 6 disposables, but I haven’t been cloth diapering every day.

The good news is Bitmap is spitting up a lot less, so I’m not doing her laundry constantly. But since I’m not willing to run the wash just for 6 cloth diapers it means we’re only using them every other day or so. This is fine, and it’s still a financial win. At 20 cents per disposable, I need to replace 110 disposables with cloth to break even.  At this rate I’ll hit that the first week of September.

As soon as I mentioned trying out cloth diapers, a friend offered up some prefolds and a cover her son had outgrown, thereby doubling my stash! So now I’ve got 12 prefolds and 2 covers. One thing I’ve noticed is that many people who like cloth diapers are really into cloth diapering, so if you want to try it out without making a huge investment check to see if any friends have diapers they’d be willing to pass on.

A few people have mentioned diaper services, but the ones I’ve checked out in my area aren’t any cheaper than disposables. The good news is they’re not any more expensive either. Since finances are a big part of why I’m doing it, it just doesn’t make a ton of sense for us. As Bitmap moves up in disposable sizes (and therefore prices) it might be more of a win, so I’ll reevaluate in a few months.

I don’t think I’ll ever do cloth full-time, for a handful of reasons. Disposables are a lot more convenient when we’re out and about, as well as overnight. There’s also the question of whether I’ll keep doing cloth once Bitmap starts eating solid food. I’m not so sure I’ll be dying to launder Serious Business myself. But even if we only get 3 months out of these 12 diapers, we’ll be saving 540 disposables from the landfill and about $86 cash. I’m going to consider that a huge win.



We started a bedtime routine about two weeks ago. It sounded silly, having “bedtime” for a 6 week old baby who sleeps on and off at all hours of the day, but I needed the routine. Our nighttime strategy wasn’t working. I’d go to bed at 9:30, RD would stay up taking care of her until 2:30, and then I’d take care of her from 2:30 onwards. Except her erratic sleep schedule meant that she might or might not be hungry at 2:30, and I’d sit there awake wondering if I should go pump or just wait for her to wake up.

So we instituted bedtime. At around 8:30, Bitmap gets a bath and nursing session. Then we either read her a book (not that she cares) or sing her a song and put her in her crib. Before we started “bedtime,” she’d never slept in her crib.

At first, we had about a 50% success rate with bedtime. Half the time she’d sleep for an hour or two, the other half of the time she’d cry after a few minutes and we’d bring her back downstairs. Still, an hour to ourselves every other day was more than we had been getting before.

After about a week of bedtime, Bitmap started sleeping through 2:30 am “shift change”. So RD started leaving her in the crib and bringing me the baby monitor instead of the baby. Now after two weeks she’s started to sleep through her midnight feedings, sleeping about 5 hours at a time from 9:30 to 2:30. I know that at least part of the change is simply because she’s getting older, but I know the routine has helped me sleep better.

She still doesn’t sleep well after her 2:30 feeding, I’m lucky if I get another 2 hour stretch at that point, but at least now we reliably get some quiet time in the evenings. She also seems happier during the day now, with more periods of quiet alertness. I’m hoping she’ll start sleeping a little in the wee hours of the morning, but for now I’m happy with what we’ve got.


Feeding the Kid

I can’t say I put a lot of thought towards breastfeeding before I had Bitmap. I figured it was something I’d do, and didn’t really think about it beyond that.

I don’t consider myself an activist, and certainly don’t feel the need to participate in any nurse-ins at Target. But after spending the last 2 months with my life more or less revolving around feeding my kid, I’ve got a new perspective. Mostly it’s this: if you’ve got a problem with seeing women breastfeeding (or pumping, for that matter), get over it. It’s something we need to do, and it’s hard enough without having to worry what someone else will think.

Breastfeeding can be really isolating. Bitmap eats roughly every two hours when she’s awake, and feeding her takes about 15 minutes. If we’ve got friends over or want to go out, I’ve got two choices: leave the conversation and hide myself in a spare room, or feed her in front of other people. I spend enough time cooped up with the baby, it’s hard to convince myself to sequester myself for the sake of modesty.

I make what I think are reasonable accommodations while feeding Bitmap. I’ll pick a seat in the corner rather than the middle of the room. I choose tops that allow me to stay mostly covered. If it’s cool enough, I cover up with a blanket. Most of the time, you can’t see anything but the back of my baby’s head. Sometimes, you can. Sorry.

Pumping while out is definitely weirder, and I try to avoid it. The machine is noisy and requires considerably more set-up and tear-down.  I can usually plan things so I don’t have to pump when I’m out, but when I went to Brooklyn for the day last week I knew I was going to have to figure out something. Not only do I have to pump frequently to keep supply up, but it’s actually incredibly uncomfortable to go more than about 4 hours without feeding or pumping. There weren’t any private rooms I could sneak off to on Amtrak or at NYC Resistor (before you suggest “bathroom,” please tell me if you would like to spend 20 minutes sitting in the bathroom of an Amtrak train).

The good news is between the roar of the train and the fact that everyone else is on their iPhones, no one even noticed me sitting next to the outlet with a strategically placed blanket over my shoulder. And if anyone at NYCR had something to say, they kept it to themselves.

I’m not saying we need to get up in everyone’s face about breastfeeding in public, but I do think it needs to become a little more normal. A lot of my fears about doing so aren’t because anyone has ever said anything negative to me, but because it’s not something I’ve seen anyone else do. So it seems weird to me too. But I’ve already given up a lot of my flexibility and independence in order to meet the needs of my baby, I’m not giving up more just because people “don’t want to see that.”