Alpha Mom parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:56:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 I Am Moved Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:56:12 +0000

I moved this past weekend.

Or really, past couple of weeks. My idea of starting my new lease two weeks before my old one ended was really a brilliant idea pat pat but that also meant two weeks of transporting and cleaning and unpacking and that’s not generally the way I work.

Let’s just say I wrote my Master’s thesis in one extremely long 12-hour day.

But it’s done. Well, mostly anyway, because there are four kids involved in a smaller but way cooler space.

I was pretty emotional leaving my old home, not necessarily because I’d miss the actual house. As outdated as it was, and sort of more like a box to me than a home, it served me well during what was an extremely difficult transition in my life.

And so, saying good-bye to it felt a lot like saying good-bye to a couple of the most challenging years. Challenging, heartwrenching, but yes, still pretty awesome years.

My kids grew up.

Bridget ditched baby bottles and diapers in that house. That is also why I ditched her mattress before I moved.

Margot came into her own, stepping out from behind the shadow of her older siblings and establishing her spot as a big thinker and innovator in her kindergarten class, award and all.

Drew learned how to rollerblade, which led him to one of his favorite things ever: Ice hockey.

And Quinlan masterfully turned what was an extremely difficult 4th grade year into showing her 5th grade year who was boss.

But it wasn’t just the kids that grew up. I did too.

I learned how to survive as a single mom, to ask for help when I need it, to be thankful for every single thing that I have. I learned what it was like to have my heart broken, then to put myself first for once and figure out what it is that I want — in my work and my personal life.

It’s fitting that I’ve moved into a place that feels like me. Like home, even though I just got there a few days ago.

Because I’m finally feeling like me, too.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wish this current me was a few pounds lighter (or like ten) and a few many hundred hours more well rested.

I could do with a lot less stress too.

But I’m in a really good place right now. And for that, I am grateful.

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Want To Connect With One Of Your Kids? Try Focusing on Their Passion. Thu, 02 Jul 2015 18:10:19 +0000

If you have a preteen (otherwise known as a tween), you may be in for quite a ride. My tween daughter (age 10) actually made me cry last week. And I am not the crier in this family. My husband is the one blubbering away at sentimental car commercials. It takes a lot to make me weepy. And well, she did it. She broke me.

The day started with her outrage (yes, outrage) that she had to leave the house shortly after waking up. Because as she put it, she needed time to “relax.” After 10 hours of sleep, she had an intense need for relaxation.

Then came a stop at the grocery store where I wouldn’t buy her a dessert that had artificial colors. First she ranted, “Everyone at school gets awesome desserts and white bread and….blah blah blah.” Then she actually sat down on the floor by the frozen dessert section and covered her face with her hands in protest.

The final conflict came shortly after we arrived home. She wanted to go swimming. But we had other plans. And that’s when she deemed me, “The worst mother in the world.” It was said very very loudly. You know, for emphasis.

Given that I pour a lot of love and energy into my children, that really cut into me. I knew she was just angry and didn’t mean it but there is only so much one woman can take. And I broke out in tears.

Connecting these days with my 10 year old is very tricky. Which is pretty much how I found myself on a horse farm shoveling poop.

I don’t like horses. I come from a family of very accomplished riders so I should really really like horses but I don’t. It’s not the horse’s fault. I just find them gigantic and I would prefer if they would stand still like statues.

In spite of this, I took my 10 year old to volunteer at a farm that works with abused horses. We picked up poop, brushed the horses, that sort of thing. Of course I kept getting all fidgety and nervous every time one of the animals started stomping around and acting too horse-like. But my daughter absolutely loved it….

And then I realized it. Here I was, doing something I had no interest in doing but it was pretty awesome because my daughter and I were actually bonding.

And it happens in the car too. My daughter adores music. So as we drive to and from camp, she plays DJ on my phone and we sing along to our favorite songs. Suddenly a silent ride filled with one word responses from her is a drive filled with laughter and our own renditions of the “Pitch Perfect” songs.

I remember my own mother trying to engage in my passions when I was young. Like shopping. But as much as she tried, my mother just seemed to follow me around, sort of bewildered by all the bright clothes. And instead of bringing us together, her zombie-like state kind of detracted from the experience. But I give her props for trying.

So when I find myself at that magical girl glitter haven, Justice, I make a real effort to put my phone away and stifle the urge to say, “Hurry up girls.” Instead, I watch my two oldest daughters as they run gleefully in and out of the dressing room, only stopping to give me quick fashion shows. 

As a parent, it’s not possible to embrace everything your child loves. I still loathe that game Chutes and Ladders. And imaginary Barbie play is painfully mind numbing. But it’s worth trying to make an effort. A short amount of focus on your children’s interests seems to make a big difference.

For example, playing is a key component of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (for kids age 2 to 7), used to strengthen the emotional connection with your child. In this therapy, parents use PRIDE parenting skills where they set up a short special playtime with their child (10 – 15 minutes per day) and let the child lead the play and direct the conversation. You can find examples here.

In the end, I know I’m not nearly the worst mother in the world.

And my daughter is definitely not the worst daughter. Far from it.

As she grows and changes, we are just trying to find our moments of togetherness amongst all the horse poop.

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Easy DIY Geometric Art for Patriotic Holidays! Thu, 02 Jul 2015 14:17:52 +0000

Does your house need some sprucing up for summer? Maybe some patriotic decor would be timely for that BBQ party you’ve got planned for the July 4th weekend?  How about a fun art project that involves the whole family AND looks great? You might even find yourself leaving it up all year around!

Geometric Patriotic Art for July 4th (art supplies) by Brenda Ponnay for

Here is what you’ll need for this super simple project:

  • 4 or more gallery-style (not flat) square canvases in whatever size you like (Ours are 4×4 inches)
  • gold spray paint**
  • acrylic paint in patriotic colors*
  • painters tape
  • scissors
  • paintbrushes

First, you’ll need to prep your canvases. Do this by spray-painting them outside or in a very well-ventilated area**.  Make sure to paint the sides of the canvases too.

Geometric Patriotic Art for July 4th (tutorial) by Brenda Ponnay for

When the spray paint is dry, use your painters tape to create geometric designs. Remember to wrap your tape all the way around the edges. If you plan on framing your art you can skip that step but what I love about the gallery-style canvases is that you don’t need to frame them. They’re ready to go as-is! They’re also super light so even a push-pin can hold them up on a wall.

DIY Geometric Patriotic Art for July 4th by Brenda Ponnay for

When all your tape is set, make sure to press it down firmly so that no air bubbles allow paint in later. Then set out three bowls with a squirt (or three) of your red, blue and white paint and three separate paintbrushes. If you’re involving children in this craft, make sure to reiterate that there is to be no paint-mixing. You don’t really want shades of pink, mauve or purple for this patriotic version of the craft and it’s easy to do if you aren’t careful with your brushes. Paint smoothly, making sure there are no clumps.

We could have been a little more careful with ours. AND we were a little too excited to pull our tape off so some of our paint peeled off with the tape. You can avoid our mistake by painting evenly and letting your paint dry completely.

Geometric Patriotic Art for July 4th (DIY tutorial) by Brenda Ponnay for

Peeling the tape off was easily the most fun part of this art project. The kids loved it! The paintings look so smudged and messy and then ta-da! the tape comes off to reveal nice clean and sharp lines. It’s a magic trick, every time.

After all the tape is peeled off, hang your art in your favorite grouping/arrangement and you’ve got yourself a festive home decor masterpiece!


*For this project you should opt for student- or professional- grade acrylic paint and not the washable kid-safe kind because it will be shinier and last longer. If you are more worried about smaller kids ingesting the paint than you are about longevity of your art, then opt for kid-safe paint.

**Always have a responsible adult use spray paint outside or in a very well-ventilated area.

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LEGO LEGO Everywhere! Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:36:01 +0000

Hi Amy

Let’s talk LEGO, can we?

My six year old has a cyclic obsession with LEGO. Sometimes he adores them. Sometimes they sit in his room forever, untouched. For a long time they just sat all over his desk. Making it impossible to use his desk for any writing or crafts or anything. And when the LEGO was all over his desk, it was mostly untouched. So I am trying to fix the LEGO storage to make it more six-year-old friendly, and less GAAAAAAH TOO MANY LEGO.

So I got him one of those 60-inch play mat things that lies flat, and then pulls up in to a magical storage bag. I know your boys have one, as well. After many months of use, what’s your take on it? Are they able to find all the tiny pieces they want? Are they ok with building on the floor? Does it contain the chaos?

And then what do you do with all the leftover pieces from building sets? Keep them separate so they can be found? Or just toss them in the giant LEGO mess? What about pieces from those 3-in-one build kits? And what do you do with all the instruction books, that are currently in a plastic box at my house and have never been used again?

Finally, what do you do with all the amazing “creations”? Store them forever? Put a limit on how long they stay a creation? I’m not planning on taking apart his LEGO police station or anything, but he doesn’t PLAY with the stuff after he builds it. Building is the fun for him, and then it just sits around and does nothing.

Got any great LEGO advice?

Lost in LEGO Land

Fair warning: Today’s advice column is probably more of a “let’s get together and have a Cry Circle over the losing LEGO battle” than actual advice.

My house is wall to wall LEGO, and while we do have some excellent storage options, once you add kids and their creations to the mix, they are far from perfect. And I guess maybe that’s the best we can hope for. I’m regularly on Ikea Hacker and see all kinds of Amazing! Projects! For Containing! And Organizing!  All The LEGO! but I know my kids. They’d still find a way to let the LEGO spread throughout the house and across every intended homework surface.

Here’s what we have, and do:

1) The Lay-N-Go play mat/storage bag.  We’ve had ours for years and yes, I still highly recommend it. Our LEGO collection has, unfortunately, outgrown even the largest size and I’m loath to bring ANOTHER one into the house. But I probably will at some point. (I actually want to buy one of the small ones for travel, since OF COURSE we end up taking a ton of LEGO to the beach house or when we visit family. Keeping the play around the mat MIGHT save us the inevitable frantic search for some super-important missing piece on our last day of vacation.)  My boys have never minded sitting on the floor and digging around for pieces — I think the wide, flat surface actually makes it easier for them to find what they’re looking for than digging around in a deep bin or box (which they usually end up just dumping out all over the floor anyway). Plus it’s great for collaborative building, since multiple kids can sit around it and not be in each other’s way. I’ve sat around it and built “stuff” with my kids and find it to be a great combination of ease of play plus ease of cleanup.

2) IKEA Trofast. So while the play mats make it easier for kids to spread out and dig through the collection, we HAVE moved to bins for containing and organizing my oldest son’s precious “specials.” The deep Trofast bins are where we (attempt) to keep the different LEGO lines and brands together. (One bin is Chima, another one is Ninjago, etc.) These bins are big enough that the small-to-medium-sized sets can go in assembled, with maybe only minor repairs needed. (My son does like playing with his sets and minifigures, so more on your son’s play style in a bit.)

3) Purging Rules and Assembly Time Limits. We have them. We just HAVE to have them. I am not Will Ferrell in the LEGO Movie and I’m sorry, but my kids would save and treasure every single thing they build FOREVER, even if it’s basically five pieces stacked haphazardly together. So here’s what we do:

3a) For my younger children (ages 4 & 6), they are allowed to put whatever they’ve just built in a single cabinet in our living room, right next to where we keep the LEGO bag. This is mostly to make clean-up time more bearable, because I’m not making them destroy whatever little thing they’ve just worked on. Because honestly, once the creations go into the brown cabinet, they RARELY come back out again. I try to pay attention if something really does seem special and gets pulled out to be worked on or played with again, but if not, I go in there about once a month or so and quietly clear stuff out when they’re not around. I KNOW. I’M AWFUL. It’s mostly the very small stuff, loose pieces, or stuff that’s already obviously falling apart. (I used to toss minifigures into a separate bin but my kids staunchly refused to follow my lead on that whenever they cleaned up, so whatever. Minifigures now go in the LEGO bag as well, unless they’re in my oldest’s room, and sorted into Trofast.)

3b) My oldest child is 9, and has a very different building style than his brothers. He’s very serious about his sets and collections and does play with them, at least until he tires of the TV show/tie-in whatever and moves on to a new line. But just like your son, his room was OUT OF CONTROL. The number of assembled sets was insane, and every single surface (and the floor) was packed with them. Getting the Trofast helped, but mostly I just had to lay down some rules and limits about how many sets could be out and fully assembled. I absolutely ENRAGED him once by going into his room and cleaning it all for him in one brutal sweep, so the last time it got out of control we sat down together. I explained to him that no, sorry, he can’t have LEGO all over his floor all the time and from now on I expect him to keep his desk organized as well. There absolutely HAD to be enough free space for him to do homework or draw or do ANYTHING BESIDES JUST LEGO.

You know? He got it. We went through everything together and talked about it. Turns out he’s pretty over Ninjago, so we demoted that stuff back to the LEGO bag and thus freed up a bin for Ninja Turtles. (Because OMG, it’s all so DIFFERENT and UNIQUE, right?) I told him he could keep one “thing” on his desk at a time, so it needed to be the thing he was actively building or playing with. He chose Minecraft for the desk, and we cleared and sorted everything else. Eventually we cleared enough space that I gave him the okay to keep a couple other elaborate sets assembled and on top of the Trofast, and one additional set on the desk. (He also has a bin that’s just miscellaneous loose pieces that migrate up from the LEGO bag. He is indeed patient enough to stop building in his room and go downstairs in search of what he needs. This comic from The Oatmeal is pretty on-point.) I imagine we’ll have to do this again at some point, but he’s been REALLY good about keeping things organized every since.

I also hope to install some display shelves in his room for some of his bigger sets going forward, because yeah. We had the freaking Hogwarts castle and it was amazing, but without a real “spot” for it, it eventually crumbled beyond repair and will likely never be built again. My mother-in-law was amazing at keeping sets and instructions together in plastic storage bins (she STILL HAS THEM), but I fear that level of organization is beyond us at this point.  I end up tossing most of the instructions after “enough” time has passed and I know the pieces are just scattered to the ends of the earth, so rebuilding would be insanely frustrating. This is a shame, because you can make bank selling old sets and instructions even without the original box. (We’re planning to move, so I packed up my own Simpsons house set in a bin with the instructions, at least. I’ll probably do the same for whatever assembled sets my son has on his desk, IF I can find the instructions.) Basically, if you can demolish as assembled set with all the pieces and keep the instructions together in a bin, that’s awesome. Do it. But don’t feel awful if you can’t. It’s just part of life with LEGO.

4) Consider a Pley membership. Pley is a rental service for LEGO sets. It’s pretty genius. Note that I am not a member, have never been a member, and am not getting any money or free LEGO to suggest them. But I bet your son would LOVE it, since he’s about the building and not necessarily about playing with the set forever and ever after (like mine, sigh). He’ll get the sets he wants to build in the mail and then YOU get to send them BACK, where they will NOT BE IN YOUR HOUSE, for you to curse and step on and generally feel overwhelmed by.


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College Planning: Real Questions For College Tours Tue, 30 Jun 2015 13:41:26 +0000

‘Tis the season—my personal Facebook feed is filling up with pictures of fellow parents cramming in as many college tours as possible with their rising seniors before the school year starts. While there’s a strong argument to be made for touring schools during regular session, summer is when most of us have the time, and you can always make a return trip in the fall once you’ve whittled down your list a bit.

My daughter mapped out the schools she wanted to see, arranged for all the tours, put together a schedule and maps, and only needed my help when it came to hotel reservations. This makes sense, of course—it’s her education/plans, not mine—but it was a pretty symbolic first step towards independence, here. If you are tempted to be your teen’s cruise director when it comes to college visits, try to pull back. Let them work it out. It will make it a better trip for both of you, I promise. [Side note: On one of our tours, we met a young lady who claimed to have visited 30 colleges the previous summer, and was now on a 10-campus tour. She was only a rising junior, too. I have never met anyone else on a college tour who appeared to be so completely over the entire experience. It was kind of sad.]

There’s no shortage of resources for “Questions You Must Ask On A College Visit Or Regret Not Knowing For The Rest Of Your Miserable Life” types of things. And don’t get me wrong, they definitely have their place. (File under “oldie but goodie” if you must, but this 2010 list from U.S. News & World Report is a decent starting point.) Our experiences tromping around a variety of campuses brought up some additional questions I hadn’t seen elsewhere, though, so I share because I care. Here you go….

Financial Aid

They say you should ask: What’s the average financial aid package?
I suggest you also ask: What percentage of students receive assistance directly from the college? (There’s federal money and independent scholarships, but knowing the size of the institution’s endowment and how much of that filters down to students in the form of tuition assistance is a good indicator of how they value their undergraduates.) What resources are offered to prospective students in terms of making the finances work? (All schools have a Financial Aid office; you’re trying to determine if someone is going to encourage your child to take out loans or if they’ll help them find grant money and scholarships.) How does work-study operate here? (Do you have to “qualify” based on need, how many on-campus jobs are there? are most students able to get a work-study job if they want one or is it a limited resource?) What percentage of students work off-campus?


They say you should ask: What are the average test scores/GPA of incoming freshmen? What percentage of applicants are accepted (aka, acceptance rate)?
I suggest you also ask: What percentage of accepted applicants opt to attend? Are certain “numbers” (test scores, GPA) required or merely typical? What tests are required for admission? (I was surprised to hear on several campuses that they’ve gone “test optional.”) What’s the process for applying and being accepted to an honors program or honors college, if offered? Do they offer Early Decision and/or Early Action? What are the dates on those? When do you have to accept admission and what sort of deposit is required?

Students/Campus Life

They say you should ask: What does the student body look like in terms of diversity?
I suggest you also ask: What does the student body look like in terms of diversity in any given program? (The reality is that many majors tend to skew either male or female, and diversity on paper may look a lot like segregation in reality if only certain programs tend to attract a variety of students.) What percentage of students are from out-of-state? What supportive services are available to students? What clubs and organizations are offered on campus? What’s the process for starting a new organization? Is there Greek Life? If so, what percentage of students take part in that? If you want to see your tour guide think fast on her feet, ask her to describe a “typical student” on the campus. Also—particularly if you’re visiting over the summer—ask if they have a program where your kid could come back for an overnight while classes are in session.

Classes and Majors

They say you should ask: What’s the student/teacher ratio? What’s the typical class size? How often will you be taught by a grad student rather than a professor?
I suggest you also ask: What is the typical class size for a freshman? (Bear in mind that those “typical class sizes” folds giant freshman seminar classes into the equation along with tiny upper-level classes, and an “average class size of 30″ may mean your freshman doesn’t see a room with fewer than 100 students in it.) How does class selection work, and how likely are you to get the classes you want? What percentage of students enter with an undeclared major? For any given major of interest, when do students typically start the major? (At my husband’s university, he teaches in a college students cannot even apply to enter until they’re rising juniors. My daughter’s intended major, however, is an intensive program that begins with specialized classes as a freshman; if a student were to decide to enter the program later, there would be no practical way to catch up without simply adding more time to achieve the degree.) What special requirements are there to enter a given major (audition, special exams, interview, etc.)? What percentage of students do study abroad and/or internships? What percentage of students continue on to a graduate program?


They say you should ask: How do students get around? Are freshmen allowed to have a car on campus?
I suggest you also ask: No, really, how easy is it to get where you need to go? (Most campuses have a dedicated bus system; ask how long you’ll typically wait for a bus if you need one. A lot of campuses also have a golf cart late-night service for if you need a ride back to your dorm after the buses stop running.) How close are you to “town” if you need it (this question will vary depending on the campus setting, obviously)? If freshmen are allowed to have cars, what percentage of them do? How much does a parking permit cost?


They say you should ask: What are the dorm choices? Are freshmen required to live on campus? What percentage of upperclassmen live on campus?
I suggest you also ask: Is housing guaranteed beyond freshman year, or scarce and determined by lottery? How are roommates matched? (Back in the Stone Age when I went to college, it was completely random. Nowadays we’ve seen everything from compatibility assessments to schools which offer something akin to a “roommate dating service” in allowing you to pick your roommate.) How much variability is there in the dorms? How does laundry work here? (We saw everything from in-suite machines to basement laundry rooms, and dorms where laundry was free and others where you could only use coins and others where you could only use your cash card. And at one school the laundry machines are on the wifi—you can check machine availability from your room and receive an automatic text when your clothes are done!) What sorts of rules do the dorms have about “quiet hours” and bringing in non-residents? What safety measures are in place? If there’s an honors college, do they have their own dorm? Do the dorms close over holidays?


They say you should ask: How’s the food? Can my dietary restrictions/preferences be accommodated? What sort of meal plan are freshmen required to have?
I suggest you also ask: How many dining halls/other eateries are part of the meal plan? What are their hours? Can you use your meal plan allotment elsewhere? (Every school we went to had the requirement or option of “extra money” loaded on your card that could be used in various snack-type locations, but we saw a couple of schools where you could actually use your meal money at those spots—not a bad perk if, say, your kid is only going to want to grab coffee and a muffin for breakfast most of the time.) What percentage of upperclassmen carry meal plans? Do the professors eat in the dining hall(s)? Is there a way to check card activity/add money online?

Two Final Thoughts

First: To me, there was no better question to ask anywhere we went than, “Why did you decide to come to school here?” Ask it of as many students as you can. Ask staff why they like working there, too. This is your information-gathering time, and you’re the consumer—don’t be afraid to challenge the school to sell itself to you. You may be surprised (and delighted) at some of the answers you receive, too.
Second: As a parent, you’re going to have a lot of questions, but this is a great time to restrain yourself and let your kid take the lead. Don’t be front and center with your hand waving in the air unless you’re hoping your darling offspring will stab you in your sleep that night at the hotel. Bear in mind that this is not your adventure. If you do this right, you will learn as much about your nearly-adult child as the schools, on these tours. Enjoy it.

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Pregnancy Books for Fathers-to-Be Mon, 29 Jun 2015 15:02:43 +0000

Hi Lady,

I’m in feverish search of a book that I can share with my husband re: pregnancy and babies and guts and gore and snuggles and foot rubs. Too specific?

My dear doting husband, and Dad-to-be, SPECIFICALLY requested that I share any knowledge possible with him, or suggest readings so he could “study up.”

When a man asks for a book, you don’t deny him! The problem: all books that I find are either mind-numbingly intense OR written for a husband with the synapse firing activity of a caveman, starring as the husband in a 1950’s sitcom.

Could you please help with some advice/suggestions on any well written, informative material for my hubs?

Thanks for being you!

First time Mom-to-be

Do you remember the scene in Knocked Up where WhatsHerFace finds the pregnancy book she bought for WhatsHisName, months later, still in the bag and unread? And then after she freaks out and is like, “NOPE GET OUT OF OUR LIVES” there’s a montage with a shot of him actually reading the book, meant to telegraph to us that NO YOU GUYS LOOK HE’S TOTALLY READY AND SERIOUS ABOUT FATHERHOOD NOW?

Totally not an answer to your question, obviously, but it was the first thing that popped into my head. The second being that, when WhatsHerFace found the unread book, I whipped my head around and glared furiously at my husband, who never read a single one of the “pregnancy/baby books for dads” that I bought him during my first pregnancy. (The Expectant Father and the more humorous Baby Owner’s Manual.)

Instead, he figured I would convey any important information to him along the way…and to be fair, I probably never shut up about pregnancy-pregnant things the entire nine months, and often read from my books out loud before bed. And then a couple weeks before my due date he picked up my copy of the Mayo Clinic’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy and read all the chapters about labor and childbirth. He also went online and read a few articles about how to be an effective labor coach.

I did not know he did either of those things until we were at the hospital and he pulled a tennis ball out of his bag and began massaging my lower back with it. It felt amazing and I was like, “what? where’d you learn that? YOU DIDN’T EVEN READ THE BOOKS!”

“I read the important parts,” he said.

And I guess he did. So part of me wants to say, “he can totally just read YOUR books, or at least the important parts.” If you come across something that you think he’d find interesting or useful, pass it over. Definitely make him read a non-jokey or caveman-minded description of labor and childbirth, even if it includes more clinical details. (Because if you have to go through it, he at least should be able to read about it.) Sign him up for any week-by-week email thingies you find useful (COUGH COUGH), since those won’t take a ton of time to read and glean whatever he might find relevant to him. Attend those childbirth/labor classes together — we skipped them for reasons mostly out of laziness/scheduling and were just fine without them, but in retrospect it would have been a good way to put MY mind at ease about HIS preparedness.

As for the current crop of Dad-to-Be pregnancy guides out there,  I share your side-eye at all the ones with the jokey/gimmicky titles, but perhaps some of them are worth reading despite being all YO BRO YOU KNOCKED HER UP HIGH FIVE NOW WHAT OMG DUDE!!!! on the cover. The Expectant Father has been around and reprinted for ages now, but never managed to pique my husband’s interest. Your husband might be more motivated though. (Note that I also never bothered to read it EITHER, and gave it away to a friend the first chance I got.) I really enjoyed Your Pregnancy Week by Week so I would maybe check out their dad-to-be version.

Note, however, that just about every one of these books have user reviews that say that just about everything in the books is “common sense” and they get “really repetitive.” And I can totally see how that could be true. Unless your husband actually IS a caveman or 1950s sitcom dad, it’s pretty darn likely that he knows how pregnancy and childbirth works, and that he needs to be supportive and helpful and tolerant of your moods, emotions and endless crazy list of physical symptoms. And there’s only so many ways a book can say that before getting to the “important parts” about how to support and advocate for you and your agreed-upon birth plan during labor and childbirth. And the REALLY important parts, like being a hands-on dad who knows what to expect (and look out for) once you bring your baby home.

Now Imma pitch this one to the comment section. Any suggestions, either specifically for dads/partners or just a good, all-around pregnancy guide that both parents can read? And while we’re at it , since I haven’t bought a baby book in a million years so my source material is SUPER DATED now, what would you pick as the top “guide to the first year” sort of book? Thank you, lovelies.

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Happy Canada Day! Red Maple Leaf Cookie Recipe Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:12:17 +0000

We’re not one to miss out on a party so when we heard July 1st was Canada’s birthday, we decided to get our Canada on with some red maple leaf cookies to enjoy! These are not just regular sugar cookies. No, they are red AND they are maple-flavored! Yum! Not bad, eh?

Red Maple Leaf Cookie Recipe Directions for Canada Day by Brenda Ponnay for

For this recipe you will need:

Red Maple Leaf Cookie Recipe Ingredients for Canada Day by Brenda Ponnay for


Red Maple Leaf Sugar Cookie Recipe Ingredients & Supplies

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tsp maple extract
  • 4 tsp red food coloring (or more)
  • a maple leaf cookie cutter
  • white icing (optional)

(Recipe modified from this easy sugar cookie recipe from All Recipes)

Red Maple Leaf Sugar Cookie Recipe Directions

In a small bowl combine flour, baking soda and baking powder. In a separate bowl mix together sugar and butter until creamy. Beat in egg, maple extract (or flavoring) and red food coloring. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. When thoroughly mixed, wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for one hour.

Once your dough is chilled, roll it out on a generously floured surface. Roll to 1/4 inch thick and cut out your leaves with your maple leaf cookie cutter. (Now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 375 degrees F). Once you have your cookies cut and placed on a cookie sheet with space around for them to rise, use a toothpick to create leaf veins. Press gently.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cookies cool for two minutes on the cookies sheet before removing them to cool on a rack. If you like, you can ice white icing words or outline leaf veins to add an extra fun touch.

Red Maple Leaf Cookie Recipe for Canada Day by Brenda Ponnay for

Then plate your cookies and sing Oh Canada at the top of your lungs! If you need a printable Canadian toothpick-flag to help you celebrate, we’ve got that for you too.  Just click, print, cut and attach to a toothpick using double-stick tape!

Red Maple Leaf Cookies for Fall by Brenda Ponnay for

Or just make some festive fall leaf cookies, that’s cool too.


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The Bathtime Battle Fri, 26 Jun 2015 14:43:18 +0000

Hi Amy,

I tried to search the archives if you had answered questions on this but couldn’t seem to find anything. Anyways. I have an almost 2 year old boy who use to love the bath. He enjoy splashing in the water, stomping playing with his toys, would run to the tub with glee when we asked if he wanted a bath. Then one day a few months ago, baths became the scariest, awfullest thing he could ever imagine. We thought maybe it was because he had slipped a few times in the tub so we bought a tub mat, that didn’t really help. He still just stands there and screams and cries “ALL DONE! ALL DONE!” I thought maybe it was because he gets upset about washing his hair, so I stopped that to try and make bath time at least fun again. But that hasn’t improved anything. Then I started filling a bowl full of water and putting it in the tub, letting him play in the water from the outside of the tub with his bath toys. He gets excited about dumping the water so I just have him fill the tub, then take off one piece of clothing at a time which he gets upset about. Then finally after a while place him in the tub. He’s having a great time outside of the tub but once inside he’s a mess. The first time I did this, it went really smooth and he didn’t even notice I was bathing him. But since then he still stands there and cries/screams. On a side note, he loves water, he loves washing his hands, it’s just something about the tub. It’s gotten so bad that I only give him a bath once a week. . .sometimes longer because it’s so stressful for both of us. I also bought bath crayons to see if he would draw in the tub and that didn’t help. I just don’t know what to do, wait it out? Force the bath on him even if he is crying so hard snot is flying out of his nose? I’m so afraid he’s going to be the smelly kid in class that no one wants to be friends with.

Thank you!

P.S. I should mention that we have also tried me getting in the bath with him, taking a bath at my parent’s house, taking showers with him and talking to him about how everyone washes their body (which he likes to repeat a lot “Mama wash the body”).

For what it’s worth, each and every one of my children went through a similar anti-bath/anti-hairwashing phase. Bathtime suddenly (and inexplicably) went from being fun and relaxing to The Worst Thing Ever. Screaming, crying, begging to be ALL DONE ALL DONE EEEEEEEEEEEEE NOOOOOOOO. You’d think I was drowning them. I’m pretty sure our next door neighbor thought I was drowning them.

And each and every one of my children eventually just…snapped out of it. For my oldest, starting swimming lessons seemed to coincide with him getting over his bathtime fear (which was mostly just about getting his hair wet or water/soap in his eyes, not necessarily being in the tub in general). The younger two just kinda…outgrew it, I guess. We didn’t really change anything with them, other than bathing as rarely as possible, offering sponge baths as an alternative, bribing with lots of fun bath toys, and…yes, when it was really totally time for an actual bath and hair wash and there was no way around it, I just put them in the tub and tried to get it over with as quickly as humanly possible, and ignored the screaming.  (Luckily, they do not appear to be scarred for life from that less-than-ideal solution.)

So I would mostly keep doing what you’re doing, while continuing to experiment with other water experiences. A toddler swim class might help if the fear is somewhat rooted around the whole “getting his head/hair wet” thing.  Since it’s summer, you could totally try bathing him outside in a kiddie pool to avoid the dreaded tub. And while I’ve never used these (so I don’t know how well they work or how much of a mess they make), maybe he would enjoy something like these fingerpaint soaps from Crayola, or the Play-Doh like Fun Soaps from LUSH.

I’m sorry I don’t have a ton of specific suggestions…I can mostly offer my condolences and reassurances that you are not alone in trying to figure out why bathtime is suddenly akin to waterboarding for your toddler. He WILL outgrow this, I can say with relative confidence, although I can’t even begin to predict when that will happen.

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Help, My Teen’s Driving! Thu, 25 Jun 2015 14:35:00 +0000

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.


From the short-and-to-the-point files, Kate writes:

My son is signed up to take Driver’s Ed this summer. It’s going to be mostly me driving with him. Any tips or tricks for either one of us?

Because I’m super helpful, when I received this email from Kate I immediately mailed back, “Take tranquilizers.” But I was kidding! (Mostly!)

Teaching your teen to drive is a huge milestone for you both, and when we agreed to start teaching my oldest back at the end of last year, I sat down with my husband and begged him to take the helm. “You’re a better driver than I am, and more patient with her, too,” I said. “You’ll be way better at it than me!” My husband was willing, but the reality ended up being that my schedule is more flexible and I’m usually the one taking the kids places… hence, I’ve done most of the teaching. It was weird back when we started, then it got better, then I realized it was still challenging, and now we’re just a few weeks away from her getting her license. In the end, time flew. She’s a good driver and the learning process was good for both of us.

So—barring tranquilizers—here’s my actual suggestions.

Yay for professional teachers!
Different states have different requirements (or not) for formal Driver’s Ed training. While you’re unlikely to have an instructor do all of your son’s training, having a trained professional (in one of those cars with a second set of pedals and great big STUDENT DRIVER stickers) on board is fantastic. My personal opinion is that everyone should take Driver’s Ed. There’s a different dynamic with your parent than with a relative stranger, plus those teachers really know what they’re doing. In our case, my daughter didn’t start Driver’s Ed until she was already a fairly competent driver, so she headed out for each session with a brief conversation about what she felt like she needed to work on (parallel parking, highway merging, whatever) and then they’d go do a comprehensive session but with extra focus on that area. In your son’s case, if this will be the start of his behind-the-wheel training, ask the instructor who takes him out how he’s doing and what areas you should be working on with him, too. (Same concept, but in reverse.) Between you and the instructor, you’ll get a feel pretty quickly as to whether your son is under-confident or over-confident, and you can adjust accordingly.

Discuss the car rules up front
My kid (and hopefully your kid) knows not to text and drive, obviously. But my formerly radio-addicted kid decided very early on that she was not ready to listen to music while learning; she was concerned it would be too distracting. Will your kid find the radio distracting? Will he insist he won’t, but then fiddle with knobs on the road? These are the sorts of things to work out beforehand. Some people like to do a signed contract with their kids, but even a brief discussion about your expectations for safety is sufficient. That may include spelling out that any command you issue from the passenger seat while he’s driving is to be followed immediately and without question or he will lose the right to drive for some specified period of time. Don’t assume he knows the rules.

Follow his lead, within reason
If your son is progressing well and willing to drive all the time, great! Let him. If he’s struggling with good habits, feel free to (gently!) point out corrections you’d like to see the next time you let him drive. And if he’s hesitant to practice, talk about it, address it, and either urge him along or take a break, depending on what you determine he needs.

Socratic driving?
When my daughter was first learning, I would tell her what to do and when to do it. It soon became apparent that this was leaving her waiting for my instructions instead of thinking on the fly; I switched to a more Socratic method of teaching, and asked a lot of questions, instead. This meant she both had to verbalize her plans before executing them, and that I was no longer her problem-solver. I would say things like, “Okay, looks like there’s three lanes up here. Which one should you be in?” And I would let her miss turns, too, and determine how to recover, or issue a mild, “Maybe you want to ease back off the shoulder?” if she drifted a little. I just stayed calm and assured her that as long as the car (and we) stayed in one piece, she was figuring it all out just fine.

View this as an exciting privilege
Listen, I know it can be terrifying to get in the passenger seat the first time you decide to let your kid drive out of that big empty parking lot and onto a roadway with other cars on it. I know. But trust me when I tell you that if you are sitting next to him coiled into a giant ball of stress and fear, he’ll follow your lead. Take as much time as you both need in wide-open, abandoned spaces to feel comfortable that he knows how to control the vehicle. And then start letting him drive short distances along easy, low-traffic routes, and act like you have been waiting your entire life for this moment. Learning to drive—and all it represents to young adults—really is an exciting time in our kids’ lives. You can be instructive and alert and cheerful and not scared at all, assuming you’ve done the preparation necessary and you’re both ready to hit the road. If your attitude says “You’ve got this,” chances are, he will.

Good luck to both of you! If I could survive teaching my teen to drive, anyone can, I’m sure.


Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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The Truth About Traveling With Toddlers Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:32:39 +0000

Hi Amalah,

Been reading your writing for a decade, and this is my first time writing to you. Bit of a Hail Mary since it’s time-sensitive but I’m desperate so I’ll take my chances.

I have a 25 month old who we’ve never travelled with. For good reason, namely that he is pretty intense, hates the car seat, and we are also first-time neurotic parents. We have a wedding on July 4th weekend that will coincide with a bit of a family reunion and we have been feeling really anxious about several things namely:

A) The plane rides, four total spanning half a day (two there, two back). Will he stay put in his seat? How do we keep him entertained? What were we thinking?

B) Adjusting to a new environment, namely sleeping. He is such a creature of habit and has had the same routine and crib for his entire life. My parents (where we are staying) don’t have black out windows or a rocking chair or all the ‘tools’ we’ve employed to secure healthy bedtime habits. Like all kids, sufficient sleep is critical to his moods (and tantrum outlook) so this has me especially nervous.

Lastly, is this going to be fun? We’re staying out-of-town for four nights/five days and haven’t even begun to orient him to what’s about to occur. I suppose you deal with neurosis and anxiety every day (not personally, with us writers I mean) so any support you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

Here’s the honest truth about traveling babies and toddlers: It’s a total, utter crapshoot.

I’m sure you’ve been frantically Googling any all travel tips for toddlers, and yes! There are some very good tips! Make sure he has something to drink or suck on when your plane ascends and descends! Pack plenty of snacks, cheap-o toys/activities from the dollar store that he’s never seen before! Or just admit defeat and bring an iPad like 99.99999% of the traveling-with-kids population does these days!

I’ve traveled with three different kids at all kinds of different ages, via planes, trains and automobiles. We’ve stayed in hotels and houses of all levels of child-friendly-ness. I still never know what’s going to happen. I never know who is going to sleep or behave or whine or freak out or suddenly run away from me at the airport into a TSA-restricted area oh my God I’m so sorry I’m so sorry. 

The most important thing about traveling with kids is that sometimes you just have to do it, so you do it. Que sera, sera.

From the sound of things, I think this trip is going to be a very, very good thing. For YOU. Reject that self-label of first-time neurotic parent. He’s absolutely old enough to travel, and to understand that things are different when he’s not at home, and that’s okay. You could all benefit from a little flexibility and go-with-the-flow-ness, I bet. Once you’re back at home you’ll be exhausted, glad it’s all over with…and likely, SUPER proud of yourself and him for doing it. And hopefully get to planning the next great adventure.

You won’t be able to GUARANTEE that he won’t fight staying in his car seat on the airplane. So maybe you’ll hold him in your lap for some of it, or let him walk the aisles when the seatbelt sign is turned off. Or if the flight is turbulent and he won’t stay still in your lap, you keep him in his seat despite his protests and do your best to keep him happy and entertained. (Seriously, just bring movies/TV shows and a crapload of Goldfish.) Maybe you’ll get dirty looks from other passengers when he cries, maybe you’ll get nothing but sympathetic glances  and people who are happy to play peek-a-boo with him. I highly doubt whatever worst-case scenario you’re picturing is going to happen, but even if it does…who cares? No flight lasts forever, and you’ll likely never have to see any of those people again.

Deep breath. It’s going to be fine.

Same with all the worries you have about your parents’ house. Travel messes up kids’ routines. Accept that fact instead of fighting it with useless waves of anxiety, which will just beget more anxiety. People will understand if he’s cranky. People will understand that a 2 year old throws tantrums. Your parents might want to keep him up and mess up his routine simply out of excitement of seeing him and having them there — you’ll do your best to remind them that he needs to stick to SOMETHING resembling a food/sleep schedule but don’t freak out at grandparents just being typical grandparents.

This will be key to this trip being anything that resembles “fun.” Flexibility and non-control-freak-ness. And oh, do I speak from experience on this, since I also tend to stress out majorly while preparing for a trip — we must pack ALL THE THINGS! we must make all kinds of extra purchases because they will save us from…I DON’T EVEN KNOW!  And then I wind up tight like a coiled spring, ready to lose my mind at the first child who whines or asks for an inconvenient potty break. This is…not helpful. Traveling is much more pleasant when I take my own advice and just…roll with the crapshoot. Travel is essential. Travel is good! New places and people and a break from THE UNBREAKABLE ROUTINE! are good! Good for him, good for you as a family. You’ve been essentially grounded for 25 months. It’s time to get out and see the world. Or the inside of a wedding reception hall, just as a start.

Deep breath. It’s going to be fine. (And even at its most not-fine moments, it won’t last forever and you’ll be back home before you know it.)

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