Alpha Mom parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:54:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DIY Under-The-Sea Costumes: Octopus! Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:45:26 +0000

Do you have a little sea creature at home who needs a costume this Halloween?  Why not put this summer’s pool noodles to good use and make a kids’ octopus costume out of them! It’s really easy and requires minimal sewing (maybe not even any if you’re sneaky).  This is our fifth costume in our Under-the-Sea series.

Octopus Costume for Kids (Under-the-Sea Costume Series)

Supplies for kids’ Octopus Costume:

1. oversize t-shirt
2. fabric paint (or you could just glue on some of those really big googlie eyes that you can buy at a craft store and skip the paint)
3. elastic (skip if you’re the no-sew type)
4. three pool noodles cut into three sections each (that’s 9 octopus legs total which is one more than you need. But save it for another craft.)
5. some yarn and a yarn needle (not pictured)

Octopus Costume for Kids (Under-the-Sea Costume Series)


Tutorial for DIY kids’ Octopus Costume:

First let’s start with the sewing. I folded the bottom of the t-shirt up about two inches and sewed it there. Then I cut a small slit and stuck my elastic through with a safety pin. When it was all the way around I tied my elastic in a knot and it gathered up the bottom of the shirt making a billowy tummy for my octopus.  If you’re at all comfortable with sewing this will be a no-brainer for you.

If you want to skip the sewing you can just tie the elastic in a knot without putting it through the shirt and use it as a belt for flounce up the t-shirt. This might require some readjusting through the night but it’s totally doable and the tucked in part of the shirt could double as a skirt if your t-shirt is long enough.

Once all your sewing (or non-sewing) is done you’re ready to add your octopus face.  I chose to paint on my octopus face with fabric paint but if you are in a hurry, skip the fabric paint and add giant googly eyes from the craft store. The mouth could easily be drawn on with a permanent marker. If your children are the type who like their costumes to be anatomically correct then skip the mouth altogether.

Octopus Costume for Kids (Under-the-Sea Costume Series)


Now it’s time for the octopus legs!  Using a long yarn needle, thread some yarn and pierce each noodle through the top about an inch down from the top. Gather them together like a really big hula skirt and tie in a bow. Wear like a belt.

Octopus Costume for Kids (Under-the-Sea Costume Series)


Top it with your octopus-head t-shirt and your kid’s an octopus! Add some dark leggings/pants and boots and your kid will be ready to trick or treat!

Difficulty Level: easy!

Crafting time: 1/2 hour to an hour, if using fabric paint allow one day for drying (or more if you live in a humid climate)

*If using fabric paint, always paint in a well-ventilated area. Follow directions on packaging.

 Have you seen the other costumes in our Under-the-Sea Halloween Costume Series? Here is the Sea Shell, Submarine, Fish and Jellyfish costumes.

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Spark Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:17:50 +0000

“Would you mind it much if I kissed you?” he asked, leaning in, quoting a line from the play that we’d just seen together.

I imagine he thought it was pretty clever.

He’d grabbed at my bracelet and squeezed my hand the moment before and I knew what was coming next. I could smell it from the space between us slowly shrinking.

Instead of squeezing back and sliding closer to him, I leaned the other way, and unbuttoned the beaded chain from my wrist, unraveling it into one long chain, hoping his surprise at its construction would distract him from his intentions.


I could see his surprise and disappointment.

“Um, I have a rule about kissing on first dates!” I exclaimed disjointedly, as if I were creating the rule at that exact moment.

I kind of was.

If only I had that rule so many other times when I’d kissed someone. Which led to fucking someone. Which led to babies. Divorce.

Okay, it wasn’t always like that, exactly, but I had always associated a good first usually-drunk kiss with him being a good person, when really all it meant that he was a good kisser. Maybe good in bed.

Or more accurately, that I was wasted.

“I got strep throat one time after I kissed someone and now I’m paranoid.” I just threw the words up right there in the cab and looked down as if I could actually see them on the floor.

He chuckled nervously, then loudly, proceeding to explain the illogical nature of that statement.

“You’re just as likely to get it on a 2nd or 3rd date too, you know?”

He realized how ridiculous that sounded as he said it, as if his rationale would somehow convince me otherwise. The special moment that he had imagined, now replaced with a discussion about probability. Truth was, if I had wanted to kiss him I would have just kissed him.

And really, he would have just kissed me without a stupid line I’d just heard delivered better, on stage, by Michael Sera.

He would have kissed me like he kissed the woman he’d gone out with the week prior, a story he’d insisted on telling me over the phone to sound funny, though even he said to me “I’m not even sure why I’m telling you this” but then proceeded to tell me instead of changing the subject to anything but his dates with other women, a few of whose ex-husbands were gay thus rendering them incredibly deprived of male attention.

He’d held one woman’s hand and kissed her because he felt bad.

“How can I know you’re not just feeling sorry for me?” I asked, reminding him backhandedly about his pity “action,” desperately trying to divert from the whole strep throat debacle that made me sound more neurotic then I had hoped.

I leaned back in the seat now facing him, confidently. Gloating.

The guy who kisses a woman who complains on her first date that she hasn’t had her hand held or her lips kissed in ten years will not spurn my completely illogical and yes, completely fake reason for not wanting to kiss.

“I knew that would come back to bite me!” he laughed. “But c’mon, this is different, this is…” his voice trailed off as I turned to watch the city go by outside my taxi window.

I’d been sick a lot lately, these past few months, dating someone I knew wasn’t good for me and every time I’d seen him the last couple of times, I’d return home sick.

I tried not to read into but it was hard not to.

“I got strep throat in Hawaii. Then a UTI. Then strep throat again…” It was all true, all of it, except it wasn’t from kissing but from the airplane ride and all the sex and then the sex while I had an infection. Then a cold followed by a series of poorly-timed bloody noses —which is to say “Is there really a good time for a bloody nose?” and I have to say after having one at the Target checkout counter alone with four kids, “yes, yes there is” — was enough for me to call it quits and make me rethink my whole approach to sharing fluids and body parts and my life so willingly.

Lately, it was starting to feel reckless.

We slid out of the taxi in front of where I was staying, and I offered to walk him to his car parked in a garage a few blocks away, still hoping to convince him that I was just a rule follower. Instead, I decided to ride out the neuroses.

“Don’t you have any irrational fears?” I asked, insistent on him believing my strep throat story. “I once went to a restaurant that was completely covered in dollar bills. The ceiling. The walls. It was disgusting.”

He looked over at me suspiciously.

“Money’s dirty,” I reminded him, nodding my head knowingly. “It didn’t really make sense to me but every time I think about it, I feel a little ill.”

I kept talking about money and the wires in his car and anything I could think of as he drove me back around the block to where we’d been dropped by the taxi, the walk and return delivery only extending the awkwardness.

I kissed his cheek and hugged him goodbye, sliding out of the passenger side and clamoring up the steps into the doorway without even looking back.

I answered a few of his texts, that night then the next day. He was nice and funny and sweet, and if anything I appreciated not having to plan one damn thing about that evening except what to wear.

“Yeah, nice is good!” I texted my friend optimistically.

But nice is just nice and nothing else. And I want more. I want it all.

If I had minded that night, I’d still mind the next time. And the next time after that. Maybe not so much the kissing as much as the asking, which is the most telling thing of all.

I’ve given my fair share of second chances, believing that it was nerves or quirkiness or some sort of excuse for the lack of connection. That he had a great voice and boy, he was funny, and maybe it’ll turn into something at some point. When really, you just know.

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Goodbye, Pacifier, Goodbye Wed, 22 Oct 2014 19:14:42 +0000

Hi Amy,

I’ve enjoyed reading your column and pregnancy calendar since before my son was born, and I’m hoping you have some sage advice in how to wean my very-nearly-3 year old of his pacifier. You’d think it would be relatively simple, but I’m seriously dreading it.

He’s used them since he was a week old. As a baby he was a terrible sleeper that wouldn’t sleep through the night until almost a year. In that time, the sleep deprivation turned me into such a monster, I could barely recognize myself. So even now that he’s 3, I’m wary of changing anything that might interrupt his (and my) sleep. He needs the pacifier to fall asleep at nap time, bedtime, or if we’re in the car for a long time. Without it, he won’t fall asleep at all, or he’ll cry. With it, he falls asleep almost immediately, but might wake up once a night if it’s fallen out of his mouth and he can’t find it. (This happened at 5 AM today, and when I couldn’t find it for him, he pretty much stayed awake talking to himself and keeping us up in the process.)

Other excuses I have for letting the pacifier usage continue: we just moved 1,000 miles away from the only home he knew and all his friends, immediately after which we immediately went on a 2 week trip, and then he started preschool. It didn’t seem fair to take away one of his major sources for comfort during all that upheaval.

But now he’s going to be 3 in a month, and it’s time. At the moment, I’ve pledged not to buy any more pacifiers (we’re down to 1 functional one anyway), and I’m hoping to finally get to taking it away by his birthday. I predict there are going to be lots and lots of tears and lost sleep for us all. I don’t want him to become distraught (seriously, you should see the face he makes when we mention a future without them. It’s the saddest thing ever) and I don’t want to become an overtired monster again (I’m currently pregnant with #2 so I’m already feeling a bit exhausted and grouchy anyway). Do you have any recommendations on making the process any easier for both of us?

Many many thanks,
Pacifier? I hardly know ‘er.

Cue my not-so-silent relief that none of my babies ever gave a rat’s ass about pacifiers past their first few weeks of life. The period of time when pacifiers are an objectively good, useful thing seems annoyingly short, as they quickly go from “yaaaayyy, he’s not crying anymore” to “I’m getting up to retrieve and reinsert a lost pacifier 10 times at night” to “crap, my kid has a lot of teeth and a wicked binky habit, NOW WHAT?”

You’re not alone, of course. Lots of parents have had to deal with a 3, 4 or even 5 year old who just never weaned from the habit on their own, like we all sort of dream and hope and assume will happen, much like the mythical self-potty-training toddler or the kid who just enjoys putting his toys away without being asked. You are also correct, of course, in that it is time for him to say goodbye to the pacifier.

Despite never having to tackle this particular problem myself (though I did have one blankie/thumbsucker type and utilized some of the tactics I’ll cover below), I have done a not-small amount of research and reading on the topic and can offer you a few of the most “popular” pacifier-weaning options:

This article from details two different plans, a “3 Day Plan” and a more gradual, baby-step approach.

The three day plan basically accelerates your current  warnings that the paci is indeed going away and gives your child a set countdown. This allows him to be emotionally and psychologically prepared for the separation, without drawing it out the way you’re (unintentionally) doing now, as a vague threat of “someday your pacifier is going away forever but you have no idea when, so CLING TO IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT, CHILD!” If you decide to do this one, I would recommend: 1) dropping all pacifier weaning talk until you are actually ready to begin the weaning process, and 2) timing it so the “goodbye” day lands on something awesome and positive, like his birthday or birthday party day or special family outing that will keep him from feeling sad about it.

The gradual approach is similar to steps we took to minimize our son’s thumb sucking and blankie attachment. The pacifier DOES NOT leave his bed. It DOES NOT leave his room. No pacifier while watching TV or post-preschool calm-down period, no pacifier in the car, etc. etc.

This still doesn’t solve the issue of when to make the final, brutal leap to no pacifier, though there are plenty of creative ideas for that: The Binkie Fairy comes like the Tooth Fairy and trades toys for pacifiers. Santa or the dentist need big kids to give their old pacifiers to new babies, and if he donates his he’ll get a special treat or toy. Or take the pacifier to Build-A-Bear and have it sewn into the stuffing of a cuddly toy he can sleep with at night.

There are also plenty of books that talk about giving up the pacifier: The Paci Fairy, Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier, No More Pacifier For Piggy, and many, many more. There’s a Sesame Street/Elmo video on this as well. I do think, though, once you start presenting the idea that a pacifier is going away, it’s a good idea to have a set timeline that’s not overly prolonged or too abstract for your son to comprehend. Otherwise it just becomes this vague sense of existential terror that SOMEDAY SOMEONE is going to take his precious paci away and YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN. Either do the three-day plan or have a visual calendar/sticker chart for him to use.

The fact that you’ll soon have a new baby in the house will be an excellent opportunity to reframe the pacifier as a Baby Thing, but I completely understand if you’d rather have the pacifier problem over and done with before the new baby arrives and you run the risk of sibling jealousy/regression. But having the baby around might reassure him that giving up the pacifier was a good, big boy thing that he should feel proud about.

(For the record, if you do give the new baby a pacifier, aim to take it away no later than 12 months, basically the same time the bottle should go away. Developmentally, this is an optimal time to help a baby find other self-soothing options as they no longer NEED to suck for comfort or food. Behaviorally, a one year old is way, way easier to deal with than the stubborn, all-knowing rage of a three year old. I’ve heard of parents who snip the very tip off of pacifiers so it feels “wrong” to the baby and gets rejected somewhat naturally.  I’m guessing your son is old enough to know that new pacifiers come from the store, however, and the snipped one can be replaced.)

No matter what you do, however, recognize that he is probably going to cry. There will probably be a few rough nights. It’s basically sleep training him all over again, as he learns to fall asleep without his crutch. It’s probably going to suck and make you feel very sad and guilty and all that. But DO NOT GIVE IN. DO NOT TURN BACK. You CAN do this, and so can he.

Photo source: Cesar Astudillo

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DIY Under-the-Sea Costumes: Jellyfish! Wed, 22 Oct 2014 01:48:06 +0000

I know the jellyfish-made-from-an-umbrella costume has been done many times but I can’t very well create an under-the-sea costume series without including this magnificent NO-SEW wonder! I know, those tendrils look like some kind of fancy ruffling but they’re not. Simple, simple, simple! Everyone should rush out and get a clear umbrella right now and make this adorable Jellyfish costume.

DIY Under-the-Sea Costumes: Jellyfish! by Brenda Ponnay for

Supplies for our Jellyfish Costume for kids:

1. a clear umbrella (actually any color would work but we think clear is extra fancy and pretty)
2. Five or six 6-inch squares of fabric. Any kind will do. I bought some $1.98 fluorescent t-shirts and used them for fabric. Much cheaper and I didn’t have to stand in the cutting line at the fabric store (and you know what that can be like this time of year)!
3. Any other kind of notions you think will look pretty hanging from an umbrella and be tendril like. We used a string of tiny pom poms and some sequined thread but ribbons would work, even crepe paper steamers would work.
4. Something to attach the tendrils to the umbrella like quick-drying glue or even clear tape (note: hot glue does NOT work. It will melt your plastic umbrella and there goes all the fun).
5. fabric scissors

Tutorial for kids’ Jellyfish Costume:

The first step is the trick. Take your six-inch square of fabric and round the edges so that it’s a circle. Then cut a spiral into the circle to the very center. When you unwrap the spiral it will hand down in a tight spiral (see photo above). It’s magic! Once you have all your tendrils cut, attach them to your umbrella with glue or tape.

Add a cute coordinating outfit and you are ready to twirl! And just think, if it rains on Halloween night, you’re ready!

DIY Under-the-Sea Costumes: Jellyfish! by Brenda Ponnay for

Difficulty Level: easy!

Crafting time: 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on how coordinated you are with fabric scissors

Have you seen our sea shell, submarine and fish costumes from our Under-the-Sea costume series?

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What Is DBT (and Who’s It For)? Tue, 21 Oct 2014 16:27:27 +0000

Today’s information is being shared with you from the point of view of a layperson (that’s me) who has both observed DBT done with my child and participated in a course of DBT, myself. Full disclosure: I’m a life-long chronic depressive who has done years (and years and years) of various therapies, and while I will never be “cured,” I have (mostly) learned how to manage my symptoms and live a normal life. Many of the different types of therapy I’ve done have been beneficial, but DBT remains, to my mind, the single most practical plan for managing difficult emotions and keeping them from disrupting my life. [That said, please note that I am not a doctor or mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV or the Internet.]

If you’ve heard of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)—and it’s quite possible you haven’t—you’ve probably heard that it’s an “extreme” approach for people with really difficult-to-treat behaviors such as suicidal ideation. While it’s obvious why this is a treatment of choice for individuals engaging in life-endangering behaviors, I’m here to tell you in all sincerity that I wish DBT was being recommended to every parent dealing with a struggling child or struggling themselves with the difficulties of parenting. But hang on; I’m getting ahead of myself.

DBT was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, a clinician who struggled with her own issues for years until she came to this method of both accepting oneself and changing at the same time. In fact, if you go read about it on the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ site, you’ll see this:

Who will benefit from DBT?

While DBT was initially developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals with BPD [Borderline Personality Disorder], it has evolved into a treatment for individuals with multiple different disorders. Although many people who are treated with DBT have BPD as a primary diagnosis, DBT has also been adapted for behavioral disorders involving emotional dysregulation (such as substance dependence in individuals with BPD and binge eating disorder) and for treating people with severe depression and associated suicidal thoughts.

Let’s start with a look at the word dialectical:

1. relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions.
“dialectical ingenuity”
2. concerned with or acting through opposing forces.
“a dialectical opposition between social convention and individual libertarianism”

The second definition, above, is what really defines this therapy and sets it apart from other approaches; DBT strives to balance acceptance and change. Other types of therapy may look to change how the distressed person feels, thereby changing resultant action, but DBT says, “Okay, you feel that way. We can accept that. At the same time, we can work to change the associated behaviors.” DBT has a huge component of self-awareness coupled with this acceptance, as many people who wind up in this type of therapy really don’t know how they’re feeling a lot of the time (they’re too busy reacting), and stopping to notice and accept whatever emotions are present is an important first step in changing behavior.

As I already mentioned, I happen to disagree with NAMI’s assessment that DBT is beneficial “for people with extreme behavioral disorders.” I think DBT is beneficial for anyone struggling with emotional regulation issues, whether it be due to mental illness or simply a difficult life situation. Point of interest: the main goal of DBT—noting and accepting your emotions, working towards still practicing behavior which is calm and productive, regardless—is very similar to the philosophy of Al-Anon. Even if you’re not mentally ill, yourself, living with someone who is (or who has an addiction or other destructive disorder) requires the patience of a saint, a heart of stone, or a really good mental toolkit for survival.

For the person struggling with destructive behaviors, DBT offers a path to change that’s pretty pragmatic. The whole “let’s talk about your childhood and get to the root of these issues” approach is a valid one, but it doesn’t work for everyone, and it can take a long time, too. Other therapeutic approaches can seek to change underlying feelings, with varying degrees of success. While working towards change via emotions can work, changing behavior regardless of emotions is not only faster, it often results in emotional change, as well. So with DBT, you start with an honest assessment of the issue, then move on to accepting your feelings and modifying your behaviors: I am engaging in Behavior X and that is [not good for me, hurting people I love, wreaking havoc, whatever]. What feelings bring me to Behavior X? Can I identify them? Those feelings are neither good nor bad, they’re just how I feel. Once identified, what different behaviors can I attempt to engage in, instead, when I have those feelings? It doesn’t make for overnight change, of course, but it circumvents this notion (that’s fairly pervasive in psychology) that people can control their feelings. We can control our actions. Not that many people can actually control their feelings, and if you already feel out of control, being tasked with controlling your feelings is probably a one-way ticket to failure.

For the person (parent) dealing with the destructive person (child), DBT offers a way to cope and ultimately accept the current reality. The mechanisms are very similar, but instead of changing obviously destructive behaviors, it helps prevent emotional overwhelm in the face of difficulty. (In my case, it also stops me from yelling. I know that yelling solves nothing, but when I’m upset I’m prone to anger and a raised voice, which—surprise!—is not useful when things are already out of control.) So here it’s more like: I am getting very upset about this thing I do not have the power to change. It’s okay to have feelings about it, but I have to note them and then let them go, because they are serving no useful purpose right now. The most helpful thing I can do in this situation is remain calm and neutral, and I can do that by noting those feelings and setting them down and continuing on with whatever I need to be doing right now. Again, this is not an overnight change or something that will always work 100% of the time, but it’s a perception shift that can be enormously useful.

The most helpful thing ever said to me in therapy came out of a DBT discussion, and it was this: “When we can do better, we do do better.” DBT is simultaneously demanding (you possess the power to change; use it) and forgiving (you are doing the best you can at this very moment). It’s a very gentle way to view yourself, and an oddly-comforting-in-difficult-times way to view the person you love who’s in crisis. They’re doing the best they can. Maybe it’s not what you wish for them, maybe it’s not what you pictured, but they’re doing their best in this moment. And so are you. And really, that’s all any of us can do.

If you’re interested in finding out more about DBT or locating a certified practitioner, visit the DBT-Linehan Board of Certification site.

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DIY Under-the-Sea Costumes: Fish! Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:52:23 +0000

As you can see we have an under-the-sea theme going here with the Halloween costumes. But you know what is great about these costumes? They are easy to make and you don’t have buy something from a costume store that came in a bag and looks like every other kid out there.  You can pretty much make anything out of cardboard. Fish costume for a kid? We gotcha covered!

DIY Under the Sea Costumes: Fish! by Brenda Ponnay for

At first I was worried about making a flat 2D costume. I thought I’d make two cardboard sides and let them wear one on each arm.  Then I ran out of time and guess what? It turns out, kids don’t care! Add some props (bubbles attached to a fishing pole) and imagination and they are ready to pucker up and make fish lips like there’s candy being handed out or something.

This costume was really easy to make.

Supplies for our Fish Costume

1. a large piece of cardboard
2. non-toxic spray paint** (or any non-toxic paint, just allow for drying times)
3. detail paint (non-toxic acrylic paint works great!)
4. a ping pong ball
5. permanent marker in black
6. a box cutter*
7. bolsa wood stick
8. yarn
9. three clear plastic Christmas ornament balls

How to Make a Fish Costume

First you cut out your fish shape.  This is easier than you think. It’s basically an oval with a triangle attached for a tail.  Get as elaborate as you like. Pull up google images and knock yourself out copying your favorite fish. Or don’t. Don’t forget to cut an armhole in the middle so your child can wear the fish.  You can disguise the arm as a flipper.

Paint your fish with your base coat. I used spray paint but any kind of paint will work well. When the base coat is dry add your fishy details: scales, tail fin marks, maybe some cheeks and an eyebrow. Let everything dry and then add your eyeball.

For the eye, glue a ping pong ball to your cardboard and then draw a black dot in the center for the eyeball.  You could always skip this step but it makes it fun and more dimensional.

Add some leggings and a long sleeved shirt (or if you are in Southern California and experiencing a heat wave, wear your swim suit) and you are ready to trick or treat!

Difficulty Level: easy!

Crafting time: 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on how fast your paint dries.

**Always spray paint outside or in a very-well ventilated area.  Use non-toxic (low VOC) spray paint or ask your paint store to put no- or low-VOC paint into a spray can for you.

*Box cutters are NOT for children. Have a responsible adult use any sharp cutting devices.

Have you seen our pretty sea shell and submarine costumes  from our Under-the-Sea costume series?


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Holidays and Other People’s Kids Mon, 20 Oct 2014 15:52:46 +0000

Good morning!

I really need some advice on how to handle my sister-in-law’s children at Christmas. I just had a baby in August, and rather than do the normal dance of visiting 4 houses Christmas day (don’t ask), this year my husband and I want to host Christmas dinner ourselves so we don’t have to go anywhere with an infant. Unfortunately my niece and nephew are completely undisciplined, and I don’t know how to handle them when they are in my house.

My sister-in-law has 2 children – a 3 year old son and an 8 year old daughter. My sister-in-law and her husband do nothing to try to control their kids unless they are bugging them specifically. For example we had Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law’s house last week. The younger boy sat at the table for about 10 minutes before he slid out of his chair and started running around the table grabbing at everyone’s napkin holders and glasses. Then he started jumping around on the sofa, and running up and down through the hall. The 8 year old was the families’s first grandchild, so she expects everyone to always pay attention to her – no matter what we are doing. All through dinner she yelled any time she wanted something (GIVE ME GRAVY!), if she didn’t like something she demanded that someone remove it from her plate (TAKE IT OFF MY PLATE! IT’S YUCKY!), and when her brother started jumping on the couch she stood on her chair – still at the table- and shouted at him to stop. Not once did either parent try to stop this behavior. My mother-in-law only tried to intervene when the son was jumping on her couch. Oh, and my daughter was sleeping in a pack-n-play and both kids ran up to it and started poking it and yelling at her until she woke up. I was pissed.

Now in my family that kind of behavior is completely unacceptable. Unfortunately we don’t feel that we can intervene because they are not our kids. There is also the issue that my in-laws start “cold war” fights all the time – no actual physical fighting, but lots of back biting and mean gossip and lies. We are pretty sure that if we tried to intervene my SIL would start a fight with us and the family over it. (She started a fight with my husband in the NICU at the hospital because we didn’t let her and her children visit the hour after my daughter was born. She was 5 weeks early, and hooked up to a bunch a machines, of course the nurses and I did not want people bugging her.)

To be honest, before my baby was born we did not see much of my husband’s family. We don’t like the drama, the never ending yelling/noise and constant infighting. However we feel that our daughter should have the opportunity to know her family.

But I digress. Is it okay for me to discipline my niece and nephew when they are at OUR house? I expect them to stay seated at the table during dinner, speak not shout, and say please and thank you. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of them. I am concerned that if they are given free range they will end up hurting themselves, breaking something or purposely waking the baby again. I kind of want to say ‘my house, my rules’, but I don’t know if that is acceptable or not.

Any advice you can throw my way would be awesome,
Thank you!

Ah, yes. I can tell it’s That Time of Year Again, when the holidays are right around the corner and the Smackdown queue fills up with questions like this one. Mostly variations on How Do I Not Lose My Everloving Mind Around My Family This Year?

And your situation is a tough one, albeit very common, I imagine: There’s what’s generally considered okay, or at least what most reasonable people would consider okay…and then there’s what will likely be considered okay by the people sitting around your dining table. As usual, there probably isn’t a whole heapload of overlap here.

In general, yeah, I am all for expecting young guests to follow basic house rules for behavior, once it’s been explained to them. This is not to say I explicitly “discipline” other people’s children in my house, unless I am the sole adult who has been explicitly put in charge.  I will SAY SOMETHING in a calm, firm voice to a child who is doing something dangerous or just plain asshole-y (like WAKING MY SLEEPING BABY). I will tell the child that we’re not allowed to do or say X, Y or Z in our house, but no, I will not send that child to a time-out or yell or anything like that when their parent is present. In most cases — and ESPECIALLY in this case, given your SIL’s hair-trigger ability to get offended and bent out of shape — a friendly-yet-firm “no thank you, sweetie, I need my silverware, could you go please sit down now?” is about as far as I personally feel comfortable taking a rebuke. Once I’ve made it clear that I prefer the child to not do or touch or play with something, I expect the parents to take it from there. If the child repeats the behavior, I’ll usually direct my next attempt at the parent — “Hey, sorry, but I really need him to not do that right now, it’s dangerous/fragile/whatever.”

Yes, it’s your house, but those aren’t your kids. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk, but as irritating as you may find your niece and nephew’s behavior, you MUST be mindful that you’re not sending out the signal to your SIL that you think she’s a lousy parent. (Even though you clearly think she’s a lousy parent.) Pick your dealbreaker behaviors — screaming while the baby is sleeping, anything dangerous — and try your best to tune out the low-level annoyances like table manners or whining. It just sounds like the more you step on her (useless) toes over her kids’ behavior, the more likely this visit will end with offense and hurt feelings and silent treatment over HOW DARE SHE SAY THAT TO OUR CHILDREN.

If I may play Devil’s Advocate here, but your daughter is still a baby, so it will be criminally easy for your SIL to simply view you and your attempts to correct her children as stuff coming someone who just doesn’t “understand” what it’s like to have older kids, or to have more than one child, or who hasn’t yet had the humbling experience of a kid with behavior delays or issues. Or what it’s like to have a kid who just melts down at big family gatherings after a long car trip and new surroundings and food they don’t like and boredom, while YOU just want to sit at the table with a glass of wine and pick your damn battles with them already. I’m not saying any of these things are actually reality-based reasons for the kids’ behavior and the parents’ lack of involvement, just loading up the most obvious ammunition your SIL might hurl back at you once the next cold war starts.

Beyond the “to discipline/not to discipline” issue, remember to plan the holiday gathering WITH THOSE CHILDREN IN MIND. They are small, hyper, rambunctious children who just lived through the highs and lows of Christmas morning. A big turkey dinner and lots of sitting around chatting (in a house that only has baby toys) is just not going to be their jam, especially if they can’t spend time outside. Make sure there are age-appropriate toys for them. Encourage your SIL to bring the kids’ scooters or skateboards or buy a big thing of sidewalk chalk, should the weather allow for it. If they are going to be housebound, have a WHOLD BUNCH of kids’ movies for them to watch and let them marathon the crap out of them, if it keeps them entertained and still. Ask your SIL if there are any specific side dishes you could make that the kids would like. Basically, if you want these kids to be good guests, go the extra mile to ensure that you’re being a good hostess to them, and not simply expecting them to be perfect little mini-adults. Because good lord, we all know how easy it is for grown-ass adults to act like jackasses at holiday family gatherings. Kids are sadly, not much different.

Cropped Image from Norman Rockwell’ Freedom From Want.

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DIY Under-the-Sea Costumes: Submarine! Sun, 19 Oct 2014 18:33:02 +0000

Blub blub! There’s some fun going on in deep water over here. Here’s an easy way to make a kids’ submarine costume from cardboard, and will make everyone smile when they’re handing out trick or treat candy. This is the second costume in our series of Under-the-Sea kids’ costumes that we will be publishing for the next several days.

DIY Under-the-Sea Costumes: Submarine! by Brenda Ponnay for

Supplies for Submarine Costume for Kids

1. one large piece of cardboard (two if you want to make this costume two sided)
2. a box cutter*
3. yellow and black acrylic paint**, or any color you want.
4. paint brushes
5. one large pop-apart plastic Christmas ornament (optional)

Tutorial for Submarine Costume

First cut out your submarine shape. You can cut out three circles for window shapes (the center one for an arm hole) or just one hole for an arm hole and paint in the others. Your choice. An easy way to create circles is to trace around a bowl or jar.

If you have a pop-apart Christmas ornament I say use it for special effects.  You can also add a cardboard propeller wheel to the back if you like. I personally skipped that step but it would have been cool to attach with a brad so that it actually turns.

Add a snorkel, some swim trunks and a swim shirt and maybe some flippers or rubber boots and you are ready to navigate the waters of Halloween! Perfect costume if you live in a particularly warm area of the country.

Difficulty Level: easy!
Crafting time: 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on how fast your paint dries.
*Box cutters are NOT for children. Have a responsible adult use any sharp cutting devices.
**Always paint outside or in a well-ventilated area.


Have you seen our pretty sea shell costume from our Under-the-Sea costume series?



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DIY Under-the-Sea Costumes: Sea Shell Sat, 18 Oct 2014 16:00:42 +0000

You know what is a pretty Under-the-Sea Halloween costume? A giant sea shell made as a sandwich board and topped with a big pearl headband. This is a super easy-to-make and fun-to-wear kids’ (and adults’) costume. (This is the first in a series of Under-the-Sea costumes. Stay tuned as we publish one every day, for the next several days.)

DIY Under-The-Sea Costume: Sea Shell by Brenda Ponnay for

Supplies for Sea Shell Costume

1. Two large pieces of cardboard
2. box cutter*
3. spray paint** or acrylic paint in soft seashell colors (2 colors are best)
4. ribbon in a matching color
5. an inexpensive headband you can wrap in ribbon
6. masking tape
7. a large pearlized christmas ornament (not too big though—ours was a little heavy and the headband had to be reinforced with a butterfly clip so it didn’t slip off) or any big bead that can be made to look like a pearl.
8. floral wire (optional)
9. hot glue*** or any quick-drying strong glue
10. costume “jewels” or flat floral marbles

Tutorial for Sea Shell Costume

First you will need to cut your seashell shape out of the cardboard. Draw your shape on the cardboard with pencil and then use a box cutter to cut it out. It’s easiest if you use a smooth arcing motion with your hands to get the scalloped edges.

After you’ve cut out your shapes, paint your shell. Leave light and dark areas that follow the ridges of a shell.

When your paint is dry, cut (or use a heavy-duty hole puncher)  two holes in the top of each shell where your ribbons will go. Lace ribbon through to create a sandwich board.

Tutorial to make headband

I used two really inexpensive dollar store headbands to create this look. I taped them together at both ends and in the middle with a piece of masking tape. Then I took my ribbon, taped it at one end and wrapped it around and around the headband until I got to the other end. I secured the loose end of ribbon to the headband with another small piece of making tape.

To attach the “pearl” (aka Christmas ornament), I used floral wire and wired it to the headband. Hot glue or quick-acting glue might work well here too. I then covered my wire with more ribbon, securing it by tying it in a pretty bow. Then I hot-glued some costume “jewels” and flat marbles to complete the pretty under-the-sea bubbly look.


DIY Under-The-Sea Costume: Sea Shell by Brenda Ponnay for


Add leggings and rubber boots and you are ready to catch a trick-or-treat wave!


Difficulty Level: moderately easy.

Crafting time: 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on how fast your paint dries and how much of a perfectionist you are when it comes to making headbands.  Feel free to simplify my steps.

*Box cutters are NOT for children. Have a responsible adult use any sharp cutting devices.

**Always spray paint outside or in a very-well ventilated area.  Use non-toxic (low VOC) spray paint or ask your paint store to put no- or low-VOC paint into a spray can for you.

*** Hot glue can burn. Be careful, use common sense and don’t allow children near hot glue until it is cooled.

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Pregnancy & the Flu Fri, 17 Oct 2014 20:38:53 +0000

Hi Amy,

I am currently 20 weeks pregnant and enjoy reading your pregnancy calendar articles every week to track my baby’s progress. I love your no BS sense of humor and bluntness in the articles. This week I have been faced with the great debate of the Flu Shot. I normally do get the flu shot except for maybe the few years I have forgotten. I have been asking my family and friends on whether it is safe and smart to get the flu shot while pregnant or if I should just skip it. I am finding that now a days a lot of people “don’t believe in” the flu shot. One of those people being my husband. Coming from a family that generally got out flu shots every year due to the “better be safe than sorry rule”, it’s a little unsettling to think this might always be a debate in my own household. I didn’t get the flu shot last year and got a terrible bout of the flu as a consequence. I have also read that chances of hospitalization, extreme dehydration and pregnancy complications go up a lot if you catch the flu while pregnant. Is it all just a bunch of scare tactics or is the flu shot a good health investment in general?

Mom Against the Flu

Okay, so USUALLY I stay far, far away from any and all questions that veer anywhere close to area of “medical advice.” Because that is not advice that I am qualified to give, at all, entertainment purposes only blah blah disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer-cakes.


The American Pregnancy Association wants you to get a flu shot. The Mayo Clinic wants you to get a flu shot. The CDC (which I know is probably no one’s favorite or most trusted agency at this point) wants you to get a flu shot.

Please get a flu shot.

Look, I know there are naysayers about every and all types of vaccines, and bitter disagreement about the timing and safety of said vaccines. You’ve already talked to some of them, it sounds like.

Now you’re talking to me, and I say: Please get a flu shot.

I don’t give a crap about whether or not someone “believes” in a specific vaccine or not. We’re not talking about Santa Claus or unicorns here. Anyone who continues to underestimate the safety and strength we all gain from vaccines is clearly not paying attention to the fact that whooping cough and measles are coming back and harming innocent, vulnerable people: newborns, babies, the immunocompromised, pregnant women.

“Oh, come on. We’re just talking about the flu! So it sucks for awhile but then you’re fine! It’s not like the damn polio vaccine!”

Yes, there’s a difference between the flu shot and the MMR or something, but for a pregnant woman, the flu DOES pose a bigger risk than for the non-pregnant among us. And it’s a risk you can mitigate with a flu shot.

I was never a huge “omg I gotta go get a flu shot” person. I got one in college and felt sick and crappy afterwards (probably with that patented college blend of COLD + HANGOVER + BEING A HUGE BABY) but of course convinced myself that the shot was to blame and that it “gave me the flu” and I swore off the shot for years. I never got the flu, ergo, I was right and the flu vaccine was a crock of useless crap.

Once I started having children, though, I got over myself and obeyed my doctors’ recommendation that everyone in our household get the flu shot for the safety of the baby. My first two pregnancies managed to begin and end outside of peak flu season, however, so I never had to really deal with the decision to get the shot while pregnant. I’d either get the shot before I was pregnant or not long after giving birth.

And then there was my third pregnancy. Which began right as the flu shot clinic signs started going up. And yet for some reason I kept putting off getting a shot, thinking I’d get it from my OB’s office and then forgetting to ask for it, while my husband took the older kids to get their shots (and his), while I probably hung out on the bathroom floor trying not to barf. At some point I said, screw it, the rest of my family is vaccinated and I work from home and never go anywhere; I’LL BE FINE.

Yeah, I got the flu while pregnant.

It. Was. Awful. I was so sick, for so long. And it was terrifying, because I just couldn’t get better and couldn’t stop wondering what the hell have I done to my baby?

I consider myself, very, very lucky that I wasn’t hospitalized. I was very close, due to dehydration and fever. I consider myself lucky that my pregnancy continued safely and that Ike did not suffer any obvious complications.

I also consider myself very, very stupid for not just getting that stupid shot in the first place.

Here’s where I get brutally honest: During my illness, I brilliantly happened to Google a few studies that linked flu during a mother’s pregnancy to adult-onset schizophrenia. I just. Oh my God. I can’t even read about it. I just keep foolishly hoping that the link will be disproven or downplayed at some point.  The fear and guilt I feel when even thinking about that is infinitely worse than any of the fear/nervousness I might have had about getting a vaccine while pregnant.

Why didn’t I get the shot? I don’t know. Because I thought the flu wasn’t a big deal. Because I thought I was the sort of person who never got the flu. Because I never thought getting the flu while pregnant would happen to me, until it did.

Please get a flu shot.

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