Monday, November 29, 2010

bon voyage!

The planets in the universe aligned *just so* last week, and as luck would have it, I'll be heading to Paris, France on Wednesday to meet up with my husband (who's there on business) for a whirlwind trip to the 'City of Light'. My husband found out he was going on Wednesday of last week, and two days later, we took a chance and booked a flight for me without having childcare lined up for the four days that I'll be gone (it was a leap of faith, to say the least). Thanks to the generosity of my mother and brother, the kids will be well-taken care of while the husband and I take in the sights of one of the most culturally-rich cities in the world.

Full disclosure, I will admit that when I first found out my husband was going to Paris, as happy as I was for him, I was not thrilled at the prospect of spending seven days as a single parent. As much as I love our kids, parenting four children in a two-parent household is challenging enough, the thought of parenting solo for a week while trying to run a business (which takes up more time than you could ever imagine!) was downright daunting. I tried to put on a brave front, but I have a terrible pokerface.

When I first found out that I'd be able to join my husband in Paris, my immediate thought was that I should really get myself a new wardrobe for the few days that I'll be there, considering how chic the people of Montreal seem to be, I can only imagine how chic the people of Paris must be! Of course, I won't actually buy a new wardrobe, I did, however, buy a new pair of gloves and a hat and scarf to match. Given the current cold snap Europe is experiencing, it seems highly unlikely anyone will know what's under my parka anyhow (hopefully they will all assume I am just as chic as they are!). To ensure I look the part from the neck up, I got my haircut on Friday afternoon, I will flat iron my hair while I'm in Paris if it kills me, though when I get back, I will likely resort back to throwing my hair up in an elastic every day (old habits die hard).

I really should have paid a little more attention to my high school French teachers. I grew up in a small town in Southwestern Ontario, I took the minimum number of French classes required of me, back then, I had never heard anyone speak a lick of French outside the classrooom, little did I know that people in Canada actually *do* speak French. It would certainly come in handy right now to be able to say something other than "Fermez la bouche" (the only thing I took away from my French teachers!). If I run around Paris telling everyone to 'shut your mouth', I won't make any friends, will I?

I'm a little (OK, a lot!) nervous about travelling alone, I will have to make my way from Charles de Gaulle airport all the way to downtown Paris. I imagine it will feel like I'm living the Go-See episode of America's Next Top Model, I only hope I don't end up crying on the street somewhere, hopefully I'm capable of making it from point A to point B without any major setbacks. If I have to rely on my limited French vocabulary, I am doomed, doomed I tell you!

After he's done working, my husband and I will have about 48 hours together to tour the city. Aside from the obvious (the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame cathedral), I'm not sure what else we should see. As it turns out, we'll be there on December 2nd, the anniversay of Napolean's French Coronation. On that particular date, the sun sets in line with the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, creating a spectacular halo around the Arc de Triomphe. As nice as it might have been to visit Paris in the Spring or Summer, I think it's pretty cool that we're in the city on such a historically significant date!

For those of you who have been, do you have any suggestions in terms of restaurants we should visit, things we should see that might not be listed in the latest tour guides, or any tips or tricks to getting around Paris? We won't have access to a car, which is just as well, as it seems that people in Paris drive like people in Montreal (I had to drive in downtown Montreal once, I almost had a coronary, never again!).

Assuming I make it from the airport to the hotel OK (did I mention I don't have a cell phone?), I am *so stoked* to visit Paris!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The first love(s) of my life.

It was 1989. I was a 15 year old girl, he was a boy named Joe. He had big blue eyes and curly brown hair, the kind of boy any girl would be happy to bring home to meet her parents. Our love affair was short, but sweet. He would keep me company while I was doing my homework, he would even sing me to sleep, Joe was always there for me. Things were great until I fell for his friend Donnie. I fell hard. Unlike Joe, Donnie was a bad boy, I was attracted to his wild side, he was the complete opposite of Joe, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't resist his charm. Despite the love triangle, Joe and Donnie remained friends. They had to, for the sake of the band. You see, Joe and Donnie, along with Danny, Jon, and Jordan, were members of the New Kids on the Block, a boy band from Boston, Massachussets. With their hit "Please Don't Go Girl", they kicked off a worldwide phenomenon, NKOTB-mania was a force to be reckoned with, and my friends and I (Tammy and Leesa, yo!) considered ourselves their #1 fans.

With the announcement of a joint NKOTB - Backstreet Boys tour (I never caught BSB fever, my allegiance was always with the boys from Beantown), I've been reminiscing about the time I spent head-over-heels in love with NKOTB. When I say Tammy, Leesa, and I were their #1 fans, I don't think most people comprehend just what that means. We were hardcore. For two years, my life revolved around five boys from Boston, I was a girl obsessed! It all started with one t-shirt I purchased on vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC. That one t-shirt snowballed into a collection of NKOTB memorabilia that included everything from more t-shirts to dolls, to comic books, to tour jackets, coffee table books, and more (much, much more!!).

Tammy, Leesa and I spent every waking second of the day thinking about NKOTB. During our school lunch, we would head to Woolworths to check out the magazine racks, devouring the latest issues of Bop, Tiger Beat, and 16 Magazine, after school we would race home to hang the latest posters in our bedrooms. While every square inch of my walls was occupied by Dannie, Donnie, Joe, Jon, and Jordan, Tammy had also NKOTB comforters and pillows adorning her bed, and NKOTB flags pinned to her ceiling. Needless to say, her house served as command-central for all of our NKOTB-related activites. At Christmas, we knitted scarves for them in their favourite colors (we didn't get a thank-you card). We wrote poems for a fan contest (we lost). In short, we devoted a lot of time and energy to being NKOTB's #1 fans!

I managed to see the New Kids in concert three times -- I caught the Hangin' Tough tour at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, the Magic Summer tour at the Toronto Ex, and the Step-by-Step tour at the Skydome in Toronto. We had tickets for a fourth concert in Detroit, Michigan, not that we had a hope in hell of making it to a concert in Detroit, Michigan, but by virtue of purchasing those tickets, we were preventing three other girls from spending time with our boys. Yes, we were sick, depraved individuals. We usually got decent tickets for the concerts, being the smart whippersnapper I am, I figured out that to buy tickets for a Toronto show, rather than calling the Ticketmaster in Toronto, it made more sense to call the Ticketmaster in Vancouver. I never had to stress out over a busy signal, and we always got decent seats. It was a genius move, if I may say so myself!

We brought binoculars with us to the concerts, not to watch the concerts, but to stalk our prey. Quite frankly, we had the makings of great paparazzi, if only there were paparazzi in the early 90s. The closest we ever came to meeting our idols was meeting their wardrobe manager 'Uncle Rob'. And by meeting him, I mean we took a picture of him. I have a feeling that if I ever had the pleasure of actually meeting anyone from NKOTB, it would have gone over as well as when I met Arlene Dickinson, though I would have been less refined. Quite frankly, I would have probably peed my pants.

Quite possibly the most embarrasing declaration of my undying devotion to NKOTB involved a very special haircut I got before the Magic Summer tour. It wouldn't have been enough to simply wear an NKOTB t-shirt to the concert. Nosirreeebob, no way. I had to stand out. And how, exactly, does one do that, you ask? Like my friend Leesa, I opted to buzz the lower half of the back of my head, and shave the initials NKOTB into my newly buzzed head. Like a true fan, I left a rat's tail. OK, you have my permission to commence laughing now. In hindsight, I realize how completely ridiculous I must have looked. At the time, however, I thought I was da bomb! Surely to God, if Donnie were to see his band's initials shaved into my head, he would drop to one knee and propose on the spot, right? Right????

As embarrassing as my antics back then may seem to me now, on the bright side, my passion for NKOTB kept my friends and I out of trouble. The tour jackets, t-shirts, and initials shaved into our heads (God, what was I thinking???) proved quite effective as a means of warding off real, live boys, we were too busy fantasizing about meeting our idols to even consider the possibility of interacting with boys in the flesh. Our "Drugs Suck" t-shirts kept us on the straight and narrow. When I think of the things our girls will get up to when they're teenagers, there are certainly worse things they could do than become a boy band groupie. If that happens, I will do my best to ensure they manage to keep their dignity intact.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Potty learning tips

When parents come into the store to buy training pants, we usually spend a bit of time talking with them about the potty learning process. Although we practiced infant pottying with our babies, we still relied on the following tips and tricks when we were transitioning our toddlers to full-time underwear.

Start early.

Before starting the process of potty learning their toddlers, parents will often question whether or not they are 'ready' yet. Certainly, conventional wisdom dictates that your toddler should hit certain milestones before beginning the potty learning process, however, the reality is that children are far more capable than we give them credit for.

In other parts of the world, infant pottying is commonplace, and even within our own culture, previous generations of parents started potty learning their children at a much younger age than parents of today. No matter how you do it, you are always 'training' your child. If you wait for your child to soil a diaper, then you give her a clean diaper, you are in effect training her that diapers are used for elimination purposes. As a result, the longer you wait to potty your child, the harder it will be for her to unlearn what you have previously taught her.

Don't ask your little one if she needs to 'go', just take her to the bathroom.

Do you know what a toddler's top three words are?

1) No
2) No
3) No

Yes, all three are clearly the same word, but it doesn't matter. Toddlers like to test boundaries, and the word 'no' is a great way to test boundaries! If you ask a toddler if she needs to pee, nine times out of ten the answer will be 'no', regardless of whether or not she actually needs to pee. Rather than ask her if she needs to pee, simply take her to the toilet at regular intervals. Set the timer on the stove if you want something else to take the blame, it serves as a great reminder for you, and toddlers aren't rational people anyway.

Rely on diapers as little as possible.

Toddlers know what diapers are for, they soil a diaper, then you give them a fresh diaper -- it's not rocket science! If you continue to put your little one in a diaper, you are enforcing the idea that she should pee and poop in the the diaper. Rely on underwear as much as you can, it looks different and feels different than a diaper, and you will do a better job at staying on top of the pottying situation (the onus is just as much on you as it is on her when it comes to potty time, if not moreso!).

For those times that you may not be able to access a potty easily (like at the grocery store), or when you really don't want to chance an accident (like at a playdate at a friend's house), waterproof training pants are a great alternative to diapers. They pull up and down like underwear, so your toddler can use the toilet easily, and they will hold at least one wetting. We generally suggest to customers that they don't buy more than 3-5 pairs of training pants, the more you have, the more likely you are to treat them like diapers.

Be consistent

Make pottying a part of your toddler's day-to-day routine, so that she knows to expect it, and she gets used to the idea of using the toilet. Potty her first thing in the morning, after drinks, before and after naps, and before you leave the house.

Use positive reinforcement.

When we got to the point where our little ones were consistently using the potty when we took them to it, and we knew they were capable of going themselves, we introduced the concept of rewards to encourage self-pottying. In our case, we used Smarties (shock, horror, I know!). If you're not comfortable with the idea of using candy as a reward, use something else you know will motivate your child to self-potty (stickers, pony rides, whatever feels right!). Once our little ones had the hang of self-pottying, we would gradually wean them off the reward.

Keep calm and carry on.

OK, I'll admit it, this suggestion can be tough to follow. I once found Grace in her bedroom with poop smeared everywhere -- on the wall, on her crib, and on the carpet, she was covered up to her elbows in it. I will fully admit that I cried. I cried like a baby, sobbing big, fat hysterical sobs, tears the size of jellybeans rolling down my cheeks. It wasn't a pretty sight.

The second you make potty training a big deal, it will become a big deal. When you freak out over accidents (which are bound to happen, consider yourselves warned!), you run the risk of scaring your toddler off the toilet and back into diapers. When your little one has an accident, calmly clean it up, talk about where poop and pee belong (in the toilet!), and move on.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yes, cloth diapers really are *that* easy!

When I was at the ABC Kids Expo last month, I spent some time visiting with Shirley and Betsy, the marvelous ladies behind Bummis, discussing the barriers to getting parents to cloth diaper their babies. In the nine years that I've been in business, although the number of businesses selling cloth diapers has grown exponentially, the number of parents using cloth diapers has held steady, roughly 5-10% of diapered babies are estimated to wear cloth diapers. When trying to convince parents to use cloth diapers, many companies focus on educating parents about the benefits of cloth diapers, however, I believe a more successful approach to getting parents on board with cloth diapers would shift focus to ease-of-use. Most parents can't seem to get past the perceived workload, although in reality, using cloth diapers (like having children in general) simply requires a few extra loads of laundry every week.

Indeed, a study funded by Huggies confirms as much, 79% of respondents agreed with the statement "Cloth diapers are less convenient than disposables". 91% of the same respondents also indicated that they agree that cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly than disposables (no duh), and 65% agreed that cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables.

In terms of the laundry required to wash cloth diapers, it's not a whole lot different than the laundry requried to wash, oh say, every other piece of clothing you own (you do own clothing, right?):

1) You put a clean diaper on your baby.
2) Your baby poops in the clean diaper.
3) You take the no-longer-clean diaper off your baby and toss it into a diaper pail.
4) When you are close to running out of clean diapers, you take the diaper pail into your laundry room and dump its contents into the washing machine.
5) You turn the washing machine on.
6) You sit on the sofa eating bon-bons and watching Days of Our Lives for an hour.
7) You move the wet cloth diapers from the washing machine to the dryer.
8) You turn the dryer on.
9) You take a nap.
10) You take the clean diapers out of the dryer, put them in a hamper, and take them back to your change table.
11) Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Ta da! Seriously, does that seem so hard? It's not like you're out in the river, smashing cloth diapers against rocks, you know what I mean? The reality is that your washing machine does most of the work for you (no washing machine? No problem!).

I wonder if parents who use disposable diapers ever stop to think about how inconvenient using those disposable diapers must be. I can't imagine having to lug large boxes of disposable diapers home from the grocery store every week, I also can't imagine having to lug all of those soiled disposable diapers to the curb every week. Parents who use disposable diapers must be very strong, what with all that lugging! Lugging aside, dealing with the tendency of disposable diapers to leak must also be inconvenient. Always having to have a spare set of clothing on hand for the inevitable poop-between-the-shoulder-blades-blowout, and dealing with the inconvenience of poop in the high chair, poop in the carseat or (God forbid) poop on your lap. And what if you discover you're out of disposable diapers right before you put your baby in her nighttime diaper, and your husband is at work, so you have to get her dressed and pack her into the car and run out to the grocery store to buy some more disposable diapers to lug home? When I ran out of cloth diapers, I didn't have to travel further than my laundry room to restock. I must say, from where I'm sitting, dealing with disposable diapers must be an absolute nightmare!

If you're still leary about the workload involved, there are things you can do to ease the 'burden' of using cloth diapers:
  • buy more diapers so that you wash less frequently (don't buy too many diapers though -- ideally, you should wash your diapers every 3-5 days).
  • buy all-in-one diapers that go on your baby in one piece.
  • toss your clean diapers into a basket you keep next to your change table (no folding, stacking, or sorting by color required!).

Now that I have no babies to diaper, I have to say, there has been zero change in terms of the time I spend in the laundry room. I made it out the other side OK, I promise you, you will too!