Animal Babies: A Belated Book Shower Post

Any request for book recommendations triggers something in my brain, and I can’t let go until I find a book that matches it. (It’s an occupational hazard.) So when I read a few weeks ago about a virtual book-recommending baby shower for Nonlinear Girl, I started ticking through all the new-baby books I could think of, even though neither the mom nor the shower host know me from a hole in the wall. I just thought it was so practical, especially since—as the host pointed out—having a nice expansive selection of books would be a great help as the new babies’ incipient big sister gets used to the whole “big sister” concept and as the whole family copes with the chaos that was about to erupt.

Well, the shower deadline is over, and the babies were born about a week ago, but—like those times on the reference desk when I totally NAIL what the patron wants just after they’ve given up and walked out the door—I’ve finally come up with a few contributions for this virtual-shower booklist that are worthy of the fabulous suggestions listed in the shower post:

What is it like to come into the world as a baby chick? How about a whale? An opossum?

The premise for this book couldn’t be simpler: the start of life for twelve different animals, each described in just a sentence or two: “If you were a baby seahorse, you’d pop out of your father’s pouch and swim away with hundreds of sisters and brothers…If you were a soft, new porcupette, you’d say, ‘Uh-uh-uh.” But your prickly porcupine mother would say nothing at all.” The lush illustrations seem almost larger than life, with each scale on the mama snake and wrinkle on the baby deer mouse lovingly distinguished. At the end, of course, we come to the human child addressed in the text, who “rode curled beneath your mother’s heart, growing and growing,” ready to emerge and be held by loving parents. One of my very, very favorite older-sibling presents.

The first time I ever saw a Steve Jenkins book, Actual Size, I knew all I’d have to do was put it on display at my school library, and it would go, go, go right out the door, multiple times. Brothers and Sisters is another addition to the Jenkins canon of knockout gorgeous nonfiction animal books illustrated with torn-paper collage, and filled with loads of kid appeal. It’s really written for school-age kids; if I were sharing this book with a new older sibling of preschool age, I’d do a lot of paraphrasing—it’s pretty text-heavy, loaded with tidbits about sibling relations: naked mole rats dig intricate tunnels with their hundreds of brothers and sisters; nine-spotted hyena same-sex siblings fight hard and viciously, while baby crocodile siblings are generally pals who help each other escape from predators. But even for younger kids, the illustrations, and the concept that many different animals take many different attitudes towards their siblings, could be intriguing and reassuring.

Cutest. Animal. Book. EVER. Like If You Were Born a Kitten, this title is built around one simple concept: the ways different animals express affection. One line of text per page, accompanied by photos: porcupines brush noses, prairie dogs hug, manatees nuzzle, giraffes lick. Guaranteed to make you go “Awwwwww…”

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Then and Now: How becoming a Mom has changed me

We all know that "becoming a parent changes you." Yes, but how, exactly, does it change you? Here's a look at a few ways I'm different since becoming a parent, a little "then and now" examination of my life before kids...and after.

Then: I slept in until 10:00 or later on Saturdays. Ahh.... In a perfect world, I'd read until 1 a.m. and sleep until 10 a.m. Every day.
Now: I never sleep past 7:00. My kids usually wake up around 6:30, despite my earnest efforts to convince them to sleep later. I'm sure that someday -- when I have teenagers, maybe? -- I'll once again be able to sleep in. But until then, they serve as diligent little alarm clocks.

I visited the doctor once a year. Unless I had a sinus infection -- then I'd visit twice. I didn't care what our copay was because I hardly ever needed to pay one.
Now: I am at the doctor's office all. the. time. Once you're done with the every-couple-months immunization visits that come with having a baby in the house, you move on to the constant illnesses that result from having a toddler who has no appreciation for hand sanitizer. And then you graduate directly to the School-Aged Kids Continual Plague, consisting of germs they find at school and happily share with you. I'm thinking I should start getting a volume discount on co-pays.

Then: I used to read mysteries and thrillers all the time.
Now: I read Sandra Boynton books and I Spy books to my youngest, and try to keep up with kid-lit along with my oldest. Oh, I still read those thrillers and mysteries, but my reading is much more diverse these days.

Then: I kept my chocolate stash on a shelf in the pantry.
Now: I keep my chocolate stash hidden several feet off the ground, buried under things that kids have no interest in, like napkins and place mats.

Then: I disliked housekeeping immensely.
Now: I dislike housekeeping immensely. (Okay, I guess that one hasn't changed.)

Then: I treated my cat with love and affection. She was my "baby."
Now: I treat my cat with tolerance (when she's behaving) or disdain (when she's puking on the off-white carpet). She's got two kids to compete with now. The kids are cuter and they help me clean up.

Then: Bookstore-browsing was a regular occurrence.
Now: Bookstore-browsing alone is a rare treat. Bookstore-browsing with a young child often ends in embarrassment, removing a screaming kid from the stacks and hoping no one notices me.

Then: I appreciated my husband for so many reasons, including his strong work ethic, smarts, determination, and kindness.
Now: All of the above, plus I adore the wonderful father he's become.

Then: I picked restaurants based on which ones served my favorite meals or desserts.
Now: I pick restaurants based on:

  1. How likely they are to have a booth available (the better to trap my 3-year-old with)
  2. How busy they are at 4:30 p.m. (so we bother fewer people if a meltdown occurs);
  3. And whether or not their french fries are yummy enough to convince my kids to munch happily for long periods of time

Then: I knew exactly how I would structure our family and discipline our children so that they would be perfect...or close to it.
Now: I hope that I get through to my kids at least some of the time, and often feel like I'm winging it as a parent.

Then: I thought the idea of being a Mom was a nice one.
Now: I can't imagine not being a Mom. My kids -- while challenging at times, like most kids -- are awesome. They make me laugh, they make me think, and they fill my heart (as Hallmark-y as it sounds) with joy and love. The "Now" is way better than the "Then."

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Who will Our Teacher be Next Year?

I have been spending a lot of time lately wondering about who my children will have as a teacher next year. Let's face it. School has some good years and some not so good years... and a lot of that has to do with how well your child (and your family) connects with the classroom teacher.

Here’s the process in place at some schools with a formal matching process for finding the right teacher for each child. (This is an excerpt from a principal’s letter that was sent home explaining the process):

1. Parents fill out a form toward the end of the year answering questions about the best learning environment for your child, any concerns that you have about your child and any children you do not want in your child’s class. This form is taken very seriously.

2. Then they talk to each classroom teacher about what they feel like the child needs from a teacher and a class - i.e. Firm teacher, lots of choices, work sheets VS free form work.

3. Each grade level develops a preliminary list based on child’s academic, social and special needs.

4. Next administrators review the groupings and assign teachers based on student needs and teacher strengths.

5. The special area teachers and special education staff review the list and make recommendations.

6. Finally the grade level teachers reconvene to review the classes to verify optimal placement.

In many cases the principal personally reviews each class to make sure she agrees with all the placements.

This process can be quite time-consuming... taking up to two months. But just consider all that the teachers, the students, and the administration have to gain when they take a bit of time to find the right match for a child's learning style.

Whether your school has this option or not, you should definitely make an effort to get to know the teachers in the next grade and talk to your kids about who they would prefer as a teacher. The rest is all about working with the school to find the best match and expressing your feelings to the teachers and the administration. Involved parents are more likely to have their opinions taken seriously so don't be shy to speak up.

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What Do Women Want?

Sigmund Freud bluntly asked that question in his published work (somewhere in the 24 volumes), Even he was mystified by the opposite sex.  Freud who is known for his declarative statements and bold theory rarely demonstrated uncertainty. Female psychology was one exception. It wouldn’t have cleared up his confusion had he gotten to know females of the 21st century. Little girls and women of today are as mystifying to men as any generation before them had been. They may have a demonstrated ability to endure pain, loss, and other misfortune.  However, these all take their tolls. Women are twice as likely as men to feel depressed. At all ages they are 9 times more likely to have eating disorders and 3 times more likely to have anxiety disorders.  Many women still endure discrimination, have lower socioeconomic status,  and are more often than men, the victims of abuse, in and out of the family. And with it all females still have greater longevity, as a group. Maybe one protective factor is girls’ and women’s ability to dream big.  I don’t know how typical my daughter, granddaughter or I am, but we sure do have big dreams.  My one and only granddaughter is a competitive swimmer. She will soon celebrate her 9th birthday, but she has been building her strength and confidence as a swimmer, a soccer player, and a long distance runner for a few years now. During the Olympics last summer, she asked her Mom if Grandma and Grandpa could come along to Bejing when she competes in 2020. (a pleasant thought, despite its break with reality) I’m for letting her keep those hopes up, although we might inform her that Beijing isn’t the setting for all Olympics.

I once told you about the interesting change in the themes of her birthday parties. The four year old party was all Princess. The girls dressed up in gowns, ate dainty tea sandwiches and there was hush in the room. By her 8th birthday, gowns were given up for rented bowling shoes. And the 9th birthday, I understand, will be in a party place that fosters sloppy aggressive behavior---throwing stuff at each other, with loud heavy rock playing, nothing unsafe, of course; but don’t wear that princess party dress.  My granddaughter is coasting along through the various stages with ease; but we still have the early adolescent meanness and clique stuff ahead.  I think she’ll do fine. She knows she is talented, smart and pretty, despite the verbal disclaimers of her older brothers. She is very attached to family—not only her own nuclear group, but cousins, aunts and uncles, and yes Grandparents too. And do we ever love our only granddaughter, our jock princess.

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controlled chaos

"The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves."  Steven Covey

Before I became a parent, my life was easily scheduled with a tiny pocket calendar.  One Hallmark freebie every December and I was good to go for a full year.  Now, it's a bit more complicated.  Our children attend five different schools on five different schedules.  I have to coordinate practices, fundraisers and meetings for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Chess Club, Technology Students' Association, Color Guard, Art Club and Band.  Then, there are my things to keep organized.  Three different PTO's, organizing the 8th grade dance, our local Social Media Association, a little freelance work, advocating for schools and several blogs.

big family organizationWe keep one large marker board/calendar right beside the front door that lists all the children's activities.  On the other side of the door is a chalkboard/door that the adults use to write notes for the children to remember.  The children use it for doodling.  If we have anything to do the next day, I put out everyone's outfits, bags, permission slips, envelopes with fees, etc.  There is a giant binder clip on each child's bedroom door where I put their daily mail.  I carry a "mom" calendar with me everywhere so that I can easily add appointments and meetings without needing to clone myself.  My two favorite mom calendars are MomAgenda and BusyBodyBook.  They both have multiple columns for each day so that I can easily tell where and when each child needs to be somewhere.  I keep contacts, plans, lists and everything in my mom calendar.  I LIVE by this calendar system.  Our life feels busy, but not so busy that I don't look confused every time someone says, "I don't know HOW you keep up with so many children."  It's really not that difficult.  In fact, I'm always looking for a new project.  Or two.

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Baby Changes Everything

Life before having a baby was relatively simple now that I think back on it. Though it seemed highly stressful and chaotic at the time, it truly doesn't compare to what it's like now that I have my daughter.

Sure, some of the same difficulties and challenges existed, such as housework and balancing work and life. But, now they all exist with her around. Which means, that it's that much more difficult to actually get things done. Why? Because she requires attention and often wants to "help". Suffice it to say that her "help" is more often than not a hindrance. I also want to play and spend quality time with her, so my own desire to be with her gets in the way of getting things done.

There are also new challenges in my life that did not exist back then. For example, my parents are getting older and though they're still very independent, there are times where my help is needed. There's also less quality time with my husband since many times our daughter comes first. Of course, this adds to the overall stress of our lives.

All that being said, I would not change a thing. I am absolutely loving being a mother and I know my husband loves being a father. Somehow, priorities change drastically after you have a child. It doesn't matter anymore if things aren't done perfectly and exactly when you wanted them done. It seems trivial to care about the clutter on the counter top when my daughter is calling me out to play a game with her.

Things just change. And that's fine by me.

Still...there's definitely some things I miss about life before a baby.

What about you? How has your life changed since becoming a parent?

Melanie Edwards is a Modern Mami. As a latina working mother, she provides an honest depiction of the everyday humor and drama in the life of today's wife, mother and woman from a Latina perspective. She often blogs about the special concerns working mothers have in attempting to achieve a work-life balance. Melanie has been married six years and has a 3-year-old daughter.
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Moving On, Moving Up: Picture Books for Graduates of All Ages

From preschool to college, this is the time of year for graduations and “moving on” ceremonies; the telltale strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” are heard across the land, and everywhere relatives and assorted friends search for the perfect graduation gift. A car? Hmm, not so much. Cash or a gift card? A little impersonal, maybe. Well, how about a children’s book?

Of course, the perennial presence of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go on the bestseller lists at this time of year is evidence that I’m not the only person to think of this, but if you want to get a little more original with your gift, you have many other options. has a nice page on Children’s Books that Make Great Graduation Gifts; two of the titles on that list, Zoom and Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, are particular favorites of mine too and would make perfect presents for the graduate who could use a bit of perspective.

After some brainstorming, I thought of a few more:

Walk On! A Guide for Babies of All Ages, By Marla Frazee
This understated, charming title purports to be a guide for babies getting ready to walk (“Is sitting there on your bottom getting boring? Has lying around all the time become completely unacceptable?”) but the advice therein—about where to look for support, what to do when you fall, and how to keep your balance—will bring a wry smile, and a bit of encouragement, to anyone embarking on an exciting and scary new endeavor.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson
Give with a card inscribed “Draw your own path!”…and a purple crayon. And maybe a pie. You could include a hungry moose, too, but I wouldn’t advise it.

Mole Music, by David McPhail
A fable about how following your passion can have world-changing—and unseen—effects. Perfect for an aspiring musician.

Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney
There are so many ways to make the world more beautiful. The way Alice Rumphius finds is unexpected and inspiring.

On Beyond Zebra! by Dr. Seuss.
Yes, it’s another Seuss title, but this one is a less literal riff on the “moving on” theme, and a reminder that the world, and the possibilities, don’t end with “Z”.

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beginnings and endings

Ready for tomorrow

The beginning of the school year is a frantic race of filling out forms in triplicate, getting health forms notarized and coordinating everyone's schedules.  Then, there is the quest to find all the requested school supplies for each child.  Every year there is one impossible to find school supply item.  Erasable red pens.  Plastic folders with prongs and pockets in six different colors.  Index dividers in a quantity that doesn't exist.  I suspect that's a test to profile parenting styles.  Somehow, each child heads off to school with a clean backpack jammed full of school supplies begging to be used.  It's all so beautiful that you take 127 pictures between the house and the bus stop.

Then, the school year comes to an end.  The last week of school is the reverse of the beginning of the year.  Backpacks with broken straps, jammed zippers and threadbare bottoms from dragging on the road come home with enough sticky, gooey crumbs and crusts to feed Stuart Little's entire family for a year.  Plastic grocery bags crammed full of wadded papers, ripped folders and tiny nubs that were once pencils are unceremoniously deposited on the kitchen table.  The middle child brings home more than two dozen books that made their way to school and disappeared into his locker.  "I forgot it was still at school."  The youngest girl brings home all the broken bits of crayon that the other children in the class were throwing in the trash.  "I can color FOREVER with all this."  Jackets that have been gone from home for so long they no longer fit anyone reappear from their mystery hiding spots in the school.  Hazmat suits and gloves are donned to sort through the piles of stuff to determine what is salvageable and what will someday be a treasured memory.

I prefer the end of school for the additional time I'll get to spend with my children, but filling backpacks with crisp, clean supplies is soooo much easier than scrubbing glue and clay off of scissors to pack away for fall.

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Appreciating the Afters

Remember that storage room I mentioned in my post on summer goals? The one that is piled with stuff that I’ve been avoiding? The one I intend to attack and completely reorganize?

Well, it was driving me extra-nuts this week, so I got a little jump start on that particular goal. Let me set the scene:

We have a large table in the center of the storage room, and the general idea is that it’s a perfect Lego-playing table or model-building table or gift-wrapping table or…. Well, basically handy for any activity that benefits from a large table in a secluded room, where a certain toddler is unlikely to show up and destroy things.

(Not that I have a toddler who destroys things, of course. My example is purely hypothetical.)

The problem with the table, however, is that it was invisible. Not invisible in the magic-invisibility-cloak kind of way. Just invisible in the “piled sky-high with boxes and papers and stuff” kind of way. So my goal this week was simply to deal with the table.

And deal I did. I spent several hours sorting, tossing, reorganizing, condensing, and just plain dealing with the stuff.

In the end, I am pleased to say, the table was (mostly) cleared off. Yes, there are still two or three items that need a home, but the vast majority of the table is empty and available for anyone to use.

In the world of Decluttering Before & After, I had arrived at a pretty good After.

Here’s where I ran into trouble, though. Instead of admiring and appreciating my progress, I immediately started dwelling on another section of the room that’s bugging me. Rather than take comfort in the fact that the room was in far better shape than when I started, I got all grumpy because things weren’t anywhere near perfect.

What I should have done:
Given myself some credit for this newly-created “After” in front of me.
What I actually did: Got distressed about the next “Before” that I would have to deal with.

As soon as I realized that I was just making myself miserable, I stopped, refused to think about the next storage room task, and just stared at the table in front of me. There it was: the table! I could see it! I’d taken a messy, overrun dumping ground and turned it in to a clean, usable environment. Yay, me!

Immediately, I felt relief. What’s more, I felt motivation. Acknowledging my progress and accomplishment made me feel better about my overall goals and more prepared to tackle the next project…when the time comes.

You know, there’s something to be said for taking some time out to appreciate the Afters.

Now that I think about it, I should probably spend some time appreciating the Afters along the parenting journey, too.

It seems that as soon as I overcome one hurdle, I’m already anticipating or fretting about the next one. (“We made it through the ‘terrible twos’ but now I have to potty-train this kid! How am I ever going to do that?!”)

How much better it would be if I took time to identify the progress I’ve made – big accomplishments and small ones – and just enjoyed knowing that we’re moving in a positive direction.

What about you? Do you have some parenting “Afters” you need to celebrate before moving on to the next “Before” that’s headed your way?

Did you survive a day with a toddler who would not stop screaming? Give yourself credit for the survival before you wonder how you’ll make it through tomorrow.

Did you potty-train your preschooler? I’m jealous. That’s definitely progress to be proud of!

Did you help a grade-schooler navigate the tricky seas of friendship? Acknowledge it as an accomplishment for both of you.

Did you figure out a solution for a difficult discipline issue with your teen? That definitely deserves a little pat on the back, if you ask me.

Take it from me: mentally jumping to the next Before can be stressful and unproductive. Instead, take a purposeful time-out today to see how far you’ve come and appreciate an After or two.


Catch more of Katrina's writing and ramblings at her personal blog, Callapidder Days.

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The Story of Stuff: Teaching about Climate Change

Teachers in need of lessons and classroom materials to teach about climate change and environmental education are turning to the Web like never before. Technology helps classrooms keep on top of current events and lessons for a future where “being green” may matter more than “earning green.” There are few state or local school mandates on how to teach the subject of environmental education. Many teachers are left to develop their own lesson plans on climate change, taking some elements from groups like the National Wildlife Federation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bill Bigelow, the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools clearly thinks there is a need out there stating that “a lot of the textbooks are awful on the subject of the environment.”

Then along comes The Story of Stuff from independent filmmaker Annie Leonard, which takes viewers on a provocative tour of our consumer-driven culture — from resource extraction to iPod incineration — exposing the real costs of this use-it and lose-it approach to stuff.

The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute video about the effects of human consumption and it has quite a following among classroom teachers seeking effective tools to teach about climate change. Educators say the accessible video is a great solution for teachers as they try to teach about global warming though their textbooks have little to say on the subject despite what science has revealed in recent years.

"The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever."

Watch the preview of The Story of Stuff or visit the website at

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