Parenting

Children’s Clothing, A Fashion Documentary, and Some Suggestions for Ethical Shopping.

June 22, 2017

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A few years ago, Mark and I watched a documentary on Netflix called The True Cost. We watch tons of documentaries and this one promised to be interesting, but we didn’t really watch it because of any specific interest in fashion – I honestly knew very little about the fashion industry beforehand. It’s not exaggeratng though to say that that 90 minutes forever changed the way I think about shopping.

Ethical shopping is one of those tricky areas. I know there is so much more to fair labor laws or ethical consumerism than simply slapping standards onto factories or widespread boycotts. Especially when dealing wth countries where laws and social norms (i.e. child labor) and infrastrcture and income is so vastly different than ours, there isn’t an easy solution to so many issues. It would be the height of arrogance to say I even knew what the solution or even really what the “problem” is.

All of that is to say I don’t think any of us are going to solve the fast fashion crisis (and it is a crisis) or international child labor injustices (which is a significant aspect of, but not the entirety of, the fast fashion ethical discussion) today or tomorrow or even in our lifetimes. 

BUT.

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Just because I can’t solve something neatly and slap a bow on it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a responsibility to be a better steward of the resources at my fingertips. I can’t pluck all of the children out of Bangladesh clothing factories and hand them private school educations, but I can make sure that I am spending my money thoughtfully, that I’m consuming in a way that models good stewardship for my children, that I am being consistent with our family’s values in the way that we consume and shop. 

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In case you have been thinking about this issue as well, or in case you’ve never thought about it and are overwhelmed trying to find a starting place, here’s a very few ways I try to shop for clothing for our children a bit more thoughtfully.

  1. Buy LESS. Simply holding up a big yellow light on shopping for my children has given me enormous peace. I just try to curb the impulsive “oh my gooosssshhhh Violet would be so cute in that!”. Do I still buy impulsively on ocassion? Of course. But I try to avoid constantly acquiring new cute accessories ever time I walk through Target’s doors. I try to focus on the question of need rather than adorable (everything my babies wear looks adorable on them, so….;-) ). Do we need that right now? Do we have something similar or that will “work” equally well? Am I actually buying in season or for an event or weather that’s not really going to occur? It’s amazing what simple delay and a few occasional moments of passing over that impulsive urge to toss it in the cart will do for the budget. It also helps our home stay organized and uncluttered, so triple win!
  2. Buy clothes that will actally be worn a number of times. It may just be my little ones’ personalities, but they are incredibly resistant when it comes to clothes that are bulky or itchy or cumbersome or hindering. As in, screaming, whining, writhing, all-out-meltdowns from clothing that they dislike. And honestly, I could talk for a long time about the issues I have regarding putting our children in clothes that hinder their ability to just *play* freely and comfortably anyway. So when I’m shopping, I ask myself a few of these questions:
    1. How many times do I really think he/she will wear this?
    2. Can they play freely and comfortably in this?
    3. Can I let Violet or Miles just be themselves in those clothes or will I be ultra-picky about when this will be worn and stressed out about dirt and crumbs and wear when he/she is wearing it?No matter how cute an outfit is, if you’re child is uncomfortable in it, the numbers of times that he or she actually wears it is going to be limited. 
  3. Buy clothes that are high quality, that will wash well and last. Over time, I’ve learned which brands produce clothing that seems to last longer and wash/wear well. This relates to #1 – if clothes last longer and fade and wear slowly, the there’s less need to buy again.
  4. Buy items that can be mixed and matched easily and then be realistic about how many outfits a child needs. This is sort of like thinking in terms of capsule wardrobes for children. (If you’re interested in actual capsule wardrobes for children, Pinterest has some really helpful suggestions.) For instance, Miles had two pairs of overalls last summer that worked really well for him. He was comfortable in them and they matched every shirt he owned and he realistically wore them probably four times a week between the two pairs. We just rotated and washed. So if he’s wearing two pairs of pants four days a week, that only leaves a need for a few more outfits. This is something I’m still working on since quantity stacks up so much more quickly than I think it will, but I am trying to pair down the number of outfits we have in rotation because in reality, my children settle into the same clothing rut of 3-4 outfits that I tend towards as an adult. 15-20 outfits, most of which can be interchanged, is just silly, excessive, and means that some cloting never gets worn at all, especially at the age when children change sizes so quickly
  5. Discover some companies that engage in ethical production practices and turn to them often. I’ve compiled a list of companies I trust below to help you jumpstart the process. Is it practical to expect to know about the background, sourcing, and practices of every child’s clothing company? Not unless you have a lot more time than I do! But depending primarily on a few brands will help cut down your research time and ensure that your money is being spent on companies that you want to support.

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Here’s a quick breakdown of brands that I trust and where I try to turn first when shopping for children’s clothing. 

  • Hannah Andersson – This company is at the top of my list. Their clothes are soft, comfortable, last better than almost anything else I’ve purchased. They also have demonstrated that they are thoughtful about their factories, sourcing, etc. The company has been around for a long time (my mom used to shop for us from their *catalogue* – remember those?) and their customer service is top-notch. They are based in Portland. Whenever I talk to someone about HA, the response is “They’re so expensive!” And if you just buy from the catalogue, they are. However, they consistently have great sales and their sales and clearance prices are absolutely competitve with other brands, especially if you do the initial work of checking sizes, planning ahead for seasons, etc. 
  • Burt’s Bees  – Cute soft clothes for babies and ethically sourced and produced. My only qualm about their clothing is that the colors and patterns seem a little boring after a while and for whatever reason, they don’t seem to wash or last quite as well as other brands. For babies that grow quickly though, their onesies and outfits are soft and perfect. The link leads to their Amazon pieces, although they have a real site also – the prices seem better on Amazon for some reason?? And who can argue with the free shipping, if you have Prime?
  • Primary.com – American-based and American-made. Primary was founded by two moms who couldn’t find clothes without ridiculous logos or labels and were frustrated by the lack of choices regarding simple basic quality play-clothes. I love the colors of their clothes and have been thrilled with everything I’ve purchased here. They run sales freqently and with a markup only slightly higher than your average Target piece, there’s no way to lose. 
  • Boden – Boden has a children’s line that is beautiful. The clothes are a bit pricey and I prefer the girl’s line to the boy’s selections, but I’ve been really happy with everything we’ve purchased here. Their sales are not as frequent but if you keep an eye on them, they can be very fruitful. 
  • Carter’s – Carter’s is, unfortunately, NOT a company that has made a particularly big deal outof sourcing or fair labor practices. So I do purchase less from them (or their lines on Amazon, which is where the link leads) than I otherwise would. However, their clothing last through washing, drying, and my children’s rough-and-tumble play better than almost any other brand (Hanna Andersson excepted – and this is a close tie). So if you’re at a point where you are simply trying to minimize some consumption while maintaing a VERY reasonable children’s clothing budget, start here. Buy some cozy sweet basics and they will wear well for an entire season (or longer. My children have rarely actually *worn out* anything from Carter’s. They just outgrow it.)

I have codes for discounts at Hannah Andersson (20% off of your first purchase), Boden (20% off of your firstpurchase), and Primary (free pjs if you spend a minimum of $50!) that I will gladly share. Just enter your email into that box on the right and I’ll send all three codes over. 

Have you watched “The True Cost?” What did you think??

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Parenting

Ramblings about Nap Transitions and Saying “No”.

January 31, 2017

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We’re through that phase that I like to call “the fog” in Baby Time. I feel like I’m the mother to two energetic happy curious toddlers instead of a toddler + cranky picky baby. I know some people LOVE that infant stage (the “glowworm” days), but honestly? I don’t. I love having a little one who is more mobile, more energetic, more excited, less “what-is-going-on-let’s-spend-all-evening-Googling-parenting-articles”.

So January, which is normally boring and depressing and cold has been a January for the books (the unusually warm weather hasn’t hurt, either). Watching my kiddos slowly learn to interact and relate is one of the most fun aspects of parenting yet, and one I didn’t see coming.

Right now? Miles is talking a million miles a minute. I love watching his vocabulary explode. I may have a had a slight panic-episode the other evening when the mom of one of his friends started talking about preschool applications. But that’s for another post another time.

 

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Violet craws like a mini-speedster and cheerily practices standing whenever she decides she’d like some attention. I think her days on all fours are numbered. This is ironic to me, because when Miles was this age, I was not on my “let them live” band-wagon and we pushed and prodded and encouraged him all we could. And he didn’t. And he decided to crawl at about 10 months and didn’t walk until 19 months.

Violet? We’ve let her take her time. We’ve spent a lot less time time prodding and a lot more time in quiet observed independent play. I know this isn’t always the case with timelines nor do I think one should measure a child’s progressor success at this age by (fairly artficial) imposed developmental milestones, but it was a good lesson for this Mama.

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Speaking of transitions, we are DOWN TO ONE NAP a day with Violet. Only other parents who obsess over schedules and rhythms and nap timelines will care at all about this but, folks, this is like Second Christmas to me. I LOVE the one-daily-nap phase. Our daily rhythm now involves one nice transition from lunch to bed right around 12:30 and lasting until 2:30/3:30 (or whenever around this time they wake up). I can’t “make” them go to sleep. But I can enforce a family quiet time consistently. (Spoiler alert: they almost always go to sleep. Violet sometimes wakes up early as she is still transitioing a little. If she does, I give her time and space to play quietly alone in her crib instead of quickly snatching her out of bed, a practice which consistently buys me a few more minutes of precious quiet time for now.)

It was only in the midst of this nap-time transition that I realized how much saying a firm, kind “No” is a part of maintaining our family’s rhythm. It’s boring. It’s lame. But it’s important. It’s especially vital to our week because I work from home and have to protect my work windows as well as my time with my little ones. When we say “yes” to too many things or overschedule or skip or fudge naps or bedtimes, there is a prety rapid domino effect and it’s not pretty.

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Sometimes, unique events or schedules merit a missed nap or a late bedtime. But these are rare and intentional. Most of the time, my childrens’ need for a predictable, steady routine has to trump Everything Else. Playgroups, events, outings, lunch with other moms, appointments – all of it falls second to our big-picture routine.

This is coming on the end of a few weeks where I’ve found myself saying “no” more than usual. It has felt both weird and freeing. No, I can’t commit to that; it’s my time to work. No, we can’t attend; that’s our nap-time. No, we can’t plan dinner late; we need to put our kids to bed.

This may earn me the title “Neighborhood’s Most Boring Mom” and sometimes I feel like a cranky hermit, but you know what? It’s been worth it. I think sometimes moms and dads who spend most of their day at home with their littles fall into the trap of feeling like their schedules (and the schedules of their babies) don’t matter. After all, you’re home! Where do you need to be? Why does it matter if you have lunch at 10:00 or 2:00?  Who cares? Throw caution to the wind. Stay up late. You can sleep in tomorrow.

Maybe this works for some. But for our family? When I start to be careless about our time, individually and collectively, moods and behavior and emotions start to slide. I’m slowly learning how very much my kids need me to protect their days and routines, even at the expense of things that are fun.

A side benefit of this is that I have an added excuse to protect *my* day and routine. We are all more productive and rested and happy. Everyone wins, except for Exciting Mom Awards, of which none are being handed out over here.

A quick piece of unsolicited advice? I think sometimes we stay-at-home parents undermind our own work. We think “Oh, I’m just a parent. I have so much time My schedule doesn’t matter.” No, you don’t. Yes, it does. Your time is not free or value-less. Your time is dedicated to taking care of lots of little finicky humans. Respect yourself and your time and your little ones. Treat the work you do with the dignity you would treat a job. Draw boundaries; follow through; protect your tools of quiet and rest.

I am not one who enjoys saying “no”. I hate it. But I’m getting better at it, for my kids and for me. One of the greatest gifts these baby days have given me is the gift of days that are covered by a quiet peace -peace-filled days AND peace about turning down good things for better. This is hilariously ironic considering how very un-peaceful some days feel with littles, but this unexpected fruit of these efforts to build a maintain healthy home rhythms? I’ll take it.

Inspired and ready to simplify other areas in your life? Start with this collection of posts. If you just provide your email here, I’ll include you on my next email that includes all sorts of resources for simplifying and celebrating.

P.S. Need some more encouragement? This book taught me so much about confident, calm parentng.

Know a friend who needs to read this? Share the image below to Pinterest!

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Parenting

How We Play.

October 14, 2016

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Rich playtime is something that, I think, is unfairly taken for granted with very small children. A Google search of “Playtime with [pick an age, any age]” churns out a neat and tidy list of age-and-developmentally-appropriate activities such as “Blow bubbles! Build a tunnel! Sing songs!”, instantly gratifying and frustrating me at the same time.

I have a problem with this sort of definition of playtime.

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First, these lists are only particularly helpful if your child is on an average developmental track. Mine rarely are (where IS that elusive average child?), which means that I spend half an hour searching the activity sheets for the month prior to and following the one dedicated to the current age of my child, at which point said child wakes up from their nap of un-average length and it’s time to play again.

Secondly, these lists are sometimes ridiculous. One suggested that my 13-month-old would enjoy a blanket fort. I once spent 15 minutes constructing a blanket fort while he watched me in amusement. I convinced him to crawl through the “tunnel” portion of it maybe twice, at which point he became utterly bored.

My instinctual need for a parenting play check-list has been somewhat abated by pieces lauding “slow parenting” and the theories of child development like that promoted by Waldorf educators that place an emphasis on self-directed play.

I am not wired to provide non-stop entertainment to my babies and I would argue that parents, stay-at-home or otherwise, aren’t contractually obligated to provide non-stop entertainment to the little humans entrusted to their care.

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Playtime with my kids is honestly not something that always comes easily to me. I feel as if I am constantly battling the urge to SET A GOAL AND TEACH THEM SOMETHING or the lure of multi-tasking (“I’ll just check my email while we do this puzzle”). This is, I think, the symptom of a bigger problem that has more to do with my own inability to just appreciate stillness and presence.

But rich play-time (as opposed to “entertainment time”) and intentional presence is probably the single greatest gift a parent can give to their child and is certainly something that should be prioritized, if imperfectly.

Even as a stay-at-home mom, however, this is not something that just happens. There is always another errand, another chore, another play-date or activity, so intentional time together is something I have found I must purposefully make space for everyday.

In the hopes of providing you with a bit of encouragement, some practical help, and a shorter path to some hard-won lessons, here are a few steps that have helped encourage our family to have regular and rich play time.

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a dedicated space // The number and size of toys in our house has increased exponentially since Miles was tiny and we lived in 800 square feet. This is another post in an of itself, but when we first moved into our house, the lack of a comfortable, usable play space became quickly apparent. I dedicated a corner of the living room to toys baskets, but the flow of the room meant that the toys were never naturally played with in that corner or, for that matter, in that room at all. This lent itself to a constant clutter battle.

I’ve since turned our dining room into a dedicated playroom. The center is left free for play and baskets with toys and books are along the walls, which makes playtime in that space a logical step. The room is also right next to our kitchen, which means that my little ones can spend time there and practice independent play without actually being too far away from me and Mark; important both for their comfort and our peace of mind.

This option wouldn’t be available to us if we were in a smaller house or apartment, I realize, and I’m grateful for the option. For those of you in small living quarters, I would encourage you to make children’s bedrooms or another logical space as play-friendly as possible. (Often, this means leaving a space free of furniture so that the children can actually have space to, you know, play and so that the adults have space to sit.)

limited toys // Limiting the visible toys helps in two ways: it limits distracting options during a child’s playtime and minimizes the toy clutter (read: keeps parents sane and the space attractive). I cycle toys between Miles’ bedroom closet and the playroom. This will work itself out differently for different families and is a constant process, but the key here is that toys should be visible and reachable.

If toys or books are piled up and require untangling and sorting constantly, there are probably too many in a given space. A clean, visually open space makes it more appealing for parents and children and makes it more tempting to settle into the space for some quality time. Bonus: It’s easier for children to learn to clean up after themselves if toys, even small ones, have an obvious home.

toys that encourage creativity // When choosing toys for a play-space, focus on toys that are sturdy, don’t require a lot of adult supervision or assistance, and that can be used in many different ways by different age groups. These might include small wheeled vehicles, blocks, animal figurines, beads, textured items, and musical instruments. Some of our family favorites are these:

* Small colored wooden blocks.

* A basic train set.

* A basic large wooden bead lacing set.

Vehicles. So many vehicles (these aren’t wooden, I know, but they are SO LOVED).

* Random items with unusual textures, like these rubber potholders.

* This multi-use pound-and-tap musical bench.

routine // An example of this is: “After we get dressed in the morning, we sing these three favorite songs, and then we read two stories and then we play with blocks and then we take a walk.” Circle Time models may not be your gig (although studying examples like this one and this one have been vastly useful as I’ve worked to structure our circle time), but having some kind of routine that signals to your child that playtime and intentional quality time has commenced and that he can count on some focused time with his parent will help both of you maximize this time. I normally try to leave my phone or other devices in a separate room during our playtime routine since I am more prone to be distracted than my little ones.  Your routine may change weekly or monthly and will certainly change and shift, but having a routine of some kind will ground your playtime.

Our ideal playtime normally begins with a few (familiar!) songs, followed by some fingerplay activities, followed by a few books, followed by free play with toys. Remember, kids LOVE repetition. They will thrive as they recognize the same songs and fingerplays day after day, so don’t pressure yourself to constantly interject new material into their playtime.

A quick note – I am continually working towards letting my child lead the play-time rather than trying to force Miles (and now Violet) into a structure that isn’t working. So if they are just not into storytime or singing that day, we move on. If they just really need to get outside and we need to scrap the indoor reading, we do. Don’t stress. Rich playtime is about quality time with your little ones and about them learning about their world, not checking off boxes so you can give yourself a gold “parent of the week” sticker.

light // We are so blessed with tons of natural light in our home and I’m realizing what an enormous difference this makes on my mood and our family’s interactions with each other. When we lived in a small apartment with limited windows (three, to be exact), I tried to maximize the light by opening the blinds (and sometimes the door) and using lots of mirrors and lamps to enhance the light. Most of us are drawn more towards spaces that are well-lit, so if your play area is the best lit area in the home, your children and you will naturally want to spend more time there!

I would love to hear about your playtime routines and tips for encouraging healthy playtime! Comment below or send me an email!

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Parenting

On rhythms and geraniums and parenting two.

July 1, 2016

  

Parenting Round Two has been so vastly different than Parenting Round One. Becoming a mom for the first time was amazing in so many ways. But also, during Round One, I remember a distinct feeling of panic underlying almost all of my activities. Everything seemed HARD. Nursing was hard for a long time, sleeping was non-existent (for any of us), and I’m pretty sure I didn’t cook a meal that didn’t involve a tortilla for the first four months of Miles’ life.

I looked frantically for solutions at every turn and, even amidst the vast array of crowd-sourced-Internet-and-Amazon baby wisdom, there were very rarely any solutions to my newborn who slept at least three hours less each day than every book promised me he would (try Googling THAT schedule) and who needed to eat twice as often as that elusive “average” baby.

This time around has been different and wonderful in its own way. Baby 2’s birth and the ensuing days and weeks have been covered in so much peace. This probably has something to do with the fact that I am not unpacking boxes, that I actually took maternity leave, that Mark works for an organization forward-thinking enough to offer fathers paternity leave, allowing him to be home for those first couple of new weeks as a family of four. Maybe it has to do with my baby, who just seems to have a more effectively charged internal clock, who seems more mellow, or maybe I just know a little more about what to expect – and what to not expect.

There is a lot more laundry this time around and my house may never actually be completely clean again, thanks especially to my curious and busy toddler. I wash my hair not nearly as often as I used to and dry and style it less frequently than that. But even now, after the first haze of the brand-new baby days has worn off, even on the busiest of mornings when our house contains the work-days of two adults, a babysitter, an infant, a toddler, and an oddly ballooning population of tractors and trains, our days have a steady confidence, an expectant rhythm to them.

Waldorf education philosophy, with which I am almost as mildly obsessed as I am with extra-sharp cheese, talks about how a day is built out of alternating periods of contracting and expansion, much like breathing. We come together, we pull apart. Days, especially for children, should have a pulsing steadiness. Like kneading bread.

I love this picture of pulling outward and settling in. I think it’s almost as important for adults as it is for children. Maybe our rhythms are different; but I go a little crazy when I don’t know what pieces of my day I can depend on. (This is probably THE HARDEST part of parenting young infants for me – this always-not-knowing.) And it is amazing to me how this sense of rhythm changes even the way I handle my infant’s sleep schedule. 

Schedules are hard for babies – not scheduling at all is hard for families. But rhythms? Rhythm is something I can watch for and listen for and encourage. Rhythm is something I can fall back on when our day starts to feel messy and hectic and scattered. Rhythm is something I know will return, even if an evening or a morning or a day feels unpredictable and chaotic.

I try to set landmarks in the day for myself, just as I do for my children. Mine are slightly different – my few minutes alone with the coffee carafe and my cup, a few stolen minutes with a book or a magazine (like this one or this one), a window of time during which I get to water my two pet pots of geraniums. And these landmarks – naps and meals for my children, these little moments for myself – help to guide our day, to reassure us that chaos is not in fact winning – that the days are being redeemed, slowly, steadily, one by one.

And even when the laundry piles up and the tractors and trains line the halls and the crackers need to be vacuumed from the floor for the nineteenth time, I can breathe more easily, knowing that we’re finding our rhythm. And we’ll find it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that.

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