Valentine’s Day denouement

My older son brought home a valentine on Friday night that he’d made in class for his little brother. It was a card, with front and back made of red construction paper to which pink and white cut-out hearts had been glued. The inside was a sheet of the writing paper they use in class. It was formatted like a regular letter (date in the upper right, greeting, body, closing) and was correct and formal and sweet. Now that’s what I’m talking about–a Valentine’s Day-related project that was teaching something but also celebrated the day in a way my son could enjoy.

Rebecca, I didn’t say you had to eat the butter. Just that it was fun to make. 😉 And I really have no problem with candy, just a big onslaught of it when I had no prior warning that it was coming. (Shhh–I also didn’t bake anything for the Valentine’s Day bake sale at the school.)

Q&A: “baby led weaning” for a formula-fed baby

Suzie writes:

"At our 4 month doctor visit the other day, the pediatrician brought up the idea of already starting to feed the little Pumpkin solids (rice cereal, purees, etc.), and my internal thinking was, "OK, whatever, I’m waiting for the girl to want to eat before offering her anything to much on." But the ped did leave me wondering: when you start your baby on "real" foods, do you offer only one thing at a time (a la "wait 2 weeks before adding anything new") or just go whole hog and offer a little bit of everything? How do you handle the potential for allergies?

Also, I know the whole premise of BLW is breastfeeding; but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give it a go with my formula-fed baby once she shows interest in what hubby and I are eating, right?"

First of all, BLW (baby led weaning) is explained by researcher Gil Rapley on this page, which now has a photo of a woman nursing about halfway down, with exposed nipple. (I’m not sure why that’s necessary. And if anyone knows who makes that sexy nursing bra, please post in the comments.) If you don’t want to or can’t look at that page, just read the quick and dirty on Wikipedia (taking it the same way you take everything you read on Wikipedia). If you don’t want to do that, the basics of BLW are:

Kids will eat solids when they’re ready to, and if they aren’t ready yet they won’t swallow. They tested a bunch of babies and found that in general they were interested in tasting food at around 4 months but wouldn’t really swallow until 6 months. Kids have more control over big chunks of food they can hold onto and shove in themselves instead of purees that are shoved to the backs of their mouths that they can’t control. So in general they develop the smal muscle coordination to pick up small pieces about the time they can safely eat them. Keep giving them breastmilk or formula until at least a year, and they’ll just transition to solid foods gradually and naturally. The End.

Anyway, the trend in the US is to offer only one thing (and people usually start with the totally disgusting rice cereal, which by now everyone knows I hate and think people should skip and go straight to bananas or avocado or something orange instead) for a few days because then you’ll know if the baby is allergic to it before you move on to something else.

The problem is that I don’t think that there’s been any research about whether that has any effect on allergy rates or discovery of allergies, or if it’s just something people came up with because it’s logical. I don’t think there’s any harm in doing one thing every few days, but I also don’t know if it’s necessary. I’d like to see if there are any differences in allergy rates or allergic reaction rates in groups that separate and groups that don’t.

I also think that parents know a whole lot about what our kids may be or probably aren’t allergic to before we get to the solids phase. You know if they have problems with dairy or soy if you’re using formula, and perhaps if you’re nursing (anyone who’s had to eliminate that sweet, sweet ice cream because of a baby’s dairy intolerance is cringing right now). If your baby is your biological child you also know some family history of allergies, and you may have this info if your kid is adopted. Lots of food allergies seem to be connected to skin rashes and other external things you alreayd know about. So definitely take all of this into account, and if your child tends to have allergies to one thing, be cautious about introducing too many new things that tend to be allergens.

And, yeah, of course you can do BLW if you’re formula-feeding. She’s a human baby, after all, so all the stuff about food size and choking and her learning process (which BLW is about, as much or more than it’s about actual nutrition) is the same for her and you as it is for the kid on that site whose mom is wearing that black lace nursing bra. Formula should be her primary source of nutrition for at least the first year, and she’ll tell you when she’s ready to eat other stuff.

Just beware of veggie burgers, because garlic poop is indescribable.

Valentine’s Day rant

I’m kind of a Valentine’s day crank, in that I think it’s a complete Hallmark holiday, and doesn’t have much emotional resonance for people unless it makes them feel bad because they’re single. (Kind of like Mothers’ Day, in that women who are mothers don’t need one special day, and women who aren’t mothers either don’t care or are hurt by it.)

But I’m willing to do the whole kid valentine thing, and dutifully asked my older son if he wanted to make valentines for his classmates. No. Did he want me to buy valentines to give? No, he didn’t want to give any. OK, I thought, and took him to school in the mandated red shirt-blue pants combo because we’re team players, even if neither of us likes raisins or clowns.

Last night when I opened up his backpack, what seemed like dozens of valentines spilled out, most with candy attached.

I’m not super-excited about all that candy (the little one stole some of it, scarfed it down, and then had a super-colossal poop this morning) in general. But it’s also the guilt factor. Am I The Bad Mom because I didn’t force him to do this valentine thing? When did giving candy to every kid in your class become de rigeuer? Will he be shunned at the playground for being merely the recipient of cavities and not the giver of cavities? Isn’t the freaking 100th day enough for one week?

Do you think this has anything to do with Martha Stewart, and this whole notion that we should be churning our own butter* and throwing the most fabulous parties all the time?

Gah. I just want to go home, watch my stories (DVR’d Lost and You Are What You Eat), eat some of his candy, and go to bed.

* Actually quite fun: One pint of whipping cream, a touch of salt, a big jar or tupperware with a tight seal. Pour cream in container, seal tightly, and shake until your arms fall off. You’ll have lumps of butter and whey. Spread the butter on something yummy and eat. Drink or discard the whey.

Staying healthy during a trade show

My business trip last week was to a conference for my industry. I was a vendor, spending three long days demo-ing my product in the exhibit hall. I was talking to a woman at a booth near me who’d never worked a trade show before, and realized I had a bunch of tips to stay healthy during a long show, so I thought I’d pass them on to you, and ask you for your tips, too.

The tips can be divided into two categories, personal management and exhibit management.

Personal Management:

1. Bring 2-3 pairs of shoes to your booth each day and change every few hours. It doesn’t really matter how comfortable the individual pairs are–it’s the switching that helps fight foot and leg fatigue.

2. Drink a lot of water. It’s super-easy to forget to drink water, but standing all day in forced air can make you feel really strange and sickly if you don’t keep hydrated. Plus, if you’re drinking enough water you’ll be able to stretch our your legs more often because you’ll have to leave the booth to go to the bathroom.

3. Eat vegetables. Sometimes you’re kind of hostage to whatever they have to eat in the conference center, but if at all possible, walk out of the conference center for lunch and find some place that will give you at least a serving of vegetables for lunch.

4. Get out of the conference center at least once each day. Otherwise you’re like a veal in a pen. Take turns leaving with the other person in your booth. If there is no other person in your booth, bring up item # 12 below with your boss.

5. Don’t go nuts at dinner. Yes, this city is famous for its barbecue or pizza or whatever, but you don’t need to stuff yourself with it. Do you want to feel sick on the show floor tomorrow while you’re supposed to be talking to potential clients? If you do overdo it, try to stay up for a few hours afterwards so you don’t go to sleep right after eating. That’s how the sumos gain bulk–by eating and then going directly to sleep.

6. Ration alcohol. Again, it’s really tempting to drink like a fish when you’re out after the show each day, but draw the line at one or two. Dehydrated and/or hung over is not fun on a trade show floor. And the lighting in convention centers is bad enough; you don’t need any extra help making your skin look pasty.

7. Run. You’ll feel so much better if you do some exercise each day. Bring along a pair of athletic shoes. It’s counter-intuitive, but your feet, legs, and back will hurt *less* if you run or walk briskly around your hotel (outside, if weather permits) for 15 minutes or so in the morning before you go to the show. I also try to do 15 minutes of T-Tapp in my room to help my system stay healthy.

8. Bring a trashy novel or some other indulgence you don’t usually have time for. Take advantage of the fact that you’re out of the usual routine to do something you don’t normally have time for, like reading trashy novels or solving back-to-back sudokus.

9. Stay focused. What’s your team’s goal for the show? 8-10 hours of just standing in a booth sucks, but 8-10 hours of working toward a measurable goal is doable. (If you have no goal, see item # 13 below.)

10. Find a local place and befriend it. Strangely enough, for both of the last two shows I did I ended up spending some quality time a locally-owned coffee shops near the convention centers. It was really nice to be able to say "See you tomorrow" to the barrista, and feel like I had a little connection to the city in the midst of the daunting institutionalism of the professional conference experience.

Exhibit Management:

You may not have any control over this stuff, but if you have any influence these things will make your show experience more pleasant.

11. Choose your shows wisely. You and your team know what you want to get out of exhibiting at trade shows, even if you’ve never discussed it. Carefully evaluate whether or not you’re getting that from each of the shows you do. "Because we’ve always done this show" is not a good enough reason to spend that much money and force your team to leave their families for 2-3 nights just to have to play catch-up when they get back to the office. Just because a show works for others doesn’t mean it’ll work for you, and a small show can be a goldmine if it’s the right show. Define your true goals and evaluate from there.

12. Staff your booth appropriately. The magic formula for trade show booth staff is that you need one person for every 50 square feet of space. So a 10 by 10 needs two people, a 20 by 10 needs four, etc. Yes, it’s cheaper just to send one person, but it’s too much work for one person, and what if that person is occupied and not able to give full attention to someone who could have become a major client? And your booth staff needs to be able to leave to go to the bathroom and to walk out to get lunch and see some natural light.

13. Define SMART goals for your show. Your team should agree on and write down your SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, time-bound) goals for each show. If everyone working the show knows what the goals are, you can all stay focused. Which means working will be working, and not working will be more relaxing, and you’ll all stay in better shape. If you exhibit at a lot of shows and are thinking either "What is she talking about??" or "I know we need goals but don’t even know how to start," the guy who runs specializes in trade show marketing and sells training stuff to help you start exhibiting to your advantage. A show I did brought him in to talk to exhibitors for free and it turned our show performance around.

14. Put in the work before the show starts. If you do your legwork (OK, mousework) before the show, you should be able to get the right people to come to your booth specifically to see your product. That way you don’t have to stress the whole time hoping people will just happen by.

Now that I read through this list, it seems like some of these tips are applicable to people attending conferences, too, not just people exhibiting at them. Staying healthy and defining your goals will help anyone get so much more out of attending any kind of professional development event.

Do any of you have any tips for attending or exhibiting at professional conferences/trade shows?

Sugar substitutes and metabolic syndrome

I’m assuming you guys have seen this article about the study that found that even a can of diet soda a day increases your risk for metabolic syndrome by 34%.

Or this piece on Good Morning America about the article. (You have to sit through an ad first before the story starts.)

I wonder if this is going to make companies stop putting sugar substitutes in otherwise healthy things, like yogurt and food for kids.

I think this also puts the nail in the coffin of soda consumption for many of us. Too dangerous to drink sugar substitutes, and way too dangerous to drink high fructose corn syrup. Plus the caramel color is bad for us, and so is the carbonation.

I guess it’s back to water. (Until Passover, when some of the stores in NYC stock kosher-for-Passover Coke sweetened with regular sugar, which I’ll indulge in.)

I also wonder if this is going to give stevia (a no-calorie sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant) any traction, since it’s just a refined leaf, not a chemically-altered substance.

100th day of school

Brief question below this post for people who’ve used formula.

I apologize for making this all about Kindergarten so far this week, but I really wa nt to talk about this 100th day of school thing. Do the Kindergartens in your area make a big deal out of the 100th day? It never happened when I was a kid, but it’s a big deal at my son’s school and other schools in NYC. The kids had to do a project containing 100 things (not containing food) and bring it in to school on the 100th day.

My son chose his own project, which was drawing 100 pictures. He’s crazy for drawing (explosions, cars, and robots are his favorite subjects) so it wasn’t a huge undertaking for us to put together a portfolio of 100 drawings.

One of the girls in his class did a gorgeous necklace make out of yarn with ten pieces of yarn hanging off the "chain," and ten beads on each hanging piece.

I didn’t get to see most of the rest of the projects.

Did anyone else have to do this? Want to share some ideas, so people can get help if they’re stumped? And how did this get to be a big deal?

Too early “boyfriend”/”girlfriend” talk

(Mini-post below this one.)

You all know my older son is in Kindergarten (he’s turning 6 in less than a month).

From the beginning of the year, he and the other boys were talking about which girls they were going to marry, and stuff like that. I didn’t think much of it, because they’re surrounded by married people, so it all seemed like a game of pretending to be grown-up. (I also enjoyed the way their wants outpaced both legal reality in the US and logistical comfort everywhere, like when they decided that two boys and two girls would all marry each other and live together. It makes the argument about which way the toilet paper should roll look like fun.)

But a month or so ago, he started calling one of the girls in his class (we’ll call her M, because that’s not her real initial) his "girlfriend." M told my babysitter that they kissed on the playground(!) and my son has been concocting elaborate plans for their future life together.

I have no idea what to make of all of this. I appreciate the playing at being grown-up aspect of it. But it just seems waaaay too early for them to be talking about being boyfriend and girlfriend. I’m really uncomfortable with early sexualization of children (remember this post about toddlers flirting?). But it’s clear that my son doesn’t really understand what being boyfriend/girlfriend encompasses for adults (or older teens), and just means that he likes M a lot and likes to play with her.

So, how do I talk to him without freaking out and telling him he can’t have M as a girlfriend when M is really just his "girlfriend"? It seems dumb to forbid him from doing something he’s not actually even aware of yet. This is all just confusing me.

The Zazzle store I forgot I had

Did any of you guys remember that I’d started a Zazzle store? I’d completely forgotten about it until I got a check for $6.92 on Saturday. Thanks to whoever bought the mug I made. I hope it helps you enjoy your hot beverages of choice.

Since I have the store, should I put more things on it? If so, what sayings should I use? "I’m the perfect parent for my child"?’"What’s wrong with people?"? "Why can’t you just stay asleep?"