Q&A: How do you know when you’re about to have a baby?

I thought this one was too silly, but then realized it might be kind of interesting. I was asked by a random pregnant stranger on public transportation how you know when you're going to have the baby soon.

The obvious answer is "when contractions start," but she was looking for the signs before that. She was within a week of her due date, so it could happen anytime.

I was thinking about it, and came up with the following:

* bloody show or releasing the mucus plug

* manic energy

* nesting/cleaning

But I couldn't really come up with anything else myself. Are there other things that you have experienced (or that you've heard) are signs that you're going to go into labor within the next few days?

With me personally, I lost all fear of labor because I was just so done with the whole process. I don't know if that's common, though.

I'd be interested to see if this is something that's common across cultures, or if it's got some cultural specificity.

So. What would you say if someone asked you if there's any way to know? Conversely, are there signs that you're *not* going to go into labor any time soon?

Life fluency FAIL

Crash and burn on the morning commute. Subway screwed up and going local the whole way. (For those of you not lucky enough to be exposed to the horrors of public transit, an "express" train skips stops so it covers more territory faster, while a "local" stops at every stop. The worst-case scenario for the carefully-timed express train commute is that the train "goes local" in the middle of the trip with no warning. Yeah.) Boy 1 late for school, which cascaded to Boy 2 being late for school, which cascaded to my arriving at work 7 minutes before a really important conference call I was leading.

Safety nets. I do not have one.

Who else out there is operating without a safety net? Is there anything to be done about this?

At work I can rely on co-workers to help pick up slack if I need it. I don't have this in any other area, unless I can pay someone to do it. I know I'm not alone. It feels like there should be some kind of way to make this easier on all of us. Ideas? I can't think of anything other than living in communes…

Q&A: being a friend

Anonymous writes:

"Can we talk about being a friend? I'm having problems knowing how to be the best friend I can be to my best friend from college. She's desperate to have a husband and at least one child, and it's all she thinks about and talks about. The pain she's in about not being a mother is blocking out almost everything else in her life right now. The fact that we just turned 41 makes it way trickier because she really is running out of time.

The problem I'm having is this: I feel like she's got herself all tied up because she's convinced that she needs to find the right man and get married and have a baby with him. To me, it seems like she's running out of time to give birth, and if she wants to have a baby that's hers biologically (she does, for a variety of reasons) she should focus on that. Because her Prince Charming might never come, or he might come in 10 years, when it's too late.

So, basically, what I need to know is: How do I support her when it seems to me like she's letting this thing consume her and she's going in a direction that may actually be preventing her from getting what she really wants?

I'm starting to lose sleep and feel sick about it for her, and that's not good. And I don't even feel like there's much I can say because I'm happily married with three kids (it's my second marriage, but still).

There's got to be something I'm missing. Help."

Anonymous, I actually think you have plenty to say about this. This is your second marriage, and no matter who you had those kids with, that just goes to show that life doesn't work out the way you planned it.

If I'd gotten married to someone who was good for me and who I really had that connection, I'd probably be a happy mother of three living in a place that wasn't a crappy NYC walk-up apartment with no dishwasher or laundry on premises. But I'd also probably be the judgmental asshole I was back before I admitted that I'd made some massive mistakes, confronted why I'd made them and how to free myself from the crap that led up to it, and let myself experience the failure fully.

Everyone reading this right now has either had some life-changing event, where it was infertility or failure of a relationship you thought was forever, issues with your children you never anticipated, or even "just" the quiet pain of feeling like you're not living up to your own expectations. (If you haven't yet, you will.) We're all in various stages of it, with various amounts of emotional energy to help ourselves and to give to others.

And that's what makes this question so brutally hard. To me, it doesn't really matter what the actual issue is. We could talk about what's "best" for your friend all day. But the real issue here is how you support a friend when choices they make not only hurt them but start hurting your relationship. And it's a lot easier when the choice is something obviously bad, like addiction, having an affair, etc. Something like this, that is just quietly eroding her life and may be sending her in the wrong direction, is less obvious.

I am not good at standing by and watching people screw things up. So I'm really not the one to ask about how to keep your mouth shut. And it's not that I feel like they should do what *I* would do. It's just that I want them to trust themselves a little more, to know they're worth better than what they're accepting. It sounds like that's what you want for your friend, too.

Is there anyone out there who's good at being there without getting so connected to friends' decisions? If you are, can you tell me and Anonymous how to do it? Alternately, at what point do you just disconnect because it's affecting you too much?

Sharing and Caring Week: Schedule and Paper Management

Let's talk schedule and paper management.

Last year everything was awesome calendar-wise. My office used Gmail as
our email server, so our calendars were on Gmail. My personal calendar
was, too. I made one each for the kids, and my ex-husband shared his,
and our babysitter shared hers. Et voila! Everyone's schedules all
right in one place, color-coded, and I could add national holidays,
Jewish holidays, etc. at will.

(Funny side note: I'm so used to making screenshots to illustrate things at work now that I almost pulled up my calendar, took a screen shot, and posted it here, as if you couldn't figure it out. Hahahahahahaha.)

Now, I'm at a job I love waaaaay better, but we use Outlook. And I
don't know if there's any way to integrate my work Outlook calendar
with my personal Gmail calendar.

In other morasses: the paper from school. So far I'm dealing
effectively with the papers I'm not interested in by recycling them ASAP. I just file things like handbooks and contact lists in my physical file cabinet. And the new director of my son's preschool is very anti-paper, so she
just emails everything. (And labels everything well in emails, which is
a total win for Gmail users.)

But all the assignments, and notices we're supposed to hold on to and return in a week, and all of that stuff you can't really throw away but don't know what to do with.

I'm thinking of getting magazine racks, one for each kid and one for
me, and putting them near the door, and putting papers that are "in
progress" in those. Has anyone done anything like this?

How do you manage schedules? And how do you manage paper? (Is there any
way to integrate a work Outlook calendar with a bunch of Gmail

Sharing and Caring Week: Stuff Management

How do you manage it? The toys and clothes, especially?

I'm wondering if anyone has a good system for managing kids' stuff (and
your adult stuff, frankly). I feel like no matter how often I weed out
toys they seem to multiply. And, theoretically, books aren't a
problem, but they seem to multiply, too.

My only technique for clothes management is to toss anything that
doesn't fit my older one into a plastic bin, toss anything that doesn't
fit my younger one into a bag of clothes to be sent to a friend with a
1-year-one son, and toss anything not in wearable condition into the
bag that goes to textile recycling at my local farmers' market.

(We're talking about schedule management tomorrow, and somehow I feel
like the crazy influx of paper from the school is part of that, so hold
off on comments about paper management until tomorrow.)

Also, is anyone else completely motivated by the TV show "Hoarders"? It
terrifies me, and that makes me very productive with cleaning, sorting,
and getting rid of stuff during the show.

How do you manage your stuff?

Sharing and Caring Week: Go-To Dinners

Today let's share go-to dinners. By that I mean something that never fails, that you and your kids and anyone else in your house will always eat, and that isn't a major production to make.

You can list things that you cook or buy or take out, or all three.

Please give recipes or somewhat detailed instructions for things you make, and be sure to explain anything that may be a regionalism or local name. (Remember that Ask Moxie readers live all over the world.)

I'll start:

The current go-to in our house is actually made by my children, and is chicken tenders, bistro fries, and a vegetable. Both my kids can make the chicken tenders: boneless skinless chicken (I'll cut it for my little one, but my big one can cut it into strips himself), one egg beaten with a little salt in a bowl, and a plate with Ritz crackers the kids crush into crumbs. Dip a chicken strip in the egg wash, then roll in the crumbs, and bake. The bistro fries are just washed potatoes cut into chunks and rolled in oil and salt and baked. My older son is learning knife skills and likes to make the bistro fries all by himself. I choose the vegetable and make it. (Start to finish: about 30 minutes if the potatoes are cut very chunky.)

Our old go-to take-out was bean burritos from Paquito's, the burrito place in my old neighborhood. I miss those burritos. Our new go-to is the brick oven pizza from the place below my building.

When it gets colder we may go back to one of our standbys, bi bim bap. NOTE: This is not an authentic Korean bi bim bap–it's just the recipe my kids have settled on. Cook white rice. While it's cooking, marinate chicken chunks (my kids like chicken better than beef) in soy sauce and sugar and garlic and toasted sesame oil. Beat together two eggs and fry in some oil into a thin pancake, then take out of the pan and roll on a cutting board and slice into strips. Julienne some carrots. Get some washed baby spinach out of a bag. Get out some mung bean sprouts from a bag. Fry the chicken until cooked. Put it all together: rice in each bowl, then chicken, egg, carrot, bean sprouts, and spinach. Everyone mixes it up together. My kids put more soy sauce on top. I put more sesame oil and plenty of hot Korean red bean paste. (Start to finish: about 22 minutes.)

Now you tell what works in your house, please!

Sharing and Caring Week: Evening Routines

Since we shared morning routines yesterday, let's move on to evening routines today. (Share your morning routine here, if you didn't already.)

Start at whatever point you'd like, and take it on through bedtime.

I'll start:

I usually get off the subway from work between 6:30 and 6:45 pm, and walk 8 blocks to pick up my kids at their dad's apartment. He relieves the babysitter at 5 and plays with them for that time. The kids and I walk back to my apartment (right by the subway).

If I'm lucky, I have food for supper in the house. If not, we have to stop at the grocery store to buy food to cook.

Come home, check mail, walk up to the fourth floor, dump burdens, remove shoes, wash hands.

I go into the kitchen to start supper and the kids start playing or fighting or play-fighting. Favorites include Legos, Wii, or watching DVR'd kids shows (Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, The Penguins of Madagascar, Word Girl, etc.). Some cat-chasing may be involved.

We eat, then hang out and play, do some homework, and I run a bath for the little one. He takes a bath, then the big one takes a shower (new development) while I'm getting the little one in his pajamas. They brush teeth, then we read a book or two, and they go to bed.

I tell myself I'm going to exercise, but usually just wash some dishes and fall asleep. If I'm lucky, it's in my bed. If not, I peel myself off the couch in the middle of the night and stumble into bed.

Wow. Now that I read over it, my life is kind of depressing and small. But my bedtime routine is remarkably easier than it was when the kids were little, and they sleep all night, so I can't complain.

Your turn!

Sharing and Caring Week: Morning Routines

This was such a horrifying and popular topic last year when we did it that I thought I'd bring it back for this year.

The idea is that we all share our morning routines, from the time we wake up until the time everyone's situated (either at school, work, has the day started at home, etc.). I loved reading the variety in people's situations, and it also helps make me realize that my own commute isn't so bad.

I'll start:

Alarm goes off at 6:30. I wrestle with the idea of getting out of bed to exercise and usually bail on that. 20 minutes of semi-conscious daydreaming later I hop into the shower. While I'm in the shower, one or both boys come in to the bathroom and flush the toilet, scalding me.

I get out of the shower and make sure the kids are awake and getting dressed in the clothes I've laid out on their desk chairs the night before. Check work BlackBerry and answer any early emails from CEO or boss. Feed ingrate cats.

I turn on some music to get us pumped up (the '80s channel on cable is a big hit). They've told me the night before what they'd like for breakfast, so I start that process. Pull my 7-year-old's lunch out of the refrigerator and put it in his backpack. Add anything else to his backpack. Double-check lunchbox and snacks for 4-year-old.

Check their getting-dressed progress and help/harrass as necessary. Get them started eating. Check clock and inevitably discover it's 5 minutes later than it should be. Get dressed, put on minimal makeup, brush hair. Text friends who've texted me since the night before. Update Facebook status. Make sure all keys, electronic devices, shoes, and foods are in my bag.

Dump breakfast dishes into sink, prod shoe-putting-on, turn off music, grab bags and leave the house by 7:50 with both boys. Go into subway and wait seemingly interminable amount of time for train to leave. Occupy kids with scintiallting conversation so they don't start punching each other on the long ride downtown. Get off at 8:35ish and walk 5 blocks to 7-year-old's school. Drop him off, then yank 4-year-old 5 blocks back to the subway to ride cross-town. Get off subway and walk 4 blocks, drop 4-year-old off at school at 9 am. Walk 6 blocks to subway and get on. Ride one stop, switch trains, ride one long stop, get off, and walk 4 blocks to work.

(This week I'll also add that during that whole time I'm thinking about finding new permanent babysitter and how to work all the drop-offs and pick-ups for the week. Especially since I'll be out of town Thursday night and Friday morning on a business trip. Yeah.)

What's yours?

More on babysitters: When to part ways

It's ironic that I scheduled Vanessa's piece about working withbabysitters yesterday. Yesterday morning I fired our full-time
babysitter who'd been with us for about three weeks. The kids loved
her, but she was late to pick them up from school three times in two
days, and two of those times she was more than 30 minutes late.

There is more to the story (she appeared to be dodging me and wouldn't
answer her phone or call me back while she had my kids so I had no idea
where they were or if they were OK), but the latenesses were enough for
me. With older kids, the whole point of a babysitter is being there at
the right time.

So I'd like to talk today about what's acceptable and what's not. How
do you know when you need to fire a babysitter? What's something you'd
give a second chance for? (I gave a second chance after the first late
pickup, for instance, but no second chances on not telling me they were

Are there warning signs to look out for? And what's a reasonable expectation?

Please share stories of situations and talk about whether you kept
working with the babysitter or not, and what your process was. It'll
help me and all of us. Opinions welcome from people in all situations,
of course.

Advice to parents from a babysitter

Guest post today, written by reader Vanessa Steck, a professional babysitter, who writes a blog at barelycontrolledchaos.blogspot.com.

When I was in middle and high school, I was always surprised tohear people say that they had babysitters. Babysitters? Really? The
summer I was thirteen I lived with a family for a week and watched the
kids all day. I didn’t understand this business of older kids having

Now I do. There are the babysitters that you hire to
watch your four-year-old for a couple hours when you run to grocery
store, and there are the babysitters that you hire to manage anything
that might come up with your children through the process of putting
them to the bed, or taking them to activities, or whatever. I’ve been

I started, of course, as the former and have moved into the
latter. Right now, I have 4 families that I work with. On Tuesdays I
take three boys from three different families. On Thursdays I take 2 of
those same boys and 1 girl from yet another family. On Fridays, I watch
that girl and her three siblings. It’s a great schedule. But I spent a
fair amount of time thinking about babysitting and how the connection
between babysitters and parents works.

I have chosen these four
families carefully. I’ve known them all now for years—at least four—and
one I have known for ten. This helps. But as a babysitter, I feel I
have a responsibility to work only with families that I am comfortable
with. Last winter, after much consideration, I stopped working for a
family because I was not comfortable with the parenting style. It broke
my heart, because I loved those girls. But I cannot work for people
whose parenting styles I don’t support.

This is not to say that I
must be in 100% agreement with you at all times about the ways in which
you parent your children. But as their babysitter, I need to feel
comfortable enough to talk to you about your child without feeling as
though you are going to flip out (why I never work for parents who
spank, ever.)

All this to say, I know a fair bit about babysitting. So I thought I should share it with you.
a babysitter: you’ve all probably done this before so I won’t say much
about it except this: trust your gut. If the girl who all your
neighbors rave about comes in and meets your kid and you get a feeling
that something is off, keep looking. If you find a teenage boy who
seems to have a great rapport with your kids, let him try
babysitting-boys can be babysitters too. Little known fact.

favorite conversations with perspective parents have been the ones in
which we chat not just about their children’s logistics—Jimmy goes to
bed at eight, etc—but about larger and broader topics. I like for
parents to ask me about discipline and give me hypotheticals. What
would I do if Hannah threw a tantrum? I like to discuss philosophy with
parents. It always makes me incredibly happy when a parent says they
love “How to Talk So That Kids Can Listen…” which is my favorite book
about kids.

Overall when I meet new parents the thing I most want
to know is that we are going to be on more or less the same page. We
certainly do not have to be exactly in line on everything, but I need
to know that parents are willing to consider different viewpoints. For
me, I need parents to be able to accept that sometimes their kids will
come home dirty. Sometimes the house won’t be perfectly cleaned
because, well, I had to have a discussion about what would happen if
Mommy and Daddy died.

This brings me to by far the most important
point. Trust. You have to trust your babysitter. Otherwise the entire
thing is a useless exercise. This is why I hate the idea of nanny cams
so very, very much. If you do not trust your sitter to take good care
of your children, then what on earth is the point in having a
babysitter? Ideally, babysitters—especially the long term ones who you
use frequently—should be partners with parents, just as teachers are

I’ve had discussions with children about some pretty
intense topics. See above re what happens if Mommy and Daddy die. And
I’ve had the experience of explaining that yes, it is possible that
Mommy will get shot, but not likely, and we hope she won’t die until
you are much older. I’ve had the experience of holding a child tight
and telling him that no, attacking his brother is not acceptable. And
it is for the fact that I am comfortable with these things as well as
my ability to play endless rounds of Zingo that people hire me.

So I guess I’d like to open this up for discussion, after I make a few final points.

Babysitters are not housekeepers/cooks/dog walkers/maids. Yes, you
should expect your house to be in the shape it was when you left—when
the caveat that sometimes things happen and your sitter didn’t have
time to guide the kids in cleaning—but babysitters do not exist to cook
your dinner (making something for the kids is fine, of course), wash
your clothes, walk your dog, whatever. We are here to watch your
children. Period.

2. Be nice to your sitter! Ask her questions about
what she’s doing with her life. Find out her interests. Ask your kids
to make her birthday and holiday cards. Show an interest in her life.

3. Follow your instincts. If your kids are miserable every time you mention the sitter, think twice.

At the same time, remember that kids are kids and don’t always like
babysitters. If you’ve hired a sitter that you trust you should be
comfortable leaving your screaming child with her. Yes, it’s hard to
walk out while your child screams in someone else’s arms, stretching
out his arms and begging for you—but you need to trust that your sitter
can handle it. Don’t let your child become the adult in a situation.

This is somewhat voided if your child is having specific serious
emotional problems or going through a really rough time. That may
necessitate that you take special measures.

6. If something is going
on with your child, please tell your sitter. You don’t need to divulge
every detail, but your sitter does need to know if your son is worried
about death a lot, or if your daughter is feeling especially needy.

Please, please, please honor your commitments. If you say you need a
sitter on Saturday from 5-9, please be gone from 5-9. If you need to
cancel on short notice, it’s polite to pay your sitter anyway. Many
babysitters work out what they can and cannot afford based on the work
they have that week.
8. If you are going to be late, call for heavens sake.

And on that note—please, please leave your cell phone on, at least on
vibrate. There is nothing more terrifying than having an injured or
sick child and not being able to reach his or her parents.

Understand that accidents happen. I’ve had two serious injuries in my
ten plus years of babysitting. Once I was holding the hand of a young
boy, about 2, and tripped, pulling him over. Poor boy needed stitches
in his forehead: when his mother arrived, he was burying his head in my
chest and we were both a bit bloody. Another time, a 3 year old was
climbing a shelf—just as I turned to tell him to GET DOWN, he fell,
naturally, and sustained a HUGE black eye. I felt horrible. But things
do happen.

11. However, if things happen ALL the time to your
children, or if an accident that is just common sense happens—baby
falls off the changing table, for example—rethink your choice of a

12. Listen to your babysitter. Sometimes people who don’t
know your children as well as you do or who don’t have the same
connection can see things you can’t.

Most of all, remember that
ideally, you want this to be a working, dynamic partnership. If you
find a sitter that you and your children love, consider yourself lucky,
and hold onto her.