Right about now, you are either disappointed or relieved because the headline had you thinking this was a whole other kind of blog post. C’mon people, you know who I am. This is about an actual babe, my almost two-year-old boy, of course. I mentioned to you that I love taking photos of the beach. Now that we’re living literally steps from the beach, I am constantly snapping pics.
What I love nearly as much as pictures of the beach are pictures of my son on the beach. But getting a normal toddler to stay still is impossible, let alone Baby Boy, who has outpaced the Energizer Bunny on occasion. At first, I was blue because I had no pictures – or at least no good pictures of Baby Boy on the beach. Then, I had a stroke of genius. Ok, maybe it was just a stroke of common sense.
Instead of trying to pose him or waiting for the moment he stood still (read: fell asleep) to photograph him, I started to just follow Baby Boy’s every move with the camera. The more pictures I snapped, the more likely I’d get something worth framing (or at least worth using to decorate my Desktop or cell phone screen). When my American friends, their nearly two-year-old daughter, my son, and I headed to the beach on Memorial Day, we were armed with a camera – and we all snapped, snapped, snapped as many photos as we could of the kids.
When the two babes toddled over to the spogliatoi (locker rooms), we were swelling with joy. The graphic element of the locker rooms contrasted by their sweet faces, while they were exploring this new terrain, was pure perfection. Once you turn the photos black and white, they look like something out of 1950s’ Italy, which is special for me since that was the era my father was still living in Ischia. It also happens to be the moment in history when Ischia stopped being reliant on an agricultural economy and started focusing on tourism. Regardless of what history the black and white images spark for me, they are worthy of a frame and look good in color to boot (see below). In fact, this second picture would be great blown up as a poster for our home in Ischia. Not surprisingly, you can expect more beach photos on this blog throughout the rest of the year.
Baby Boy’s little cousin calls him Dragon because he’s usually a spitfire without words. She builds tall towers with blocks for herself because she’s a princess, and Baby Boy comes running to knock them down. She yells, “Dragon, Dragon!” Then, the two of them giggle and fall to the ground together before arguing over one toy or another. It’s love and hate – but mostly love – with those two. On the day we left New Jersey for a nine-month stay in Italy, they had one last battle in which he tore out a chunk of her beautiful blond locks and she bit his back – and left a mark to remember her by. In the end, they hugged each other tightly. Baby Boy screamed when we tried to put him in the car headed for the airport. It was as if he understood he’d be leaving behind his best friend and worst, but favorite, enemy.
On the plane, the kind stewardess, who is a mom to a three-year old, tried to give him the kind of milk that comes from powder, so it lasts longer. He spit it in all our faces. Then, he cried – yelled actually – for about an hour while everyone else was trying to sleep. I could get him to calm down for a moment or two in the restroom, but we couldn’t stay in there forever. Finally, he cried himself to sleep. It wasn’t so bad after that. He drank water, not milk to which he has a serious addiction.
When we arrived at my in-laws’ home in Ischia, he was greeted by his three aunts, their husbands, his four cousins, and Nonna, all of whom live in the same house with us. Even though he met everyone and spent three months in Ischia last year, he wouldn’t greet them. He stayed in my arms, hesitantly smiled when one of them tried to kiss or hug him. He was, however, keen to grab the ball and start kicking it to everyone in the garden out back. And he really appreciated the colored pencils that his relatives had put in the playroom they set up for him, replete with kid-sized table and chairs, a toddler bicycle, and other various toys. Still, this 19-month-old wasn’t quite the Dragon yet. He wasn’t knocking anything down, and there was no fight in him.
We figured he was desperate for a fix of milk. When we handed him his cup full of fresh milk that my mother-in-law had purchased just for him, he took a sip, spit it out, and threw the cup at us. He did, however, eat up the yummy Nutella filled cake with a Toy Story design on it that his aunt made just for his arrival. But it wasn’t enough of an effort for him to go to her, even though she had bathed him a hundred times the year before. In fact, she was the one, who helped him – not to mention me – get through a month-long plight of diarrhea that he faced on our last trip. He didn’t seem to remember or he remembered and wanted to forget.
Maybe he was tired. It was a long, long trip, after all. So, we went to sleep. And Baby Boy slept an unbelievable and unprecedented 16 hours. This is the Dragon. He has never slept 16 consecutive minutes, never mind 16 consecutive hours. By the next week, he still wasn’t coming around. Whenever his relatives tried to make a move toward him, he would hold onto my husband and I as if his life were in danger. He would sometimes smack their shoulders or faces to get them to move away, and he would always say, “No, no, no, no, no…”
I was getting embarrassed and hurt for the in-laws. I could tell they were disappointed, too. They kept saying that he should be used to the Old World again already. I knew different. He was in a different country, where everyone spoke a different language (even if it is one he has grown up around), and he left behind all his stuff in his house where only three of us lived, and I was certain he missed his American relatives, too. It would take more than a few days to get used to so much change.
At the end of the first week, Baby Boy and I curled up in bed for a Sunday afternoon nap, and he began burning up. It was day one of a week of fever. The Dragon was on fire himself. As it turns out he had an ear infection. His eyes seemed to be infected, too, and he had puss on his throat. He began taking antibiotics, which would give him – you guessed it – more diarrhea. His bottom turned as red as the tomatoes that rise like Jack’s beanstalk around here. Now, he wouldn’t even get in the bath tub because it burned to the touch and especially when washing with soap. The only person he wanted, of course, was me, his mommy.
Despite having to work nights (keeping American hours for my editors), I was happy to hold him in my arms and dote on him. He seemed to need some coddling and cuddling. And I was sad, too. I missed our home for just the three of us back in N.J. I missed working days. I missed my own mommy and papa’, not to mention the princess and the rest of the gang in our American fairy tale. But I didn’t want him to suffer, and I was worried this would turn into another month – or even longer – of sickness in Italy. We were both heart sick enough. We didn’t need an actual ailment, too.
There was some good news. Baby Boy started to take to the Italian milk and we were putting probiotic in it to help his stomach deal with the change in country and antibiotics. Soon, he was drinking milk with pleasure, relishing every sip as he had the American version. A week later when the Giro d’Italia came to town, we took him outside for the first time since he fell ill. He had gone a whole day without fever. I put him in his Dragon shirt (see above) and we first headed to church to say a prayer for him and for us.
In the photo above, he was still a sad, little boy. Every once in a while, he would have a tantrum, and he would throw himself onto the cold tile floor with tears streaming down his face and scream. Then, he’d jump up, run into a dark room, lay his head on the bed, and cry some more. Often, nothing seemed to lead up to one of these episodes. We’d have no idea what set him off. Sometimes, he’d look as pensive as an adult trying to decide his future. Once he asked for Nonna and ran to the computer, signaling he wanted to talk to his American nonna on Skype. When she wasn’t available, he got angry. When she finally arrived, he wouldn’t talk to her and yelled, “No, no, no” to her, too. When his cousins, the princess and her baby brother, came to visit him on the computer, he would cry and run away or just ignore them.
Yesterday, we had a break through. He still won’t take a bath, so we’ve had to fan water from the bidet onto his fanny. While the odor he is now giving off is starting to get to us, he doesn’t seem to mind. But he offered a piece of bread to his zio and giggled when he tickled him. He played with his older cousins and aunts for hours and even let them feed him. And he let all his relatives kiss him good morning today. He ran through the house and laughed and babbled. Now, he sleeps peacefully in his stroller after a long walk in Ischia. The Dragon seems to have made a comeback. If only we could get the princess over here to build a tower!
God blessed me with a boy, which means that I don’t get to put him in fluffy dresses or pretty little tutus. Well, I could. But I’d feel guilty about it – and he doesn’t seem like he’d appreciate those sorts of clothes. Still, I have always loved playing dress up – so every so often I force him into an outfit that he hates. The one bit of good news is that my little man has a shoe obsession, and he would wear his dress shoes every day if he could, so he doesn’t mind them.
Last Sunday, before he came down with a fever and ear infection (yes, I think he’s allergic to Ischia, Italy, where we just arrived, too), I dressed him up in his finest, replete with bow tie. Most of the outfit came from Crazy 8, which is one of my new favorite kid’s clothing shops. His Italian relatives got a big kick out of it. Of course, the clothes didn’t stop Baby Boy from running, jumping, or digging in the dirt with his hands. (See below.) Boy, does Mamma have a lot of work to do to remove stains. I’m having a hard time learning my way around Italian stain removers, so I’ll be sure to share whatever secrets I come across once I figure out the ways of Italian laundry.
In the meantime, I recommend you dress up your boy in bow ties and vests, suits and overalls. Put on newsboy caps and fedoras. And take lots and lots of pictures. They won’t look so cute in these clothes in a couple of years, and you will no longer be their stylist either.
When Lydia, an African American attending The Learning Experience, an educational child care facility in Wayne, N.J., told her classmates that she wanted to be a princess, they crushed her dreams. They told her she couldn’t possibly be a princess because of the color of her skin and the length of her hair. The staff at daycare overheard what was happening and turned the experience into a teaching moment for everyone. Their explanation about what it means to be a true princess showed the kids that skin color and hair are not a factor in someone’s character or abilities.
Lydia’s mom, Rita Hutchings, thought the lesson was a good one, so she turned it into a children’s storybook. With adorable illustrations by Julie Bryant and colorful backgrounds on each page, the story will capture the attention of most kids. I have an energetic 18-month-old son, so it was hard to get him to sit still to hear a story from a pink book about princesses, but I read it to him anyway. He ran around the room and played T-ball as I read ever louder, but he might have been listening because he did point at the last page.
I will read it to him again and again, and as he gets older, I’m sure he’ll get the message. I want him to know that anyone he meets can be a princess, a ball player, an artist, a scientist, or the future president of the United States. I don’t want him to tell anyone any different. He will not be a dream crusher. After all, if kids believe in themselves (much like us adults), they can do anything to which they set their mind.
Parents, you might consider picking up this book, which is available on Amazon, to teach your children this important lesson. It’s a quick read and great to bring along on a plane or train when traveling. I just might be packing it for our long haul to Italy.
You might also use this opportunity to check out The Learning Experience, which offers care for children as young as six weeks old and has the goal of helping each child reach his or her mental potential. It has 60 locations in New Jersey, and it seems to be seeking out new franchises. I have never been to one of the facilities, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness or quality. But I do like what I read on the Web site, and I might do some more research on it in the future. I’ll keep you posted. And please do the same for me.
We recently attended a birthday party for a four-year-old boy at Outragehisss…Pets in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., which is close to the New Jersey border. Outragehisss…Pets offers birthday parties, live animal shows, and educational programs. What’s great about this birthday is that the kids actually learned something and got to have a close encounter with all sorts of interesting animals, all in the name of celebrating. Before you enter the room for the show, you can visit with the animals who are behind glass cages. The arctic foxes were curled up and sleeping, and Baby Boy enjoyed yelling to get the attention of the armadillos.
During the show, which lasts about an hour, my son got so excited to see some of the animals that I had to take him out of the room. At 18 months old, he does not really know about his inside voice. But the older kids behaved beautifully, and they pretty much got to pet each animal that the presenter put on display. Baby Boy, with the help of mamma guiding his hand, was able to pet a couple of the animals, too. The finale featured all the kids in the room holding up an enormous snake. Baby Boy was roaming the halls at that point, but I hear it was an amazing photo op for the guests, and the birthday boy was grinning from ear to ear.
After the show, guests were escorted to another room for refreshments and birthday cake. The birthday boy’s mom put out adorable signs around the food stations that said, “Don’t feed the animals.” She also dressed up the sandwiches (see below) to look like snakes. I offer kudos to the parents for providing cake and cookies but also lots of healthy options, such as fruit. With animals as your theme, there are lots of ways to get creative with the food. You can serve fruit in a watermelon carved to look like a shark or put eyes and tails on oranges, for example. I love the look of all these dessert and candy tables I’ve been seeing at kids’ parties lately, but if my son or niece eat anymore icing, they might turn into sugar. Once it’s in front of them, it’s hard to get it away from them. So, if you have healthy options that match your theme, all the better.
The kids played a couple of games, picked up their party favors, which included a wooden snake that has become one of Baby Boy’s favorite toys, and animal crackers, and we headed home. At two hours, it was the perfect amount of time for a kid’s party. It ended just before they all started to lose their minds. Baby Boy napped on the way there and on the way home, which was a gift for mamma and papa’. In conclusion, when the food is good and the party is educational and fun, then it’s a happy birthday for everyone.
We’ve been around many, many malls, and we’ve decided that each offers something special in the way of Easter fun. The bunny at Paramus Park was a bit lame in her purple apron, but the fountain with glittery eggs offers a great photo op (for which you don’t have to pay, by the way). See above. Garden State Plaza probably has a great bunny, but you have to swim through big crowds – first with your car in the parking lot – and then on foot once inside. It’s too much of a bother, especially with Baby Boy, who has enough energy to light the state. Jersey Gardens offers bargain shopping and a lovely little corner with the bunny, who is super duper friendly. Baby Boy, who cried with Santa, jumped into this bunny’s arms all by himself. And he didn’t want to say good-bye. Of course, it cost me $22 just to get three photos of the two of them. And the crowds are pretty nasty there, too, on the weekends. We walked miles to get from the car, which was parked by the movie theater, to the actual mall. Ugh! Still, Easter is almost here, and Baby Boy has gotten to experience the joy of the season in his home state. He’s growing into quite the little mall rat (minus the laziness and bad hair), and I love it.
Anyone know of any good places or events for kids celebrating Passover in New Jersey? I’d love to hear about them and share them with readers, so let me know.
Disney’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates is my son’s favorite cartoon. It has been since he was very little. In fact, I would put on clips of it on YouTube to get him to sit in the high chair and eat when we were in Italy. On March 1, the Disney Junior cable channel celebrated Jake’s birthday with a special episode and free online printables (coloring book pages and games you could print out for your kids). If you were making a different theme for your party, you could conduct a Google search to find all sorts of free party and activity printables for kids. Since I was off from work that afternoon and my niece and nephew came over, too, we decided to make a day of it. We actually threw Jake a birthday party at our house.
Since Baby Boy is a big pirate fan, I had paper pirate hats and pirate birthday sign leftover from his party, so I took those out and reused them. You could use any supplies you have on hand or you could make hats and signs with some paper and creativity. My niece helped decorate the house. The kids colored the pages that Disney had on its site for the occasion and hung them on the wall. I put Baby Boy’s Jake tees on him and my niece. All three kids got into the pack and play to watch the show. You can’t see them in the photo, but all the dolls – the entire cast of Jake – and a Mickey pirate are joining them for the episode, along with all sorts of other soft toys.
Finally, we made red velvet cupcakes (from a box) in Jake’s honor (see photos below). The fun for the kids is in making the birthday cake or cupcakes, so I would just buy a semi-made boxed mix of your choosing. My niece helped me; she even cracked the eggs. We all decorated them, but Baby Boy mostly just ate icing. My niece did, too, but every so often she would make a design on a cupcake to give me a hand. And she looked adorable in her apron. Everyone had dinner and then the whole family, including grandparents, sang, “Happy Birthday,” to Jake and my niece and Baby Boy blew out the candles on his behalf.
By far, the best part of this party in a pinch was the red velvet. The kids all painted themselves with it, and we had to throw them in the tub all together after dessert. My bathroom looked like there had been a massacre with red velvet bits caked into the floor, and the red water the kids left behind. Perhaps, we can save this happy accident in our idea vault for our next Halloween party. Still, I learned I can make a memorable fete with very little supplies and on a very little budget. And I’m sure the kids, at least my niece, will hold dear to the memory of Jake’s bash.
If it was up to my son, we’d eat 24-7, and our main food group would be bread. I know. I know. He couldn’t be any more Italian. All our nonni had us toddling around with a hunk of Italian bread in our hands – sometimes dipped in Sunday’s sauce or extra-virgin olive oil, sometimes plain. And we all turned out just fine. Still, Baby Boy’s attraction to bread – I mean my mother and sister-in-law carry a loaf in their purse whenever they take him out on the town while I’m working – makes me feel like a bad American mom. I’m always trying to get him to eat veggies and fruit and other healthier, more nutritious options. Once in a while, I succeed. Once in a while, I fail…miserably.
Finally, my former boss, Charity Curley Mathews, is offering mom’s a big hand in this department. She founded and maintains the Foodlets blog with all sorts of good ideas on how to get your kids to eat the good stuff. She recently shared a secret about adding spinach to rice and another mom’s super duper rainbow spa-themed birthday party for little girls. Mathews’ article, “How to eat dinner with a toddler (or small children of any kind) without losing your mind” on Huffington Post, provides suggestions on how to make family dinner a reality in your home. What I really liked about the article is that it offers real advice that you could actually try, even if you’re a working mom like I am and don’t have that much time on your hands. It’s a good read, and it might even make your family life a little better.
Although our stay at Florida’s Walt Disney World Resorts only lasted one week, we spent an extra two weeks at my sister’s house in the area. As a result, we snuck in some extra Disney time over the weekends when I wasn’t locked in the closet working. (I literally had to work in my sister’s walk-in closet, so Baby Boy would actually let me do my writing and editing.) Since we had already doled out major cash to stay at the Disney resort, All-Star Music, visit the parks, and use the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, I opted for more affordable options during the rest of our stay in the Sunshine State.
Downtown Disney costs nothing to enter. Even though there’s no admission fee, you have to stick to your guns to have a free or nearly free day there. The place is loaded with charming Disney-centric shops. The kids will be wooed by the Disney toys and gear, so expect some whining and begging for you to buy things. I admit I gave in and bought my son an Izzy (from Jake and the Neverland Pirates) doll. If you are in the market for Disney souvenirs, Downtown Disney is the best place for them because there’s a very wide selection. There are also restaurants and small eateries if you are hungry. But you’ll have to pay for those.
Still, walking around and browsing costs you nothing. Each shop has an interesting display out front, which makes for fabulous photo ops. In addition to the beautiful Mickey fountain and garden scene out front, you’ll find Cinderella, Buzz Lightyear, and Mr. Potato Head statues to name a few. There are free concerts galore if you want to take in some music or a brief theatrical performance. Nearby, there’s a little train and a Merry-go-round, both of which will cost you $2 each per child. Baby boy had a blast on both. Although not free, these two rides are pretty affordable.
Finally, there’s the Lego store, which is a gold mine for free fun. Outside there are large Lego structures of a dragon fighting a knight, a gigantic sea creature that is in an actual lake, Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs, and Buzz and Woody on a rocket. My favorite one is of a family of tourists – replete with daughter dressed like princess, son dressed like pirate, and mom and dad with Disney-inspired hats – walking their dogs. In addition, outside the store, there are little tables for the kids to create their own Lego art and even race Lego cars that they put together. You pay no money for it, but some parents seemed to be paying with their patience. Their kids didn’t want to leave. Can you blame them?
When my one-year-old son tried to pull the heavy, metal stocking hangers on his head, I knew I was going to have to re-think Christmas this year. So, instead of an actual tree, I made him a felt one. He can move the decorations from one part of the felt Christmas tree to the other and no one gets hurt. It was simple as pie to make, too. All you have to do is purchase felt – one large green piece for the tree itself and other small pieces in various colors to create decorations. I bought black (but I would have preferred brown) to make the stump at the bottom. I cut a simple, large triangle from the large green fabric. Then, I cut circles hearts, one candy cane, and one candy shape out of the other pieces of felt. I put a piece of self-adhesive velcro on the back of each, but felt sticks to felt, so that was not really necessary. Now, my son and his little cousins have a ball moving all the decorations, including the star at the top of the tree and the stump at the bottom.