Budget Baby

Not long after finding out we were pregnant, it became my personal mission to not fall into the trap of many first-time parents who go totally overboard with spending on baby things. The baby market is a booming one, with everyone claiming their product is something you “must have” but for me the essentials were having as little clutter and stress as possible in welcoming our new addition.

Our office/dumping room (where all of the random odds and ends of our household were landing) was to become our nursery. All of the office things are being re-located to the basement as I type. It’s been a slow process, but with our end-of-September deadline looming, things are coming along nicely now and everyone is working so hard at getting organized. Organization makes me happy, so it feels really, really good to be taking care of this. The nursery is nearly complete with a few random bits to make their way downstairs, a crib mattress to purchase, and some art to be framed and hung on the walls.  For nursery décor, I wanted something simple and eclectic with a few splashes of colour. I wasn’t interested in anything too “matchy”, and I wanted a place for everything, with a forest theme as the basis for our decorating choices.

We were lucky to have a beautiful crib and a change table donated by two of the families at the school. These pieces suit the space really nicely, and were in beautiful condition. We’ve re-purposed a small grey cupboard with doors for baby linens and bibs, and I made it a bit less somber with some adorable decals that my parents got for us. Instead of a dresser, we hung some fabric organizers in the closet and stocked them with baby clothes. The futon will stay in baby’s room for guests (until Noah moves in there when he’s older) or for sick baby nights when one of the parents needs to be near by. I’m going to recover the dark grey with something more cheerful, like red, and I’m working on a very whimsical flannel rag quilt to add some colour there. I promise to post some images once the nursery is complete.

Some friends who had things to pass along have given us baby slings and wooden toys in mint condition. We’re trying to create a more “Waldorf” space for all of the children, but staying away from plastic and commercial toys. Early in my pregnancy, I made a monthly date with my mom out of raiding Value Village for clothes and shoes and accessories for baby. I scored four pairs of mint Robee shoes for $3 a pop (retail is $40) and a brand new Baby Gap newborn snowsuit for $10. Then I put the call out on Facebook to anyone who might have some baby boy clothes that they would like to get rid of. This resulted in so many bins of clothing that we’ve had to store half of it with my in-laws.  I meticulously washed and sorted everything by size, keeping only the newborn to six-month items at home for now.

Daddy compromised on his stroller choice, and selected a much more reasonably priced Britax B-Agile model that handles like a dream. My parents generously purchased this for us. Mama S’ family surprised us with the Mamma Roo chair which doubles as a swing. We’d registered for a less expensive version of both chair and swing, but this elegant splurge was very welcome, and it’s so compact and sleek it looks very handsome in our living space. Daddy’s family bought us the Skip Hop crib set I indulged in on our registry. I knew if this wasn’t a gift item, then we’d find a cheaper alternative, and I’d already made four crib sheets, but I really loved the Treetop Friends pattern. (See this great blog for crib sheet instructions – so easy!)  We ended up getting TWO sets because of my very generous cousin, so now one of these will help us buy our very extensively researched Britax Chaperone car seat.

We’ve still got one shower to look forward to this weekend with all of our wonderful friends. Once that fun has been had, we’ll fill out the rest of our needs by shopping online and shipping to our UPS inbox in Niagara Falls NY. The trip across the border is worth the incredible savings to be had by shopping online.

How did you cut corners and save on costs when your little ones arrived?

What They Don’t Tell You

On this Labour Day Monday of my first-ever pregnancy, it’s time for some true confessions. Despite having read nearly every reputable book on pregnancy (and a handful of really stupid ones) this third trimester business has completely and totally caught me off guard.

I suppose I believed that because my first and second trimesters were a breeze, I would sail through this entire experience feeling like I had sunshine blazing out of my ass. Like I had been somehow blessed by the goddess of fertility who had granted mercy on me and helped me avoid all of the usual symptoms. I’m telling you friends, this is no longer the case.

Everything you’ll read about pregnancy will tell you that you “may” feel “some discomfort” in the third trimester. Not one single source (except for a girlfriend or two) has told me that my body would feel like it as been hijacked and that I’m trapped somewhere deep inside my head watching it waddle, lurch, bump, and heave it’s way through the next two months. They warned me, but I felt so good and I was so happy, I didn’t think it could happen to me.

DISCLAIMER: In no way should the following words be interpreted as ungrateful, or as a sign that I hate pregnancy. (This should give you an idea of the kind of guilt I feel complaining so publicly about this miracle that is happening, and frankly I think having to feel guilty at all is some kind of bullshit!)

My third trimester sucks. There’s nothing delightful or magical about what is happening right now. I do not feel radiant. I do not feel sexy. I do not even really feel like myself. Some of you moms out there are reading this and thinking, “Well yeah, what did you expect?” But honestly, did you know how you would feel once your body succumbed to all of the symptoms described as possibilities in your pregnancy books?  Were you seriously able to take it all in stride?

I’m going to bet you didn’t chuckle merrily at your ENORMOUS feet and entirely vanished ankles. It’s entirely likely that you didn’t find it funny every time you squatted down and got stuck there, only able to rise again by shifting slowly to your hands and knees and curling up (or hoisting yourself up by yanking on the freezer handle to then be concussed by a cascade of toppling sunscreen bottles). If you tell me you enjoyed feeling like you have to pee every moment of the day (and often peeing when you’d rather not be) I will straight up call you a liar. And nobody, not nobody enjoys the experience of having a fart squeak out and then being unsure if it actually even came from you in the first place.

Up until now I have loved being pregnant, and there are still days (or at least portions of days) where I can really savor the feeling of having this little being inside of me, but I’m now mostly frustrated at my inability to do so many things that used to be quite simple. The first seven months literally flew by, but now it seems as though time is suspended. Last night in one of my daily crying jags (this particular one was not a moment of happy tears) I think I nailed why this has become so challenging. I’m a control freak, and I’m realizing I’m not in control anymore. My inability to accept my limitations is now making me fearful that I won’t be able to handle the rigors of labour!

I think if there were more focus on the spiritual side of being pregnant, this would be easier to take. (If more books examined the sacred power and mythology of pregnancy instead of focusing so heavily on the experience as a medical condition, for example.)  Imagine if we were taught to really embrace the experience of losing control and having something much greater than us at work in our bodies?  Then maybe we would know to just sit back and relinquish control knowing how temporary this all is, and how the end result (beautiful baby) is our reward for our discomfort.

Maybe this feeling of no longer driving the ship is perfect training for labour when trying to hold on to any semblance of being in charge is the worst thing we can do. Maybe when I wake at 4 am because my pelvis is aching from sleeping on only one side I can breathe and relax and trust that in a matter of weeks that feeling will be replaced by not sleeping because I’m feeding the little soul I have created.

Maybe I can try to have faith that even if I don’t like what’s happening; my body knows exactly what it’s doing. That some ancient feminine wisdom is guiding me through the next chapter of this pregnancy and simply being a vessel for that wisdom makes me blessed and strong (instead of awkward and incapable). Maybe learning to embrace this loss of control is the best training for motherhood I could ever ask for.



50 Days to Go

How can it be only 50 days until my due date? I just don’t know where the time went! I’m so glad I’ve been conscious of trying to savor as much of this as possible, and I’m overjoyed at how largely pleasant the pregnancy experience has been. How lucky, really.

My days now look a little something like this:

Every third day I can sleep through the night without having to pee at 3am or waking with aching hips. Lying only on my left side is hard work!

My fingers have that early-morning “I can’t move them properly” feeling all day long.

I have the feet of Barney Rubble (though I still benefit from clearly indicated ankles).

I get winded when I talk too much (Daddy is happy about this one, I think) never mind when I climb the stairs or go for a walk.

My irritability and impatience has been largely replaced by crying. Happy tears, sad tears, scared tears. I’ve stopped wearing mascara.

I can no longer re-purpose my own clothes for maternity wear.

Baby kicks can now be spotted from across the room, and it’s getting really Ridley Scott in my belly.

While the girls were folding the laundry the other day I overheard A say this: “These undies must be Mama C’s because they are GINORMOUS!!”

I am so, so anxious about EVERYTHING except for birthing this child and caring for an infant. This has resulted in an epic plan for purging our basement, incessant spread sheets and docs with to-do lists and plans of attack for almost every facet of life, and lots of tears (see above). My belief is that if I put it all “out there” now and try to exorcise these worries, then my subconscious and conscious life anxiety won’t clamp my cervix shut on the big day. At this rate, I’ll be birthing the child alone because I’m pretty sure I’m driving everyone else nuts.

I no longer care about missing out on what’s happening with my first baby (my theatre company) for a couple of months. I went from crying over having to step down and miss out on a show to choosing to miss two shows to relax and enjoy my early days of baby love.

Meeting this little man seems like it will be the greatest moment of my life, and that prospect can cheer me out of almost any state. A tall glass of carbonated water over ice also seems to be a serious mood enhancer, and now that I’ve typed that I can think of nothing else…

In other news, the morning glories I started from seed have taken over our garden. Nothing I’ve grown from seed has ever worked, and I’m so thrilled with these happy little flowers at the start of each day. They bloom in the morning and then they are done, replaced by new blooms the next day it seems. A short life to be sure, but such an impact – they make at least five people smi every morning.

Day Six: Discovery Cove

Our last full day in Orlando was an early start. We were all really excited about exploring Discovery Cove, which would have never made our radar without the help of one of the moms from school who tipped us off. This particular park is an all-inclusive day resort that is a man-made lagoon, beach, and salt water pool. We’d be snorkeling and floating, and swimming with sea creatures and otters. Pretty exciting stuff!

Unfortunately, Mama S couldn’t really snap many photos at this particular place, so you’ll have to rely on my descriptions and some images I lifted from the Internet.

The entrance to the place looked like a tropical paradise. The vegetation in Florida is so unlike anything we have here. It was easy to fantasize about the kind of awesome garden we’d have in such a place. Bamboo grew tall, palm trees and cyprus made a lush canopy, and there were brilliantly-coloured blooms to behold everywhere.

After we made our way through a very warm and friendly registration, we had breakfast. The food was cafeteria-style and we quickly realized that it would only serve as fuel for us. It was palatable, but nothing to write about. With full tummies, we moved from the breakfast place to the tropical aviary.

The aviary hosted a beautiful assortment of birds, many of whom were quite used to people feeding them with the little cups of diced fruit and seed available. They had no qualms about landing on your head or arms, and the friendliest birds were about the size of our pigeons and seagulls. It was pretty amusing to watch the kids react in both delight and fear in response to all of their new friends, and we all managed to avoid getting pooped on.

After a little tour through the aviary, we found some lockers and gathered our swimming/snorkeling gear. We were advised to use wet suits because the water in the salt water pool was quite cool (for the creatures that live there) and because all guests had to have a wetsuit or a vest on, but of course nobody makes maternity wet suits. Daddy and I opted for the vests, which were pleasantly stretchy. Wandering around looking for the entrance to the salt water pool in the blazing heat wearing wet suits really made us look forward to that extra cool water.

I’m not the strongest swimmer, and my big belly was definitely making me less buoyant, so I grabbed a life jacket for myself and A. The girls splashed into the water ahead of us, and quickly began shrieking with the cold. Then A stopped in her tracks. There were creatures everywhere! The rays that they stocked the pool with were much, much bigger than what we saw at SeaWorld. In fact, I think once the stingrays get too big for the SeaWorld pool they graduate to Discovery Cove. Some of the rays were about four feet wide. A was a bit terrified I think – both of the deep water, and all of the creatures in the pool. Swimming with the animals is one thing in theory and something quite different in practice. Even I was just a little bit nervous, and had insisted on a mission to find water shoes at the local Walmart lest I step on anything icky or painful. A objected violently (and loudly) to Daddy’s attempts at convincing her to swim with him, but Mama S was able to be the voice of reason. It took nearly half an hour of convincing, while the rest of us snorkeled about, but soon A joined our party secure on Mama’s back.

Snorkeling with a life jacket and a large pregnant belly is possibly the most ungraceful thing I’ve ever attempted. Also, I think everyone else in the pool was getting used to snorkeling because they kept crashing into me. It felt quite crowded in the pool, despite the fact that the park only allows 1,000 people per day. I took my time though, and took lots of breaks. The underwater world is such a marvel. It felt so peaceful and serene, and it was quite humbling to take in all of the colour and beauty that nature yields.

After a bit of solo exploration, we all decided to go on a little adventure together. We snorkeled about the cove, A clinging tightly to Mama S, and we approached an area under a bridge where as I got closer, I could see about 30 sharks hanging around near the sandy bottom. Sharks! I popped my head out of the water and grabbed Daddy, who had arrived at this spot moments before me and was now laughing his head off at me. He took my hand and placed it against the thick and very clear glass wall separating us from them as he continued to laugh. Of course they wouldn’t let people swim with sharks. Holy liability suit! It did scare the bejesus out of me for a moment though.

After we’d had our fill (read children with blue lips) in the saltwater pool, we headed to the fresh water for a tour on the lazy river. My quest was to find the otters that were reputed to be frolicking there. The lazy river was so long, and lovely. The current wasn’t very strong, so I really had to work (even with the use of a floating noodle) to stay with the group at certain points, but the scenery was lovely.

The river even wound through the aviary, and we still escaped the poop. No otters were discovered on our lazy river experience, but we were directed to a separate lagoon by a handsome lifeguard. I was disappointed to find that they too were kept behind glass. I had real fantasies of petting them and playing with them, but maybe they are more vicious than they look. The otters, not the lifeguards. I’m also not sure I can safely describe them as ‘frolicking’. They seemed a little listless to me, perhaps because they were sad that the humans were kept behind glass.

Lunch time was next. Again, the food was mostly fuel, certainly not our greatest culinary experience. The kids away, but didn’t eat much because the lure of the water was too great. After lunch, we returned to the salt water, but hit the opposite side of the pool. I really love snorkeling, and these man-made experiences are all I get because I have a bit of a phobia about swimming in the ocean. Please don’t tell my kids. We got to enjoy the stingray feeding, which had us surrounded by stingrays. They are so gentle and beautiful. The park staff told me about how difficult it is for them to keep people from hurting the animals in their excitement/fear and the marine park guilt started to creep in again. I saw at least two grown men new to the pool scream like old ladies at the sight of the first big ray, and honestly there wasn’t any preparation at all for guests about what to expect in the pool or how to behave. I found that a bit irresponsible. They did offer these fun laminated cards with samples of all of the marine life and their names which unfortunately we discovered as we were leaving the pool for the last time. It would have made for a fun family treasure hunt.

We planned to return to the lazy river, but learned that it was closed due to nearby lightning. A very ominous mass of cloud cover was rolling in fast, and I predicted a typhoon. We attempted the aviary instead, but the birds were all taking cover, so I insisted we leave and get changed. It was only an hour before the park close anyway. My childhood fear of thunderstorms kicked in suddenly. I’m not sure if it was because we were all soaking wet and surrounded by water, but I suddenly started to feel panicky about the approaching storm. All of the park staff were on high alert too, insisting people take cover. That didn’t help. I had to be reminded by the other parents to relax, which was embarrassing. I hate when I lose my cool. Fortunately we were quickly changed and enjoying the warm showers in the massive changing room. We ducked out of the park as quickly as we could (despite the staff telling us that we should remain where we were) and we avoided the rain altogether.

The kids were pooped. They made it clear that they were disappointed about leaving, but once they were in the air conditioned car, I could see how flaked they were. I think we all were pretty tired, but not in the “I’m too damned sticky and hot” way. Our end-of-day tired was from lots of physical activity, which naturally led us to find a souvenir shop paired with a Baskin Robbins. The girls took their time picking out their final souvenirs and finally settled on a small stuffy each, and some shark tooth necklaces. They were even thoughtful enough to pick a necklace for each of their best friends. Then we ice-creamed.

Back at the hotel, the adults were too tired and too water logged to consider more swimming, and the rain had finally arrived. We filled the jacuzzi tub in the master suite for the girls and let them have a soak while we ordered dinner to our room. Mama S and I set up the table on our screened patio, and we enjoyed our last supper in Florida watching the rain dance across the pond outside our room.

The next morning, we’d wake up early to get in a couple of hours in the pool before check out time, and then we’d head to the airport. Stay tuned for the final vacation wrap up.

Day Five: Dolphins are Horny Bastards

Day five was a leisurely wake up, breakfast, and then off again to SeaWorld.

Our first order of business was to return to the stingrays. The girls couldn’t stop talking about them. We coughed up our money for a tray of raw shrimp and lowered our hands into the pool so they could sweep the food off our hands with their lip flappy thinggies. In actuality, the stingrays swarmed whomever was feeding, so we all felt a bit more comfortable dropping the shrimp into the pool for them. I kept thinking “One of these critters killed the Crocodile Hunter!” Call me paranoid. I’m sure pregnant ladies aren’t supposed to be up to their armpits in raw shrimp stingray poop infested waters, so I gave myself a bath in the hand wash station and then we headed off to Dolphin Cove to watch the dolphins cavort before we got our seats for the dolphin show.

First we saw the dolphins splashing above water, then we headed to the underwater portion of their aquarium, and were treated to a different kind of dolphin show. The dolphins seemed very curious about the people watching them, so they kept swimming up to the glass to check everyone out. Then I started to hear tittering from the crowd gathered at the opposite end of the glass windows. I headed over only to realize that two of the dolphins were getting it on. I figured they were mating until I realized they were both male. (Take that all of you morons who think homosexuality is ‘unnatural’!) Once Bert and Ernie started going at it, all of the other dolphins seemed inspired, and soon it was like a scene from ancient Rome. With dolphins. There seemed to be no concern whatsoever for gender, and interestingly, none of the children seemed to comment about this display. It was the teenager and adult observers who seemed all aflutter about this. I guess to the kids it just seemed like play, which as far as I’m concerned, it was.

Daddy kept commenting about how sorry he felt for the dolphins. He likened their hump fest to bored young adults who were trapped growing up in the country with nothing to do but get drunk and high and fool around. I suggested he speak with the trainer on duty about the captivity practices at SeaWorld, and so he did.  I’m not sure she put him at ease though. She spoke about their breeding program and how they sometimes will sell breeding stock to other zoos or aquariums. SeaWorld sets the standard for care and treatment of marine life, but they breed some animals in captivity to keep people paying to see the animals do tricks. That money goes towards saving and usually re-releasing distressed and injured animals and to making more rich Americans. When asked why the dolphins were having a sex-fest she stated “Dolphins are very social creatures”. We decided they were the bonobos of the sea.

After leaving the company of our social friends, we went to grab seats for the dolphin show. The other dolphin show, which was decidedly less sexy. I think I enjoyed this show the most because it featured a team of aerial divers who did some really amazing tricks. I figure if the animals have to do tricks, the humans should also do strange and unnatural things with their bodies. All of the humans were dressed as exotic birds, and much to my surprise the show featured several flocks of parrots who were released from the back of the stadium, flying very close over our heads. My mother would have had a coronary. It was like a Hitchcockian paradise. At one point, a huge dark shadow passed over us and I felt a woosh of air over my head. A condor swooped from the back of our seats to the back of the stage. I’ve never seen a bird that large. It was terrifying.  After the show, some of the cast were on hand to pose for a photo. People were treating the actors like they were cardboard cutouts, but our girls both said “That was a great show!” without prompting from us. They make me so proud.

With time to spare before the next show, the fam decided to tackle the Atlantis themed log ride. Again, no pregnant ladies allowed. What to do but waddle into the gift shop which was icy with a/c. It also featured a small aquarium room with a glass floor. I settled myself on the cool floor with my back propped against the wall. It felt so good to be cold and sitting down, and I had a couple of other pregnant buddies to talk to. Watching the fish float by beneath me lulled me right to sleep until a toe against my knee woke me up. It was Mamma S reporting that near by lighting had temporarily closed down the ride, so she was sent to consult with me about whether they should wait, or catch our last opportunity to feed the dolphins. We’d come to the park to feed the dolphins, so the dolphins won. The kids were pretty disappointed about the ride, and I think were probably starting to get a bit tired. (Read cranky)

We chose well because there was a massive line up for the dolphin feeding. Fortunately, we were right next to the stingray pool so the kids were able to occupy themselves there until we’d moved further in the line. Finally we had paid our dolphin feeding fee and were about to face them head on. The trainer gave us some basic rules to follow and then they armed us with a tray of raw fish. The dolphins swam up very close and with one hand we could pop the fish in their mouths and with the other stroke them under their chins. I think I had expected to see some clever, ancient sparkle in their eyes, but they looked all dead on the inside. Again, I just ended up feeling kind of sad for them. They ate well every day, but they basically had to whore themselves and be fondled by strangers in order to do so. I scrubbed the raw fish and the shame away at the wash station.

By now the rain had started. We headed over to the next show, in an indoor theatre, featuring trained domestic pets. We were quite early so we stopped in a cafeteria for lunch, and surprisingly found some really healthy options. Daddy got the smoked turkey leg he’d been craving; another throw-back from my Renaissance Festival days.

After lunch we watched the pet show. It was easily the girls’ favourite. The set was pretty elaborate – it was a beach town for pets, and the animals were very amusing. There were lots of different dogs and cats, a rat, a pot bellied pig, and a skunk. They were all rescued from local animal shelters to be kept (probably in crates) at SeaWorld learning tricks to amuse humans. Hmmmm….

The pet show was our last SeaWorld attraction before we decided to call it a day. We let the girls play a “win every time” game, and they each got a stuffed stingray to take home. The girls really loved SeaWorld, and loved getting to see so many of these animals for the first time. H stated she wanted to be a marine biologist or trainer when she grows up. It inspired them in just the way a zoo or aquarium should. Two new converts to the “save the marine life” school of thought. This also led to a really interesting conversation about why we could go to SeaWorld, but why we’ll never spend our money at our close-to-home Marineland. Coincidentally, the Marineland animal abuse story broke just after we returned to Toronto. After SeaWorld we had a dinner reservation at the Benihana across the street from the hotel, and we had just enough time to go home and freshen up.

Benihana was highly entertaining for the girls. For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, it’s a Japanese restaurant that operates teppanyaki style, which means the chef cooks everything right at your table. We shared our table with a couple on vacation with their little boy. He kept making race car sounds, but no actual words, through the entire meal. Ironically, A was super annoyed with all of the noise he was making. Our chef was very amusing, and great with the kids. The food however was a huge disappointment. I could barely choke down my over-cooked steak. Fortunately we filled up on appetizers, which were yummy, but the main event was blah. Again, high entertainment value for the children saves the day.

It was straight to bed for the munchkins at home, and some relaxation time for the grown ups. Day six would be our biggest day yet, and our final full day of vacation. We had reservations for Discovery Cove where we’d swim with otters, stingrays, tropical fish and sharks. I think day six was the day we’d all been waiting for.