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Cabin Fever: 5 Ways to Combat a Case of the Crazies

Cabin Fever: 5 Ways to Combat a Case of the Crazies

Last week brought with it the onset of cabin fever, and Thursday evening went a bit like this:

“When was the last time I left the house?” I started to tremble as the thought rushed through my mind.

“I’ve dropped and picked up Elsie from school, does that count?”

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t because you don’t get out of the car.”

“Have I been to the grocery store?”

“I can’t even remember.”

“Do you realize you’re talking to yourself right now?”

My brain started to jitter, my eyes felt like they were sinking back into my head. Panic set in, along with the sudden urge to run down the street naked into the wind with my hair loosely flowing behind me. Then I remembered I don’t live on a farm surrounded by open lavender fields, and in fact live in a family friendly city neighborhood. Nudity was probably not an option, plus it’s January. However, if you’ve forgotten what’s outside your door, it’s probably time you left and found out. Time for a personal intervention.
cabin fever

What is Cabin Fever?

Cabin fever is not a formally diagnosed condition, and instead is associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) because it happens during the winter when people become housebound by the weather. Whoever came up with this linear connection has unlikely spent time as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM). It’s even in the job title, they might as well rename us cabin-fever-moms (CFM). I assure you this condition can occur at anytime of year, and it’s severity is directional proportional to the number of young children you have. 

WebMD claims cabin fever will make you:

  • irritable;
  • unmotivated;
  • lethargic;

It’s basically a mental hangover that even fried food can’t cure. To be honest I had been feeling it all week, my children’s whining has been extraordinarily grating, and I even blogged less than usual. I’ve been crazy tired, yet waking in the middle of the night with to-do lists on auto-repeat. So… what’s the plan this week?

5 Methods to Combat a Case of the Crazies

On Saturday we booked a day sitter from 2-8pm. We have never done this before as we usually do date nights, not days. How novel… I went window shopping without the double stroller. It was actually pretty weird to be out and about without the babies. I soon realized that the only reason everyone is so kind and friendly is because they have love eyes for the Twinkies. In reality the general public don’t hold doors open, and don’t smile at each other – I’ve had rose tinted glasses on for the past 14-months. Still, I highly recommend it, you can even do happy hour and get home early enough to sleep it off. 

The obvious remedy for cabin fever is to leave the house as we did, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Here are some suggestions of how to pick up the mood while you’re stuck in mom jail:

Lay off the Carbs

‘Lean proteins high in omega-3 fatty acids have been repeatedly linked to improved moods, and many of these foods—like lean beef and wild salmon—are also high in B12 and vitamin D, nutrients important for emotional regulation.’ Brian Krans, Healthline.com

Carbs can make you feel bloated and sluggish, not very conducive to boosting your motivation. I’m not suggesting you go full Atkins diet, but try a meal a day without carbs, it’s surprisingly energizing and encourages you to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Look After your Gut

Many fail to realize that your gut is literally your second brain, and can significantly influence your mind, mood, and behavior. Your gut actually produces more mood-regulating serotonin than your brain does.’ Dr Mercola, mercola.com.

Dr Marcela explains the best way to look after your gut is to eat fermented foods. Unfortunately I don’t think he means drink more beer, he actually means foods such as yogurt, soy sauce, kimchi and sauerkraut. If you’re wondering ‘what am I supposed to do with that lot?’, take a look at 25 Ways to Use Sauerkraut… wow, how much sauerkraut can one person eat?

Refined sugars can not only negatively affect the brain, they also promote the growth of bad bacteria in the gut. So it’s less ice cream and more fermented veg I’m afraid. If that’s not enough to make you want to leave the house to binge at the mall food court I don’t know what will.

Gardening

I spent an hour in the backyard yesterday, despite the drizzly weather. Although I was still in the vicinity of the house, I got some fresh air, some exercise and a change of scenery. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re 3-feet deep in snow right now, but even if there’s a chill in the air, wrap up and have a tinker outside. The kiddos can join, little ones love weeding!

Exercise 

According to Mayo Clinic, exercise improves mood and helps with depression by:

  • Releasing feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids)
  • Reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
  • Increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects

If you’re not the jogging stroller type, I would highly recommend a workout video. Kids love to bounce around and join in, and watching them doing warm-up stretches alone is enough to bring a smile to your face. It’s a win-win because laughter produces endorphins and lowers the stress hormone cortisol.

Relax

It’s extremely difficult to reduce stress when you are engulfed by children all day. As a working Mom of one child, I used to imagine the day of a SAHM filled with finger painting, reading books and long cuddles. In reality, children are surprisingly cranky, and a lot of the day is spent dealing with tantrums, bumped heads and fumbling around the cupboard to find alternatives to the lunch they’ve just thrown on the floor. They’re really very anti-social… can you imagine if adults behaved like-one year-olds do? We’d be arrested before the day was out.

Having said that, we need to find moments to relax, even if they are short. If your littles are young enough to still have naptime, make the time to sit quietly, read a book, drink tea, and all those wondrous things. If not, try your best to plan and assign a time when the children are likely to be chirpy (the boys are in the best mood immediately after breakfast) and use the opportunity to take some mom time out, even if you have to use Kids Netflix to babysit. I’m talking to myself as well as you, I am terrible at this and know it would help.

If daytime relaxation doesn’t get a look in, try some bedtime relaxation exercises to help switch off at the end of the day. I’m going to try the ‘The Relaxing Staircase Technique’ found at Mind Body Green this week.

 

Cabin fever intervention now in motion, I’m hoping for a more productive happy week. Are you feeling a case of the crazies? Do let me know if you have any genius remedies!

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Child Fashionista: Cringe and Smile

Child Fashionista: Cringe and Smile

As a child fashionista myself, I distinctly remember picking out a pair of leggings from C&A in the late eighties. THEY WERE AWESOME. White with multicolored swirls on them, a bit like lollipops melting in a tornado. Sky blue, red, yellow, no color was excluded, I was equal rights right from the start. To go with, C&A were offering a bright blue t-shirt with one giant lollipop tornado in the center, perfect. I looked at my Mom with puppy dog eyes, my Mom looked at my sister, 7 years my senior, and the coolest person I knew at that point. And there it was… cringe and smile.

At the time I thought they had no idea… This outfit was The Bomb, and I was going to be rocking it at the roller disco that very evening. Unfortunately, while waiting for my pick-up a few hours later a bunch of horrible older boys walked past, laughing and pointing at my outfit. I wanted the world to open a hole right there and swallow me up. My sister and Mom were right… the t-shirt was too much. I wore the leggings many times after that, but convinced the t-shirt had pushed the assemble over the edge, I never wore it again.

child fashionista cat

My husband and I have since quoined the phrase – “I love a bit of wacky.” This is nothing to do with wacky-backy or unusual bedroom preferences, simply that although my fashion tastes are fairly mainstream and filled with monochrome, jeans and cardigans; I like to throw in a bit of flare every now and again. A wacky color pair of shoes, a crazy print here and there, and his personal favorite ‘the yellow blazer’. If I am asked my opinion on something that he is considering a little too crazy, my response is and will always be ‘I love a bit of wacky.’ Because I do.

Despite leaving my child fashionista behind, it was only inevitable that my daughter would end up the same way. She is six and three quarters (you all know the quarters are important) and has been dressing herself for a while. A couple of years ago I would pick her clothes out for her but she’s old enough to know what to do… or so you’d think. If you’ve read ‘Why are you still naked?‘ you’ll know some days I’m lucky if she puts on any clothes at all.

What amazes me is that Elsie has quite the selection of nice clothes. Some bought my myself, some lovingly sent over from Grannies in France and England. Yet, why does she always pick the washed out psychedelic zebra print running shorts I bought from Walmart last year, as ‘a little bit of wacky’ to wear under a skirt and stop the constant knicker flashing. No more knicker flashing occurs because we don’t wear skirts anymore, just the tiny psychedelic shorts instead… I tried to sneak them into the recycling pile a few months ago. Totally busted and they are now back in her drawers. Tops – she has numerous fancy numbers from Jacardi, Paris – beautiful and expensive. But no… always the M&M t-shirt we brought her back from Vegas.

So, should I just leave her – cringe and smile? Or do I intervene when it’s just so awful I can’t bear it? My parenting guru tells me to allow her to pick her own outfits, gain independence, and confidence in her own style and identity. My public mom-shame streak wants everyone to see my family with rose-tinted glasses. Those families you see at Church with coordinated outfits, collared shirts that remain tucked in at all costs, and perfect Lego hair doesn’t seem to move at all.

My parenting guru got a boost when Elsie started a new Montessori School last August. In the welcome handbook it asked that during out-of-school hours we allow our children to pick their own clothes and dress themselves, for the very reasons I mentioned above. Guru wins, down with the Lego hair. But recently I’ve been struggling, we’ve had some child fashionista corkers, so I decided to share. We did a little fashion show, Elsie picks three outfits from her wardrobe and Mom does the same. Here’s the difference:

Child Fashionista 

child fashionista

  1. First up we have leggings bought for Christmas 2015 which came with a navy reindeer top. The top was outgrown this year but the leggings unfortunately still have plenty of give, meaning they need a new companion. Cue the hideous fleece top bought from Walmart in an emergency ‘I had no idea how cold Flagstaff was’ situation. It is literally all they had in her size and we had 20mins to get to the North Pole. Of course, it is now a favorite…
  2. Those shorts… they are literally the stuff of parent nightmares but she loves them. They either get worn with this t-shirt, or something so long it looks like she’s not wearing any pants at all.
  3. I love this dress, she looks adorable in it, the boots too. But somehow with these two comes her ‘little bit of wacky’ in the striped socks that I literally bought for wacky sock day at school. But you know what, I’ll let her off this one, the splash of flare is tickling my wacky streak.

Forgotten Child Fashionista – aka Boring Mom

child fashionista

  1. This was a recent purchase and sparked this blog post. As Elsie seems determined to stick with elasticated waists I thought this tunic sweater from J Crew was the perfect replacement for the Walmart hearts above.
  2. She was actually pretty happy I picked this t-shirt. “I love this cat, I had totally forgotten about it!” Win for Mom as long as it doesn’t end up on top of the psychedelic running shorts. 
  3. You just can’t go wrong with blue stripes, can you?

But hang on a minute…

I carried out this exercise to have a play around with my new photography equipment, have fun with Elsie and blog about kids picking wacky clothes. What came next was totally unexpected. Take a look at the two photographs, what do you see?

In the top picture I see and six-year-old. In the bottom photo I see a nine-year old. I do prefer the clothes, don’t get me wrong, but am I dressing a kid or am I dressing myself? In my post ‘Totally Impractical Baby Clothes we all Love to Buy‘ I talk of the urge to dress your baby like Justin Bieber. Why are we insistent on dressing our children like grown ups? Do I want my 9-year-old dressing like a 16-year-old? No. Do I want my 12-year-old dressing like an 18-year-old… definitely not. So what kind of example am I setting when I’m making her dress older now? Hmm… food for thought.

What does Montessori teaching have to say about it?

I decided to delve deeper into why Elsie’s Montessori school had requested that she dress herself. Tips for letting your child dress him/herself published by Apple Montessori Schools says:

“When your child is old enough to dress him or herself, it may be time to teach them that polka dots and stripes don’t match.”

Oh… unexpected. So I am allowed to give fashion advice? It seems offering limited choices is a reasonable method in teaching a child to dress themselves. To be honest, the reason Elsie forgot about the cat t-shirt is because too many clothes float around in her drawers. The classic Montessori classroom is filled with neutral colors and natural tones. Montessori by Mom suggests a similar approach to clothing:

“If you are concerned about colors and patterns clashing, it’s easy to control for this by sticking to neutrals or mix-and-match styles.”

So it’s not out of question to expect your child to conform to certain fashions; you give them the choice but limited with a mom fashion-filter. But is it really giving your child the freedom to express themselves? Isn’t it like saying you can eat anything you want… as long as it’s a cheese sandwich because that’s all I’ve got? A sneaky method of control when you’re promoting freedom of speech. Am I a communist? I feel confused I know that much.

” When she picks out her own clothes and walks down the stairs saying, “Look at what I picked out?!” It’s important to give her the satisfaction of saying she did a good job. If a child makes a fashion faux pas, it’s not the end of the world.”(Apple Montessori Schools)

That much I can agree with.

What am I going to do about it?

  • Sort through Elsie’s clothes and purge. Her personal favorites that I want to get rid of (aka psychedelic running shorts) will be put to one side and a conversation will be had. They are too small, they are worn out, they have to go.
  • Pack away clothes that don’t fit the season. We had a tiny summer romper on at the weekend in early Jan. We might live in Arizona but she was still freezing at lunch – don’t worry I did make her wear a token cardigan.
  • Organize clothes so that the newly reduced selection is fully visible. Although I’ve thrown out some of her favorites, there are gems lurking at the bottom of the drawers.
  • Cringe and smile. Let her wear wacky socks and mis-match a little. Try to give advice if you think she’ll end up on the wrong side of a roller-disco bully, but let her be her.

After all, we all love a little bit of wacky.
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What’s Hot and Not for 2017? New Year Resolutions

What’s Hot and Not for 2017? New Year Resolutions

It’s 2017 people, and that means its time for optimism and planning. This year will be better than last year… it’s important to believe it, even if you’re proved wrong by the end of the month. So, what’s about to change for 2017? When coming up with New Year resolutions, you can end up with a long list. So instead, I’m thinking about what’s hot and not for 2017. This helps me:

  • Prioritize. What’s THE most important thing I want to achieve this year?
  • Add and Delete. Don’t just add a whole bunch of new stuff to your life, and don’t omit everything either. Find a balance – what’s hot and not for 2017.
  • Sliding Scale. Maybe something new isn’t quite what you thought it would be? Maybe it slides down the scale. That’s OK… organic fluidity baby.

Without further ado, here’s my plan for a better year – what’s hot and not for 2017?

What's hot and not for 2017

120°F Time

Unfortunately Santa did not bring me a time machine as requested – I was obviously on the naughty list. After spending every moment of 2016 in the company of the Twins I can safely say I am going insane. I will be investing in time to myself, and get a regular babysitter/nanny for a couple of afternoons of freedom. I am more than excited about this, cue little mom jig…

101°F Photography

Blogging is a multi-skilled endeavor and it’s time to up my game. My husband was kind enough to kit me out with all sorts of computer and photography goodies for my December birthday, so I’m pretty much at ‘all the gear and no idea’ stage. 2017 is officially going to be prettier than 2016. (I know you noticed the new look of the site already 😉

98°F Walking

More walking for the me and the dog, we both need more fresh air and exercise. Our dog is getting so fat from all the highchair appetizers, her legs are starting to disappear, intervention required. Any walking at all by the Twins would also be good, come on twinkies… you’re 13months, you can do it. Of course once walking is mastered my walking is going to be upgraded to running, in two opposite directions at once.

83°F House Plants

In the past, we haven’t been big on house plants. Partly because I have a talent for killing them, partly because we used to travel a lot and this often finished off the ones I hadn’t already murdered. Now we have three kids we’re just not so jet set… so, project house plant commences. They look great and they are increase air quality, win win. There will no doubt be casualties along the way, but we’ll get there.

72°F Black

Black accents in the home – picture frame, coffee tables, door handles, window frames… yes, everything is looking cool in black right now. And it doesn’t stop there – when I left my profession as an Architect I made an effort to wear less black. I thought I needed more color in my life but I was wrong. I want my black back and because I don’t practice Architecture at the moment I’m not even a cliche.

68°F Sleep

I have three kids and I’m tired. I’ve spent the past few months trying to get more sleep, but whether I get it or not, I’m still tired anyway. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that when you’re in your mid thirties and you have three kids you are going to be more tired than you were ten years ago. That’s OK, take it easy when you need to and stop freaking out about getting more sleep, because frankly it’s not going to happen any time soon.

54°F The Gym

Following ‘To Gym or Not to Gym?’ I did quit my membership, and I have no plans to return just yet. It’s difficult to find the time to go, and your conscience tortures you all day long until you get there. Having said that, I do want to be healthy and fit – see ‘walking’ above, and I want to get back into yoga… it’s been a while and I miss it. Good for the body and the mind.

49°F Illness

We have spent the past three months battling cold after cold. Strep throat, ear infections, weazing, rashes… ugh. I’m done. Everyone is on the mend now and I’m ordering the whole family to stay that way. More fun, less snot please.

41°F Meat

We eat too much of it. All of us. I’m not going vegetarian just yet, but I will be eating less meat in 2017. If you’re not aware of the impact mass farming is having our environment and ecosystem, I highly recommend doing some reading. The basics are covered on whyeatlessmeat.com and if you haven’t seen the documentary Cowspiracy I highly recommend it, quite the eye opener. My Mom is going to read this in horror because I grew up on a beef farm, which she still runs. Sorry Mom.

32°F Super Mom 

I put my hands up… I tried it and it’s not healthy. You can’t do it all. So, along with ‘time‘ as featured above, I am going to stop doing it all. I’m not picking up the shoes that are constantly scattered all over the house – put them somewhere tidy yourself. I’m not picking up your knickers from the kitchen floor every morning (don’t ask), do it yourself. Tidy your own room; I’m not the only person that can make a bed; and it is possible for a man to work the washing machine. Goodbye Super Mom, welcome Delegator.

 

So come on, spill the beans, what’s hot and not for 2017 in your life?

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Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies: Elsie in the Kitchen

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies: Elsie in the Kitchen

I’m still recovering from the holidays (I hope you are too), so Elsie has taken over for today’s blog post. She’s making chewy chocolate chip cookies… delicious. Do enjoy her video!

Well done Elsie, they are pretty yummy if I don’t say so myself. I would suggest taking more precaution than she does with health and hygeine though. I’m pretty sure every surface and every cookie was licked at some point in the making of this film. Still, we will certainly be making these again, and I must give a shout out to Hoast the Toast, as we adapted the recipe from Morgan’s great blog. If you can’t remember exactly what Elsie said, here’s the recipe card:

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yields 18
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Prep Time
40 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
52 min
Prep Time
40 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
52 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 cups all purpose flour
  2. 1 tsp baking soda
  3. 2 tsp cornstarch
  4. ½ tsp salt
  5. 6oz melted butter
  6. 1 cup dark brown sugar
  7. ½ white sugar
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 2 tsp vanilla extract
  10. 1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cornstarch and salt.
  2. Mix in the sugars and melted butter (make sure butter is cooled) using an electric mixer for around a minute.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and continue to mix for another minute.
  4. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Refrigerate the cookie dough for 30minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  7. Roll the cookie dough into balls and place on a lined baking sheet.
  8. Bake the cookies for around 12minutes. Keep an eye on them - you want a little color on the edges but still soft in the middle.
  9. Allow to cool on the baking sheet.
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chewy chocolate chip cookies

For more video’s of Elsie in the kitchen, check out these on YouTube:

 
 


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There’s a Portal to Santa’s Workshop in Flagstaff…

There’s a Portal to Santa’s Workshop in Flagstaff…

It’s my birthday today so I’m taking it easy because I’m feeling a bit old. I think I might need some champagne… so for today only, there will be no heavy reading, wise cracks or sarcasm. No rants, advice or wise words. Just some photos from our magical trip to Santa’s Workshop in Flagstaff, Arizona, taken last weekend.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

 

mom-kids-on-bus
On the trolley, ready to enter the portal to the North Pole.
dad-baby-on-bus
George is pretty excited about meeting Santa!
north-pole-compass
Santa’s elf gives us a geography lesson.
santa's workshop in flagstaff
Elsie helps make toys for other children (which go to charity).
twins-stroller
We can’t build toys but Dad’s pretty good company.
elf-classroom
Graduating from Elf University.
santa-portal
Santa’s elf explains the ins and out of the portal control room.
santa-with-girl
Santa gets a freshly written letter.
santa-three-kids
Arthur officially likes Santa more than Pumpkins.

Have a glass of bubbles for me 🙂

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Parents Helping with Homework: The Diorama Dilemma

Parents Helping with Homework: The Diorama Dilemma

How do you feel about parents helping with homework? We’re into our second year of school, and I’ve got to say it generally sucks. Considering I am someone with experience in setting and marking homework, I’m surprised what a torment it has become. I really had no idea how much parental involvement was…  involved. This has thrown up many questions: 

  • What is the purpose of homework?
  • Does parents helping with homework contribute to positive parenting?
  • Does parents helping with homework support successful teaching?
  • How much help are other kids are getting at home?
  • Is parents helping with homework even fair?

Whatever your thoughts, there is no doubt that to do it properly you need some serious mom skills.

parents helping with homework title

The tale of a diorama:

Elsie is on Winter Break,  and I was thrilled to receive an email last week that read “no new homework going home this week”. Brilliant, I thought, Winter Break can actually be a break. But them I remembered the hedgehog diorama project… yes that’s actually a thing.

If you don’t know what a diorama is (I had to google it), it’s a model scene of something, usually housed in a box. A quick browse of google brought to my attention that there are two types of diorama. The ones your kid makes, and the ones parents helping with homework ‘contribute’ to. And dioramas aren’t just for kids you know, it gets quite serious. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London featured an exhibition of them back in 2014. They were all lovingly built by local designers, actual grown-up ones. Here’s my favorite – check out more at ELLE Decor:

underwater-diorama
“I Always Dreamed of an Underwater Aquarium Bathroom” by Katy Christianson

Is this homework for me or her?

My daughter’s six, and is a pretty talented First-Grader. But she has the attention span of one of the paper fish featured in the above diorama, so there’s going to need to be some parental input to get beyond an up-cycled Pampers box decorated with a Sharpied hedgehog.

six-year-old-with-sharpie
She’s a six year old with a Sharpie and she’s not afraid to use it.

A couple of days ago I’m staring at the empty box, thinking “how involved do I get here?” A few considerations came to mind:

  • Do I want my daughter to have the coolest diorama that ever lived to show off to her friends?
  • Should I take this an an opportunity to get stuck into a one on one activity with my daughter over the holiday?
  • Do I want teachers and parents to be impressed with our mother daughter team work?
  • Am I secretly excited about making cardboard models, years after graduating from Architecture school? Yes… making models was the best bit.
  • Should I be concerned that most of my reasons for wanting to help are shamefully selfish, morally questionable, and have very little to do with my daughter’s education?

I decide to put my her creation on hold and really think about the purpose of this exercise. 

What the experts say about the purpose of homework:

According to Data Works Educational Research homework should aim to prepare for, practice, extend or apply classwork. They go on to say:

“Homework can help establish communication between parents and children; it can be used as a form of discipline; and it can inform parents about school topics and activities.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I stay informed of what Elsie’s learning about, while improving our relationship and bringing general structure to home life. Unfortunately, if you’ve read ‘Organizational Skills: A Tale of Two Ninjas‘ you’ll know that I am currently failing at the latter, and if we had nothing else going on in our lives, homework would be just great. In reality, outside of school Elsie has dance class, cooking club and swim club. We like to have the occasional play date, visit the library, and walk the dog in the park. We often do chores after school like visiting the grocery store, shopping for endless birthday party presents, and the weekly Target run. Elsie is learning the piano and the recorder, both of which require practice. She also needs to eat and wash but I hope that’s not too much to ask.

The truth is, although homework may be useful for supporting school work and enhancing parenting relationships, children do not have time to do it properly without side effects.

“Assigning excessive amounts of homework may result in unneeded stress and pressure on the child, which affects the student’s emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health.” (dataworks-ed.com)

What’s more, I’m dealing with a major case of disinterest in school work, and homework is not helping:

“It can lead to boredom if the student has already mastered the skills, and it can lead to loss of interest in school due to burnout.” (dataworks-ed.com)

I would really rather avoid burnout, especially before we hit the Second Grade.

What experts say about parents helping with homework:

Harvard Family Research Project published a review of current research on ‘Parental Involvement in Homework‘ and reading between a lot of waffle I can summarize the advantages of parents helping with homework as:

  • Helping to structure time, space, and materials;
  • Supporting challenges in ability, effort and motivation;
  • Rewarding effort, completion, correctness;
  • Encouraging kids to break tasks into discrete, manageable parts;
  • Modelling appropriate learning processes and problem solving strategies;
  • Checking for understanding;
  • Encouraging kids to self-monitor and self-motivate;

All positive contributions parents can make to a child’s learning. Where the Family Research Project goes all kinds of wrong is when they include statements like:

‘Structure homework within the flow of family life; ensure parental “availability on demand”’

Oh come on Harvard… ‘availability on demand’? Do you have any children? If so, I’m presuming you only have one. Elsie has two younger brothers, are they expected to have ‘availability on demand’ too? You’ve got to be joking.

My thoughts on helping with homework

If you haven’t seen the movie ‘Bad Mums’, before everything goes horribly wrong, she is living the perfected life of the ‘super mom’. In amongst soccer practice, PTA meetings, her job and making dinner, she’s also ‘helping’ with homework. Here’s a picture of her son’s history project, a huge paper mache bust of Richard Nixon:

bad moms movie nixon head

As you can see, it’s expected that parents helping with homework not only have the time to do so, but also graduated from Art school… no pressure. I do think it’s a little unfair on kids with busier parents, I can see it getting competitive and no-one wants to be the kid with the crappy diorama. At the same time, as much we try to avoid it, school is a competitive environment and always will be.

Despite my general loathing for State standardized homework (the crappy timed Math worksheets in particular grind my gears), I do see the purpose of project work. It’s also particularly suited to parents helping with homework. It helps us organize appropriate timings, discuss, inspire, demonstrate and check for understanding in the process. 

Back to the hedgehog diorama…

Elsie’s been super pumped about it, research has been integrated into our library visits and we plan to find some extra materials while out on a dog walk (twigs, leaves etc).  I can honestly say, the project homework has encouraged motivation for school work and created opportunities for positive parenting. So… how much did I help?

After considering the positive and negative impact of parents helping with homework, I came up with a strategy:

  • Discuss the project and share ideas;
  • Encourage making an ‘ideas board’. ie draw the diorama and what she wants it to look like;
  • Create the bits she won’t be able to, while explaining what I’m doing at all times;
  • Support her in making the bits that she can;
  • Reward her efforts and correct where appropriate;

So, that’s what we did. And I know you are just desperate to see the hedgehog diorama itself…

hedgehog-fox-diorama

hedge-fox-diorama

What can I say… I was born for this stuff.

How much do you help your kids with their homework?

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Who’s on Santa’s Naughty Nice List 2016?

Who’s on Santa’s Naughty Nice List 2016?

Santa’s naughty nice list 2016 has been a hot topic of conversation at home this week. The air is filled with excitement over the possibility of presents, with a hint of panic that maybe, just maybe she hasn’t quite made it. Following ‘Banned Google Interview Questions: Smashed by a Six Year Old‘, I thought I’d see what Elsie thought about people of power; and whether Santa had them on his naughty or nice list. 

santa's naughty nice list 2016

In reflecting on the year, I had a look through the Forbes’ list of ‘The World’s Most Powerful People‘ and Time’s ‘100 Most Influential People.’ I picked a selection from these lists that I believed Elsie, my six year old daughter, may know. So, who made the cut?

Who’s on Santa’s Naughty Nice List 2016? Interview with a Six Year Old

It was explained to Elsie that she would be given some names (no pictures) of famous people, and decide which side of Santa’s Naughty Nice List 2016 she thought they were on…

Barack Obama

barack-obama
source: biography.com

“Nice list. Because he’s been a really nice president and it’s made all of America a nice place to live.”


Donald Trump

donald-trump
source: michaelmoore.com

“Nice list. Because he’s the president now and he won. And he deserves a present from Santa for winning.”

“What kind of present do you think he’s like?”

“I think he’d like a bow tie. A red one or black one – those are ones that famous people wear, at like tea parties and stuff.”


Hilary Clinton

hilary-clinton
source: nbcnews.com

“Umm… I don’t know. I have no idea.”

“Why wouldn’t she be on the nice list?”

“She might be on the nice list… if she is she might like some new clothes from Santa. If she is on the naughty list she will get coal.”


Kim Jong Un

Kim-Jong-Un
Source: mirror.co.uk

“I have no idea what that guy is.”

“Where do you think he’s from?”

“France?”

“What do you think Kim Jong Un might like for Christmas?”

“A beret. Because he’s French, and French painters normally wear berets.”


Leonardo Di…

leonardo-dicaprio
Photo by Victoria Will. Source: hollywoodreporter.com

“Wait. I know…
Leonardo da Vinci! Are we talking about that guy?”

“Well… do you think Leonardo da Vinci would be on the naughty or the nice list?”

“Nice list. Because I know he’s a painter from Art class. And I think he would really want a new paintbrush or maybe a beret.”

“To match Kim Jong Un?”

“Yeah.”

“So they could hang out together?”

“Yeah.”

“But is he still alive?”

“Well… no. So maybe not.”

“I’m glad you know all about Leonardo da Vinci, but I was actually going to ask about Leonardo DiCaprio. Do you know who that is?”

“Er… no.”


Usain Bolt

usain-bolt
Source: biography.com

“I do not know that guy.”

“Have you ever seen someone running, and they go like ‘that’ at the end (Mom does the Lightning Bolt).”

“Well… Deacon just goes like that over his eyes like ‘this’. But instead he just does it when he sneezes.”

“I think he might have got that from Usain Bolt.”

“What is a Usain Bolt?”

**Wikipedia Interlude**

“That’s Usain Bolt??”

“He’s a super fast sprinter. He’s the fastest human of all time and the first man to break both the 100m and 200m World Records at the same time. So do you think he’s on the nice list or naughty list?”

“Nice list. Because he’s a super fast runner and I think he’d really like some new shoes coz sometimes he might even go into the mud.”

“No-one likes muddy shoes.”

“No-one.”


Lady Gaga

lady-gaga
Photo by Steve Granitz. Source: huffpost.com

“Oh yeah… I like that girl! I know some of her songs but I think she’s going to be on the nice list because she’s my favorite singer. And I think everyone likes her.”

“What do you think she might like for Christmas?”

“She might like some new sparkly shoes in silver. Or a new microphone?”


Mark Zuckerburg

mark-zuckerburg
Source: Forbes.com

“I don’t know who he is.”

“Mark Zuckerburg is the person that started Facebook. Do you know what Facebook is?”

“No.”

“You know… It looks like this (scroll through Facebook feed). When I take a picture I can put it on Facebook and show all my friends and family.”

“OK… How did he make it?”

“On his computer. He’s super clever.”

“So… it’s like he made his own website? Like you did?”

“Yeah, kind of. But a lot more people go on his website than mine. There are 1.79 billion Facebook users.”

“And you’re one of them?”

“I’m one of them, yes.”

“I might want to be one of them soon.”

“I think you might have to be 16.
So do you think Mark is on the naughty or the nice list?”

“I just don’t know.”


Summing up Santa’s naughty nice list 2016:

“Well, we have a lot of people on the nice list. Can we think of anyone that might be on the naughty list?”

“I know… someone from Kindergarten. Sammy doesn’t believe in Santa so he may just definitely be on the naughty list this year.”

“So what do you reckon Sammy’s gonna get?”

“Um… maybe coal? Or an orange or a tangerine?” 

“Aren’t tangerine’s good?”

(Shoulder shrug and all round unimpressed look at tangerines).

“I might be going on the naughty list.”

“Why might you be going on the naughty list?”

“Because you said I keep being rude, a lot.”

“Oh dear. Do you think you’ve made up for it?”

“Yes.”

“You think you’ve done enough?”

“Yes.”

“And what would you like if Santa puts you on the nice list?”

“A giant silver Shopkins kit. Because I love those. I think that big giant present under the tree might be it though, so I might have to ask for a pink Brightling… I don’t know.

“What about your brothers?”

“Oh I know!
George is definitely going on the naughty list coz of all his screaming.”

“What about Arthur?”

“Arthur’s going on the good list because he doesn’t scream that much, and goes like ‘eh’ a lot. And it really makes people happy.”


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Poor George. Already on the naughty list Age 1. Let’s hope he can redeem himself in the next seven days.
What side of Santa’s naughty nice list 2016 would you put these ‘people of power’?
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Diary of An Imperfect Mum
Kids with Phobias: A Fantastic Fear of Everything

Kids with Phobias: A Fantastic Fear of Everything

Have you ever wondered where we get our phobias from? If you were mauled by a giant poodle as a child I can understand your fear of dogs; but where do kids with phobias get them from?

kids with phobias title

Yesterday at breakfast, my six year old daughter, Elsie, was sniffling with yet another cold she’s brought back from school. I decided to have a chat about hygiene and check that she was washing her hands at least when she uses the bathroom and has lunch. 

“Oh I don’t go to the bathroom at school. It’s too scary so I hold on until I get back.” She said.

We leave for school at 7.15am and get back at 3.30pm… That’s a serious hold. I ask more about this fear of the bathroom and it turns out sometime back in October the fire alarm went off mid-pee. It gave her such a shock she’s been unable to enter the bathroom since. She was even quite upset that the alarm had gone off just as she sat down so she “didn’t even get anything out.” We had a little pep talk and she promised me she was going to use the bathroom the following school day. The trouble is, knowing my daughter, she will go first thing so that she can say she’s done it, while knowing the alarm is unlikely to go off as everyone is bumbling in from the car park. She’s a sneaky little thing.

Unlike Elsie, I am a fairly fearless person… here’s me age 18 jumping out of a plane at 15,000ft…

tandem-sky-dive

As a kid I was into horse riding, rock climbing and roller-coasters. I am still yet to find a roller-coaster that makes me want to walk the other way. I just love them, the bigger the better. Elsie was carried kicking and screaming out of the Minions ride at Universal Studios because she didn’t like the look of the ‘scary’ entrance and got fixated on it.

So why does my daughter have a fantastic fear of everything? Is it from her father? Is it something I’ve done or not done? I question this all the time – multiple time a day in fact, because that’s how many times I’m dealing with a total FREAK OUT. Yesterday again, on the way to ballet, I’m driving along a fairly main road when my eardrums nearly explode from the screech coming the back row of the minivan.

“Aaghhhebarhaaaaeeeegglllle…” She screams.

“What  is it?” I say in mild panic. Has she lost a limb? Gone blind? Just discovered Donald Trump is President?

“Spiiiideeerrrr…” She wails.

I continue to drive until I can pull over, by which point her twin brothers are also screaming because when she crys, they cry. That’s a lot of crying. She leaps to the front of the wagon in tears and I climb past her to assess the scale of the beast. A little black spider scurried across the window, soon to be squashed by a Mom finger and a Walmart receipt… sorry buddy, your time is up.

You would think that was the end of it, but we had floods of tears all the way to ballet, wailing about how she can feel it crawling all over her and how she’s going to have nightmares tonight. It was beyond being a little jumpy, she is genuinely one of those kids with phobias. 

I tried to talk her down, but she was so focused on the spider I couldn’t divert too much or I wouldn’t have been able to keep her attention. So I asked her what three things in the world she was most scared of.

“Being alone in the dark.”

“The dark.”

“Spiders.”

Why do kids have phobias?

Elsie has many phobias and her chosen top three are some of the most commom. ‘Child Therapist’s List of Top Worries by Age’ includes fear of the dark, loud noises and bugs as classics for ages 5-7, so it seems Elsie is not alone. Even I remember being pretty terrified of Daddy-Long-Legs when I was her age. So why are we so scared of certain things as children? 

‘Fears develop when a child is old enough to have an imagination, but is not yet old enough to distinguish fantasy from reality.’ says Dr. Sue Hubbard in the Chicago Tribune.

As we all know, toddlers and young children can have a very active imagination; and it seems their brains go up a gear when they are plunged into darkness. There are less distractions, leaving their minds to run wild, and then of course the monsters come out to play. This is why so many of our little ones suffer from a fear of the dark.

So if imagination is to blame for the fear of the dark, what about the fear of bugs. This is a tricky one to tackle and can often lead to the phobia continuing into adulthood. It seems as humans were are inherently uncomfortable around insects. In fact, In Chapman University’s 2016 Survey on American Fears, 25 percent of respondents said they were afraid of insects and/or spiders.  I am the spider removal service in our house, but if one crawled up my leg I’ll jump as much as the next person. There are some theories behind why this phobia is so common:

  • The fear is justified by some insects actually being harmful;
  • Insects, unlike bears and lions, trigger a ‘rejection response’ (the need to instantly ‘get it away from me’). This response is linked to disgust which is a built-in mechanism, designed to keep us safe.
  • Their physical form is unlike ours, ie they look weird (unlike most mammals).
  • They are often found in ‘armies’, something we find inherently threatening.

So it seems there are slightly different reasons behind different fears and they may all need to a slightly different approach.

So, what can we do as parents for our kids with phobias?

  • Discuss your child’s phobias with them – acknowledge it and help them see you take it seriously.
  • Help your child draw pictures of their fears and ceremoniously throw them away;
  • Teach your children positive self-talk e.g. “I’m not afraid of the dark.” “That spider is not going to hurt me.”
  • Empower your child with tools and special powers e.g. an emergency flashlight nearby, ‘monster spray’ or a ‘lucky charm’ to keep them safe when they visit the dentist.
  • Arm them with knowledge – help kids with phobias learn to identify which spiders are dangerous so they understand the others are not.
  • Transform the negative into a positive – get them interested in what it is they are scared of e.g. get a book on snakes and find out some cool facts about them.
  • Share you own fears with your child and how you deal with them.
  • Exposure therapy… don’t force it, but try to encourage them to face their fears while in a safe environment.

Some phobias are easier to tackle that others. I’m not suggesting torturing your child by repeatedly exposing them to sudden loud noises. However, you can sit with your child in the dark for a while to show them it’s OK. You can give them something to say and focus on when they feel scared.

A success story:

When my daughter was 18months old a very large fighter plane flew overhead when we were on holiday in France. She was so traumatized by this experience that she would get upset every time we went outside. When we made her join us in the back yard at home, she would spend the entire time staring up at the sky, waiting for a plane to come. This went on for over a year, and when a small plane would go overhead, she would go into total melt down. It was a nightmare for all.

We tackled this fear by talking about how cool airplanes were, a lot. We gave her a Duplo airplane for Xmas, and I would encourage her to draw them when she was in an artsy mood. When we did go outside and a plane came overhead we would wave to it…

“Have a nice holiday!” we would say together while waving.

And slowly, it worked. To begin with it was more of a panicked broken record, “have a nice holiday…” said over and over again as quickly as she could until the plane passed. But it was definitely helping her get through it, and she learnt that the plane would pass and nothing bad would happen.

Kids with phobias: Last words of wisdom…

You are not alone. My kid has a fantastic fear of everything, from cutting fingernails and hand-stands, to owls. It is challenging and slightly traumatic for all of us on a daily basis. So if you’re a Mom of kids with phobias, try not to blame yourself, and take time to process the fact you may not to be riding roller-coasters together… ever. Sob.


In case you haven’t seen the movie, here’s the trailer. It’s fantastic!

I found these articles super interesting when researching kids with phobias:


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Banned Google Interview Questions: Smashed by a Six Year Old

Banned Google Interview Questions: Smashed by a Six Year Old

Banned Google interview questions… how difficult were they really? If you don’t remember the story, a few years ago Google had to take action to overhaul it’s interview process. They had acquired a reputation for harassing prospective employees with a gruelling line of ridiculous questions. The type of questions no one can be prepared for, with the aim to catch interviewees off guard and see how they react under pressure. These ‘brain teasers’ upset more than a few people, and as the news spread Google decided to call it a day on the rogue technique.

banned google interview questions

This week, I decided to put these questions to the test. They may be too much for an Ivy League graduate, but my six year old has a reading age of nine, so she’s totally got this. Before we started I told her the story of the banned google interview questions and she was totally on board to give it a go. I see the advantage of being six already, because she’s not even phased by the idea of unanswerable questions. In fact she’s pretty pumped that this will be her first ever interview.

So here we go…

Banned Google Interview Questions: Interview with a Six Year Old

It’s only fair to start with an easy one…

Q1: How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

“100.”
She’s so fast and confident in her answer I’m almost convinced… Afterall, 100 golf balls can fit in a school bus. She looks at me eagerly for the next question.


Q2: How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

“A Lot.”

I realise at this point I may need to encourage the interviewee to elaborate on her answers. “Can you give some explanation?”

“Like… 1000?”


After a couple of warm up questions, I decide to delve more deeply into the inner workings of the interviewee’s mind…


Q3: Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco

“The Golden Gate Bridge?”

Good answer but I figure I should check she knows what the word evacuation means… which she doesn’t. Once brought up to speed on the vocabulary, we continue:

“So how are you going to get everybody out of San Francisco as quickly as you can?”

“Umm… take a short cut?”


Q4: How many piano tuners are there in the entire world?

“10,000. I think there’s going to be 10 in Washington DC. I think the other 9000 are all in Russia and England. Because Russia is a big one and you could fit 8000 in there.”


Q5: A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?

“So… I know what’s in a fortune cookie so I might know this one. So a fortune is something that tells you something in the future, right?”

I explain to the interviewee the alternative use of the word fortune.

“Like… it can cost a fortune?”
“Exactly.”
“So what type of fortune is this?”
“It’s up to you, that’s the question.”

“Umm… so I think he lost his fortune in the future to get gas but there was no gas station, so he had to push his car, and so he lost his fortune when he was pushing his car.”
“And what kind of fortune is he losing?”
“The type you get in a fortune cookie.”


Q6: “You need to check that your friend, Bob, has your correct phone number,”

“I don’t have a friend called Bob!”
“You have to pretend you do have a friend called Bob.”

 “You have to check that Bob has your correct phone number, but you cannot ask him directly. You must write the question on a card and give it to Eve, who will take the card to Bob and return the answer to you. What must you write on the card, besides the question, to ensure Bob can encode the message so that Eve cannot read your phone number?”

“The answer.”
“But Eve’s not allowed to see the answer and you’ve got to give her the note first.”
“Oh… You cover it up with glitter? Eve’s a girl so she must really like the glitter so she won’t take it off. And Bob won’t like the Glitter so he’ll just rip it off.”

My husband and I spent A LOT of time discussing the answer to this question and neither of us could work it out.  We ended up googling it to find the clever answer is to write ‘call me’. I however much prefer the glitter plan… it’s genius.


Q7: You’re the captain of a pirate ship, and your crew gets to vote on how the gold is divided up. If fewer than half of the pirates agree with you, you die. How do you recommend apportioning the gold in such a way that you get a good share of the booty, but still survive?

“You just use a pickaxe to cut in into 4 or 3, or as many pirates as you have. So you can share it like a tangerine, one part of it for each pirate… to share. So you survive!”

Kids, eh… trained to share.


Q8: You are given 2 eggs. You have access to a 100-story building. Eggs can be very hard or very fragile, meaning it may break if dropped from the first floor, or may not even break if dropped from 100th floor. Both eggs are identical. You need to figure out the highest floor of a 100-story building an egg can be dropped without breaking. The question is how many drops do you need to make. You are allowed to break 2 eggs in the process.

“I think the fragile one is going to break at the first floor and the hard one is going to break at the 100th floor.”
“But you’ve got to work out the highest floor you can go to without an egg breaking, so you don’t want to go straight to the 100th floor do you?”
“So… the 58th floor will be the fragile egg and the 67th floor will be the hard one. Because the hard one is a little less fragile than the fragile one.”

Despite having identical twin brothers, we may need to work on the meaning of the word identical.


Q9: Explain a database in three sentences to your eight-year-old nephew.

“I don’t have a nephew.”
“You do.”
“I do???”
“No you don’t, but we’re pretending.”
“So, what do you think a database is?”
“Something that you write dates on?”
“And what does it look like?”
“It’s a piece of paper you write the date on and then you write stuff on it?”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Like, stuff for grown ups?”


Q10: You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and your mass is proportionally reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?

“You try and hop out as high as you can.”
“But you’re the size of a nickel, do you think you’ll be able to jump out?”
“So I just like flip myself like a penny, and then I just land on the floor with two feet. There. Because I don’t have that much mass so that will help me.”


And there we have it. Interview complete. No trauma or tears over the ridicule of the interview… She’s ready when you are Google. Although she did have one thing to add…

“Those questions were so silly. Because I’m not a pirate and I don’t have a friend called Bob OR Eve.” You’ve been told google.

I found these questions in an article published by Business Insider. You can find even more banned google interview questions at Impact Interview.


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Totally Impractical Baby Clothes We All Love to Buy

Totally Impractical Baby Clothes We All Love to Buy

impractical-baby-clothes-fb-debug

I’ve been getting into Pinterest this week, and just can’t resist all those adorable toddler outfits that makes 2yr olds look like the’re a mini Justin Beiber. They look great in pictures and maybe Victoria Beckham’s kids can pull it off, but for the rest of us they tend to get worn once for a photo and never again. Because the Beiber look is ridiculous for a baby or toddler. Here is my shortlist for totally impractical baby clothes we just love to buy.

1. Skinny Jeans

I was given my first pair of baby skinnies by a friend when my daughter was born. They were heart-meltingly cute and I couldn’t wait to get them on her. But when I did I soon realised you can’t fold a baby in skinny jeans. So unless you plan on confining your child to stretched out horizontal configurations, I highly advise against skinny jeans for babies.

This guy has made the semi sitting position but may lose sensation to his toes at any moment.

skinny-jeans-toddler
Photo pinned from dezdemon-topfashiontrends.pw

2. Collared Shirts

As my Mother-in-Law once pointed out, newborn babies do not have necks. It suddenly became clear in that moment… this is why young babies look totally hilarious and uncomfortable in collared shirts. I also have a problem with the ironing… come on people, be honest – how often do you iron your baby clothes? So the shirt ends up crinkled, awaiting ironing, which never happens.

And don’t even get me started on the cap in this photo…

baby-outfit-cap-waistcoat
How long to you think that cap is staying on? This cutie can be seen at dottie-d-goods-2.myshopify.com

3. Sunglasses

I’m not talking about those tinted goggles with the elastic head band to fix them on, I’m talking sunglasses with swag… the type Bieber babies are wearing all over Pinterest. Maybe it’s just my kids, but I can’t even wear sunglasses in close proximity to the twins, let alone keep something on their heads for more than 7 seconds. If Babiators want to send me a pair (better make that two), I’ll put them to the test, but it seems so ridiculous to me I’ve never even tried.

baby-aviators
Image courtesy of MitziKnitz at Etsy.com

4. Shoes

Don’t they just make your heart want to explode? There is nothing better than the tiniest of tiny baby shoes to give you case of the fuzzies. But I quickly learnt with my first born there is absolutely no point in trying to keep shoes on an infant. It will take them literal seconds to pull them off, and if not they will just drop off while you’re out in the stroller. The only shoes that stay on babies are the ones with the elastic around the ankle, and I’m pretty shoes you won’t be seeing Beiber in a pair of those anytime soon.

baby-sleeping-uggs
Those Uggs are coming off the second this munchkin wakes up. Photo found at peace-love-and-daydreams.tumblr.com

5. Puffer Jackets

I know I live in the desert, but I haven’t always. When my daughter was new, we lived in wet and windy England… perfect for totally impractical baby clothes like puffer jackets. When it’s cold and miserable outside, you usually want to drive instead of walk, and can you fit your marshmellow baby in the car seat? No. Cue awkward scrambling to take jacket off while cold rain runs down your back… ugh. 

baby-puffer-jacket
Cuteness courtesy of www.pumpkinpatchusa.com

So… if you just love impractical baby clothes (who doesn’t), go for it and buy these wardrobe staples. However, if you want to save your pennies and keep Baby comfortable, keep them in a one piece until they can walk. Come on twinnies… hurry up so Mama can get shopping.

Lastly, in case you want some tips on how to dress like Beiber, InStyle have got you covered with ‘7 Style Lessons we Learned from Justin Beiber’

 


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