Music class for babies/toddlers

I signed Kaia up for the spring session of a well-known and popular music class in New York City. I originally found out about it a year ago, but I didn’t think it made much sense to pay for a music class for her back then when she wasn’t particularly interactive or responsive; to me, that felt like I would be paying for entertainment for our nanny vs. our own baby, which I did not want. Plus, before the age of 1, she would be exposed to plenty of music at home, on TV, and outdoors when we’d be out and about. So I waited until now to sign her up. It’s 13 weeks, with one class per week. You get two makeup sessions if you are out of town/have to miss a session for any reason. The ones I signed her up for are in Central Park. Her makeup sessions, which I’ve already pre-scheduled, are in Riverside Park, so all are quite close.

The annoying thing, though, is how specific they are about charges. So for example, because I signed Kaia up for the outdoor sessions, if I do a makeup session that’s “indoors,” they will require me to pay a $20 surcharge. Why…? Is it because they are paying for the indoor space, and that space, given we’re in Manhattan, is quite the premium? And they also suggested we purchase a “band in a box,” which is a box full of class props, like scarves, music-related toys, etc., for her to use during and outside of class. That costs $30. And because I didn’t want her to feel left out or like she was getting a half-assed experience, I sucked it up and paid for the box. Yep, I did THAT parent thing and just got it for her. Part of me thinks: this class is quite expensive at $35/pop (assuming you purchase the full season’s session), so why aren’t the props/toys just included? I suppose they are just being capitalists in a capitalist society and want to find every possible way to make more money. And of course, parents like us are going to pay for it because who, in this neighborhood, is going to cheap out on their child’s education? But the other part of me just feels annoyed that seemingly everything “baby” or “toddler” related has to be so expensive and has to have yet another price tag added to it. It’s exhausting sometimes. And when you do find the “free” things (paid for by… my TAX PAYER DOLLARS, like the library), it’s super competitive and cut-throat to get in, or it requires you queue up for hours on end. It’s just another thing to make parents’ lives more difficult, or to make child-rearing itself more challenging and expensive.

Culture Pass NYC

I learned about Culture Pass years ago, but I was reminded of it again through a Facebook parents group I belong to. It’s a New York City program for library card-holding patrons 13 and older of Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library. With your library card, you can reserve a pass to get free admission to dozens of museums, historical societies, heritage centers, public gardens, and the like. Major museums like the Natural History Museum, the Met, and the MOMA participate; the Bronx Zoo, New York Botanical Gardens, and Wave Hill participate. And slightly lesser known historical societies and mansions such as The Japan Society and the J.P Morgan Library and Museum are included. Even the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan are included. Each cultural institution has its own rules: some require timed entries that you have to pre-book in advance, on top of securing a Culture Pass reservation for a specific day; others are more generous and allow you to take up to 3-4 people with you (the average seems to be you plus one other person). They typically allow you to do one booking per calendar year, so it’s not something you can take advantage of repeatedly in a short span of time. So this would not serve as a substitute for say, an annual membership to the Children’s Museum unfortunately.

After taking a look at the open passes available over the last couple of weeks, I also noticed that the breadth is pretty wide of what’s included: Second Stage Theater shows are occasionally added, as well as concerts held at Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. I thought this was pretty generous. Even if the seats are balcony/nose-bleed seats, this would be high quality arts for literally the cost of your time to sign up for a library card! Of course, taking full advantage of the Culture Pass means being diligent on checking for openings regularly, especially at the beginning of each month when things open up and new events like concerts are added, but that seems like a small inconvenience given admission to any of these places would be free.

I’ve already reserved tickets for next month to visit The Japan Society, as it’s not only supposed to be interesting from an obvious cultural perspective, but the building itself is supposed to be architecturally quite unique.

When a first time mom teaches a nanny how to feed baby

This morning as the “treat” at the end of her breakfast, I washed some blackberries and served them whole for Kaia. In general, for berries like blackberries or blueberries, it’s not advised to give them whole at her age…. unless the child has shown advanced chewing/biting abilities. So with both types of berries now, I just give them to her whole (occasionally, I flatten the blueberries slightly), and she’s comfortable and more than able to chew through them and swallow. Our nanny watched Kaia shove one whole blackberry into her mouth after the other and laughed.

“If you told me a year ago that I was going to allow a 15-month old to eat WHOLE blackberries under my watch, I would have told you that you were crazy!” our nanny laughed. “I’ll be honest, Yvonne. I have learned a lot about what babies are capable of with food because of you.”

I smiled. It’s always funny when your nanny relents that she was wrong, and you were right. I’d say that with 8+ months of practice with chewing and biting, it’s partly just practice that led Kaia to being the good eater she is. But the other part of it could also just be luck. Maybe if another kid had her same environment and conditions, perhaps they wouldn’t be as mature as Kaia is with food. Who knows?

“Maybe you will do this same form of baby-led weaning for your next nanny kid at your next job,” I said to her, winking.

She shook her head. “No, no… I don’t think so. I will stick with what I am comfortable with!!”

Play rooms at luxury apartment buildings in New York City

When we first toured our current apartment building six years ago, although we did see the children’s play room, we didn’t think much of it since at that time, we didn’t have any kids, nor were we actively trying to conceive. But of course, since getting pregnant with Kaia and now having her, when we have toured other building’s facilities, I’ve definitely scrutinized the play rooms more in terms of how they are set up, what types of toys and structures they have, and how they are decorated. Another thing about most building play rooms (and gyms, for that matter) is that they tend to be in the basement. I’d assume this is to maximize the windowed areas for actual units people will be living in/renting/buying, but still, this is annoying to think of children playing without any natural light in the rooms they are in; it just seems so dreary. It’s my huge gripe with all daycares that are close to where we live: all the main educational areas have zero windows or view to the outside world. The big windows are one reason our nanny said she really likes our play room. She said that our play room is not too big, not too small, but just the right size. And the large windows on one side of it really help.

Our nanny has been great in finding other nannies who are caring for babies of a similar age as Kaia to arrange play dates and encourage socialization. So while they’ve organized activities together at the playground, the park, and the library, they’ve also taken turns “hosting” the other nanny/child at each other’s building’s play rooms. The thing that was hilarious about the most recent child is how big her building’s play room is. They have these huge cushion/foam structures set up for kids of toddler age to walk up, climb up, spin around, and do all the same “gymnastic” like activities that they have toddlers do at NYC Elite Gym or Gymboree… just without the $50/class price tag, or $200+/month charge.

“That building’s play room has all the same stuff as Gymboree, just without the charge!” my nanny exclaimed one day after sharing photos with me of what the kids did together. “It’s like robbery what places like Gymboree charge!”

I kind of smirked in response and said.. well, make sure to keep in contact with this nanny/nanny kid and do a play date at their play room at least once a week so we can maximize the “value” of this relationship. This relationship is essentially a $200/month value now!!

“Eyes” and the letter “i”

I’ve asked our nanny to do more educational activities with Kaia since we came back from Australia, things like coloring, writing, identifying colors, shapes, body parts; counting, the alphabet. Kaia has a puzzle of her own name on it that was gifted for her birthday by a friend. And so our nanny has been using our play mat and the puzzle to teach her the alphabet, while also doing exercises on identifying her eyes, nose, mouth, and other body parts. Now, when our nanny asks Kaia where her “eyes” are, though, Kaia confuses this and thinks her “eyes” are the “i” in the name puzzle! At first, I didn’t quite get it, but then I realized that her name puzzle has an “i” in it for her name, and then I got the connection and confusion. It’s always interesting to look at these learning moments from a baby’s developing view. She actually isn’t totally “wrong,” but we just need to see it from her perspective.

Hiding noodles = weekend dad activity

On the weekends, when we feed Kaia all her meals, I usually sit with her at each meal to coach her, encourage her to eat new foods, and well, ensure she isn’t in danger (of choking). Chris occasionally does this, but he tends to get impatient, multitasks while watching Family Guy, and doesn’t do it as well as I do. Plus, I enjoy sitting with her and helping her eat more; I find this a very gratifying activity, assuming I’m not doing every single meal, every single day for her. It’s been rewarding to see her immense growth in eating solids via baby led weaning from six months through today. Her eating skills today are because of all the time and hard work I invested since she turned six months old and had her first avocado and mango, from coaching her, modeling chewing and spitting, cooking and preparing and cutting all her food in specific ways, etc. These are actual real life results in action NOW. Little else has had immediate reward for me as this has. That’s eight months of coaching and teaching her how to eat, bite, chew, rip, and tear, plus navigate the “map” of her mouth. She’s quite sophisticated for her age, as she needs very little supervision to eat everyday foods. I’m not that comfortable giving her things like whole grapes or cherry tomatoes just yet, but we’re quite close to getting there.

One thing Chris never thought he’d do as a parent was to hide while eating his noodles. If Kaia sees us eating fruit, noodles, or bread (her favorite things) and she hasn’t had her own portion yet, she will go crazy and start yelling for what we’re eating, so we have to hide while eating these things unless we’re eating them at the same time. We always prioritize vegetables and new foods first for her before meat or carbs to ensure she gets adequate vegetables and new food exposure, so if she’s having something like fish, chicken, or noodles, she tends to have these last (well, very last is fruit as her “dessert”). This usually means that I have to squat while eating toast, or Chris has to carry his bowl of noodles high above his head and sneak past her and eat out of her view. It’s why we face her high chair towards the bedroom so she needs to really, really turn to try to see what Chris is eating while she eats. It’s pretty hilarious… especially when Kaia is astute enough to catch him eating noodles or toast without her.

Always with her walker

In just the last two days, Kaia has gone from walking hesitantly with us guiding her to wanting to walk with her walker literally everywhere. On Thursday, when she was in another kid’s play room, every time she saw a walker, she would charge over and take over it, walking everywhere she could. All she seems to want to do now is walk back and forth with it in our apartment. And while she struggled and didn’t quite know how to turn with it, once she figured it out within a day of us showing her how to turn, she started getting the hang of it. Now, she’s turning pretty effortlessly and walking faster and faster. I wonder when she’s actually going to let go of the walker completely and just run!

It’s been very gratifying to see her development every day, but it’s always so cute when the development seems to come in these huge bursts, seemingly overnight. She’s eager to take over this entire apartment, so it will be interesting to see her once she’s confident enough to let go and actually take her first independent steps, fully on her own.

The hidden costs of hiring a caregiver

When people talk about hiring a nanny vs. doing daycare for their young baby, they usually talk about the usual things, such as higher costs for a nanny vs. daycare, higher likelihood of being sick more often with daycare vs. at home with nanny, more flexibility with nanny vs. daycare, more socialization at daycare than at home with nanny, etc. Those are the usual topics and debates you will hear. You hear about the high rates that nannies charge. Some may tell you about costs you didn’t think about upfront, like insurance costs you will have to pay out of pocket, assuming you are paying your caregiver on the books. What you don’t hear about, though, are the hidden costs of having a nanny in your own home… like, an increase in purchasing household items like hand soap, dish soap, toilet paper, paper towels, and even wipes.

There’s really no way to get around telling your nanny to be less liberal about how much dish soap to use without coming across as cheap. There just isn’t. Realistically, she shouldn’t be using THAT much dish soap. I cook and prepare all of Kaia’s food, so she never has any pots or pans to clean. The most I ask the nanny to do is cut up food or peel fruit, plate it, warm it up, and serve it. So there’s just a small handful of dishes and utensils to be cleaned at each meal since Kaia started solids. Yet despite that, ever since starting solids, I cannot even believe how quickly we have gone through dish soap in this apartment. Once, I watched our nanny while washing dishes, and she used two massive squirts of dish soap just to clean TWO PLATES. I use barely a dime-size amount to clean 10-15 dishes; how can she possibly use that much soap to clean two of Kaia’s plates…?!

Chris has also recently pointed out to me that he doesn’t understand how we could already almost be out of our Costco box of wipes. The last time we restocked these was in October during our last Costco run. We only used one large packet out of ten in December since we were in Australia. So how did we possibly go through a thousand wipes, and we’re not even through March yet? And let me just say: the Costco wipes are extra large; they are more than enough for one pee diaper. And given we just sized Kaia up to the next diaper size, there’s more than enough room on the bigger sized diaper to handle wiping off residual poop prior to even using any diaper wipe. So you really only need one wipe (at most two for the huge poops/blowouts) to get her fully clean. I’m all about maximizing the things we buy, so since the beginning, I’ve gotten really good at minimizing the number of wipes we use and maximizing every last centimeter of space on each wipe to get her unsoiled. So where the hell did all our wipes go? Is our nanny just being super liberal about the wipes, too, and using one wipe for each centimeter of Kaia’s butt each diaper change? Or worse, is she using them for herself to clean her own hands…? I’ve also noticed parents and caregivers in public using diaper wipes for tasks just wiping their children’s mouth or hands. There are cheaper ways to clean your children’s faces and hands, people!!

Again, there’s no way to control for these things because you have no idea since you’re not there watching her every second. And to try to ask about it just makes you either come off as a micro manager and/or cheap. But… we suck it up because it’s our (privileged) choice to hire a nanny to care for our baby.

Workplace utopia

This year marks 15 years of being in the workforce full-time. In that time, I have seen and experienced quite a bit. I’ve had experiences with people who gave me great advice, people I’ve looked up to, people I’ve admired for their tenacity and how they’ve climbed the ladder. I made many friends along the way, and one of them even became my husband. I’ve also had experiences with people who define “uncooperative,” and contribute to poor, toxic, and downright nasty workplace culture. It’s been a mix of both good and bad, and I’ve learned quite a bit about the “real world” of work in the U.S.

It’s taken a while to get to a company where I actually feel people are overall, all genuinely good and well-meaning, though, where everyone for the most part not only has the best intentions, but also assumes you also have the best intentions. That’s huge, especially in the competitive environment that is the technology industry. Sometimes, I catch myself in disbelief when I see how helpful people are at my current company. How is it when I post a request in the marketing or content or product Slack channels that someone not only immediately responds within two hours, but if they don’t know the full answer, they’ll cc someone else who may know, and THAT person not only has the answer, but also supplemental information that I could potentially find handy? People are proactive about joining meetings when and where they could add value. They are eager to hop on a Zoom or phone call to better explain (since so many things get lost easily over text on Slack or email). Sometimes, it really does feel like a utopia working where I do. Why are people so eager to help — all the damn time?! Maybe it’s because of the type of persona that an education tech company like mine tends to attract. People are less bloody and evil. Maybe they are less cut throat and just have bigger hearts. Who knows. All I know is — no where else I have ever worked has been this positive. It only took 15 years to get here. But exactly how positive and helpful people are here is also a reminder to me of all the past trauma I’ve faced and exactly how unhealthy and unproductive my previous work environments were.

I’m grateful to be working where I am, especially in this current economic climate, and at this time when many other tech companies are laying their employees off left and right. Though it is funny to say that this is the most positive work environment I’ve been in — and I’ve been 100 percent remote this entire time.

Befriending other nearby mothers and their babies

When I was at the building’s gym two weeks ago, a woman stopped me to ask if I was Kaia’s mom. I didn’t recognize her, but she let me know that she was the mother of X, the friend in the building that Kaia has been playing with. Our nanny had befriended nanny and X while in the playroom during the winter months, and so I had seen many photos of Kaia and X playing together until I met his mom. And then the mom reminded me that I had actually given her well wishes on her actual due date in the gym on the elliptical this time last year, and let her know that at that time, I was about three months postpartum. What a funny little story! I had not seen her at the gym at all since, so I didn’t recognize her.

So I left her a note with my number and let her know that it would be good to set up play dates since our babies were already acquainted, and it would also be nice to have nearby parent friends. We’ve been texting on and off lately, and she shared she had a 3-month membership at the nearby Children’s Museum, where her nanny was taking X at least once a week. The membership includes admission for 2 adults and up to four children, so she suggested that Kaia and our nanny go with their nanny and X tomorrow. So I thought – why not? Freebie for us, and I’m sure we’ll do other future things where they’d benefit, as well.

I really do need more local friends who have kids my age. An added bonus is if they live close by.