Blackout Curtains

May 15, 2012

Unless you have those awesome European interlocking blinds that can turn your baby’s boudoir into a room fit for developing film, you might want to consider investing in blackout drapes, especially if you’re in the process of choosing drapes for your baby’s room. They’re not absolutely essential, no, but this minimalist mama is a convert to the cause of darkness. (Not like that, you weirdos!) Especially if you have a non-sleeping baby. Or if your nursery is sunny – which is otherwise lovely but might not be the best for sleep at nap and bed time.

Technically, this is a “wait and see” item, since your infant will likely sleep pretty much anywhere, including broad daylight in a crowd, for the first few weeks. After that stage, you’ll need to be a little choosier to make sure Anastasia gets her zzzzs, and she might need a little assistance depending on what kind of sleeper it looks like she’s going to be. If she’s highly distractible and wakeful like our baby was, blackout curtains are one of the things that will help.

There are two types:

  1. Curtains with a built-in light-blocking backing.
  2. Panels of just the light-blocking material that you can hang behind your existing curtains.

The former are easier to manage since they’re all one piece, but the options in design and color are limited. The latter won’t require the cost of re-purchasing curtains you might have already, but they will hang heavier on your curtain hardware (so you might need to keep an eye on how it’s holding up with the added weight), plus you will get a few more gaps that let in light because you’re arranging two layers.

Since I liked our existing curtains, we opted for the panels and here’s my advice: absolutely, 100% get the panels that are the same width as your curtain panels. You want them to hang exactly behind your existing panels. Trust me on this.

I thought I was brilliant saving money by buying the narrow-slice panels that add up to the width of a single panel of our curtains. The site claimed that hotels buy these: the narrow widths allow you to buy however many you need to match any width of curtain panel. After falling for this marketing, my conclusion is that they are jerky liars. I can’t imagine a hotel dealing with the annoyance of these mini panels: they separate when you breath on them and let streaks of sunshine into the room at every seam which ruins the whole point of having them in the first place. This happens all the time. All. The. Time. Gargh!

So just spend the extra money and get the nice Pottery Barn Kids ones which line up with your curtain panels. Seriously.

Blackout Panels, Pottery Barn Kids $39-$59 per panel, depending on width

Blackout Curtains in nursery-friendly designs and colors, Pottery Barn Kids $49 – $229, depending on size, or anywhere else that carries them, e.g., $40 and up


Sleep Help

May 8, 2012

OK, here’s me at eight months pregnant: “I’m not going to go nuts getting my baby on a fixed schedule: we’re social, we travel, and I want her to know how to sleep on the road. I’m not setting up some rigid, baby-centric plan where she can only sleep in her crib at home in total darkness, silence and at super specific times.”

Here’s me four months later: “Where can I get some blackout curtains? And don’t forget the iPod with the white noise on it. We’re never traveling again.”

Granted, that was after three weeks on the road, some of it at mountainous altitudes (which babies don’t enjoy), and after it became clear Astrid had big plans to be up multiple times a night for the indefinite future. She just wasn’t a sleeper. Some babies aren’t. I can’t say I ever made my peace with it – unless going right up to the edge of losing your mind is a kind of peace – but we got through it and so will you if your baby isn’t a sleeper either.

Just so you know, pre-baby, there are some things you can do to help matters along – or at least feel like you’re doing something while you wait for your night owl to sort out his nights. These aren’t a substitute for sleep training (whichever – if any – path you choose there) but some basics that might make things better and support that effort (if you sleep train it all).

1. Consistency. Kids like routine and it’s your friend too, especially when you’re sleep deprived. Knowing what’s next is calming for you and Baby.

A bedtime routine – bath, story, feeding and bed – at the same time every evening won’t initially seem like it’s making any impression on Junior, but it’s laying down expectations and physical cues (warm bath = sleepy time) that will eventually take hold. It also gives shape to what can be increasingly chaotic evenings as parents go back to work, getting home right when babies start fussing in the 6-8PM time frame. (Nice coincidence, huh??)

(The doctors, nurses, baby experts and sleep consultants I talked to generally agreed that bedtime should probably be no later than 7PM if you can manage it. 8 at the latest. Babies need lots of sleep and while it can be fun to hang out until 9:30, it’s not generally considered ideal for Baby.)

2. More consistency. Transitions are not your friend. If you’re blessed with a narcoleptic child, moving house, switching baby’s room, changing cribs, and hitting the road might not bother little Rip van Twinkle, but otherwise, your child is as likely to be as disrupted by these things as you are – if not more so – which makes sense since their Spidey sense is all they’re going on before they can understand language. In babies’ case, eating and sleep are where that stress is going to show.

Little story: we did all of those things – traveled for five weeks, moved, graduated her from mini crib to full-size crib, and gave her her own room in the new house – in the space of months 4-9 when she might otherwise have been settling into longer stretches of sleep. I’m not saying that avoiding all those disruptions would’ve meant 10-hour nights, but in retrospect I don’t think it helped matters.

3. Keep it dark. Along the same lines as the bedtime routine, keeping it dark can be a visual cue for Baby that it’s time for sleep.

For a few weeks after she’s born, your infant will seem like she prefers to be up at night: that’s a hangover from being in the womb when Mom was moving around during the day and providing nice, rocking sensations for comfy baby sleep. It will take a little while for her to adjust to the opposite schedule, and providing light and dark at the proper intervals can assist that learning. Open the curtains when she’s awake, take her for a walk, and get her into the rhythm of daytime. Likewise, when it’s time for sleep, do your best to keep it at least dim, if not dark in her room.

Blackout curtains were something I swore we wouldn’t need but which we eventually got and are still a help, especially with summer’s long days that keep the house and her room bright past bedtime.

4. Keep it quiet. This might seem obvious, but you will probably have gotten used to Tiny sleeping pretty much everywhere all the time in the first month or two. I navigated a number of ridiculously loud dinners in San Francisco and Manhattan with Astrid snoozing in her Ergo. That stage is short though and you’ll want to keep in mind that you don’t get your best night’s rest sleeping in a restaurant either. And that, if you’re like me, you wake up when dogs are barking or sirens are wailing outside your window.

A quiet room away from the street is great, and white noise (from a machine or from a rainshower track on iTunes*) can even out sleep-disrupting upticks in noise that do make it through, like those German Shepherds next door. Again, it’s all about creating a consistent environment for learning how to sleep.

If you’re having trouble getting off an infant sleep schedule, give these a shot and see if they help. I hope they do. Either way, eventually it will get better. Really. I promise. Our little one is a great sleeper now. They all get there!

*Make sure you listen to the whole rainshower/rainforest/waves track before setting it on repeat on Tiny’s iPod: some of them throw in monkeys and parrots mid-track. Or rabid seagulls. Or thunder. It freaked me out, and I guarantee it’ll wake up a baby. Don’t ask me what they were thinking: I have no idea.

Your baby will be very popular. Trust me. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends will want to come and meet your new bundle. This can be wonderful. It can also be difficult, depending on how much you like these well-wishers, how helpful they’re willing to be, and, in the case of new mamas and papas living in cities 0r small spaces, how able and willing they are to stay someplace other than your home.

(Those of you with large homes, a guest house by the pool or extra bedrooms that have not recently been converted into nurseries can disregard this post – unless you’re looking for a rock solid excuse to get Uncle Morty and his third wife off your couch and into the Hilton on their next visit!)

Having people on the sofa bed in your living room or an Aerobed in the front hall is not a recipe for a successful visit when you and your partner are up all night with little Tyler. Having them staying nearby in a nice VRBO or Air B&B rental is perfect. They can get some sleep, bring you coffee in the morning and, with all their well-slept energy, spell you with the baby.

You, in turn, will not be ready to send them home on Day 2 because your overnight routine is hard enough without having to navigate around sleeping guests (or cope with their crabbiness because Fuquan had a crying jag at 3AM that kept them up).

Trust me: it is time well spent while you are pregnant to locate a few reasonably priced rentals or hotels near your home and send out that list to everyone who offers to come and help or notifies you of their enthusiasm to meet your new little one.

Keep your guilt about being inhospitable in check by reminding yourself that you are being hospitable by giving them the gift of a good night’s rest while they are here and a visit with their new grandchild/niece/nephew/godchild that is not fraught with unspoken resentment and conflict.

Note: This will also be the case for all of your friends who have been super psyched to have a free place to crash in a city of over-priced hotels, e.g. my current home of San Francisco and former home of New York where many friends would not have been able to visit at all if they’d added a hotel onto the expense. Those days are over. At least for a while. You’re doing everyone a favor by communicating that gently but clearly when asked. It’s OK: they will still be your friends.

Good luck and happy hosting! and Air B&B both offer a ton of options in most cities. 

Also check your local parents’ boards (listservs, Yahoo groups, Google groups). In my neighborhood alone, there are at least a dozen in-law apartments and rentals that other parents have posted that they don’t want to put up on craigslist because screening random people is more trouble than they want to take on or because the units are vacant irregularly. The rates for these can easily be $100 less than a hotel and even less than that if you’re looking for a weekly rental. If you’re in San Francisco and not on any of these parents’ boards, get on ’em and post a request for a short-term “visiting the new baby” rental. If you’re not sure how to find your local board, check out some of them here or send me a note and I’ll give you a hand.) 


April 16, 2012

A bouncer is a must. You need to have one. Really. Yes, baby can lounge in a cat bed or on a posh pillow, but there’s no substitute for giving her a good angle on what’s up in the room and the ability to bounce herself a bit. She wants to see what you’re doing and who can blame her?

Combi Bee Bouncer

You’ll be picking up your bouncer to set it on the bathroom floor while you shower, or on the kitchen floor while you cook, or on the dining room table while you do the bills, which means you’ll need one that is lightweight and easy to move around. (Unless, of course, you live in a tiny, open-plan home that has a transparent walk-in shower – then, yes, get one of the giant bouncers that’s hard to move because little Tanya will indeed be able to see you everywhere you go. Also: I’d think about moving. Soon. ‘Cause that place you live in is weird.)

There are a lot of bouncer options out there. Most play music, vibrate, and have a “bridge” with toys of varying intensities hanging off it for baby’s batting pleasure. (Don’t use the bridge as a handle to pick the bouncer up with baby in it. Trust me: they come off. That said, you really do want the bridge to be removable in case it doesn’t work for Junior and he’d rather just look around.) As a minimalist mama, I don’t think new babies should be swamped with lots of lights, electronics, whizzing things and massive doses of color. As a minimalist person, I don’t think my living room wants that either. The bouncer market begs to differ.

It was ridiculously hard to find a basic, safe, lightweight bouncer in a nice color scheme. And when I found the one I wanted, it was discontinued. (I won’t get into the gory details, but this became a mission that ended up including ebay, Los Angeles and the nice surprise of discovering that you can order inexpensive replacement parts for pretty much anything Mattel – or any of their sub-brands – makes. So keep that in mind when pieces snap off your toys!)

Anyway, my recommendation is to get one of the super basic ones and save the special features for your baby swing (in which your baby will likely be more comfortable anyway).

Big and/or Expensive 

If you have a ton of room or the budget to get a second lightweight one to move around the house, sure, go for it and get the Mercedes model: Peg Perego makes one with surround sound, a canopy, and a seat with adjustable angles. Also: tasteful colors. But you’ll pay $170 for it, so there’s that.

Along similar but much more annoying-sounding lines – although it does have cool-looking stripes – is the Magic Astro Bouncer, which costs $199 but requires all sorts of secondary purchases to get the kick pad and all the features working. My advice: avoid.

And Baby Bjorn, coming in at $149, makes a sleek, no frills, fold-able model that I like a lot and would have gotten if I’d been able to stomach the price tag for something we used for less than a year.

Baby Bjorn BabySitter Balance

The Smaller Lot

If you’re space- and/or budget-restricted, the Combi Bouncer, in bee or ladybug design, is similar to the one we have: lightweight, small profile (for fitting in a bathroom!), an iPod attachment, and no big electronic toys. (Some of the reviewers have noted that absence as a bad thing. I handed Astrid a bunch of things to play with + attached a few toys and balls to the side of her no-frills model with rings and it worked just fine. Also, I wasn’t looking for her to entertain herself for more than 5-10 minutes anyway: she wasn’t keen on being left on her own as an infant, and I wasn’t keen on substituting blinking lights for actual interaction, so we were on the same page.)

Down side with the Combi: you can’t remove the cover for washing. Ours doesn’t come off either and it wasn’t a problem since Astrid wasn’t particularly accident prone, but it’s something to consider.

Bright Starts makes some inexpensive bouncers ($25-$50) in subtle colors, but I found their footprint to be too big – they’re just very wide. And Fisher-Price, of course, has their offerings ($27 and up), some quite light and small profile, but God: those patterns… (I am still a fan of their Zen line, but the Infant Seat isn’t truly a bouncer + it’s just too big. If you love the aesthetic of that line, just spring for the swing.)

Good luck! And don’t stress too much about this purchase: a bouncer is really nice to have but if tiny Lyle doesn’t like the one you get him, you can always trade off on Craigslist – or just wait a few months and he’ll be crawling!!

I’ve always liked Skip Hop‘s style and Astrid (and I) were really happy with their farmyard activity mat when she was tiny: soft fabric with some texture and crinkles for fun + the standard arches for dangling soft toys with their own small (and quiet!) features, all of it in tasteful primary colors with minimal electronics and garish extras. Done.

A friend of mine registered for their latest play mat, which reminded me to check their site. The farmyard theme has been replaced by a treetop one that’s just as appealing, if not even more so. Or maybe it’s just my weakness for owls.

The mat still has the extra hanging loops for hooking on some additional toys and a little mirror in the tree trunk as well as the U-shaped pillow to support little Maddy’s chest during tummy time so she can see the room a little better than when her face is flat on the mat. (Yes, that’s what that pillow is for. It took me, like, three weeks to figure that out. I’m quick like that.)

At $75, it’s not cheap, but, for one of the only toys that an infant will use right away (covering play and tummy time) and will be on your floor for a whole year, I’d rather spend the money and skip the cheap-looking alternatives. Yay owls!

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Gym, $75 at SkipHop or Amazon. Or check your neighborhood parents’ group to see if anyone’s ready to part with theirs – they don’t get beat up very much – but do get their share of drool (!) so wash it well before you use it. 

I wrote a while ago about “transitional objects” and how important they can be for babies. Chances are, you’ll pick out one you like before Baby arrives, or someone will give you some candidates at your baby shower.

I liked the duck I got Astrid, but she never took to it (or any other one) and, truth be told, I wasn’t in love with it myself. Maybe she sensed my ambivalence. Anyway, the other day, I came across a couple of Gund’s Comfy Cozies. The blanket part is a bit bigger than most loveys, but also cuter. Plush top, silky underside. I really liked the ladybug and the bee, and the giraffe is adorable. I also like this slightly smaller Gund giraffe. I’m sensing a theme here. Maybe I’ll just go buy a giraffe for myself and be done with it.

Gund Comfy Cozy, $35 at 

Ladybug Snuggle Sack

March 31, 2012

Today is Astrid’s birthday party and the theme is ladybugs because she loses it every time she sees a ladybug. Even more so when she sees a flag, but I wasn’t going to do a United Nations theme for a two-year-old’s birthday party.

While I was hunting for not-too-over-the-top ladybug stuff online, I came across this adorable “snuggle sack.” It’s basically a way cute sleep sack, but with snaps at the shoulders and a bottom zipper instead of a front zipper. All in all, less convenient for middle-of-the-night diaper changes than the standard full-length  front zip style but still a great way to keep your tiny one warm in her crib during the day and adorable for visiting admirers.

Comes in an owl theme too, if you prefer a woodland look.

Baby Aspen Ladybug Snuggle Sack (0-6 months), $36.99 at or $32 at Amazon. Or Little Owl, same price.