To Moms & Nannies Everywhere

Caring for two babies was the hardest job I ever had, until I became the mom to two babies!

While in college, I was a nanny for a small family with two babies, about 1 year apart in age (ages 1 and 2), and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It prepared me for life as a mom, and also for life as a mom with a nanny.

I learned some very important lessons. Although it was not my first nanny job, it would be my last, and I still think of the experience every day. But what I think of most is the line the mother told me when she fired me… “You would be best at a desk job, in an office by yourself.”

Now this woman was incredibly incorrect, as I went on to be a very successful dance director, working each day with kids of all ages (especially toddlers) and constantly in the spotlight, often in front of hundreds of people at once. I have not had one desk job, ever, (and I quite think I’d go nuts sitting at a desk and not interacting with people).

But for so many years I have tried to understand, analyze, and reconcile her words to me. For some reason, I took them very seriously. I thought she had merit because she worked in Human Resources for a large company, and that meant something to me at the young age of 23. It seemed like a big deal. Years went by, and nearly everyday I thought of her careless words, trying to decode them. I have come to the conclusion that not only did she misunderstand me, but she also failed to respect me as a person. See, to her, a nanny was a servant. She did not respect me or my health. She often failed to mention when her children were contagious, and then expected me to work while sick.

As she fired me, she explained to me that I was in fact very responsible, kept her children safe, punctual, and she could tell that I loved her children greatly… but I took a nap that day while her children napped because we had all caught a dreadful cold, and I wanted to be my best for them when they woke up. So I napped next to the one year old’s playpen in case she woke up, as I was invited to do so by the mother when I was first hired…but that was just a trick. She was setting me up for failure. She probably felt immense guilt about not being able to stay at home, and needed an excuse to fire me. She set up her nanny cam that morning to keep an eye on things, and through the coughing and sneezing she heard in the playroom, she watched me snooze for about 30 minutes while her children were safe in their beds. When the one year old woke up, I sat her down in front of me to play as I miserably lay sideways watching her. That was all she needed to swoop in and seize control over her household again, as the hero that day.

Later, as she gave me a lecture on my correct occupation and complained about having to pay a more experienced nanny more money, I sat silently thinking about what else I could have possibly done wrong. As she then demanded I say “goodbye” to her sobbing two year old, and her husband removed the car seats from my car, I stood there without arguing or making any protest. I was tired, sick (from the nasty bug her kids had given me), and I was broke (in more ways than one).

It was not until many years later that I realized, she was the reason she fired me. While maybe I was not the most energetic or perfect nanny I could possibly be (working long hours and trying to go to school in between often left me feeling too tired to walk five blocks to the park), but I was dedicated to her children, and I did not do anything wrong. I did not deserve to be fired, without warning, and I certainly did not deserve to be insulted.

But for many years now I have thought about her, and I have been wanting to thank her. Yes, THANK HER. Here is why…

One time I told her husband that I love their children, but I think for me personally I would put more space between my own children’s births because having to look after two so close in age was really difficult. He laughed a wise-father owl laugh, and I will never forget those famous words I said.

As time ticked on for me, and I watched each year pass as a business woman, I kept thinking about what the mother said to me…. And what I said about having more space between my kids. I was getting older, and time was running out to have kids. I was scared to think that I might not have the option to space them out!

By the time I was married, I was 33. I got pregnant right away, and the clues began to surface.

One by one, a clue came to me– Insight into why the mother told me I should have a desk job, and why it was so incorrect.

It turns out, motherhood is actually really damn hard. Pregnancy is hard, birth is harder, being a mom is hardest of all… shocking actually, how hard it is. I know the mother was struggling when she hired me, and she was frustrated when I couldn’t replace her. She still had to be mom. She still had to be the one to ensure her children received the best in life. She wanted to escape, and she couldn’t.

I learned that being a mother and working is not for me. I chose to hand over my business and stay at home with my baby so that she could have the best care, from me. My daughter was a screamer, and I feared handing her over to a caretaker who wouldn’t love her like I do. I was afraid that someone would hurt her if she screamed all day with them, so I stayed home and rocked it out as a picture perfect Mommy. It was my new job. I felt proud that I overcame all the obstacles, and my daughter was turning out to be a nice little human being.

Then I found myself pregnant again when my daughter was only 18 months old! OOPS (but I was so excited to give my daughter a sibling that I embraced the pregnancy). It was also really difficult, and we had to employ a nanny. I was in bed for the first trimester with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, in the 2nd trimester my hips spread too wide and I couldn’t walk, and I finished off the pregnancy in bed with Preeclampsia. I delivered with Eclampsia and an emergency cesarean, and life DID NOT GET EASIER. Newsflash! Life only gets more interesting…

And more clues came in— the struggles of having two children under three, and what that actually demands of a mother in not just every day, but in every moment. YOU SOMETIMES FORGET TO BREATHE.

Every moment of life, you have these babies demanding your resources. You have only two arms, and you have two children that fill your arms at nearly every moment—going to the bathroom, cooking dinner, eating a meal, grocery shopping, banking, meetings, phone calls, emails, events… they come with you. They demand your attention, and your sense of self goes right out the window. There is no “you” anymore. There is only “us”. And while that is quite beautiful and loving in many ways, it can be very difficult at times too. Some women do not adjust to the drastic change in lifestyle, and would prefer to go back to work. Others might not have a choice and need to work for their families. Whatever the reason, many women choose to hire a daycare or a nanny to watch their little ones. But for those that do not…

I know you. I know what you are feeling. I know your daily struggle with trying to just go to the bathroom without interruption, or answer the phone when it rings. I know you also feel really worn out sometimes. It’s hard chasing after two cherubs all day. It’s physically draining. I know you look in the mirror, and you wonder why your eyes are sagging and you can’t feel normal because you are still breastfeeding your baby, or your whole body looks scary and unrecognizable now. I know you sometimes wish you had kept your career, and you think about what you could have accomplished if you had, and you’re just a little too envious of your husband for getting to leave all day. I know you feel a mess when he comes home, and it looks like a tornado went through your house and he doesn’t know how many times you cleaned the house already today, and you cannot bring yourself to pick up one…more…toy. I know. I know YOU, and I get it.

I get HER. That mother who fired me for no good reason– She couldn’t have done all of this, and it is OK.

Because I can. You can.

So I say “thank you” to her, for planting a lasting memory in me that would drive me to be the absolute best mother I could possibly be just to prove her wrong.

“Thank you” to her.

“if you ever read this… you know who you are. You were feeling inadequate that day. It felt better to bring me down to your level and blame someone else for your guilt. You felt like a good mom when you took back your family and began to care for your own children. I get it now. It is the hardest thing in the world to be a mother these days, when women are expected to be solid bread winners, go to college, and be as successful as their husbands, and still raise good children. Thank you, and I forgive you because I know it’s so hard. It’s so damn hard.”

But as a mother who has to have help sometimes too, I know the value of a good nanny. I am blessed to have found several wonderful caretakers over the years to help in times when I could not do it alone, and because of that mother who mistreated me, I will never, ever take them for granted. The people who help me take care of my children and give me the precious time I need to take care of myself and my career, they have my utmost respect. I would pay them in gold if I could.

So here is to moms and good nannies everywhere. You are valued, and you are important!

My kids and their sweet nanny, (who does not like to be in the photos)!

CrocoCun Zoo Review

We first visited CrocoCun back in November 2017, and I was impressed with many aspects of this zoo. If you have never been to it before, prepare for a different kind of zoo experience. It is not going to be like San Diego Zoo!

You won’t find polar bears or penguins at CrocoCun. It is like a giant terrarium for reptiles (and a few mammals too), who live naturally in this tropical jungle climate but were rescued for some reason and cannot survive in the wild on their own. The zookeepers take great pride in providing a safe and comfortable habitat for the animals.

 

FAQ when visiting with children:

What visitor ages are appropriate?

All children can visit this zoo. Babies and big kids alike!

                             (TIP: Bring baby in a carrier or umbrella stroller)

Is the zoo stroller or wheel-chair friendly?

YES. Despite some reviews online, we found the paths to be perfectly wheel-friendly! Paved and ramped throughout the campus, and there are no big hills.

Is the zoo scary for little ones (or squeamish adults)?

No. If you have a fear of reptiles, you can still navigate the zoo without touching any of them. The “scariest” experience is perhaps the “walk through the crocodiles”, whom are well fed (fat and happy), and they are not interested in getting too close to you. They will notice you and rise up when you pass by, but they don’t move towards you.

(TIP: If you are hoping to conquer your fears here, the guides will be more than happy to hold your hand a little, or let you touch a baby croc)

Is there parking?

Yes, there is a parking lot on the south side of the entrance. You can also hop in a taxi and tell them where to go—the zoo is well known.

Are there snacks?

Yep! Snacks for you, and snacks for the animals. You can feed all the animals with a snack pack for a very small add-on price. Even my young kids enjoyed reaching out and feeding the docile animals.

 There is a very nice coffee shop/deli attached to the front of the zoo entrance for people, and there are snacks for purchase inside the lobby and gift shop. We enjoyed fresh sandwiches, salads, and frappes there! There was not a kid’s meal option at the time we visited, but the prices were low enough that I didn’t mind buying a normal entrée for my kids to share.

Are there clean restrooms?

Yes, the restrooms are great, and the entire facility and animal habitats were sparking clean. In fact, it is the cleanest zoo I have ever visited!

What can you find in the gift shop?

The usual souvenirs plus some unique artwork from locals in form of sculpture, painting, and textiles.

What is the best time of day to visit?

We went around 11am, and it was quiet and full of shady trees (no direct sun).

How much time should you plan to stay there?

This zoo has private, guided tours. You cannot wander around on your own. The tour takes 1-1.5 hours, and moves from each exhibit fairly quickly (but they will give you all the time you want to take photos and feed the animals). We never felt rushed, and we never felt tired or bored. It was the perfect timing for two toddlers and catching lunch afterwards!

 

Some of the animals you might see:

Tropical birds, snakes, lizards, monkeys, crocodiles of all sizes, deer, wild dogs, big cats, and more!

Emergencies in Quintana Roo

It happens…When you have children, sooner or later you need a hospital while traveling!

We recently had the opportunity to try out the medical system while staying in Akumal, Mexico when Baby A took a nose dive (while strapped into his stroller) onto a concrete parking lot, from a raised sidewalk. When I picked him up, he was covered in blood, and it looked pretty bad. Every parent knows that sinking feeling you get when you see your kid get hurt, but I know from experience that the most important thing you can do as a parent in these situations is STAY CALM! ok?! Just chill.

After Baby A was cleaned up with a bottle of water, I could tell the bleeding was mostly coming from his mouth. I held tissues onto his gums to stop the bleeding, and he made (what I thought was) a nice recovery! Kids are miraculous sometimes… but not this time. About an hour later we were eating lunch in Playa Del Carmen, and I noticed my little boo boo bear had blood all over his chin and shirt, so we hopped into the car— and drove literally one block away to Hospiten, a local private hospital. It was only a coincidence we were so close to the hospital, but that is most likely the hospital I would have taken him to from Akumal, had the situation seemed worse in the beginning.

There are many hospitals all throughout Quintana Roo, but it can be difficult to know which one is a legitimate emergency center. Some private hospitals are named after the doctor who owns it, or called “clinic”, or “hospital” when it is not actually equipped for a true emergency. I just so happened to have a conversation the day before with a friend who told me about her own experience at Hospiten with her baby, so I knew exactly where to go. If you’re traveling in the area, you will pass by this particular hospital when you drive between Cancun and Tulum. It is easy to spot right from the highway on the southern outskirts of Playa Del Carmen.

I was by myself with the kids that day with hubs out of town for work, so it was just me and two toddlers (one with a bloody face and shirt). The hospital was quiet, and the security guard at the front door helped me in with the stroller. The front desk staff was bilingual, took our insurance information (and explained their policies regarding cash pay), and got us in right away.

RIGHT HERE is where you need to understand something–> if you’re on a vacation, expect to pay a little more for your treatment than the locals. They have a tourist price, an expat price, and a locals price (so I have heard from other moms). All of which are still lower than you would pay in the US. I’m not entirely sure which price we paid that day, but it was not the local’s price. It was comparable to what we would pay at a reasonable urgent care facility in the US. This also considering there was a lot of blood to clean up, a lot of screaming to deal with, and a US mom who did not speak much Spanish. They had to hold the baby down, make a thorough exam, administer medication, and clean everything up afterwards. They did this with understanding and kindness every step of the way, they spoke fluent English to me, and they gave us clear instructions on how to help Baby A recover completely. I personally feel that I paid a fair price. I am happy to report he made a full recovery within a few days, and saved us a lot more money by severing his own lip tie (it would need to have been lasered later in life). Not a method I recommend though…

Baby A at Hospiten, after treatment for severed frenula.

 

Fun With Monkeys

The monkeys of CrocoCun Zoo keeping tabs on the new expat family.

Living in the jungle comes with the occasional monkey shake down… 

These monkeys are from the CrocoCun Zoo in Puerto Morelos (Cancun area). They have been keeping tabs on us since we played in the park behind the zoo earlier in the week, and then we saw them at the zoo. The keepers have named them all, and Yessica here is the ring leader. 

I will be posting a separate bit about the zoo because it is worthy of its whole, special post!

What’s in That Diaper Bag?!

As we travel the Mexican Riviera, we have edited the diaper bag several times. “Strolling around” has a different meaning here than in the US, where the roads can be rough and banos even rougher. When day tripping with small children, my goal is to keep us safe and comfy, but also pack light so we can be flexible if plans change. Here are the essentials that are in my bag right now:

1. Extra onesie. In addition to diapers and wipes, an extra onesie is essential in case of blow-outs. I have learned over the years to use a loose fitting onesie as an extra in case months go by before it is used (it will likely still fit a growing baby). The key is to replace it once used, of course. Traveling with children takes a few extra minutes before you leave your room or rental to make sure you refill those essentials so you don’t get in a bind without them.

2. Wet wipes. This is a small, travel pack of sanitizing wipes that can be used to wipe down high chairs or tables when you go out to eat, or a dirty toilet if you forget number 3…

3. Toilet seat covers. I buy extra large, disposable toilet covers in bulk from Amazon. If they are too small, your potty training tot might rub her legs on a poopy pot (ick!).

4. First aid kit. This is essential for Mexico, where there is rocky terrain, coral reef, hard tile, and concrete everywhere. Little knees and elbows get bumped easily. We never even used a band aid on our youngest until we moved here. Now we have gone through a box in one month, along with large knee patches, medical tape, and a couple travel sized bottles of Neosporin. That’s what’s in the kit: various band aids, antiseptic spray, and a roll of medical tape (I prefer the tan, waterproof foam tape because it stretches over the knee when it moves).

5. Bug repellent. For the kids, we use a local concoction called Maya Bug Repellent, but it needs to be applied often and in large amounts. We brought several bottles of California Baby bug repellent with us, and went through them very quickly. The mosquitoes just bite right through it. We also use OFF on adult legs and feet. There are fleas and sand flies after 4pm, and they need a strong repellent as well. Don’t make the mistake of leaving for the day without your bug spray. UPDATED: As of January 2018, we are only using Picaridin bug repellents now (OFF Family and the natural concoctions did not prove to be strong enough for the mosquitoes, long term).

6. Bug bite itch cream or roller stick. Even with all that repellent, we still get bites. Don’t let a bad itch take away your fun. There are some roller types that contain menthols and ammonia, which work great for adults, but are not safe for small children. Benadryl spray or cream seems to help, and poses less danger. You’ll want to pack these in your suitcase because they are hard to find here.

7. Decoy wallet/ decoy purse. I have both. I use them for different occasions. You want to keep a low profile here so that you do not become a target for theft or extortion. I keep my nice handbags in the states, and I have a small Vera Bradley crossbody with lots of pockets to hold my wallet with one credit card (not debit), and some petty change, or a small wad of pesos for snacks, etc. Most gift shops take credit cards, and they are easier to cancel if your wallet is stolen. A debit card, we are told, can be a source for extortion, where the perpetrator will demand you take it to the atm and make a withdrawal. I just like to avoid any possible targets, especially when my children are with me.

8. An amazing toy. This week it was a lime that baby A found on the street under a tree. For whatever reason this was the most interesting item to him, just second to the ipad (which we do not like, but surely keeps the peace while on longer drives in the car). This lime ended up nearly rotting in my bag, but I found it just in time to throw away. Totally worth every penny (especially since it was free). Other great toys have been teethers with bristles, a singing elephant that speaks Spanish, and a bucket of sand toys (not able to fit those in the diaper bag, but we stow them in the back seat or stroller).

9. Finally, a lightweight cardigan in Mama’s size. Good on those slightly chilly days here during the winter, or an especially powerful air conditioning unit. It doubles as a blanket, sun shade, napkin, etc.

I mentioned diapers and wipes before. You will have no problem finding affordable baby products here in the Riviera Maya, at any grocery store and many corner stores too. The locals love babies, and are very family oriented, so you don’t need to overpack! Stop by the grocery store on your way into town. It will give you the opportunity to see the other great deals to be found here locally.

Packing for Moving Overseas

For many years of my adult life I have experienced nightmares in which the house is on fire, and I had to get things out of the house before the fire caught up with me…or that I was moving, and only had one day to get my things out of a full house– always making choices about what is most important. I realize now these dreams were just preparing me to handle an overseas move in real life. HA!

As we prepare for our move to the Caribbean, we have to purge most of our belongings. Only the most essential and important things can come along. We cannot take our furniture or decor. The things we spent the last five years as a couple accumulating to operate our household, all have to be sold or stored now. We’ve had a long runway for this move, but it is still overwhelming to think we have six suitcases to pack everything important!

So what goes into the suitcases?

Suitcase 1-3

Clothing. We obviously need some clothes, and growing kids need a lot. Baby needs the next size up too! Now, they do have some of our favorite clothing stores where we are going, so I won’t buy a bunch of extra items just for the move, but I am not about to throw out anything they can still wear. All the fall and winter clothes go though…we won’t be needing boots or jackets in the Carribbean. My kids each have about two large dresser drawers to fit into one suitcase. I think that is doable…

What will Mama bring? I have even less clothes due to the postpartum changes lately, so I only need about one suitcase for my own clothing to include shorts, tanks, breezy tops, a few sundresses, and maybe one super nice outfit for a rare event we might attend. I will take 2 pair of sandals (one gold, one silver or black), 1 pair of cheap basic flip flops for the beach, and maybe a pair of hiking/ river shoes.

My husband will probably pack one suitcase for his clothes and shoes.
That brings us to three suitcases just for clothing.

Suitcase 4

a. Daily Ops

This will be all the things we use every day as part of our routine, excluding disposables like diapers and wipes that are easily replaced.

Toiletries (just enough to get by for the first few weeks), two sippy cups, two bottles, a few kid forks/spoons, perhaps a travel high chair (the kind that is made of fabric and straps to a chair), baby monitors, small electronics like backup phones/ipads for app use, charging cables for said electronics, and basic first aid (a few bandaids, Neosporin, epipen, and emergency nebulizer with a few asthma med vials).

b. Education

Our pre-schooler’s curriculum workbooks, scissors, glue, etc., a few books we read regularly, some smaller musical instruments, and maybe our easel if it will fit once disassembled!

Suitcase 5

Kitchen

A few smaller kitchen appliances that might be hard to find, the Nespresso machine, coveted blender, and some kitchen utensils we really like.

Suitcase 6

Allll the stuff I just forgot about.

 

One thing we plan to pack up, but not take yet is our keepsakes. With so much uncertainty about where we are going to live and how much we will move around in the first year, we will put those special items in storage for now. I am planning to reserve two medium moving boxes for that.

Now what do we do with the rest?!

My heart is a little heavy thinking about getting rid of our wedding gifts or nicer kids toys, so I am hoping to find new or temporary homes for a lot of that stuff… like grandparents who will keep them nice for our kids when we visit, or if they want them when they’re older, or worst case scenario we return with our tails between our legs in total desperation…it might be nice to have something left to our names. (I kid)

Stay tuned for comedic releif in the form of pictures and video on how this actually works out in a month or so!

Fill Their Cups

Over the past three years I have noticed that my daughter thrives on interactions with other people– kids or adults– it does not matter! She just loves communicating and learning from others. When she has spent time interacting with others, she beams a smile to the moon! I have often said, “her cup is full” when thanking others for spending time with her because she truly benefited, perhaps more than they did. They have no idea. We could safely call her an extrovert!
So, it is no surprise that when you subtract the people interaction from her day, she becomes less happy. As a toddler, she has a limited vocabulary for communicating her need for people, so it has taken me awhile to figure out the source of her violent outbursts (which began around the time her brother was born and escalated recently as brother started crawling and eating everything he could find off the floor– thus requiring much more of my personal attention). We jumped to the conclusion of sibling jealousy, but the normal techniques for “treating” typical sibling jealousy did not seem to work.
Recently I thought of a concept I call the “Fill Up Station”. I put down whatever I am doing, hug her, and allow her be the center of attention for the moment. I ask her to tell me how she is feeling, and usually she gets tired of me pretty quick and jumps down. The main idea is to keep her “cup” full of love throughout the day. All day long I ask myself, “what have I done to fill up her cup?” and this reminds me to keep giving to her throughout the day…whether it is setting up playdates with friends for her, going to the zoo or park, working on “school” (which we do at home right now while our home is in flux), doing her hair, making a clay sculpture with her, a walk around the block holding her hand, or just some quality cuddles on the couch, giggling at the silly stories she tells me and giving her my undivided attention that she craves. I can tell she is soaking it up by the ever growing spark in her eyes…and the lack of violent outburts towards her brother during in the day. The idea is to not only give love to her, but to give her so much love that her cup is overflowing and the need for attention is obsolete…thus the violent behavior used to get my attention is also gone. 
Children need love and attention. That’s well known, but I didn’t realize sibling violence was something I could personally control. It turns out that my daughter’s violence towards her brother (hitting, shoving, pushing, scratching…you name it), was a her way of telling me that she needed more love from me. She was not trying to hurt him. She was not even jealous, as we thought. She just knew my attention was on him, and hurting him was the quickest way to get it back.
Giving of oneself continuously as a mom is no easy task, especially with another little one crawling around, who technically requires a lot more attention for his safety.
20170609_125748.jpg 20170630_093708
Finding ways to balance this makes for a very active day for me, but it is well worth it to have happy, peaceful interactions between my kids. I am grateful to have a few minutes during naptime to type this out, and I hope it reaches other parents who might need it.

 

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Getting some much needed summer rays at the park.