Everywhere Babies

By Lisa Cucinotta

Reading to my kids is one of my favorite activities. I have loved it so much over the past six years of parenting that I recently started writing books for kids. Writing children’s books has made me think a lot more about what I love to read the kids. I’ve started noticing nuances about books like which have authors who also illustrate (I’m not all illustrator but admire those like Mo Willems who do both), whether the books rhyme or not, how long they are, etc. Most agents don’t accept rhyming books anymore (no idea why) but I’ve found that the vast majority of the books we own for littler kids all rhyme. I find it very soothing, personally. I also never realized how short many of the “longer” picture books Julia and I read together are, like Fancy Nancy or Pinkalicious. They have fewer words than you might think (418 and 680 respectively).

I’ve also begun to think about who writes the books the kids love.  There are very few books out of the hundreds that Julia and Luca own that I have paid attention to who the author is, surprisingly. Maybe other parents are more in tune with this, but its not something I think about much unless the books are part of a series and I want to buy more of them.  And even then I tend to think more about the series itself (like the ones I mentioned above) than I do about the author.

However I recently had a really special experience with Julia that made me want to reach out to the author of my favorite. When Julia was born my sister gave me a selection of books that were special to her and her kids. One of them was Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Reading it to Julia and Luca makes me happy.  It’s simple and sweet, and reminds me of both the commonalities of raising babies and their differences.

Each page starts with “Everyday, everywhere babies are….” and then goes into a different topic and all the different ways those topics are experienced.  Like “Every day, everywhere babies are fed – by bottle, by breast, with cups and with spoons, with milk and then cereal, carrots and prunes…” I love that a book for little kids says the word “breast” in it like its no big deal (because it’s not!) and also that they mention both breast and bottle feeding as being normal options (because they are!).

But back to my special experience with Julia. She really mastered reading in first grade, going from a struggling beginning reader to one that reads with enthusiasm and can infuse emotion into her storytelling.  It reminds me of myself actually – I was always really good at reading out loud, probably because I had a mother who was a children’s librarian.  I love seeing that quality in her because picking it up was such a struggle for her, especially as the youngest kid in her class.

On nights when I am home to put Julia to bed, she reads me a book and then I read her one.  She usually chooses Elephant and Piggy books (by the great Mo Willems, mentioned earlier) or a book like If You Give a Pig a Pancake. The other night, I think maybe I’d had a challenging day and she knew that, because she smiled big at me and told me she had a surprise and whipped out Everywhere Babies to read to me. She has outgrown interest in most baby and toddler books but she still keeps this one in her room.

She read it and I had a full circle mom experience. There were tears in my eyes as I watched my beautiful big girl read me this book like a champ.  I decided I had to write to the author and tell her. My hope is that someday parents and children will have special experiences with my books, and I would want to know that. So I found Susan’s website, which contained her email address along with the promise that if you write her she’ll write you back.  I figured it was worth a shot.

To my great surprise, Susan wrote me back the very next day.  I was totally fan-girling out over her response, which was amazing.  Here it is below, shared with her permission:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for writing to me, and especially for sharing the story of how Julia read Everywhere Babies to you.  That brought tears to my eyes, too. 
You know writing is such a strange experience.  You work hard to make your book as good as you can (and in the case of a picture book the illustrator works hard, too). Then you send it out in the world and suddenly it no longer belongs just to you. It belongs to those who read it. You and your children are the other side of the equation and hearing from you…  Well, it certainly made my day and also inspired me to get back to my desk and finish the book I’m working on now.
So, again, thank you for writing.  Give Julia and Luca a hug for me!
All best,
Susan”

 

I’d love to hear from you on what books are your favorites to read with your kids! Feel free to respond to me here, on Facebook if we’re friends and now on Twitter where I am now writing @lisacucinotta

The Second Time Around

by Lisa Cucinotta

As a first time parent, I was terrified of everything. I think so much of that had to do with not knowing what to expect.  Not knowing how things worked, if I was doing it right, what was “normal” for each stage and what would come next.  I am an anxious person by nature so this experience was amplified for me more than it might be for some.  Things like Julia waking up in the middle of the night as a toddler seemed extra stressful because I didn’t feel like I had control of when and how they would stop. Was I creating bad habits if I went in there too often? Why was she crying when we had made it so well through sleep training years ago? I clung to my Baby 411 and Toddler 411 books like life rafts, and asked my mother and sister and pediatrician all sorts of ridiculous questions.

I struggled with PPD and with motherhood in general (read most of my blog posts and you’ll get the picture). It wasn’t until Julia was about two that I wasn’t even ready to accept that I might be willing to have a second kid.  I worried about having a traumatic birth again.  I worried about having PPD again.  I worried about the brain fog, the sleeplessness, basically everything. Did I mention I have anxiety problems?

Then I had a second baby. SO DIFFERENT.  Like, epic level of different. In the hospital with Julia, we were separated the first day (she in the NICU, me on magnesium for the pre-eclampsia). With Luca, I got skin to skin right away, and got to snuggle him tons and keep him in my room. With Julia, they wouldn’t let me nurse her after she was born because I needed medical intervention. With Luca I got to nurse. With Julia, coming off the magnesium was brutal, and I had such intense brain fog I couldn’t think straight. With Luca, I waited and waited for the dizzy confusion and it never happened.  Is this what people got to have the first time that didn’t have medical issues for mom and baby? I will never know, but I suspect that even if they did have experiences more like mine with Luca than Julia they still must have been scared shitless because it was their first.

Getting home with Luca, I was concerned how I would manage both kids. But there was so much more that I was confident in that it seemed like an obstacle I could manage. I knew how my breast pump worked and had the hands free pumping bra ready to go. I could diaper like a champ. I knew to set a routine for getting the baby to sleep early, and to drape a paper towel over Luca’s head so I could eat dinner while nursing (I am classy AF).

My kids are different genders so there have been certain adjustments, like dealing with boy parts – turns out it actually makes diaper changing easier in some ways – like no worry about poop going up the other chute. I mean yeah, I got peed on a few times, but we figure that out pretty quick.  Luca is also definitely a lot more aggressive and wild than Julia, especially as a toddler.  When she first got her big girl bed, it never even occurred to her that she could get out of it or open the door to her room for like a year.  Luca figured that out night one.  She never turned her toys into weapons, or kicked us when we tried to change her diaper. She didn’t roar at strangers. She didn’t jump off of everything she possibly could with no fear.

But for the most part, genuinely things are pretty much parallel within reason.  I know now how old a kid needs to be to process certain information, and what kind of discipline is generally most effective. I know that at some meals he won’t eat anything and at others he’ll chow down three hot dogs and that this isn’t something to be concerned about. I don’t worry when he wakes up at night crying that this will be a thing that happens forever.

I do miss being able to tag out. The days where Brian could watch the baby for an hour while I napped don’t work as well when there are two and they have different things they need and different places to be etc.  But we still split up sometimes with one kid each and it feels so relaxing, which makes me laugh because there were plenty of times where being alone with Julia made me feel nervous or stressed.  But now she is older and my shopping buddy and my crafting buddy and dance partner and we have the best time when we’re together just the two of us.  Getting solo time with mom seems to make her behave much better.

On the downside, the two together often means chaos. When the two of them fight I want to run out of the room and hide or scream because it frustrates me so much.  But then I see them hold hands or play together or snuggle up and I forget that Julia kicked Luca hard enough that his head smacked in the wall, or that Luca jumped on Julia and bruised her (does this happen if you have two girls, by the way? I don’t remember if my sister and I were violent with each other much.)

Some people say that two is more than twice as hard as one.  I think if you are a stay at home parent that might be true, but as a working mom I honestly haven’t felt that way too much.  I know this sounds strange, but I always felt a little like something was missing when we just had Julia.  These two adults with this tiny person, it felt like an uneven balance.  I feel much more like a family with two.  Maybe that’s because I grew up with a sibling, but either way, that feeling of satisfaction helps me enjoy the experience more.  But two is definitely my limit.  More power to those folks who have three or four or more, but I am good with my little set.  I think you need to know your limits. But if you’ve got one and you’re on the fence, I say go for it. The second time around brought a great sense of redemption for me, along with a greater sense of family.