Author Archives: Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae

About Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae is a work-at-home mom of three young children whose days are spent wiping mouths, playing Candyland, planning dinners and stealing time in between at the computer for her freelance writing. She's a stickler for healthy eating, with a slight exception for Oreos. She lives in Alabama with her precious children, loving husband and 13-year-old Australian Shepherd named Ricky Martin.

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Despite the Heat, Take the Party Outside With Games That Make a Splash

boy_with_water_balloons.jpgWe aren’t spending nearly enough time outside these days because of the overwhelming heat. I don’t blame my kids for not wanting to run and play in the backyard. Brief splashes in the baby pool are the extent of our outdoor activities, and even that isn’t fun when the sun is beating down on you. In its August 2011 issue, Family Fun magazine offered four games that involve water to cool off play on any hot day.

Splash Volleyball: Using a water-filled kiddie pool as the net, players must volley a large sponge back and forth over the pool. If the sponge hits the ground, the player on the opposite side gets a point. If it lands in the pool, the one who last touched it loses a point. First player to earn 10 points wins.

Freezing-Water Tag: My 4-year-old would love this. Each player receives a plastic spray bottle filled with ice water. Instead of tagging with hands, players squirt each other. If you get wet, you freeze, though you can still squirt others in play. The last player to remain unfrozen wins.

Beach Towel Toss: Using a large beach towel, each team must grasp the corners of its towel and use it to toss a water balloon back and forth with another team. Teams move farther apart after each successful toss. The game is over when the water balloon breaks.

Back-to-Back Balloon Dash: Each player chooses a partner and stands back-to-back with interlocking arms. Place a water balloon between the players’ backs. At “Go,” teams race to cross the finish line without breaking the balloon.

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7 Steps to a Child Who Naps

parents_magazine_subscription_august2011.jpgWhen my first child was an infant, I read a book by a well-known sleep expert who claimed that school children’s academic success could be directly linked to their sleep habits. The more sleep they got as young children, the better they did in school later. Who knows if this is entirely true, but I decided when my son was just a few weeks old that sleep would be important in our house–naps especially. I’m one of those moms who doesn’t leave the house in the afternoon because my young children can’t miss their rest.

After two kids, I thought I knew most everything about napping success. But with my third child due in just a few weeks, I took time to read “Have a Happy Napper” in the August 2011 issue of Parents magazine. The writer lays out seven rules to follow to ensure your child will sleep like a champ during the day. (Nighttime issues are for another article!) While most rules are for infants and babies, parents of toddlers can learn a few brush-up tips too.

1. Be diligent about routine. I liked that the pediatric sleep specialist quoted in the article lays it out there right away: “Naps are so vital that I believe parents should plan their entire day around them,” say Lewis J. Kass, M.D. Busy moms and dads don’t want to hear that they should be a slave to their kids’ sleep schedules, but it’s so true. And as Kass points out, sleep begets sleep. If your child misses her nap this afternoon, she probably won’t catch up on lost sleep tonight. Instead she’ll sleep more poorly and a vicious cycle of an exhausted child will begin.

2. Seize the moment. Don’t overlook or ignore the signs that it’s time for some zzz’s. Tired children will rub their eyes, yawn, suck their fingers or be generally fussy. You’ve got a short window to get your little one down before all-out exhaustion sets in, which makes it even more difficult to soothe to sleep.

3. Create a sleep sanctuary. While naps in the car or stroller are easier, experts still say the best place to rest is in a crib in a cool, dark room. I thought it was funny that the writer used to hang a sign on her door to deter drop-in company in the afternoon: “Baby napping 1 to 4. Love to see you when she wakes up.”

4. Keep it lively while she’s wide awake. Your baby will sleep better if she’s stimulated while she’s awake. Infants can be entertained by simply talking to them while they’re awake. For preschool children, try to build some active time outdoors into their days before their nap.

5. Let baby drive the nap. This is a tough one if you have a fussy baby. Sleep experts discourage going to great lengths to soothe your baby to sleep. With our first child, my husband and I had a complicated dance of rocking, swaying and shushing our colicky son to sleep. In a perfect world, you put a child to bed who’s sleepy but awake so he can learn to fall asleep on his own.

6. Coordinate schedules.
I paid attention to this one, since this is the toughest issue for moms of infants and older children. Baby is napping, but big brother has to be picked up a preschool. What do you do? The writer suggests asking the parent of a preschool classmate to bring your child home. But for me, that doesn’t sound like a regular option. So I guess trying to build the youngest’s nap schedule around the older one’s activities is the goal.

7. Ease into rest time. My 4-year-old gave up naps a few months ago, but we’re still trying to maintain a “quiet” time. He can read books, color or just lie on the couch quietly, but he doesn’t have to go into his dark room. Keeping him in “quiet” mode is a lot harder than I ever expected. I routinely remind him that he’s not playing with a “quiet time” toy. But I guess something is better than nothing. And one bonus to giving up naps is that going to sleep at night is a breeze!

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Parents Magazine on How to Be a Zen Mama

parents_magazine_subscription_august2011.jpgI’d never describe myself as “mellow.” I thrive on getting things done, checking off tasks on my to-do list and being on the go. It’s what makes me feel productive at the end of a day–but it’s also what stresses me out. So I was curious about an article on the cover of the August 2011 issue of my Parents magazine subscription. “Be a More Mellow Mom” is written by Bethany Saltman, a practicing Buddhist for more than a decade who even lived in a monastery with her husband before their first child was born.

Though I’m not Buddhist, I really learned a lot from the article and from Saltman’s perspective as the mom to a 3-year-old daughter. She says that her practice of “simple awareness” has helped her be “happier, kinder, and more relaxed.” What mom wouldn’t want that? Here’s how Saltman applies some basic Buddhist principles to her life as a mother:

Do what you’re doing while you’re doing it. The Zen teaching is that our entire life is happening right now. The past is over and the future hasn’t happened yet, so right now is what we should focus on. But how often do I try to do it all right away? Cook dinner, talk on the phone to a friend and keep my two children entertained–all at the same time. Like the author, I wind up not doing any of them well and feeling bad about myself. I’m going to try to focus more–let the call go to voicemail and let the laundry pile sit. My children and I will be happier, I’m sure.

Leave no trace. This is all about your surroundings. And while Saltman agrees it’s not healthy to obsess over a clean house, none of us feels good when we live in a mess. Teaching our kids to pick up after themselves is good for everyone’s sanity.

Take just the right amount. Here’s another great reminder for our stuff-loving culture. Do we really need all the things we bring into our home? The writer talked about how she used to purge clothes and toys behind her daughter’s back. But recently she invited her into the process. Kids need to learn about ridding ourselves of excess, and it’s great when they see how others can use what they no longer need.

Practice patience. I could read an entire article on this topic, but basically she talks about how important it is to model patience in our homes–with our children and our spouses. Saltman admits that she occasionally blows it, but then she doesn’t beat herself up. Instead she apologizes and starts fresh in practicing patience.

I liked her reminder to count our blessings. Doing laundry can seem such a chore, but think of all the women in the world who have to carry their family’s dirty clothes miles to a stream and then back home again. Makes throwing some towels into my machine sound like a dream–and it puts a lot of my problems into great perspective.

Put Away the Sunscreen Spray

My oldest is a redhead, so let’s just say I’m a freak about sunscreen. We own SPF-rated swim shirts, rarely go outside with a hat, and wear sunscreen on a daily basis–even if we’re not near the water. Years from now, I know he’ll thank his mom for his wrinkle-free, sunspot-less skin.

As much as I’m a proponent of protection, I’ll admit–sunscreen is a huge pain. No matter how many brands I try, there’s always the mess, the grease, the smell and the squirmy toddler. Plus, cute swimsuits are always stained by the stuff at the end of the summer. Spray sunscreens make it look so easy, but several years ago, a dermatologist I know warned against the effectiveness of spray. Now a new announcement from the Food and Drug Administration makes me glad I’ve never used it.

Last month the FDA warned that it was investigating the potential risk of spray sunscreens. Its main concern was not how well the sprays protected skin, but instead that the fumes people accidentally breathe in when they’re used might pose a threat. The FDA’s study isn’t complete, but groups like Consumer Reports are warning parents not to use sprays on children at all until the findings are released.

If you’re in the hot sun and sprays are all you have, then experts advise spraying the sunscreen onto your hands and then rubbing it on children. Make sure to avoid the mouth and eyes when you’re spraying your kids or yourself. It’s still safe for adults to use because you can make sure not to breathe the fumes. But if you’ve ever applied sunscreen to kids, you know it’s next to impossible to make them stand still.

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Basic Life Skills Suffer Among the Digital Generation

parenting_early_years_magazine_subscription_august2011.jpgFor Christmas last year, my parents gave me and my husband an iPad. (A very nice gift, I know.) But the truth is, they might as well have given it to our 3-year-old, because she uses it more regularly than any member of our family. It’s amazing how comfortably she navigates between her favorite apps. And she’s even shown my husband how to turn down the volume when he couldn’t figure it out.

Today’s kids are building their digital skills earlier than any generation before. But as an article in the August 2011 issue of Parenting Early Years magazine asks, what’s the cost to this techno-savvy generation? Practical life skills seem to be sliding as our kids become more immersed in technology at younger ages. A recent 11-country survey found that children under 5 are more likely to be able to play a computer game than tie their own shoes. And while fewer than half these kids knew their home addresses or were able to write their names, nearly one-fourth could make a cell-phone call unassisted.

“We’ve created a whole generation that expects things immediately,” says Paul McCabe, Ph.D., professor of school psychology at Brooklyn College, New York. “That means mom and dad don’t budget sufficient time to allow their children to practice and develop all kinds of life skills, like getting dressed and potty training.”

So is it that big of a deal if your child is more comfortable on a computer keyboard than he is with a pencil? The article says yes. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that the better kids are at writing at 4 or 5 years old may predict future literacy success. So put away the mouse and start practicing those letters!

To me, the take-away from this article as a parent is just like so many other issues. Everything in moderation. We don’t have to hide all of the tech devices in our house, but we also shouldn’t allow our kids limitless time in front of a screen all day. Yes, playing a phonics game on the computer is helpful–but only if it’s in addition to learning to button your own shirt.

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In Search of Pregnancy Bliss

delivery_stork.jpgI know my husband is counting the days until our third child is born–partly because he’s thrilled to welcome a new person into our family, but also, if I’m honest with myself, he probably can’t wait for me to not be pregnant. With just a few more weeks to go until the Big Day, I have become Difficult to Live With. What’s so disappointing is that it wasn’t like this during my first two pregnancies. Despite horrible sickness during the early stages, I don’t have many problems being pregnant. I’ve never suffered through the common swelling, heartburn or sleepless nights.

But this third time is different. Maybe it’s because I’m older. Maybe it’s because my body has been there, done that. Maybe it’s because I’m also taking care of two toddlers all day long. Whatever the reason, I’m over being pregnant, and I’m ready to get this show on the road. Sleepless nights with an infant sound a lot more appealing than being pregnant at this point!

So many magazines and books about pregnancy depict it as a time to take long naps, dream of baby names and journal about how you’re feeling. But there aren’t many honest accounts of the real-life conditions–that you run out of breath unloading the dishwasher, that you wake multiple times during the night to use the bathroom, and that it can feel like someone put a vice grip on your pelvic bones.

In the midst of this negative attitude, a friend reminded me of the gift that pregnancy is. Since we plan on this third child being our last, my friend’s words hit me: “You’ll probably only be pregnant six more weeks in your entire life.” She had a point. I can do anything with a smile on my face for six weeks, can’t I? Especially when the reward is a precious new baby.

So when friends ask how I’m feeling, I’m changing my response from “I’m so ready for this to be over!” to “Great! Thanks for asking!” And then I’m going to be thankful I’m one day closer to meeting my daughter.

What about you? Have ever felt guilty about the negative feelings you have during pregnancy? Or are you someone who loves every second of the process?