Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book List

I would like to write reviews for some of these eventually, but in the meantime, here are some of my favorite books about smart growth and walkability, simple living, creativity, and parenting.

Smart Growth and Walkability

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage out of Life by Chris Balish

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck

The Smart Growth Manual by Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, and Mike Lydon

The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment by Eric O. Jacobsen

Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World by Ross Chapin

Everyday Bicycling: How to Ride a Bike for Transportation (Whatever Your Lifestyle) by Elly Blue

Crafts, Cooking, and Creativity

Knitting for Baby by Melanie Falick and Kristin Nicholas

The Expectant Knitter: 30 Designs for Baby and Your Growing Family  by Marie Connolly

More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson and Anna Williams

Simply in Season by Cathleen Hockman-Wert and Mary Beth Lind

The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule

Handmade Home: Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures by Amanda Blake Soule

Family, Parenting, Simplicity, and General Life

In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore

The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder through the Seasons by Amanda Blake Soule and Stephen Soule

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by William Sears, Martha Sears, Robert Sears, and James Sears

Living Outside the Box: TV-Free Families Share Their Secrets by Barbara Brock

Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children by Sharifa Oppenheimer

Monday, April 8, 2013

Making hand-me-downs work for children of different genders

I've been writing a lot about walkability/biking/transit/smart growth and how they relate to simpler parenthood, but I'd like to continue in the simple living thread by discussing how we can reuse kids' items, especially when we have kids of different genders. Conventional wisdom says that kids are expensive, but parents can usually choose to spend significantly less than the standard "cost per child" figures commonly tossed around. One logical way to do that is to reuse items from one child to the next as much as possible, but parents might wonder what to do when they have children of different genders.  Here are some of my ideas after having a boy and a girl in immediate succession.

1. Plan for hand-me-downs starting with your first child

First of all, if you suspect you might eventually have more than one child, start planning for it by getting (buying, registering for, inheriting, finding on Craigslist, or making) baby supplies accordingly when you are expecting your first child. 

This might mean getting higher-quality items that cost a bit more so they will last through a second or third child, which will cost less in the long run. This is especially true for the big-ticket items like strollers. 

It might meaning using cloth diapers, which can typically be reused through at least two children, unlike disposable diapers (that would be gross).

If you are on a tight baby budget, it might be tempting to skip the infant car seat and go straight to a convertible car seat.  However, if you plan on having children within a few years of each other, keep in mind that your oldest might still be using the convertible car seat when the second baby comes along, necessitating a second car seat anyway. We decided on an infant car seat (which is also infinitely easier to transport on foot if you are car-free with a baby, the subject of another post altogether) and got a convertible car seat when our oldest was almost 12 months old.

2. Get gender-neutral basics

This is more difficult than it sounds, which you will undoubtedly know if you have walked into a Gymboree lately. Children's clothing manufacturers don't want you to buy gender-neutral clothes that can be reused for second and subsequent babies. They want your girls in princess dresses and your boys in baseball uniforms so you will have to buy a brand-new wardrobe when that opposite-sex sibling comes along. Besides being not a little ridiculous (Do strangers really need to know whether your child is a boy or a girl at one month old? Are you planning on marrying them off anytime soon?), buying a completely gender-specific wardrobe is hardly cost-effective for clothes that will be outgrown after a few weeks anyway.

Basics like onesies, socks, cloth diaper covers, and sometimes sleepers and pants can usually be found in gender-neutral colors or good old-fashioned white. If you're having trouble finding neutral clothes, check the boys' section. Blame it on sexism, but boys' clothes tend to be or at least seem more neutral than girls' clothes. Boys's clothes often include green, gray, yellow, and red, while most girls' clothes go for the pink and purple. It is generally more acceptable for a girl to wear blue than for a boy to wear pink, so between real neutrals and some neutral-ish boys' clothes, you will be set with a wardrobe of basics than can be worn by a son or daughter. 

3. Get gender-neutral gear and toys

Your car seat, stroller, swing, bouncer, etc. do not need to be in gender-specific colors, and there are many gender-neutral options for these items. Paying hundreds of dollars for a new crib just so little Reagan can have a pink one is unnecessary. In my opinion, baby carriers and diaper bags belong to the parent's wardrobe, not the baby's, so you can go crazy with the design that matches your own personal style. That being said, if you expect Daddy to carry the baby or the bag, just say "no" to the purple Moby and opt for something more neutral. 

Toys, like baby gear, have become surprisingly more gender-specific over the years, as marketers have discovered that parents will pay for a brand-new toy collection if toys are marketed in terms of "his" and hers." For a fascinating look at gender in toy marketing, check out this article on the Center for a New American Dream blog. In the meantime, there are many wonderful toys that are for everyone. Classic toys like blocks, puzzles, wagons, books, and balls, and creative toys like crayons and other art supplies, transcend gender. For big purchases like bicycles and scooters, try to find (again, often marketed as "boys'") red or green items rather than ones with very gender-specific designs or characters. You can even find toy kitchens, dolls, or workbenches that are gender-neutral enough to suggest that either girls or boys can cook, have children, build things, and otherwise engage in human life. By following these toy suggestions, you will also likely avoid the Disneyfied, mass-marketed, and mass-produced toys in favor of handmade or small company's toys (search Etsy for wooden toys, dolls, Waldorf toys and Montessori toys, for a start).

4. Buy or make a few special items

There's no shame in sometimes wanting to dress your baby in gender-specific clothes, and the easiest and most cost-effective way to do this is to get (request, register for, find on Craigslist, or make) a few special items for your baby: a cute dress or two per season for a girl, or an Easter vest or button-down shirt for a boy. These can be paired with neutral items for a feminine or masculine effect, without doing the whole outfit, every day. Trust me, if you put a sweet A-line tunic on your daughter, no one will notice that airplane sleeper underneath (and since when do only boys ride in airplanes, anyway?). Extra points if you stitch or sew your special items for your cherubs - these will be special not only for your little boys and girls, but also for a niece, nephew, a friend's child, or even a grandchild! Now that is what I call an efficient hand-me-down.