brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Until he started school, we’d never taken Niko to the doctor for anything other than scheduled check ups. He had no big illnesses, no big accidents, nothing. I mean, he whacked his head HARD once and I debated taking him in, but there was no urgent YES MUST GO IN NOW moment. Then he started school and started getting sick all the time. We’ve taken him in twice for illness since August and I expect that we’ll take him in a few more times. A very nice and helpful nurse assured me at our last visit that after the first year’s exposure to germs he’ll be back to hardly getting sick at all. Which is lovely to think about, considering that Winter Vomiting Sickness is apparently sweeping through Niko’s school right now, and there’s a lice outbreak in his classroom even as we speak.

That’s not the worst thing about starting school, though. It’s irritating and sometimes a little bit scary, but it’s not the worst.

The worst thing is that Niko is now exposed to 17 other kids on a daily basis– kids with a variety of backgrounds and behaviors and lifestyles. And while it’s great to think that kids can get together and teach other things good habits and behaviors and ways of being, the truth of the matter is that kids are jerks and they only pick up negative things from each other.

We’ve seen all KINDS of negative behavior that’s totally new and frankly some of it utterly baffling. Also making an appearance: whining. He flirted with whining briefly about a year ago but we were able to nip it in the bud. Now it’s a daily thing, nasal and drawn out and as irritating as fingernails on a blackboard is to most people. And I know EXACTLY the kid he’s picked that up from. He’s picked up some very bossy turns of phrase, and has started demanding things instead of asking for them. It’s like my kid is channeling someone else, some other personality; acting as a medium to the most irritating ghost in existence. I hate it so much.

And, you know, my kid is far from perfect and I cringe at the thought of the other kids bringing home his less than sterling habits (which include screaming fits, I’m sorry to say, and also licking snot off his upper lip. I’m not sure which is worse.)

It’s really frustrating to see certain behaviors that we’ve worked hard on establishing go completely out the window the first time he interacts with other kids.

Any suggestions on how to deal with this?

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

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There’s a post over on Captain Awkward about Red Flags in Job Searches, but most of the warning signs are more applicable to office work/white collar stuff. I thought people might be interested in some red flags I’ve noticed in retail/fast food. I wrote a super long response over there but something happened and it is lost forever to the ether, so I’m reproducing what I remember from it here.

What’s the employee turnover?
The last retail job I worked had basically two sets of employees: those who’d been working there 10-30 years, hired when the place was still owned by previous corporation and working at a higher rate of pay and paying into a (no longer available to new employees) pension, holding on until retirement and afraid they wouldn’t have the skillset to get a new job; and people who worked less than a year and quit as soon as possible. In the time I worked there, there were two waves of hires. Of the 8-10 people hired at the same time I was/soon after, when I quit, only one was still working there. High employee turnover is generally indicative of a high stress job that’s poorly paid, with low or no benefits, and a manager who’s unpleasant. Especially when you’re dealing with a huge recession with ridiculous levels of unemployment. Good managers are able to hire and hold on to good people. Bad managers are not able to, and instead of fixing underlying problems they throw new employees at it.

Are there a lot of really young employees?
I have nothing against young people, and have worked both as a young person and as an adult with really super great hard working amazing young people. However, there are two kinds of managers who hire very young people. The first type is a stand up individual looking to provide young people with experience, work history, and spending money. They tend to work with outside adults, like social service agencies and schools, and also tend to follow the law. The second type hires young people because they are both inexperienced and less likely to advocate for themselves. They are less likely to be aware that they can’t be required to work through lunch breaks, for instance, and less likely to say no if they ARE asked to. The power dynamic is so much greater between a 40 year old manager and a 16 year old employee with no work experience, and a 40 year old manager and a 30 year old employee who’s got 10 years of experience. A lot of managers look to create unbalanced situations in which they can bully and take advantage of people, and hiring people less likely to advocate for themselves is a big sign of that.

Is there an “employee of the Month” display and is it updated?
I’ve worked places that had a strong emphasis in the hand book on employee recognition, and which had employee of the month deals, but the actual physical store had signs that weren’t updated. This indicates a huge lack of respect toward employees. If the employer doesn’t care enough to write a name on a sign, what else will be too difficult for them to do? Likewise, are name badges hand written, or are they printed out and professional looking?

What is the physical condition of the store?
If the carpets are worn down and the walls are dirty and need painting and the equipment is old and unmaintained, those are pretty big warning signs. A manager that can’t take care of the physical location, the first impression on a customer, won’t take care of employees but will have no problem expecting the employees to fill the gap. You can vacuum a carpet every hour on the hour, but that won’t make the carpet any less shabby. I’ve seen employees yelled at for failing to make a carpet worn down to the underlayment look clean enough, something that’s impossible to do.

How are employees treated?
With a potential retail or fast food job, you can lurk around a bit and get a feel for how managers and assistant managers/supervisors address employees. Do they interrupt employees while they’re working? Do they literally yell at employees? How do employees interact with each other? Are employees literally expected to be in two places at once/do two things at once? You can get a good feel for the culture and expected behavior of an establishment by just hanging out quietly a bit. You can also take a look and see if there’s racial/gender disparities. Are all the high level managers/supervisors white men? Are the people who interact with the customers white/light skinned and/or women while those in the back are POC/men?

Can management/HR answer questions?
At my last retail job, I did two rounds of interviews. The first round resulted in a lot of double talk and evasion of questions, which I was alarmed about, but I really needed the money. The manager told me that, as a part time worker, I wouldn’t be given more than twenty hours a week unless something unusual happened, or it was a holiday rush, and my hours would NEVER EVER EVER top twenty-five. During the second interview he told me I would be expected to work 20-30 hours a week and acted like I was stupid for thinking it would be less. I had written down while he was talking the first time what he claimed hours would be. He lied and treated me poorly when called on it. That is a huge red flag. (NB I wound up working 40+ hours a week and he refused to change my schedule or consider me full time, as I wasn’t available from 5am till midnight to work)

I might put together another list of things you see in the first few weeks of a job that are big red flags, including lack of training material; expanding job duties; inflexibility in scheduling; and more.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

When Niko and I went and enrolled him in pre-k, the teachers asked a few questions about his skills and if we read to him at home etc. They mentioned that it would be helpful if we could work on him writing his name. I think I’ve mentioned before that we have been working on teaching him to write, and I figured I’d tell you some of the stuff that worked for us.

Pencil Holding

I thought about getting some of those triangular finger positioners that you can slide onto pencils, but decided to skip it. Like a lot of really little kids, Niko has a hard time physically holding a writing utensil. One of the things that helps him hold his fingers the correct way is to put a little something in the palm of his hand for his smaller fingers to curl around. We initially used a bit of wadded up tissue, which he objected to. I picked up a little baggie of pom poms from the Target dollar bin and he likes those a lot better. We don’t have to remind him as often to hold his writing utensil the correct way, it’s becoming a habit with him.

Making Lines

There’s a few things we’re doing to teach him how to make straight, slanted, and curved lines (IE, letter components). One of the earliest things I did was draw dots on a piece of paper and have him draw a line from dot to dot. It was a fun thing that we did together, and we’d take turns making the lines. You could also use stickers or something for the “dots.” This ties in to later activities like connect-the-dots and draw-a-line-to-match games.

There are worksheets you can buy from stores or print from the internet that have dotted lines to trace, making up straight, diagonal, curved, etc lines.

brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko’s gotten really into coloring and painting lately. He pretty much exclusively is interested in dinosaurs ONLY and gets super pissed if a dinosaur that’s supposed to have spikes/plates/a frill/horns/etc isn’t portrayed as such so he will DRAW THEM ON while scolding the original artist. “How could they even DO THAT? They should KNOW that a Kentrosaurus has a big spike on its side! They should KNOW THAT!”

He likes to paint, mostly with tempera paint (finger paints make his fingers feel icky, so mostly he uses a Popsicle stick to scoop paint onto the paper then push it around). He paints stegosaurs and allosaurs and baby sauropods eating ferns, and he adds some trackways (footprints), and then he draws a giant comet coming straight at them. It’s a whole story process.

We used to set him up with an art easel in the kitchen, which has tile floor. Now that he’s marginally less prone to sloping paint EVERYWHERE I set him up on the dining room table, over the hard wood floors.

I pour some paint into these little paper cups I picked up for free somewhere. They’re about the size of a dixie or bathroom cup. A 1/2 cup sized reusable plastic storage container, small glass, or ice cube tray would also work. And then the pain, paper, etc gets set down on the plastic table cloth we saved from his birthday.

When we were ordering birthday decorating supplies, I splurged a tiny bit on a blue plastic table cloth. It’s meant to be disposable. I did not dispose of it. Instead, I wiped off all birthday crumbs, folded it up, and stuck it in our big white cabinet that holds printer paper, art supplies, and computer cords. And when he wants to paint I pull that sucker out and lay it down on the table. It’s water resistant, so if he spills a bit of water on it the water doesn’t soak into the table cloth or (antique) (and ugly, but emotionally priceless for Nesko) dining room table. It protects the table and table cloth from paint spills. And when he’s done, I just fold it up and put it away.

We’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. It’s way cheaper than “oil cloth” (which is not actually oil cloth, may I pedantically point out), and less likely to be impregnated with cancer-causing chemicals. It reduces my anxiety about paint RUINING EVERYTHING. And it lets Niko MAKE A LOT OF ART!!! Which he loves doing.

Speaking of child!art, what do you do with it? I have kept a total of maybe 3 pieces (two of which are drawings of us as a family, and the first drawings he made of humans) and I display the rest for a while before tossing it. Or I send it to family or friends. But really, I toss a lot of his art. I might scan or photograph some of his current stuff before tossing it, but really I consider it ephemera.

What’s your take on this?

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

What do you do with your little kid when you can’t go out and play? Maybe it’s raining, or too cold, or too hot, or you’re waiting for a phone call, or someone’s repairing your roof, or whatever. What do you do when you’re just stuck in the house and your kid is antsy and ready to explode? Here’s a list of stuff you can do!

  • “Emboss” foil. Get a sheet of foil, the thicker the better, and smooth it out on a flat surface like a table. Hand kiddo something with a dull point like a spoon handle, chop stick, paint brush end, etc and have them draw or write something. Then flip it over. The part they pressed on is now sticking out!
  • Grand! Prize! Game! Remember WGN’s Bozo The Clown Show? One of the games was the GRAND! PRIZE! GAME!!!!!!! Get some buckets, cups, mugs, tupperware, paper bags, whatever and line them up in a line. Hand your kid a bunch of ping pong balls or wadded up pieces of paper. Have them stand in one place and try to get the ball in each of the containers.
  • Masking Tape Is Awesome. Use masking tape to make a hop scotch grid on the floor. Or a maze. Or a road or train tracks for vehicles. Or mark out squares/sections they need to scoot/throw/roll toys onto/inside of.
  • Have a picnic on the floor. Spread out a blanket or towel or something and have lunch/dinner/snack on the floor. Sing campfire songs and tell stories.
  • Blanket Pillow Fort. Just give in and tear the whole house up. Make the biggest blanket and pillow fort you can, then snuggle in and read stories. Or play hide and seek.
  • Put on a puppet show. Use stuffed animals, or draw some characters on a piece of paper (or cut some people/animals out of a magazine) and tape them to straws or popsicle sticks (or just hold them up). Crouch down behind the table so the action happens on top of it and kiddo can’t see you. Then trade places and have your kid put on the show.
  • Play catch with a wadded up ball of paper or foil. It’s lightweight, so less likely to knock things over/break things.
  • Play Simon Says, or Red Light Green Light in a long hallway, or the statue game, or hide and seek, or blind man’s buff.
  • Cook or bake something.
  • Bust out those art supplies.
  • Got board games? Now’s a great time to pull them out. If you have a kid who’s too young/immature for games, modify the rules or put that kid on someone’s “team” so they can still participate without getting overwhelmed.
  • Story time! Have your kid tell a story while you write it down, if they are pre-literate… or even if they aren’t!
  • Picture time! Draw something your child tells you to. Don’t worry about being a crap artist, kids pretty much don’t care.

If all else fails? Fuck it. Turn the TV on.

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Yonks ago, I worked for a small bakery that, surprising nobody, has closed down. PROTIP: if your paychecks to your employees keep bouncing and they have to handle calls from irate suppliers about getting paid, you are doing something wrong. Other than pay issues, I loved working there. Sometimes a dude would come by and sell my boss giant flats of strawberries for really cheap, and then my job would be to wash, sort, and slice them and we’d make a bunch of strawberry cakes. As an aside, I will never buy a cake/baked good containing strawberries because my boss was a little lax on what constituted mold and spoilage.

While we were driving to the store yesterday, “strawberries” on our shopping list, I caught sight of a produce truck by the side of the road. Now, I live in Chicago which is a big city, very urban, yet it’s common to find little truck stands scattered alongside busy roads. The last time I stopped at a truck stand I bought 5 pounds of cherries for $5 and Nesko ate them all in one sitting which turned out to be a bad move on his part. Despite our rocky history with poor impulse control and truck stand fruit, I made Nesko pull over and he got out of the car and bought a flat (8 pints) of strawberries and a huge bag of green grapes for $5. Apparently $5 is the magic price or something? He shoved this massive flat of fruit into the trunk of the car and we went to the store. When it was time to load our groceries (all cloth bagged, tyvm) into the car, the whole trunk was fragrant with strawberries.

I find the smell kind of nauseating, actually.

Once home, I sorted through 5 pints of strawberries and now our freezer is stocked with diced, sliced, and chunked strawberries for later strawberry based shenanigans. I tossed about 20% of the strawberries as moldy or far too over ripe (like, turning to mush, couldn’t pick them up) which seems about on par with what we get from the grocery store AND what I’d end up with when processing berries for the bakery. Niko has consumed almost an entire pint in one day. I plan to make strawberry short cake tonight, and strawberry pancakes tomorrow or the day after. Would strawberry oatmeal be tasty? What other strawberry recipes would you recommend?

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Jason Good has a blog post about reasons his 3 year old is flipping out, and it’s pretty funny. It digs right into just how irrational little kids are, how confusing and overwhelming the world can be for them and how confusing and overwhelming they can be for their parents/caregivers. I like his blog. He’s obviously an involved and loving parent who knows his kids well and is able to put a humorous yet understanding spin on daily life. So when I first saw links to a tumblr about why a kid is crying I assumed it was a link to his site. It wasn’t. Instead, it’s a collection of photos of a crying 2 or 3 year old with a caption as to why he’s crying. The kid cries a lot, apparently. And the kid’s parent takes time to photograph the kid while crying and note down why he’s crying (milk’s in the wrong color cup, a piece of cheese is the wrong shape, etc). There’s a lot of people who think it’s really funny.

I don’t.

It’s really, really hard being a kid– especially a young kid. A really little kid flips out when his cheese is the wrong shape or her milk’s in the wrong cup because 1) that means it’s just plain WRONG and/or 2) that’s one thing in a huge world they have control over and now they’ve lost that control. Good’s blog post feels empathic. It reads as a guy who understands that it’s hard to be a little kid, and that it can be frustrating to be the parent of a little kid, but if you step back you can see the humor in the situation. The tumblr feels… I don’t know. My mind lights on words like “cruel” and “predatory” but I don’t think that’s quite it. Friends of mine suggest it’s something that was designed to go viral and sure enough, the creator and his family were on TV concerning it. But what’s the difference between Good’s blog post and the tumblr?

I think the biggest thing is that Good put in effort after the fact to list reasons his kid was flipping out and the sheer number, and ridiculousness of them, builds and is funny. And a lot of stuff he talks about were things he was doing with his kid, interacting with his kid. The tumblr is quick snapshots of a kid that already looks stressed out accompanied by one-sentence descriptions. It feels like the tumblr author prioritizes taking a photo of his kid in crises to helping his kid in crises solve the problem. Good talks about his kid, the tumblr author complains about his kid.

And, you know, sometimes parents and caregivers need to vent. Kids can be frustrating, challenging, hard work. And when parents and caregivers complain they’re frequently abused for doing so, especially if they’re women. (In fact, one friend of mine asked if the tumblr would be as popular if it were a mom writing it; dads get way more leeway to be less than saints. I think it’d fly as long as she was white, affluent, and joked about how much wine she drinks. Several “mommybloggers” fitting that description landed book deals based on their HILARZ discussions of alcoholic parenting, then checked into rehab. That really wouldn’t have worked for them if they weren’t a certain type.) So I’m all for finding and creating safe spaces to vent, to unload, to ask for help. But that really doesn’t feel like it’s what’s happening.

In my experience, which is fairly limited to my own relatively laid back 4 year old and some babysitting (age ranges from 1 1/2-7 years old) most freak outs can be nipped in the bud by remembering HALT. Is the kid Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? If your kid (or adult) starts getting on edge and acting brittle, look at the circumstances. When did they last eat? Do they need to calm down and sleep? Do they need attention? Are they angry/frustrated and need to express that and then calm down before proceeding? For really little kids, also check to see if they need to use the bathroom or are generally over whelmed. Being mindful of your kid’s needs can go a long way toward creating a smoother life for everyone involved. This isn’t some magic bullet that will solve all your problems, obviously.

It’s also important to remember that little kids don’t have adult brains. If they ask for a piece of cheese and you give them the “wrong” shape of cheese? That is not what they asked for. Until they make certain synaptic connections, they cannot translate that. It’s not possible. Their brains are growing, and they aren’t just increasing in size they’re increasing connections and the ability to make deductions. They have very little control over their lives, so cling to what they CAN control: what color cup they use, what shirt they wear. They are just learning new skills and get frustrated easily because what they WANT to do is so much harder than it should be because they are still learning how to do it. When little kids flip out, it’s because they can’t cope with the world at the moment. Part of maturing is learning to cope with it, even when frustrating… and part of parenting is teaching kids how to cope with a frustrating world.

Or you could take photos of your sobbing child and post it to tumblr, I guess.

Edited to add:
I was talking about this with a couple other people and more than one person compared it (negatively) to The Honest Toddler. Good and THT both discuss parenting and specific child-centered situations, and tend to poke fun at adults, parents, and specific styles of parenting (generally affluent, privileged parenting) while the tumblr pokes fun at a kid… a kid who’s defenseless at the moment. Instead of holding the powerful up to scrutiny, it holds the defenseless up. It’s a bit exploitative. And it bothers me that there’s just this constant string of negative photos of a little kid having problems.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

If you’re married/partnered, how often do you and your partner fight?

I was reading a book about parenting and in a chapter in conflict resolution the authors mention a study where (heterosexual) married parents recorded every time they fought. Women recorded, on average, 8 fights while men recorded, on average, 7 fights. Per day. Which seems like a lot to me, even when I remember those misty halcyon days where I actually saw my husband every single day instead of the terrible overlapping work schedules where we don’t see each other awake for several days in a row every week because aughblarglefffffffffffffffff.

Now, I realize that “oh, but we don’t FIGHT! Ever!” is part and parcel of that whole “we’re SO SERIOUSLY BLESSED, our marriage is PERFECT, we just NON STOP HAVE FUN and ARE PERFECT and ARE BETTER THAN YOU” thing and I’m not going there. But Nesko and I rarely fight, even if you take spats like “OMG WHY DON’T YOU EVER CLOSE THE CABINET DOOOOOOOOOOOOOR” and “WHY DON’T YOU EVER DO THE LAAAAUUUUUUNDRYYYYYYYYYY” and “OMG STOP LEAVING YOUR SOCKS ON THE FLOOOOOOOOOOOOR” into consideration. We BRING STUFF UP, like, “Hey, honey? I’d really appreciate it if you could hang your wet towels on a hook to dry, instead of the bed frame. I worry the bed frame will warp/rust.” and “Sweetie, please stop leaving your boots in the door way where I will trip over them.” and “If you don’t fold and put away this laundry I WILL CUT YOU.” but it’s peaceful and just like… a conversation instead of an airing of grievances.

I don’t think we fight/argue/bicker even 8 times a WEEK.

Is there something wrong with us? With the way we communicate?

What do you think?

How often do you and your partner (or former partner!) fight?

What do you fight about?

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Horror Show

Monday, 18 June 2012 10:15
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Someone I know is 1) pregnant and 2) young looking, so the cavalcade of advice has begun with complete strangers assuming she’s a first time mom In For It. Young people need extra advice, right? ALL THE ADVICE. And also, because her particular adventure involves pregnancy, ALL THE HORROR STORIES. See, there’s this thing. When you take up rock climbing, people don’t regale you with stories of climbers who’ve had to chew off their own limbs to escape being trapped. When you take up running and are about to do your first 5K, people don’t normally regale you with stories about Hitting The Wall and how they turned into fountains of diarrhea and vomit during THEIR first 5K. When you get your first car, people don’t casually mention every single flaming 50 car pile up in the history of ever. But when you’re pregnant, everyone comes out of the woodwork to tell you all about how they were in labor for a month straight and their episiotomy when from their bully buttons to the small of their backs and how their uteruses fell out and now they have to cram it back up with a pessary every time they sneeze. So what’s up with that?

I think it’s a few things.

First, I think it’s that women rarely get to share their stories and have them appreciated. Although women are stereotypically considered more talkative than men, better at communicating and using words, their words are still given little value. Especially when what they are talking about is considered in the female sphere, like getting pregnant and giving birth. Ew, vaginas! How gross! Don’t talk about that ever again!! Right? Even among bloggers, female-identified people who blog about parenting are called ‘mommy bloggers’ while male-identified people who blog about parenting are called not ‘daddy bloggers’ but ‘dad bloggers’ or ‘parenting bloggers.” Mom. Mommy. It’s the little dings like that which really enforce whose words are given credence, given weight. So people who have been pregnant are eager to share their pregnancy stories with other people who are pregnant because here! Someone who will listen! Someone who will APPRECIATE a good vomit rocketing out of the bedpan onto the wall story!

Second, I think it’s also a way of saying “you’ll be ok.” As in, “I was in labor for forty-seven million hours and my uterus shattered into a hundred pieces and I lost ALL OF MY BLOOD and my legs fell off and I survived this and you will too. I shit myself in front of everyone, but I’m still here and so is my kid. YOU WILL BE OK.” It’s a way of saying that child birth, frankly, sucks. Pregnancy sucks. But most people survive it. It can be awful! But also survivable! And at the end you have a kid. And other people who’ve been pregnant know a lot of what you’ve gone through and are going through and will go through and you aren’t alone.

Third, of course, is that people are awful and just like talking about Shit That’s Happened To Them. Because PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

So if/when you have people lining up to tell you about how TRAUMATIC and TERRIBLE their birth experience was (or how they couldn’t stop puking while pregnant and lost 30 pounds and had to have several IVs to prevent death or whatever) don’t take it personally. They’re bringing a lot of their own baggage to the table. And you? You’ll do fine and will rack up your own stories to torment other people with. Or keep to yourself, depending on how you play.

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What is playground etiquette for making new parent friends that you meet at the playground or other public places?

I am a bit, how you say, “incredibly socially awkward and highly anxious in new situations” and go into public places assuming that other people will think I am a fool and hate me forever because I have something stuck between my teeth and I say nonsensical things and probably have food spattered on me or something. HAH FUN TIMES! THANKS, BRAIN! yet I blog, putting myself out in public, and I’ve enjoyed every retail job I’ve had because I enjoy the disposable human interaction of retail work.  Go figure.

I took Niko to the park the other day, and there was a woman with a FANTASTIC brown corduroy jacket and two adorable kids. I mention her jacket because she, like me, is Very Fat and so in theory I could also wear a brown corduroy jacket. We seemed to have similar taste within the stringent bounds of what clothing is available to fat women. And her boy was maybe a year older than Niko and very gregarious. (her other child was about a year younger, I think, and wow is there a vaster difference between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 than there is between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 or 4) He and Niko played together a bit, in between Niko running laps around the playground while roaring (he had juuuuuuuust a bit of pent up energy to get rid of), and he tried to play tag with Niko. He touched him gently and said “Tag! You’re it!” and then they ran off together. Niko has no idea what tag is, but he enjoyed the running and he climbed on things… at one point Older Child climbed on something that was not play structure and Niko gazed up at him admiringly and Older Child said “Here! Take my hand!” and my heart burst into ONE MILLION TINY ADORING PIECES BECAUSE OH GOD HOW CUTE WAS THAT. So cute it forced me to use ALL CAPS.

Anyway, I would have loved to try being friends with that other stylish lady and have our kids get together, but how does one broach that topic of conversation without sounding like an immense loser who has no friends? I should note that if someone approached ME with the question I wouldn’t assume they were immense losers with  no friends but hello! Crazybrain activity going on!

I’ve thought about making cards that have my name, Niko’s name, and my email address on them that I can hand out to people as like calling cards or something. Would that be over the top? Or would it seem “Type A” somehow? I am actually very lazy, indolent even, in my personal life so I don’t want to give an impression of a bustling, over-involved nature. Would it be weird? Should I put my blog address on there, or would it scare people away?


But it was nice talking with another adult about our kids and how they are weirdly obsessed with rocks, sticks, and trains; it was nice that Niko was interacting with another child instead of just adults.

I imagine things will be different when he’s in pre-K next year, and it will feel more natural and logical to introduce myself to a bunch of strangers to be parent friends with. We’ve talked about enrolling Niko in some kind of toddler class, but we can’t afford any of them so that’s out. Most of the stay at home parenting groups are not in my area and would be difficult or impossible to get to as I don’t drive… and some of them charge fees, too, which is like… whaaaaaat? I just want to sit in someone’s living room while our kids wreck things together, you know?

I should start grabbing free museum passes from our library branch and taking Niko more places before the snow falls and locks us inside for 4 or more months, I guess.

How do you meet new parent friends/how did you meet the parent friends you have? Are calling cards weird? Does anyone know any nerdy parents of toddlers in northern Chicago I can glom on to? How do you feel if parents try to “pick you up” in public places? HIT ME UP WITH ADVICE PEOPLE, I AM IN NEED.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

When I say “how do you teach animal safety,” I’m looking for specific stuff YOU PERSONALLY have done to teach children how to be safe around animals. I have some basic ideas, but I also want to teach my kid to be WARY of strange animals and CAUTIOUS around strange animals, without being terrified of them.

Here’s the sitch. We don’t have any pets. None.  My in-laws, who live five minutes away from us, have no pets. We don’t really visit people who have pets. So Niko doesn’t really see animals except at the zoo or on t.v. or when he’s walking with us and the animals are on a leash and the situation’s pretty controlled.

When he encounters animals THAT way, we (the adults with him) touch base with the people with the animals, say hello, admire the animal (ok, the dog. It’s always dogs.), and then ask if Niko can say hello and pet them. People either say yes, or they say no. If they say yes, we encourage Niko to come closer to the animal. He hesitantly touches them, adorableness happens, the end.

So far so good, right?

We were visiting some friends of ours, and they have cats. Some of the cats are totally cool with ANYBODY touching them, petting them, hauling them around, etc. They’ll rub up on you for hours. Others are… not so much. One of them bit Niko. Not a bad bite, not at all, didn’t even break the skin, but it alarmed him at the time and he’s been talking about it nonstop ever since. (he’s also claiming a kitty kissed him, and that he played megablocks with a kitty. So, you know.)

On the ride home, Nesko and I talked with Niko about how sometimes animals are scared so they bite or scratch. So when he meets an animal he needs to be careful and not touch the animal unless he asks first. We want him to be careful, but we don’t want him to be AFRAID. Does that make sense?

How do you handle this? What do you recommend?

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

So, a friend of ours has invited us to the Sandwich Fair (which is located in Sandwich, Illinois as opposed to being a fair about sandwiches, which also sounds tempting I must say) and I’m debating going or not.

Help me internets, you are my only hope! I’m going to list the pros and cons.



  • It’s a fucking fair! Oh my GOD! Do I really need to list pros here?
  • 1/4 scale model steam engine Niko can ride on
  • Good times with friends
  • Tilt-A-Whirl
  • pony rides
  • little petting zoo


  • It’s really far away. Like, an hour-90 minutes away
  • Niko was pretty knackered after 3 hours of the Thomas event, and that was something GEARED to him. Will this stress him out further?
  • It’s $8 per adult entrance, so we’d be out $16 just to get in
  • It’s allergy season
  • We have a lot to do around the house
  • People want to meet up at 10:30, which means we’d have to leave the house around 9:00, which means we’d have to get up even earlier to shower, eat, etc and I’m lazy
  • Am I just coming up with cons because I’m Anxious about leaving the house?
  • Seriously, it’s like forever away
  • There’s a REASON I live in the city and not a rural area

So, totally, I don’t know. Should we go? No? Stay home? Find a county fair or something closer to us? Put if off till next year when Niko is older? Suck it up and have a good time? Hire a babysitter for Niko and go on a date to a movie theater? I DO NOT KNOW.

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Tiny Heads

Thursday, 25 August 2011 05:57
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

One of the search referrers bringing people to my BLAWWWWWG is people concerned about their babies/toddlers having tiny heads.

As you can imagine, a child with a tiny head potentially has all sorts of issues and will possibly experience a host of developmental delays. You have google! You have an imagination! I’m sure you can picture every single thing that could possibly go wrong with a small headed child.

Those things probably won’t happen.

While it’s important to keep your eyes on weird looking child-related measurements, some kids are at the bottom or top of the growth charts. And some kids have tiny heads. Some adults have tiny heads as well; I’m one of them. And it can be hard to accurately measure a squirmy infant or toddler’s head. Errors in reading head circumference are really, really common.

So what do you, as a parent, do?

First of all, is your child’s head growing along the same curve as the rest of his body? For instance, does it increase in size at a steady rate, making a jump (or lagging) when their height/weight makes a jump (or lags)? If your child’s head circumference stagnates or goes down when their height/weight goes up, that’s a sign of a potential problem. If it increases really really rapidly, more quickly than other readings, that’s a sign of a different potential problem. And also a sign that readings at some point were wildly inaccurate.

Secondly, how’s your kid handling milestones? While they aren’t totally exact, if your kid’s in the general ballpark of developmental milestones, you can relax a bit.

Thirdly, what does your pediatrician say? In theory, your pediatrician has the time to listen to your concerns and takes them seriously, and knows your kid fairly well, and has experience with telling when a tiny headed child just has a small head versus has an actual problem, and can advise you accordingly. If you feel your pediatrician doesn’t take the time to listen to you or dismisses your concerns, consider switching practices. I know that can be hard with different insurance plans, availability of doctors, etc but we’re on our second pediatrician now and like her way better than our first (who wasn’t bad, just really rushed). Because I feel that she respects me as a parent and listens to me, I brought up asthma concerns, and she paid extra attention to Niko’s breathing… and prescribed medication for him that worked really well. If we didn’t have that respect, that rapport, I might not have brought it up because oh gosh I’m just so neurotic and worry about everything and a cough that’s lasted for months can’t be THAT bad, right?

So. It’s possible your small headed child has microcephaly or Seckel syndrome or something else you’ve googled and convinced yourself that OH GOD THIS IS IT AHHHHHHHHH, just like I googlediagnosed a mystery rash as fifth’s disease, scarlet fever, measles, septicemia, and a strawberry allergy until it cleared up entirely on its own as quickly as it came (it was none of those things) (maybe the strawberries) (but probably not). But probably it isn’t. That sort of thing usually gets caught by alert pediatricians.

But what if it IS something serious?

Talk to your pediatrician first. They should have good recommendations on what to do next. Does your child need interventions to help them progress in motor or verbal skills? Some kind of therapy/ies? Your pediatrician is your first line of defense and should be able to help you hook up with those folks. You can also find information and support groups online, like the Foundation for Children with Microcephaly.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

I needed Niko to do something the other day (come over to me, I think) and he wasn’t responding to me calling his name and saying “come here” in both English and Serbian. He was just not listening! He was very busy doing something else (probably playing with trains).

I tossed out a counting to three threat and was STUNNED when it worked.

And has continued to work something like 95% of the time.

I phrase it like this:

Nikola, I am going to count to three. If you don’t come here/get in bed/drop that/etc I am going to come over there and get you. One… (long pause), Two….(long pause), Three!

Sometimes I use the “threat” “I’ll do something you don’t like” (which, really, is me going over there and getting him). I did that the other day when I was on a step ladder while he was in another room, and then suddenly he was RIGHT UP BEHIND ME and not getting down and slightly pushing me off balance and I couldn’t get down with him right there. I am not sure what I would have done if he hadn’t done as I directed and climbed down, but once he was down I got down and then I let him climb up and down the ladder to his heart’s content (it’s only got two steps).

I think a big part of why this works is that it:

  • Tells him clearly what I want him to do
  • Gives him an ultimatum (if he doesn’t come here on his own, I will get him and bring him here)
  • Gives him a CHOICE (he can come on his own OR I will get him, but there is the same ultimate result)
  • Gives him time (until I count to three) to transition from what he’s doing to what I want him to do

Sometimes I’ll give him a second chance, if he was super into something and didn’t have enough time to wind down, and I’ll count to three slowly again.

But most of the time it works. And it makes all of our lives much easier.

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Magic Advice

Saturday, 2 April 2011 22:59
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

People, parents, hop on line and ask for advice on blogs and forums and chatrooms and mailing lists. How do I do this? Is this normal? What do we do now? How do we introduce a bottle? How do we wean? Potty training: who’s got answers? Ditching the pacifier at night: lay some advice on me. Family bed: how do we end this nightmare of wretchedness and kicking?

But people don’t really want advice.

They want magic.

They want to discover that magic step, hint, technique that will make whatever it is easy and painless.

They ask for advice but what they want is a miracle.

Like, “all you have to do is give your child chamomile tea laced with Benedryl and he will sleep through the night in his own bed and you’ll no longer wake up fifteen times a night because he’s bicycling in his sleep, muttering about trains falling into the water (oh no!), and his pacifier fell out of his mouth and now he can’t find it.” “To wean your child from all pacifier use ever without tears, simply press up down up down left left left right down down triangle right enter.” “Child won’t eat vegetables? Just follow these three easy steps and he will become a true gourmand for ever and ever the end amen so mote it be.”


I look for them, too.

IN OTHER NEWS, I made rice krispy treats today and now I cannot eat one around Niko because he will literally climb up me and tear it out of my mouth, then run away eating it. EATING IT ALL. (I was going to do a cooking blog post about it, but come on. Who doesn’t know how to make these? It’s as easy as falling over. Also I am pleased to note that Marshmallow Fluff now comes in glass jars again, not plastic. Huzzah!) Also, he was jumping on the couch and before I could stop him– or catch him– he fell backwards off the couch and hit his head on the floor. After he calmed down, he told me what had happened (even though I was right there). “oh no! Baby boom. Owie owie owie!” He patted his head gingerly at the last bit. I managed to cut my finger while making carrot bread the other day (I AM MORTIFIED BY THIS. In my defense, I was distracted by a toddler. I’ve been chopping carrots since I was FIVE and my knife skills are pretty safe. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN. If we had insurance, I would have trotted off to get stitches (or glue); instead, it’s just going to scar.) and every time Niko sees the bandage (it isn’t bleeding any more, but the wound gapes open and then stings if it’s unbandaged) he pats my hand and says “mama owie.” At one point today, after he hit his head, he patted my finger and said “mama owie. owwwwwwie. Mama dih *does ASL sign for “hot”* OWIE OWIE OWIE.” I’m not sure what “dih” is. Said? Did? But I’m pretty sure he was imitating what he thinks I’d say if I hurt myself. OWIE OWIE OWIE. (SPOILER: that is not what I say when I hurt myself.) Anyway, I said that yes, I had an owie, and asked him if HE had any owies and he shook his head and vaulted over his little chair to play with more trains. So I guess he’s ok.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

We’ve been having “issues” using Niko’s inhaler and spacer (with mask). He hasn’t been afraid of the spacer per se– he enjoyed carrying it around, calling it a train whistle, and pressing the mask briefly– briefly!– to his face. But he hated HATED hated us using it on him. I’m talking sobbing, flailing, clawing, back-arching, terror tantrums.

Last night, I asked Nesko to buy a package of M&Ms.

This morning, we used bribery.

Look. If you thought I was the kind of parent who was above bribery than I think you haven’t been reading this blog for very long. I will use any trick at all to make my life easier, including candy.

Sweet, delicious candy.

So we gave Niko his first dose early in the morning. Nesko sat with Niko in his lap and held him, I explained my way through the spacer/inhaler use, and then… 2 M&Ms! There was a struggle with the first use, but less of a struggle the second time. We dosed him again right before leaving the house to drop him off at Baba’s. He was reluctant at first, but the second dose? He was calm as anything. Patient. Compliant. The proud possessor of 2 M&Ms afterwards (although not for long, he quickly ate them).

My in-laws dropped him off (complete with a haircut/trim by my FIL, a man with 30 years’ experience cutting his sons’ and now his grandson’s hair), and we had some cuddle time and then I pulled out the spacer. He objected, not too strenuously, at first but when he saw the bag of M&Ms? Oh my yes. He cuddled in my lap and I put the mask on him and counted and demonstrated big inhales and he did everything I wanted him to do, as calm and patient as anything. I gave him much praise and 2 M&Ms after, and we read a short book, and then did the second dose. It went even easier than the first dose. Thank God.

I really hope that his ability to be bribed to use his spacer means we can also quickly and easily (and successfully!) incorporate bribery into potty training.

Anyway, after all that we read another book, then went to bed, where we read our traditional 2 books in bed… or tried to. He is having a love affair with a Richard Scarry book that has cars in it over a two-page spread, which means he ASKS for someone to read him the book but REALLY he just wants to keep turning the pages to that spread so he can look at the cars. Well. He is not allowed to do that all night. So I gave him fair warning I was going to turn the lights out on the count of three, did so, and didn’t force him to give up the book. He “read” the book with the lights out, then fell asleep with it on his face.

This is not the first time he’s fallen asleep with a book. Previously he feel asleep curled up with one.

Adorable? Yes. Nerdy? Oh hell yes. My child? Oh, definitely.

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24 Month Checkup

Tuesday, 8 March 2011 05:10
brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Yesterday we had Niko’s 24 month check up, and we’re actually (somehow!) on schedule for this as his birthday is the 16th. His original appointment was scheduled for the end of March, then they called to reschedule and we rescheduled for the 12th, and then they called again and left a message saying we need to reschedule (what the yo) and I was totally unable to reach anyone at the practice because my calls kept getting routed to a hospital. I don’t even. We finally got a real appointment, which was a relief because in addition to needing to get shot full of OMG TOXINS!!!! right INTO HIS BLOODSTREAM!!!! (because that is totally how vaccines work, right?) Niko’s had a cough for like… uhm. A month and a half? I mean, he had a terrible cold with a cough (how terrible was the cold? So terrible that I wound up dressing him in a long sleeve shirt, pants, socks, slippers, and sweater and then he sat quietly on the couch, glassy eyed, cuddled under two blankets. I could tell when the fever broke because he shoved off all the blankets and plucked at the sweater in a frustrated way, finally insisted I exchange it for a lighter sweater.) and then… never really got rid of the cough. And he’d occasionally randomly run a low (99*) fever. But mostly no fever, just lots of coughing at night (enough to wake himself up!) and random coughing during the day. Not just a cough, either, but a “stop what he’s doing and grind out a gaspy asthmatic sounding cough, unable to breathe in, sometimes coughing till he gagged” type thing. And then he’d go back to whatever it was he was doing which, in retrospect, mostly involved him running around and yelling.

You know. As toddlers do.

I have asthma, and my dad has asthma, and my mom has chronic bronchitis, and I am worried about Niko developing asthma. So I tried to frame my description of his cough and my worries in a way that made it clear to his pediatrician that 1) it’s a problem and 2) it might be this BUT I might be over-worrying. She asked some good, pertinent questions, listened to us, and then spent a lot of time listening to his chest/lungs.

Niko has an albuterol inhaler and a spacer/mask, and we’re to use it on him 4 times a day (two puffs a time) and see if he improves. If he improves a little bit or doesn’t improve, we’re to call his pediatrician and figure out what to do next. If he does improve, we’re to wait until he has several good days (and nights) in a row, then stop using it unless he needs it again. If you have experience with toddler asthma and/or using an inhaler/spacer please tell me about your experiences.

Other than that, he’s fine. In good health. Got his Hep A jab and that brings him up to date. He isn’t in day care, so no TB screen.

Niko is 35 inches tall and 30 lbs 8 oz. His head circumference is 48.5cm, which is still a tiny head. TINY HEAD.

Here, have some Milestones:
Mastered Skills (most kids can do)

  • Names at least six body parts. Well. He doesn’t name them. But he can point to his head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, chest, arm, elbow, butt, hand, fingers, knees, legs, feet, and toes when told to in English or in Serbian. He can also point to them on other people, in drawings/diagrams, and on many animals.
  • Half of speech is understandable. Yes-ish. He’s being raised more or less bilingual, and the non-English language is one I barely speak. So stuff I don’t always catch frequently turns out to be Serbian. Which is cool, but I can’t really judge how much of what he says is “understandable.” It’s not understood by me, but that’s because I’m, you know, ignorant.
  • Makes two- to three-word sentences. Yes. He narrates things, and likes to talk about stuff that happened previously. Especially if involved trains, cars, or falling down.

Emerging Skills (half of kids can do):

  • Talks about self. Yes. He refers to himself as “baby.”
  • Arranges things in categories. Yes. He groups like things in rows– blocks, cars, trains, etc. He also orders things by size sometimes. He does not group things by color, however.
  • Can walk down stairs. Yes, although he does best when holding onto a banister or someone’s hand. Which I’d assume is normal, considering he has short legs and steps are pretty high up.

Advanced Skills (a few kids can do):

  • Begins to understand abstract concepts (e.g., sooner and later). Yes. In fact, we can use this to bargain: “we’ll read Mike Mulligan AFTER we cut your nails. But FIRST we’re going to cut your nails.” That sort of thing.
  • Becomes attuned to gender differences. I’m not sure. He calls adult-female-appearing people “mama” and adult-male-appearing people “tata” and older-female-appearing people “baba.” But all children and babies are simply “baby.”
  • Learns to jump. You have no idea how much this kid likes to jump. Up and down. Around. In circles. While singing. Across the entire apartment. He also stomps and marches. He is On! The! Move!

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

This post, which has two parts, is totally inspired by Suzanne of Bebehblog.

The first part is that sometimes she blogs about stuff she cooks/bakes, including recipes and photos. I’ve been talking with friends of mine literally for years about doing this, and now I’ve taken the plunge and started a thing. You can check out A Kitchen In Ruins, which so far features recipes for Split Pea Soup, Blueberry Muffins, and English Muffin Bread. She also posts photos and instructions for craft stuff sometimes (head bands, tutus, felt flowers) that are awesome. So I’m going to try to start posting every Monday about stuff I’ve made.

The other part is that she mentioned on Twitter a few days ago that parent bloggers aren’t as welcoming and supportive as they could be. This is true! And I can think of a number of reasons for that, especially when compared to craft bloggers (which she mentioned as well). So, let’s change that. Starting next week, I’m going to post an entry a day about a different parent blogger who has positively affected my mood, my parenting, my attitude, my blogging, or my level of knowledge about something. Why don’t you join me in this? Even if you can only dedicate one entry, let’s spread the love for each other. Let’s have a carnival of love. I’m going to figure out how to easily collect links to blogs taking part in the love carnival and we can have a big old love carnival party. How’s that sound?

And, unrelated to everything else mentioned, does anyone have experience with toddlers, albuterol, and spacer masks? If so, give me advice on using them please.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Niko doesn’t take his clothing off, which is one of the potty training readiness signs. I mean, he assists in getting dressed and undressed (or strenuously refuses, if he firmly feels that a particular day should be a no-pants day), but he gets tangled up when trying to take off a shirt and when he tries to pull his pants down he loops his thumbs into the waistbands of both his pants and his diaper and then he can only scoot his diaper down so far, no matter how much he grunts and says “eesh! ish! EEEEESH!”

But he HAS started coming up to me after he soils himself and either grabbing his crotch or touching his butt and saying “baht.” He also says “baht” after he farts or belches. Anyway, he’s started indicating when he’s dirty and wants a diaper change. I’m torn between going out and obtaining underpants for him NOW and diving right into diaper-less (during the daytime at least) potty training, or waiting until he gives the alert BEFORE he soils himself.

He doesn’t poop while he’s sleeping, and he mostly pees in sudden bursts instead of little dribbles throughout the day. So he’s got some holding capacity.

I’ve never potty trained anyone before and I’m not really looking forward to cleaning up extra urine. But maybe the unpleasant wetness of peed pants will prompt him to use the toilet?

What say you?

Give me your best potty training advice. Also: give me the worst potty training advice you’ve gotten so we can laugh at it together.

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brigid: close up of my face a week or so post partum (me)

Nikola uses a pacifier, but only when he’s sleeping (or really sick and miserable). The transition from all the time to just in bed was pretty easy. We gathered up all the pacifiers, put them in the bedroom out of his reach, and told him that pacifiers were only for bed time. Was he sleepy? He can only have one when he’s sleepy. For a while at first he’d sleep with one in his mouth and one in each fist JUST IN CASE but now he just sleeps with the one. We leave them within his reach, and if he gets sleepy he’ll go into the bedroom and get one and walk around sucking on it and being chill. Part of his going-to-sleep ritual involves getting his pacifier. When he’s done sleeping, part of the “I’m really awake” ritual is handing the pacifier to whoever is with him. (or throwing it across the room, if he’s in a pet.)

He’s almost two– he’ll be two in March– and his teeth are really crooked. This isn’t a surprise because my teeth were really crooked, and after over ten years of braces, are still KIND OF crooked. I have very large teeth, a small mouth, and supernumerary teeth. Nesko had braces, too, but only for a year or two. So we were very prepared for Niko to have orthodontic problems. But even with his limited use of the pacifier, I’m starting to worry that the sucking is contributing to his tooth problems.

Then there’s the fact that when he’s asleep and the pacifier falls out of his mouth and he wakes up and it’s gone, he has a hard time resettling himself unless he can find it. Since it’s often tangled up in covers, between the head of the bed and the wall, otherwise hard to get to, what usually happens is he wakes all the way and starts crying and needs help finding the pacifier. This is a sleep disruption for ALL of us (we share a bed), and although we started using the pacifier to help him transition to sleep and learn to self sooth (he was a GREAT sleeper for a LONG time), I think it’s now hindering him from developing good sleep habits.

I was originally going to wait until he was potty trained to dump the pacifier, but he is almost 2 and shows NO interest or inclination where the toilet is concerned.

One of the techniques I’ve heard about involves talking about the pacifier fairy, or giving the pacifiers to babies who need them, etc. I don’t think he’s old enough to understand that, and I don’t think he has the empathy to care about another baby (he is a toddler, after all), unless we talked about a specific baby we know. Then there’s the “trade in the pacifier for an awesome toy” strategy but again, I don’t think he has the brain power for that due to his age.

So. Any suggestions?

What have you done? What have people you know done? What have you read/heard about?

Give my ANY suggestion, no matter how obvious you think it is.

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