Baby, what’s your sign?

Apparently, this horse read Animal Farm-- "four legs good, two legs better!"

Apparently, this horse read Animal Farm– “four legs good, two legs better!”

Welcome to the Year of the Horse! For those of you who celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year, today starts a fifteen day extravaganza of food, gifting, and visiting with relatives.  People often buy new clothing during this period (usually red, considered a lucky color), and children look forward to receiving small decorated red envelopes from their older relatives.  Each of the fifteen days features specific ceremonies and traditional foods. Though we at the Kelly house will be celebrating the festival in a fairly limited way this year as we prepare for our little man’s upcoming surgery, we look forward to learning more together as a family as Alexander gets older.

On a related note, if you haven’t heard the story of The Great Race, a traditional Chinese tale that explains the order of the Chinese zodiac signs, it’s quite an entertaining story.  I won’t give away too many spoilers, but it involves a bunch of animals rushing to a meeting called by the Jade Emperor– each of them hoping to be the first to arrive, and therefore honored with the first year of the new calendar. Come on, you know you want to know why of all the animals in the zodiac, the cat never made the list?!?

Speaking of signs, our house is practically exploding with waving hands, snapping fingers, and animal sounds these days. Our adventures of ASL with Alexander continue at a frantic pace, so much so that most evenings, an ASL book rests on my nightstand in order to keep up with the young sir. Brian, ever the saint, is usually subjected to something like this before falling asleep:

me:  “What am I??”  *making clawing motions tight to my chest*
Brian: “Uhh.. what?”
me: “Come on! Look at my hands! My arms are so tiny!”
Brian: “…”
me: “I’m a dinosaur!! Get it??? Isn’t that clever??”
Brian: “…”

Alexander in mid-sign for "baby," one of his favorites

Alexander in mid-sign for “baby,” one of his favorites

Several people have asked us why we are teaching Alexander sign language, often inquiring as to whether our little guy has hearing difficulties. We realized, after a discussion at dinner one night, that teaching sign language to babies and toddlers is really a fairly recent trend. In our family’s case, we’re using sign language combined with using words to help Alexander both expand his vocabulary and better communicate with us until he’s better able to with words. I admit that I was fairly skeptical about baby signing at first, but the first time Alexander signed “baby” back to us, I was sold. Signing has been a really effective way for Alexander to communicate emotion to us in other ways than crying or howling. Through a few simple signs like “tired/sleepy,” “hungry,” “more,” and “all done,” we’ve saved ourselves quite a few toddler meltdowns.  He can indicate what he wants to do (like “play”) or when he’s frustrated, we can determine that he’s hungry or just tired.  He has also made up some of his own signs by watching our actions. After much frustration of having the family felines run away from him, we explained he needed to be gentle by petting the air slowly. Though I don’t think it’s an ASL sign, one day when I reminded him “Alexander, be gentle with Benny!” he started to run around, petting the air. Now, that’s his sign for “gentle,” and we use it anytime he’s playing too rough or needs to chill out a little.

We’re now advancing into specific food related words, like avocado, yogurt, milk (that was actually one of the first he learned), and cereal, and we’re working through basic manners, like please and thank you.  Alexander has learned the signs through a combination of our teaching, watching signing videos available online, books from our library, and a few new signs from our speech therapist. Though I was fairly new to signing, I’m getting much more comfortable signing now in daily conversation with Alexander. Our goal is to have Alexander use only words to communicate with us (which is why we talk and sign at the same time), but I do hope he maintains this wealth of knowledge he is amassing at an alarming pace.  I can’t emphasize enough just how much fun it’s been to both learn and teach the signs to Alexander and how excited he is when we are able to understand what he’s trying to convey to us, not to mention how hysterical is it when he signs something initially perplexing to us (ie he signed “cereal” for his stuffed seal– then we realized he heard the sounds as too similar). This is of course only enhanced by the occasional snarky joke by Brian when I am overly enthusiastic about a new sign. Just last night at dinner, I proudly demonstrated the sign for “dog”– and Brian promptly replied that my combination of thigh slapping and snapping seemed a better sign for “shark” or “jet” than “dog.” (Two points awarded for the musical reference!)

I’ll leave you with the latest sign I just learned yesterday, which is quite timely:
Make the letter “L” with each hand, with thumbs pointing toward each other and with only index and middle fingers raised. Put the thumbs upon either side of your head and wave your your index and middle fingers together like ears.

Voila! The sign for horse! Happy Lunar New Year everyone!





This sip’s for you!

Which one of the following items is the least controversial?

A. Politics

B. Religion

C. Sippy Cups

Believe it or not, the seemingly innocent sippy cup is a hot topic in the parental world and quite an interesting foray into the scary, scary world known as the “Mommy Wars.” I felt compelled to post this entry after reading several articles recently about the pros and cons of the almighty sippy cup.

Disclaimer– I am not an expert in this field, and while I won’t give my own personal take on whether sippys are more harmful than helpful, what I can provide is my own experience with Alexander. Because of his cleft palate and lip, suction wasn’t an option for his drinking– so straws and sippys were right out. This forced us to look at alternatives– a combination of open cups, hybrids, and sippy cup hacks.

Since it’s been far too long since we’ve provided a product review at HSWT, today we present three options– all of which were suggested by speech/feeding therapists and road-tested by our family. Though these were selected on the basis of Alexander’s inability to suction, they are usable for children with normal palates. None of them is the perfect cup, but hopefully this might provide you with options to consider. I was surprised just how fast Alexander took to these cups, which encourage healthy mouth/tongue behavior, and we have been able to use all of these interchangeably.  All are available on Amazon for about $5 or less each.

Philips AVENT natural drinking cup

Philips AVENT natural drinking cup

Philips AVENT Natural Drinking Cup: This cup simulates natural drinking motion by having the opening controlled by light pressure from the upper lip.

Pros:  This lightweight cup with two handles is really easy for your kidlet to handle.  They can drink from anywhere along the rim of the cup, and very little pressure is needed. It’s also a closed cup, which limits spills from little hands.

Cons:  Because little pressure is needed for the seal, energetic shaking of the cup might causing some spilling.  Also, for Alexander, this cup was too difficult to use before his lip surgery because his cleft made it nearly impossible to depress the cup lid.  The transparent cup isn’t insulated, but measurements on the outside make it easy to tell how much your child is drinking.

Flexi-cut drinking cup

Flexi-cut drinking cup

Flexi-Cut Cup: This small and lightweight cup has a notch which helps with controlling flow of liquid into the mouth.

Pros: Though this is primarily used for children with drinking difficulties, it makes a great training cup. It’s lightweight, easy to clean, available in multiple sizes, and incredibly inexpensive.  The small size is perfect for little hands, and it is a great step toward using an open cup. The nose notch makes it a little easier for kids new to cups to better watch and control how much they drink in a single sip. Since it is small, spills are usually fairly limited.

Cons: Because it’s an open cup, this is best used as a training cup under supervision. There aren’t any bells or whistles here, and it’s not insulated. This cup is more commonly associated with therapeutic use, so it’s next to impossible to find in baby superstores. However, it’s readily available on Amazon in packs of 5 for $10.

Playtex Coolster Tumbler

Playtex Coolster Tumbler

Playtex Insulated Coolster Tumbler: This closed cup operates on suction via a removable valve.  It bears a strong resemblance to a full-sized travel coffee mug. By removing the valve (which is easy), small amounts of liquid can freely flow from the small opening in the lid.

Pros: This brightly colored cup was immediately well-received by Alexander. He loved holding it and shaking it. Even with the value removed, Alexander had to completely overturn the cup in order to spill contents. Though it’s advertised for cold beverages, warm formula/milk stayed pretty warm during use. Its size works well for standard cup-holders in cars/strollers.

Cons: This is the largest of the three reviewed cups, and often required my assistance during use when the cup was full. It was difficult to tell if/how much Alexander was drinking, since the product is opaque and does not have measurement lines.The small opening (with valve removed) clogged easily with thicker liquids.

 The Verdict:

Believe it or not, the simplest of the three options worked the best for our family. While the Philips and Playtex models are still in rotation at our house, our everyday choice is the flexi-cut cup. Even though Alexander’s drinking skills have drastically improved, the lightweight, reusable cup is perfect for everything from milk to a sip of water. Though it does require some amount of supervision during initial use, if the goal is using a standard open cup, I can wholeheartedly say that this cup encourages good posture and confidence in grasp, liquid control, and coordination. Alexander loves being able to handle his own cup, and we’ve been able to use this cup both before and after cleft repair.  I’d highly recommend this cup to any parents looking for alternatives to sippy cups in order to train their children on open cups.


If you mustache…

Although I’ve been in a little bit of denial as I’ve slowly removed too-small clothing from Alexander’s wardrobe and have tucked away his rattles into a keepsake box, I can deny it no longer. Our little boy is growing up into a full-on, curious and boundary-pushing toddler. Today only cemented that fact when Alexander attended his first birthday party for the son of two of our friends.  Watching him run around holding a balloon and toddling wildly around a gymnasium floor was a swift, but loving kick to the gut– he’s not a baby anymore. Dress him in pastel blue all we want, but Alexander is a toddler through and through.

So back to the party. After a less than ideal afternoon nap, we whisked the young sir off to his first ever mustache party (thank goodness, mustaches were provided!) Alexander seemed to enjoy the party, mostly because of the large quantity of balloons and a toddler slide at his disposal.  It’s increasingly heartening to see Alexander interact well with other little folks– and he might have even been one of the best-dressed there with his little vest and tie!

Alexander enjoying a spinning toy with the birthday boy

Alexander enjoying a spinning toy with the birthday boy

Along with the addition of weekends booking up with playdates and birthday parties, we’ve now entered a phase of Alexander wanting to mimic us in every way. We knew we wanted him to have a little kitchen so he could “help” us, and we settled on a great and fairly easy-to-assemble wooden Ikea model.  We contemplated waiting to assemble it, but his great week of napping allowed me to use afternoons to slowly build the wooden masterpiece that Alexander immediately loved! We hauled it upstairs late Friday evening after he went to bed– and he squealed with glee as soon as he saw it on Saturday morning following breakfast.

Testing out his new kitchen

Testing out his new kitchen

For all of you who gave advice on kitchens, thank you so much! We tried to find a kitchen with plenty of nooks and crannies for Alexander to store things. He immediately tested out all the cabinets and checked the burners. For any of you interested,the unit was not that difficult to assemble, is very sturdy, and has three easily-adjustable heights. Also, for what it’s worth, I was able to assemble it completely on my own over the course of two days worth of afternoon toddler naps.

In other news, Alexander’s therapy continues to go well. We’re now beginning to push his comfort level a little in order to increase his attention span and also to see just how much he is comprehending when we interact with him. After watching our therapist try and coax Alexander to assist in cleaning up a manipulative (ie toy), I figured it was worth a shot. Just tonight, after Brian read “The Little Blue Truck” to Alexander for the umpteenth time, he asked Alexander to help clean up and to put his book away before dessert and bedtime. Both Brian and my eyebrows shot up as Alexander grabbed the book from his dad, toddled over to his book bin, and carefully put it away.

Signing continues to be incredibly successful for us, as Alexander really seems to latch on to using his hands to communicate along with vocalization. After just one meal where I was eating a banana and giving him a little to try while signing it, he seems to have committed the sign for “banana” to memory. I try to throw in signs as much as possible, and I’m still amazed when after maybe one or two repetitions, I’ll see him sign something back to me when I mention the word later on. We’re currently working on “please” and “thank you”– he’s got the sign for “please” down, but he’d prefer to try saying “thank you”– which is just fine with us!

Though we continue to struggle with Alexander becoming more aware of his surroundings and attempting to communicate his little will to us through any method he finds effective (signing, grunting, pointing, howling, and the quintessential toddler tantrum), we are also watching him become increasingly more comfortable with us. Though Alexander has never been difficult, he’s never been one to cuddle or run to hug us. Now, we’re seeing him hug and kiss us, and even lean his head on our shoulder as he gets tired for the night.  I never thought thought I’d be so excited to have a little man clinging to my leg and literally hanging off my apron strings.

This kid parties in style

This kid parties in style


Alexander continues the tradition of holding a utensil for our family photo

Alexander continues the tradition of holding a utensil for our family photo

E-I-E-I… Oh!

After what seemed to be a whirlwind of a Christmas, we happily return to Have Stroller, Will Travel with renewed energy, enthusiasm, and just a bit of drool.

Who needs Smaug when you have Valentine, Protector of the toy train?

Who needs Smaug when you have Valentine, Protector of the toy train?

Thanks to the generosity of our family, friends, and of course– Santa Claus, Alexander has quite literally come running into 2014 with his little arms full of toys, puzzles, and new clothing. He’s continuing to sprout up, and now he can fit into his 12 month clothing! (most importantly– his 12 month pants. For several months, his skinny waist forced us to put him in 6-9 month pants, which left him sporting a less than stylish capri-look)

After a fantastic and much needed break from all things medical over the holidays, we were back at the surgeon’s office in early January. We received some absolutely fantastic news– Alexander’s previous surgeries are continuing to heal well and are actually helping shrink his remaining cleft. We were expecting 2 to 3 surgeries this spring and summer in order to correct Alexander’s hard palate, but our surgeon gave us the thrilling news that he thinks everything can be done in a single surgery.  This is incredibly uncommon, especially considering the original severity of Alexander’s cleft! Needless to way, we were all thrilled after that appointment (well, Brian and I were), and the little man was soon appeased by a few Thomas the Train stickers.

We’re still somewhat shocked that Alexander’s next surgery, scheduled for Feb 12th, will be the last one until he’s probably preschool-age. This surgery will be fairly significant though, and he’ll spend a few nights in the hospital instead of just one night. Though we have the normal parental nervousness, all of our previous experiences with the clinic, hospital, and surgery team give us great comfort and hope! Please continue to keep us, especially Alexander, in your thoughts and prayers.

In the meantime, we have jumped headfirst into the world of Early Intervention (E. I. for short). E I is a state-funded program that offers therapeutic services for qualifying children. An earlier post, To Stack or Not To Stack, explains a little better how Alexander began this program.  At the surgeon’s suggestion, we started up Alexander’s therapy before his surgery so he can become comfortable with his speech/language therapist.

We had our first session at home this Tuesday, and it went spectacularly! Alexander was his bubbly self, and it almost seemed as though he was showing off. Without prompting, he demonstrated his rapidly increasing signing skills to us and successfully used an open cup and spoon without any help from me.  I was incredibly pleased that Alexander seemed to really take to his new friend and appeared to respond very well to her prompting.  Our therapist gave us some great feedback, and overall, we are thrilled to have her as a part of our team.

It’s simply amazing to watch our rapidly blossoming little boy. He adds a new sign to his vocabulary almost daily now, and he continues to be mesmerized by all things cooking and food-related. One of his favorite activities is “cooking” by combining various small toys in a bowl, stirring with a large spoon, and then offering samples to his stuffed animals and parents.  I’m quite grateful, and I’m sure Mr. Clam is too, that he hasn’t attempted any chowder recipes just yet.

As I wrap up this entry, I hear quiet roaring– there’s a little boy running around the living room with a small toy lion in his hand. Our little one is growing up!

Who is this big kid!?!

Who is this big kid!?!