Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to survive in China with two kids and no car

I miss my car.

I shouldn't, because we sold it, so it's not technically my car anymore, anyways...but I miss having A car. I miss the independence it provided. I miss being able to make a change of plans midway through a shopping trip, and make an impromptu stop at target to stock up on a bunch of not-really-necessary-necessities. 

I love our driver. He is Sal's homeboy. He helps me with grocery shopping, and car seat installation. Can I just say that installing car seats, while easy enough...is a pain in the butt to do each and every time I want to go somewhere? Multiply that by two, and I'll be carrying almost 40 lbs of car seats up and down the elevator every time I take the car. I'm gonna have some strong arms at the end of this stint.

Since using the driver is sometimes more work than it's worth, we've invested in a few items that make life in China a bit more bearable. I love walking when the pollution levels are lower. It feels like freedom to load up my stroller and just walk wherever my heart desires. No translator needed. Just me and my feet, walking without help from anyone. It's an extra bonus when both kids rack out midway through a walk so I can enjoy the peace and quiet of honking horns and screeching brakes on the city streets. 

Obviously, having two little people to tote around changes things a bit, but we fell in love with the babyjogger city select stroller after seeing its narrower wheelbase (versus the standard side by side doubles) and stadium seating. Side by sides are less than ideal here, as sidewalks are not of uniform width, nor are grocery store checkout lanes wide enough. It met all my must haves. Large foam filled tires, easy folding for storage, car seat carrier compatible, and both seats are reversible and recline with large sunshades.  Oh....and the best part? A huuuuge storage compartment for my grocery hauls. 

It's still winter here (despite today being 75 degrees), so we have continued to use the Quinny footmuff that we purchased last year for our old quinny buzz stroller. It's super cozy and keeps Sal warm without needing to layer up on the clothing underneath. My kid haaaates jackets, so the footmuff has been a life saver. Added bonus? The Chinese grandmas approve and tend to stay out of my hair about my baby not being warm enough when I've got the footmuff on. I highly recommend this bunting bag to anyone shopping for one. Sal is 32.6" tall and still fits in it, however, I think he will have to pass it on to Carla after this winter. 

We use the chicco keyfit 30 carrier for Carla when we use the car. We left the base in the states, but it is quite easy to install with just the lap/shoulder belt. It also fits into my baby jogger city select by way of a universal car seat adapter. Most people in China do not use carseat carriers, and have no idea what they are staring at when I walk by with Carla loaded up in it (and covered with a anti-grabby McGraberson canopy cover made by my friend, Liz) so they keep their mitts off of her. I had problems with people reaching in my old stroller when Sal was little, so I'm relieved to see that the canopy cover really does work to deter curious hands.

Both of our kids enjoy a good swaddle. I swaddled Sal well into his 4th month, until he became the master roller, and the he switched to sleeping in a halo sleepsack. Our favorite swaddle blankets come from petunia picklebottom. We received one as a gift when Sal was born, and love the stretch and softness and perfect swaddling size of the blankets. I went ahead and found one on eBay before Carla was born for a steal of a deal. I usually swaddle her before sticking her in her carrier (unless we are going in the car-in that case, we buckle up appropriately) for extra warmth and snuggliness before we head out walking.

My diaper bag carries everything from sippy cups to passports to extra hats and matchbox cars. I'm partial to the Ella Vickers line of recycled sailcloth totes, because of their ability to withstand a beating. They are waterproof, which is extra helpful when it comes to leaking bottles and sippy cups, and have a nice large main compartment with three smaller pockets on each side. For me, that's just enough pockets. Give me any more pockets and I won't be able to find anything for a month of Sundays.

And lastly, my ERGO carrier. I freaking love this thing. I didn't invest in it (a whopping $16 on a Chinese website) until Sal was 15 months old, but it has been money well spent. I back carried Sal all around downtown Wuxi when my sister visited last Spring, and it also got us through our Bali trip when I was first pregnant with Carla. Now that she has arrived, I use my ERGO daily. She often takes one of her naps in it while snuggled up against me, so that I can have my hands free to do activites with Sal. It's definitely a must have item for me. I'm thankful to have found one for a fraction of what they cost in the USA. 

So much gear, but all so worth it for the ounce of freedom it provides us. 

What's your must have baby item?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Pompom pipeline

Pompoms are the activity of the week in the Zentil house. After a certain two year old undid an entire roll of wrapping paper for me, we were left with the cardboard tube. He played with it as a bat/ sword/ weapon for a while until I had enough of being pummeled and I took some scissors to it to make it into an angled pipe. 

I taped it to the window and gave him pompoms to stuff down the pipeline. It's a great indoor activity and fairly mess free !

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pompom transfer activity

Yet another pompom activity. 

We have an overstock of pompoms around here. 

Among our favorite pompom activities are stringing pompoms on thread to make garlands for the holidays, pushing pompoms into an old Parmesan container and shaking them back out, stuffing a silicone ice tray with different sized pompoms and the ultimate favorite--throwing pompoms all over the living room. 

I saw the idea of using tongs to transfer pompoms into a small container on Pinterest and we gave it a go this morning. 

Thirty minutes later and he is still transferring pompoms, announcing them by color. 


Friday, January 24, 2014

Circus act


Like, whoooooa.

My first week as a stay at home mom of two little ones has come to an end.

I'm extra thankful for the visits and meals brought to us by friends this week...if not for them, I can't guarantee we wouldn't have been eating Cheerios doused in past-the-expiry date-almost-rotten milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Instead we've been spoiled with a variety of dishes--so if nothing else, our bellies are kept full.

I end the week with mixed feelings. 

On one side, I feel successful. We' re all alive. My toddler got bathed daily ( the newborn's sponge bath has been put off two nights in a row now--but who's counting?), my husband's lunches got packed ( although he had to fend for breakfast himself--Cheerios and milk, anyone?) and the baby slept the days through like an angel, despite sharing her rock-n-play with various "gifts" from Sal (matchbox cars, money & slobbery,heavy lipped kisses on the mouth) when I turned my back for a few. I managed a shower four days out of five (high fiving myself now), but rarely changed out of pajamas and hoodies.

Sal gave Carla a plastic $10 bill. Train fare to anywhere but here, perhaps?

That's a win, right?

But, along with the success of keeping everyone alive, there were challenges that almost broke me. The biggest one being rotten behavior from my toddler anytime the baby had my attention. I had an arsenal of activities for us to do together while I nursed. Puzzles, counting money ( he got a cash register with plastic coins for his birthday), playdoh, lacing boards, stacking blocks, books and my iPad were amongst my efforts. Instead, he chose to lay behind me and kick and flip and hit my back as I nursed. That's way more fun, right? If I held his sister, he too wanted up. The quote of the week was "all done" and I'd hear it 100x a day, or anytime I touched his sister. Naps were brutal, and by Thursday I gave up even trying. It wasn't worth the two hours of battle. I know he is young and still needs them, but I just gave up. Instead we've watched "Toy Story" more times than I'd like to admit. 

                   Movies and " resting" on the couch is better than nothing.

I feel like I'm failing my son. 

It breaks my heart.

I spent Thursday afternoon in tears, wondering how I am going to fix the situation. I have been trying my best to spend Carla's sleeping hours engaging in play or snuggles with him, but he often likes to play alone, and I don't want to smother him either. We did some big kid projects ( valentine garland & baking a cake) together.  I want him to feel the normalcy and comfort of the home and mama he has known. I keep telling myself that this is just a season. 

                           Making valentines

It will pass. 

He will feel my love. 

But man, does it ever pull at my heartstrings.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The cold hard truth

It's been coming for a while.

I think I've been in denial.

My once awesome napper, has been resisting his only nap since end of November. I originally found the solution of rocking him to sleep (hello 26 lbs!) worked, and swore I would only do it for a week, and then it would be back to our routine of two songs, a hug, kiss and bed. Well, that didn't happen. 

I rocked him well into my 38th week of pregnancy. Big belly and all. 

He needed sleep. Hell, I needed sleep.

And now, since the arrival of his little sister, we've had a grand total of five naps in ten days. That's not a very good average. Those naps came at the price of listening to a child scream like he's on fire for over an hour. Both NZ and I have attempted to go calm him down (NZ was successful, I was not) enough to sleep. 

I'm beside myself. I feel like two is too young to give up naptime. Everything I read says that two year olds need naps (or at least benefit from them). He is still in a crib, but from the looks of things today, he is one leg away from getting over it (I found him straddled and perched on top this afternoon). 

I succeeded in giving him a book and telling him he didn't need to sleep but did need to sit quiet in his crib and read until I come to get him. It seems to be working. Ten minutes so far and not a peep, but I do hear pages turning. 

The tough part is knowing if he is just going through a phase because the family dynamic has changed, or if he is legitimately not tired. He seems to operate okay on his napless days, although evenings get a bit sloppy and delirious. 

I'm tending to think he is just growing out of them, and that's the cold hard truth.

Anyone have any tips, advice, magic potions?

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Sal turned TWO last Monday!

We celebrated a couple of days early since we would be in hospital on his actual birthday, but I don't think he will hold it against us. He made a cake with his aunt Stephanie and we celebrated together on Saturday night.

We have a cute video of him blowing out the candle but I can't figure out how to imbed it using the blogger app. This picture will have to do. 

His auntie made him his very own "little blue truck" cookies, complete with his beloved "Tess" dog hitchin a ride in back.

Here's Sal and the "real" Tess with his 'yota pick up truck (Toyota).

NZ and I gave him a scooter. It wasn't too long before he was off and zooming. This kid is fearless!

His great grandma sent a cash register...a huge hit!

His auntie and my friends took him to the indoor playground to run off some energy on the day of his actual birthday.

And of course, we gave him a little sister..just what every two year old (doesn't) want for their birthday.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Speedy delivery. Carla's arrival.

It finally happened to us.

A normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, labor & delivery.

In China, none-the-less.

Aside from the last minute dramatics over switching OB's and a miscommunication regarding induction dates, we really lucked out. For that alone, I am beyond thankful and grateful. I understand how easily it could not have been. Two of my friends who had saddled up beside me (also pregnant), both had severe complications and preterm babies. One made it, one did not. I think that once you've had a pregnancy that wasn't all unicorns and rainbows, or didn't have a "happily ever after" ending, you come to understand what a miracle it is to have a "normal" experience. 

I am not sure it has sunken in yet. Thinking back to Monday--and how the stars must have aligned just right-- it's just surreal.

Here's a recap..

Friday, January 10th, my sister, Sal and I went to Shanghai for a NST and a quick checkup with the OB.  To say I was on the hot mess express was an understatement. He went from not remembering we had scheduled an induction (we saw him and scheduled four days earlier, and he had my chart in front of him), to then telling me that it was a bad idea to induce (to which, I had my records from my MfM at home that suggested I deliver at 38 weeks due to medical history), to agreeing to induce, but following that up with, "if we induce on Tuesday, you probably won't have the baby until Thursday or Friday". 

I left in tears, asking if there was anyone else available to deliver my baby. Within minutes, I was in the office of Dr. F, a highly regarded American OB in the Shanghai area. She listened to me, checked my chart, and asked outright why we didn't induce at 38 weeks as the medical record I had provided indicated. 

I'm thinking to myself, "exactly! This woman gets me!" 

She agreed to induce me--but it had to be a day earlier than we had agreed to with Dr. No Personality. Sure! The date?

January 13.

Sal's second birthday.

Game on.

January 13th, NZ and I checked into the hospital at 7:00a where they hooked me to monitors and by 8:00a Dr F had already arrived to administer Cervadil. She noted my contraction pattern and I told her I'd been having them since the night before. She thought that I may not even need the IV pitocin to start labor, as I showed signs of already being in labor myself.

After an hour and a half in bed, I got up and walked the halls. Contractions were getting a bit stronger. My progress was checked around noon, and I hadn't dilated much. Just one measly centimeter with 9 to go. I got a little discouraged but Dr F kept telling me that I was going to go quickly. She left the room, and returned around 2:00p. I was now in pain and 3-4cm. Epidural time. 

This my friends, was a circus act. Limited English and giving directions to a patient make for frustrating times. In China, epidurals are administered with the patient lying on her side, not sitting hunched. They're also administered in a way in which the patient can still walk and use the toilet. I'd heard of them, but never knew I'd be getting one. Unfortunately, mine numbed me down to the knee on one side so I couldn't walk without NZ's help--and pacing the room got old really fast. 

My water broke so Dr F came to check on me at 3:00p and said I was closer. 7cm.

I texted my sister at 3:22 pm telling her I didn't think the baby would arrive til late night. My epidural was wearing off and I wanted more. Dr F checked me. 8cm. Baby had dropped. She said the epidural would take 10 min to take effect and she really thought the baby would arrive before it kicked back in. I still wanted it...and got it.

Dr F started getting gloved up and the nurse told me to go ahead and tell them if I felt the urge to push.

Yeah right, I thought.

She obviously knew something I didn't know, because by 3:48pm, and 4 good pushes, Carla Denise had arrived.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How's Sal?

I've gotten a few emails asking how Sal is doing with his little sister.

To be honest, he doesn't really seem interested.

It wasn't until this morning that I even got a picture of the two of them.

Sal did however, think that Carla needed a race car in her rock and play.

Sharing is caring. 

C is for....

           Credit: www.ontobaby.com

She has arrived!

Carla Denise was born on Monday, January 13th
At 3:48pm
7lb, 7oz and 20" long.

I'll write more when I've got more than a few hours of sleep under my belt.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Desperately seeking.....

A couple of months back, NZ and I were in Shanghai near People's square, and found ourselves in the middle of the most perplexing "fair" we've ever experienced. To be quite honest, we weren't actually sure what we were in the midst of, but I can tell you there were literally thousands of people sitting side by side- many with upside down umbrellas that held fliers with what we thought to be personal information--because we can read mandarin and all-not

But, we could make out phone numbers, birthdates, ages...that was enough to get us thinking...

Were these people all aging parents looking for long lost children? 

There are tons of orphans throughout China, for many different reasons, but mainly because of China's strict one child per family rule and the extreme fines for anyone who breaks the law. This is what I thought, at least. I couldn't stop thinking about those pictures and the people squatting in the park with their fliers all afternoon.

NZ on the other hand, suggested that perhaps these people were looking for mates for their children. 

It took us a few months to show the pictures to his assistant for translation, but NZ was in fact correct. The thousands of people squatting out in the brisk November air were all parents looking to find mates for their children. 

For me, as a westerner, this just seems crazy, but for a culture like China in which social standing is key to survival, this is just a way to try and better one's life. When a couple marries, they often take on the responsibility of caring and providing homes for their parents. These parents are taking things into their own hands, hoping for a better life.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tick tick tick

                                          Tick, tick, tick...almost ready to pop.

It's been really nice having my sister here this week, even though our plans have had to change with the induction being pushed back another week and all. She has spoiled Sal with love (and goodies) and been a huge help with toy clean up, meals, and just the day to day business of chasing a toddler. 

On Monday, NZ and I made the trek to Shanghai for an appointment and lunch without Sal--the longest stretch of time that BOTH of us were away without him, and guess what? He was still alive and happy when we got home. Word on the street was that he was extra well behaved during an outing to the playground AND napped for his auntie. That's more than I can say for his behavior with me as of late. 

Tuesday was spent at my friend Heather's-- sipping Starbucks and letting the kids play for the morning. It was nice to get some girl time in.

Wednesday, dare I admit, we never changed out of pajamas. It was a cold, dreary, rainy day. Lots of puzzles, matchbox cars and Legos were played with.

On Thursday morning, we got out of the house. We went to Starbucks (not surprising if you know my sister and her love of Starbucks) and the produce market on our way home. All my Chinese vendors were surprised to see me, since NZ has been the one grocery getting for the last month or so. I did my best to answer their questions about what kind of baby, when and where I was delivering. At least I think that's what they were asking. I never know. 

NZ celebrated his birthday Thursday night with tacos and a cake that Sal made with his auntie.

Friday took my sister, Sal and I to Shanghai for a "quick NST and check" by the OB who took over my case. Uhm, leaving at 7:30a and returning home at 3:30p is not a "quick" visit. Just sayin'. 

This traveling back and forth thing is crappy. Especially with a bladder that feels like it is going to explode 24/7 and no roadside restrooms. 

Although bummed I was having to go in for a quick check, it worked out well for me. After my visit, I spoke up (okay, I was crying) to my usual nurse about my lack of confidence/comfort with the OB who had taken over my case, and asked if there was ANYONE, and I mean anyone else that could deliver for me. She arranged for me to meet the OB that delivered my friend's baby, and that OB answered all of the questions the other one didn't, in less than 5 minutes. She said she would check with her boss about taking my case from the other OB at such late notice.  When I walked through my door at home,  I had an awesome email confirming a date and time for induction with the OB who I met today.

I am so relieved.

Now we just need to get through the weekend and celebrating Sal's second birthday, which of course, my sister made cookies for.

Stay tuned.....

Monday, January 6, 2014

38 weeks and waiting...

How far? 38 weeks. Still pregnant. 

Total weight gain/loss: 32 lbs ( I've lost almost 2kg since last week) 

Maternity clothes? Maximum capacity on the leggings. I must make sure my sweater is long enough to cover my butt...because we all know that cotton Lycra turns see through when pushed to its stretch limit. I've got ONE, yes ONE shirt long enough to cover my belly. The rest ride up the hump. 

Stretch marks? None! Can I make it to the end without any? I sure hope so!

Sleep: pregnancy insomnia can go eff itself. Sorry for the profanity, but oh-em-gee I know I need to be resting up to prepare for two and I can.not.sleep. Instead, I run through scenarios of giving birth on the side of the expressway with my Chinese driver smoking a cigarette while he waits for us to deliver it ourselves, to visualizing myself in a dirty local hospital room filled with Chinese nurses and doctors doing some eastern medicine voodoo to get the baby out of me. The only scenario I struggle to visualize is that of arriving safely at the international hospital in shanghai and delivering with no complications as planned. 

Best moment this week: My sister has arrived and will stay until the 16th. 

Miss anything?: being able to walk without waddling. Sleeping through the night without peeing fifteen times. 

Movement: Yes...and it hurts. 

Food cravings: still just ice, ice, baby..even though it's cold outside. 

Anything making you queasy or sick: Every night after dinner I get sick to my stomach for a half hour or so.

Gender: Girl.

Labor signs: contractions here and there. The OB I saw today says I'm progressing, but he didn't seem concerned that I would go into labor before my next visit. 

Symptoms: pressure, sore ribs

Belly Button in or out? Out.

Wedding rings on or off? On.

Happy or Moody?: Where does "no-fun-to-be-around" fit? Oh, under moody? Okay. I am really bummed that my regular OB leaves for America this month, and that the one taking my case did not agree to induce this week at 38 weeks as we did with Sal...even after hearing our reasons, which are legit. I am happy the girl is healthy. She measured well on u/s today, is head down and passed the NST.  Estimated weight 6lb7oz.  I just want her out IN.THE.HOSPITAL. which, by the way, have I mentioned is TWO HOURS AWAY, traffic willing (took 3 hrs today). Oh, I did mention this before? Yeah-I'm anxious. I have an appointment Friday for a "quick check" (again, 4-5 hours in the car at this far along is torture) and am actually hoping he says I am further dilated and need to be admitted. 

If you haven't guessed, I'm not so good at rolling with the punches. I need to work on that. This I know. 

I'm thankful that my husband is a roll with the punches guy, and he keeps reminding me that we have a healthy baby growing, which is the most important thing, of course.

Looking forward to: Spending the week with my sister. Celebrating Nick's birthday and Sal's birthday. And thinking that next Tuesday should be a pretty good day.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

FREE printable initials

I've been working on frame walls for both kids' rooms, and ran across www.ontobaby.com through pinterest. The blog has free customizable initial downloads in which you can choose the initial, the font, the name and the color to match any decor.

I love free.

And I love this..

I chose brown, which printed more gray than brown, but fits Sal's room, and a light pink for the girl. All I did was select the color, initial and name..click save..then print. The 5x7 fits perfectly into an IKEA 8x7 matted frame. 

Easy, peasy, FREE!

Here's the link:


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It could happen

I'm one of those who worry about "every case scenario"--not just worst or best, but ALL. 

This keeps my mind in overdrive.

No wonder I have had pregnancy insomnia the last few weeks.

I know this too shall pass, and more than likely, everything is going to work out just the way it is supposed to. The baby will come one way or another.

But I can't help but obsess over when, where and how.

I had it in my mind that we would know our induction date by now. All of my appointments leading up to last week lead me to believe (and my husband will remind me that no one promised us anything) that we would deliver at 38 weeks, which is when we delivered Salvatore. We had discussed induction with my OB, who has agreed that "if" the girl is measuring big enough, we could go ahead with it. 

There are a few reasons I would like induction, rather than going into labor without intervention. 

1. My history of uterine reconstruction puts me at a slightly higher (very slight) risk of uterine rupture.
2. We live 1.5-2.5 hours from the international hospital, traffic willing. 
3. The local woman's and maternal hospital scares me shitless. I'd almost prefer my bathroom floor.
4. Delivering Sal at 38 weeks, weighing 7lb7oz, he was almost a c-section. If our little girl is a bruiser, I won't be pushing her out on my own if she is any bigger than that. 

So, yeah. Those are my reasons.

Anyways, last week, my OB apologetically informed me that the training she was supposed to attend in the USA at the END of January had been pushed up, and she would in fact be leaving the week we had discussed inducing. After months of her being my sole care provider, she would not be able to deliver our daughter for us. Of course I was sad that she won't be there to bring our baby into the world (she really is a wonderfully sweet and caring Doctor), but I was actually pissed off that it also meant we wouldn't be inducing right at 38 weeks as we did with Sal. 

This isn't her fault, it's mine. I had made it up in my mind that it would happen at 38 weeks exactly, and I was being told it wasn't going to happen. 

Cue the pouting. (Yes, I'm 36 years old and still get my panties in a bunch. Sue me)

The good news is that she is passing her cases on to the Chief Medical Director of the hospital, who is a boarded American OB and pediatrician. I will be in good hands. I will be able to understand him without decoding any accent or simplifying my English to ask a question. 

We are acheduled to meet with him next Monday, along with my current OB before she leaves for America. Perhaps he will agree to induce--I hope. Maybe even next week as I had wanted. 

Or not.

He could say that the baby isn't ready, or that he doesn't think my reasons for induction are valid. He could tell us that I must go into labor naturally. 

What's this mean for us, living so far away?

This means that I would need to find a hotel near the hospital to stay in from next week until the girl debuts. This is not only costly, but also difficult with a toddler in tow. Ever tried staying in a close quarters hotel room with a toddler? Naps don't happen, and bedtime is whenever the kid goes to sleep, because one can't watch tv and expect the toddler to just lay down and crash (at least not my kid). This also means dining out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Again. The cost adds up. My sister flies in on Sunday, so conceivably, she could stay with us in the hotel, and NZ could stay back in Wuxi to work until labor starts. 

See, I wasn't kidding when I said my mind is in overdrive.

And to take it a step further, what if I go into labor this week, and we have to try and travel during rush hour and are stuck halfway between Wuxi and Shanghai and this baby decides she wants to be born in the backseat of a Buick Regal? 

I've boned up on my "emergency childbirth 101" from the Internet so that I can instruct my lucky co-pilot what to do just.in.case. Towels.We need towels. Lots of towels. Hand sanitizer to sterilize the deliver-er's hands, and whatever happens...don't pull on the baby or clamp the cord. I can't believe I looked that stuff up, but its a scenario that could happen.


My mom delivered me at home, unplanned and by herself in the bathroom, three weeks early, at 2:00a.m. How she didn't know she was in labor (after experiencing labor myself) is a mystery to me. I often joke that she must have been on drugs, because it's so different from my previous birth experiences. My mother is superwoman. I'm convinced.

 Obviously, I turned I okay, but we don't have stuff like dependable ambulances and emergent care here like we do in the states. I am terrified that NZ and I will be stuck on the side of a dirty Chinese expressway, with our driver watching on as he delivers our daughter. It could happen.


Or, best case scenario, we see the new OB on Monday and he agrees to induce me next week which would work great because my sister will be here to stay with Sal in our own home, while NZ and I safely travel to Shanghai to go through labor and delivery in a sterile environment and meet our daughter. It could happen.

And probably will.

But still. The scenarios play through my head over and over and over. 

Anything can happen.