baby stuff

I debated starting this up again, but the lure of having somewhere to write down thoughts and experiences too lengthy for Facebook has lead me to give the blog another shot. I considered starting a new site, but since the only people that really read these posts are my friends and family, perhaps you can forgive me for the old posts and glaring gaps.

We just got back from a trip to Paris, spending twelve glorious days (okay, so ten glorious days and two days that were half-glorious and half consumed with air travel) reveling in the comforts of the western world. It was amazing, frustrating, relaxing, stressful, and exactly the break we needed. It seemed random and almost silly to be taking a trip to Paris with three very young children (2 months, 2 years and 4 years are not exactly ages renowned for flexibility), especially since our primary reasons for choosing Paris as a venue included a nonstop flight and the fact that Stephen is attending the Ecole Francaise d’Amman. Several people observed that we were either very brave or completely insane to voluntarily undertake international travel at this stage in our lives, but despite the normal headaches that accompany traveling with little people this trip was one of the most enjoyable we’ve had in the past few years. Danny and I were discussing why this was, and I thought it would be nice to record some of our observations.

What we did right:


  • We picked a destination that included plenty of what we enjoy, and that provided things that we can’t get in Amman. Danny and I wanted to shop at farmers’ markets, take long walks, and see some greenery and water. Stephen is obsessed with dinosaurs and sharks, and he and Nathaniel both love being able to run and play outside. Simon doesn’t really have many opinions at this point. ūüėČ Paris, surprisingly to me, was chock full of great stuff to do with the kids. We spent hours at the Museum of Natural History (real dinosaur skeletons!), at the Paris Aquarium (real sharks!), at the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (life-sized models of all sorts of animals), the Jardin de Plantes (museums, open spaces, gardens) and the Jardin du Luxembourg, rode on the Batobus (water taxi), and generally enjoyed being in a beautiful city full of life (and about 20 degrees cooler than Amman).
  • We picked a location within a reasonable distance from Amman. As much as we love seeing family, the trip home is a minimum of 15 hours travel and involves a 7-8 hour time difference. With little kids, this is just brutal. It takes about a week for them to recover from the jet lag going west, and closer to three weeks coming east. The flight to Paris was nonstop, and only 4.5 hours long. Plus, the flight times were relatively reasonable (which is more of a challenge than you would think, as most flights out of the Middle East leave in the middle of the night).
  • We found accommodations that were close to what we wanted to see, so once we got there we could get everywhere we wanted to go on foot or with a very short taxi or ferry ride. We stayed in the 5th Arrondissement (the Latin Quarter).

– We kept our agenda to a minimum, but we identified a few things we really wanted to do. Our actual agenda only had two specific items on it: the Museum of Natural History and the Eiffel Tower. Beyond that, we wanted to visit lots of markets, enjoy foods that we can’t get here in Amman, take lots of walks, and let the boys play outside surrounded by actual plant life as much as possible. Anything else was bonus.

– We rented an apartment. Even pre-kids, Danny and I preferred to stay in self-catering vacation rentals rather than in hotels, but with little people involved I think having our own space makes a crucial difference.


– We rented a two bedroom apartment, which was okay but not ideal. The kids don’t tend to sleep as well when we’re not at home, and the first night in Paris Stephen woke Nathaniel in the middle of the night to play, which lead to Nathaniel throwing a full-out temper tantrum at 3am. We ended up putting Nathaniel in a pack-n-play in the bathroom (thankfully the toilet was in a separate room from the bath) to save our sanity.

– We really should have brought an extra bag. We pared down what we brought as much as possible and managed to fit everything in two suitcases (not bad for a family of 5 for 10+ days!), but on the way back we had to pay overweight baggage fees. We were well under our checked bag allowance, so if we had brought an extra bag we could have avoided that.

– The amount of walking we did was great for Danny and me, but the older kids got frustrated at spending so much time in the stroller (especially Nathaniel). Since next time we do a family vacation Stephen will have to walk (or we’ll have to bring the single AND double strollers, yikes!) we will probably have to change our m.o. a bit.

– When Danny got out Euros from the bank in Amman, they gave us 500 Euro notes. We used most of them to pay for our apartment, but were left with one that was near impossible to break. We actually had to go to the Bank of France and ask them for change, as after three days we couldn’t find anyone who would accept it. Next time we’ll make sure to get smaller bills.


– Traveling with a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Simon is an easygoing baby, and I’ve found that babies under 6 months old are easier to travel with than any other age. Stephen and Nathaniel are good travelers for their age, but they’re still little kids. There was a lot of whining and fighting. Nathaniel threw some spectacular tantrums while we were out and about. We tried various interventions and ultimately determined that we just had to wait them out, so we’d strap him into the stroller (so he couldn’t go into the street, which he tried to do on several occasions to get away from us) and wait. We took pictures of a few of them, and started naming them based on where they occurred. There was the Eiffel Tantrum, the Arc d’Tantrum, and the BioTantrum (at a “bio marche” or organic market), plus several others.

– This goes along with the point above, but there were lots of things that just weren’t feasible on this trip. We didn’t eat in any restaurants, for example, because at this stage in our life that experience is just too stressful to be enjoyable. The Musee d’Orsay is Danny’s favorite museum in the world, but it wouldn’t have been enjoyable to do with the kids right now.

I wouldn’t have necessarily expected this to be true, but this was one of the best trips we’ve ever had. We like living in Amman, but were really ready for a break, and Paris was the perfect escape.


This is not the first time we’ve travelled with small children.¬† In fact, counting them up, I realize that it’s our 8th transatlantic trip with one or more children under the age of 3 in the past three years.¬† And yet, every trip is different.¬† Kids seem to react differently according to their personalities, the circumstances surrounding the travel, and their age at the time, which should be obvious but seems to catch me unaware every time.

Stephen, at almost three, has been easier to deal with this trip than any other since he was about 8 weeks old.¬† He slept for 6 hours of our¬†12-hour flight, and on the second and third legs of the trip he was content to sit and watch movies quietly on the DVD player or iPod.¬† He survived the 8-hour time change and the lack of sleep during the trip with grace and style, and only had one significant meltdown during the entire 27 hour odyssey.¬† This is the first time that Stephen has seemed to really enjoy the new experiences so much, he’s soaking up the attention from his grandparents and delights in discovering new places to play and explore.¬† If he weren’t so busy, and if my arms weren’t nearly always full of a squirming, fussy Nathaniel, I would constantly be pulling Stephen into my lap to kiss him and tell him how happy and sad it makes me to see him growing up and maturing like this.¬† I still tell him, but I’m not sure he can hear me over Nathaniel. ūüėȬ† I’m humbled by his patience and his sweet, accommodating spirit.¬† It gives me hope that travelling with them will indeed get easier as they get older.

Nathaniel, at almost 9 months, has had a harder time adjusting.¬† I’m not sure if it’s the jet lag, the temporary sleep deprivation that inevitably comes with such a long trip, the change in scenery and new people, his personality, his age, or a combination of those factors, but the two days since we arrived Stateside have been challenging.¬† During the journey here, he actually did fairly well — he also slept for about half of the long flight, and he slept for at least part of the two flights after that.¬† Since we’ve been stationary, however, he’s been a handful.¬† For me, specifically, since he won’t allow anyone else to hold him without screaming himself hoarse.¬† He’s up every two hours all night long, fighting naps during the day, and nursing as much as a newborn.

It’s hard.¬† This is one of the consequences of living our lives halfway across the world, and one that I’m only really starting to realize.¬† My family back here, my parents and Danny’s parents and our siblings and best friends, for the most part don’t get to see our kids at their best.¬† Our parents have been able to come and visit us where we live, but a lot of our loved ones have only seen the boys when they’ve been uprooted from their home and subjected to a horrifically¬†long trip and a 7-¬†or 8-hour time change.¬† I’m sure everyone still loves seeing them, but the truth is that none of us are at our best under those circumstances and our kids are no exception.¬† Stephen is whinier¬†and more emotional, and Nathaniel is clingy and fractious.

I’m trying very had to maintain perspective, which is not easy for me to do.¬† I need to remind myself several times a day that they didn’t ask to live so far away, that they don’t understand jet lag or why none of their toys or familiar things are here, or who all these people are who are touching them and talking to them.¬† I tell myself that the people who love us will¬†understand that we’re all tired and not in our element, and that I don’t need to apologize a hundred times for Nathaniel’s screaming or Stephen’s sobbing meltdown or my exhaustion.¬† Our life overseas has numerous benefits, but quality, low-stress, consistent time with loved ones back home is just not one of them.

This is one of my favorite parts of our yard — it’s an open-sided structure with a roof of woven, waterproof material. ¬†There’s a similar structure over the front part of the patio where we park the car, but this one is in the corner of our yard. ¬†At this time of year, it’s shady and cool under there until about 11:30 in the morning, and sitting in it I can see our whole L-shaped yard and patio area. ¬†This morning I took both of the kids out there right after breakfast. ¬†Nathaniel lay on a towel kicking his legs while Stephen played with his trucks and we read books. ¬†Stephen and I came back out during Nathaniel’s morning nap and I taught him how to play a very basic version of dominoes.

I’m amazed at how much of a difference it makes in Stephen’s temperament and in the tone of our day for us to have some time outside early on! ¬†In the afternoon Stephen is much more content to play with his toys indoors if he has had some time outside, even if we’re doing the same thing outdoors that we would have done in the living room. ¬†I really want to get some outdoor floor cushions of some sort so we can make the area a more comfortable place to sit, as I plan to spend a lot of time out there!

We’ve been in Amman for almost two weeks now, so we’re past the worst of the jet lag (although not totally out of the woods yet) and starting to get a little bit better idea of what living here will look like. ¬†Rather than waiting until I have the time to write a comprehensive “here’s what’s happened in our lives in the past several months” kind of a post, I figured I would jot down a few of my thoughts about this place in which we’ll be spending the next three years of our lives.

Our apartment rocks. ¬†Seriously. ¬†We have a ground floor, 4-bedroom apartment with a huge living/dining room, separate sitting room, and best of all, OUTSIDE SPACE. ¬†We have a tile patio that runs the length of the apartment, and a small grass yard in the back. ¬†It certainly isn’t one of those huge suburban yards with tons of open grassy space, but its outdoor space that’s ours, and that I don’t have to go down seven stories to get to. ¬†I love it. ¬†Another great thing about this place? ¬†The internal walls are all concrete. ¬†While that makes hanging pictures a little tricky, it means that having the boys in rooms right next to each other is no problem.

Amman is a real, cosmopolitan, international city. ¬†You can get pretty much anything here. ¬†Not that I NEED to have American-brand everything, but believe me it’s nice to have the option. ¬†It’s more than the availability of products, though. ¬†There’s an awesome Children’s Museum here, for instance. ¬†The streets are well-marked (although this is apparently new). ¬†Practically everything is in Arabic and English. ¬†People don’t stare at us as though we have three heads when they hear us speaking English in public. ¬†There are more than two Protestant churches to choose from. ¬†The list goes on.

One thing I do miss about Ankara is the produce markets. ¬†Our grocery bills for the first two weeks have been downright painful. ¬†Part of that is just the expense inherent in starting up a pantry from scratch, but food is also a lot more expensive here. ¬†The basic rule of thumb is that the price tag is the same as it would be in America, but with the exchange rate you’re paying almost 150% of the back-home price. ¬†This is particularly hard to get used to after two years of doing most of our grocery shopping at the farmers’ market near our house where everything was super cheap and amazingly fresh or at a military commissary, where everything was subsidized. ¬†Of course, cooking is one of our primary forms of entertainment, so we’ll just have to find a way to make it work.

Jet lag in a toddler is really miserable. ¬†We’ve been here 12 nights, and of those there have been two in which Stephen wasn’t up and wandering the halls in the middle of the night. ¬†On the really bad nights, it took over 3 hours to get him to go back to sleep, and he screamed, thrashed, and cried the whole time. ¬†On the good nights, we were able to take him to the potty (he still wears diapers at night but “I have to go to the toilet” is his favorite excuse for being out of bed) and get him back to sleep without much fuss. ¬†To be fair to Stephen, he’s dealt with a LOT of change in the past few months, what with getting a new sibling, seeing all our stuff get packed up, hopping from place to place for two months, and then travelling halfway around the world to a new home that doesn’t feel much like home yet. ¬†Any of those things are enough to cause some sleep disturbances in one as young as he is, but that doesn’t make it any more fun at 4am.

In general, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.  Once our households goods get here and we get unpacked, I think life here is going to be very comfortable and for the most part really fun.  Our belongings are currently here in Amman, so once the Turkish moving company finally makes the promised payment to the Jordanian company, we will be able to set up our home.

So much has happened in the past month, I don’t even know where to begin. ¬†Our family of three became a family of four on 8 June, when Nathaniel Judah was born, and we found out that we are leaving Turkey a year earlier than planned, for starters. ¬†Those are the biggest changes, although each of those life events brings with it a host of details and complications that have consumed our days and nights.

Nathaniel is now almost seven weeks old (how did that happen so quickly?), and things seem to be evening out for him a bit. ¬†He’s both easier and more difficult than Stephen was as a baby, which is to be expected I suppose. ¬†He’s a great eater and is growing quickly, and in the past few weeks we’ve been treated to his first smiles. ¬†He’s colicky, so we have spent a lot of the past month and a half holding him, rocking him, walking with him, and most of all with him in a baby carrier of some sort. ¬†A sling, wrap, or mei tai is the fastest way to calm him down when he’s really upset. ¬†The spells of inconsolable crying and screaming are decreasing in both frequency and duration, but we’re not out of the woods yet. ¬†My apologies in advance to everyone who’s going to be on any of our many flights this summer.

Stephen has handled the transition as well as any two-year old can possibly be expected to do, especially when you consider that his whole house also got packed up and all of this things disappeared to his nebulous “new house” shortly after his brother’s arrival. ¬†He’s had to deal with parents who are sleep-deprived and sometimes fairly frantic with the stress of trying to pull together an international move on less than two months’ notice, and he’s done it with amazing equanimity considering that he is, after all, only 28 months old. ¬†Having Danny home for four weeks helped, and having my parents here during the pack out was invaluable, as it meant that Stephen had someone to interact with while Mom was tied to her nursing pillow and/or trying to console a wailing newborn.

As for the move, well, we leave tomorrow morning. ¬†Whatever hasn’t been done is unlikely to get done at this point, and there’s something liberating about that knowledge. ¬†The bags are almost all packed, the house is cleared out, and we’re ready to get home. ¬†Neither Danny nor I are particularly looking forward to the 20 hour trip with two little ones, but we’ve prepared as well as we can with snacks and distractions for Stephen, and we’re crossing our fingers and toes and hoping for the best. ¬†We’re excited about our new posting in Jordan, and looking forward to the next chapter in our family’s journey.

As we prepare to welcome a new member to our family in (hopefully) three weeks or less, I figured now was a good time to write down some of the things that make Stephen such an awesome little guy before my brain turns into even more of a bowl full of mush. ¬†He’s such an amazing little person, with hilarious quirks and definite preferences. ¬†I didn’t do a tribute to him on here when he turned two back in March, although I meant to. ¬†He deserves fanfare and¬†pageantry¬†to celebrate who he is, but unfortunately for him he has a mother who is unlikely to remember to organize such things in advance.

Stephen is in love with kitchen appliances. ¬†All of them. ¬†He can identify all three of the different beater attachments for the mixer by name, as well as the grain mill and food grinder attachments. ¬†He can name the various parts of the mixer, the food processor, and the blender, and makes us read him the user manuals for the aforementioned items whenever he can. ¬†His happiest days are the ones in which we use at least one of the blessed trinity of appliances, particularly if we use more than one attachment for the mixer. ¬†He also loves our pots and pans, which unfortunately leads to tears when he tries to steal them, especially if they happen to be on the stove at the time. ¬†He has his own complete set of pots and pans, but they only really suffice as long as he’s convinced he can’t find some way to get to ours.

He’s starting to be spontaneously affectionate, which is really amazing when it happens. ¬†We make him give us hugs and kisses all the time, but every once in a while he offers up a hug or kiss without prompting. ¬†He’s never been overly snuggly, but he loves to sit in our laps to read books and would do that for hours every day if we sat still long enough. ¬†He’s shy around strangers and doesn’t really like crowds, but warmed up quickly to his grandparents when they came to visit (after an absence of over six months).

He’s gentle (for a two year-old) and has amazing volume control (again, for a two year-old). ¬†If we whisper to him, he’ll whisper back, and he can sit still for an hour at a time if need be without making much noise, especially if we draw letters or numbers for him to identify. ¬†He’s very tender-hearted, and gets his feelings hurt easily if we snap at him or chastise him, but he bounces back quickly. ¬†Most of the time he can calm himself down if given a few minutes and some space.

He’s potty trained, and has been since he turned 2. ¬†He still has accidents sometimes (last week for some reason he had a lot for the first time in over a month), but the vast majority of the time he’s dry all day long. ¬†(He still wears a diaper for naps and nights.) ¬†We’re so proud of him for how quickly he picked it up considering how young he is, but the best thing for me is seeing how proud he is of himself.

A few of Stephen’s favorite things:

Favorite meal: Breakfast

Favorite books:¬†Pancakes, Pancakes!;¬†Icky Bug Numbers;¬†Schnitzel von Krumm, Dogs Never Climb Trees (and most other books by Lynley Dodd);¬†Hickory Mouse;¬†1,2 3 (by Sandra Boynton);¬†Dr. Seuss’ ABC;¬†The Bird with the Word Visits Stephen Elijah (written and illustrated by his Granny)

Favorite shoes: “flu-pops” (flip-flops), Crocs

Favorite movies: Toy Story, 101 Dalmations, Bolt

Favorite foods: cherries, apricots, pasta, peas, popcorn, shrimp, olives, eggs, raisins, roasted chickpeas (leblebe), berries, ham, butter, polenta

Favorite toys: pots and pans, kitchen appliances, his play kitchen, blocks, coins, trains, Melissa & Doug food cutting set

Stephen is a child for whom it is nearly impossible to find pants. ¬†I realize this is not a unique problem since most everyone I know complains about how difficult it is to find children’s clothing that fits well, but since most of his clothes are hand-me-downs or ordered online, we rarely get to try things on to make sure they’ll fit. ¬†At 23 months old, his 12-18 month pants are just about the right length, but are almost falling off him in the waist. ¬†His 9-12 month pants fit great in the waist and rise, but are about two inches too short in the leg.

All this, combined with the fact that I derive a perverse satisfaction out of repurposing scraps and old clothing, led me to decide I would attempt to make Stephen some corduroy pants out of a pair of old cords that my friend K gave me to use as scrap fabric.  I saw this tutorial on MADE for making pants with cute pockets on them, and decided that the plaid seersucker fabric I had in my scrap bag would make the perfect pockets to liven up the slightly boring navy corduroy.

Of course, no project of mine can be without at least one major miscalculation — in this case, I forgot to add an extra 1.5 inches to the top of the pants to allow for folding over the waistline and making a casing for the elastic. ¬†Since there wasn’t enough corduroy left to recut the pattern pieces (and of course I only realized my mistake AFTER cutting all the pieces out) I decided that a contrasting waistband, in plaid to match the pockets, was the best way to fix the problem. ¬†I actually think it looks pretty cute, and the seersucker fabric was much easier to gather than the corduroy would have been, so in the end it worked out well.

I lined the pockets with some soft khaki knit fabric from an old T-shirt, and used the hem of the original pants for the hems to save myself an extra step.  For the pants themselves, I used this tutorial and a pair of Gymboree pants that fit Stephen pretty well.

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