MINDFUL PARENT. CONNECTED CHILD.

Ready for Reading

reading

Reading has always been one of my favorite activities. Growing up, I remember trips to the library, a shelf of colorful books in the living room, and reading Nancy Drew stories with my mother every night before bed. Of course, at the time, I had no idea how important reading was to my development. I just LOVED books.

Even before she was born, Annabel and I started bonding through books. While I was pregnant, I would sit in the rocking chair in her room and read out loud. It gave me a chance to wind down before bed, and I know she was listening to my voice. Now this special connection continues every night as part of her bedtime routine.

Reading is not just a night time activity either. During the day, Annabel brings me books, and sometimes, she actually cuddles and lets me read to her. Other times, she just opens and closes the book or turns the pages before I ever get a chance to read a word. No matter what, it’s always interactive and fun. Even if we don’t get to every page, she likes to point at pictures, and I make up a story or say the names of the objects she sees. The more words a child hears in the first few years of life, the better chance she has at a broad vocabulary as an adult. It’s amazing to think how doing something we both enjoy is building her brain and setting up a foundation for later learning.

Even though she likes to look at the same books over and over, we have managed to collect many books in the past year. What can I say – I love books! In an effort to keep costs down, we buy them from CHKD Thrift Stores. When she gets a little older I am sure we’ll visit the library frequently to check out books and take advantage of the great programs they provide for children.

Every time Annabel has a well check-up with her pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics, she is given a new book as part of CHKD’s Reach Out and Read program. It’s an early literacy program that provides an age-appropriate book to a child at each pediatrician well visit until she enters kindergarten. She is too young to realize the importance of literacy, but she certainly does get excited when she sees a new book!

And, I’m excited to share my love of reading with Annabel. I know it is a passion we will continue to share for the rest of our lives. As she gets older, we can read together or discuss what we are reading, just as I do with my adult siblings. Right now, my sister, brother and I are all reading the new Harry Potter book, and we have lots to talk about.

Reading is not only a way to foster a baby’s brain development, but it can help foster strong family bonds, too.

Happy parenting and happy reading!annabel in pop pop's chair with book1

Bio’  Kate Hayes lives in Virginia Beach, VA and is a first time parent to Annabel – born on July 22, 2015. Kate is a yoga and aerial fitness instructor. She especially enjoys teaching on the beach, and is certified in laughing yoga, and prenatal yoga.  Kate and her husband, Robert, enjoy spending time with their daughter and their two dogs.

 

Love is The Easy Part

benston children

Parenting is confusing.

The days can feel long, but the years feel short.

If you’ve ever desperately needed a break from your children, but when you got it, spent the whole time missing your kids … then you know what I mean.

I was thinking about this particular part of parenthood last night after it was finally quiet and all three of my kids were asleep. The first thing I did was break out my phone to see the pictures of them from the day.

Why am I doing this? It’s MY time. What is wrong with me?!

 Even thinking these thoughts didn’t stop me from posting a new picture to Instagram. I’m so in love with these little blonde knuckleheads. But if one of them wakes up again, I’m going to lose my mind.

Does this make sense?

Many parts of parenting don’t make sense. When you have one child, you can’t possibly imagine loving another like your first. I worried that since Jackson was so special to so many people because of his cancer journey, any other child wouldn’t stand a chance.

Then came Abby.

In the first few days of her life, I guarded my heart because there was a 50/50 chance as a 24-week preemie she wouldn’t make it. But then her tiny thumb found her mouth, making its way around her breathing tube, and I watched my one-pound-wonder suck her thumb. That was it, I was hooked. Head-over–heels in love.

Jackson and Abby ended up being four years apart. We were really in our groove: no one was breastfeeding, they were going to school, both were potty trained and sleeping through the night – surprise! – I found out I was pregnant again. I spent my last pregnancy wondering if maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea. Everyone says with a third child, noise levels go up exponentially. Laundry goes up exponentially. Sleep goes down exponentially. How was I going to love this third child when I worried so much about the other two?

And then came Henry Beau.

Oh my goodness golly – he is the sweetest little cherry on top. He’s healthy, happy-go-lucky and up for anything. It doesn’t take much to entertain him with two older siblings.

Is life louder? Sure is. Is there more laundry? Yep, that’s my white flag waving from under a large pile of dirty clothes. As far as less sleep? I mean, who really sleeps when they have kids anyway?

You may be wondering how you can love a second child or even a third. Let me tell you: love is the easy part! Get ready for the confusion, the chaos and the idea that your heart grows with each child. Even larger than your laundry piles.

 

Jessica Bensten is a native of Hampton Roads and lives in Hampton with her three “miracles” Jackson (8), Abby (4) and Henry (5 months). As a mother to a childhood cancer survivor and a micro-preemie, she began the blog Mothering Miracles in 2014 to support other families dealing with health issues. Jessica also works as Creative Director for Rubin Communications Group and enjoys mixing her talents for graphic design and creative writing with community relations. She is a past member of both the CHKD Family Advisory Council and the CHKD NICU Family Advisory Council.

Visit chkd.org/ParentingResources to get answers to your parenting questions.

Five Things I Learned In the First Year of Parenting

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Annabel just had her first birthday, which means I’ve been at this for one incredible year!

Here are five important things I’ve learned during my first full year as a parent:

1) Time goes by really fast. So many people have said to me, “The time is going to go by so fast! She is going to be asking for the keys to the car tomorrow.” I just smiled, nodded and thought, yeah right. Here I am, a year later, thinking how quickly time has flown! Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” I’ve only experienced one year of parenting, but I completely agree.

2) I have good instincts. We’ve received lots of helpful advice. We’ve done lots of reading and research about how to care for Annabel. As I gathered information and sought out resources, I also learned to trust my instincts and know my baby. What works well for one child may not work for the next. This year I have learned to read Annabel’s cues and trust my gut. It’s working, and she is thriving!

3) Every moment isn’t enjoyable. I know it’s cliché to say enjoy every moment, but what happens when you’re really just not feeling joy in the moment? Being tired and cranky does not make me a bad mother. It makes me human. Just take it one moment at a time, keep moving and don’t waste time feeling guilty about it.

4) I need help. I wrote a couple of blogs this year about having mommy superpowers. I am still amazed at my ability to give birth and nourish my baby.  But that does not make me a superhero. I still need help, and I have learned to ask for it. As much as I would like to do everything myself, I can’t. And as much as I would like Robert to magically know what I need, he doesn’t. I have to ask for help.

5) Parenting is my priority. This is probably the most important one for me. Raising a child is a really important job. So, what if the floors don’t get swept every day or the folded laundry lives in the basket for awhile? Annabel is happy and healthy. She loves reading books with me. She even brings them to me now. So what’s more important: a love of books or a swept floor? One of her newest words is thank you! And I am so thankful for her.

I can’t believe a year has come and gone already. It has been challenging and rewarding and definitely worth it! Thank you for following my posts this past year and happy parenting!

Bio’   Kate Hayes lives in Virginia Beach, VA and is a first time parent to Annabel – born on July 22, 2015. Kate is a yoga and aerial fitness instructor. She especially enjoys teaching on the beach, and is certified in laughing yoga, and prenatal yoga.  Kate and her husband, Robert, enjoy spending time with their daughter and their two dogs.

Interested in learning more about the first three years? Attend this FREE four part series      The Magic of Everyday Moments: Zero-Three.  Coming this October to our NEW CHKD Health Center at Landstown.

 

Five things every parent needs to know about life with a new baby.

 

dr. and baby

  1. It’s not always going to be like this.

My mom always used to say, “This too shall pass.”  You are going to have some glorious, precious, life-changing moments. You are going to have some terrible, exhausting, sleepless, tearful moments. They are all part of being a parent.  Both the good and bad will pass. Your sweet baby will grow and change every day. Enjoy each precious moment as this too shall pass.

  1. Babies cry.

They cry when they are hungry. They cry when they are tired. They cry when they are too warm or too cool. They cry when they are wet or their little tummies hurt. Crying is their only form of communication.  It’s okay that babies cry. It’s not okay to shake a baby. Never shake a baby. Shaking can kill a baby. There are ways to comfort a crying baby such as rocking, gently swaying, swaddling, pacifiers, white noise (a fan), soft music, dim lighting, walking, stroller rides and warm baths. But still, there will be some crying.  Crying doesn’t hurt babies, but shaking can. If you’ve reached the end of your rope, put the baby in the crib on his back (sleeping on the back is the safest position) with the side rails up, and go to the kitchen for a nice cup of tea. Remember #1: It’s not always going to be like this.

  1. Vaccines are safe and effective.

Vaccines prevent diseases. They have been researched, tested and are safe. It’s the deadly diseases that we need to be worried about. Diseases kill. Vaccines save lives. Do your own research, but be sure to read reputable, evidence-based scientific websites like AAP.org and CDC.gov. Life is risky, but we try to protect ourselves by wearing seatbelts and sunscreen. Why wouldn’t we protect our sweet babies from deadly diseases? It’s far riskier to put your child in a car than to give your child any vaccine. Trust the medical professionals. Be safe, and vaccinate.

  1. You must take care of yourself BEFORE you can take care of everyone else.

As a new parent, I felt out of balance. I felt like I didn’t have the time or energy to consider taking care of myself, but what I didn’t realize was that if I didn’t care for myself, there wasn’t much left for anyone else. You need to stay in balance through proper exercise, nutrition and rest. You will feel better if you care for your appearance and your environment. Take time for friendships, faith and hobbies. Take time to care for yourself, so you will have more of yourself to give to your family.

  1. Everybody needs some advice.

Sure,  you can talk to friends, co-workers and family members about your parenting questions, but be careful in taking their advice over that of a healthcare professional. The advice you follow should be based on sound, scientific, evidence-based research and years of study, not just someone’s personal story. You should look for recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not your friend’s cousin’s aunt. You will have questions about your baby. That’s normal. Find a good pediatric healthcare provider that takes the time to listen to you. Express your concerns. Get honest, evidence-based answers. Your baby deserves only the best, most up-to-date, medical information.

 

Contributor Bio’Dr. Melanie

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm is a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), and certified pediatric nurse practitioner  (CPNP) at Pediatric Specialists in Norfolk, VA. She is the author of “Raising Today’s Baby,” which was recently released on Amazon & Kindle. Visit her website at RaisingTodaysChild.com to read more.

 

Five Tips for a Hospital Stay

Abby hospitalIn a perfect world, there would be no need for children’s hospitals. No premature babies, kids with cancer or asthma attacks.

But since the world isn’t perfect and someone invented monkey bars, kids are going to break bones and need doctors.

As a parent, I’m glad to live close to a children’s hospital. Growing up I never needed to use CHKD myself, but heck if I haven’t made up for that with my kids. Jackson and Abby have visited just about every unit on all eight floors. I know my way around the halls pulling a red wagon and what to order in the KD Cafe.

Just when I think we’re getting a break from hospital stays, one pops up. This week, Abby had surgery to place a shunt for her hydrocephalus.

Yes, that would be brain surgery.

As I watched her walk down the hallway towards the operating room, hand-in-hand with a nurse (and talking a mile a minute), I realized no matter how many times I send my children into surgery, it doesn’t get easier. There is nothing easy about putting your child’s life in someone else’s hands.

If you’re facing an upcoming hospital stay with your child, here are five tips from a veteran parent:

  • Children are resilient. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, grade-schoolers and teens … all incredibly resilient. Just when you think they will be settling into the hospital bed for a good rest, they’ll pop up and tell you a knock-knock joke. Out of nowhere.
  • Ask and you shall receive. Oftentimes, we don’t realize what’s available to us until someone offers. That goes for hospital stays. Need an extra set of hands? Ask! Not sure if you can keep your kid in her room for a second longer? Ask if you can go for a walk.
  • Bring your own comfort. It might be special blankets, stuffed animals, your child’s favorite movie or your own favorite pair of yoga pants, but it’ll make all the difference. Nothing is as good as home, but you can bring the comforts of home. So do it!
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take a deep breath and reach deep for patience at the start of each day. Expect your child to push boundaries because they don’t feel good. Remember to take care of yourself too: eat, shower and for God’s sake, refill your coffee cup.
  • Together, you will get through it. Before you know it, you’ll be back home where you belong.

Guess where we are tonight? Home sweet home.

About Me

Jessica Bensten is a native of Hampton Roads and lives in Hampton with her three “miracles” Jackson (8), Abby (4) and Henry (5 months). As a mother to a childhood cancer survivor and a micro-preemie, she began the blog Mothering Miracles in 2014 to support other families dealing with health issues. Jessica also works as Creative Director for Rubin Communications Group and enjoys mixing her talents for graphic design and creative writing with community relations. She is a past member of both the CHKD Family Advisory Council and the CHKD NICU Family Advisory Council.

 

 

 

 

 

When It Takes a Village To Raise a Child, Find It and Use It.

abby-nicu2abby-nicu

I’m a firm believer that it takes a village to raise our children.

Right now, I’m on vacation with my family in the Outer Banks.

Jackson is down by the pool, cleaning remnants of yesterday’s water balloon fight. Abby is eating breakfast at the kitchen table and coloring. Henry is in his swing for his morning nap.

Physically, I cannot be in three places at one time. With a houseful of family, there’s an adult by each child so I can write this post outside on the deck, enjoying a cup of coffee and the ocean breeze.

It has not always been like this. Not last week or last month or four years ago. Most days, I’m the one in charge of all three kids for weeks on end. When I find myself short of patience and fighting the feeling of running for the hills, I call the village and the village takes over for a little while.

I have always been thankful for my family, friends and coworkers. But with my kids’ health scares, my on-call network grew exponentially by social workers, child life specialists, nurses, doctors and support staff.

When Abby was born at 24 weeks, I was the mother of a rambunctious cancer-surviving preschooler. I found myself back at CHKD, this time hitting the button for the 4th floor instead of the 8th. I was overwhelmed by grief. A failed pregnancy…another sick child? It was too much for my mind to wrap itself around.

I would make the walk to the pod that held my tiny, and I mean TINY baby and wonder what I did wrong. Why did she need machines, medications and an incubator just to live until tomorrow?

It was in those first harrowing weeks of Abby’s 104-stay that the NICU village found me.

A social worker helped me understand and fill out medical and insurance paperwork.  A patient coordinator greeted me everyday and invited me to support groups and dinners.

The nurses became my daily lifeline, their faces and voices became my baby’s fiercest protectors and advocates outside of their momma. When the chaplain stopped by to encourage, I clung to his faith that better days were ahead.

And a smile from the lactation consultant outside the pump room turned into much-needed advice and supplies for a blocked duct.

Because of this village, I had the confidence to take care of my very sick baby. And it enabled me to seek the friendship of other parents sitting with their babies. Our eyes would meet over our children’s incubators, and we’d share our war stories of placenta previa, preeclampsia, genetic disorders or ruptured membranes.

Four and a half years after the NICU, two of those years serving on the NICU Family Advisory Council, I can still remember vividly how it felt to be sad and devastated as a new NICU family. There are no words to describe the real possibility of losing a child.

But because of my village, and the joy of watching my former micropreemie eating breakfast while coloring on vacation, this is the word that comes to me now: grateful.

If you find yourself new to a journey with your child, whatever it is, there is a village waiting for you. At CHKD, believe me, they can help you find it.

Whose a part of your village?  Give them a shout out in the comment section below!

About Me

Jessica Bensten is a native of Hampton Roads and lives in Hampton with her three “miracles” Jackson (8), Abby (4) and Henry (5 months). As a mother to a childhood cancer survivor and a micro-preemie, she began the blog Mothering Miracles in 2014 to support other families dealing with health issues. Jessica also works as Creative Director for Rubin Communications Group and enjoys mixing her talents for graphic design and creative writing with community relations. She is a past member of both the CHKD Family Advisory Council and the CHKD NICU Family Advisory Council.

Click on the link to learn move about the Family Advisory Council and NICU services at CHKD.

Laughing Yoga

Annabel sillysmall2As a parent, I have limited time for yoga and traditional meditation.  Thankfully, Annabel reminds me daily of a practice that I have always loved and can do anytime: laughing yoga!  With a new little explorer around, there is always something fascinating and funny to discover.  If I cannot sit in silent mediation, I can get the same healthy benefits by laughing and playing with Annabel.

Laughing yoga is the ancient practice of learning to laugh for an extended period of time.  All laughter – real or artificial – is good laughter and has a number of health benefits.  It is my favorite form of pranayama (intentional breathing).  Laughing can increase your immune cells and infection-fighting anti-bodies.  Laughing increases the release of endorphins (natural feel good chemicals) and decreases stress hormones.  Laughter is even known to temporarily reduce and relieve pain.  Socially speaking, laughing can break the ice and break the tension.  Comedy is a great way to improve everyone’s mood.

As we grow older, we laugh less. We can all benefit from some time spent with a baby, toddler or preschooler – they laugh frequently and for no apparent reason. As we age, our logical mind takes over and decides we should only laugh when things are funny.  We laugh far less. Laughing yoga is about trying to break that conditioning and find joy in all situations. The best part is we can work out our abs at the same time!

Kids provide a lot of fodder for a laughing practice. Annabel finds joy in every little thing. She can be silly in the bathtub by putting a towel on her head. She cracks up watching the dogs wrestle and run in circles. She laughs and laughs.  You know that deep baby belly-laugh. It draws you in, makes you smile, giggle, chuckle, chortle and crack-up.

Laughter is a gift, so why not give it freely?  When someone tells a joke, whether or not you find it funny, give them the gift of your laugh.  Annabel has started telling jokes; she babbles some sounds through a big smile, and then crunches up her face and giggles. I can’t help but laugh too.  The more you laugh, the more you laugh; and the world is a better place for it.

What are some of the funniest things your kids have done?  Comment in the section below and let’s have a good laugh!

Annabel laughing Namaste’ and Happy Parenting!

Bio’  Kate Hayes lives in Virginia Beach, VA and is a first time parent to Annabel – born on July 22, 2015. Kate is a yoga and aerial fitness instructor. She especially enjoys teaching on the beach, and is certified in laughing yoga, and prenatal yoga.  Kate and her husband, Robert, enjoy spending time with their daughter and their two dogs.

Be  sure to check out CHKD’s Parent Academy Class, Playful Parenting, coming to Newport News in September.  For information on Laughing Yoga contact Kate Hayes. 

 


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