No, I Don’t Want to Hold Your Baby…

No I don't want to hold your babyLast weekend, while my family was out at breakfast, we ran into a family we hadn’t seen in years.  Since it had been quite a while, their family had grown and they had just recently had a baby.  As we struggled to catch up quickly in the busy restaurant, she introduced us to their newest addition – an adorable little girl, about 6 months old.

And then it happened.  She extended the baby towards me…and I knew exactly what the next words out of her mouth were going to be.  “Do you want to hold her?,” she asked.

You see, the problem with this inquiry is that there’s no nice way to say no.  There just isn’t.  And yet, I still didn’t want to hold her (ridiculously cute) baby.  All too experienced with this situation, I tried to reach out to gently touch the baby’s hand and smile at her instead.  Unfortunately, with the angle that the mom tried to “deliver” the child into my arms, it resulted in a strange and awkward face/arm petting event where I again told the mom how cute her daughter was (seriously, she’s adorable).  After it was all over, and as awkward as it might have been, I still breathed a sigh of relief because I didn’t have to actually hold her baby.

Make no mistake, I love my children and held them all. the. time. when they were babies.  In fact, I still hold them often.  Just ask my 5 year old who refuses to wake up every morning for school causing me to have to carry her down the stairs because I don’t have time for a fight I can’t win at 7am.  Or my 3 year old who has decided that I’m better than furniture, and – without any notice – will plop herself down on my lap make her self comfortable.  And if there’s ever an Olympic event where someone has to rinse and load dishes into a dishwasher with one hand while holding a nearly 1 year old with the other, Everett’s trained me for the gold medal.  No one else has a chance.

But hold someone else’s baby?  Um, no.

The awkward occurrence last Sunday morning isn’t the first of it’s kind, nor will it be the last.  More and more often, I feel like I’m put in the situation where I’m politely declining or downright dodging babies that are being thrust into my arms, because people assume I want to hold them.

Except I don’t.

Honestly, I just don’t feel the need to hold them.  And if I’m absolutely candid about it, as flattered as I am that a parent would trust me with their beloved child, holding other babies makes me uncomfortable.  Truth is, before having my own babies, I wasn’t much of a baby person.  I wasn’t someone who babysat other kids or gushed over random babies in public.  It’s not that I don’t like other people’s babies, it’s just that I like them slightly better from afar.  The love and bond that I have for my kids – that makes me want to hold them – doesn’t exist between me and other children.  And that natural, “I love babies” that seems inherent in most other women, just I don’t have.

Of course, like anything else, there are exceptions.  For example, if I’m visiting a friend with a new baby and the baby starts to fuss just as the mom starts to do something in the other room, I’m happy to help out by holding her baby.  But in that case, I’m really helping the mom out, not getting a baby fix.  It’s so difficult to get things done around the house with a newborn, and if I can help a mom out – either by doing things around the house for her or holding a baby while she does things around the house – I’ll do it.  Do I get a warm fuzzy sensation from holding a little baby?  No.  But I’m helping a mom out and I like that.

I often question what makes people ask or assume that I want to hold their baby.  Maybe it’s what they think friends do.  Maybe because I’m female (goodness knows, I get more inquiries than my husband…even though they have a much better chance of a “yes” with him).  Or maybe it’s because I already have children.  Or maybe it’s because every other person on Earth wants a baby fix and I’m the only one struggling to find a polite way to say no.  I’m not sure.

While discussing this post with a friend of mine – who is very much a Baby Holder, and will hunt people down to hold a baby – it became apparent that this is one of those things where you either are or you aren’t.  So which are you – a Baby Holder or a Baby Dodger?

Oh, the Places He Will Go in his Urbini Touri Travel System {Review}

UrbiniTouriTravelSystemReviewI have this love affair with strollers and travel systems.  Really, I do.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a 3rd time mom or that I’m always on the go, but I’m slightly obsessed with them.  I not-so-secretly want to try them all…and I have quite a few stored in my house to show for it.  So when I saw the brand new Urbini Travel Systems released earlier this year, I knew I wanted had to try it.

What stuck out for me when I researched the Urbini was the weight and the price point.  I’ve never seen a lightweight, umbrella stroller design used in conjunction with a car seat.  Plus, you rarely see travel systems priced in the $100-$150 category, as they all seem to retail for $200+.  The Urbini Touri not only combined the umbrella stroller design, but is also priced at just under $150 (their slightly more expensive model called the Omni still retails for under $200).  And the colors – oh, the colors!  Bright blues, greens, reds, pinks…gorgeous, vibrant colors that you normally don’t find in strollers, let alone travel systems.  The Urbini looked like the perfect mix of function, price, and style.   And lucky for me, Urbini gave me the chance to try out their Touri Travel System for myself.UrbiniTravelSystem1

When I first received the Touri I was stunned at just how easy it was to put together.  My husband wasn’t home at the time and I was expecting to need his help…but then I got impatient.  Who can sit in their house with a brand new travel system in the box and not want to put it together?  Not this girl.  Instead, I decided to open the box and give it a try (girls can build things too, right?).  Turns out, there were no tools required and other than snapping in the lap bar and popping on the front wheels it was already completely assembled.  I had the entire stroller built, the car seat out of it’s packaging, and the car seat base installed in the car within minutes and wayyy before my husband got home.  Actually, the hardest part of putting the entire system together was trying to open the stroller since the directions were in the stroller basket and not accessible with the stroller closed (FYI: if you’re in this situation, press on the storage lock – which is the light grey bar with a hole in it just left of center in the photo above – to release it; that’s what’s keeping the stroller closed/collapsed).UrbiniTouriCarseatThe Touri features a the Urbini Petal Infant Car Seat which is designed to hold children from 4-35 pounds and up to 32 inches, both of which are on the higher side for infant seat maximums.  And since babies tend to outgrow the length of their infant seats before the height, those couple extra inches will no doubt extend the life of your seat.  Since the car seat itself weighs only 8 pounds, I was shocked to find that this car seat was well padded and included not only an infant insert, but also a preemie insert option.

UrbiniCarseatCollage

Because it’s an infant seat, it’s intended for rear-facing use only and can be installed pretty quickly if your car has the LATCH system, which most cars do.    And there’s a level indicator on the base to ensure that it’s installed correctly.UrbiniCarSeatIndicatorFrom there you can loosen the straps of the car seat’s 5 point harness by lifting up on the lever towards the foot of the car seat.  Place the seat in the base or on the stroller and it snaps right in!UrbiniCarseatinCar

I will tell you of all the car seats that I’ve ever used (and I have quite a few between infant and convertible seats) the Urbini Petal Infant Car Seat is by far the lightest.  No doubt about it.

Once everything was installed it was off to the park and to school and to the mall and to dance class and the grocery store and…well, everywhere – I’m a pretty busy mom!  I took this travel system “on the road” with me for about two weeks just to see how it would handle.  Now, 2 weeks later, it’s probably my favorite travel system.UrbiniTouriStrollerFirst, it’s no doubt the most user friendly stroller that I own.  It’s light weight and a breeze to collapse and unfold.  There’s a handle on the side of the stroller for easy lifting and carrying.  It fits perfectly in the back of my SUV and my husband’s sedan.  The car seat is also easy to use.  The red mechanisms on the side of the car seat adjust the handle and release it from the stroller.  The shoulder straps are easy to adjust up and down to accommodate a growing baby.

Second, it has the comforts of a larger travel system – padded handles, roomy storage basket, cup holder (removable), front suspension wheels – without the bulk and weight of the larger travel systems.  It even has options that I’ve never seen on those bigger travel systems, like the amazing extended sunshade which makes it perfect for the summer sun.  Typical umbrella strollers lack an adequate sunshade – I’m not sure it it’s a concession that stroller companies make to keep the stroller lightweight or what, but I’ve never seen an umbrella stroller with a large canopy.  Until now.

UrbiniStrollerSunshade

Check. It. Out.  And if you don’t live in a climate that’s hotter than the face of the sun during the summer months (like I do) or you just don’t like canopies, you don’t have to use the canopy because it tucks away.  That’s right, the red extended sunshade tucks completely under the black sunshade.  There if you need it, gone if you’re canopy averse.

Finally, it’s designed to be safe and comfortable for the child using it.  The stroller’s multi-position reclining seat and 5 point harness ensure that my son to look out at the world around him safety.  The car seat is padded, the straps are padded, and if you have a preemie, there’s special padding you can add.  All of that padding ensures that your baby is not only comfortable, but safe too.  The Urbini Petal Infant Seat has been through rigorous crash and side-impact testing, and meets or exceeds all requirements.  That’s comfort for my baby and peace of mind for me. UrbiniCarSeatOutofCar

So no matter where we’re going this summer – whether it be a theme park or just a quick stroll around the neighborhood – our Touri will be coming with us!UrbiniTouriStrollerCollage

If you want to learn more about Urbini travel systems and strollers, be sure to check out their website and follow them on Facebook.  If you’re ready to purchase an Urbini Travel System, you can find them exclusively at Walmart for $149.99 (Touri) to $199.99 (Omni).

What You Need in a High Chair…and What You Don’t

When I purchased Greenleigh’s high chair a little over 4 years ago [gulp] I did it on a whim, which is funny when you consider the amount of research I put into just about every other baby item that I purchased.  I actually bought an entire book full of baby product reviews.  AN ENTIRE BOOK?!?!  Who has the time?  Oh wait, someone who hasn’t had their baby yet and isn’t completely sleep deprived.  So when we got to the “feeding solids” milestone with Greenleigh, I was…um…tired?  I didn’t even look in that entire book filled with baby gear reviews sitting on my shelf.  Nope, no time.  Instead, I purchased the very first highchair that I saw and liked.  I thought I made a good choice.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot.

Like, what you really need in a high chair…and what you don’t.  Since the nice people at Ingenuity by Bright Starts were kind enough to sent me their new Marlo Trio 3-in-1 Deluxe High Chair to review, I thought that this would be a great time to go through my list of do’s and don’ts when purchasing a high chair.  Because you don’t have time for that big book of reviews and neither do I.

Easy to clean.  I’m convinced that you’ve never actually seen a mess until you’ve seen a toddler eat.  Really, even the neatest, most polite toddler is super messy.  And by the time they’re done eating, there will be food EVERYWHERE.  Promise.  In my experience, patterns can help hide the stains that are no doubt to come, but you’ll also want one that you can wipe clean with a sponge or disinfecting wipe.   

Besides the adorable, gender neutral print, the Marlo boasts 2 layers of padding, each of which can be easily removed and cleaned.  The top patterned part can be wiped clean and the solid grey padding can be removed entirely in about a minute to be soaked.  And those orange dots?  It’s already prepared for those spaghetti stains that are sure to come.

Pick a high chair that will grow with your child.  As hard as it may be to imagine, your baby won’t be a baby forever…but they might not be ready for a real chair for quite a while.  For that reason, consider how long a high chair can be used and try to make the most of your money.  Because they’re way ahead of the game, Ingenuity designed the Marlo to have not 1 but 3 seating options – full sized high chair, booster chair, and toddler seat – covering kids from a few months old to 5 years of age!  And all the parts needed to convert the Marlo from a full sized high chair to a booster seat are conveniently stored inside the chair so there are no loose or additional parts to worry about!  The booster chair is pictured on the left, the toddler seat is pictured on the right:

That kid above in the toddler seat?  Well, that’s the kid that I originally purchased my first high chair for 4 years ago.  I love that she’s nearly 5 years old and can use this high chair.  Funny thing is, she actually wanted to sit in it.  It was the perfect height to reach the table and because there was no tray, she never felt like it was a high chair.

Skip the padded straps.  In an effort to make their high chairs look more comfortable, I’ve seen lots of companies adding padded straps to their high chairs (similar to the basic padding provided on most car seats).  What ever you do – Don’t buy one of these chairs!  Less is more in this category.  Instead, go for a seat like the Marlo that has basic straps that are adjustable for even the smallest babies, easy to clean, and a snap to remove.  Simply feed strap through the slit in the back of the high chair and the corresponding slits in the padding and – voila – those straps are ready for soaking.  Unless you actually like wrestling a high chair covered in peas, carrots & squash to the the straps loose, that is…

Take into account the height of your table; an adjustable high chair might not be necessary.  The first time around, I bought a high chair that was adjustable, but years later, I now know that was a waste.  You know how many times I’ve adjusted that thing?  Twice.  Maybe three times, tops.  Why?  Because it’s a complete and total pain and I always end up pinching my fingers on those pins that you’re supposed to push in while pulling up to adjust it.  Instead, if you plan to use your high chair at the table, consider the height of the high chair in relation to your table.  Bring a measuring tape when you go to the store, if that’s what it takes. 

As you can see from the pictures above, the Marlo is the perfect height for my table and it allows Everett to be a part of dinner, which he loves.  I’ve also fed him while sitting in a chair beside him and while standing (and doing a hundred other things at the same time), and not had any problems with the height.

Forgo the toys.  This is where I got caught up last time around.  I needed a high chair with toys to keep Greenleigh busy while I prepared her food.  Five years later, I now know that there’s no way to keep a kid busy while I prepare food.  A certain amount of whining is to be expected while I cook and get the food to a safe serving temperature.  And that toy I just had to have?  I have no idea where it is now.  I think it got taken off the high chair and thrown in a toy chest at one point, but now?  I’m really not sure.  Bottom line is, you probably have tons of toys that you could throw on the high chair tray instead of buying a pricey one that goes with it.  Do that instead.  

Plus, doesn’t he look happy as a clam?  No toys were involved here at all, just a little bit of applesauce.

Mobility is key.  After I put the Marlo together, I realized how light it is.  I’m not quite sure how they did it, but it weighs a fraction of what our other high chair weighs.  Regardless, make sure that whatever high chair you buy has wheels, because at some point you’re going to need to move it somewhere (to another room in order to mop up all that baby food on the floor, to the dining room for Thanksgiving dinner, etc).

You need 2 dishwasher safe trays (preferably compartmental trays)…even if you don’t think you do.  Okay, so there was a time in my life where I thought I was going to wash everything for my baby by hand to make sure it got really clean.  Needless to say, after a few weeks of sleep deprivation that notion went out the window, but I can’t tell you how much I love, love, love being able to throw the Marlo’s high chair tray in the dishwasher at the end of a a feeding.  And while lots of people will say that compartmental trays aren’t necessary, those little compartments are perfect for sippy cups and “no thank you” piles.

No need to be a big spender.  There are high chairs out there that cost hundreds of dollars.  Like, $500+ dollars.  You don’t need that craziness in your life or your wallet.  Really, you don’t.  Luckily, the Marlo high chair is priced at just $109.99 (you can purchase it here).

What do you look for in a high chair? 

Disclosure:  A special thanks to the nice people at Kidsii and Ingenuity for providing me with a Marlo Trio 3-in-1 Deluxe High Chair to review.  Everett will no doubt enjoy it for years to come!

Please Don’t Tell Me to Sleep When the Baby Sleeps

“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” I was told time after time during all 3 of my pregnancies.  No matter where I went – family gatherings, the grocery store, my baby shower – people wanted, no wait, needed to impart this little nugget of wisdom upon me as if I’d NEVER heard it before.  As if this was the advice that was going to make that first year of life oh-so-much easier.

And it drove me crazy each and every single time.  I still cringe every time I hear it.

Because as easy as it may sound to “sleep when the baby sleeps”, I can assure you, it’s not easy at all.  I mean, unless you don’t mind your whole house falling into shambles.  And when I say “shambles” I’m already accounting for the chaos that exists in a home when a newborn graces its threshold.  Having done it 3 times now, I can say that the days and weeks following a newborn are some of the most scattered and difficult I’ve ever experienced.  So why wouldn’t I want to sleep?  Well, let me give you some examples:

You have older kids that need to eat?  Better not take that noon time snooze your baby is so fond of.

Like having food in your house?  Whatever you do, don’t attempt sleep in the grocery store where your newborn will no doubt serenely sleep in the shopping cart.  The guy in the produce section is going to freak out if he sees you passed out on top of the Granny Smith’s and the police/child services will probably be called.  And despite the fact that your baby may sleep peacefully through the entire shopping trip, rest assured, they will wake up screaming the second the car is parked in the garage.

Have a child that needs help with their homework?  You’re probably going to have to pass on that 4pm cat nap that your infant takes.

Your sink is overflowing with dirty dishes and you’re running out of clean ones to use (like, your down to 2 clean glasses, a plate, and zero clean baby bottles)?  Probably best if you load the dishwasher instead of nodding off at 7pm when your little one does.  If not, you’ll be stuck cleaning those baby bottles by hand and we all know how much that can suck.  (I’ll admit, it’s the baby bottles that push me away from sleep and towards loading the dishwasher every. single. time.  If not for them, I might be okay with existing on 2 clean glasses and a clean plate…singular.)

And whatever you do, do not even think about sleeping when the baby sleeps – no matter how badly you need it – if you are the only adult in the house and have toddlers in the house that are not sleeping.  Bad things will happen.  Not might, will.

The thing about motherhood is that there’s always something else that needs to be done, regardless if you have 1 child in the house or 10.  There are errands to run, laundry that needs to be cleaned, dishes to be done, bills to be paid, and the plethora of other things that we do as moms that are barely noticed but vital to a functioning house.   And in the case of second, third, fourth children, there are older siblings that need to be tended to regardless of whether the baby is sleeping.  Feeding, parenting, supervising these older children is not optional, even if we might want it to be.  And at the end of the day, there’s always going to be that “one last thing” that keeps you running around your house way past your own bedtime, let alone your baby’s bedtime, which probably occurred hours ago.  Besides, if you’re anything like me, even if you decide to say, “Screw it, I’ll deal with the consequences tomorrow”, you’ll probably just end up staring at your ceiling mapping out how to account for all the extra work you’re going to have to do tomorrow to make up for that sleep you’re trying to get today.

I do think that there comes a point where exhaustion takes over and you need to turn everything off for your own sanity.  To take care of yourself.  Get some rest.  Regroup and get ready for the next day, which is sure to be just as exhausting as the day before, if not more so.  But everyday?  You just can’t do that.  And you certainly can’t do it in the middle of the day at the drop of a hat, which is when newborns and infants tend to sleep the best.  Well, you can try, but it probably isn’t going to happen.  And even if you fall for the advice and decide to attempt it, you’re likely to end up woken up 5 minutes after you struggle to get to sleep by a crying baby who has decided that naptime is over.

So please, whatever you do, don’t tell me to sleep when the baby sleeps.  This piece of “advice” needs to be stopped.

Wordless Wednesday: Then vs. Now

On Saturday we attended a first birthday party for our friend’s son.  They had hired a well known music lady to come and entertain the kids, and as it turns out, it was the same music lady that we used for Greenleigh’s first birthday party.  I watched as she set up her equipment and had the birthday boy pose with his parents  for a picture on one of the drums.  And then I thought, “Wait, we have one of those!”  These pictures were taken at Greenleigh’s 1st birthday:This picture was taken last Saturday:Greenleigh’s on the far right and 3 1/2, now.  Hazeline wasn’t even born when the original picture was taken.  Where does the time go?

Daylight Savings is Trying to Kill Me

Don’t try to talk me out of it, I’m convinced that is what’s going on here.  How else can you explain taking an hour from a busy mom’s day when she is ordinarily trying to cram 26 hours worth of stuff into 24 hours?  Then to wake up and find out that you lost yet another hour?  There’s no other explanation.  Welcome to the week where I will be late for absolutely everything.  It’s also the week where I consider moving to Arizona, who doesn’t bother with ridiculous things like changing the clock for no particular reason twice a year.  Which reminds me, I need to look into the Bar requirements there…

Once upon a time, I loved spring forward.  It was actually one of my favorite “holidays”.  What wasn’t to love – an extra hour of daylight and days that felt like the flew by for the first week or so.  Now, not so much.  That extra hour of daylight makes it difficult to convince Greenleigh that it’s actually bedtime.  Just wait until the summer, when she’s going to bed when it’s still light out.  That was so much fun to explain last year, I can’t wait for this year since she’s much more of a negotiator.  Oh, and those days that fly by for the first week or so?  Yeah, not so fun now.  Did I mention that I’m typically trying to cram 26 hours worth of stuff into 24 hours?  Now make that 23 hours (at least for the first day).  Oh, and when my family and I get used to the longer days and extra sunshine?  You know, in the Fall?  Yeah, that will be just about the time that Daylight Savings will swoop in and take it all away again.  And that will be when I get to be greeted by my kids for the day at 5 or 6 am, instead of 6 or 7, because of yet another time change.  Seriously?  Let’s just be done with this already.

Apparently, Benjamin Franklin is to blame.  This whole Daylight Saving thing was his idea.  He had kids – three of them, actually.  How could he not foresee the problems that this random time change would spawn?  How could he be so cold and heartless?

Because like I said – It’s killing me.  My kids are not adjusting well and neither am I.  Yesterday we were able to make it through the day relatively unscathed, but today was a whole different story.  Hazeline woke up at 1am screaming.  She might not have gotten enough to eat during the short day yesterday.  Or it could be the 12 month growth spurt (if there is such a thing), but I choose to  blame time change.  Needless to say, I’m one tired mom today.  Shocking, I know, yet another post about my lack of sleep.  Sleep, if you’re out there, just know that I miss you.

Of course this time isn’t exactly without its perks.  This morning I had to wake Greenleigh up, something I normally try to avoid, but had no choice since we were going to be (extra) late to school.  I know she heard me but she refused to wake up.  I carried her out of bed while she was still sleeping.  By the time we reached her bathroom, she was begging to go back to bed.  She told me over and over again that she was tired, despite the fact that she had gotten 12 hours of sleep.  How divine does that sound?  Twelve whole hours of sleep.  [Insert heavy sigh here.]  As I tried to get her changed for the day, she demanded to get back in her pajamas.

As I negotiated with Greenleigh to get her into her school clothes this morning, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself – Remember all those nights when you got me up at 3 or 4 am, for no reason other than that you wanted to play?  Payback my little friend, payback.

Okay, so maybe Daylight Savings isn’t so bad…

Guest Blog: How to Take Awesome Photos of Your Kids

This entry was written by my friend and professional photographer Ricky Stern. You can check out Ricky’s site at www.miamiphotographer.net and feel free to e-mail him from his site with any questions. He likes feeling important. Thanks Ricky!

Every day on Facebook, I see tons of my friends’ photos, often of their kids. 95% of those pictures were taken with an Iphone, and 95% of those have been put through Hipstamatic or other, comparable app that turns their kids purple, and I usually leave a comment that begs them to take some normal pictures of their kids. When your little baby turns 14 and wants to look at her baby photos, it’s going to be tough to explain why Mommy thought that babies are cutest in magenta.

That’s why I volunteered to write a guest blog entry on this topic; our kids deserve better. They deserve better than Hipstamatic. They deserve better than your phone.

Now, when I first signed up, I wanted to write an inclusive entry that didn’t require you to spend a chunk of cash, but I can’t do it. I can’t teach you how to take better kids’ pictures with a phone or point and shoot camera because I myself don’t know how. So, much to my chagrin, here’s lesson 1:

1. Get a decent camera

(If you can’t spare the cash, you can go straight to tip #4.) What’s decent? Anything that has interchangeable lenses, or DSLR’s (Digital Single Lens Reflex, if you’re keeping score). Why? First off, they’ll offer you a range of options that you can use to take better pictures that will make your kids love you in 15 years. Second, they will give you room to grow when you begin to suck less and less. Finally, they will open new and exciting money spending opportunities you hadn’t even dreamed of before, helping the economy if not your marriage.

So which camera? Really, it comes down to either Nikon or Canon. Both offer excellent entry level DSLR’s with lots of options and a wide range of excellent lenses. For Nikon, it’s the D3000; for Canon, currently it’s the Rebel T3i. It doesn’t really matter because once you have said camera within 18 months you will convince yourself you need a far more expensive one, so try to save money now.

2. Get Out of Automatic Mode

When I got my first decent camera, I was petrified to get out of green box mode, or automatic, for no good reason whatsoever. I guess I was afraid my imaginary editor would be mad that the photos of my macaroni dinner wouldn’t be good enough (I had no kids yet and macaroni seemed like an awesome photo subject. You’ll see.) Eventually, after many months of reading discussion boards on flickr.com (you’ll see, you’ll see) I decided to take that awful, terrifying click to the left into Aperture Priority mode.

DON’T RUN AWAY! PLEASE just chill and give me a minute. I know that most people hear a word like “Aperture” and glaze over. Don’t glaze over. Believe me. Aperture Priority Mode is the single most important reason I threw away a law school education, stopped taking new cases and now work as a photographer full time. Aperture Priority will save us all.

So, if you’re still here, let me explain what Aperture is and what it means to you in real life. It just means: “how big is the hole inside my camera?” That’s it. The only sort of confusing thing about aperture is that the wider the hole, the smaller the number; the narrower, the bigger the number. So an aperture of f/1.4 (yes, there’s an f/ in front of the number, don’t let that scare you. It’s just there to make you sound awesome when talking to your friends about photography. It’s pronounced “eff one point four.” Go forth and sound awesome.) is very wide, while an aperture of f/11 is a pretty small hole. It’s like reverse dilation of the camera’s cervix when it’s ready to give birth to beautiful photos.

What does this all mean to you? Well, in Aperture Priority mode, we can tell our shiny new camera what aperture to use.

PAY ATTENTION, HERE COMES THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU WILL EVER LEARN ABOUT CUTE AND AWESOME KID PICTURES: Ready? OK, you look ready. Use . . . the . . . widest . . . aperture . . . possible. Don’t question me. Just do it. Why? Here are two examples:  (Also, for best results, click on the photos below to see them full size, it helps with the lessons, trust me)

The photo above is not any good. It looks like any old photo anyone can take with a $14.00 disposable – or, being at Disney World, let’s make that a $32.00 disposable. However, this was taken with a combined $3,000 worth of  camera equipment. Why is it so lame? Aperture. Aperture, aperture, aperture, aperture. You see, the narrower your aperture, or the bigger the number, the further back into the background things will be  in focus. Is that a bad thing? Depends; if you want to take an obligatory photo of your wife and daughter with Cinderella’s castle in the distant background, then yes, you want everything in focus and you’re going to use a narrow aperture – in this case, f/11. I succeeded both in getting the castle in focus and taking a lame picture. Go me.

For the vast majority of your photos, however, you definitely do not want the background in focus. In fact, you want almost nothing other than your little beautiful baby in focus. “BUT RICKY!” you exclaim; “HOW ELSE WILL I REMEMBER THAT TIME MY SON WALKED NEXT TO THE THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE DISPLAY?” I respond “WHO CARES ABOUT THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE? You should only care about having all your friends comment on Facebook “OMFG U R THE BEST PHOTOGRAPHER EVAR.”

To achieve that response, you need to throw the background into a pleasing blur, or as we super awesome photographers call it, “bokeh.” Bokeh is a made up word popularized by photographers to make themselves feel more awesome when discussing blurry backgrounds, so feel free to drop it all over your friend’s heads. Remember, the lame photo above was taken at f/11; here’s an example of a photo taken at f/2.0:

YEAH BABY! f/2.0 will make your friends weep with jealousy. Bokeh will allow you to completely isolate your son or daughter (in this case my daughter Maisie) forcing the viewer to focus on the subject and the subject alone. And isn’t that what we all really want, anyway? For everyone to just fixate on how awesome our kids are? Wide apertures can deliver that gift to you.

3. Watch Your Shutter Speed

Aperture Priority mode works best outside. That’s because in that glorious mode, you tell your camera what aperture you want to use, and it takes care of the rest, most notably shutter speed; outdoors, it’ll have enough sunlight to keep your shutter speed fast enough to take kickass photos. Inside, you will probably run into problems. Now, what’s shutter speed? Simply put, it’s how fast your camera blinks. The faster it blinks, the less light it lets in, but the more action it can freeze. I’m not going to give you an exhaustive rundown of shutter speed here, unless there’s some universal call for more photo related guest blogging (crickets); just make sure it doesn’t go too slow. For example, this unfortunate picture of my daughter Sabrina has a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second:

If you click on it and look at it full size, you’ll notice her hands and feet are totally blurred. That’s because she was running around in a sandbox and I foolishly had my camera set to a real slow shutter speed. Result? I feel drunk looking at the picture. With a fast enough shutter speed – and Aperture Priority should deliver a pretty good speed outdoors – you’ll be able to freeze pretty much anything:

DIG THOSE WATER DROPLETS! FROZEN IN TIME! Shutter speed? 1/1600th of a second. Aperture Priority mode. Dig it. OK, let’s stop being so darn technical and get to some tips anyone, even those with an IPhone, can use.

4. Lay Down.

Pictures of kids at eye level are cuter. They give you better bokeh.  They are better photos. Now, is laying down in all kinds of locations sometimes embarrassing? Yes, of course it is. I have this condition where whenever I lay down to take a photo, my shirt will ride up and expose half my bare ass to the world. Do I let that stop me? Never! SUFFER for your art! Kneeling is better than standing, but most of my really cute pics are from laying down:

6. Declutter Your Background

A lot of times, bokeh will do this job for you, but it’s always best to start with as clean a background as possible. Compare the photo above of my wife and Sabrina with its nice, wide open green background to this one of Maisie posing in my disgusting living room (please take a side note, I’m laying down for this shot too, which is why it’s nominally a good photo even with the cluttered background):

Cute baby? Check. Laying down? Check. Stroller, flip-flop, garbage cans and pack ‘n’ play in the background? Sadly, check. Clean up your backgrounds, a lot of times it’s as easy as moving yourself and not getting cat vomit in the background of your photos.

7. Don’t Sweat Group Pictures

In my house, there is never a camera more than 10 feet away in any direction. My kids have had their picture taken in excess of 10,000 times. Yet, to this day, I have never been able to get one single stinking photo of the two of hem smiling at the camera. Can’t do it. They won’t do it. So, rather than freak out and beg, cajole and bribe my way into more frustration (they will not do it), I just find my zen by letting them play and taking that picture. When it comes to more than one kid under the age of 5, you simply have to let the picture come to you. The picture you want of the three kids sitting in a row at the pumpkin patch with their arms draped around each other in matching sweaters smiling into the camera WILL NEVER HAPPEN. So, rather than let the perfect get in the way of the possible, take the photo you can get instead:

It can be even better than matching sweaters and pumpkins.

Now, I’ll leave you on a final note: never, ever, ever use your built in flash. “BUT RICKY!” you exclaim; “HOW WILL I TAKE PHOTOS INSIDE?” The short answer is, you won’t. Not yet, anyway. Go outside. If you want to learn the mysteries of good indoor photos, then beg me to write a follow up in the comments section below and I’ll let you in on it. Until then, have a great time making your kids looks awesome and turning your friends green with jealousy because, really, that is what it’s all about.