“Baby Unplugged”/Blue Manatee Press Review

I generally try to keep evidence-based information on one “side” of the SquintMom site, and bloggier things on the other side. A book review would typically go on the blog side, but in this particular case, the concept behind Baby Unplugged and Blue Manatee Press is so well supported by scientific evidence that it’s going on the evidence-based parenting side.

The Baby Unplugged concept was developed by Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician whose stated mission is “Uniting science and sense to be screen-free until age 3.” In addition to his blog, Dr. Hutton writes books and owns Blue Manatee Press, which publishes both his books and those of selected authors whose work espouses the same principles. The Blue Manatee Boxes storefront sells books from Blue Manatee Press and other publishers; the distinguishing feature of the business is that the books come packaged in an awesome, low-tech, plain ol’ cardboard box filled with biodegradable packing noodles, a sponge, a green crayon, an instructional insert that encourages creative play and environmentally sound behavior, and (of course) the books. As far as the packing noodles go, they’re pretty fabulous for two reasons. First, they’re much “greener” than styrofoam. Additionally, though, kids can use them to play. They break down when exposed to lots of water, but just a little bit of water — applied with the conveniently included sponge — makes them perfectly sticky, explains the instructional insert:

As for the green crayon, the box insert suggests using it to color the box like a turtle shell for playing dress-up. Of course, there are lots of ways to use a box and some packing noodles, and the idea behind the insert is to provide inspiration for kids and parents who need a little help getting their imaginations fired up.

Once everyone’s done playing with the box, it makes a great biodegradable planter, explains the box insert. I love this idea; W’s really into garden stuff, and I’m planning to let her plant flowers in the box, watch them grow inside for a while (where they’ll be sheltered from the still-blazing-hot sun), then plant them — box and all — in the garden, where the box will break down.

As much as W and I love the Blue Manatee Box and its packing noodle contents, we love the books that were inside even more. We got three of Dr. Hutton’s books (Ball, Pets, and Yard), and one book by Sandra Gross and Leah Busch called Toast To Counting, also published by Blue Manatee Press. Hutton’s books feature simple language and illustrations, and all share the same basic message: playing and being creative (and active) is way, WAY cool. From Pets:

Robot dogs are cool and all, but they’ve got nothing on a real puppy, hamster, or fish.

W enjoys all three of Dr. Hutton’s books, but Pets is definitely her favorite. We got two cats (the first pets we’ve ever owned) about three weeks ago, and she’s absolutely in love with them. She gets a kick out of reading about other kids and their pets.

Toast to Counting is a little different; there are no words at all until the last page of the book. Instead, the pictures speak for themselves (and parents can make up their own words, which makes the book ultra-interactive). In the book, a piece of bread becomes a cute little face with egg eyes, a butter nose, and so forth, where each piece of the face added to the toast introduces a number (1 piece of toast, 2 eggs, etc):

I just love the little toast guy!

As an awesome bonus, the images in Toast To Counting are all made of glass; the authors, in addition to being teachers, are glass artists. Neat!

Both W and I are now committed fans of Blue Manatee Boxes/Press and Baby Unplugged for their pro-environment business practices and their fun-to-read books that encourage open-ended play. The back cover of each of Dr. Hutton’s books sums up the message of Baby Unplugged nicely:

I think a Blue Manatee box is going to be my new go-to birthday gift for toddlers!

For the purposes of writing this review, I was given four books from Blue Manatee Press. All opinions are my own.


Another Unusual Milestone

Do you ever look at your child and feel amazed and honored that someone so wonderful came out of your body?

I wrote here about unusual mothering milestones that aren’t often celebrated or discussed in parenting books, but that are nevertheless very meaningful. Well, we’ve just reached another. This morning, W and I were sitting on the couch hanging out together. I was checking my email, and she was watching cartoons. She was dressed already, even though normally she stays in pjs until after breakfast and email/cartoon time. Getting dressed was her decision; after I changed her diaper, she marched over to her dresser, opened the drawer with her shirts, and picked one out. She carefully closed that drawer and opened the one below it, which contains her shorts. She picked through them and selected a pair, and I provided (minimal) help as she got dressed. The outfit she selected wasn’t one I would have picked, but the combination was really cute. A few minutes later she decided to add a necklace, and asked me if she could pick one out of my jewelry box. Once again, her selection was not what I would have gone with, but it was adorable. It was perfect, actually, and not in an oh, how cute, she dressed herself kind of way. No, when my daughter dresses herself, she looks perfect in an oh my gosh, you look really put together kind of way. She has a great sense of style, hence the unusual milestone: I realized this morning as I sat on the couch next to my very well-dressed daughter that I really admire her. 

Realizing that I actually admire W — not just love her, not just think she’s cute and fun — represents a huge step for both of us. For her, it means she’s become capable of doing more (and thinking more) independently than ever before. For me, it means I’ve recognized her growing independence. She’s becoming her own little person, and more importantly, she’s becoming a person who doesn’t always do things exactly the way mama would do them. Even though that may mean clashes of will and arguments in the future, it also means that our relationship can start to develop in a whole new way, because she’s not just an extension of me anymore. How exciting.


What unusual milestones have you celebrated?



The Last of My Dignity

She’s stolen my heart…and my dignity.

We’ve been working on the very start of potty learning with W, which mostly means that we talk a lot about the potty, read books about the potty, and every time I use the potty, I narrate a running commentary. The constant potty talk appears to be breaking down my social barriers that would normally govern appropriate topics of conversation in public places. The other day, my husband and I took W to the bookstore. While we looked at books, I suddenly felt the urge to use the potty. “Mama has to go poo poo,” I announced at regular speaking volume, in full earshot of the other book-browsing patrons. “Let’s go to the potty!” My husband was briefly speechless, then cracked up. I was a little embarrassed, to be sure, but it could have been worse…I could have made that same announcement in the middle of a bookstore without W there as an excuse! It could totally happen. I’m so used to narrating everything that I sometimes find myself talking aloud even when she’s not around.

Honestly, while my social barriers are lower than they once were, my embarrassment threshold is higher. The things that would once have sent me diving, red-faced, under the nearest rock (like announcing my need to poop to entire bookstore) now barely register. We were in Target a few days ago to buy a lunch box and water bottle for W, who starts daycare this week. I gave her a choice of two “big girl” water bottles, and she fell in love with both. I explained that I would only buy her one, and that the other one needed to go back on the shelf. I asked her which she wanted, and she pointed to both. Long story short, my attempt to extract her preference was protracted, and the eventual selection of a single water bottle (and replacement of the other bottle on the shelf) resulted in a sobbing, back-arching tantrum in the middle of the store. Before I had a toddler, I would have imagined myself mortified in this situation. If I’d seen another mother in this situation, I would have been mortified for her. Now? Meh. Toddlers tantrum. Doesn’t mean they’re bad kids, doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom…it just happens. Sure, I try to control it, I try to arrest it, and I apologize to those within ear-splitting range, but I can’t honestly say I’m embarrassed; it just comes with the territory.

During the same trip to the mall that resulted in my poop announcement, I left W with her daddy at the bookstore while I went to browse the sales racks at a few clothing stores. Doof-the-lovey had accompanied us to the mall, of course, but W wanted me to carry him for her, so I’d stuffed him under my arm where he remained as I entered Banana Republic sans child. The sales girl greeted me, then did a double take. “I see you brought your little friend,” she said in a slightly mocking tone, as she eyed the little yellow butterfly-bear with his sparkly purple wings. Once upon a time, I would have been horrified. I would have stammered to explain that I did, in fact, have a daughter, and that she was elsewhere in the mall, and…and…and. These days, though, I don’t skip a beat.

“Yep,” I said, “I did,” and off I trotted to the sales rack, Doof in tow.

The Banana Republic sales girl, all of 21, is toned and gorgeous. Her hair is perfect, and she doesn’t ever have to comb jam out of it. She doesn’t have a funky little flap of extra skin on her tummy that won’t go away no matter how many crunches she does. She doesn’t announce that she has to poop at Barnes and Noble. She is either critical of or embarrassed for, depending upon her mood at the moment, moms of tantruming toddlers at Target. And under no circumstances would she ever find herself at an upscale clothing retailer with a stuffed animal under her arm. Not now, anyway. But someday, when she’s a mother, she’ll realize that all those heart-stopping mortifications of her pre-parenthood days just weren’t that big a deal. After all, with regard to embarrassing child-related public moments, observers are either parents or they’re not. In the case of the former, it’s not necessary to explain because they’ve been there and they totally get it. In the case of the latter, it’s not worth it to explain; they can’t begin to understand…at least, not yet.


What have you done in public that would once have mortified you?


A Totally Unexpected Allergic Reaction

As moms go (especially first time moms), I like to think I’m pretty relaxed. I let W do quite a bit of exploring, and while I’m certainly not going to let her experiment by sticking a fork in an electrical outlet, I’m not against letting her learn from experience that if you jump on the couch, you risk falling off…and it hurts. I don’t lose sleep over that every possible negative outcome. I’m not a “what if” mom. There’s one thing I’m a little neurotic about, though, and that’s Benadryl. I pretty much carry it everywhere. This, despite the fact that W is 19 mos old and has never shown any sign of being allergic to anything.* Still, carrying Benadryl is pretty much old hat for me (I always have some of the pills on hand in case I have an allergic reaction), so while I realize it’s probably an unusual thing to have around at all times, I purchased a bottle of the children’s version and started carrying it as soon as I started W on solids.

*Which is fabulous…and lucky. Both her dad and I are allergic to nuts, and my allergies in particular are quite severe; I have to carry an Epi-pen, and have had to visit the ER more than once.

Funny thing, though…after carrying an unused bottle of Benadryl around for 19 months, I ended up having to break it out last night. W ate salmon for the first time, and apparently she’s REALLY allergic to it. She tore into her dinner and gobbled down several bites very quickly, but then she stopped eating and got a funny look on her face (not unlike the funny look I get on my face when I accidentally eat something with nuts in it; it’s sort of a vapid, staring-off-into-space look that my face adopts as I ponder the impending allergic reaction). She signed all done and asked to get down from the table. Then she started asking to nurse, which is weird, since lately she’s only been nursing before bed and first thing in the morning. While this all happened very fast — within a minute or two of eating the salmon — it was really obvious that she didn’t feel quite right. Moments later, red splotches appeared all over her face, her eyes swelled up, and she started wheezing.

Thank goodness for Benadryl. We’re house sitting out in the boonies right now, and the nearest hospital is 17 miles away. I dosed her up and we headed toward the ER, figuring that either the meds would work and we’d be able to turn around halfway there, or that they wouldn’t work and at least we’d be partway to the hospital by the time we realized we had a real emergency on our hands. We lucked out; the Benadryl cleared things up, and we were able to turn the car around after about 10 minutes.

Anyway, there’s a reminder in all of this that even a kid who doesn’t appear to have any food allergies can pop out with one all of a sudden during the early years of life, and in some cases, the reaction can be quite severe. Particularly when the nearest hospital is more than a few minutes away, Benadryl can be a lifesaver.


Have your kids had allergic reactions?