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“Look at Me”

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days.  They just flew by and I can’t quite put my finger on where the time has gone.  On days (weeks) like these, to help me multitask, sometimes I switch to autopilot.  Everything that has to get done, just has to get done as efficiently as possible.

Ironically enough, I noticed that it’s in times like these when the kids “act up”.  They’re… more challenging to say the least.  I don’t know if I half less patience with them, but I do have less time, and maybe that’s why I’m easily frustrated.   It’s in these busy times when I expect the routine I’ve instilled run smoothly things just move right along one after the other.  They eat dinner, I give them a quick bath, they read a book, go sleep, and I can work.  Sounds easy enough, right?

Except of course, they’re kids.  And they have minds and wills of their own, so of course they don’t follow, don’t listen, or do the exact opposite of what I say. Whatever it is, it throws my plans for a loop.  One setback and everything is off schedule.  And with these kids, everything is always off schedule… everyday!

Initially I attributed this “obedience coup” to a cry for attention.  It made sense; when I needed to work, I paid less attention to them, and therefore testing boundaries was one way to definitely get my undivided attention.

And then I thought:  Maybe they’re just tired of the routine.

So I tried to be creative.  You can imagine how challenging and time consuming it is to be more creative and still not get any significant change in their behavior.  They still needed to be asked and told 200 times.

I reflected on it alone in the many silent car rides I had.  I try very hard not to threaten or bribe (it’s anti-progressive parenting!), but it’s tiring to have to be creative all the time.  I can’t just drag them against their will either.  And funny enough, an incident with Jamie recently reminded me of a lesson I learned from Coach Pia that might work.

I was in front of my computer one afternoon trying to focus.  Jamie was asking me something repeatedly but I really wasn’t listening.  Eventually I felt her tugging at my shirt, still pestering.  She finally caught my attention when she climbed the chair onto my lap and stuck her nose onto mine.  Then she said:  “Mom I finished eating.  Can I have a marshmallow now?”

When we talk to our kids, we have to be this close.
When we talk to our kids, we have to be THIS close.

With her right in front of me (at my nose to be precise), I literally had to stop what I was doing and pay attention.  And I realized that unless I’m right in their face and they’re looking back at me, that’s probably what’s happening to them too.  They hear my voice so often (saying the same things), it’s just me talking over their head.  I become into white noise. 

Since then I’ve made it a point to walk up to them, get down to their level and say nicely, “Will you look at me please.  I have to tell you something.”  And I wait for them to stop and look up before I say anything.

I feel like it’s worked.  I feel like I don’t “nag” as much, or call out their names in vain (as much).  They still negotiate and compromise, but at least there’s a discussion face to face.  And they know that I don’t use this technique just to discipline them.  Rather, it’s a practice we do whenever I want to tell them something or ask them a question.  I don’t want to jinx it, but at certain points it’s become surprisingly easy.  I never really thought it could be!

And it’s true.  One principle I try to follow is to make sure I treat the kids the way I’d want to be treated too (and that they treat people the way they want to be treated).  I do like it when the person I’m speaking to is looking directly back at me.  Why can’t I offer my children the same courtesy? 

Eye contact.  That’s all it was.  I have three new favorite words now…

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“I’m A Brave Girl”

Between my girls, Jamie has always been the more timid one of the two.  She’s more conscious, less adventurous, and she’s easily frightened with loud noises, large crowds or dark empty rooms.  The latter is funny to my husband, because he has stories of his toddler years in their first house, when he had to run across a dark hallway alone to get to the other side.  He felt like it took 500 quick (toddler) steps, which is tantamount to forever when one is small and scared.  In an effort to better understand Jamie, I asked him to explain to me what was going through his head at the time.  Of course, he didn’t remember — but it’s safe to say Jamie inherited this gene from him. 😉

When we hit the basement area of our apartment, she immediately scrambles up my leg because from inside she can hear the revving of the motorcycles echo.  In the movie houses she buries her face in my chest at the sound of scary music.  Jamie needs her “security Bunny” by her side all the time wherever she goes and freaks out when she leaves Bunny.  She’s intimidated by lots of people and large crowds, but at the same time is also too afraid to be left alone in a fully lit or dark room.  She’s that type of girl, and for the last twenty nine months I’ve just tried my best to adjust and work around it.

Then two nights ago, Sam, Jamie and I were in our bedroom in the middle of our bedtime story, when Jamie sat up and realized her Baby Doll was not in the room.

The Plastic Baby that started it all...
The Plastic Baby that started it all…

She must be sleeping in the playroom tonight then” I said, too tired to get up.

“Mom please go get her,” pleaded my timid little girl.

Quite honestly… I could have.  And probably if it happened a few days before, I wouldn’t have questioned the request.  I would’ve (begrudgingly) gotten up from my comfy spot and made the trek across the dining area, the living area and into the playroom that was at the exact opposite end from the bedroom to look for this plastic doll.

But for one reason or the other I didn’t want to.   And so I told Jamie, if she really wanted her Doll, she had to go get it.  She looked forlorn, but surprisngly said “Okay”, and got up from her spot.

I had to get up too and open the door for her because she couldn’t reach it.  Since I was there, Jamie tugged at me to go with her because it was dark.  I saw our nanny was watching TV so there was a glimmer of light, and I told her it wasn’t dark, and that she could do it.  I didn’t want to give in, just because I wasn’t on the bed anymore.

500 steps to Baby Doll in a dimly lit hallway (the front light was on for the picture)...
500 steps to Baby Doll in a dimly lit hallway (the front light was on for picture purposes)…

So Jamie took a breath and with her tiny feet, made quick sharp steps from one end of the hall to the next.  She made a left towards the playroom, and it was only then when she started to cry, “IT’S DARK!  Waaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!”  (The nanny, surprised we were out of our room, also turned off the TV so it WAS quite dark).

I went to the corner of the hallway and coaxed Jamie onwards.  “Jamie, turn on the light.  You can reach it.  Come on, you can do it brave girl.” Thank God for the Kidswitch (if you don’t have them, get some in your home now!).

I saw the light go on.  I heard the crying stop and then there was some shuffling.  The nanny made a motion to go to the room and help but I stopped her.  Some toys were getting thrown around.  Minutes later, I caught Jamie on her way back holding her precious Baby Doll in hand.  She passed me in the hallway, glanced at me and quickly made her 500+ steps back into the room.

When we closed the door I gave her a hug and congratulated her because she was able to do it all by herself.  She seemed quite pleased and relieved,  and then a wave of worry washed back over her when she realized Baby Doll wasn’t dressed.  “Mom, her dress is in the playroom.”  She whined.

So I told her she could go back and get it.  This time before she exited the bedroom, I opened the hallway light just to ensure that our nanny wouldn’t close the TV on her and leave her in complete darkness again.

Jamie whined all the way there, and all the way back, but she completed the process all on her own (I followed of course but kept a distance and made sure she didn’t know I was there).  When she got back with the dress, she ran straight into my arms her face all tear-stained.   I gave her the biggest hugs.  “You did it!  You see!  I knew you could do it!  You’re so brave Jamie!”  She nodded with a half smile, still processing what had just happened.

This was the face I got after the "ordeal".
This was the face I got after the “ordeal”.

When Sam went to bed I lay on the pillow nose to nose with Jamie, talking about her day like we normally do.  Then she got quiet.  I thought she was asleep but then she whispered, “Mom?  I was scared.  But I was also a brave girl.”

I wanted to cry!!!!!

It’s so easy to mistake Jamie as a tiny timid child because of her size and her demeanor.  The way she talks, thinks and processes things though is that of an older child.  You’d never guess she was just twenty-eight months old.  Obviously, tonight’s 500 steps was a big ordeal for us both.  But it was also a big accomplishment for her.  We both learned something new tonight about ourselves and so all the more I’m glad I did it.

I now have two Brave  (big) little girls. 🙂

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What I Learned About Pediatric Dentists (In Manila)

There is a happy ending to this post, I promise.
There is a happy ending to this post, I promise.

Finding a pediatric dentist in Manila is like a fairy tale come true.  I wasn’t expecting it — coming from wonderful previous experiences with Sam’s Pediatric Dentist in Chapel Hill, I had high hopes and expectations for a good one here.  I was a bit nervous, having heard a few horror stories here and there, but I do have friends and family who take their kids to pediatric dentists, so I was certain there was one out there.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to look very far because there is one practice at the ground floor of the condominium we stay in.   How convenient is that!  It’s such a plus that there’s zero travel time and we can literally walk down a minute before our appointment.  I did make an appointment right around the time of Sam’s 6th month visit.  And historical data in hand, the girls and I walked downstairs and met with the doctor.

I have to say, my first impression of him wasn’t very good, but I decided to give it a chance.  Why didn’t I like him?  He seemed very impersonal.  There was no warmth in the way he interacted with me or with Sam.  He went straight down to business, he didn’t really care about our background either, or he just brushed it aside.  Sam wasn’t afraid of him so I ignored my momtuition and we proceeded.

I suppose momtuition is there for a reason, right?  And there’s a reason we should always listen to it.  Just keep reading.

So the appointment went on with the dentist pointing out things that Sam’s lovely pedia dentist showed me in our visits abroad.  Sam’s milk teeth were crowding and she had a slight under bite, making her a possible candidate for braces.  Mr Pedia Dentist probed into her drinking and eating habits (like they normally do), but was quick to point out that I make her drink from a straw too much, and that habit further pushes the lower teeth back and makes the crowding worse.  I initially frowned upon this because it’s the first I’d heard of it (In the states, our dentist was proud I hardly made Sam drink from a bottle, which is the same sucking motion) but he was quite insistent I had to change this habit.  The appointment ended and I got his calling card, with an assurance we could text or call anytime in case we had concerns.  I felt even more bothered than when we’d initially walked in, but I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly.

Found this so cute, it just had to go in for comedic pleasure. :)
Found this so cute, it just had to go in for comedic pleasure. 🙂

A few days later Sam complained of pain in her upper teeth.  At first I couldn’t figure out what it was but  she’d cry each time we’d brush.  The warning bells went off that he may have put something on her teeth that made it sensitive.    I kept calling and texting this dentist (he did say, “call anytime”, right?), but there was no reply.  FOR. THREE. DAYS.

Finally we got a call from his office.  They’d gotten a voice mail from me ( I’d left this during office hours days before — now why someone wasn’t picking up, I don’t understand!) and could we come and see the dentist to determine what’s wrong?  Oh I’m so glad you asked.

I kid you not.  This was his costume.
I kid you not. He looked like this.

I will never forget this date because it was October 31, and Mr Dentist was dressed in a Count Dracula outfit.  I don’t know how he expected us to take him seriously.  He checked Sam, and as I’d told him, I couldn’t spot anything wrong, but she would complain each time I’d brush that portion.  And I know my daughter, she doesn’t cry when we brush her teeth out of the blue.  So something was up.

Mr Dracula — errr, Dentist — looked at me quite impatiently (I felt), and explained that our next step would be to take extensive x-rays which would cost an arm and a leg, when “obviously what you need to learn is how to communicate with your child better.  Arte lang yan (translate: she’s only playing up the drama)”.

I was quite taken aback with that statement.  And admittedly, very offended.  Here is a stranger I’d only known for a total of 10 minutes and he was telling me I don’t know how to communicate or brush my child’s teeth?  How could he pass judgement like that?  He didn’t offer any other bit of information or theory; he just dismissed ours as a case of drama.  I know Sam, and I know when she’s just being dramatic.  I KNOW.

Deciding he wasn’t worth my rage, I got Sam up to say goodbye.  And then, the clincher.  As a going away gift to Sam, he handed her A BAG OF CANDY.

What is a dentist doing giving kids CANDY?!  HARD candy at that?  It’s Halloween he said looking at my aghast expression.

At that point I knew:  We were never coming back here.  I didn’t care anymore if he was one minute away.

Thankfully, my very helpful trusted group of mom friends responded to my crowdsourcing on Facebook and sent us in the direction of the Pediatric Dentist we’re seeing now.  And this is why I like him worlds better than the first one:

  • He told us that we didn’t need to change any drinking habits.  It wasn’t going to do much damage as Sam’s teeth situation is structural.  It’s different if she thumb-sucked and ate a lot of candy which she didn’t do;
  • His treatment of the kids (Jamie too it being her first time) was very similar to how they did it with us in the states;
  • He had a TV on the ceiling and let them watch whatever they wanted.  He addressed them personally and did not talk over their heads;
  • He was still very straightforward with me, and honest and factual, but at no point in time did I feel like my parenting style was being judged.  In fact he was so willing to work around with the routine we’d set for the girls.  He gave me a few useful tips about giving my girls good brushing habits regardless of the lifestyle they lead;
  • He did not give out candy, and said they never do; and
  • When Sam had a tooth emergency a couple of days ago, he responded the next morning for us to come into the clinic.  His staff said that they got my text the night before, but upon assessing the urgency, he told them it could wait until morning.  So the response time was a lot quicker.  He also gave me all the possible scenarios that could happen and watch out points, but at the same time, he reassured me that these little accidents are all part and parcel of kids growing up.  Again, I didn’t feel judged.

The girls love this dentist.  They want to go back, even without an appointment.  He has a long list of patients (5 moms from different circles all responded to my Facebook message and all 5 told me to go see him), so it’s important to schedule way in advance.  He’s that good and that reliable.

And the morale of the story is:  Trust your Momtuition.  And don’t trust dentists who dress like Dracula.

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Overtired? It’s Beyond Exhausting.

There is an old (yet persistent) parenting philosophy that goes by this thinking:  You can tire out a child as much as you want (and as much as they can), because at the end of the day they’ll just be sooooo tired they’ll collapse and fall asleep.

Quite honestly, I don’t understand how people still believe this.

I’ve stated my objections to this out loud a couple of times too.  I’ve read it in books, and I’ve been told by “modern parents” as well as by experienced doulas (who’ve dealt with hundreds of babies) that it is harder for a child to fall asleep when they are overtired.  Translate:  It’s the period when they miss their window of rest and overextend themselves.  If their bodies don’t listen to the natural circadian rhythm of awake and sleep cycles, it will overcompensate and go into overdrive.  At that point, it’s harder for them to unwind.  They’d be running on adrenaline and then the tantrums and unreasonable tears and all of it just comes pouring out.  It’s also harder for them to stay asleep or sleep restfully through the night, particularly if they are at an age when they need to nap in between the day and they miss it.

It can't be good when a child is overtired.
It can’t be good when a child is overtired.

I’ve also tried citing examples to get my point across.  As an adult, when you’re too tired, isn’t it harder for you to fall asleep at night?  Even if your body wants to physically collapse, you end up tossing and turning restlessly before finally caving in.  In the morning, you wake up feeling as if you haven’t fully recovered.  It takes a while before you’re able to get back into the regular rhythm of things.  I know because it’s happened to me many times.  I’ve seen it happen with my girls too — many, many times.

On the days that Jamie’s nap time runs late, it’s harder for her to fall asleep and crying ensues.  She usually wakes up at the same time everyday, so it means her rest period is shorter.  At night, she is also more restless and has a harder time falling back asleep.  Her tiredness also manifests itself the day after through her tantrums.  I know that they happen more often with her than they ever did with Sam, because Jamie’s also had to adjust to her sister’s schedule instead of having to work through her own rhythm, while Sam had the luxury of dictating her own schedule and pace at no compromise.

With Sam, I’ve noticed that she grinds her teeth a lot more subconsciously, or wakes up in the middle of the night more often when she’s overtired.  Case in point: Yesterday afternoon she attended a birthday party at an indoor kids playhouse.  She was on full adrenaline mode for a good two and a half hours.  We take her there to play every now and then too, and I’ve noted the sleep patterns on those days (in the same way we used to go to the bounce houses back in North Carolina) are similar to what we experienced last night.  She tossed and turned a good while, and then eventually fell asleep; but a few hours later, she’d be up again.  Sometimes, she’s half asleep but she is so restless that she cries, fidgets and makes exasperated noises as she tries to settle herself back down.  It affects her disposition all of the next day.  However, on the days when we regulate her stimuli and keep her activities and her sugar intake to a moderate level, then she’s able to fall asleep much faster and stay asleep better.

So from multiple firsthand experiences, I know that it’s important that a child is tired enough, but not too tired.  It’s why I try to keep their routines, nap time and bedtime hours at similar schedules daily.  It’s why I try to limit a lot of the hyperactivity and stimulation when the sun sets (sometimes after dinner, is the time the yayas choose to play tag or hide-and-seek.  That’s so wrong, and I’ve had to scold them for it!  The girls are jumping, running and shrieking at an hour when they should be winding down).  It’s why I set a time limit for their sugar intake:  no sweets after 6pm.  Cake, chocolates, candies and cookies don’t help them get to bed on time.  It’s why we skip out of social gatherings early (or entirely), and why I hesitate to overstimulate them and fill their day with too many activities.  As it stands by my standards it’s already packed.  Getting through a regular 12-hour day is a lot; and naturally by the time the sun sets, they’re already fatigued.

Overtired Child = Overtired Mom.
Overtired Child = Overtired Mom.

I say all of this because if I continue to be honest, in principle it’s simple enough, but here in Manila it’s very hard to do.  Many dismiss or belittle my concerns, despite the explanations I’ve given (why I even need to explain how I parent my kids is really beyond me).  Some give me a hard time about it.  I’ve heard it all:  I’m inflexible, I’m too strict or I don’t think about how others may feel.  I should reconsider because other people who have kids that are  the same age as my own are able to do it.  And anyway, this only happens “once in a while”.  The thing is, everyone gives the “once in a while” excuse all the time, it becomes the norm rather than the exception.  It’s easy for people to say, but when all goes to hell, I’m the one (and no one else mind you!) who has to deal with the stubbornness, the tears, the unreasonable whining and everything else in between.  Then I too become the overtired mom; as if raising two kids isn’t exhausting enough right?

Ironically enough, we all know how important sleep is for kids.  It’s when their growth hormones are released.  Sleep gives them much-needed rest and allows them to recover from a long day.  Enough sleep prevents them from getting sick and it keeps their immune system up.  Some books say sleep is even more important than eating.

Some of my contemporaries are going through similar situations and I know they can relate to this.  What else can we say?  There will be a time, place and age when we can be a little bit more flexible about pushing our kids’ “tired limit” to accommodate more socially acceptable behavior.  Now just isn’t it.

In the meantime we do everything we can to keep the kids from getting too tired, and get them to sleep and rest as much as they can.  Hopefully, we moms can get some much-needed rest too.

ExperiMOMent Mommy Anecdotes Mommy Lessons (on Parenting) My Mommyology's Manila Chapter

Drown-Proofing My Kids

A few weeks ago, Sam decided to jump off a high diving board.  For the first time.

My little girl, born without a fear gene.
My little girl, born without the fear gene.

She saw her cousins, all very good swimmers, going up and taking the leap and decided she wanted to do it too.  The lifeguard said that it was a 10-ft drop into the water (the depth of the water was about 10 feet too).  They had her remove her floaties because it would counter the natural gravity of her drop and it was safer.  And they told us to do this even if she didn’t know how to swim.

I was at the other end of the pool with Jamie (at the 1-ft area) when they had all made this decision without me.  I heard my name; my husband told me to get a video of it since he was jumping into the pool to help Sam.  I was too stunned I just complied.  Can you imagine how it sounded to me?!  My precious 4-yr old little girl was going to jump from a diving board I was only brave enough to climb ONCE in my life – when I was 15 maybe – and she didn’t know how to swim.

Did I mention she didn’t know how to swim?!  My heart was pounding in my ears.  I couldn’t move either — I just stood there, iPhone in hand.  My mind went to computing for gravity, acceleration, velocity and force (how I wish I paid more attention in school!).  I like to think of myself as a calm, level-headed person — but with Sam standing at a level thrice her entire height, I don’t know where that part of me went.

In a matter of seconds she jumped and was swallowed up by 10 feet of water.  I think I held my breath for longer than she was under because I saw her head bob up and it took a while before I told myself it was okay to exhale.

Watching the video playback later on (when I had pulled myself together) I realized my biggest fear was she’d panic under so much water, she wouldn’t know what to do.   Isn’t that how people drown in the first place?  And swimming is all about confidence and presence of mind, right?

It was at that moment I decided it was definitely time for swimming lessons.  I’d been quite hesitant to add another activity to (what I consider) Sam’s busy schedule.  I still wanted her to have a lot of free time to play.  Lately though, we’ve been doing a lot of that at the pool due to the heat.  Every morning when the girls wake up it’s the first activity that they ask to do.  So I started teaching Sam on my own (from the little I’ve experienced with swim teachers in Chapel Hill), but it was difficult because I had Jamie who wanted to copy everything her sister did.

Coincidentally a swim coach teaches several of the children at our pool and she spotted our adhoc sessions.  She gave me tips as to what to do for each at their current skill level (or lack of it).

Eventually I had Sam do a trial session with her, and after gentle persuasion (ok ok –  I bribed her with a Lalaloopsy), here we are six sessions later and Sam can touch the pool floor, blow bubbles through her nose and tread water sans floaties!  Last week they started teaching on the arm work for freestyle, but Sam seems hesitant for now (and I don’t feel like bribing anymore).  My husband feels that she should learn it because it’s harder to undo bad habits later on (doesn’t that go for everything in life though?), so I’m negotiating for a few more sessions this summer.

Sam in action.
Sam in action.

Personally though, I’m happy with “drown-proof”.  I feel better knowing that in case she jumped into the pool before I could get my shorts off (It happens often), then I wouldn’t have to jump in after her with my shorts on.  Now, Sam doesn’t panic if she swallows water, and I feel a little bit better letting her swim short distances on her own.  If in case she gets pushed or falls into the pool by accident, then she can make it to a side and get herself out.  At the very least, she can keep her head above water long enough for someone to get her.

Since then, some of our parent friends have since seen Sam and Jamie in the pool and have asked me how we got them to do what they do in the water (Jamie loves submerging her head and can hold her breath for a bit).  So in the spirit of helping, I will share a few of the tips Sam’s swim coach gave  (I will not divulge her name because we don’t need any more competition for slots in her busy schedule!).  I’ve mixed this in with some lessons I picked up from teachers in Chapel Hill too.

  •  Confidence, patience and persistence are qualities we parents must possess in the pool.  Oftentimes we’re already scared for them, and it plays off the fears they already have.  I know I was doing this because as I was teaching Sam to swim independently, I would automatically push her back upward if I saw her dipping, afraid she’d swallow water.  Coach said to allow it to happen because she’ll have to learn how much effort she has to put in to do this on her own.  Of course she’ll swallow water and occasionally will inhale it; it’s all part of learning how to swim.  But we’re the best people to reassure them they’re ok and coax them to try it again.  It really takes time and we have to take them back to the pool over and over again for them to get the hang of it.
  • Make it fun.  Jamie learned to dunk her head in the water because we started by sitting her on the ledges and swaying her back and forth to the tune of Humpty Dumpty.  When we got to “great fall,”  I’d pull her into the water.  At first we stopped when the water got to her chest, but once she got the pattern, I’d dip her deeper and deeper.  Then I just dunked her in altogether.  We also count, so she has a cue as to when she’ll hold her breath.  Some swim teachers are very serious and it’s a turn-off for kids.  As for floating on their back, put their head on your shoulder and have them make images on the clouds with their fingers, or read a (water-proof) book “lying down”.  Sam’s swim coach brings toys and gives her time to play after she tries out a new skill; an incentive to learn quickly.
  • You can remove one "color" as your child gets stronger and more confident.
    You can remove one “color” as your child gets stronger and more confident.

    The right “swim tools” help.  I like Sam’s floaties because it’s “progressive”.  We remove one “block” at a time so that her arms and legs get stronger without her feeling like she’s sinking.  It’s wrapped around her body, so that she’s free to use her arms and legs (the arm floatation devices aren’t recommended by swim teachers because the child doesn’t learn to rely on their own strength).  I also found some of those toys that sink, and that’s what we used to teach Sam (in two feet of water), to stick her face in, hold her breath and pull them out.  The coach also encourages the use of a swim cap and goggles so that children aren’t afraid to open their eyes under water.

  • Let them develop their survival instincts.  If their head dips below the water, it’s okay.  Instinctively, they will swim upward.  When they’re at the wall, push their hands down so that they know they need to grip more firmly.   Floating is a survival skill because if they get tired of paddling and kicking, they can rest and roll on their back.  Teach them they can shout for help with their head above water.

It definitely takes time and a lot of practice.  You can just imagine how tanned we are by being in the pool almost everyday, despite the amount of sunscreen we’ve consumed.  It is also fun and thrilling to see them slowly build their confidence and develop these skills.  It makes my sunburn all worth it in the end.

Do you have drown-proofing tips you can share?  I’d love to hear them!