Different Kinds of Authority

Over the last three years I’ve been attending a new kind of professional development function, the “tax update,” for my current job (independent bookkeeping and tax preparation). Since I’m required to do a lot of CE for my tax license, I’ve now seen quite a few speakers. And the age and gender breakdown of speakers reflects this industry overall. Like every other job I’ve had, finance and tax is rather short on high-ranked women, and female “experts.” This industry generally is older, and I’m often one of the youngest people in the room. I’ve seen good examples of both genders as expert speakers.

I’ve been struck by some of the differences between male and female speakers I’ve seen in my hundreds of hours. I started keeping little notes, and here are some of my observations.

Men tend to, or are more likely to:

  • Openly display their political opinions (usually conservative);
  • Be on the loud side;
  • Stand still at the microphone stand and lecture from slides;
  • Insult their clients and other tax and legal colleagues, to the point of name-calling (“idiot”, “fool” and so on), usually about their intelligence;
  • Confuse knowledge or experience with intelligence (a newbie, however smart, is automatically stupid);
  • Refer to all colleagues as “he” in their stories and never refer to women colleagues at all;
  • Combine authority with some degree of braggadocio about their skill level, sometimes combined with insults about others’ abilities in relation to their own “tax prowess”;
  • Similarly, talk about how many people think they are an expert at something or have read/cited/etc. them, or sometimes about achieving “success”;
  • Name check persons of authority they know, particularly in the audience, or other people “everyone knows” who are in the audience;
  • Be within a wide age range of early 40s to 70s.
  • Use humor and levity, occasionally in inappropriate ways (I have heard gender, race, political, and religious “jokes”) and insist on applause jokingly.

Women are more likely to:

  • Use “quiet authority” to command attention by speaking levelly and audibly, but not ebulliently.
  • Less likely to use humor or “buddy buddy” language, to be more formal;
  • Pace back and forth instead of using the microphone/speaker stand, and attempt to engage all sides of the audience;
  • Not use PowerPoint or slides at all in their presentations;
  • Mention colleagues except in a “they are an expert in This while I am an expert in That so it works out for everyone” way; 
  • Not ever insult anyone or name call;
  • Refer to clients as being overwhelmed, first-timers or unaware when they don’t know things, rather than being “dumb” or similar;
  • To be older, on the “very experienced”end of the spectrum.

Audiences tend to:

  • Interrupt and challenge women at three times the rate of men;
  • Generally be more talkative with female speakers, more interactive, with or without challenging them.

I started paying attention when the name-calling started a hundred CE hours ago or so. I thought it was rather unprofessional and gauche so I started paying attention to all the little speaking details. 

Now I keep little notes on what I see, to figure out if I’m just seeing things, and these are my unofficial summations. I’m interested to see if these things continue as I continue taking these courses and updates.

Don’t Miss This! October 18 Journal

A weekly journal of things I’m seeing and thinking about.

Interesting: I was really interested to read the recent New York Times interview of Nicki Minaj. She’s an in-your-face woman, and perhaps needs to be in her profession. I admire her uncompromising, occasionally fuck-you yet often thoughtful way of interacting with the public. I have no doubt that a lot of what we see is manufactured for our consumption, but she’s just so interesting to watch and listen to, and there aren’t many celebrities now I can say that about.

Laughing: Brooklyn 99 – Terry’s One Drink Dance. We have watched this clip from Brooklyn 99 about a million times at our house. We are Terry. WE ARE TERRY. We have one beer (shared between us!) and want to take a nap. Kids, yo.

ಠ_ಠ Seriously, WTF: None this week, because no. Instead …

MORE Laughing: IT’S DECORATIVE GOURD SEASON, MOTHERFUCKERS. I’m totally getting the mug.

Eating/Drinking: One of my very favorite winter beers is out again (early!), the Abominable Winter Ale from Hopworks Urban Brewery. CHEERS.

Listening: Recently I’ve been trying to do more creative cooking, just once a week, to get back into it after the last three years of not cooking and utilitarian cooking. To get in the mood, I’ve been listening to my favorite album to cook with, the Barcelona mix from the Frequent Flyers series of albums.

Reading: We’ve been reading Tickle, Tickle Peter, a touch-and-feel baby book, every night, because it’s our younger daughter’s current favorite. She kisses and pats all the fuzzy animals in the story. In the more adult reading world, I’m now on the fifth book (of seven books) in the Fitz/Fool series by Robin Hobb, Golden Fool.

Watching: I don’t really need new TV to watch, but I’m a little dissatisfied with the current selection of sci-fi TV out there. I’m feeling kinda meh about the Star Wars movie due to the extremely blatant merchandising I’m seeing everywhere. I want another good cult hit like Serenity.

Using: My beloved weekly Moleskine planner is about to run out (I have an 18-month July 2014 – December 2015 version). But they don’t seem to have released the January 2016 version on the website. WHAT DO I DO? WILL I NOT KNOW WHAT THE DAYS BRING?! Trying to breath deep, and hope they’ll release one soon.

Time to be a Mom

A couple of days ago someone I know online remarked that he was queuing up posts for an online project he runs, since his first child is due soon. He expects to be out-of-pocket for a little while. I replied that I’d be surprised if he got back to it within three months (which he really hopes is not the case). I have no wish to be a downer, but the truth is, a possibility exists that he might not get back to it for months, and maybe not at all. And even if he does make time, he might have to dial down the scope of it significantly.

Such is the truth of parent time. I define parent time as the magical way that producing children gobbles up all your time, and with it your plans, ideas and previously calm and orderly life. Welcome to Chaos!

I had some time to reflect on time while I was sewing the last of my daughter’s dinosaur pillows on Sunday. This was a project that, once upon a time, I would have completed in a few days (although I probably wouldn’t have chosen dinosaurs). See? Here it is. I drew the dinosaurs, had them printed on fabric and then made shaped pillows with inserts. She loves them! It was fun!

  
  
Now for the other part. I started this project a full year ago.

  

Those dinosaurs are nice, but a whole year?

Did it take so much time because I don’t like sewing much? No. Is it because the project wasn’t engaging? Nope. Is it because it wasn’t turning out like I hoped? No. Was there an unappreciative audience? No.

The problem was parent time. My two children require assistance for nearly all of their personal needs. We have to be there when they eat, sleep, put on clothes, read, go to class or really do just about anything. We also deal with frequent disasterbacles, disgusting messes, loss of shoes, diaper emergencies, meltdowns, arguments and other unplanned but totally normal facets of parenthood. 

So most days, the equation works like this:

parent time + work time + house tasks = barely enough time to sleep

We have a babysitter, it’s true, to help. Our family lives far away, though, and children are very time intensive and catastrophe prone, not to mention argumentative, no matter how you slice it. Nothing ever goes quite as planned.

The result is little leisure or hobby time. I must schedule time with my husband and friends. At best, I get an hour or so after the kids are in bed for Me Things. I might watch TV, do a little sketching or a bit of crochet or sewing. Whatever I do is rather desultory, as I haven’t much energy after a full day of work and kids. The same is true for my husband. 1

The switch to parent time has been in effect since my first baby was born. I had nice, bonding-related, relaxing plans for what I was going to do on maternity leave. My plans set the stage for my first, biggest lesson in being a parent: you can have all the plans and ideas you want, but your children will ultimately choose for you.

My first child’s birth was quite rocky, and I developed severe postpartum anxiety. I spent most of my maternity leave recovering but there wasn’t enough time to recover fully. Jeff found himself pinch-hitting in the first couple of months because I couldn’t sleep at all, and nothing is right when you can’t sleep. Sure, part of that was first-time baby. But with baby #2, I had a nasty spinal procedure, and as this story from Anna Maria Horner shows, sometimes even baby #6 takes extra recovery time. Watching Bones (on the TV show) give birth in 45 minutes and bounce back to perfect health and working in six weeks was rather ridiculously insulting to real moms.

Parent time also showed up after maternity leave was over. I made the difficult choice to curtail my working when my elder daughter was four months old. I had always, always intended to go back to work full time after her birth, but I found I didn’t want to. I was rather aghast at my change of heart, and also horrified at how difficult it was going to make my life and finances, but I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I also tried being a full-time mom, and that didn’t work well either. I found myself in a class on taxation within six months, needing to exercise my brain.

So after trial and error, I know now that I need kid and brain time both. Jeff and I have been working on figuring out what our ideal balance of work/kid life is for three + years now, with varying degrees of success. Thankfully we don’t care about “gendered” roles, so we approach everything equally, which makes balance a little easier. 2  We hope some things will smooth out when the kids are older (babies are super extra massively time and work intensive), but we always intend to be active, involved parents. Plus there’s the perennial truth of parent time: the kids WILL eat our time, somehow.

In the past year especially since kid #2 arrived, we have cut out every single non-productive time suck we can think of so there are enough hours in each day. We don’t commute, we watch very little TV, and our internet time is limited. When we work, we are really working all the time. Both of us are freelancers, so we feel we owe concentrated, dedicated work time to our clients, so as to not waste their billable hours. We also freelance partly so we don’t waste time at work  that we could have with our kids – no water cooler talk, no long lunches, no messing about on Twitter. We also practice dedicated work because we owe it to ourselves to actually work when it’s time, so we don’t get behind.

Things mostly work well at this point. We both have flexible schedules, the only solution that truly works for involved parents dealing with parent time. 3 We still aren’t getting enough sleep (babies often have sleep trouble the first year and a half, and ours definitely have taken their time). Still, most weeks, there is time for kids, work and a wee bit of leisure.

Yet our hard work and time management doesn’t leave much time for personal projects. It’s an ongoing source of dismay for both of us. I used to have all kinds of projects going. I’m a hardcore, dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool MAKER. I love sewing and working with my hands, and cooking, and caning and just creating whatever. I love making art. I love writing. When my elder daughter was born I’d been writing a craft blog, Crafter by Night, for seven years. I used to keep up on my medieval history and Latin reading (my degree is in medieval studies). I had an entirely random blog about my opinions. I posted to Twitter regularly.

Now? I have this blog, which I post to once or maybe twice a week – but if anything unexpected happens, I lose my time to write for it. I squeeze out (maybe) two hours to sew on the weekends. Since baby #2 arrived, my reading time has gone down, too. I read 144 books last year, and I’m only on #39 this year. I’ve had to rely on recurring scheduling for time with friends, or six months passes by like a freight train. I do accomplish things, but it isn’t like before.

My children ARE my project right now. Keeping them whole and healthy is the biggest, most intense creative making project I’ve ever undertaken. When the urge to find a sewing needle comes on strongly, I remind myself that I will have time when they’re older to read and sew and do. In fact, I’ll probably teach my children as much as I can about all these things I love to do.

For now though, I’ve invested myself in parent time, and I don’t regret it. It was quite difficult transitioning to being selfless about my time rather than putting my own projects, whims and needs first. I was older when they were born, aka set in my ways, so I got yanked out of my patterns. However, I’m human, and we’re flexible even if we don’t want to be, so I’ve created new patterns, and new ideas about what happy fulfillment are that include me-as-mom as well as me-as-maker, me-as-wife, me-as worker.

But speaking of parent time, it’s time to stop writing and make my kids breakfast and get them dressed for gymnastics, so I must fly.

  1. I know there are parents who choose to leave most kid-responsibility with one parent while the other works due to preference, belief or necessity, that is not what we wanted and we’ve worked hard to not do that.
  2. We enact equality intentionally so that we both have work and kid choices, rather than just one of us being constrained. We don’t feel it’s fair to have our children be a limiting factor to one of our work lives but not both. We also don’t feel it’s fair to award the coveted Chief Parent role to either of us.
  3. Don’t get me started on how ridiculous it is that most workplaces allow for zero flexibility for their workers. It’s a basic thing you can do to support your staff! It’s only humane!

Don’t Miss This! October 4 Journal

A weekly journal of things I’m seeing and thinking about.

Inspiring: This graphic (20 Cognitive Biases that Affect Decision-Making) is inspiring me to think about my critical thinking skills. I know I suffer from blind-spot bias (not seeing what your own cognitive biases are!) so it’s useful to me to remember what I need to watch out for.

tommarvoloLaughing: I snorted and guffawed about Marmot Dildo Lover and Marmot Drool Devil. This is definitely why I couldn’t really ever take Lord Voldemort seriously.

ಠ_ಠ Seriously, WTF: Obviously, this week’s WTF is the mass shooting at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon. I’m not even going to provide any commentary. It’s so  terrible that if you aren’t taking this problem seriously and viewing it as the tragedy that it is, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Eating/Drinking: Rogue Farm’s Pumpkin Patch Ale is now in second place, Dogfish Head is in third and an UNNAMED CHAMPION has been crowned that I’m not telling anyone about, because then everybody will drink it and I won’t get anymore.

Listening: Revisiting my Mari Boine Remixed album. I learned about Mari Boine and yoiking when I studied the Sami in college, a group of far north circumpolar indigenous people that most people don’t seem to have heard of at all. I really enjoyed learning about this style of music, and it can be really beautiful.

Reading: Finally finished the Fitz and the Fool series and am on to Fool’s Errand. This one feels emotionally dense also, so I don’t expect to finish it quickly. On the baby side, my aunt bought my daughter Pat the Bunny and Sleepy Bunny, and they are just the most adorable little books.

Watching: I figured out this week that Project Runway is my football. I get snacks. I yell at the screen. I root for people and boo others. I want to join a league or something, and make bets on who’s going to be out when. WHO’S WITH ME?!

Using: My Hario V60 Ceramic coffee dripper. I get one dearly beloved and much-enjoyed cup of caffeinated coffee a day before I have to switch to decaf. I make most of my coffee in my Hario coffee dripper. We haven’t used a drip coffee pot in years, and I don’t really miss it. I like my coffee being just made, every time.

Don’t Miss This! September 27 Journal

A weekly journal of things I’m seeing and thinking about.

Inspiring: Almost misplaced this NPR article on Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy memoir (currently reading it). Mr. Stevenson is a lawyer who represents people on death row, people who were abandoned and whose lives were further ruined by the prison system. Many times these days when it comes to light that a convicted criminal has suffered abuse or mental illness or other hardships, people just say “it’s just an excuse” for the person’s behavior. With the U.S. prison system clocking in with one of the highest rates of incarceration per 1,000 people in the world, maybe the high rate of those problems among the prison population mean that they aren’t an excuse, but an indication of systemic failure.

Laughing: I was unsure why my friend posted the article How to Lose Weight in Four Easy Steps, but then I read it. Brilliant, and hysterical, and oh! that poor guy.

ಠ_ಠ Seriously, WTF: Student loans, once again. Read this article and you’ll wonder why this type of loan (which mostly punishes students and defrauds the government) are permissible. The answer? Because they’re beneficial to for-profit schools and they’re an easy win for banks (and the benefit to banks is even written into law!). Banks have the clout to keep them around, punishing students for daring to get an education, forever.

Eating/Drinking: It’s fall, and I’m finally not sick or taking anything, so that means it’s time for Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale! It’s our annual Fall Pumpkin Beer of choice. Honorable mention also to Rogue Farm’s Pumpkin Patch Ale (I do so love it when breweries get into growing their own ingredients).

Listening: I am still listening to last week’s Guns of Brixton mix. It’s a good one. Special shout out to Talking Heads, which I’ve learned created my husband’s favorite anti-establishment songs. We watched David Byrne and Thomas Dolby perform (Nothing But) Flowers for a TED audience.

Reading: Still reading Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Quest. I haven’t found a lot of time to read lately, which always makes me sad. I’ve also noticed that I can’t read these books very quickly. They feel very dense to me, and very emotionally real, so I can’t speed read through them – very unusual for me to find books like that.

Watching: Tonight we are back to watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which has an extremely wonderful cast. I can’t get enough of Andy Samberg, honestly. He’s just a really freaking funny guy.

Using: OK. I grudgingly admit that I don’t actually have any walls or furniture made up of these mega Lego blocks (aka EverBlocks) in my house but oh my god I really want to use them everywhere.

Don’t Miss This! September 20 Journal

A weekly journal of things I’m seeing and thinking about.

Inspiring: I was amazed to read about Victoria Lautman’s project of documenting India’s stepwells. I’d never even heard of stepwells before. They’re elaborate underground pseudo-buildings that contained multiple levels of stairs leading downward, for the purpose of collecting water and human access to aquifers. Now largely abandoned and falling into disrepair, they’re an amazing and beautiful record of a bygone era.

Laughing: Ever felt confused about modern art? Here it is, simplified. I choked on my coffee when I got to post-modern (I really hate post-modernism). I also discovered Hands Off My Dinosaur this week, which is a site full of artistic witticisms, often with pop-culture references. I couldn’t tell you which is my favorite, although I do really love Cthulu’s spelling issues.

ಠ_ಠ Seriously, WTF: Got pretty tired of hearing about “content blocking” this week, which is a euphemism for what’s really going on: ad blocking. I think Seth Godin‘s take made the most sense to me. He points out that ads are give-and-take: we take free content in exchange for paid ads. The problem is that advertisers have gone way overboard, and in response consumers are taking a “sledgehammer” to the problem and deleting ALL ads, even the ones they might have actually liked.

Eating/Drinking: It’s been colder (just a bit!) so we’ve been eating corn chowder made with corn we bought at a farm stand. We also ate strawberry birthday cake for a certain little someone!

Listening: I’ve been feeling somewhat anti-establishment, so I’ve been listening to the Clash again. I have a Pandora mix based on the Guns of Brixton, my favorite Clash song, which serves up things like the Violent Femmes, Talking Heads, Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, English Beat. Could also be called the John-Cusack-Grosse-Point-Blank mix.

Reading: Still reading Robin Hobb’s Fitz/Fool books. I read the first two last week and am now reading Assassin’s Quest. I’ve been really impressed with them, particularly with her treatment of animals and the Wit.

Watching: We watched the Nutcracker ballet with our elder daughter. She’s about to start gymnastics and ballet classes again, so this was inspiration, if you will. She is a fan of dancing and acrobatics, from parkour to ballet to break dancing.

Using: My shredder. I’ve been getting rid of paper like a mad woman. I scan the really necessary things and get rid of the rest. My goal is to not have any paper files except for a few original docs (like my marriage license and birth certificate) which are kept in a fire-proof safe anyway.

Don’t Miss This! September 13 Journal

A weekly journal of things I’m seeing and thinking about.

Inspiring: Ever wondered what happens to the crayons that family-friendly restaurants give out when the kids are done with them? Even the ones that don’t get touched are thrown away, just sent to the landfill. Bryan Ware thought that was a shame, and decided those crayons could be recycled to bring artistic possibilities to hospitals and their art programs for children. So he started the Crayon Initiative to do just that, starting in the Los Angeles area.

insidevoice

Laughing: This week our pre-schooler seemed to talk constantly at a ridiculous volume, so this week’s Fowl Language comic was particularly apropo. In other comic news, I of course answered the XKCD survey. The Footprints XKCD comic from a few days ago just killed me, too.

ಠ_ಠ Seriously, WTF: What teachers believe about gender makes a big difference. A study in Tel Aviv shows how teachers’ unconscious bias in math and science courses leads to lower grades for little girls, regardless of actual performance. The ultimate result when girls consistently seem to under-perform is that girls become discouraged and quit STEM courses. What we believe becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, unless we make an effort to question our biases.

Eating/Drinking: We normally get plain ol’ Trader Joe’s coffee, but sometimes we get special coffee for a week or so. This week we got two pounds of love/Philz in my favorite decaf blends ever: Swiss Water Decaf and Decaf Ethiopian.  I know folks fall dead over Blue Bottle, but Philz was my fave in San Francisco.

Listening: I’m disappointed that Bitter:Sweet’s The Mating Game hasn’t ever been the theme music for a 007 Bond film, because it totally should be. I had to check to make sure it wasn’t a Bond theme, in fact.

Reading: I’ve read a lot of Robin Hobb books, but I started with the Mad Ship series (or rather, the Liveship Traders series). I have also read the Rain Wild Chronicles. I didn’t realize until last week there were earlier, more famous books about that world: the Farseer Trilogy! So I’m reading Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest. And then I’m going to go back and read all her other books again, and then finally her new book, the Fool’s Assassin!

Watching: I gave up on Xena halfway through season 5, because it just got too … well, it wasn’t easy to watch anymore. I was sad about it. But then I discovered I hadn’t watched the first season of Leverage, so now I’m watching that! I have a fairly wide streak of weakness for con artist shows.

Using: Our younger daughter is turning a year old soon, so in honor of all the baby stuff we’re getting rid of, I recently published my Minimalist Baby Gear guide. It’s for parents who maybe don’t want to buy an entirely new household of gear for their darling offspring.

Reflecting on: Minimal Baby Gear

I’ve seen a lot of baby stuff guides, but I’ve seen precious few for minimal baby gear. I love my kids, but I do not love that our culture believes that babies need endless gear to make it to their first birthday.  So what do you get if you don’t want to buy everything on the planet? As we start to divest ourselves of our baby gear, here’s the minimal baby gear that worked for our two kids.

Minimal Baby Gear

Caveat: This stuff worked for us. We don’t subscribe to any particular “system” for parenting like attachment, unparenting (except maybe the CTFD method). I recommend trying things out and trusting your own judgment when it comes to your kids. YOU know them best, so do what’s right for YOUR family.

Our choices were neither the least expensive or most expensive. We often got free stuff second-hand, and I’m a big believer in consignment for kid clothes, too. What’s below is a pretty exhaustive list of what we used (though memory is a faulty thing), to try to give a real idea of what our minimalist-style approach was.

Sleeping

Deluxe Rock ‘n Play Sleeper – Neither of our kids thought sleeping flat on their backs was a great idea when they were newborns. Both had colic/reflux, too. The Rock ‘n Play saved our bacon – it made them feel snuggled, it kept them on an incline, and it rocks. Both kids slept really well and safely in it until around four months of age when they outgrew it.

Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light – Although we had a regular crib, our kids didn’t like it. Tiny used it for about 3 months, and Boo rejected it after one week. So we sold it and bought this crib to use until they were ready for regular twin beds (we’re forgoing toddler beds). It’s portable, safe, simple, and stores in a closet if you need more floor space. For people who are space-constrained, not interested in clunky heavy furniture, or who travel, this is a highly recommended piece. We have 2 gray sheets for it.

Swaddling: We used 2 SwaddleMe bags in small/medium for 0-6 months and 2 Aden & Anais muslin sleeping bags for 6-11 months after they broke the swaddle. Our oldest used the Miracle Blanket but I like the SwaddleMe better. Our kids refused to use anything past those ages.

Electronics: We bought the Withings Wi-fi baby monitor and DON’T EVER EVER BUY IT. It wasn’t reliable. Our plainer, cheaper Infant Optics one is great. Near the crib is a plain LED nightlight and a white noise machine. In winter and for colds we use an elephant Crane humidifier.

Eating

ThinkBaby Thinker System – It starts as a bottle and converts to a sippy cup and then a straw. Our elder daughter has had the same bottle for three years, and we’ve ordered replacement sippy cup tops twice. We started each kid with a 3-pack of Playtex Nursers with replacement bottle liners while we dealt with colic and reflux. At six months we switched over to the ThinkBaby system, and it’s resulted in a lot less waste. We just have one bottle per kid, and wash it each time, preventing the need for storing extra bottles.

Glad FreezerWare Containers, Small – Squeeze packets are all the rage with pureed infant food, but we made most of our food and froze it. These days you can buy your own packet-producing tools, but we bought 20 of these Glad freezer containers and it’s worked like a charm. That plus a 6-pack of Gerber soft-bite infant spoons and we were set.

Ikea KALAS plasticware – For graduating infants (and toddlers) we’ve used Ikea’s Kalas plates, cups, bowls and utensils. Just one whole set for $8, 2 kids, no breakage, no problem. The kids like choosing their own colors.

Miscellany: I made 12 baby bibs using a Purl Soho pattern and got a 10-pack of Gerber Prefold diapers for spit-up. We had the Boon Grass dish rack, but honestly, a regular dish rack works fine. I didn’t use a nursing cover, because dear public, I’m nursing, get over it. I was given a Medela portable breast pump which I used for baby #1 because I was working at an office, but I didn’t use it for baby #2, because althoug nursing is great, breast pumps are one of the things I hate most in the world.

Diapering & Bathing

Boon Naked Collapsible bathtub: I’m nervous about water so I wanted a safe tub, but everything I saw was huge and hideous. Except this tub. It has two positions for different infant stages, sits nicely in our kitchen sink and our tub, and folds up and slides away into a narrow space tidily. Expensive, but worth it, particularly for the space-constrained.

Bathing: We use Baby Bee fragrance-free shampoo & wash for both kids, and have $10 hooded bath towels for each child from Target (whale and dinosaur!). My mom bought Anna a couple of rubber duckies to play with, and the kids like plastic kitchen cups.

Diapering: I highly recommend that future parents assume nothing about what their baby will need. We tried every natural diaper, cloth diaper and half-reusable diaper out there with the result that our elder daughter got a lovely horrific series of rashes and raw spots. The only diaper she tolerated? Target brand. No, I’m not kidding. And our younger pees through every diaper brand overnight except, somehow, Target brand. I came to enjoy the total lack of branding, also. Disposable diapers aren’t minimal, but my natural diaper ego isn’t as important as doing what lets everyone be healthy and sleep well.

Our changing station is a Summer Infant pad on an Ikea Koppang dresser with magnetic safety locks where all the diapering supplies and baby clothes are stored. We have 2 changing pad covers.

We use biodegradable Honest wipes. I attempted to get my husband to use cloth and water, but he was too grossed out. For rashes, Baby Bee ointment and Honest Diaper Cream. I try to avoid petroleum byproducts. We did get a Munchkin wipes warmer as our luxury item, and boy did the babies love that. I use regular nail clippers and combs. We don’t use other skin products.

Playing

Toys with Batteries: We restricted our purchase of items like these to just three and used them for both kids. The Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Activity Center, Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Ocean Orchestra, and the Leapfrong Animal Adventure Activity Table. The activity center and activity table worked really well to help our kids develop body and leg strength. It was also nice to have something to keep them occupied for three seconds so we could get something done. All three are great for the amount of music they incorporate.

Miscellaneous toys: Our children’s toys fit into two Ikea Torkis green baskets (Lego and blocks), and two Sprout Canvas Storage Bins (animals, miscellany). For baby toys we had a Skip Hop Activity Gym, a few teethers and rattles (some homemade and some which were mine!). It’s our experience that babies prefer to explore and experiment with regular stuff, so we let them if it’s not dangerous. For example, we have a lower kitchen cabinet without anything breakable in it that they are free to open and explore. We regularly pare down kid toys/junk.

Books & Art: We have a small selection of touch-and-feel books and board books. We make heavy use of the library for books. Boo has recently graduated to playing with washable crayons on paper.

Going Places:

Car Seat: These are (legally) necessary, so we got the Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat and car base (just one because we have one car). It’s worked great! The cover comes off easily for washing, and the kids were comfortable in it.

Stroller: We got the Bugaboo Bee stroller after seeing one perform like butter in person in SF’s Crissy Field one day. It’s small and navigates easily in tight spaces, folds easily, and has attachments for different car seats. The toddler seat pops in easily when you’re ready for it. We did NOT want a stroller that looks like a tank. My one complaint is that it needs better wheels for off-roading/curbs. I made a baby blanket for outings.

High Chair: We’ve used our Inglesina portable high chair to death, both out to eat and at home. We get compliments on it from service staff at every restaurant. We have an Oxo Sprout high chair, but it’s unnecessary, and if I had to do it again I’d just get the Inglesina. The Inglesina cover is fortunately washable for that time your kid smears avocado and baby drool liberally over the thing.

Diaper Bag: We use a 2-compartment backpack. We carry a Waterfield gear pouch with one pair of pull-ups for the toddler and 3 diapers for the baby. We carry a Huggies refillable clutch (with other wipes), 2-3 Wet Ones sensitive wipes, and Aveeno Baby 50 SPF sunscreen. For eating trips we take a bottle with powdered formula, a thermos of warm water, a spoon, an Oxo tot snack cup with mixed snacks, and a couple of Glad containers of food. If it’s a long trip, we might take an extra outfit. We also take a homemade activity pack.

Extras: When they were tiny I used a Mamma’s Milk baby sling. I didn’t like any other carrier. We carry a towel and a Skip*Hop fold-up water-resistant blanket with insulated cooler for our frequent (occasionally rainy) impromptu trips to parks. The towel is for messes and wiping down wet park equipment, the blanket for refrigerated snacks, parent butts and baby crawling.

Clothing

My family loves to buy my kids clothes (thanks Mom!) but when it’s my turn I hit the consignment stores. Here in Portland we have the SuperKids bi-annual consignment sale, so I pretty much buy everything we need twice a year, and haunt local consignment stores for shoes. I also sell our outgrown stuff at that sale. I got some small hangars for coats when they were on sale, but most baby stuff I fold and put in the dresser–and I limit their clothes and pajamas to what fits in the drawers.

Finally

The truth is that you can get by without a lot of specialized stuff if you need to. Minimal-style baby gear is definitely possible, and a lot of the cutesy extras are unnecessary (mobiles, for example).

We bought things as they were actually needed (such as a humidifier when the baby got a cold and was snotting everywhere and waking up 8 times a night). We did not buy extras of everything (2 at most). We keep on top of washing food and cloth items (bottles, sheets, changing covers).

We did not get a rocking chair or much furniture, or things like shopping cart covers, nursing covers, multiple blankets and towels, special bottles or sippy cups. I made most decorations for their room (curtains, wall art with Ikea frames) and baby blankets myself. Sleeping is a big deal, so we chose to invest more in that. We were pretty relaxed and go-with-the-flow about all of it, once we learned to trust ourselves and our instincts about our kids.