Family

Maybe I really have aged since Ja’Naya was a baby, but baby Juliza exhausts me daily. She started walking at just 10 months old, and I fully admit that keeping up with her is an ongoing challenge. It’s not just the fact that her sleep habits are still a bit irregular. She’s 10 months old and already walking, and therefore, getting into everything. Also, she’s not terribly interested in toys. She just wants to move, move, move! So when Walmart challenged me to share gift ideas for babies, I knew I wanted to present some ideas to help parents channel the energy of their active toddlers. Because whew!

My strategy this year has been to give her gifts that let her walk, climb and generally be active, in hopes that they’ll keep her attention and wear her out a bit:

1. Little Tikes First Slide

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This is reccomeded for kids from 18 months to 3 years old, but trust me when I say Juliza is ready. She can already climb to the second floor of our home, and she’s been doing it since she was 9 months old. The Little Tikes First Slide ($34.97) can be used outdoors or in. For now, it will take its place in our living room, much of which has already been cleared for Juliza’s benefit. She’ll be able to climb and slide to her heart’s content, and we’re hoping it will help with her balance and coordination. When warmer weather comes, we’ll likely use it in the kiddie pool we got this past summer. And hope that we don’t have a mishaps that lands us on America’s Funniest Videos.

There are a lot of other options for toddler-sized playground equipment as well.

2. Little Tikes Lil’ Shopper

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Juliza is already an excellent walker, especially given her age, but she still has her moments of being off balance and hitting the floor butt (or hands or occasionally, face) first. When Ja’Naya was a baby, she actually learned to walk in part due to a doll-sized stroller that she loved pushing around. We thought JuJu could use some similar support in her quest to stay upright, so we invested in The Little Tikes Lil’ Shopper cart ($14). She can wheel it around as she walks circles through the first floor, and hopefully, she’ll learn to pick up everything she’s left in the trail of destruction fun behind her.

3. Learning Toys

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Now that Juliza is pretty fully mobile, we’ve begun teaching her words and gestures. We’d like for any other toys we add to stimulate her mind, since her body is working overtime these days. When my mom and sister asked if we had specific gifts we wanted them to get for the baby, I pointed her to the Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Puppy ($12) and the VTech Touch and Learn Musical Bee ($15), but there are a variety of other baby learning toys they could choose from. These two particular choices offer baby an opportunity to learn, from numbers to shapes, colors and body parts, and they’re cuddly and cute. Here’s hoping that they’ll eventually be made of organic cotton and fill.

What about you? What gifts are on your list for your active toddler?

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

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I am one of those people who goes crazy for Christmas. I know, I know. I really shouldn’t buy into the rampant consumerism that comes with the holidays. Still, I love finding the perfect gifts for my family and friends, and I truly enjoy seeing the looks on their faces when they open them on Christmas morning. Still, one of my favorite traditions is less about that consumerism, and more about enjoying time with the people I love: Christmas pajamas.

So when Walmart asked me to share the PJs I could find for the whole family, it was easy to oblige.

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Each year, I shop for cute new Christmas sleepwear for my husband and kids. Our tradition is to open our stockings and one gift on Christmas Eve. Because I’m usually the one to wrap the gifts, I always make sure that gift is our pajamas. We open, hop in the the shower, dress in our new PJs and and stay up watching Christmas movies until we can’t keep our eyes open (or the kids are getting on our nerves with the begging to open more presents).

This year, I scored on affordable PJs for the girls and my hubby.

Ja’Naya has been begging for a pair of all-in-one pajamas. They weren’t nearly as hard to find as I would’ve expected. There were choices in both the girls section and the women’s department. So, in spite of my skepticism, I found her this cute fleece pink pair for — wait for it — just $10!

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There were character PJs and thick fleece options with hoods and fur. I thought this simple version with a nice snowflake motif would be the best bet.

For baby Juliza, I knew I absolutely wanted fleece, footed PJs. She’s still too young to sleep with a blanket, and she hates being cold at night. I’ve found that when she wears two-piece pajamas, the top always ends up bunching around her chest, leaving her stomach and back exposed. All that to say warm footies were non-negotiable.

I was able to get her two pairs of Christmas-themed pajamas from Child of Mine by Carter’s for just $4.50 apiece! Cute, cozy and really, really affordable. The Frozen footed pajamas were cute, but not quite as thick as I would’ve liked for keeping her warm enough.

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Now, for the hubby. There were a few sets to choose from, but I know the way he sleeps. He rarely takes the time to make sure his pajama top and bottom match. So instead of giving him a set he’ll never wear together, instead I just got him some comfy Hanes pajama pants.

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At just $9.96, I actually want to go back and get him another pair, but I’m thinking this Fruit of the Loom matching robe and pants would be an even better deal.

Now, I just have to go find a pair for myself. There are ton of women’s PJs for less than $10, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a pair that works for me. Or maybe I’ll let someone else do the pajama shopping for a change…

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

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I admit that I’m not up to date on the latest characters that kids are into these days. We don’t have cable any more, and my oldest daughter is more into crafting and gymnastics than TV. And the baby? Well. She’s still a baby. But if there’s one character I have loved ever since Ja’Naya was a toddler, it’s Dora the Explorer. First, there’s the obvious: I love multicultural characters on kids TV because it’s a great example of the diversity of real life. But also, I’ve always loved the idea that my kids could learn even a little Spanish from watching Dora.

In spite of the fact that my mother is Puerto Rican, I do not speak Spanish. Sad, but true. I speak a little and understand a little more, but I am far from bilingual. The bilingual nature of Dora and her friends and family means that kids will start to learn another language in their play, and that makes me happy.

So when I was asked to try the new Dora and Friends toy line, available at Walmart and Walmart.com, I couldn’t wait to let my girls dig in. Want to see it for yourself? Check out this video review of the toys.

Talking Dora & Smartphone

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Realistically, it’s really difficult to keep electronics out of kids’ hands these days. Even baby Juliza tries to snatch our phones whenever she spots an opportunity, and Ja’Naya even takes her phone to school to use with the “Bring Your Own Device” program. So I think it’s really cool that Dora has made some modern upgrades — and her infamous Map is now “Map App.”

The Talking Dora doll, priced at $29, talks when you push the buttons on her dress, and she actually has conversations with her friends via the phone. Dora can ask a question and the phone responds, or vice versa.

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Even Ja’Naya, who is sort of past the age for whom this toy is intended, couldn’t help playing with the phone all day. It was cool so listen to the conversations back and forth, and realistically, it’s easy to imagine playing with doll and phone separately. Because the baby loved the phone, but the doll didn’t seem quite as interesting to her.

Still, this is a great option for a kid who loves Dora, or who loves interactive toys.

Arco Iris Cafe and Playa Verde Cabana

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I’ve always been a fan of imaginative play sets that don’t necessarily DO anything, but challenge kids to play creatively. The Arco Iris Cafe, $15, and Playa Verde Cabana, $12.50, are great examples. They’re simply locations where the tiny Dora & Friends dolls can have adventures.

The two-story cafe does light up with a little music, and it comes with two chairs and a table for the dolls to use. The Playa Verde Cabana features a cute little beach shop, a lifeguard tower, beach chair and hammock. Both sets come with a tiny Dora doll, but you can purchase Dora’s friends separately. Which leads me to another cool feature of these toys.

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Each Dora doll comes with a charm bracelet and interchangeable charms based on each character’s interests. Kids can exchange the charms or switch them out, and the charms also interact with the smartphone. This is the part that will keep kids coming back for more, I think.

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While we’ll definitely have to keep the tiny charms out of baby Juliza’s reach because they’re small enough to swallow and therefore not recommended for kids under the age of 3, she’ll have a great time with Dora and her special phone, and Ja’Naya will get endless hours of play out of the smaller play sets. Plus I know she’s eager to find out which of her friends has charms so she can trade.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

Baby Juliza: Month 11

I can’t believe that in one short month, my stoonkie (one of her many nicknames) will be celebrating her first birthday. No really. I can’t believe it. It seems like we just announced the pregnancy and brought her home from the hospital, and already she’s moved into toddlerhood. It’s exciting and frightening and awesome and bittersweet.

She has already changed so very much since the day we brought her home from the hospital. Just look at my almost-one year old ball of sunshine:

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Of all the photos I shot, I had to choose this one. You may have noticed that she is pointing at (OK…near) her eye. That’s not by accident. “Eyes” is one of the words that Juliza can now repeat on command, and she tries to point to her eye when she says it. She often points at her cheek instead, but she’s getting closer every day. She understands the association between the word and her eyes, and she’s starting to point at other people’s eyes too. In other words, she can say the word, but she also knows what it means, and that, my friends, feels like a huge leap forward.

Other words she knows:

  • Bye bye
  • Socks
  • Daddy
  • Hey

She’s also learned to associate words with actions, so she’ll wave when she says bye, slap hands when we say “high five” and clap when we say “yaaaay!” Also, she’s decided she wants to learn how to snap:

Every time she does or says one of these things, I can’t help thinking how the heck she grew up so much, so fast. This little one is smart. So smart.

She’s also walking these days much more often than she crawls. Really, she only crawls if she stumbles while walking. Other than that, she’s off to the races on her own two feet.

A video posted by Jennae (@jennaepetersen) on

I really thought I’d have another few months before she started walking so frequently, but alas, Juliza had other plans. The scariest part of this newly mastered skill is the fact that is so fast. Seriously. She’s going to be a track star. She can make it across a room before I even realize what’s happening. Plus, she’s coordinated enough to walk while carrying something in her hands. Like a box. Or my purse. Or cell phone. Or a pillow.

And all this independence means she’s none too happy when one of us tries to rein her in a bit. She’s already started throwing tantrums, arching her back and throwing herself on the floor when she doesn’t get her way. In time, though, she’ll figure out that her mama does do tantrums, and they don’t phase me one bit. She’ll learn. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

For now, thankfully, those moments are still few and far between. Usually, she’s just content to explore and see the world from a new perspective. Like the time she realized that those paper pom poms above her bed can actually move and make crinkly sounds when touched.

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And the other time she realized she’s tall enough to reach the books on the shelf in her bedroom. Which means it’s time to move the shelf or risk a bunch of torn books.

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I’m just so thankful that she is thriving. And sleeping better. In her own bed. We’re still breastfeeding, and that’s still her favorite way to fall asleep, but that’s cool with me. When she sleeps well, it means I can sleep well. And that is completely worth it.

Now, I have a month to brace myself for the gut punch to come when she turns one. I need to stock up on tissues…

Tips to Help Baby Sleep Better

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Baby Juliza is good at a great many things already. She’s a champion breastfeeder (10 months and still going strong), she’s already walking, she will repeat word sounds when told, and she is very good and snuggling and giving kisses. But if there’s one thing she’s struggled with, it’s sleep. Since day one, she just has not been a very good sleeper. Of late, however, things have been improving.

When Walmart challenged me to share a baby story of my choice this month, I decided to share the things we’ve done to help baby Juliza get a better night’s sleep.

1. Keep baby warm

As much as we parents can be tempted to put our tiny babies to sleep covered with a soft, warm blankie, it just wouldn’t be safe to do so. An infant could become entangled in a blanket and suffocate. So what’s a parent to do? This was a bit of a challenge for us, because baby Juliza does not like a cold room or cold sheets.

The first step was to make sure the thermostat is set at a nighttime temperature that will keep her room warm. In the summertime, it meant closing the air conditioning vent in her room so that she wouldn’t get cold.

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The next step is warm pajamas. We have a nice stash of fleece pajamas that we got secondhand, but Walmart has a great selection of fleece all-in-one jammies with feet attached that will keep baby nice and cozy.

The last step required some improvisation. Baby Juliza tends to fall asleep during her last nursing session of the night. And putting her down on a cold crib sheet would always wake her up. If you recall, last year, I made a large, warm baby blanket with supplies from Walmart. Well, the blanket is a lot larger than the crib.

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So I put it on top of the crib sheet, fuzzy side up, and tucked it completed around the already very snug-fitting crib mattress all the way around so that there’s no way Juliza could move it, much less pull it off. Now, the surface of her crib mattress stays warm, no matter the temperature in the room. Makes me wish that someone would make crib sheets from minky fabric.

2. Use technology to your advantage

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A recent trip to Walmart uncovered a product that I hoped could change Juliza’s sleep habits for the better: the Munchkin Lulla-Vibe vibrating mattress pad. The Lulla-Vibe is a pouch that is installed under the crib mattress, with a small tab sticking through the slats so mom and dad can control it from outside. It creates vibration, as well as white noise, designed to help baby fall asleep and stay asleep.

There are two settings, low and high, and it shuts off automatically after 30 minutes. And let me tell you, even the “low” setting is powerful. It makes sense, as the vibration has to be felt through the mattress.

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The challenge is that it also vibrates the crib itself, and that takes a little getting used to. Thankfully her crib doesn’t touch the wall, but if it had been, we would’ve had to move it. And we noticed a few nights in that we can actually hear the vibration pretty loudly downstairs. Her room is right above the kitchen, and the sound is pretty intense. Actually more intense that it is when in her room.

Still, the vibration seems to be helping. Her daytime naps typically last 15-20 minutes. Since we started using the Lulla-Vibe, she’s been averaging 30-45 minute naps. I’m crossing my fingers that they eventually stretch to an hour. And at night, it’s helped her fall asleep more quickly, and stay asleep when she’d normally wake up within an hour of bedtime.

The second technological advantage we use is our iPhones + Pandora. We tune the phone to a classical station, turn it down low, and let the music help send her into dreamland. This also works in the daytime, and the music is a bit of a signal that it’s sleepy time.

3. Consistency is key

Co-sleeping worked for us for the first few months of Juliza’s life, because she was waking several times a night to feed. However, now that she usually doesn’t eat overnight, we really wanted to reclaim our bed. Because honestly, sleeping with JuJu in our Queen sized bed usually meant one or both us of slept in a stiff, uncomfortable postion for the whole night. For me, it meant not sleeping much, as I’d wake up to check on her regularly.

It took literally months of doing the same bedtime routine every night, but we’ve finally got her to the point where she sleeps in her own bed every night. There are a few nights here and there when she’ll wake up 3-4 times, but for the most part, she sleeps in her crib all night.

Out bedtime routine consists of a bath every other night (I don’t give her a bath every night so as not to dry out her already dry skin), a quick moisturizing and massage session with lotion and oil, pajamas, snuggles, say good night to daddy and big sis, lights out and mommy’s milk on a chair in her room in the dark. This usually knocks her out pretty well, and I’ve perfected the art of putting her down without waking her. We’re now at the point where she knows what is coming when we start saying “night night” and I turn off the light.

And I couldn’t be more grateful that, at long last, the routine is working.

What about you? What tips do you have for getting baby to sleep well? Feel free to share, in case our routine hits any new bumps!

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

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Let’s be honest. Most of us treat our smartphones like an extra appendage. We check them when we wake up and before we go to bed, and use them for everything from grocery lists to driving directions, social media, gaming and everything in between. So it’s understandable that our kids — even young ones — will want to join the fun.

But giving a pre-teen or even a teenager a smartphone for the first time can feel like handing over the keys to the kingdom. All of a sudden they’re walking around with the whole world in their pocket. My 9 year old has proven very responsible with a smart phone, but I know that’s not the case for every child. So when Walmart asked me to try Virgin Mobile Custom, a new smartphone plan that puts the control in parents’ hands, I couldn’t wait to try it.

How does Virgin Mobile Custom work?

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Having tried a variety of cell phone plans, I couldn’t help wondering what is so special about this one. Well, Virgin Mobile Custom, which is available only at Walmart, doesn’t require a contract, which means if your smartphone experiment with your child doesn’t work out, you can easily cancel without fear of huge fees. What’s more, though, you can actually customize your plan down to the last minute and text. A basic plan starts at just $6.98, which includes 20 talk minutes and 20 text messages. That doesn’t sound like much to those of us who use our phones all the time, but that’s just the starting point. The cost steps up incrementally as you add minutes, texts and data, and there is an unlimited talk option for $18 and unlimited texts for $10. Data starts at $8/month for 250 MB, and you can get up to 15 GB for $131.50. To give you an idea of the in-between cost, 2 GB of data will run you $28/month.

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In a word, this is awesome! You can really fine-tune your plan based on how you or your child will actually use it, rather than being forced into services that you might never use. Think your kid will text more than talk? Choose unlimited texts, but a small number talk minutes. If social media and online gaming will be used a lot, opt for a large data plan, but scale back on the other services. Plus, you can change those options at any time if you realize the plan isn’t working for your needs.

The Parental Controls

Once you’ve chosen a plan, the customization doesn’t stop there. Custom allows me to control not just the plan on my daughter’s phone, but also how she uses it. I can set a curfew if I don’t want her using her phone during school hours or after bedtime. I can limit who she is able to contact, block apps with the ability to allow specific ones, or turn data off altogether. For example, during the school day, my daughter can’t get on the internet or use any apps, but she can call her dad, myself, or her grandmother or aunt in case of an emergency.

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And while I can control all of this by logging into my Custom account from a computer, there is also an app for iPhone and Android, so I can do all of this from my own phone, in addition to making plan changes or payments.

My daughter received the Android-powered ZTE Emblem, and as smartphones go, it does what you’d expect. She can check her email, play games, text her family and friends, log into her school’s website to check on and complete assignments, and more. It’s a great first phone for a child who is learning how to be responsible, and the Virgin Mobile Custom plan will definitely give parents peace of mind when they hand over that responsibility to their child.

What do think of a smartphone plan that gives parents total control? Moreover, what do you think about giving a child a smartphone?

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

Veteran’s Day is always a special time for my family. My grandfather, husband, and brothers-in-law have all served their country, and my sister-in-law is still serving. I can easily recall many their stories of service both domestic and overseas, though I will never really know what it is like to potentially sign away my life in service of another.

My handsome hubby during his time in the Army.

My handsome hubby during his time in the Army.

Today, their service was made even more special by a program at my daughter’s school during which all veterans present — my husband included — were honored in song. They were all asked to share the length and branch of their service.

Hearing those veterans speak so proudly about their service and seeing some of them tear up at the genuine thanks offered by everyone in attendance was a poignant reminder of how important it is to honor the men and women who put their life on the line so that the rest of us can enjoy all the freedoms that come with being American.

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Walmart is continuing to use its Wall of Honor to do just that. It is an online community where anyone can share photos and stories of the veterans we know and love. You simply post a photo, video or just text update on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the #WallofHonor hashtag, and your post will show up at walmart.com/wallofhonor. Take some time today to honor the vets you know, and look at the stories shared by others.

Commitment to Hiring Veterans

You also may recall that a while back, Walmart announced they would hire 100,000 veterans over a 5 year period. This program guarantees a job offer to any honorably discharged veteran within the first 12 months of separation from service. Well, to date, Walmart has connected more than 67,000 veterans with employment opportunities throughout the nation.

Having seen firsthand how difficult it can be to make the transition from military life to being a civilian, I understand how important it is that veterans know there will be employers who will respect and appreciate their service enough to give them an opportunity. To make this happen, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have doubled their initial commitment by pledging an additional $20 million through 2019 to support veteran employment and transition programs.

For more information about Walmart’s Veterans Welcome Home Commitment please visit:www.walmartcareerswithamission.com and follow on Twitter @WalmartVeterans.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used.

Baby Juliza: Month 10

I feel like I start every one of these updates in exactly the same way: Disbelief at how fast my little jellybean is growing up. So why break with tradition? This one will be no different.

The one year mark is creeping up on us slowly, but surely, and I can’t deal. My baby is 10 months old today!

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It’s getting harder and harder to take these monthly photos, because my little wiggleworm will not sit still. I even tried taking a photo standing up this month to accommodate all her energy and show just how big she’s gotten. Except she wouldn’t pay me any attention.

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Yeah. That didn’t go so well.

Anyway, I am trying not to freak out about a couple of things this month. Juliza’s first birthday is coming, and I’m wishing that I could pause life, at least for a few more months so I get to enjoy her cuddly infant goodness a little longer. But the rest of my trepidation is about something slightly more immediate: the prospect of her walking.

Why is it so immediate? Well, there’s this.

A video posted by Jennae (@jennaepetersen) on

I made that video yesterday morning, and since then, she’s been taking tons of tentative steps. The most I’ve seen her take is five in a row. And earlier today, she was able to take three steps, stop, find her balance, and take two more. Which means that full on walking is no longer some far off prospect that will happen “one day.” That sentiment now has to be revised to “any day now.”

On top of that, she can already climb all the way up the stairs. She started small, with just one step.

A video posted by Jennae (@jennaepetersen) on

Soon though, she proved to my husband and I that not only can she climb to the second floor — she can do it really quickly, with little hesitation and no fear.

A video posted by Jennae (@jennaepetersen) on

Before you worry, know that we only let her climb the stairs when my husband or I are really close behind.

Other things she’s done this month:

  • Celebrated her first Halloween, dressed as a flower for trick-or-treating at the mall
  • Figured out that she’s seeing herself in the phone when we take a selfie
  • Cut her fourth and fifth teeth
  • Learned to drink milk from a sippy cup

All of these milestones she has hit mean that she is really becoming a little girl. Not just a baby. It’s exciting to watch her hilarious little personality emerge, and she’s already a spitfire. A gorgeous, cuddly spitfire with envious eyelashes.

A photo posted by Jennae (@jennaepetersen) on

A spitfire who still refuses to sleep in her own bed for the whole night, and who preys on the fact that by the time she wakes up crying at 3 a.m., I’m too bleary-eyed and exhausted to fight with her for an hour to get her to stay in her room. This part of infancy? I won’t miss it at all.

There are some things I am enjoying though. Her hair has grown a lot. Well, everywhere except the back and right at her temples. But it’s long enough to style now, when she sits still long enough to let that happen.

A photo posted by Jennae (@jennaepetersen) on

I also didn’t anticipate just how tough it would be to work from home with my wonderful little one underfoot all day. It’s genuinely challenging, and I’m doing everything I can to work with our new normal, even if it means that I’ve had to slow down a bit.

So while this tenth month has left me alternately wistful, excited and frustrated, there is one thing that can only be described as awesome. She finally said mama! Also, her new favorite word is “up!” Said emphatically. But “mama” is still the best.

And I’ll leave you with that…