Book Review – Thirty Million Words

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If I could only remember the source of the referral, I would shake that person’s hand, or at least electronically elicit the same gratitude.

Thirty Million Words has been one of the most informative and genuine books that I’ve read with regards to engaging with your child. By this, I mean that the true beauty of this book is in it’s simplicity and logic.

Suffice it to say, that there are hundreds and thousands of guides about how to ‘properly’ raise your child, how to maximize the window of ‘sponginess’ of your little one’s mind in their prime, and how to ensure that your baby not only becomes a formidable contributor to the human race, but a leader amongst us.

No pressure, eh?

As I write this blog, I’m in the midst of reading Stephen Camarata’s ‘The Intuitive Parent’, which thus far has taken jabs at the parenting model that perhaps I’m a part of. A recent article in Maclean’s magazine (where I found his book) went even further in criticizing my generation of parents in their article, The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up’.

There are many aspects of the article I agree with, such as restoring the hierarchy of command in the family dynamic; we are not to plead with our children for agreement, or negotiate consensus. Parenting involves discipline, and though right now it’s easy to say with only a 4 month old in tow, but I do plan on being an authoritative figure through my parenting style.

However, the article goes on to address the fact that parents today amass giant libraries of reference guides on how to ‘properly’ raise a child. Subscribing to forums and online newsletters and worst of all, referencing the dreaded Dr. Google. The article assumes that much of this is fed from a heightened need to keep up with the Jones’s by creating unachievable environments that can and will only lead to a path of failure and overburdening our kids.

They quote psychotherapist Katie Hurley, who says “we’ve been conditioned to question ourselves—to constantly look for information to make sure we’re doing it right. Because of that, parents are in a state of learned helplessness.”

In my opinion, there is always a grey area – the place where we don’t go to extremes, but find a happy medium somewhere between inundating our kids in karate-piano-algebra-public speaking classes and letting them lie lethargically on the couch, growing eyes like an old potato.

Since it’s my blog and you’re reading my two cents, let the record show that I whole heartedly encourage caregivers, parents and parents-to-be to get learning! Read, read, and then read some more! I would be hesitant to say that we can be ‘over-informed’ yet at the same time, we do need to be able to sort through the good and the bad.

And with that, let me introduce to you the good.

Good implies that the source of information is reliable, and for that, one need only look at the team behind Thirty Million Words, led by author, Dr. Dana Suskind.

First off, Dr. Suskind is a paediatric otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) who specializes in hearing loss and cochlear implantation and directs the Paediatric Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implant program at the University of Chicago Medicine. Feel free to give her a quick google and you can see all of her accolades, which in my opinion make Dr. Suskind a very reliable source of knowledge.

Next, by looking through the TMW team page, you see a slew of other doctors, speech pathologists, and healthcare advocacy professionals. This is a group of experts who not only have scientific basis for their approach, but are also passionate enough to have created a whole movement behind the principles that they’ve painstakingly researched.

Compared to the generic mother of two speaking about her personal experiences with flash cards helping her kids speak by 9 months highlighted in a comments section of an online baby site, I think you can see why I feel the TMW team are a verifiably credible source.

This movement has actually gained a lot of traction lately, with groups within the U.S. educational system expanding to include specialty training guidelines for children aged 0 to 3. A huge focus has now started to shift towards this under-appreciated window of time in our children’s development, thanks in large part to the Thirty Million Words initiative.

Ok, now back to the actual substance of the book.

What Dr. Suskind and team discuss, is the very logical reality that babies and toddlers in the first 3 years of their lives, are little learning machines, with synapses shooting and transmitting data while brains are developing at a very quick rate. They pinpoint for parents and educators, how intrinsic we can be during our child’s development phase through these early years, and then subsequently help give us the tools to develop and optimize these building blocks.

The premise of building blocks was one that I found incredibly interesting. Each smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch that a baby encounters is potentially, the very first time that they’ve experienced it. When presented during such a vital development stage, it helps create the building blocks upon which extended smells, tastes, sights, sounds, and feelings will be formed. The premise is that by introducing these building blocks, especially those surrounding language, more effectively, one can accelerate and improve a child’s ability to develop these senses.

Thirty million words, specifically, is the gap in words that underprivileged children hear in their families versus children from more affluent upbringing, within the first 3 years of their lives. The impact of this resonates throughout an underprivileged child’s life, wherein the absence of these building blocks potentially creates a struggle to thrive equally with their peers.

Once this principle is outlined, TMW introduces three steps in successfully implementing a technique to help bolster language development in this crucial and influential time.

The three key steps are Tune In, Talk More, and Take Turns. These ideas seem very straight forward, but you often will catch yourself either ignoring them, or not utilizing them to their fullest potential.

Tuning In is the primary one that I often see ignored. Tuning in doesn’t just mean sitting down and playing with your child, but rather identifying what it is they are doing and exploring that focus further.

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Charlee’s 1st Symphony

I often see parents playing with their child and constantly trying to redirect their attention. For example, let’s say little Jimmy is playing with a puzzle. Then mum comes over with a book and says, “Jimmy, do you want to read Dr. Seuss?”.

The intent is to try and relate to your child, but by not tuning in to what little Jimmy is focusing on, ends up being a missed opportunity. The book highlights how in little Jimmy’s mind, having to stop his focus on the puzzle, change direction and refocus on a new item such as a book, is actually counterproductive and a missed development opportunity.

Talk More is simply that – generating conversation. This means asking questions that stimulate thought processes, rather than just yes/no questions which are finite.

This intrinsically feeds into Taking Turns. Once you can develop a conversation, you start to take turns in continuing the dialogue.

These three steps are just a snippet of what this book offers. Thirty Million Words is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it not only for the fact that the outcome is a renewed approach to parenting and educating your children, but also getting insight into how the research was accomplished and the findings revealed.

On top of that, I would even push for this to be one of your first reads, because first off, it could and should define how your interaction with your child develops.

As I mentioned, I’m reading the Intuitive Parent, which so far speaks about a lot of our parenting approaches as coincidentally being intuitive. While this may be the case, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be perfected or in the least, optimized.

It comes back again to the old adage, that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Well, sure, but Thomas Edison famously once said, “There’s a way to do it better… find it!”.

Guest Blogger – “We’re Doing This?” by Heroic Dad

Here at Hello, My Name is Dad, we look forward to the opportunities to share other Dad’s voices and experiences, and with that I introduce to you our new Guest Blogger series.

First out the gate is dad and blogger, Brandyn Shoemaker.

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Brandyn is the founder of Heroic Dad, a platform that connects fathers from all over the world to share their experiences and to emphasize the importance of being heroes to our kids. Brandyn writes about his experiences in fatherhood on the Heroic Dad Blog, and he has fun and useful merchandise for fathers in the Heroic Dad Shop. You can connect with him on Instagram here: @heroicdad

Brandyn is a passionate dad and I know you’ll appreciate what he has to say… and you gotta love the logo!

Enjoy!


If you’re thinking of having a baby, there are a lot of things you’re going to hear when you start telling people about it. Your single friends will think you’re crazy to give up even more of your freedom. Your career minded friends will think you haven’t dedicated enough time to your job and this baby will ruin any chance you have at advancing in your career. The friends you have that like posting pictures of cash on instagram will think you’re going to be poor for the rest of your life, and your friends obsessed with traveling the world will think you’ll be stuck in the same boring place forever. But don’t worry, your mom will probably be thrilled to have a grandbaby, so definitely tell her after everyone else has told you you’re crazy. You can tell your Dad, but he’s probably going to shrug it off and go back to watching his football game.

What matters most, obviously, is how you feel. Maybe a part of you shares all of the concerns your friends have for you and that’s fine. It’s okay to be worried about the promotion you’re trying to get at work, or if you have enough money, or if you’ll ever get to see the world after you have a kid. Just don’t let those worries stop you from doing what you really want to do.

Truth is you’ll never be in the perfect situation to have a baby. There will always be something in your life telling you that you should wait and that you’re not ready. People are really good at making excuses when they’re about to do something that terrifies them, and having a baby is no exception. So if you and your significant other are ready to have your first child, just do it. Don’t worry about reading all the pregnancy books first or setting up a huge savings account or moving up a couple more rungs on the proverbial ladder at work. Just do it. No one learns how to swim in the shallow end of the pool. You just jump into the deep end head first.

I was terrified when I found out we were pregnant. I was very happy, but I was terrified. I spent most of the first trimester numb to the fact that my wife was pregnant. She just turned into this lady that had some strange bump on her stomach that was puking a lot now for some reason. It didn’t really hit me that she was making a baby until I felt him kick for the first time. That’s a day I’ll never forget. That’s also the day I started freaking out.

OH MY GOD MY WIFE IS GROWING A HUMAN INSIDE OF HER AND I’M GOING TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT WHAT AM I THINKING I’M STILL JUST A KID MYSELF I JUST WANT TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES I CAN’T BE A DAD OH MY GOD THIS KID IS GOING TO BE STUPID BECAUSE OF ME.

Yeah, crazy ramblings like that went on in my head for days. But there was no going back at this point. Luckily I calmed down and got my head back on straight and started doing the things I needed to do. When you have your first kid the people that care for you will get really excited too. Even the people that had some doubts about your decision at first will be happy for you and support you in your decision. Which is awesome because they buy you a ton of stuff. When my son was born we didn’t have to buy a single piece of clothing for him until he was about a year old. Cribs, changing tables, walkers, and all the other essentials were also paid for by friends and family. And diapers….we had mountains of diapers and wipes. So if one of your worries is the initial cost, don’t worry. People will buy everything you need for you. After our baby showers we were more than ready to bring the little man into the world.

And then he was here. And let me be the first to tell you, there is no greater joy than seeing your baby for the first time. You’re overcome by a rush of pure joy and happiness that you’ve never felt before. Every worry you had before, the money, the career, the travel, all of them are just washed away the first time you see him and hold him in your arms. The first time I held him I just stared at him for what seemed like days gazing into his blue eyes and admiring that full head of hair. I knew my life would never be the same again and I was completely okay with that.

Everything took on a greater meaning once he was born. I worked harder at my job so I could provide for him. Now I’m completely changing my life around in that area and I’m running my own business so I’m able to set my own schedule and spend more time with him when I want. I still don’t have the money that I think I need (who does?) but I’m more careful with the money I do have. I wanted to travel the world before I had a kid, but now I’m inspired to travel even more so I can show the world to my son. I love watching him learn and discover new things, so what better way to do that than to travel with him?

If you and your significant other really want a kid, do it. Timing will never be perfect. There are no books you can read that will adequately prepare you for what you have in store. Buying a dog won’t help prepare you for a kid, so don’t fall into that trap either. Babysitting won’t even prepare you for having your own child because you get to give those kids back. That’s not the case with a child of your own. Remember the last time you had a fever of about 101 and you were vomiting all night and all you wanted to do was curl up into a ball on your bed and forget the world exists? Yeah, your baby doesn’t care about that. He’s still there, and he still needs you. But trust me, when you’ve had a bad day at work and you walk into your house at the end of the day and your son has a huge smile on his face when he sees you and then he screams “Dada!” and runs to you as fast as he can, it makes everything worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

His and Her’s Nervous Breakdowns – How Not to Sleep Train a Baby

brace yourself

Here’s a term for you: “Sleep Regression”

Ever heard of it?

Neither had we, yet they happen at 4 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, and apparently straight through to 2 years’ of age.

Now you’ll have to pardon my french, but how the fuck was that not something that we would have read about at this point? I truly had considered ourselves well versed on many things baby… not everything, but I thought it was fair to say we were a tad smarter than the average bear.

A quick google search will find you a ton of pages highlighting the “pleasures” of sleep regression and the methods to go about dealing with it.

Let’s begin with what exactly it is, as described by www.babysleepsite.com:

A sleep regression describes a period of time (anywhere from 1 – 4 weeks) when a baby or toddler who has been sleeping well suddenly starts waking at night, and/or skipping naps (or waking early from naps) for no apparent reason. Parents often describe being caught totally off guard: you think your have conquered all your little one’s sleep challenges, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re back to constant night wakings and nonexistent naps.

Each regression has a different rationale. The 4 month one makes sense, especially if you tie in what we had read about in Dr. Karp’s book, with regards to the fourth trimester. Charlee at this point is ‘graduating’ from infancy into becoming a baby. I guess within three and a half short months, we’ve seen Charlee evolve from newborn to infant and now finally to baby, and with this title comes new challenges and behavioural nuances. These include ditching her infant-like sleeping patterns, which were a bloody godsend, and now frequently  waking and fussing with shortened naps much like a newborn, hence the ‘regression’.

This is a child who just 3 weeks ago was sleeping 7-8 hour stretches, napping when she felt so inclined, and rarely, if ever, fussing about anything. She spoke a language that we could comprehend, and did not have the capability to manipulate with crocodile tears.

Let me preface whatever else I’m going to write here, with the fact that we absolutely love our daughter with all our heart and we recognize that there are going to be many moments in her life that lead us to frustration and test our limits.

Fair?

Ok – carrying on.

Charlee has always been ‘advanced’ for her age. She’s in the top 85th percentile for weight and height, is strong like a bull, communicates impressively well, and we feel that all in all, she is progressing extremely well for a 3.5 month old.

We were so convinced of this, that upon the first sign of her beginning to fuss during the days, we read and determined that she was either teething (around 1-3 months early), or had matured to the point where she needed a much more rigid sleep structure.

In hindsight, it may be a case of how you search for things that determines what you find, so the fact that we searched and read up on sleep training (i.e. what to do in order to sleep train your child) versus ‘is it normal that my 3 month old is beginning to fuss’ (i.e. how to handle a normal baby like a normal person would), probably fed a good portion of our issues for the last 3 weeks.

Upon reading a slew of different articles and soliciting feedback from family and friends, we opted to put together a schedule for Charlee that would ensure she slept for 10-12 hours at night and another 3-5 during the day while at once making sure she didn’t have awake stretches longer than an hour and a half.

We read articles and books about the ‘cry it out’ technique.

We then read articles and books against the ‘cry it out’ technique and how it will scar your baby for life.

We read articles and books about props and crutches such as pacifiers and swaddles, and how to eliminate those from your child’s sleep dependencies as it will cause your child to grow up with elevated levels of anxiety.

We then read articles and books on how those specific ‘props’ can be integral in ensuring a good sleep even into the 3, 4, and 5 month periods and helps impart feelings of safety, security, and calmness.

Ironically, we read about consistency being key, yet continuously altered our approach based on feedback and guidance, and what seemed like whichever was the flavour of the day or week.

Seemingly overnight, we went from having a calm, cool, stress free household, to one that revolved around our daughters rigid yet ever changing schedule. Constantly jotting down notes in her sleep diary that we created while at once watching the seconds tick by as we stared blankly at the baby monitor, praying she wouldn’t budge. We continually would hear ‘phantom cries’ and would barely get more than 1-2 hours sleep at a time.

All this and poor Charlee was fidgety, upset, overtired, and cranky for most of the day.

It's like deja vu all over again
It’s like deja vu all over again

We were a mirror image of that.

Poor sleep breeds other poor habits, most notably poor eating. Poor eating and lack of sleep have a direct effect on one’s behaviour, emotions, and ability to function.

I was the first to snap.

Ironically, vocalizing it all was somewhat therapeutic, but it was not pretty and I felt horrible that Becca was on the receiving end.

I spent that night in front of the computer at around 2 AM typing a letter to Becca apologizing and really opening up in greater detail about everything. 4 hours and 7 pages later, I sent it to Becca’s email and returned to bed in time to get back to our awakened baby.

We had a very good chat about things and continue to every day. We’ll figure things out, and as one of my favourite quotes goes, “yard by yard, life is hard, but inch by inch is a cinch”.

Becca’s turn came a few days later… what’s good for the goose, eh?

While we’ve both been waking up every hour on the hour, I’m the guy that can change a diaper, while Becca is the only one who can provide food.

Did I mention that this sleep regression can be brought on by a growth spurt? Yes… ANOTHER growth spurt! And with great growth spurts come great yearning for nourishment and Becca can’t even keep up with a pumping schedule to have bottles ready for the ‘in case of emergency’ feeding, or for daddy to step in.

I underestimated the toll this takes on Becca and with the two of us in such a sleep deprived, stress elevated, boob deflated, and angry state, negativity bred negativity and Becca needed an outlet.

The saving grace for all of this is that it gave us a chance to really ‘rebaseline’ expectations. To sit back and go… whoa… what just happened?… how did we get here?… how do we fix this?

And fix this we shall, care of our good old friend Dr. Harvey Karp.

I liken this to any personal experience someone would have with any professional. If that professional is engaged and solicited for advice that proves useful and effective once put into practice, why would you not come back to that same professional for future advice?

Dr. Karp’s book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, was intrinsic in our successes leading up to Charlee’s birth, and for the first 3 months of her life. As we’re entering the next stage in her life, we have now started reading “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Simple Solutions for Kids from Birth to 5 Years” and it is fundamentally helping us get back to the ‘good old days’ where Charlee was a good sleeper and functioned so much better.

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Suffice it to say that I will do a full book review in the near future – probably after the next 2-3 months of fully implementing his recommendations. But until then, I can look back and realize exactly where we went wrong.

Remember how I mentioned that we’ve always seen Charlee as a mature over-achiever? Well that was our first downfall.

Yes, she’s large for her age.

Yes, she’s fantastically bright and capable.

Yes, she’s strong and excelling in her abilities.

But at the end of the day, she is still a 3 month old baby who does not need to be rushed through her development just to float our egos.

Charlee did not need to be weaned off of a pacifier and swaddle. Charlee does not need to adhere by rules and timelines devised by some random internet doula.

We are taking away a number of lessons from this whole experience:

  1. We love each other and need each other and are here to support one another and be the most dynamic, effective, loving, passionate, engaged, and informed parents we can be
  2. Charlee is a wonderful baby and we genuinely want what’s best for her, but need to have some patience
  3. We have resolved to read up on everything BEFORE it happens and come to consensus on how we are going to parent her as a team, rather than reactively having to dig up information and test it out with trial and error
  4. Lastly, parental instinct is a profound thing – sometimes you really do need to go with your gut, because you truly have a better sense of what’s good for your baby

In less than 2 weeks Charlee will be 4 months old and we’ll be celebrating her 100 Day birthday with friends and family.

We all plan to be very well rested for a lovely, stress free event.

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100 Days of Charlee

It has been far too long since I’ve posted a written entry – I’ll blame the holidays for that one! With that being said, we’ve had a great holiday season with Charlee! Here she is doing her best festive pose:

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December 26, also known as boxing day, came  and went and technically marked Charlee’s 100 days. In several Asian cultures, celebrating 100 days is an event for family and close friends. 100 days carries some symbolism such as the mom having recovered from birth, baby finally getting the eating/sleeping routine down and being able to socialize for some time and mingle with family who may not have met her as yet. 100 days is symbolic of the baby being ‘out of the weeds’, so to speak, and healthy enough to be brought out into public more freely. The food that is served is a customary meal, with each dish bearing different meaning and symbolism.

We knew we were going to have a 100 day celebration with family and friends, but we also knew that the date was way too close to the holidays, so we’ve moved the actual event into January.

It also gives me a chance to reflect on my first 100 days with Charlee, so without further ado, I thought I’d put myself on the spot for a quick little interview:

You win this round, Charlee...
You win this round, Charlee…

Q: So… fatherhood… everything you expected it to be?

A: Yes and no….  For the most part, I think that I had a good idea about what to expect. You read enough and see enough of your family and friends raising their kids, and you can safely assume that for the most part, you know what’s about to happen. However, there are a few variables that you could never expect.

First off, how you react to stress and pressure does not reflect how you’re going to react to the stresses and pressures brought on by your little one. I think for me personally, it’s brought on a different level of patience, where before I would have a much shorter fuse, now I can push through, reminding myself that this just comes with the territory. How can you get angry at such a little innocent thing anyway… granted that little innocent thing has just had a ‘blow out’ and won’t stop kvetching regardless of your pleas and attempts at being rational with her… but I digress.

Next, you may assume, but you never really know how your partner is going to parent, let alone how the two of you are going to parent together! Becca and I are doing great as a team, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Communication and setting expectations is key – also sharing reading material so that you’re on the same page with your approach; remember, consistency is key. If anything, I think this has been the most pleasant surprise to see how wonderful a mum Becca is, and how I’m so grateful that Charlee gets to be raised by her and I.

And on that note, the last variable being Charlee. She is the biggest littlest variable of them all. I like to think we’re playing a strong role in her amazing demeanour, but I also get the sense that some babies out there just aren’t as cooperative. I’ve said it before, Charlee is an ‘easy’ baby. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’ve been able to keep her as de-stressed as possible, and I think that’s led to our continued successes (this being written as we’re going through a “sleep regression” cycle, which I will write about soon).

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Q: Do you feel like a dad yet?

A: That’s a tough one… would you believe the answer is no?

I’m still getting used to saying, “my daughter” and yet I love chatting with Charlee and trying to get her to say ‘dadda’.

Becca and I talked about this the other day, whether we feel like parents yet. She had her moment the other day when Charlee started to recognize her and noticeably felt comfort when she would reach for and be embraced by Becca. I have had this happen too, yet the feeling of being a father is not there yet.

I truly believe that this connection will happen later when Charlee is more verbal and can actually say the things I want her to and to actually connect with me. I can’t wait!

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Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received and what’s the worst advice?

A: Let’s start with the worst, the caveat being that everything recommended has been done with the best of interest and in all sincerity. I would chalk up the worst advice to more of a frame of mind regarding parenting. That would be the ‘old school’ methodology and how some people have a tendency of saying, well, this is how it was done in my day and my kids turned out just fine.

While they liken that advice to ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – I’m more inclined to compare this to the mentality of why bother improving on something. When you think of it that way, you realize how silly it is.

Just because something’s always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that it can’t change or improve, or be optimized, and that includes raising children.

The books that I’ve read with Becca are demonstrating scientific fact and new findings that can revolutionize how we raise our kids and help open up possibilities that never before had been determined or addressed.

With potential like that, who wouldn’t want to try and do things differently!?!

On the flip side, the best advice I’ve heard, aside from some of the readings I mention above and in prior posts, is the ironically named “mother’s instinct”. If I may be so bold, I would like to extend that to be “parent’s instinct”.

It’s taken some time, but Becca and I are truly in tune with Charlee’s needs. We’ve come to understand that no one book will tell you the “right” way to raise your child, but rather a slew of tried and true approaches. The fact of the matter is that only you as parents have a true sense of your child’s needs, what their cries mean, when they need food, attention, cuddles, love, and everything under the sun that they can’t verbalize, but can still somehow communicate to you.

Q: What’s your biggest pet peave about parenting?

A: My first 100 days with Charlee have been tremendous. It’s been incredible to see how much I’ve learned about myself, about Becca, and about how influential we are in the upbringing of another human being. The job is formidable, and I know that too many people on this planet take to it with too simplistic an approach, just assuming that anyone can do it. Suffice it to say, just because anyone can do it, doesn’t mean everyone should, and better yet, doesn’t mean everyone can do it right.

But who am I to say what ‘right’ is… this in itself is where my issue lays.

I’ve read things on how people should not judge other parents or compare their kid to someone else’s. Yet I’m pretty sure every parent will tell you that their child is the best, and anyone who goes about raising their child differently is in the wrong. Parenting can sometimes be a pissing contest, and it’s very tiresome to feel like you’re always in competition.

At the same time, I’ve read articles where some people say that you shouldn’t judge other’s parenting, because pretty much if you’re keeping your baby happy and healthy and “alive” (as one article actually said), then who are we to judge.

Tough call people… I would be hesitant to give out participation awards to parents though – we should really strive for more… I’ll leave it at that 🙂

#adorbs
#adorbs

Q: In your first 100 days, what’s been your favourite memory?

A: As my little Charlee starts developing a personality more and more, her true essence comes out and let me tell you, she’s a riot! Some days more than others she is extremely chatty.

Becca was on the ball and caught the following on camera:

Everyday with Charlee something new and wonderful happens, giving us new memories to cherish (and more blog posts for me write!).

I’ve loved the last 100 days and look forward to the next 100 days, weeks, months, and more!