Moms share stories on pets and newborns, picking a preschool

Daisy, a boxer, keeps a watchful eye on Ethan Cole Whitman.

Sarah Whitman | Times

Daisy, a boxer, keeps a watchful eye on Ethan Cole Whitman.

Times staff writer Sarah Whitman gave birth to her first child, Ethan Cole, in December. Here she shares her story about the challenge of introducing the baby to two important family members: her pet dogs.

For my husband and I, the journey to parenthood started with turtles.

We believed firmly in pets before kids, so not long after our first date, we purchased two red-eared sliders at a Saturday flea market. We took turns buying turtle food and snapped pictures of our babies in a half shell.

The next year, we decided to upgrade to a puppy. When we brought home Daisy, an 8-week-old boxer pup, we instantly took to referring to ourselves as Mommy and Daddy.

Daisy was our baby. We spoiled her with affection, toys and treats. Our second dog, Holly, got the same treatment.

For four years, the dogs never wanted for attention. Then, last spring, we received news of a human baby on the way and decided things needed to change for our furry children.

We questioned if we coddled the pets too much. Would they be jealous of a baby?

To get the dogs ready, we trained them to stop sleeping in our bed. We brought home baby toys and kept the dog paws at bay. Throughout my pregnancy, the dogs napped at my side. The bigger I got, the more concerned they seemed, nurturing even.

Still, we wondered what would happen when we brought our little one home. I imagined our 50-pound boxers jumping and barking. I feared growling, territorial behavior and doggy depression. Friends asked, "What are you going to do about the dogs?"

Family suggested we bring our son Ethan's blanket home from the hospital first. Online parenting bloggers offered the same advice because it allows pets time to adjust to an infant's scent.

Of course my husband and I forgot to do this. We arrived home ready to wing it. My husband went in first to calm the dogs. Then I came in with the baby.

The result surprised us.

Daisy sniffed. Holly sniffed. And then, as if to say they understood, the dogs sat without ever hearing a command. Both stared in awe at Ethan. In their eyes, I saw love.

Daisy followed me from room to room, watching as I changed diapers and made bottles. When Ethan cried, she woke up and went to his side. Holly rested peacefully on the couch.

Throughout Ethan's first week at home, we made time to show the dogs affection. I gave them more treats. We allowed them extra playtime in the yard. Still, we set boundaries. I let them sniff and lick the top of the baby's head, but only for a second or two. I reprimanded them with a stern "no" if they got too friendly.

The next week, the dogs seemed to know their status had changed. At times, they whimpered as I fed and burped Ethan. I felt bad I couldn't give them more mommy time but hoped they would adjust.

Ethan is now 7 weeks old. He wiggles, laughs and plays. Sometimes he fusses when the dogs visit his bouncy seat. Daisy tries to lick his toes. Holly sniffs at his toys, but both dogs know the rules. They don't steal the toys. They don't play bite at baby.

Horror stories of animals mauling infants no longer keep me up at night. Watching Ethan curled up by the pups, I am reminded of a saying. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.

My husband and I have come a long way since our turtle days. We raised two good dogs. Now, we will try our hardest to raise a good man.

Danielle Hauser is a married mother of two who lives in the Westchase area. Here she shares her story about the challenge of finding a good preschool.

Sometimes, the bus stop can be a great place for a mom to find answers.

When I moved from Colorado Springs to Tampa last October, my biggest concern centered on locating a good school for my 6-year-old son.

I had no idea that my greatest challenge would be finding a preschool for my 3-year-old daughter.

Getting my first-grader enrolled at a neighborhood school was a quick and easy process, but finding a preschool in the Westchase area proved to be a challenge.

As I called and visited school after school, I discovered that they all had long waiting lists. I was shocked that I wasn't able to immediately enroll her.

Also, most of the schools told me that if Charlotte wasn't enrolled before VPK registration began in February, then she couldn't be guaranteed a spot for VPK at their school for fall 2013.

Feeling desperate, I put her name on every school waiting list I could find, and she eventually got a spot.

With VPK enrollment looming, I decided to investigate the extra hours that preschools offer in addition to the state-funded 9 a.m.-to-noon VPK program.

Again, I was surprised by what I discovered. Most of the schools offered extended hours until 4 p.m., and it was expensive. I didn't want my daughter to have a longer school day than my first-grader, I just wanted her to have a little extra time beyond the standard VPK hours.

I worried that I wouldn't find an affordable school with the hours I wanted.

While waiting for Ryan at the bus stop one day, I asked another mom about preschools in our area. When she told me that her 4-year-old daughter attends a VPK program in Pinellas County, I couldn't believe it. Pinellas?

But we live in Hillsborough, and I really didn't like the idea of my kids following two different school district calendars.

Despite my misgivings, the next day I made the short drive over to Safety Harbor to check out the school that she so highly recommended. After taking a tour and speaking with the director, I knew this was going to be Charlotte's new school.

I enrolled her in a part-time program, plus they offered the extended VPK hours I wanted at a reasonable price — perfect for next fall. The director told me that 98 percent of their students come from the Westchase area, and now I know why.

Moms share stories on pets and newborns, picking a preschool 02/14/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:45pm]

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