Every morning, when Equis gets out of the crib, he toddles straight to his Disney-Pixar Cars table and chair set. He slowly sidesteps until he's but a centimeter away from the chair and cautiously raises one leg over the seat and plops his bum down. Then, he's ready to color or eat or watch Barney or Sesame Street!

Buying this set was one of the best parenting decisions I've made so far. The first was having my son evaluated by the NYS Early Intervention Program for developmental delays.

Having felt very frustrated by the fact that I needed to guess at what Equis was trying to tell me, I was excited when he started receiving social services to help him improve his cognitive (thinking and reasoning) and communication (talking and understanding language) skills.

But then I did something silly: because of financial and studio apartment spatial issues, I ignored Equis' instructors' suggestions to get him a kid's table that they could use during their half-hour sessions. For the first two months, Equis worked on the floor with his teachers, but he'd often run or crawl away from them. So I finally invested in a sturdy, brightly-colored wooden table. I'm glad I did. In one month, it's benefited Equis tremendously, and it may help your child too.

Here are the top five ways a kid's table can aid your child's development:

1. Gives your child a space to call their own. 
Imagine you're in a room where everything is not quite your size and feeling overwhelmed by your sheer inability to get items you want--like the shrunken Alice in Wonderland being unable to reach the key on the table. A table that is sized for your child ensures he'll feel safe and secure. Even better, he automatically knows he can take whatever activity he wants to play with straight to the table because it's his space.

2. Creates a designated "work" space. "Work" for children means "play," which is how kids best learn about the world and their bodies. A kid's table is the perfect place to play with your child, whether you are creating art, completing a puzzle or reading a book.

3. Helps your child to focus. Equis is easily distracted, and the table helps him to focus during structured play, which helps him to learn more efficiently.

4. Allows for developmental progress.  Three months ago, my son's favorite play was to throw things on the floor so that I could pick them up, he'd flip the pages of a book instead of focusing on the pictures and when he had difficulty figuring out how toys work, he'd throw them out of frustration. He also spoke zero meaningful words, only using the word "daddy" for everything, responded to his name only half of the time and expressed his needs and wants by pouting, screaming, crying and whining.

Having a space to call his own, knowing that the table is his designated "work" space and being able to better focus on the task at hand has already helped Equis to advance developmentally. Equis now vocalizes more sounds, says short words like "Uh Oh" and "Wow" and is far more excited to play with his special educator and speech therapist now that they do so at the table. 

5. It's fun and practical! Since the table set comes with two chairs, it's perfect for when Equis' stepbrother comes over to play. They use the set to finger paint, draw, read and play. I also sit at the kid's table with Equis at mealtimes; and we even used the table to hold the cake at his birthday party in the park.

Now if only I can get Equis to stop cleverly dragging the chairs around the house to reach the light switches!

Do you think there are the benefits of children having their own table?
What items helped your child with their development?

You think to yourself, "Why do aunties just love to give my child the messiest toys to play with?" 

And then you put that sarcasm aside and thank them because the messiest toys are often the most fun for kids.

Equis' Titi Naima gave him Crayola washable finger paints along with acid-free paper as one of his 2nd birthday presents on Sunday, and in spite of their messy properties, I was actually super excited to try them out with the kids. Equis and my partner's son had a blast fingerpainting today.

 For kids who make a mess out of anything and everything--Lays barbecue chips, the toy chest, the bed--they did a pretty good job of not making a gigantic mess with the paints. I can't lie--there are drops of paint on the floor and Cars table, but it's nowhere near as terrible as I thought it might be.

In fact, I felt a little bad because Equis really disliked the feel of the paint at first. He kept dipping his finger into the birthday bowls filled with orange, purple, blue and green paint and then quickly wiping his finger off on his shirt. He did a lot of shirt-painting instead of paper-painting for the first few minutes, but I finally figured out a trick to help him feel more familiarized with the paint.

When Equis' special educator creates art with him, she encourages him to make dots using large circular painting markers. So I showed him how to do "Dot, Dot, Dot" with his finger instead of a marker, and he loved singing "Da, Da, Da" while dabbing the paint onto the paper. 

I had fun too watching Equis dip his fingers and J splash his entire hands into the bowls and spread the paint onto the paper.

Behold Equis' first finished work of finger-painted art! 

I thought these pieces of artwork were perfect for decorating the children's section of our studio. With these masterpieces taped to the light blue walls along with the marker art my son created the past couple of weeks, my apartment's starting to look like a regular children's museum!

What messy activities do you like to do with the kids in your life?

Link up with The Extraordinary Ordinary free write every Tuesday.
At 3:33 AM, I am hungry.
I spent all day feeding everyone
that I forgot to feed myself.
I spread jelly on toasted muffins,
savor the sweetness of each bite,
wish I'd made more than three.

Today, I rushed onto the bus:
After a barely fruitful audiology test,
full of Equis' cries of restlessness,
that didn't confirm or deny pathology,
I sighed heavily, knowing we'd return
for a second follow-up appointment.
I declared today Mommy-Son Day
to show my curly-haired toddler
I love him and always will.
"Forget high range sounds," I thought,
"Let's focus on slides, on swings,
on ball-playing in the park."

Then, with rumbling bellies, we walked 
to IHOP, where Equis threw crayons
and, with his birthday coupon, ate
a free Rooty Tooty Junior meal.
I didn't know chocolate chip pancakes
would be my only meal today.
Several hours and Barney episodes later,
Equis and his stepbrother are asleep,
their smiles and energetic fights quelled
by the quiet call of dreams,
their small limbs splayed upon mattresses
topped with stuffed animals and toys.

I should sleep while they do,
but I'm waiting for each boy
to angrily awake with tingling arms--
oh, wait, and one just did,
complaining, "Sumada, my hand is scratchy!"
Next up? Probably dreaming of food.
Abuela, Xiomara & Equis
A few months ago, my grandmother suffered a slight stroke. A week later, Abuela turned 81. "I want to die," she said in Spanish. 

"Don't say that," I admonished her. But I had to understand that she'd just been through a lot, even going into an almost fatal diabetic shock during her hospital stay after the stroke. My grandma generally has a sense of humor, but it's become increasingly clear that old age is depressing her. 

With the death of my grandfather last year, her own mortality has become more profound to her and to my family. 

On that Sunday, I was late. I pushed the heavy stroller down the concrete blocks, rushing past the local high school and corner store and pizzeria until I reached the church. I was eager to drop Equis off with my mother so I could get some rest back at home. 

Little did I know that I'd end up staying for the entire service while still wearing my pajamas, fighting with my grandma to leave.

Abuela using my hair as a wig!
Once inside the church, I helped Equis out of his stroller and walked him over to the row where my mom was sitting with her mommy. I took in my mother's red-lipped frown and looked into her narrowed eyes filled with tears and said, "Hey, Mom. What's wrong?"

"I think Grandma had a stroke," she said, her usually firm voice cracking even in a whisper.

I looked over at Abuela who was staring straight ahead listening to the Pastor speak. The entire left side of her pale face was drooping. "Hola, Abuela. How are you feeling?" I asked her.

"Bien. Good," she smiled, and only the right side of her lips rose.

"Mom! Why isn't she in the hospital?" I whispered loudly.

My mom frowned even more deeply, the tears behind her glasses slipping slowly down to her round cheeks. "She doesn't wanna go. She said she wanted to come to church. She refused. I can't force her."

"We have to force her," I responded, and she finally agreed to go five hours later.

Abuela & Equis on his birth day.
I always remember my grandma being a strong lady. She has always been a very independent woman. It's only in recent years that she hasn't been able to do those things she used to do all the time--walk all the way to Union Square and further from the Lower East Side or easily push her small shopping cart home from Pathmark. Those are things that we now have to help her with. 

My mom is her primary caretaker now, but my uncles, sister and I all try to take turns sleeping at her house during the week and taking her to appointments or the grocery store or the bank. Sleeping over my Abuela's house in the summer is usually very hot, but Abuela loves spending time with Equis. 

She and Equis draw together, and he loves to eat her rice and beans. I have fond memories of watching my grandmother draw in a spiral notebook with a blue pen, making lines and circles to depict the houses in Puerto Rico where she grew up; and I'm grateful that Equis gets to experience this part of his great-grandma too.

Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Uncles
I know that death is a part of life, but with the recent passing of my beautiful friend in June and my grandfather's passing last year, I feel overwhelmed by and fearful of the absoluteness of dying. 

I don't want my abuela to die. I want her to live into her hundreds. I want her to remember to take her slew of pills and turn off the stove.

Every day, I am scared that I will get a horrible phone call that will break me down. Just thinking about it makes me cry. I love Abuela. She's always been there for my sister and me and now for Equis and her other great-grandchildren. I am terrified to lose her because she is my family, because she is beautiful inside and out.

Link up with other awesome bloggers who are pouring their hearts out with Things I Can't Say.
My son is the most peaceful child you'll ever meet. When he is ASLEEP. An awake Equis is a totally different story. 

Today, I wanted to rip my hair out. Believe me, I would've tugged on it at least if my hands hadn't been preoccupied pushing around a heavy Pathmark shopping cart and prying a Lipton Soup box and can of breadcrumbs from between my son's gapped teeth.

I hate shopping with a two-year-old. Shopping alone always reminds me of the year or so that I struggled as a very single mom, trying to hold my son and a dozen grocery bags without keeling over. But now that my son is older, I'm starting to realize, grocery shopping alone back then was much easier than now because my son is a MANIAC.

Start the Toddler in a Store Routine: 
  • Equis picks up packages of steak from the back of the cart and throws them on the floor.
  • Equis cries hysterically, his high-pitched scream forcing other customers to fake-smile at me, when I take away the sticky raspberry fruit snacks because he just keeps spitting them onto the floor.
  • Equis kicks me and points down to the floor, essentially telling me, "Mama, I don't care that you still need milk and yogurt and cream cheese, get me the heck out of this cart!"
  • Equis grabs my sample of American deli cheese, stuffs it into his mouth, chews and then opens his mouth wide to let the white liquid spew onto the floor.

What is it with the floor?! 

Finally, I hoist all the meats, drinks, seedless watermelon, onions and $145.00 worth of other items onto the conveyor belt and pay. There is no way I can fit Equis onto the stroller along with all of the groceries so I figure he might as well walk beside me. 

But walk beside me he does not. Instead, he lingers a few feet behind the automatic door so that a woman with three children offers to watch my stuff while I backtrack to get him. Lo and behold, I cannot enter through the exit, and another stranger, this time a man, literally carries Equis out for me. More than anything, I'm wishing my son looked the way he did last night in the photo above--peacefully asleep--instead of like the daring-eyed, mischievous boy he's being.

At this point, I feel blessed just to have made it out of Pathmark and extremely thankful to those good Samaritans, except we don't even take three steps before Equis is jumping up and down in his brown sandals attempting to knock the receiver from its place on the payphone. I struggle to grab his wrist and pull him away from the payphone, and the 12 pack of toilet paper atop the stroller canopy falls to the floor. I WANT TO RIP MY HAIR OUT.

But, then, Equis does something adorable. He insists on carrying the Quilted Northern toilet paper (I got a $5 off coupon for it from BlogHer'12!) all by himself. I follow his curly hair as he travels over the concrete sidewalk with determination, his tiny, thick fingers pressing tightly into the plastic. 

Even though I'm worried the milk will spoil by the time we get home because walking two blocks alone is taking twenty minutes, I just can't resist my son's cuteness. Every few steps, Equis turns his head and smiles broadly at me, and I have to smile back at him.

Can you remember a moment when you wanted to rip your hair out? What happened?

Link up with The Extraordinary Ordinary free write every Tuesday.
"Your online bio is the connector between you and your readers. It lets them get a personal peek, past you the blogger, to you the person. But does it go far enough? Are there any good reasons for taking that extra step: for sharing your core beliefs and values? Your very own blogger’s creed, front and center on your blog, can be an excellent tool for doing just that." (Excerpt from Bob Dunn's article, "Values-based Blogging").

Earlier today, I read Bob Dunn's article, "Values-based Blogging: 5 Ways a Blogger's Creed Can Set You Apart" from which the above excerpt is taken and took his words to heart. I had to agree that adding my own Blogger's Creed for Equis Place would be a valuable way to share my personal beliefs with my visitors as well as a fun way of stating my expectations for my blog. 

Taking Dunn's advice, I then crafted my own creed based on the aspects of life, writing and people that I value the most: honesty; openness; community; the power of stories; and respect.

I encourage you, too, to read Dunn's entire article after reading through the creed I came up with:

  • I believe in the value of HONESTY. 
    Speaking candidly with my readers about my life experiences and learnings is, to me, the most important aspect of writing a blog. Everything I write on Equis Place, including reviews, is the truth according to the way I experience and remember events and people. I accept the fact that memory is fallible and acknowledge that dialogue included in my posts is recreated to the best of my memory. Part of being honest includes acknowledging sources of any blog content that is not mine; I will never take credit for someone else's work, and I expect others to give me credit, as well, where credit is due.

  • I believe in the value of OPENNESS.
    By opening myself up and sharing my life and innermost thoughts with you, I connect better with people who may not know me but can relate to me. Although every person is unique, we live through universal themes like love, death, fear, family and sadness. I am a person like any other, and it is my mission to create a sense of openness on my blog by exposing my humanity.

  • I believe in the value of COMMUNITY. 
    The desire for social interaction is part of what makes us human and supporting one another is what enlivens that humanity. I appreciate reading comments, emails, Facebook messages and tweets from those who visit my site, and it makes me especially happy when a reader tells me in person how my posts on Equis Place have impacted you. Connecting with other writers by visiting their blogs and connecting with my readers by replying to you when you write to me is my way of showing this appreciation. The best part about a blog community is that the more it grows the more valuable connections can be made amongst a diverse group of people.

  • I believe in the value of STORIES.
    I blog on Equis Place because I am passionate about writing and sharing my story with friends, family and strangers in a fun and creative way. I believe that every person has a story to tell. I believe that story is important, and I can learn from it. By sharing our stories with one another, we empower ourselves as well as others. I always appreciate hearing your life stories, whether they are happy or sad, and I encourage you to continue sharing them however you can.

  • I believe in the value of RESPECT.
    I accept the fact that there are as many opinions in our world as there are grains of sand on a beach. I respect my readers' opinions, and I will solely engage with my readers in a positive manner. Although some of my opinions may differ from yours and yours may differ from those of other readers, mutual respect is paramount to creating a blog where honesty, openness, community and the power of stories are truly valued.

My Blogger's Creed can now be found on the "About" page of xiomaramaldonado.com.

What do you think of my Blogger's Creed? Any advice as to how to improve it?
Do you believe there is value in a writer sharing their core beliefs on their site? 

Dear Mommy,

Do you really have to ask why I'm hysterical? You might think it's funny to write a blog post about why I throw tantrums and how you just can't deal with it. But I don't. 

In my opinion, you're the one being ridiculous. 

You get overwhelmed for no reason at all, and now you want to give everyone a very biased view of why I do what I do. In my defense, I have very good reasoning for wriggling out of your arms, throwing myself down and pressing my face into the floor. Why don't you comprehend that?

No matter how much you ignore me while I'm doing it, throwing a tantrum seems to me to be my best option. Here are my top five reasons why a tantrum is my go-to:

1. You're making me do something I don't want to do. 

In this case, you're making me brush my teeth. BRUSH MY TEETH! Don't you realize that I HATE brushing my teeth? I don't care that the toothbrush has Iron Man on it, the bristles are itchy. Why do you continue to force me to do it? 

And don't you see that throwing my green basketball at the TV screen takes priority over putting on my shoes or laying still to change my diaper? And what in the world is the purpose of a bath? I'd much rather sing along and dance with Barney than deal with you scrubbing my marker artwork off my legs.

2. You're not giving me something I want. 

Just give me the camera, will you? Who cares if we're in Puerto Rico, and you're just trying to capture me happily sitting in my carseat on our way to the beach? I'm going to ruin it by opening my mouth wide, showing you all my un-brushed teeth and screaming so hard my tongue vibrates. GIVE IT TO ME!

3. You took away something I can't live without. 

Yes, we're on a Kiddie Cruise just for me and yes, you got my face painted with Mickey Mouse, but you took away my balloon. It's MY balloon, and I was playing with it. It's not fair that you don't want to keep bending under the fan to get it. 

And as for all those other things, you keep taking away from me--my stepbrother's car with small parts, your cellphone, a battery from the TV remote, your MacBook Pro, your headphones, your cell phone--can't you see that I NEED them? What else am I supposed to play with in this place?

4. You're not letting me be independent.

So when I do get excited to brush my teeth, you won't let me do it by myself! How else am I supposed to eat all the toothpaste off the brush if you won't just hand it to me? And I'd LOVE to put my shoes on myself. Who cares if they never get on? You have to let me try for at least thirty minutes before you force them on me.

5. I'm exhausted. 

Mama, when you call me a "wild child," just accept the fact that I'm wildly tired? Clearly, I'm crying on the floor because I'm in desperate need of rest. You've tired me out by forcing me to brush my teeth and take a bath and chase you down for the playthings you took away from me. Put me in my crib so I can whine myself to sleep.

You see, I don't care if the ground is concrete or tiled, carpeted or grassy. I don't care if it's dirty or clean or if we're in the middle of the street. All I care about is the fact that you are not understanding what it is that I need and want and so I have to do something to catch your attention and try to get my way. So why am I hysterical? Well, if I don't yet speak, how else am I supposed to communicate?

Your son,

P.S. I love you, but I don't think it's fair you take photos of me crying to use against me at a later date.
Equis and Mickey Mouse
Loud laughter erupts on the lower level of the Queen of Hearts Kiddie Cruise ship. A puppeteer commands his puppets and stuffed animals to stay quiet or to not flip, and the crowd of kids sitting before him find it hilarious when the puppets and animals are disobedient. My son and I sit on the carpeted floor watching his routine, and Equis is relatively entertained until a dragon puppet appears and scares him so much that he turns to cry into my shoulder. But Equis has fun running around, throwing himself on the floor and dancing with Princesses. 

With our VIP tickets, my mom, my sister, my sister's partner, my niece, Equis and I could have had a Meet and Greet with the ship's Captain, but we were delayed on the train and arrived too late! We have reserved window seating on the lower level and receive bagged lunches of jelly sandwiches and turkey sandwiches. The snacks included in the bag are yummy--apple slices, cookies and potato chips. My son, being the random eater that he is, eats one bite of everything and then runs to play with a balloon he finds. My nine-month-old niece eats more of her sandwich than my son does! 

I've got my loot!
I keep careful watch because there are large metal fans surrounding the area, and he keeps wanting to touch them. At one point, I bend under a fan to grab the balloon for Equis, and my hair gets caught in the fan! It hurts a bit but I'm just glad it wasn't his finger. The cruise is from 12 PM to 3 PM, so when the puppeteer returns for his second show, my sister takes Equis outside to view the majestic Statue of Liberty. The route provides stunning views of the New York City skyline and Ellis Island. 

While parents order juice and soda from the nearby bar, one of the princesses has story time with the children, some of whom are dressed as pirates and princesses, and asks them to help her magically grow a flower. The kids yell, "Whoa!" in amazement when a flower pops out of the green plant. It's all very cute. Equis is more amused by the pirate booty he's found--gold and bronze coins--and holds up proudly for me to see.

I love balloons!
Equis and I then climb the stairs to the upper deck to hear the band play and get his face painted. While I wait in line, Equis has great fun ripping the pink and yellow streamers from where they are wound around a pole (Oops!). I'm wowed that he manages to sit still long enough for the artist to paint three blue circles onto his face to create Mickey Mouse. I'm less surprised to find blue paint on my blouse not even two minutes later. 

The line for the balloon art seems too long to wait on for my restless son so we skip that, but he finds a balloon sword that another child has ditched because it's come undone. He loves playing with it anyway until he pops it with his front teeth!

Waiting for the Puppet Show.
Overall, we have a fun time aboard the Kiddie Cruise, and when we disembark at Pier 40 of Chelsea Piers to retrieve the strollers from where they've been parked, Equis is more than ready for his nap. The Princess and Pirate Adventure has really tired him out! 

I'm glad we took this trip because we've been trying to make the most of our summer in New York City by doing activities we never or rarely do, and the Kiddie Cruise was a new fun adventure to go on in our hometown. Although I think that at 23-months-old, Equis didnt have the attention span needed to really engage with the shows, he found other ways to have fun, and it was clear to me that the older children were having a fantastic time.

In all honesty, I wouldn't have been able to afford the VIP tickets for the cruise at this moment in time so I'm grateful we were given the opportunity to join the fun through complimentary tickets; but when I'm employed again and Equis is older, I definitely want to take my son aboard the Queen of Hearts for another great adventure. What kinds of adventures do you have planned for the rest of summer?

If you'd like to take the special children in your life on the Kiddie Cruise: A Princess and Pirate Adventure to experience the shows, arts and crafts, music, pretty views and food for themselves, visit www.kiddiecruise.com and use discount code "EQUIS" for $5 off the original price.

I received six complimentary VIP tickets to Kiddie Cruise on the condition that I'd post a review of the Princess and Pirate Adventure within two weeks after the trip date. This post represents my honest experience aboard the Kiddie Cruise, and all opinions stated are my own.
"Oh, my gosh! What did you do?" chimes my mom, staring at my toddler's legs. They are covered in scribbles of pen ink, ink that he figured looked far better on his skin than on the paper I handed to him. "You need a bath!" she chimes again, looking directly at me. So after a bunch of these kinds of conversations, I worked really hard to get my two-year-old to stop drawing on his legs. And of course, since he can no longer draw on his body, he found something new to draw on: our home! 

Today, after some minutes of Equis being WAY TOO QUIET, I yelled for him, and he ran back into the living room wearing a big smile and holding a bright red marker in his hands. "Hi, baby! Whatcha doin'?" I asked. 

"DA!" he answered, waving the thick marker around in the air.

"You're so cute!" I told him, peppering his chubby chipmunk cheeks with kisses, and it wasn't until an hour later that I discovered my toddler had created his very first wall masterpiece. An expanse of overlaying red scribbles is now decorating the hallway closet door and kitchen entrance wall. Let's not forget, that in his attempt to mimic Jackson Pollock, he caught the tail end of my partner's work shirt with a small red line as well.

At first, I was upset. I should've been paying more attention instead of enjoying the few minutes of quiet time. I should've put paper up on the walls like I'd promised to do months ago. But then I saw in the corner of the closet drawing, a clear "X"--the first letter of his name that I've been trying to get him to draw for the longest time. My baby drew an "X"! As ridiculous as it sounds, the scribbles started to look sort of pretty.

As much as I'm not looking forward to scrubbing those walls clean, I have to smile at my son's mischief.

Have you experienced that "Ah!" moment when you realized what a child had been doing in those quiet moments? How did you react?
"That one is so scary!" I half-yelled at, half-laughed with my boyfriend as a particularly rambunctious goat rose up on his hind legs and hung his front hooves over the fence. Grunting loudly, Rambunctious Goat threw his horned-head up and down and swiveled his neck in an attempt to eat from all of the outstretched kid hands filled with pellets of grain.

Upon entering the Barn and Garden at the Prospect Park Zoo, I thought my son, Equis, would probably take one look at the noisy animals and run straight back to me. But he simply smiled his open-mouthed smile--the one where he shows all his teeth surrounding a wide pink tongue--and let Rambunctious Goat lick the grain from his palm. "Well, he sure is having fun," I said to my boyfriend's mother. "The pellets were totally worth the quarters." I was so proud of my almost-two-year-old for having less fear than his Mama.

If you've been hungry for the sight of flippers, paws, horns and wings, but you think the Bronx Zoo is too large and the Central Park Zoo is too small, then the Prospect Park Zoo is the perfect place to go. There are monkeys, lizards, frogs, bats, owls, snakes, sheep, geese, butterflies, peacocks, baboons, red pandas and plenty of more animals to touch or observe. Best of all, adult tickets are only $8, children pay just $5 and children under 3 go free!

There were lots of great photo opportunities! After the Barn, we ran to watch the California Sea Lions loudly chomp on fish and perform tricks. Although we didn't go to Story Time, we saw art the animals had painted, Equis managed to draw a rather terrible version of an animal, we ate raspberries and sandwiches under a big table umbrella, we burrowed through our-size prairie dog tunnels and we pretended we lived inside a turtle shell.

As a native New Yorker, I felt slightly appalled that I had never been to the Prospect Park Zoo before, and I'm so glad I made it my mission to experience the Brooklyn fun this summer. Whether you live in New York City or you're just visiting, make it a point to add a stop at this zoo to your itinerary.